Saturday, August 01, 2015

Reserves Matter

When you are at school, you change so much each year that you never believe you can't do anything. Maybe next year. Maybe when I am a little bigger. At least that was my theory. The fact that I couldn't really do it last year wouldn't stop me from attempting it the following year. At one stage I was the lightest in my class - including all the the girls. I was told a growth spurt was due at some stage. I had been a sick little toddler and so my littleness would not last. Apparently you can double your height when you are two and that is close to how tall you will be. The next smallest guy had huge feet. Like a hobbit. I had a particularly large head. Like a dwarf. We became friends. We were told we were going to grow into these. We believed.

So despite the lack of size or speed or jumping ability, I would give it a crack each year. High jump, long jump, rugby, cricket, sprints, hurdles, whatever, I would give it a go. I didn't mind being the reserve of the team either. I would carry on pitching up at practise never knowing when this 'growth spurt' might occur. Then came the hole in my theory. I thought trying was enough. I wasn't as good as the other guys naturally, so when I got tired I told myself that at least I had tried. It was OK if I did slightly less training than the guys in the actual team because they were better than me, they could handle it. You don't actually know how good you are 'naturally' if you haven't trained properly. 

Scott Jurek had a different approach. He figured people eventually gave up. If you wanted to do well, you had to put in more effort than those with natural talent. The thing in your control was when you gave up. He wouldn't. So he just ran further. He wasn't the fastest at shorter distances. So he ran further. He wasn't the fastest at marathons. So he ran further. At some point he started being better than the natural athletes because something else started to kick in. His mental strength allowed him to reach deep into himself and discover reserves.

Reserves are often thought of as the second best. Not quite good enough. That is true for a lot of things. But not everything. At some point, reserves become the thing that matters. I once ran a 1,500m race, aged 15, and stormed out of the gates matching the chaps at the front much to the amusement of my school buddies. I came round the corner after 300m in the front to wild cheers. I liked this. 400m later much to the amazement of my buddies and the guys who didn't like me very much, I was still in front. The cheers got even louder. The guy just behind me (an uber athlete who normally won very comfortably) told me later he was starting to wonder where I had done all this secret training. He had started getting worried. But... I hadn't.

About 100m later I ran out of reserves. There was nothing to call on and my legs gave in. Enthusiasm only gets you so far. Reserves matter. There had been no secret training from Trev. Scott would have done it differently. Trev came 8th. Out of 10. 

Years later, I started working at a new company on the same(ish) day as a guy who thought completely differently to me. We shared an office and fed off each other's different way of thinking. The firm believed in independent thinking, so we would be given the same project and instructed not to discuss our ideas till after they were presented. We would come at it from completely different angles. One of the things we came at differently outside work was athletics stuff. We was hardcore. Me, not so much. His day would start doing sprint training at the athletics club. Mine would start watching TED clips or lectures on academicearth.org. Like Scott, his theory was that the mind mattered more. He often said, 'Give me someone with balls, and I'll turn him into a champion'.

But you can't stop just before. You have to do a little more. When I moved to London, another mate with a similar philosophy to early bird sprinter convinced me, through example, to get off the chair and start moving. It is tough to be living with someone who is active and not have some sort of positive effect. London was wet, so I opted for Yoga. It was indoors (excuse noted - 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong gear'). Ken Robinson says sometimes we treat our bodies as a transportation device for our heads. Yoga started me back on the path to realising how connected mental clarity and physical clarity are.

Almost a year ago (my Independence Day is 9 August), I stopped working and started writing this daily blog on happiness and learning. I wanted to test my definition of myself. I asked close friends to suggest challenges. There were lots of ideas from baby sitting, massage, and coding to domestication and marathon running. I agreed to do a Marathon as one challenge. While raising money for Movember, I asked John McInroy, a crazy chap I had met at a wedding if he would donate. He said he would grow a moustache, but he was focusing his efforts on the Unogwaja Challenge. I checked it out, liked what I saw, and made a donation. A month later I was in Cape Town and John and I had a day of philosophising about the world's problems and how we could help. Then we played Ping Pong.

He recommended 'Born to Run'. It flipped my thinking on running on its head and between John's enthusiasm, my new focus on happiness and learning, and what it stood for, I decided Unogwaja was for me. I now have time. I also know that what I was doing when I was young was congratulating myself for trying. Trying is not enough. As Yoda says, 'Do or Do Not, there is no Try'. Heart is what matters. Heart and time. 


I have both. I am applying for the Unogwaja for next year. My story may be that my first Comrades marathon comes after cycling 170km a day for 10 days. Perhaps I will be in the support crew for the others. One day, I will cross the finish line of the Comrades. The run and the cycle are not however the important part of Unogwaja. Unogwaja is also not a charity.

The important part of Unogwaja is taking the next step. The important part is growing into your feet and into your head. The important part is using your full potential. I now call my friend Testosterone Man. His growth spurt came in his 20s. He used to be confused for a 12 year old when he was 17. He is now 6 foot tall and sees the world with new eyes. Not because of his height or feet, but because of the effort he has put into achieving his dreams.

My friend is a champion. He doesn't just try. He takes the next step.

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