As we spend time running, we change and develop, the novice runner is very different from the experienced athlete.
At the start of a race there is always a feeling of nervous tension. People chat, fidget or stare into space. Become the casual observer and see runners in different stages of development. I believe there are four distinct stages, four levels of growth.
Observe the novice. Perhaps the most obvious sign is the temporary license and casual T-shirt. This is a person who is very keen, still excited. The running bug has just bitten and it’s all so new. The novice runner’s mind is open to almost anything and learning about the sport is a joy. This is a person who meticulously keeps a daily logbook. Every badge, every medal, every finish is prized and cherished. This love affair with running lasts for about two to three years and it is a good place to be.
As a runner moves onto the next stage there have been a few injuries along the way. This stage is perhaps the one that brings about the most growth. A different runner stands at the start of this race and you see a well-worn pair of shoes. The casual T-shirt is replaced with club colours. Here is someone who has completed a few marathons and even a Comrades or two. Because of some unexpected injuries, the mind is still open but wary of extravagant training methods. This person is personal friends with at least one physiotherapist. Only the important medals are finding their way onto the mantle-shelf. This runner has been part of the sport four to six years, and a logbook is kept only for the major races.
Before you can become experienced a rite of passage must be travelled. Perhaps the hardest stage to be in is the third. In this crucible you become complete. There comes a stage in most long distance races where we all want to quit. The fact that you don’t makes all the difference. In this hard stage you must deal with yourself and sometimes overcome mighty odds. Observe this runner’s shoes, now completely shoddy. Club colours are as faded as the license number. This runner has done five or more Comrades and the big decision is – do I go on and do my tenth? Injuries are not really a problem here, for this runner is road-hard and is knowledgeable. Medals save the precious Comrades and Two Oceans are kept in a kit bag at the back of a cupboard. This runner has been on the road for seven to ten years.
Finally, the experienced runner. Usually older than most. Observe the faded colours but also the little green patch proudly sewn on, a race number in perpetuity. Ten Comrades Marathons or more. This runner has passed through the tough third section and has gone on to achieve most running goals. Before you is someone who has reached mastery – for now running has become a way of life. Being here in the moment is the only real goal. No medal is important, no log is kept and every well-thumbed publication on the subject is somewhere on a bookshelf. This person knows every race, has experienced every injury and now is finally ready to become a true runner.
Each of us has the potential for mastery. Running is a simple and uncomplicated way to achieve it. The time we make for it and the passage we travel through any worthwhile endeavour makes all the difference. In memory of Chet Sainsbury.