The marathon distance is the benchmark of running distances: Phedippides died of exhaustion, but with joy on his lips. It is natural to wonder what this amount of running feels like. Four and a half hours is my aim.
I wondered about 42 km during my last run and felt I should try the distance then. But my legs pulled me back to the orbit of Ashwell’s church toward the home stretch and my imagination did not resist.
There are two ways of thinking about things. One focuses on the real, one on the possible. “It is how it is,” says the realist. “Well,” thinks the possibilist, “it could probably be different.”
One handy device is the notion of blessing (or curse) in disguise. By pointing to the ways in which many presumed “obstacles” to development have in some situations turned into an asset and a spur, one obviously casts doubt on any statements about this or that “obstacle” having to be eliminated if there is to be this or that desirable development…”Albert Hirschmann
When I decided to run today, was I a realist or a possibilist? When did I decide? Was it before I opened GoogleMaps and plotted the route to Baldock and back? Was it when I set my alarm for 5:00 am? The alarm became a fact: perhaps it was when I decided not to go back to sleep.
À l’aurore, armés d’une ardente patience, nous entrerons aux splendides Villes.Arthur Rimbaud
I began to run with low energy at a slow pace. I knew I was in for it because I wouldn’t be able to take a train back. The first person I saw at 5:30 was an employee of the train company lingering on the bridge by Royston station waiting to advise those who wouldn’t be able to travel by train.
The realist thinks about what he can and will do. He thinks about how actions will add up. He lays fact upon fact, action upon action, stone upon stone like a builder of Lakeland Dry Stone Walls.
The possibilist thinks about what could be. Why should there be a wall here? How many stones would I have to pull out to make the thing collapse?
To a possibilist, what is is no more or less important than what could be.
Realism won last week. My legs brought me back. But the idea will have its revenge. I’m running towards a set of vaguely imagined milestones: Therfield Road, Sandon, foot bridge over busy road, Baldock station, the path by Arbury Banks, Ashwell, the camping site, solar panels, Royston.
I decide to begin by cheating. I have defined listening to music or books as cheating. But the heroic decision to run far gives me license to break my rules. And so I turn to Robert Musil’s “Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften” (The Man without Qualities).
Who or what is a man without qualities? Musil explains:
The realist (a person with “Wirklichkeitssinn”) says: “this or that happened, will happen, must happen.” The possibilist (a person with “Möglichkeitssinn”) says: “here are things that might, could, or should happen.”
A taste for possible realities is quite different from a taste for real possibilities. The possibilist thinks about the forest while the realist thinks about trees. A forest is a diffuse thing, full of atmosphere and intangible qualities, but a tree is a quantity of wood with measureable properties and a fixed price.
One is a fish who snaps at the bait but doesn’t get hooked. The other, Musil says, is a fish who swims off with the bait without worrying about the end result.
Character consists of recognisable qualities that one is aware of and that one is willing to accomodate if not enjoy. If I think in terms of possibilities rather than realities, I may feel that I myself am unreal. In other words, I may feel like a man without qualities.
For a few kilometers I am distracted by Musil. Then at around Sandon, ten kilometers in, while listening to my German “casette” and fumbling with GoogleMaps, I almost run over a man walking his dog. At that point I decide to take my rules seriously again.
An intellectually more satisfying foundation for possibilism was encountered in the theory of cognitive dissonance. A group of social psychologists has shown through this theory that changes in beliefs, atttitudes, and eventually in personality can be entrained by certain actions instead of being a prerequsite to them.Albert Hirschmann
Public byways and other paths all tempt me away from the asphalt road and I’m still fresh enough to try a few minor detours. Perhaps I’ll end up with fifty kilometers. Why not? I soon reach Baldock and aim for a petrol station shop to fill up on liquid. Lucozade is appealing and I accidentally bump against a stooped lady who is refilling the shelf. “Hands off” she says, jokingly, I think. A small bottle of orange juice is an immediate refreshment.
Baldock’s High Street leads to its church, St. Mary the Virgin. On to the station and I’m half-way.
I have to get back and if I keep running I’ll get it over with more quickly. That must be more of the realism kicking in. I stop to walk for the first time, just briefly because it’s more convenient to drink that way I tell myself. It’s painful to begin again. The legs are getting stiff. The procedure to restart is to walk fast, switch to a shuffle and then accelerate to a trot. I could probably speed-walk faster than this.
At the end of his running book Murakami gives us his motto for a prospective gravestone: “At Least He Never Walked.” Perhaps it’s important to have values like that.
At the Ashridge Farm Caravan and Motorhome Club I repeat last week’s purchase of water for 75p. I wonder if the fellow there remembers me. He probably manages the place.
The only reason I don’t walk more from here is that the restarts become increasingly difficult. A steady trot is the way of least resistance.
Only two km left, but I am unable to resist the Marks & Spencer. I hit 40 km while walking to the self-service machine. More liquid. I pour some of it over my head. Sensation is heightened and the coolness is electric.
… The Last Mile is there waiting for you, inviting you to take it up a notch, to go to that place that celebrates the work you’ve done, the goal you were brave enough to shoot for. The Last Mile is about finishing whatever story unfolds on race day with a kickass last sentence, because you’re worth it.
YOU DESERVE TO FINISH STRONG. You do! You really do. What’s that you’re trying to tell me to talk yourself out of it? Nope, that’s not a good reason.
Listen. You deserve it. You deserve to celebrate your effort with an exclamation point, and the bath of endorphins that goes with it.
As the Last Mile approaches, let yourself begin to draw your focus to it. Imagine yourself changing gears, build some plot tension and anticipation while keeping your current pace controlled. You are about to be unleashed, but not yet.Material from https://blog.strava.com/
I shuffle on over the railway. When I turn the last corner the steward with the blue vest is still hanging around the station telling people where to find replacement buses. I run past him to the station. I need to fill out a bit of distance. I vaguely remember that a marathon is just above 42 km. It would be annoying to find my log short on Strava. So I run back and forth in the car park of the soya factory opposite the station for a bit, stumbling dissonantly towards my virtual finish line and feeling drained of Möglichkeitssinn.