Why I chose to run 50km on Global Running Day

Like so many people, the global pandemic has forced me to question the meaning of what I do both professionally and recreationally. It is argued the primary purpose of sport is entertainment and, alongside other activities deemed ‘unnecessary’, one of the first things to be dismissed in a time of crisis. Games, races and results have been cancelled and have lost their importance. We are forced to find new meaning for why we peruse our chosen interests. Humans, after all, crave meaning.

Albert Einstein once said “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” In serious running terms I am mediocre; I have no special talent. I didn’t have to choose to run 50km, instead I could have taken my bike apart and learned how it is pieced together or researched the intricacies of the Krebs cycle. But being a sports scientist, I am always trying to understand physical performance and the human body, so with all my races cancelled, lacking in motivation and looking for first-hand knowledge to pass on, I decided to partake in a self-experiment to determine out how the mind and body react to running 50km. In short, I found my meaning.

Trying something new takes a certain amount of audacity, running 50km is a long way and I’ve never run that far before, but it is important not to be afraid of the unknown. There is no failure when starting something new, you will only learn lessons for the next time you do it. The hardest thing is having the confidence to start, but once you do, the feeling of stepping into the unknown can become addictive, you will become passionately curious.

At a time when exams do not exist and the normal parameters of why and how we measure the things we do have shifted it is the curious people that I have found to be coping the best with our ‘new normal’.

So, when people ask me why do it, I tell them: To find meaning in arbitrary measures, to fulfil my curiosity and to try to inspire others to do the same, whatever their passion may be.

Lessons learned from the Run

The mind – It is an incredible tool. It can be your greatest ally but also an adversary. It’s all about attitude – positive mental attitude.

Small goals equate to big achievements. Breaking something down (distance in this case), achieving it, and moving on to the next target stops you being overwhelmed by the big picture.

Words are powerful – spoken, written or in the form of music they can motivate and inspire.

Emotions – they will come and go. Rationalise and reflect on them.

Humans are meant to move – We’re built for it but a lot comes down to conditioning (or our lack of it). Rarely running more than 30km in training this is the exact point my body started to question why it was still moving.

By Elliot Birkbeck, Teacher of Physical Education

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