Jonny Dry questions his motivations for running in this latest piece in his ultra-marathon training series
Photography: Jonny Dry
Training thus far has been a mixed bag. Twisted ankles and strained knees have seen the workload of specific long running decrease to an almost negligible level. This has been difficult for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that I feel as if I am not running enough and somehow dipping below even my base fitness level. However, the second point is one of comparison. Even outside of the competitive circuit, athletes inevitably compare training loads and the intensity it’s completed at.
These comparisons, I have found, do not have to be against direct competitors, rather anyone training towards a similar goal. My own ultra attempt is only competitive against previous failure and myself, yet I find I am constantly questioning my approach and commitment to it. I know people that complete 12-hour training weeks – is this something I should be doing? There is always someone doing more, just as there is always someone quicker.
When injured, these issues are exacerbated. Reading of epic training runs by fellow athletes or even professionals makes me consider if I should strap up and crack on (incidentally it always amazes me how long I continue to train for, even when I know I’m injured). It seems that this stubbornness of not stopping comes, in part, from a fear of seeing others do more. Yet here, I have no direct competitor. I am comparing myself to phantoms, photographs, or snatches of a conversation concerning someone else’s run. It is not healthy, since there is always a next step; if someone posts a good run I immediately want to prove I can do the same. The question arises of whether this is to prove it to myself or, more narcissistically, for the outward demonstration to others?
This, I feel, is an important question one has to constantly ask themselves when pulling on their shoes. Are you doing this to improve yourself, or to compete against something you cannot see? Injury often highlights the latter in me, and I work hard to change it. I run to explore, I run to see what’s round the next corner because to do this is a step away from my body and step towards my soul. But sometimes I forget this; I start to run for the fear of missing a training day, for the fear of losing touch with the competition. The day this becomes the norm is the day I should stop running, because as important as competition is, chasing such shadows will only push you over the edge.