We hear a lot about broken society, we hear a lot about obesity, a fattening culture, a lazy culture, we hear about a disenchanted youth and a disinterested electorate and then I saw a tweet from @jedirider asking how many ultra runners have been called mental for the kind of distances we run. And this got me thinking – who is the more mental, the one who pushes themselves or the one who asks why you would push yourself?
So I’m asking myself ‘am I mental’ or is there something else that is going on? I wonder why this seemed to grate on my nerves and and the answer was to do with my opinion that as a society not enough of us push the boundaries of our limits.
Let me start by telling you about my grandmother. My granny is 85 years of age, she’s from a generation that survived, from a generation that ‘got on with things’. She comes from a time and place where traditional stereotypes are still okay and whenever I speak to her and tell her I’ve just completed a race she tells me ‘you run too much’. This is a woman that has never done a days exercise in her life, she would say she’s been active – she isn’t. She’s from a time that thinks that cleaning the crockery counts as calorie burning. She finds exercise for pleasure abhorrent and rather than congratulate me, her grandson, on successes she berates me. She’s the kind of person that thinks because I didn’t become a doctor I wasted my life – she doesn’t consider that my work as a designer has in some projects helped save lives, communicated important messages or simply played pivotal roles in ensuring success. I pushed myself to become a designer, I forced my way through university at a time when it was not the norm in my family. I struggled to get to the place I needed to be in order to achieve – but I did do it. And despite my grandmothers assertions that I draw pictures for living I’ve actually been a reasonably successful, occasionally well profiled designer but she doesn’t see the value – I’m not a doctor or a lawyer.
She thinks I’m mental, bordering on a failure.
My answer to her suggestion is that what is ‘mental’ is on a Friday or Saturday night I could go out and drink myself so stupid that I’d think Hollyoaks was worth watching and then spend the rest of the weekend recovering from my own inability to handle my beer. Not only is it an incredibly time consuming and expensive past time but it also runs counter to my desires to be a better runner. So does the not drinking in favour of running make me mental? I don’t think so, in fact I think it makes me more sensible. The point though is lost on her and I can understand why, it just wasn’t her thing, but aspiring to better things shouldn’t be a concept beyond anyone – regardless of age or whatever the excuse. And to my career choices my answer has been that I’ve worked and profited for my entire career – even during some of the slumps I’ve always managed to work my way through it. She was wrong about and I find that culturally there is too much of this negative attitude. I should point out I do actually love my granny!
And so to our broken society and why runners aren’t mental.
I grew up reading Batman and Superman comics, I grew up dreaming that I could be a hero, make a difference, challenge perception, lead by example. I grew up knowing that I should reach as high as it was possible to imagine and then imagine further. So when I finished my first marathon I knew I could go further, longer and harder. I knew that I could imagine further and that instinct to achieve, to push myself, to see barriers and say ‘fuck you’ was very much intact.
So when someone says you’re mental that shouldn’t hurt because you can be smug in the knowledge that you are simply fulfilling your promise, striving to go beyond and never give up. You’ll fail sometimes but I’d rather fail than never try.
Maybe our society is broken because we don’t chase dreams as vigorously as we perhaps once did, or perhaps more accurately, not enough of us do. Perhaps it’s also that our dreams have been softened to account for a celebrity and technology based culture where we need instant gratification.
Rather ironically on the subject of instant gratification I look through my twitter feed and there I see so many ‘insane’ people. I see people who have started virtual running challenges because they couldn’t find a race in January, I see people who’ve started micro bakeries to make beautiful crumbles, I see people who challenge the MdS and come back conquerors, I see asthmatics challenging marathons, I see people running 10 marathons in 10 days or 26 marathons in a year, I see people battle back from injuries to startle themselves. These are the types of people who should be making up the future and in these people and those like them I am confident that the world will always dream, we will always dream of going further and I don’t just mean running, I mean in all aspects of society. I don’t just push myself in running but in all aspects of life and maybe I am an extremist but I’m an extremist with a streak of common sense, ain’t that a contradiction.
I once heard Stephen Fry say that he treasures curiosity, the need to be curious. What are we without that drive to find, discover, uncover, eek out. How very true Stephen and it’s something I’ve always promoted – curiosity. So, in ultra running I am curious about how far I can go, how far my body will take me and what would I do to earn that medal. With UltraBaby arriving later this year I am keen that this sense of curiosity, wonder and imagination are at the cornerstone of their childhood, I would hate for them to settle for a life less ordinary and if I achieve nothing else as a parent, runner and dreamer if I can ensure they are curious then I’ll be happy.
As a side note to all my ranting… I’m very conscious that we all have pressures that surround us, for some people it’s financial, for others family, work, health or whatever – but within each of our own individual bubbles shouldn’t we be looking to make the best of what we have and then make the push to do it better or more complete? Pushing yourself doesn’t mean you have to be doing big things, just trying is enough.
I wonder if a society en masse could learn a thing or three from people with a mental attitude, because bonkers or not – they’re awesome. Just a thought.