This week James shares his Top Six sources for inspiration

Sprung from Cages on Highway 9: Searching for Training Inspiration in Pop Culture

As I look out the window today, it’s raining again.  Well, it might be rain, it might be sleet.  It’s certainly unpleasant.  Not really ideal weather for marathon training, is it?  And that’s the problem – just as the long runs need to get longer and the tempo runs need to get faster, the weather gets even worse.  It can be very hard to keep up the motivation – even the guilt is being overcome by an overwhelming sense of fatigue and a powerful reluctance to subject oneself to the meteorological torture.

Something must be done!  It’s time to seek inspiration in popular culture, to see whether some audio or visual trigger can reignite the passion to train.  But be careful – we distance runners need a different sort of inspiration.  It isn’t necessarily about the fiery speech that sets the heart pounding, the eyes sparking with aggression and the muscles tensed and ready for action.  It’s anything but, really – start your long run like it’s the 100m and you’ll hurt yourself far more than you’ll hurt your opponents!  Rather, try to find something that evokes a sense of calm about the task ahead, and an appreciation of the beauty of the run.  Find something that encourages you repeatedly and over time rather than builds you up to an explosive frenzy but whose impact is very short-term.

Top Ten lists are so December 2009, so I’ll provide my own personal Top Six list of sources of inspiration.  Each one of these entries has, at some stage, helped me to push through the fatigue and get the extra mile in.  Here’s the list, then, in ascending order of impact:

6. ‘Mr Brightside’ – The Killers

I know this song has nothing to do with running – or at least, I don’t think it does; it can be hard to interpret some Killers lyrics – but it never fails to boost the energy levels.  In fact, this song could make me do just about anything, from run a marathon to dance the can-can down King’s Parade.

5. Chariots of Fire (1981)

A film about a time when amateur athletics (and consequently religious, ethnic and socio-economic prejudice) was at its peak might seem like a strange place to look for inspiration.  While there might not be much to like about the Cambridge dons who sneer at “professionalism” and crave glory for the University, there is a lot to like about the running.  Maybe it’s the beach running montage, maybe it’s the Vangelis soundtrack or maybe it’s the leather spike and cinder track combination, but the film makes the running look like so much fun that it’s easy to forget that the protagonists run no more than 400m and carry the same smile into a long run.

4. ‘Born to Run’ – Bruce Springsteen

The title says it all, really.  I’ve never been in a suicide machine sprung from a cage on Highway 9, chrome-wheeled or otherwise, but when The Boss speaks, you listen.  Springsteen isn’t literally singing about athletics, of course, but the little seed of optimism in the song does resonate.  Running for him is a metaphor for breaking out and breaking free, and even if we aren’t trying to escape the stagnation of Rust Belt, isn’t that why we run too? Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run!

3. Without Limits (1998)

Hollywood, meet distance running.  Distance running, meet Hollywood.  Are there two figures more romanticised and revered by American teenagers than Che Guevara and Steve Prefontaine?  Possibly – it’s a long time since I was a teenager – but certainly the Prefontaine cult remains strong, and not without reason.  (Plot spoiler alert!) Yes, he never won an international medal, and yes, his premature death did unquestionably contribute to his legend, but he (and the film) reminded us that running wasn’t necessarily about talent, but about application.  “A lot of people run to see who is the fastest.  I run to see who has the most guts.”  Classic.

2. ‘Running with the Buffaloes’ by Chris Lear

Okay, this might be a how-to guide to crippling yourself and an unashamed piece of hero worship, but there’s no question it inspires the motivation to run.  The author – and, indeed, his subjects – romanticise the training sessions to such an extent that they seem like a privilege rather than an obligation.  And there’s such a strong bond that develops within the training group that it’s impossible to even contemplate an absence from your own.  Come rain or shine, you’ll be out doing a long reps session, believe me.

1. Men’s Olympic 10,000m Final, Athens 2004

I’m cheating here and including this great race because it was televised.  It’s possibly a controversial choice anyway given the status that the Sydney 2000 race between Gebreselassie and Tergat justifiably holds in the distance running fraternity, but the 10,000m in Athens truly announced Kenenisa Bekele to the world, and his run was spectacular.  The Kenyans tried to control the race in its early stages through wildly fluctuating lap times, thinking that they might be able to disrupt the rhythm of their Ethiopian rivals.  Bekele and his compatriots Sileshi Sihine and the great Haile Gebreselassie had other ideas, and hit the front.  Bekele and Sihine continued to accelerate lap after lap, and gradually every other challenger faded away.  As the bell rang, Bekele took off like a 400m runner, his 25th and final lap of 53.02 seconds completely awe-inspiring.  To watch felt like the opportunity to witness one of the wonders of the world – and still does; I’ve worn out three DVDs and counting – and to go out and run felt like a chance to join in the celebrations of life’s great promise.

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