It's a question I'm sure every runner will ask themselves at some point. I remember quite clearly the first time I asked myself - I was around 12 on a 5-6 mile training run with the Omega club in the boiling heat and I thought about it and remembered. "Hell - I love doing this".
I've found myself asking the same question a number of times over the years and I've always found a reason to carry on running. Back injuries have put me out of two races over the years but at the end of the day unless I thought I was doing myself serious injury I always had a reason to carry on. It's a question I asked myself many times - particularly when injured - and I carry on because I've always been able to find something about that moment that I loved. It might have been something as trite as the wind in my hair or as visceral as the feeling I was pushing myself as hard as I could and wondering how long I can hold on for.
For the first time, whilst running the Southern XC, I asked myself that question and I didn't have an answer. There was absolutely nothing about what I was doing that I loved. My feet were skidding all over the place, I was freezing and I just couldn't push myself in the slightest. So I quit.
At first - despite decided to quit, I decided I was going to finish, not work at all but just run around. Why? I'm not exactly sure - it doesn't really make much sense does it? After all - just about anyone can run 9 miles of mud - it's running it fast and hard that makes it difficult. So I carried on running, then as I was going down a hill, my spike plate suddenly dug into my foot and I could feel my achilles tweak - that decided it. I carried on jogging till I saw my coach and hopped over the barrier (I was actually still in pretty good shape) and had a chat. He clearly wasn't impressed - though not as devastated as the lad he was with was! (he might understand in a few years- maybe not).
The tweak I felt in my achilles and the sheer worry that came through feeling it made me think a bit more (to clarify - I was not injured, simply potentially it might have been - this was very much a decision I made rather than being forced out the two previous times).
What was the answer to the question? If I had no answer why was that?
Did I hate running? God no! I love running. That was why the achilles tweak worried me so much - that if I carried on there was a chance (however small) that I might not be able to run the next day.
Did I hate racing? Again- NO! I love racing. Pushing myself as hard as I can. It's difficult and sometimes painful. I learnt a lot about myself over the last 10 miles at London this year - that I was still racing and trying to pull people back even though I'd been in agony for 8+ miles showed I still love to race. If I had my way I'd be racing every single weekend! It's the best thing in the world. That feeling when someones on your shoulder and you're trying to break them, surging past someone, just throwing it all out on the course and seeing how the dice fall.
So perhaps it's XC? Do I hate XC? This one I had to have a long think about it. I raced a XC about a month ago. A tiny little Surrey League Division 2 race. I had a dodgy calf and was in agony most of the way around. I had a ball. It was for the most part a great, really challenging course. A rolling start, heading into wooded trails, constant twists and turns, a succession of downs and uphills before a long climb back up a steep hill with admittedly a bit of mud at the top.
This is XC to me. Running through woodlands, over streams, across fields, up hills and along footpaths.
What was the difference then? Simple - at the large major XCs you aren't running cross-country; you're running through-country. The ground has been churned up by hundreds before you. Some manage to skip over it - I just find myself skidding through the worst of the bog. I've run the Southern at Hillingdon and at Parliament Hill and both times, whilst I was pleased to get around, it was a battle. I couldn't run properly in the slightest. I'm sure some think it's fine but to me running should be more than wading.
It's anathema to everything I love about running. Looking back I can't think of a single major XC - ESAA, Intercounties, National or Southern that I've ever enjoyed. So it's a simple decision for me. That was my last major XC unless I know the course is going to hard and fast.
I'm sure some of the purists, and the various keyboard critics, will hate this. "He's just weak", "He just doesn't like being beaten", "Why doesn't he just man up" - that's your call. My call is - if it's something I hate then why on earth should I do it just because you expect me to do it?
The lad at the side when I pulled out yelled at me "if you get back in the race now it won't be like you've dropped out and you'll regret it less later!" - I'm fairly certain this isn't something I'll regret - I generally try and avoid second-guessing myself. One of the things I love about running is that it's when I think clearest.
Life is too short to do something you don't love. Too short to be doing anything just because other people expect it. I'm sticking to my passion - I hope you do as well, whether it be cycling, road racing or wading through 4 inches of mud at Parly Hill.
See you at the (not XC) races.