Mission Creep

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person who has just done their first marathon will soon be signing up for another one. Or an ultra. Or an Ironman. Or something similarly batshit crazy. Hell, almost every marathon expo I’ve been to has had tables and tables of other marathons offering you special discounts if you sign up there. It’s a struggle not to leave one marathon having signed up for half a dozen more. But yes, everyone knows that. What I was musing on, as I sat on the train today wondering why getting an Ironman tattoo no longer seems like such a great idea to me a year after the event, is the way that simply achieving something gives us a new perspective on it that makes it less impressive (at least to us).

I think there’s a few reasons for this. One is that unless we are massively narcissistic, we rarely think of ourselves as particularly remarkable people, so by definition if we can do something it can’t be all that remarkable.

Another is that as we do an event, we become more and more engrossed in a world where everyone does that sort of thing; we meet them at expos, chat to them on twitter, talk to them on the start line, encourage them during the race, and often befriend them and start training with them. In the time I was training for the Ironman I went from barely knowing anyone who’d done it and imagining them all as superhumans, to following dozens of them on twitter and blogs, meeting several and my local open-water swim, and of course seeing a couple of thousand of them at the start line of the race. Many of them are extraordinary athletes but many more are really just people with slightly above average fitness and determination. Being part of the Ironman community inevitably skews your perspective, and instead of feeling like part of a tiny minority of people who can do one of these races, I feel like just one of thousands. And not even the fastest one of course, because now I’m acutely aware of those who did it much faster than me, who qualify for Kona, and so on, and so on. It’s kind of like in a role playing game where as soon as you level up, all the baddies get harder so you don’t actually feel any more badass. Or is that just me? Ok. Ok.

The other issue is that of course there always is something bigger to do. As soon as you mention to people you’ve done an Ironman, there’s always some git who’ll say “oh yeah, my friend does ultra-super-mans. It’s basically five Ironmans back to back while towing a bus”. Well great, you’re friend is weird and now I feel inadequate. And yeah, I guess I’d better start training for an ultra-super-man.

It’s probably a good thing to be honest, if I saw myself now the way I used to see people who’d done an Ironman, I’d be ridiculously big-headed and arrogant, not to mention I’m not sure I’d ever be able to motivate myself to do another race. Much better to let the knowledge that there will always be someone faster than me, and always be a longer, tougher race to do both bring me down to earth and motivate me to keep striving.

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