Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Event horizons

I'm not an "event-motivated" person. I have skills and a focus that make me good at organising events, but they're not traditionally my thing.

Caswell Bay, 1999
I think back through the sports in which I've dabbled, and though there have been notable exceptions, my focus has been less about the start-finish-time-rank of competition, and more about the enjoyment of random, often social, participation.

I consider myself to be a surfer, for example. You can hand me a board and I'll pick a wave, catch it, and ride it. It's not something I do regularly any more, and I've certainly never considered doing so in any kind of competitive event. For me, it was always about taking myself out of the day-to-day and immersing myself in the moment, ideally for hours at a time.

The same is true of other activities I enjoy. Having dragged myself up to a certain level of competence, and got all the kit, sports like sea-kayaking, rock-climbing and cycling can largely be picked up or put down as the mood takes me.

So why enter events at all?

The reality is that quite often, the mood doesn't take me. Time, work, geography and weather can be allowed to get in the way. Like most people, I love the idea of being fitter, healthier, and getting more out of the activities I enjoy; but some days the sofa seems like a better option. The bottom line is that no matter how much you'd like to run a National Trail, or cycle a stage of the Tour de France, on a day-to-day level, you're going to have to work more than just the remote control to make these things happen.

The 2006 Edinburgh Rat Race
This is where events come in. If your goal is to run that National Trail, or cycle that Tour stage, you've got two choices: you can pick a random date and do it for free, or you can pay the money, and participate in an event.

The benefits of the event may be major, or minor. It might mean a prepared map, or waymarking, or marshals. It could mean closed roads, and medical back up. There may at least be a finishers' list, or a medal, or a tshirt, all recording your completion of the challenge. It could simply be the chance to do something you're not normally allowed to do. But most importantly, though most overlooked, is that you're setting in stone an immovable goal, and the terms by which you're going to tackle it.

If that goal is a big one, your preparation will be significant. You'll probably need to break it down into sections, measuring your status at the end of each section. Another perfect opportunity for an event entry or two, and there are obvious benefits in choosing events that align with our personal goals.

Less apparent, but perhaps as valuable to us in hindsight, is that these events give us the focus we need to get out the door for a five mile run on a rainy Tuesday night. Whilst the event itself can be an obvious accolade, their greater benefit may be that they keep us motivated, they ensure we take time out of our lives to be active, and they can play a major part in both creating, and fulfilling our ambitions.

Running on Hadrian's Wall, December 2010
Over Easter 2013 I'm going to run the Viking Way Ultra, 147 miles along a waymarked trail through the East Midlands. It's a significant challenge, and something to get my teeth into.

I'll book a few interim events and build a training plan, and between here and now, these events may constitute 90% of the total cost of my running, for less than 20% of the overall distance. 

Runners are traditionally frugal participants, and some might look at the costs involved and consider these event entries to be an unnecessary expense, particularly when these trails could be run for free at any time. 

And they will be. Between now and Easter, trails all over the UK will feel the regular footfall of many, many runners, all enjoying the freedom they offer, and most of whom will be training for an event. Those that don't have an event on the horizon are more likely to be found on the sofa.

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