Firstly, Merry Xmas (or happy birthday if you’re Emma, Jim, or Jesus). I hope you’re happy, warm, surrounded by people you love, and covered in syrup*. Not sure why you’re here reading this when you could be eating a mince pie, but hello anyway. Would you like to buy a book? I write those. Interest you in a nice book? Full of thrilling words and notions? What’s that? Maybe in a couple of days, when you’ve book vouchers to spend or a new Kindle to fill up? That’s fine. I’ll be here waiting. Don’t stand me up now. Not at this time of year. I would be sad. That’s how bad poetry happens, and you wouldn’t want to see my bad poetry.
It’s been a fast December for me, and a strangely content one. Despite its moniker, Advent Running has somehow made it easy to forget about xmas, or at least the bits that are usually a source of stress. I’ve run every day of December for thirty minutes, covering 74 miles over the month in all sorts of weather, mostly in the dark, with just tomorrow still to run to finish the thing off. Time has flown by.
I won’t pretend it’s all been fun and games. There are two bits to the challenge. The first is physical – with no rest days, minor injuries that would normally vanish between runs quickly get worse in unexpected ways, making you feel sometimes as thought you’re running with bits of broken pottery in your joints and muscles. But the odd thing is, you adapt. By day 10 I thought I was another run away from crashing out of the whole thing. Everything was heavy, and everything hurt, until the very next day when instead of feeling even worse I felt suddenly super-charged, and bounced through my run faster than any I managed up to that point. Day 21 was another spectacular low, but it’s been followed by two increasingly light and easy runs that hardly feel as though they’re the final stages of an endurance challenge.
The second thing to overcome is entirely mental – sometimes, no matter how much you like running, you just don’t want to do it. After the first couple of weeks though, resolve is somehow made moot. As somebody else said, running every single day becomes a mindset – a perspective that completely takes over until the idea that you’re not going to run that day becomes quietly absurd. When I went to see Star Wars** on Saturday evening, having not yet gone for a run that day, I was delighted when it was suggested in jest that I run back from the cinema, because it was about the right sort of distance away. I watched the movie with jeans and a jacket over my running gear, stripped down in the car park afterwards, waved the family farewell as they drove off, and hit the streets. I got back to the house around 11pm. That would have seemed obsessive and a little unnecessary at the start of the month, but nineteen days later it felt like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Needless to say, that was my fastest run of the month. Because The Force. That is all.
And through it all, other Advent Runners have cheered me on through the magic of Facebook, and I’ve cheered back. For all of the personal satisfaction that comes with finishing the challenge***, the social side has been extraordinary. There are so many people who have shared their own highs and lows along the way, staying cheerful during the most difficult days, that the challenge is far less a personal one than you would think. I’ve been trying to work out what makes it so good, and think I have it.
We rarely get to see the best of people in real life. We see their bad days, and their ordinary days, but rarely do we see them at their most heroic.
This month I have seen the very best of hundreds of people, every single day. I’ve seen goodness, and warmth, and optimism, and cheerful perseverance, and actual heroism, every time I’ve logged on****. It doesn’t matter what these people think or do in their real lives, or how they’re seen by the people around them. I’ve experienced their very, very best through this challenge, and I’m intensely grateful for it. They’ve made xmas everything it should be, that so often gets lost in all the noise and tinsel.
And it’s been magnificent.
They’ve been magnificent.
And actually, so have I.
Thank you, Advent Running.
And Merry Xmas all.
*Only if that is something you’d enjoy of course. But who wouldn’t?
** OH MY FRICKING GOD SO GOOD SO GOOD WHY AM I EVEN STILL ALIVE NOTHING WILL EVER BE SO GOOD AGAIN
***Nearly. Having said that, I will probably now die in the night, in which case you may feel free to make some comical reference about hatching chickens on my headstone.
****And even in real life, because some of these people are real people that you can touch, which I know because we met up for a spectacularly muddy run last weekend. They were magnificent too.*****
*****Though I didn’t really touch them. That would have been weird.