23 February 2021

Listen closely

Voices in my head

It was on a warm Wednesday evening. I was in my car, on the drive home after a typical 12 hour day at work. The sun was gently setting behind me and my mind was on autopilot, driving the car with ease, as I started to look forward to winding down for the rest of the night.

But it was a Wednesday. And Wednesday evenings, in particular, have taken on a whole new meaning for me over recent months.

Through a series of pleasantly surprising events unfolding towards the tail end of 2020, I had gained acceptance into a running club. A private gathering, an underground community of sorts.

I call it 'underground', not because the meeting location is in a creepy basement room, but because I feel that it takes a slightly off-beat individual to say 'Hell yeah!' to a mid-week run at 7PM once the sun had already said goodbye.

And it was precisely this that got me curious enough to show up.

I remember the very first day. It was a Wednesday evening, of course, and close to 7PM. I drove to the rendezvous point, shut the car down and sat still in the seat as the minutes passed by.

'I'm hungry and tired, what the hell am I doing here?'

I could find no good answers to such a question.

I started moving, got up and remembered to lock the door before walking at a steady clip to where I needed to go.

What I found was peculiar, and also highly intimidating at first glance.

The rendezvous was at a waterfront park, and there were many ordinary people strolling along, walking their dogs, hanging out on the grass. And in the middle of all of this scene, was this group of 6 to 7 guys, obviously conspicious from the running shoes and the brightly coloured kit.

'What the hell am I doing here?', asked again by the inner voice.

I continued to walk towards this group, until I had no choice but to stop and introduce myself. Handshakes and respectful nods were exchanged, and I continued to feel out of place while a bunch of the other guys performed elaborate stretches, flexing and talking amongst each other.

Ah yes, we were all here for the run after all. Right?

Before long, the ringleader arrived and introduced me formally to the group. He was the only person I recognised, in this sea of strangers. He was my tour guide in making my journey into this running club.

Some of the tension eased, but most of the doubt continued pounding away relentlessly anyway.

And then the running started. It started off at a fairly relaxed pace, but ramped up very quickly to an average speed of 4:30/km. It was briefly mentioned that the course would be 8km in total. Oh lord.

I'm glad to say that I managed to hang on with the leaders of the pack, though I did get dropped during the sprint at the very end. I had no legs left for a 3:30/km effort. I was spent.

As part of club tradition, the night would be closed out with a round of beers and light conversation.

I tried to take the opportunity as a way to get to know some of the guys better, but for the most part, I stayed within my shell and watched and observed. The feeling of being an outsider still did not wash away, despite all the sweat and keeping pace with the faster bunch.

By 8:30PM, the drinks were emptied and we all started making our ways back to reality. Most, if not all, had a full day's work ahead of them.

As I made my way back to the car, I started to reflect on what had just happened by asking myself a few curious questions.

'Who in the right mind would go out for a high intensity run after a full work day? Who are these people?'

'Did I really just drink a pint for dinner?'

'Hey, that was not as scary as I was making it out to be!'

Then I got into the car, made my way home and went straight to bed. I was done for the day.

. . .

A week passes, which brings us back to that warm Wednesday evening at the start of this story.

A decision needed to be made, and I was literally in the driver's seat. I started to arrive at the Roundabout, where turning right would take me back home while going straight ahead would take me towards the Run Club.

'Do I go home and unwind? Or should I just show up at the Run Club?'.

The right answer seems almost too obvious. 'After working a full day, of course you should go home and relax!', the Voice says.

In defiance, I continued driving straight ahead and left the Roundabout behind me.

More weeks pass like this, and every Wednesday I am confronted with the same decision.

What is so interesting to reflect upon today is how starkly different the consequences of such a simple decision can be.

The days where I choose to lean towards the tension, in going straight ahead instead of turning right, I get rewarded with joy and the dopamine effect of a good workout. In contrast, the days when I choose the path that, on face value, is 'easier' are the same days when I get flushed with regret, lulls in energy and unease.

Funnily enough, as time passed, the feeling of 'I'm too tired for a long run after a full workday' has also dampened. Somehow, I find the energy and the capacity to push hard from somewhere. Maybe it comes from being part of a pack, maybe it comes from overcoming self-imposed obstacles. I am not sure.

“ Hard choices, easy life. Easy life, hard choices. ”
- Jerzy Gregorek