Watching a great family favourite, Shrek, with my kids recently bought home how subversive stereotypes can be to young minds. There we were, witnessing a princess realise her ‘outward’ beauty was not enough for true love; only when she becomes an ugly, fat, green ogre does she really realise her true desire. Have you ever noticed how women always get the rough end of the deal in fairy tales and children’s films? In Nemo, the mother is brutally murdered at the beginning of the film (my three year old daughter, upon finishing watching this film at the cinema when it was first released, burst into tears. “They killed the mummy,” she cried, as all the other parents and kids filed out of the film, happily content that Nemo had been re-united with his dad. She’s a perceptive one). Think of grannie in Little Red Riding Hood, or Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White etc etc. All are punished, brutally murdered, or portrayed as dysfunctional. Were all of these films made by women? I guess not…
It’s not just the media that toys with our perceptions with it’s surreptitious messaging to our unconscious minds. Doesn’t running allow us to throw off our own stereotypes of ourselves? Why would we even consider running in freezing mud, with icy rain pelleting our skin, our fingers like frozen sausages, other than to overturn the stereotype of our daily life, which, lets face it, is pretty full of routine and monotony whoever you are or whatever you do. What about the chance to, literally, make someone you don’t like at work ‘eat mud’ as you speed ahead of them in an off-road race. Whose the boss then? Or the shy runner who has heaps of undiscovered talent, discovers this and has to walk up to receive a prize post-race. There is a split second of a flash of ‘look what I can do that you can’t even though you have all the gear and endlessly boast about every single run you’ve ever done’. Not just anyone can see it; catch the light right though, and it’s there. There are runners who have lost themselves in relationships, careers, families, yet can rediscover their inner journey simply by having the courage to pull on some trainers and step outside.
Don’t we all share the need to run to escape from our own self-imposed limits? How many runners do you know who have only taken to the sport either mid, or later life, compared to those who have always run from childhood? Running, and sport is amazing that it has health benefits, but the psychological lift it can give is off the scale. Every time you begin a run it’s your own chance to create one of those mini-videos in your head of who you are, and who you would like to be. Finishing a race in a certain time allows you to reward yourself for achieving something. This is not to be underestimated! A PB, even of one second, can allow another day in paradise to become a secret success story. The problem being that the unavoidable bad days, whether they be at training or in a race scenario, can become extremely hard to manage, especially when the mini-highs come to mean so much.
Stand on any start-line and you can see similar scenarios being played out, by young and old, men and women, speedsters and plodders. In those moments of excitement and anticipation, dread and sometimes worry, all the routines of daily life are thrown off for a set period of time. I know one person who definitely starts each race believing that it will be his chance to fly like Roger Bannister. Even if the body doesn’t comply with the mind, believing that anything is possible is the carrot on the hook that we throw out to ourselves when we go for a run.
Now transport yourself to the other side of the finish-line. How many princess or ogres, smiles or grimaces, do you see? Where are those runners right at that point in their lives? The more you look, the more you can spot who has had a successful day. Stereotype subverted. Unfortunately, some of us – both men and women – still go home to a waiting ogre!