I would have been about seven or eight when I first heard the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider. I remember I was at Whitehall Primary School at the time and that I was very upset and frustrated about something, but the name of the teacher who told it to me and the reason for her telling it have long since passed from memory. I vividly recall, however, sitting next to her in a cloakroom full of coats and boots while she told me “a story about another Bruce.”
The story went something like this:
It has stayed with me throughout my life. Only now, as I continue to struggle through this running slump, I see it a little differently.
It’s not simply a story with a trite, moralistic ending about picking yourself up after failure. It’s not simply a story about perseverance.
It’s a story about showing up. It’s a story about doing. Doing when no one is watching and when no one really cares whether you do or whether you don’t. About doing something–anything–rather than nothing.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. On the contrary, since my last blog, things have actually started to turn around. Though by “turn around,” I don’t mean I am getting any faster. Or stronger. Or lighter. No, by “turn around,” I mean that, after almost three months, those runs where I have exerted far too much effort for little or no return have finally ended.
That’s it. Nothing earth-shattering. No big breakthroughs. No grand epiphanies. No 8 min./miles. Not even an inkling as to whether I will hit my BQ time now or at any time in the future. Just a day-to-day attempt to maintain and not take any steps backwards.
So this is not a story about building the perfect spider web. God forbid, it’s not about finding the strength and courage to crush your enemies (especially if they happen to be English!). It’s not even a story about overcoming adversity to cross a finish line and drape a medal around your neck.
It’s just a story about heading out the door on a cold, rainy March evening and persuading your body to go hard for ten miles when there is no one holding a gun to your head and when you have no idea when, or even if, the hard work you’re doing is going to pay off.
POSTSCRIPT: Just before posting this, I completed a ten-mile tempo run in 1:23:06. That’s an 8:16 pace, fast enough for me to qualify for Boston. It didn’t suck. Go figure.