Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I Feel Like An Elite Athlete

Today I feel like a professional athlete. It is 6.45 in the morning and I am at euston statin waiting to catch the 7.03 train to Birmingham. I'm going to Birmingham to attend the RunnersWorld magazine boot camp training session, this is part of the magazine's competition to give four lucky winners professional training to run the Paris marathon in April 2013. My understanding is that out of a few thousand people who entered the competition they have now whittled this down to about 40 who are all attending this boot camp training session today. Out of the 40 they will pick a lucky 24 who will be asked back in December and from that number they will pick four who they will train in the new year.

I think the reason I feel like a professional athlete today is due to a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. According to everyone's favourite academic authority wikipedia; "cognitivive dissonance is a term used in modern psychology to describe the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc." this morning I am definitely holding two "conflicting cognitions". The first is that I am a 41 year old man who is a television executive working at the BBC, the second is that only serious athletes dress in sports gear and get the 7.03 train to Birmingham to run around a track as part of a competition. If I am not a serious athlete what am I doing here waiting for my train. In the Wikipedia definition of cognitive dissonance I am experiencing embarrassment that comes with the condition. I feel I am play acting at being an athlete, deluding myself that I am a proper athlete and at 41 I should know better.

And so to resolve this cognitive dissonance, or to achieve what psychologists term consonance, I can do one of two things. One, just turn around and go back to work and forget all this marathon nonsense or two, say I am a professional athlete. (There is of course a third which is to change my belief that only professional athletes dress up in sports gear and go to athletic track competitions at 7 in the morning - but I haven't got there yet). And so as I am not about to turn around, change into my work clothes and head into the office I am left with option number two and that is to feel like a professional athlete.

And now come to think of it I believe that this is the reason why so many people take up running in later life. It can be the athletic equivalent of playing Dungeons & Dragons or Second Life, you are creating a new alternative identity for yourself. By day I may be a mild mannered television executive but by night (or in this case very early in the morning) I am an athlete. I may not be on par with Olympians like Jessica Innes or Mo Farrah but I have joined their "club". Exercise has long been recognised to keep you healthy not only physically but mentally as well but possibly on the mental level marathon running and racing keeps you mentally well by providing you with a new identity of who you are, in a way that just merely going to the gym doesn't.

So next time I am at a dinner party and someone asks what I do I think I will tell them I am a marathon runner who also does works in television and see how I feel about myself.

(Hear the original audio recording of this post at www.audioboo.fm/thesoundofrunning )

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