Malcolm Gladwell, the thinking athlete’s intellectual, writes long, long essays in The New Yorker and runs superbly brisk mile repeats with the New York Harriers. As a gawky teen he ran 1500m in 3 minutes and 55 seconds. Last time I read about him, he was still capable of covering a mile in five minutes. He’s in his 50s. He travels a great deal, and said he has his favourite running routes in most major cities, because running is ‘the only way to stay sane.’
Gladwell is the kind of chap that pushes himself to the limit. He’s certainly keen on raising a rumpus with his writing. He posited a spirited defence of Lance Armstrong and doping in general. I don’t expect he’s all that restful to spend time indoors with, which may be why he remains resolutely single, despite various fruity chunks of gossip about his lovelife, but I’d love to go for a run with him. He never does much more than six miles, he says, so perhaps if I ran my hardest, and he took it easy, we’d find common ground. He could fulminate and I could nod and wheeze. It would be educational.
Last Saturday I joined three men from my running club on their weekend long run. They were planning 24 miles, from Greenwich, then under the foot tunnel and along the Regent’s Canal, to Victoria Park, in Hackney, and back, making up the miles with a few loops of Greenwich Park. As I jogged over to the meeting point, I thought of another Gladwell theory (beside the most famous one about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something – I clearly need to spend more hours at the track), about running with better runners. He said, in at interview with Runners’ World magazine
‘If I had a group of people slightly faster than me, who lived within three blocks of me and wanted to go run five days a week, I would be twice the runner I am.’
The blokes I was meeting are all training for much faster marathon times than I am, but assured me they’d be taking the miles easy, and I wouldn’t feel under pressure.
I managed the first six miles, hanging on to their coat tails, as it were, but when we reached Victoria Park I let them go on without me. Overheated, thirsty and dispirited, I felt half the runner I should be. I finished my 20 miler at a moderate pace, battling a stiff wind that was the precursor to Storm Katie. My faster companions were sorry to let me go, but at this stage of the marathon training game, sticking fiercely to your schedule seems like the most important task in your life. You don’t want to jinx your training for friendship’s sake. We remain friends.
Gladwell, I know, would have hung on for dear life, and that is perhaps why he is such a successful writer and thinker, as well as a fearsomely fleet runner. Still. I’d rather be Marathon Gran. I took a couple of days off this week to go to Berlin to wish my splendid grandson happy birthday. Scoffing cake, with him on my knee and a glass of Champagne at my side, I felt as Good for Age as it’s possible to be, which is all that matters, in the long run.
Schedule this week
Tuesday: five miles easy
Wednesday: a couple of miles to show willing
Thursday: 12 miles various pace
Friday: a couple of miles recovery
Sunday: Paddock Wood half marathon (pray for a bit of Gladwellesque staying power)