“Go hard, or go home”.
I see this quote bandied around quite a lot on Twitter, especially amongst our running community.
I get it.
We say it to motivate.
It provides a hulk-smash surge of, “You can fucking do this”, just when we need it, perhaps before a race. The one we’re aiming to PB.
But what happens when we don’t go hard? Are we expected to retreat home feeling like a failure? Are we somehow thought less of amongst our peers?
And what happens when, “Go hard, or go home”, comes from our own internal voice? When we’re staring down the lane of a running track, mentally preparing to run as fast as possible for 800 metres, over and over again, and we’re telling ourselves, “I don’t stop when I’m tired, I stop when I’m done”. Where’s the line between morale boosting and self-flagellation?
Muhammad Ali famously said, “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts.” And don’t get me started on Jillian Michaels’ famous, “Don’t you dare phone it in”
Guys, is this kind of talk emotionally healthy?
I’m leaning towards a no.
Funny then, that I find myself talking this way to myself. I even wrote a post only several weeks ago in which I wrote, “If we stayed within the safe enclave of what feels comfortable, we’d probably run for a mile or so and then stop.”
And ok, stopping after a mile isn’t going to get you very far, unless you’re actually aiming to run a mile, and I’m all for challenging and pushing comfort zones, but what’s with all the hard talk? Is it necessary? Jeez, I don’t know.
What I do know is that that I would not talk to a friend the way I talk to myself whilst training. When I coach running groups for beginners in the local park, I cannot think of anything more de-motivating I could say to them than, “Don’t you dare stop”, but I often say this to myself, but that’s ok, right?
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with running and what it means to me.
The Manchester marathon is looming, a race I aim to complete in sub-4 – a time goal – which perhaps isn’t an overly impressive to some – but for me, it’s a huge challenge. My training plan has incorporated a lot of tempo and interval runs, and quite honestly these sessions seriously kick my ass. Last night, I ran HARD for 7 miles or so through the park, and throughout, I was clearly struggling, but I chose to ignore the physical and mental pain I was experiencing. Why? Because I was telling myself to “Go hard, or go home”.
It troubles me.
It troubles me that I have the ability to zone out and push myself to the point of exhaustion and pain.
Last year, I raised thousands of pounds for the mental health charity, Mind, in memory of my mum. I also regularly write blog posts and have made videos, encouraging people to talk, to speak out, to not ignore their mental pain. To be kinder to themselves.
And yet here I am, doing the exact thing I preach about, and wait a moment, I am not for one second comparing my critical self-talk to someone suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, because hell, I know depression, but it’s kind of scary, right?
Again, where’s the line between morale boosting and self-flagellation?
There seems to be an in-congruence between the ‘philosophy’ of running; the freedom it provides, the way it grounds and deepens our connection with ourselves, and the stark reality of pushing ourselves to the limit, until it actually hurts, through self-shame tactics.
I guess what I’m asking is this: When does “Go hard, or go home” and other similar quotes become less about motivation and more about demoralising?
Maybe it’s time to start being more respectful to our bodies, and our minds. To accept that some training sessions and race paces are incredibly tough, and that instead of battering ourselves with volleys of verbal hard-talk as we struggle through, we simply say the one thing I always say to the people in my beginners running group, “I think you’re incredibly awesome, keep going”.