It has been said that the human heart has a finite number of beats before it simply stops. The day you reach that figure, which is apparently unique to each individual, and your time on this mortal coil is over. There is, of course, not one shred scientific evidence to support this theory.
Having said that, animals with high pulse rates, like hamsters and mice, live short lives, while ones with low rates, like tortoises and whales, can live longer than us. The Galapagos tortoise’s heart, when resting, is just six beats per minute whereas the dormouse is an incredible 240 beats. Maybe there is something in the claim.
Recently, once again, I have been struck down with injury and unable to run. Interestingly, in running terms this is my lowest mileage for years. I have more DNS’s than I care to mention, and I won’t even begin to add up the financial hit I’ve taken. However, I have learnt more about ‘me’ than during any other year of my ‘running career.’
There is a point, which all runners must face, that they will have to stop or make significant changes to their running. Like Damocles, seated at a banquet with a sword suspended over his head by a single hair to show him the perilous nature of his happiness, do runners need to occasionally be reminded of their own fragility; and in doing so would this be a bad thing?
Undeniably, injury - in whatever form - puts runners into a tailspin. The longer the injury prevails the harder their time-out becomes. To alleviate the impending sense of doom the runner is more likely to head out regardless, thus aggravating the injury setting them back further. It’s a maze where the exit is clearly signed with ‘You must rest’. A sign so easily ignored. My torn calf muscle is for now a hard reminder that I am far from invincible which is, ironically, how I have often felt at the end of a long slow run.
Physiologically I know stopping running will have an effect. Possible weight gain, a drop in VO2 efficiency and certain brain functions may become less efficient. It has often been reported that runners have a tendency towards addiction. When the commitment teeters over the line to dependency and compulsion, the runner forgoes ignores the signs in pursuit of the ‘fix’. Unfortunately, the malignant growth of overtraining is insidious, perceived by others but rarely by the runner in question. We become blinkered.
In the absence of running I decided to turn my attention to new pastimes. Stretching, in isolation, was never ‘my thing’. My pre and post run culminated in little more than a gentle, or in many cases non-existent, thigh stretch. But following a brief conversation on Twitter the notion of yoga was presented to me by a faceless runner. I say faceless as I’ve literally never seen her face. Following a few clumsy attempts using static pics I eventually found an app and followed a video. Initially the poses seemed unnatural and honestly downright painful.
Slowly but surely my flexibility improved along with a hitherto unknown core strength. In short, Yoga is now part of my daily routine and one I would loathe to give up. In my mind I see this as undeniably positive however I must also ask myself ‘have I merely given up one addiction for another’? Grace Jones may well have been a slave to the rhythm but are we slaves to?
I desperately try to step back from a pastime I love and see the cold hard facts but honestly, I’m in too deep. Stopping running, up until my recent slow return it had been three months, has led me to Yoga. But it also led me to accept that I am now bigger than the next race and if there is a healthy balance then perhaps that is it and perhaps that is all there needs to be. The acceptance isn’t that running will one day cease, but that I am more than the run.
‘Heartbeats’ by Jose Gonzales features the most amazing music video of all time; in my most humble opinion. A million coloured balls bounce down the streets of San Francisco. The balls bounce elegantly down ridiculous inclines in slow motion. Time is mesmerizingly stretched.
Yoga slows my heartbeat. I listen to this song as I stretch. If there is a finite number, then maybe I’ll be meeting my maker a little later than expected.
Brett is a father, a teacher, a runner. He completed his first triathlon at the tender age of 17 and has gone on to run every distance from sprint mile to marathon and aims to complete his first ultra marathon in 2018 at the not so tender age of 47.
He is open about his battle with mental health and since hitting rock bottom 8 years ago has been on what he would describe as being a life changing journey ever since. He is a firm believer that through sharing and support anything is possible and that above all else we must strive to de-stigmatise mental health. You can follow Brett on Twitter and cheer him along as he battles his anxiety and beats it most days.