Running and Learning #1: I have a MEG

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I have a goal. I don’t call it a MEG but that is essentially what it is. I have a MEG of completing a 10km run in 50minutes. Having now informed readers of this blog of my MEG, I challenge you not to immediately remember what my MEG is when you next bump into me. It’s something of a stigma. It is highly aspirational for me and yet is still rather embarrassing because so many of my friends can complete a 10km run in 45 minutes, seemingly without any training. They seem just naturally better at running than me. I have chosen to inform everyone of my MEG, but I don’t give this option to my students. I wonder how they feel about every person in their class knowing their MEG, having been stripped of their agency and not consulted on the sharing of this personal target?

It is the day of my first training run. My coach, Neil, has told me not to expect to run 10km in 50minutes. Apparently I am “not capable” right now. Nice to have your support, mate. He said that my goal today should be to run 10km in 60minutes. He seems very determined that I will get under 60mins. I wonder if he will be angry if I don’t achieve it? I am to run with some other people. Having looked them up and down it’s blindingly obvious that their MEG’s are significantly superior to mine; but being adults they are not compelled to tell me. One of them is my height… but half my weight. Apparently his name is Mr Blisset. And there is a computer guy as well. But he doesn’t look like a computer guy. He is athletic and strong and is called Mr Skerrit. I am immediately worried that I am going to slow them down. I feel like I have been put in the wrong group. Coach says that we will be working in a group. He assigns each of us a role. Mr Skerrit; pace man. Mr Blisset; cheerleader. Neil; route organiser. Me? I’m the man. I just need to keep up with these hunks and I’ll be fine.

Oh blimey. Everything hurt. I was 1km in and Neil said: “We need a buffer.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. I was hoping he meant, we need a break. He didn’t. We got faster. After 7km we were just on pace to complete the 10km in 60mins. But the buffer we had built up in the first downhill section was slowly being eroded. Neil knew we had to climb Wiltshire Lane to complete the 10km. Wiltshire Lane. The nemesis of Haydon School runners. A 30meter incline over the final 750meters of the run. He looked at me; his facial expression emitted support from his nose down, but doubt was etched all over his eyes and forehead. Mr Blisset and Mr Skerrit generously threw me encouraging comments: “Incredible. You’re bang on time.” “Keep at this pace and we’ll smash it.” “You’re doing great mate.” They were nice things to say to me but I’m not sure I deserved them. And to be frank, I’m not sure where Mr Blisset was even going to find one “postcard” in Eastcote, let alone two. With 1.5km to go, Neil “MADE THE CALL”. He took the naturally gifted athletes aside and informed them: “We aren’t risking the hill on Wiltshire Lane. He’ll slow down. He won’t meet his target of 60mins. He’ll be devastated. We’ll do two laps of Eastcote Cricket Club instead – it’s flat, he’ll make it.” As we hit the 10km mark the clock stopped at 59min and 14secs. I had achieved my goal. I was delighted. What a relief. But then, Neil’s boss reminded me that I was still way below my MEG and I would be doing a re-run after school next week. Just what I needed. I was told during the feedback session that I needed to run faster. “Just do this, yeh, like this, yeh, do this, faster. F-A-S-T-E-R.” Cheers. I wasn’t sure a re-run was what I needed right now. Incredibly my colleagues all congratulated me on the achievement. Mr Blisset said “yeh mate, when I was fatter I struggled over 10km, you’ve done well” and Mr Skerrit said “Time and distance, son. You’ve done it in under an hour”. Even Coach said I had shown “impressive mental fortitude to meet the target he had imposed upon me.” Yeh, that was nice.

However, the question that has tripped over in my mind since Tuesday is: “Did Neil do the right thing?” Should Neil have allowed me to attempt to get up Wiltshire Lane, and likely fail? In not getting back up the hill and yet completing 10km in 60mins, did Neil ensure my motivation remained high or did he prevent me from experiencing an important learning opportunity? Did I need to experience failure? In being incredibly supportive, did Neil actually commit an injustice? Thoughts below.

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