Fear as Motivator

On Tuesday night I set out for my after-work run.  It’s October, and it’s England, and that means dusk begins at around 6.45pm.  I generally approach running in the darkness by

  • not caring
  • wearing a jacket that makes me visible from the outer troposphere

However.  In the intervening period since I last had occasion to pelt my way from A to B in the cold dank winter gloom I have relocated from a giant metropolis where it is never truly dark to a suburban backwater where the lights have little caps on to stop them emitting too much of a glow lest it offend anyone’s sensibilities.

On Tuesday it was reasonably light when I set out, and owing to previously-documented boredom I elected to reverse my route.  Thus it was that at the end of my run, a time approaching 7.10pm, I arrived at the disused-railway-line portion.  And some unintended consequences.

During the daytime, the disused railway line is delightful: rabbits, birds, and people walking dogs.  It’s pleasantly shaded from the sun by virtue of overhanging trees forming a tunnel of foliage.  I hate running in bright sunlight.

At the gloaming, and especially during – as this was – a misty evening, the disused railway line is akin to the climactic scene from a really good horror film: one that has you on the edge of your seat and peeking from behind a cushion.  One that you dwell upon for weeks afterwards so disturbing was its premise and realism.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I noticed my speed increasing soon after I entered the mile-long stretch of old line.  The further in I went, the darker it got, the faster I ran.  By the time I was expelling expletives about the location of the exit-point being much further than I recalled, I was practically into a sprint.  I had not seen another soul, but that doesn’t mean I hadn’t imagined them waiting to leap out from densely-packed trees clutching an axe and wearing a mask made of remnants of  Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress, screaming blood-curdling desire to hack me limb from limb.

On flat ground I run a ten-minute mile.  On Tuesday, I averaged 9min 38sec miles over 3.6 miles.  Averaged.  Now, the rest of my route was an endurance-enhancing uphill struggle during which I slowed to the pace of an arthritic snail.  Which means I covered that mile of disused railway line in a never before witnessed Nic speed of oh my god is it it a bird? is it a plane?  NO, it’s an idiot.

I learned the following things.  Firstly, that I am physically capable of running much faster and for much longer than I think, which is good for when I need to escape serial killers.  Secondly, that if I want to speed-train an effective method is to scare myself shitless first.  Thirdly, that I shouldn’t run down a disused railway line in the dark because really, it’s a miracle I didn’t trip over a tree root.  Or get murdered in a place where nobody could hear me scream.

On Thursday I ran (exclusively on lit roads) 4.8 miles and on Sunday I managed 7.58 miles. If I can just get an Alien to chase me round the race route I might have a hope of not finishing last in my age/gender category.

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5 Responses to “Fear as Motivator”


  1. 1 unmitigated me (m.a.w.) October 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Scary men with masks and axes are marvelous motivators.

  2. 2 Jenn @ Juggling Life October 5, 2010 at 2:28 am

    In the scenario you describe, even I would have been able to run fast!

  3. 3 Jonathan October 5, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    I did the same trick – running faster – not running through fear – a couple of years ago. It suddenly came into my head one morning to see how fast I could go, and ran about a mile almost twice as fast as normal – and amazed myself.

    Something else I noticed on a bike is that we tend to be stronger than our joints allow – if I put the power down, I tend to hurt myself.

  4. 4 Rima October 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    I think this is an excellent approach. Maybe next time you could hire an attack dog to chase you! “Anything for a nine minute mile” is what I always say ;)

  5. 5 cardinal October 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    It’s unseemly for me to laugh so hard at your experience. I have a wild imagination that is always creating fear, so I can relate. Except to the going fast part… I’m more of a collapse in a heap gal!


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