By Christopher Spriggs of Heads Up Now
They kept coming, so we kept cheering. Sometimes they were solo, sometimes they ran in clusters, feet kicking up dust, shadows shrunken by a fierce sun. Each person had a race number pinned to their front, a number now blotted by sweat, dirt and water. Their number as indecipherable as their thoughts or speech. My children and I were part of the volunteer team at the event, in Hornchurch Essex. An event which was easier to watch than participate in, for it involved 24 hours of continuous running around a country park, each loop an undulating 5.8 miles. Some participated in small teams, others ran solo, from midday on the Saturday through to noontime Sunday. The sun blistered skin, in addition to blistered feet, so when my eldest son found a spray bottle at our ‘Marshal Station’ and offered runners “free showers” by squirting water directly into their faces, this was happily received. Some passed and surrendered to the drizzle of droplets.
Why am I telling you this? Because during the hours of marshalling – which mainly involved simple tasks of endless clapping, pointing the way and collecting litter – my youngest son came up with a game. He wanted to find out as many runners’ names as he could. “Hey, what’s your name?” he’d ask, and Race No. 18 would say “Er…Mick”. “Hey, what’s your name?” my son would ask the next runner, and Race No. 35 would say “Oh, me? Um. Oh, I’m Michelle”. It seems endurance running slows down the name recall function.
In the work of Nancy Kline, pioneer of the Thinking Environment, Nancy has identified, through empirical observation over the last four decades, the components which, when present, help people think, feel and perform at their best. For example, when people are treated as equal rather than as inferior – hey presto! – their thinking and performance improves. Same goes with offering people non-interrupted attention. One of the other components which makes a big difference is encouragement. This won’t surprise you, I hope, but just pause – where and when today did you hear encouragement? Where and with whom did you speak some? (You probably did, okay – this isn’t a test).
Encouragement. In our news-frenzied world, saturated with social media comparisons and polarised views on Brexit, Love Island and Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat – encouragement might be in short supply. But it is always available, and always welcome. We think – and run – better with it.
Picture it: Each time, on lap 19, then lap 20…(do the maths as to the miles these guys were running), when my children spotted another solo runner they’d seen before, they began to sing – not just yell – but SING their name! Consider it: You’ve been running almost non-stop for 24 hours (save for a loo break, to pop a blister and scoff a croissant), your feet are crumbling in the heat, you can barely remember your own name and then… from out behind a bush three young children burst out, and sing about how glorious you are! Some runners became tearful. One stopped and just soaked in the (slightly out-of-tune) anthem, an oasis of positivity to ease his pain.
Many of us will not attempt to run over 100 miles in one go. This is called sanity. It’s okay. But we all know times in our life when we feel starved of encouragement. As a parent, a boss, a sibling, a partner. So, who could you cheer on today? Who could you text, call or speak to, right now, to encourage: “You know what, I think you’ve done so well with…”; “Hey, I was just thinking about what a difference you made when…”; “I’ve been meaning to say, you really inspired me when you…”
You don’t have to sing your words of encouragement, unless you want to. If you want a song about you, then try running 100 miles in the summertime. I know three kids who will cheer you on.
Christopher Spriggs is the founder of Heads Up Now, which offers coaching and support for young people, teachers and leaders to think, feel and perform at their best, more often and more easily.
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