‘I’ve finally learnt the importance of savouring the moment’

My cycling career was crippled by a constant focus on what I did wrong – with marathon running I enjoy every suffering minute

Daniel Stewart, top-right, came third in the dernière étape of the L’Agglo-Tour cycling race in 2015.

Daniel Stewart, top-right, came third in the dernière étape of the L’Agglo-Tour cycling race in 2015.

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Saint-Brieuc, France, 2015. I’ve just come third in L’Agglo-Tour’s dernière étape.

I’m on a lorry-stage, set up alongside the finish, post-race. Pensive, I gaze at the straight stream of white finish-line paint on the road, now slightly obscured by a number of feet standing atop it, connected to bodies and faces looking back at me. With incredible form, hindsight scolds me for not being punchier. Engrossed in the shoulda, coulda, woulda of the cycling world, the commentator snaps me out of a haze.

Clutching parlez and Français from a caravan of French noises hurled in my direction, I second-guess his next moves. I am the matador; his microphone a raging bull. I will not subject a Breton crowd to harsh, broken, Irish-French. I dodge the mic, but this is not the commentator’s first rodeo. The other podium winners haven’t turned up yet: the odds are against me and he knows it. Handing me the mic and walking away, the commentator throws down his royal flush: throwing the microphone to me, I cannot help but catch it. Abandoning me on stage affirms my position of checkmate. Surrendering, I attempt to tell the people the story of my race.

Merci pour toi rolls out an instant vote of no confidence. Moving on, I retreat to the only French-ism I am completely fluent in: the shrug.

To my relief, the other prize-winners decide to turn up only a few forced adjectives later, finally dolled up enough to receive their prizes and welcomes. Snatching back the microphone, the commentator resumes the rich, comforting singsong of fluent French in full flow.

Normality is restored.

Why this story, in the final marathon diary?

Well up with regret

As the years go on, this memory will become more distant, but I still well up with regret of not enjoying the moment. I had done a fantastic job on the day, did the Irish cycling community proud, but could only see this comical stage performance as an obstacle in the way of me obsessively analysing what I did wrong.

In my last months of my cycling career, this line of thinking crippled my mindset, soon seeping into my reality. Quitting cycling, moving into the real world, I identified this as common human thinking. Focusing on the negatives, even if out-weighed by positives, it comes naturally, sprouts involuntarily, for us to focus on the bad parts of life and where it all went wrong. It takes resilience to fight it.

I finished the Eden Project Marathon on October 14th, 2018, over an hour slower than I’d hoped for. Even so, I cannot convey how much more I enjoyed the event than L’Agglo-Tour. Suffering streamlined a hive of thoughts, usually bumbling around my head. Immense gratitude was felt for marshals, family and friends giving up their day.

At the finish, there was no commentator beckoning me onto a truck-stage to give a limited review of the day’s findings. I was swathed in my medal, collected a tee-shirt, and lay down with no disturbances – unassuming, anonymous, but elated. Enthused by the thrill of Eden’s course and how I conquered it.

I started this marathon diary to show a rough plan, blind ambition, and unyielding determination. The main target was not the time, but to enjoy the day regardless. It’s something I failed to achieve throughout a cycling career, and life has led me on a long journey to get to this point. I’ve finally learnt the importance of savouring the moment.

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” – Ernest Hemingway

I revel in my idiocy, and the next crazy challenge.

- This is the final article in a series by Daniel Stewart about training for a marathon in just 12 weeks.
Part 1: 3 months for a 3-hour marathon
Part 2: Sweat and suffering
Part 3: Ale was the only answer
Part 4: Back-end of a donkey
Part 5: ‘Ice baths! Take plenty’
Part 6: Laugh about it
Part 7: Never again
Part 8: I am a total maniac, as my soul separates

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