February 3, 2014 by John Buckley
“3 degrees” read the thermometer outside of a pub perched on an outlook, over Dublin City. The only warmth was the quick hug from my Mother, with a “Good luck, I’m very proud of you”, as she scurried back to the car. It was my second race of the year; Ticknock Hill awaited. I have never been on it, but I had been waiting for the second race of the IMRA league for the last two weeks. I was waiting on my time slot, waiting on my number, not the ground beneath my feet, nor the feast for my senses.
The second bit of warmth that day came from a whole host of testosterone filled bodies, crammed, six abreast, on a tiny bothrin, waiting for the start. GO! But I had been on go for a long time before. Thinking about the course, thinking about every muscle I’d use, thinking about my breathing, thinking about how much I’d need to eat, thinking about how it would feel to win….not that I would, but imagined it nonetheless.
It’s probably only coincidence, but this weekend a number of things have happened that got me thinking about this drive to win, for men, and then the fall, after the perceived underachieving or not succeeding. Firstly I’m reading a book called “The Male Brain”; the housemate recommended it to me, after another après work exploration of masculinity (which is becoming a feature of my new tenancy. I’d highly recommend to any gent out there). The book focuses on how the endocrine system (the hormone job) works and impacts on us. It lead me to google “can you buy dopamine?”. The “drug” that gives us the buzz after we take a risk or achieve something. And it sure is addictive! The second thing I came across this weekend was, thanks to my friend James, touchline seats at Ireland v Scotland in the six nations. If ever there was a sport that oozes an unrelenting desire to achieve, then this is it. Every step forced backward was met with vicious verbal dressing downs, while every step forward was met with slaps to the back, forehead to forehead eye roars, galvanizing achievement.
I know that was a bit of a long winded context, but I think it helped me to think through my thesis here. So anyway, there I was on Ticknock Hill, exchange the bants with the other runners. “Would ya look at your man’s shoes, sure he’s no chance” and “No Gar, I’m going to pull back ye’ll be much faster”. Men doing men stuff, eyeing up the competition, but trying to play down their chances in order to hopefully beat those expectations.
Sure I was there, head down, as always, banging my thighs and repeating Al Pacino’s ‘Inches’ speech in my head. “It’s a game of inches John”. That day it certainly was, every inch was effort, my body and brain didn’t link up at all. I self scolded the whole way through the course, annoyed at myself. I crossed the finish line and just kept walking and didn’t stop. I was fucking pissed at myself.
I got back to the car, banging around like 15-year-old John. The mother, an expert at this stage, after 27 years of me, said all the lovely things, but I was caught up in it. I knew I was never going to win, but I knew what I wanted to achieve, and I hadn’t and that meant, to me, at that moment, I had lost.
I had the hump for most of Sunday and into this morning. And now I’m kind of at acceptance, trying to reflect upon and learn from an awareness I hopefully now have, that hopefully will help me, and maybe you, to understand this ‘winning man syndrome’.
I think a lot of the drive we have is hardwired in us, to a certain extent. Once we get a whiff of dopamine, it’s hard to let it go. For me it was this time last year, I was running the Hell and Back, I finished 32 out of over 1,000. I was like “WTF??!?! This is awesome”. I think I’ve a mild case of dopamine addiction. I was proud of what I achieved and ever since I’ve pushed myself to reach that and more, for the buzz. It’s a reward like no other. So maybe if you’re a dude or know one, that might be something to remember. It’s easy to get hooked on achieving. And when personal expectations aren’t met, it can be a bad time.
I hope what I have learnt this weekend, after being an ass to myself, and others, is that getting my wins in is important to me, achievement is probably important to all of us, but it’s the management of the feelings and behaviours that come with that dopamine rush/or lack thereof. We all want that go forward rugby intensity feeling, but not at the cost of the low lights. I think what I may do is try and get some of the other hormones going, more hugs anyone for the oxytocin buzz?????
This rambling blog was hopefully a catalyst to reflect on winning. I know I still want to, I know this week I’m going to push hard in training, and I know the I’ll be mouthing random sporting quotes to myself at the start line of the next race. But hopefully I’ll now become more aware and proud of myself for getting out there and doing as well as I can, for me, not for anyone else. That’s the bar I should set for myself, not a number on an online score sheet. Yesterday I was running through untracked forest of such beauty, emerging out into a skyline over one of the most amazing cities in the world to me, and I missed it. I wasn’t there for that, I was there for a time and a number. And I’m the one who lost out.
So to all the winners in your life (including you), my words of wisdom are few, keep getting the wins in for you, but try to go easier on yourself, do it for you and for feeling good about yourself. But also do it to feel, to live, to take it. Life rushes by in numbers, when you’ve the chance to feel part of something, try and put living in the moment on a parallel with the win.