How do you help someone who doesn't want any help?
Possibly an unusual question to ask in a blog about running, but bear with me - I've been thinking some about a run last weekend and I reckon it's a question I'd like to open up to you guys.
Sunday morning, around 4am, was the start of my latest run to a nearby(ish) local beach, at Saunton. This is the same route that I wrote about here, incidentally. Having been up an hour earlier than planned, at 2.30, and unable to then get any more sleep before getting out of bed around an hour later, I was still feeling pretty rough around the edges as I met up with a couple of friends on the square of our town.
I say a couple of friends; it was a friend and a new friend really: I've known and run with Lee for a long time, but this was the first time I'd gone out running with Marcus. A friend of Lee's himself, I'd met him a couple of weeks back, when he'd approached me with 'I think I follow you on Twitter' and it had turned out that since March, he'd been starting his own journey towards planned ultra-greatness. Between the two of them, Marcus came along as he'd said he wanted the two of us to go out running soon and this would be his furthest distance run so far, at 30km; Lee is always up for pretty much anything, and he'd thought that a long night/dawn run would be a good craic.
After making sure we were all set to go, we started running through the darkness, along the river that passes through the town in the direction of its estuary in the beach that we would eventually reach.
We were running pretty easily (the route's pretty much dead flat on smooth terrain for a lot of it) and chatting away happily - making the time pass much more quickly than on solo runs. We made it to about the 8km mark before Lee started pulling up short and complaining that his knee was starting to give him some trouble along the outside - this continued until we reached the next town over, at around 10km.
We didn't really know what to do - Lee didn't want to stop; he was still game for reaching the beach and we were perfectly happy having the occasional walking break between running bursts, so there wasn't too much of a problem. Although I don't think he'd consider it his primary sport, Lee's a good, quick runner, at least over shorter distances (he rinsed his section of Man Versus Horse a little while back) so we weren't overly concerned - none of us really wanted to admit that aside from simply turning around and walking back, there wasn't really much of an alternative anyway.
This is where my current thoughts and the subject of this blog stemmed from: while Marcus and I had lights, Lee hadn't brought a torch and declined an offer of a spare to use; he turned down a drink from our water when he had none. He started insisting that Marcus and I left him to walk on as we were within a kilometre of the beach and then when we reached it, where we eventually took the decision to leave him to walk and get the first bus home, it was a struggle to get him to eat any food to try and stop him getting cold as he waited.
After that description, I should be very clear: I mean to imply no foolishness or any other negative qualities on Lee's part. He's not pig-headedly proud, he's just one of those guys who rarely accepts offers of assistance - and this brings me to my point.
What do we do in these situations? In a community such as running, we all see it all as far as requirements for assistance go, all across the spectrum. From being insistent that someone needs help (when their own personal experience is making them just as sure that they don't), to trying to decide who's doing the right thing for whom by a group splitting into the 'stand-a-chance-of-winnings' and the 'just-want-to-finishes', to a struggler keeping their mouth shut for fear of pestering someone that would quite eagerly help if they knew it was required, to even experienced runners who occasionally need to be told it's time to take on a few calories and that the end isn't that close yet.
How do we know which situation we're in? On the understanding that everyone, young and old, novice or veteran, can learn from each other, how easy is it to spot when you're the one who needs to offer help or guidance and when you're the one to take it?
Krissy Moehl has written a good, honest account here of her recent ill-fated FKT attempt on the John Muir Trail with Jenn Shelton and the emotional turmoil of taking a turn on the side of needing help; of not wanting to have to 'give up' when with someone else (she describes it in far, far better and more accurate ways than I've done here). On another hand, at Badwater, DNF stands for 'Did Nothing Fatal', highlighting the perils of not recognising the need for help at the right time.
To get super philosophical for a second and reference Seneca:
...yet as recruits cry aloud when only slightly wounded, and shudder more at the hands of the surgeon than at the sword, while veterans even when transfixed allow their hurts to be dressed without a groan, and as patiently as if they were in someone else's body, so now you ought to offer yourself courageously to be healed...
Experience lends itself to taking courage in being healed, to being brave enough to accept help.
By contrast again, though, what about the average age of the engineers and scientists who worked to put a man on the moon - 28! Certain companies (especially tech-centred businesses) deliberately mirror this youthful workplace today, specifically to ensure that they're staffed by thinkers who haven't been shown what they can't do yet; who still don't know their own limitations, even if that means they can't recognise when they need the old doctor.
I guess I'm not trying to say that either end of the spectrum is right or wrong, I just found it interesting to consider the nature of how experience works and moves amongst runners after this weekend. After Marcus and I grudgingly left Lee at the beach and made our way back at a comfortably brisk pace, it was interesting to see slight old parallels of myself in Marcus. To hear him relaying familiar ideas through a new voice and to very much hear the 'don't know their own limitations' side of things coming through. The fact that 30km was his furthest so far, but he's very adamant that ultras are where his heart lies. Dreaming beyond fear and living beyond limits, for sure.
I think I'd rather stay on that side for a while longer yet.
...heh heh, I actually said 'thinking some' back up there at the start - look at me, all American and such - you guys are obviously rubbing off on me.