This is a rowing competition – 5,000 metres for the girls and 10,000 for the guys – completed in a series of heats; the best times win free membership and other goodies.
The contest is a friendly one – but there’s a powerful compulsion to succeed, be that to win your heat or beat your time. Girls and guys both are teeth gritted and sweat beading; the rhythm of the machines is repetitive, hypnotic – it drives you mesmerically onward.
It’s a fast, forceful race. Quitting is not an option.
So: this is the point where I give you the achievement speech?
No: this is the point where I tell you I quit.
I gave up, less than 500 metres from the end of course, because the elastic strap of my top was running directly across a friction burn on my back, tearing repetitively at the healing skin. Sweat was tickling down either side of my spine and the salt was bringing tears to my eyes – literally.
As the crescendo rose, I relinquished my part in it.
I was gutted; in the sudden stillness, I was also acutely self-conscious.
And I wondered how on earth I was going to explain.
We know our friends don’t judge us – they’re our friends – but somewhere, you hear that faint, metallic echo of regret that lingers through the sound of ‘you did your best’. And when the word ‘friend’ has spiralled from the local pub to the global one, ‘I quit’ is the tweet your fingers twitch from typing.
That’s human, isn’t it?
It’s a rare moment when Twitter actually makes something harder.
It took the cool walk to the changing rooms and a wincing look at my back to reach the (obvious) realisation: –
The rhythmic roar of the machines and the rush of adrenaline, endorphins, had fused into a desire to ‘live up to’ something. And that wasn’t the responsibility of my competitors, my mates or my friends on Twitter – that was something I’d caused for myself.
Twitter can help us learn, strive, expand, encompass and comprehend… but ultimately how we choose to use it is up to us. Using it as a motivator is good – using it as sophistry to push yourself too far is not.
I’ll keep the scar on my back as a memento: sometimes the lesson you learn is how to quit.