Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Sadistic Inclination

It's been a long time since the last time I went up Mount Kinabalu. I've been up there 11 times, and it's highly unlikely that I will ever attempt it again. Some time in my late thirties, I developed the altitude sickness, and whenever I went up the mountain, I would suffer terribly, and would take a few days to recover.

It's interesting, however, that whenever I climbed the mountain on my way up to Laban Rata, I'd bump into other mountain climbers who were on their way down. Pretending to be a first-timer mountain climber, I'd ask them how much further to reach Laban Rata. In most cases they would say something like "Almost there!"; or "Just a little bit more", even if it was in fact very much further still to go!

Since I started running races a couple of years ago, I have noticed an interesting tendency about people in general. I run races of varying distances; and more recently, I have done ultra trail marathons up to 100km. In some of those races, when I was exhausted and hoping for the torture to end as soon as possible, I took the trouble to ask the Marshals "How much further?".

The strange reality about asking Route Marshals about remaining distances is that an overwhelming majority of them would deliberately tell you a much shorter distance than it really is. From what I've been through, I'd say easily 80% of them would purposely give you the wrong information—saying something like "Oh! about 3km to go...", when they know that there's actually 5km to go.

In the recent Borneo International Marathon, of which I was involved in overseeing the race routes, I found myself at the tail end of the race route, ie about 1.5km to go to the finish line. And I took the trouble to announce to the runners that they had 1.5km to go. That was the truth. A fellow Route Marshal who stood beside me then said that I should have told the runners that they had only 500 metres to go.

I turned to him and asked why would I lie about the distance? He smiled as if embarrassed by my question, and seemed lost for ideas. But after a while, he said he would lie because he wanted the runners to be encouraged to run faster.

However, in most cases, when these runners run the subsequent 500 metres much faster, they would end up even more exhausted; yet they'd still have 1km to go thereafter. The pain would be even more. In fact, in all likelihood, they may even end up walking to the finish line. I'm convinced that my fellow Route Marshal knew this for a fact, yet he chose to lie about the distance anyway. Immediately we ask ourselves—Why?

Sometimes when faced with a difficult question, there is a tendency to offer the easiest and most logical answer. But the easiest and most logical answer is not necessarily the truth.

There is a psychological significance to this.

Some people do it consciously; others do it sub-consciously. But the truth is that somewhere in all of us there is that sadistic inclination, whether you want to admit it or not. There is that strange craving for seeing or causing pain and suffering upon others. The only question is to what degree. We derive some sort of strange pleasure of seeing others suffer the disappointment and torment of having to continue yet another 1km when they had expected the torture to end.


Unknown said...

I love to shout out "200 metres more" even if it is still more than 1km from the finish line. So far nobody has come back to harmtam me yet. Hahahaha:)

Socrates29 said...

Your article reminds me of another situation concerning timing and distances,though not related to running marathons.

I used to travel a lot especially to China.One of the interesting thing I found during my traveling around certain parts of China is the answer I usually get when asking the locals there how far or how long more will it take to get to the destination to which I want to go to (for example,one of the shopping centre or general market).

The usual answer I get is "10 minutes" or "15 minutes" but 9 out of 10 times I found to my dismay, the "10 minutes" or "15 minutes" is actually 30 minutes or more because the locals gave the timing according to their pace and not to that of the unwary tourist whose pace may not be so fast or quick!

Unknown said...

I intially wanted to disagree with your statement, as I felt that giving one a false sense of hope will drive them to keep going.

But after Standard Chartered's Half Marathon, I can't help but to agree with you. All tired and cranky, it's annoying when somebody tells you you're '1 more km' from the finish line which was 2 km away.

But here are some of the sentences that I still can accept:
"Almost there"
"You can do it"
"Tired legs are sexy"
"Naked cheerleaders 1 km ahead"

Cornelius said...


I know it can be quite amusing - and entertaining - to "trick" the runners like that... until somebody else does the same thing to you!... hehe. As I said, we derive some sort of strange pleasure from it!

Cornelius said...


In the example that you've quoted, I think it's a different scenario. In that case, they tell you the "wrong distance" not because of trying to to fool you; rather, they're truly convinced that that's indeed the correct distance! It's just that they're not so good in their sense of distance!

We sometimes get that too when tracking through our villages, and when asking the villagers how much further, you can always expect to get wrong information. But those information are given without any intention to mislead you!

Cornelius said...

Juin Yi Ng,

As I said, people derive some sort of pleasure, ie entertainment, from seeing other suffer because of their deliberate misinformation.

But saying things like "Almost There" or "You can do it" are genuinely meant to give encouragements. These are not meant to mislead. So yes, I would welcome those too.