127. Altiora peto, and other Latin lovers

‘I aim higher’. Altiora peto – that’s the motto of my old school, and it’s been a great maxim to take through life, whether for study, sports (especially darts, of course) or business.

gogo-latin.jpgPersistence and patience are the keys to achievement, in just about all things, especially when allied with a burning desire to learn and to improve.

I’ve found that sticking to a task, and simply pressing on, regardless of distractions and disappointments, is often the best approach to reaching a challenging goal.

Nihil sine labore – because application is everything.
After my first marathon (4:18 in London, 2001), I knew there was a faster time lurking within me. I worked hard, I entered another classic race and I came close to my sub-four hour target (4:05 in Chicago, 2002).

Tantalisingly close. So close that I kept on trying.

Per ardua ad astra – that one is actually the RAF’s motto, but perhaps it was true that through struggle I still could reach the stars. I trained harder again, running 4:06 on a hilly course in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2003, and hoped I could run 3:59, somewhere, some time.

‘It’ll probably come when you least expect it,’ encouraged Ed in Dallas, as semper fidelis as any good friend should be.

I’ve run four more marathons since then. Different courses, different conditions, different training.

Non illegitumum carborundum – and I’ve tested that one, too, treading four differently brutal paths to the finish line – each time on schedule to the half, but falling behind whilst coming home.

latin33.jpgBut the last of those races was the slowest, and one thing is certain. I’m never going to break four hours, not now.

Tempus fugit – it’s five years since my first marathon, and I’ve been running for nine years. I improved steadily for a time, but not any more.

I never used to suffer from injuries, but now I do, and I simply can’t train harder, or that much smarter, even if I really wanted to.

It’s never easy to face up to missing a goal, especially one that you’ve held for quite a while. But I’m fitter now than I was twenty years ago. In autumn 2000, I wasn’t sure that I could finish one marathon, let alone seven, and whilst I won’t reach the precise time I hoped for, it’s achievement all the same.

I know that I could drift through pointless struggles ad infinitum, always finding disappointment in my running. But honestly, I enjoy life far too much for that.

latin4.jpgI’m not sure I want to run twenty miles every weekend, or even much more than ten. But I do want to enjoy a good hour’s run, whenever I can.

I’d like to race occasionally, not always pushing the furthest limits of my bodily endurance, yet hearing the exhilarating sound of a thousand rejoicing feet. Stretching my own envelope cautiously, or even a little more than that.

I’d like to keep on running in all my favourite woods and hills, to explore different landscapes and cities, to see new sights and new places, to gaze on fresh horizons and to understand the world better than I did before.

I’d like to run down old familiar towpaths, and across new fields and clifftops. I want to talk through social runs at lunchtime, think tranquil thoughts on lonely, solitary nightfalls, and force my burning legs through icy winter dusks towards a well-earned beer beside a roasting fire. I want to stay fit to do all those things, Dei gratia, for years and years ahead.

It’s a subtle shift of ambition, but I know it has to come.

latin22.jpgI may not be fast, and I’ll certainly run ever slower.

But speed alone can say nothing important about a runner’s commitment, and I know that my feet, and my aims, will still fly as high as ever.

So altiora peto. Because curro, ergo sum.

Related articles:
2. My first marathon: London 2001
31. Running slow
1. Chicago 1, London 3
7. What started it all ?
28. Thoughts on racing
20. My last ever marathon


17 responses to “127. Altiora peto, and other Latin lovers

  1. Hear! Hear! A more gentlemanly sort of running, this, amateur and subtly joyful and good.

  2. Overheard in the gym (as spoken by a 50-year old): I’m twice as strong, now…but I can only do half as much.

    So it goes. Time robs us of some gifts, leaves others in their stead. It’s all good. The best things about running, for me, were the freedom, the contemplation and the joy. It was never about time. It was always about time standing still as I relished life itself.

    Enjoy those runs!

  3. Wise words indeed, my friend, and not as sad as one might suspect.
    I feel my own quest for greatness reaching a pinnacle. It is a wise man to acknowledge such a moment; legion are the sporting heroes unable to read the sell-by-date on their sports shoes.

    After all, Homo vitae commodatus non donatus est.
    And besides, Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.

    And, last but not least, Furnulum pani nolo!

  4. I’d be honoured to aspire towards gentlemanly amateurism, Nels, thinking perhaps of the Lord Burleigh figure from Chariots of Fire. Doubtless a knowledge of the Classics proved essential whilst jumping over those champagne glasses so carefully placed on each hurdle in training …
    Jonas misses running enormously, and that thought was one of many to remind me how many different kinds of ‘personal best times’ there are which have nothing whatsoever to do with speed.
    As for Sweder – he is an educated and lyrical fellow, and a fine runner, too. But it appears I’ve underestimated his talent for philosophy:
    ‘Homo vitae commodatus non donatus est’
    – Man has been lent to life, not given. (Pubilius Syrus).
    ‘Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit’
    – Perhaps someday we will look back upon these things with joy.
    And finally:
    ‘Furnulum pani nolo’
    – I don’t want a toaster.
    Now that really is profound.

  5. It’ll probably come when you least expect it.

  6. Quid quid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.

  7. Quod erat demonstrandum.

  8. I think times are lofty goals for any race, but the problem is what to do once you reach them. I actually ran quite fast (for me) once and I have never been able to duplicate that time. I burned myself out on too many miles and that led to injuries. Apparently, I have a limited amount of weekly mileage to work with otherwise I fall apart. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure the sacrifices are worth the one or two minutes I can squeeze out of a marathon. But I took great joy out of running a hilly, challenging marathon and another one on no training. For me it’s no longer about the time, but trying to get out there and run a few days a week. And maybe a race or two. I probably will never be the fast, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my races.

  9. my family motto is “Altiora Peto” which also means ‘I seek the high places’…. i take that as a mountaineer’s mindset. I have heard it also means ‘i seek excellence”?

    my favorite is however- nec aspera terrent
    one of the inf regiments i served in

    the grunts said it meant “no fear on earth”

    the officers said it meant something like “we can get it done”

    i was a grunt.

    any ideas? nice site veritatus

  10. Greetings, Richard, and welcome.

    My favourite story was told by a school chaplain, about a boy who spent the entire Sunday service unsuccessfully flicking curled up scraps of paper from the gallery of the chapel towards a lady in the front row of the pews. The chaplain stopped from his sermon, and pointed up at the boy. There was silence. Finally the chaplain, spoke, and a smile crossed his lips.

    Altiora peto,” he said. Aim higher.

    * * * * *

    So now for your challenge, to translate Nec aspera terrent.

    Well, Google suggests quite a few alternatives…

    – Nor do difficulties deter
    – And they fear not hardship
    – Difficulties be damned
    – Fear no difficulties
    – By difficulties undaunted
    – Bitter hardship shall not deter us
    – Undaunted by adversity.

    That last one is probably my favourite. Except, perhaps, for the old schoolboy alternative:
    Unafraid of asparagus.

  11. Also had “Altiora Peto” as a school motto and we were given the translation as “I seek higher things”

    The variations are interesting



  12. Yes, John — that’s just about it. The perfect motto for aspiration.

    As for defining aspiration — that’s a shifting target as we go through life. Best wishes today to summer in Australia from frrrozen Brrritain.

  13. Encontré estas dos palabras “altiora peto· circunvalando un escudo o quizá una condecoración con laureles y palma, coronado por una corona real y bajo ella las letras “A XII” como fomdo de todo ello una cruz quizá de añguna orden de caballeros, en el centro un ave de presa, pudiera ser un águila y al pie un barro-
    co esccudo con cuatro cuarteles, dos de Castilla y dos de León y al centro del
    mismo el emblema de los Borbones las tres flores de lis.
    Lo que yo buscaba en relidad, es ¿ Qué signica o qué es altiora peto?
    Gracias por todo

  14. Hola, Pacho.

    En inglés, “altiora peto” se traduciera como, “I seek higher,” or “I aim at higher things.” Supongo que en castellano, se puede quizá decir “Busco lo más alto,” o “Aspiro más alto.”

    Buena suerte, y recuerdos desde Londres.

  15. Port Regis, Dorset, UK — my old prep school.
    Stumbled across your site looking up the spelling of the motto.
    “I seek ever upward” – and the first headmaster was called…Mr Upward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s