This is (yet another) post about running. This time though, running is just the example that applies to me and my life at the moment.
So here we go….. people often have bucket lists before big birthdays, or they set personal goals that they want to achieve, sometimes with a deadline and sometimes more generally. Maybe it’s about fitting into a wedding dress, buying a home, completing every level and challenge of Lego Star Wars, learning a language, supporting someone else’s needs, helping others be more informed about something, getting enough points to buy battle pass in the next season of Fortnight, maybe it’s a certain number of views of blog posts or followers on Twitter or Instagram or whatever.
For me, after running every day in January 2021, as I looked ahead to the year of my 40th birthday, I set my sights on a half-marathon.
So having never run more than 12km (and then having injured oneself to the point of not running for 3 months), how do you go about running a half-marathon? That’s 13.1 miles or 21.1 km in new money. Well, I downloaded a 10km to half-marathon app, and opened it, and then never used it. I’d even forgotten about it until this moment as I write this post. I figured I could just build up slowly, maybe add a kilometre every few weeks. I didn’t use a training plan – though I believe there are many available. My dad consistently told me off for increasing the distance too quickly – under some delusion that I was doing more than the most cursory planning.
At first, I did longer runs on the weekend – with no swimming or rugby to keep the kids busy and home learning all week, that was the only real choice available. But once the kids were back in school, my work arrangement of having Fridays off meant that I could still enjoy a long run once a week, even when rugby and swimming started back. So I fell into a rhythm of running 5km on Sundays and Wednesdays, and at least 10km on a Friday, increasing that distance frequently. After RED January, I just didn’t feel like anything less that 5km counted any more.
So, I just built it up quite slowly, I have a lovely quiet route not far from home. It’s mainly on a narrowish road, 2 cars wide but only just, that’s generally quiet in terms of traffic but which features lots of beautiful sights – fields of cows, sheep, geese and swans, often red kites and buzzards aloft or in trees along the verges. There are plenty of cyclists and horse riders about too.
Oh, and a flood.
Have I mentioned the flood before? No? well it’s a bugger.
I have tried various ways of dealing with this flood. I’ve climbed along the hedgerow, only to discover the verge wasn’t as firm as I thought and ended up with wet feet anyway, with the added bonus of scratched and bleeding hands and arms less than 4km into a run. I’ve run straight through it and got properly wet feet. I’ve climbed over the barbed wire fence into the adjacent field and gingerly bypassed stinging nettles under the amused gaze of the farmer. I’ve tried to go a different way, only to remember that the turning I wanted was after the flood. But at last, the flood has receded with the drier weather of late.
But hey, it wouldn’t be any fun trying to work towards our goals if there weren’t a few challenges to overcome.
The flood wasn’t just a physical challenge. There were days and weeks along the way where I really didn’t feel like running, there were runs where I stopped and caught my breath every couple of kilometres.
My efforts to increase my ability to run further have confirmed something I had already suspected. I like running in the cold. Give me frost and steamy breath any day. Freezing rain and snow? Not so bad. More than 15 C and little breeze, hell no! I hate it, I get too hot and my legs feel just so heavy.
The few runs I did when it was really warm were just thoroughly unpleasant, and the prospect of leaving my full half-marathon attempt to my actual birthday in August was what lead to a change of plan.
As I’d stretched my distance out to 18.5km by the middle of May, I felt that those extra miles were within my grasp – but I had my dad’s voice whispering in my head not to increase the distance too fast. I did a couple of passes at the same long loop, out to somewhere near Jodrell Bank and back again – up the “hill of doom”, a 1.4km stretch with over 30m of elevation gain, hard going at the end of a long run.
The day that I actually took the plunge and fulfilled my distance goal, I wasn’t planning to do that. Have you noticed that’s a bit of a feature of my running? I’m really not much good at planning or sticking to a plan. I have routes mapped out that I don’t stick to, I regularly go a bit further or a different way or change my mind while I’m out running. Never mind though, I digress.
I’d planned another 18-19km route, down my pretty lanes and back home. It was a pretty standard run, I’d learned (from the wonderful Badass Mother Runners Facebook group) that I needed to fuel myself a bit – granola before leaving the house, then gels at 45mins and 1h30, and plenty of water while I was running. At the bottom of the hill of doom, I was feeling good, 16km out and nearing home. I decided to turn left instead. I mean it, it wasn’t until 16km that I decided to push it further, I’d been toying with the idea since about 15km but it wasn’t until then that my feet lead me down a different path and out to a neighbouring village, a few wiggles down a cut through and back the other way, round the side of a park and up the hill. At last I was home, 21.3km done in a moving time of 2h13, elapsed time 2h21 and a half-marathon elapsed time of 2h19.
I was exhilarated and amazed at my body.
Just 6 months previously, the idea of running 13miles or even for more than an hour or so had never occurred to me. I didn’t know my body could do that – it has failed me so profoundly in the past, but here is something that it can do.
A four month project had paid off. I’d learned patience, let my determination overrule the idea of giving up, mastered my tendency to procrastinate or avoid or make excuses to myself not to do something. None of those things are specific to running, with another different goal I might have experienced the same achievements.
See, this post isn’t really about running. It’s about a positive mind set, about commitment, about overcoming hurdles and about the joy and pride we can feel, and deserve to celebrate, when we achieve our goals. Whether its something “big” like running a half-marathon or “small” like leaving the house or getting dressed. For some of us, getting out of bed is a huge deal and we have every right to celebrate that just as much as getting a promotion or saving enough money for a new kitchen.
Believe in yourself and you can do the unthinkable. You’re stronger and more capable than you know.
But also, celebrate your friends’ and acquaintances’ achievements, no matter how small or trivial they may seem to you. Just, be kind.
(here endeth the self-righteous lesson in positivity, sorry if that got a bit preachy at the end).