Several times a week I find myself thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and “who am I, and what ever happened to the me I used to know?“.
For the first 40ish years of my life, I lived happily sure in the knowledge that running was only useful in organised team sports, and then only when absolutely necessary. I’ve never seen anybody out running with a smile on their face, and “real athletes” (like olympians) aren’t human so don’t count (plus they’re probably on steroids…right?).
I therefore knew, without having to try for myself, that running sucks and nobody normal would voluntarily do it.
And then, approaching 40, I found myself consciously avoiding mirrors, dreading trips to the park to run around with the kids, and huffing and puffing unreasonably on the basketball court. So with a little motivational support from my family I started dragging myself down to the local park before sunrise and joining in a boot camp. It started great, nice people, encouraging, motivating, fun variety of exercise.
Until “Week Two”.
We arrived one morning in the cold and dark as usual, but there was no gear set-up in the park, no exercise equipment. Just the trainer standing there, smiling his evil smile. “It’s a running day” he said, before briefly describing the course and sending us on our way. The shortest course he outlined was 5km, but there were 8km (you must be joking) and 10km (don’t be ridiculous!) options as well. “10k in an hour boot camp session? That’s not possible.” I thought to myself.
That first morning I made it 1km before grinding to a halt, and shuffling along for the rest of the 5k loop, arriving back to see the rest of my crew getting in their cars to head for home. I hated running that day just as much as I ever thought I would.
But little by little, the boot camp worked, fitness improved, and with one dedicated running session a week I gradually got better at it. In the final week of my 8-week boot camp experience I ran 5km non-stop. I have to tell you, I skipped, danced, sung and laughed out loud on that last half-kilometre through the deserted pre-dawn streets of Launceston – pity the early morning shift workers who had to witness it. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined running 5k and here I was, about to do it.
A couple of weeks later I heard about the Launceston Ten – a dead flat mass participation “fun run” (oxymoron alert!) a few months away. I kept up the training, increased distances little by little and had a crack at it, finishing in a faster time than I dared think possible, and running the whole way (the first time I managed that over the 10km distance). It was such an adrenaline rush to set out in a field of over 1500 runners, all tackling their own internal demons and trying desperately for a personal best, or even just to finish. I loved every step of that run (my first and last ever “competitive” run).
Stupidly as I crossed the finish line I heard a little voice inside my head say “that wasn’t so bad, what about a half marathon?” That’s as good a reason as any never to trust the little voice inside your head.
Life intervened and we ended up moving back to Brisbane – so it wasn’t until 12 months later I had my first “half” experience – at the 2013 Gold Coast Half-Marathon. I chose that race for one reason: the course is dead flat (see a theme here?). I trained fairly well, including a pre-race “long” run of about 17km and set off to the coast to run 21.1km (not for the first time thinking those same thoughts I mentioned right up the top of this little story) in my second ever competitive running race.
Like many rookies I went out too fast and paid the price – hitting the invisible (but very real) “wall” at 17k and struggling home. I crossed the line, collapsed on the ground and (I’m not ashamed to admit it) wept. The emotions of the moment overpowered me. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that less than two years after getting off the couch I had just run 21.1km. I was also mighty relieved, having now run that distance and got it out of my system, I could head home, keep doing a couple of 5-7k runs a week and just go bike riding with my mates for fun and fitness. It (my two-race old competitive running career) was over. Thank goodness.
Except I made the mistake of going back to the finish line a few hours later to watch the marathon runners coming in.
Not the elite non-human athletes, but the “normal” people, finishing in 4 or 4 1/2 hours. People that (while clearly fit) look like you and I, come in all shapes, sizes and ages. And the sense of achievement written all over their faces at that finish line (along with other things like “I feel like vomiting” and “I hate running”) stirred up that little voice inside my head one more time:
“I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?”
What is it that makes people think things like that? What is it that makes people run?
I’ve discovered many things about running, and about myself while running. Sometimes it’s the peace and quiet. Sometimes its the amazing sunrises on an early morning outing. Sometimes its the chance to ponder work challenges. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just listen to the rhythm of my feet and breath, and don’t think about anything at all. Sometimes its the sheer blessed relief of sitting down after a long, painful run.
Sometimes I do hate it, but mostly I’ve come to love it. Lacing up the shoes, slipping into something light, breathable and non-chafing (now that’s a challenge!) and heading out the door in the quietness of the early morning….I don’t know, I guess I breathe differently when I’m on the trail.
And so I run, and (so far) keep on running.
Which brings me to this point, the start of May 2014 and now just 9 weeks until I find out the answer to that last little question: “I wonder what it would be like to run a marathon?”. I’m entered in the Gold Coast Marathon (it’s flat remember!) and will have a crack at the full 42.195km on July 6th for my third (and last!) competitive running race.
Training has been going well, I’ve been racking up lots of miles and my longer runs are building in distance – up to a 25km outing last weekend for my third weekend in a row of running half-marathon distance or more. My training schedule (concocted with the help of My Asics and tweaked a little after some running forum conversations) takes me out to 32-35 over the next 6 weeks before a 2-3 week taper ( I know…I get to taper as if I’m a real athlete!). I hear it’s what happens beyond 30km and when you’ve been on the road 3 to 3 1/2 hours that really tells if you’re ready for a marathon.
I have to say, my family have been fantastic. There’s a lot of hours on the road, and while I mostly try and go early in the mornings, it inevitably creeps into family time…and they’ve been nothing but supportive.
So far I’ve suffered no significant injuries, just a constant state of exhaustion, dead legs and the never-ending desire to crawl into bed and sleep for a year. I’m constantly dreading and at the same time aching for my next long run. I sure hope that’s all normal (it definitely doesn’t sound like it to me!).
So here I am, inviting you (my 2 friends, and 2 relatives who read this!) to join me for the next few weeks. For that period I’m going to use this blog as something of a training diary, keeping track of how I’m going, how often I’m thinking “what the hell am I doing?” and how many times I’m tempted to withdraw my entry. I promise this isn’t going to turn into a fitness blog for the future…just for a few weeks.
And if you want, come and join my on the running track for a few km to keep me company or teach me some things about running (for I am a rookie….making it up as I go along!). If you want to check in with the training runs in a little more detail, you can find all my info over at strava. If you know stuff about running, I will gladly hear your wisdom.
I have two main goals for the next few weeks. First to learn to run a little slower – to make the pace sustainable over the distance. And second, to figure out how to shut down that little voice in my head….in case it says something genuinely stupid like “what about an iron-man distance triathlon?”
I fear I’m in this for the long run.