In case you’d got the wrong idea from the title, this is not a book review. I enjoy writing book reviews as much as I enjoy reading them although I will go as far as to say if you’re at all interested in either the life of an author or in running, give it a try.
So what is this instead? This is an account of my own descent into insanity. I’m not a fan of running. As a very competitive person I should really feel a great respect for the act of challenging yourself against the most basic and arguably purest of sports, and I do. I was as impressed as the next person to watch Mo Farah lead the rest of the world home over both 5,000m and 10,000m. Bolt (and all his competition) is incredible. When it comes to me running though, I felt no interest at all. The few times I have run have left me uninspired and hobbling. I never spared it any thought as a pastime, always erring on the side of cycling or rowing when given the choice.
So when, at the end of last year, a number of my friends, all of whom had been running on and off for a while, started talking about doing organised runs, I quickly stood back and let them get on with it. They seemed to enjoy it where I never did and I was fine with that. They had fun and I could still walk up stairs without wincing.
In November they ran their first race (as a group anyway – I’ve not followed them all their lives), A 10k around a park. I wasn’t there but in the aftermath, I was surprised to start feeling, there’s no other way of putting it, like I was missing out. This was the competitive part of me seeing an opportunity for me to compete against people I knew from a non-sports setting, for the first time. It seemed like a perfect challenge. I didn’t run and hadn’t done any of the training they’d done for it, but I had spent a lot more time training for rowing than any of them. When their next event came up, a nine mile race around ‘Sheffield-flat’ roads in Yorkshire, I agreed to give in my campaign against running to join them.
I was in two minds about the whole thing. On one hand, I was arrogant and confident. I was fit and even if I hadn’t run for ‘a while’, I could do it on the day. This part of me was all for turning up on the day having done no preparation and seeing how it went. On the other hand, I was more than a little concerned that I had never run that far in my life and that the last time I had come close (seven miles, just over a year ago), I was left limping for days. This part would have chosen to drop out and wait for a shorter event to break myself in slowly.
The two sides had a fierce but ultimately irrelevant argument before coming to the expected conclusion that dropping out was silly. Two weeks before the event, the other side broke down too and I decided to at least let myself know what I was in for even if it was too late to do anything about it. I ran 10km.
In hindsight, this could have been considered unwise. While running I didn’t feel too bad but the stopping at the end gave me an immediate taste of what to expect. I could feel my legs seizing even as I opened the door. In an attempt to minimise the inevitable, I set about trying to find a shed key to warm down on the turbo. This lead to me jumping/dancing around the kitchen in an assortment of sweaty running stuff trying not to let my legs stop long enough to seize completely. Imagine Michael Flatley meets the QWOP protagonist.
Half an hour later I resigned myself to my fate and hobbled into the shower. I spent two days aching and their associated nights waking up every time I rolled over.
The weekend after, I was staying with the people(/fools) I was running with and, for the first time, ran with them. 5km and this time was able to walk by the end of the day. I was able to climb stairs by the day after. They, on the other hand, seemed to be fine from the moment they got back. While this did worry me slightly I took confidence from the fact I’d at least nearly kept up.
I ran once more before the event, this time on my own again for another 5k. This time I was walking as normally as could be expected by the end of the day. I’d like to think I was getting used to it. More than likely though, this was the distance reducing each time.
When the race finally arrived I had still never run more than 7 miles and had run a total of 17 miles in the year preceding it. What could possibly go wrong?
We all started at the back and I spent the first minute winding my way through the field as I got into what turns out is my default running pace. At the first mile mark I discovered I was almost exactly at the pace I’d completed my 10k a fortnight ago. At two miles I was getting used to it. By the third mile ‘The Grump‘ (as he has been referred to by others – two pseudonyms is too many for anyone to keep track of so I’ll try not to confuse the issue) caught up. His general game plan was apparently to start slowish and get faster. I made it my single goal in life at that moment to stick with him. Being beaten is not something I accept lightly. This immediately knocked 30 seconds from my mile pace. The end of mile six coincided with the top of a hill and a wall. I think I may have been the only one to find it but I ran into it at full tilt and resigned myself to finish at best second in the group. Within minutes he was out of sight. The next mile was the longest I have ever known.
As I returned to where we had started I was ready for sitting down and sleeping but decided to up the pace a bit and see where it got me. As it turned out the finish wasn’t in the same place as the start after all and I had three ever slower sprint finishes. The final one was barely above a jog. I had finished though and returned to our group of ‘dedicated fans’ standing at the finish to cheer on/shout at the other two as they made it home.
I finished an acceptable 202/518. I’ll take it. Top half, almost top third. Any higher than that and I’d have to stop saying I didn’t run.
I’m not sure I’m eager to do it all again but I’m very glad I did it. Three days on and I can walk normally and the aching in my legs is finally subsiding. The next challenge is to get the others onto bikes. I need to reassure myself that I can at least cycle.