Someone asked me today at work, "Have you always been a runner?" My status amongst colleagues is pretty well known as the guy who drives to work early, runs, showers and then starts the day. Some people get it; some admire and say 'I wish that I could do that' and some, despite my best efforts; don't get it at all.
So, have I always been a runner? Well, the short answer is; no. No I haven't. At least not in terms of a racing sense. I have always loved physical exercise, but running, especially distance running, has not always been my forte.
Want the long version? If not, thanks for reading the above and please do come again!
I was fortunate in my youth. I enjoyed school and college; all aspects really. I achieved good grades, made some of the best, life-long friends, was highly thought of by my peers and teachers and excelled in extra-curricular activities; sport and music mainly. I cannot speak highly enough of the education in terms of academically and personally. Kudos to my old teachers!
I often share my experiences in my job role with young people, with an emphasis on what shapes us as individuals; what influences our thinking and what ultimately limits our potential for personal progress. Why? Because I was one of the fortunate ones. I was a church-going, saxophone-playing, choir-singing goody-two-shoes.
But; I could play. I represented the school at several sports, with football my preference where I was captain throughout each stage of school, leading upto College where after a shaky start, I enjoyed 3 of the best years of my life and was proud to play for the 1st Team at football. I never hid who I was; I was respected and accepted. I was one of the lucky ones; I knew and still know others who weren't so lucky. These experiences shaped my thinking about who I was and what I could achieve.
Why is this important? I'm getting to it.
After college, I went to university and put my football to one side, playing 5-a-side only. At 21, I wanted a challenge. I felt that football wasn't quite the same as it was a college and I wanted to try something new. So, I spoke with a friend and we decided to run a marathon raising money for some volunteering within our church community. It was literally that simple. With my previous sporting achievements, where was the harm?
The thing was; I was cocky, even to the point of arrogance. We (I) barely trained in the build-up, not running more than 12 miles on a handful of occasions, and I thought that I'd utilise my football fitness and be fine. You know, because the sports are so alike...
On race day, I remember that I had a banana on the journey and genuinely felt confident. We did a little bit of stretching, something I was well used to in fairness, and set off, swept away by the masses of runner-hysteria and tried to find a rhythm in and amongst the patter of many, more experienced, feet.
I recall being in a position at around 6 miles where I felt comfortable. I began to stride out a little and began over taking fellow runners. It felt good. I still remember one chap specifically; he had a red vest and shorts on, long grey hair, glasses and must have been in his 60's. I thought to myself, 'fair play fella,' and carried on, thinking I wouldn't see him again and that he would do well to make it. Little did I know. I reached 13.1 miles, ahead of my friend, saw some family and went on my way. One lap done, a second to go. Easy peasy.
It was 16 miles when it happened. Out of nowhere, a bolt in my upper right hamstring. Cramp. A runners worst nightmare. And then - the wall. I stopped, stretched, took off my shirt (the heat was searing) and and tried to settle down. I saw my family a couple of more times who helped to push me on; my friend passed me and I encouraged her to go on (she was so comfortable; I was incredibly proud), and I focused on putting one step infront of the other. I'd make it. I knew I would.
Time ticked on and I went past 3:45, 4:00 and 4:15...I walked a little, then ran, and then walked some more. I went past some runners; most ran past me. Every part of my body was in pain. I couldn't understand what was happening. I felt dehydrated; tired; hot...I just wanted it to be over. I was inching towards the finish when the ultimate in personal comeuppance happened. The 60-odd year old fella cruised past. He even nodded in acknowledgement, like it was a reference to my previous arrogance and self-deception. I was done. I finished in approx. 4:52 being practically carried over the line. I saw my friend; we hugged, grabbed our medals and went home.
For the next four days I could barely walk. Plus, due to severe heat stroke, ended up at A & E with prickly heat that covered the entire surface of my back. It was agony all over. But; I had done it. I had finished. And, it was an experience that led to my thirst for more and the setting of a personal goal to run sub 3:30. I knew I had it in me. This was the introduction to what is becoming a life in running.
Since then, I have ran in a further 5 marathons, 8 half marathons, a 20 and 10 mile and 6 10kms. I have met my targets in all distances and ran sub 3:30 for a marathon in 2016. I have 4 events lined up; one my first ultra of 50 Miles in April. Now, I have new targets to meet.
Running takes me to physically and mentally demanding places that no other sport has done. It pushes the boundaries, but the achievement is worth it.
So no, running hasn't always been my thing. I haven't always been great at it. I most probably am still not. But, it is an obsession; my obsession.
Let it in; I dare you.