IF NOTHING CHANGES IT’LL ONLY GET WORSE
It was 6am when I woke up on that Saturday morning at the end of May. I’d been offered a new job the evening before and my waking thoughts turned to the new season of life that was coming. And then the cold hard reality hit. I was 35, badly out of shape, and this was only going to get worse without something changing.
I climbed out of bed, dug around in the wardrobe for some shorts and trainers. And stepped out the door into the sunshine.
It was quiet. The peacefulness was great. Even better: there were no witnesses to what would happen over what was probably only the next 10 minutes. I headed off down the road. Seven years earlier, before we had kids, I’d briefly dabbled in some occasional running, but in reality I was carrying 17 years of inactivity with me.
About a kilometre later – which included a moderate hill - I was done in. Puffing and panting I walked home and got back into bed before anyone else knew anything about my fool’s errand.
Sunday morning. Repeat. Later that morning I stood up to preach at church, trying not to grimace from the pain in my legs. That afternoon I read an article in The Observer online that said “Joggers run because they love cake and to a lesser extent fitting into their trousers.” I’ll be a jogger. The article suggested that there were people who actually loved running, runners. I chuckled.
My 1km routine continued all week. On Thursday I ran morning and afternoon. The next week I completed the 2km loop back home still running. Within a month I was up to 5km and visibly healthier. Within two months I’d stretched to 10km, and would do a first 13 mile run on a warm October afternoon, getting home in a little under two hours.
A painful reality began to hit that I actually enjoyed this running lark! The thought I try to avoid is what might I have been able to do if I’d done this when I was eighteen. I had “run” 2.5km on a winter morning as a first year at University, concluding that it was a miserable experience. Sadly, I didn’t run again for a decade.
ME AND THE ROAD
For two years I ran alone, mostly doing a 10km loop on the east of the city. Fifty minutes with a podcast or my own thoughts for company. Someone suggested Parkrun but I never got past a brief thought about it with various excuses. I could’ve been north of 150 parkrun’s by now instead of 60something but we run the path we run. I also scorned the idea of joining a running club out of fear. They’ll all be too serious, I thought.
As a dad of three young boys those first two years of running gave me priceless head space as well as significant health improvement. My wife suffered some serious health issues in those two years too which spurred me on to keep fit for the sake of the family. Beyond that, no plan.
Two years ago we uprooted 200 miles across the country and I decided to join a local running club and try Parkrun. There are a couple of better decisions I’ve made in my life, but that comes in next.
My first parkrun was the day after my first evening club run. The good thing was that I’d already met a few people the previous evening. The terrible was having never run anything timed or this big. I felt like I was moving backwards most of the way round. As it turns out 25:21 and 71st out of 203. I smile looking at that results page today. Around 40 of the runners and volunteers who were just unknown faces that morning are people I now know to some extent. Running is a social thing as much as a fitness thing.
In the job search earlier that year I remember doing a psychometric test that suggested I wasn’t particularly competitive. As it turns out that was probably because no-one had lined me up alongside lots of other people with a road, XC mud or a Peak District hill in front of us. Above all the competition is against myself, though digging deep to catch the person in front is unbelievably satisfying too.
I’ve now been running for four years, though I’m tempted to say it’s really only been two. Running alone doesn’t compare to the club running. Over the last two years I’m running more, going further and faster and having a lot more fun along the way. Obviously I still run alone a lot, but the club sessions and races make all the difference.
There’s four stone less of me than on that first 1km. Not that running ever really gets easier – the same effort just gets you further or faster.
Since its how runners talk the journey so far includes a sub20 at Parkrun (just the once so far), a 93 minute Half Marathon and a first Marathon (fairly slowly in the scorching heat of the 2018 MK Marathon), 65 parkrun’s and a season of Cross Country mud. Fell running is the new adventure this summer as I prepare for a second Marathon in the Autumn.
And unexpected story along the way has been the rest of the family getting involved. My wife’s health has improved and she’s now keeping me away from Parkrun most weeks so she can do it. The five of us have over 100 Junior or Full Parkrun’s between us.
My wife and I just spent the afternoon after our 16th Wedding Anniversary doing a crazy fell run. If you’d told either of us that was going to happen four years ago we wouldn’t have believed it.
It’s not easy to fit the running in around family life. I’m thankful for a job with fairly flexible hours, and that running can start on the other side of the front door whenever I’ve got time.
Running has become part of life. I know that might not always be possible, but while it is I’m going to enjoy it.