Today the annual London Marathon is held and thousands of runners are lining up as I type. The publicity, the PR set off in me a sense of excitement: only a year ago, I was prepping to run marathon in Edinburgh and the runners vibe brings back the adrenaline. Not that I would be able to run one now, mind: yesterday, I struggled through my first 5K in a long while. The first run, after six weeks if not two months, when I pushed myself to run a hilly 10K just under an hour… by 12 seconds. Haha, it doesn’t matter. Like writing, running is something I enjoy going back to. (Yet perhaps like running, I would get better or more practised at writing if I made time for it more often. Now there is a thought for Sunday morning.)
Despite the buzz and despite a very tempting offer to accompany the boy on his job photographing charity runners this morning at 8am, I have decided to join the crowds later for the very last bit and cheer them on to the finish line. That moment is magic. I have already considered going back on my ‘once and never again’ but the awful amounts of training, the Chris Hoy thighs (ok, perhaps not quite) and the unsexy moments half-dressed in an ice-cold bath eating a protein bar, do flash back and dissolve that nostalgia once more. For now. (What is wrong with 10Ks? Half marathons?)
The marathon was an amazing experience, a transcending one almost; I now tackle all life’s challenges as a metaphorical run. The discomfort, and there is discomfort when you are schlepping across 26.2 mile, proves to be only temporary and the euphoria of the finish line is worth every effort. I have felt the physical equivalent of ‘this too shall pass’ and as I am wading once again through a foggy patch, at 3-0 I know it will all work out ok. Good luck to each runner: enjoy the ride, I’ll be cheering each and every one of you!
Dear Reader, I need your help – not your money. Let that be the disclaimer for this post.
It seemed such a good idea at the time: after running three ‘halves’ to run a whole marathon this year. Yep that is right, the whole 42km or 26.2 miles. Several reasons for it, the one just mentioned, the big birthday coming up and mayhaps a drunken wager that should I finish the race (IT IS NOT A RACE) that one of my darling friend would stop smoking… Were I a cruel person, I would name and shame this person but let’s just call him “Hans vd Eertwegh”. As it happens, “Hans vd Eertwegh” is going to be a first time dad this year, just to crank the pressure up for healthy resolutions.
Anyhoot, the marathon is three weeks. As I am not a natural runner, I have been training my arse off (or on to be exact, the legs from hips to calves have never been in this condition, tell you that much.) I added weight sessions to my running so my legs would be able to carry me the distance. It has been tough, there were nights that my whole body was tired and in pain. I have experienced that state beyond ‘hangry’ (angry hunger) called desperation. When after a work-out I forgot my debit card at home and I couldn’t buy food, I nearly cried. I have gotten up at 6am to get a run in before work, I have speed changed home to get a run in between shifts, I am beyond pasta… If there is anything I can take away from this challenge it is: never again.
Two weeks ago during a long run, misfortune struck and my right knee stopped working with me. After a virtual consultation with an old school friend turned sports-physiotherapist, I have been trying to keep training. However there is no denying, it is going to be hard as the knee is not well. The leg is not pain free after my last run (25km on Sunday) and though I am taking it easy, I am simultaneously worried about my progress. This is where you come in: I decided not to run for a charity because it is up to you to be charitable. However I need your help and support: I won’t be pain free, there are no pacers (people who set the pace and who you can blindly follow to keep on track) and according to a weird law in Scotland, I am not allowed an MP3-player… This is going to be a mental challenge if ever there was one. So I found this website called DoNation, where I can ask for sponsorship not in money but in actions for a better environment. No tree-hugging as such either, you can choose a challenge that suit you and your life-style: recycle more, turn your computer off, take the stairs, quit smoking… My aim is to get a list of 26 challenge, one for every mile I run – I’ll pretend the person who pledged it, is running with me so I won’t run alone.
Please will you help me out? It is all fun and games now but when the bullheadedness runs out by mile 17: I will be forever grateful. You can find my page by clicking here.
Lemsip and porridge for breakfast, pasta throughout the day, a funny strained muscle feeling in back… Oh good, the half marathon must be coming up soon. Oh well, who needs to be able to breathe when all you need to do is run. As we all know, running is done with your head anyway. Here a little insight into my thoughts come Hyde Park, Sunday morning 9am:
0-5K: “I need a wee. I hate running.”
I can pretty much guarantee you this will be the mantra for the first few minutes of the run. Although the surge of people will push me forward as soon as we start running, the waiting around makes me so paranoid I will think I need the toilet. I don’t. All those men who stop after the first few miles to relieve themselves against a tree: A) Really? B) Just keep running, it will pass.
The first few K’s my feet are cramping up and it’s annoying to the point of “I HATE RUNNING I AM GOING TO STOP NOW” but I never do. I just hate myself, quietly in my head . My body is all over the place, bystanders shake their heads at this pathetic version of Bambi on ice and suddenly… cramp subsides and my field of vision opens up. Bam, first barrier gone.
5-10K: “Let’s do this… Oooh, shiney things…”
My body has now resigned itself. I can start adjusting myself, get the breathing right, tighten the core. Run on the ball of my feet, get the rhythm right. I can look around me, appreciate other my fellow-man: smile at cute babies and dogs, nod at other runners. When I get too distracted, I refocus on my breathing and pace. I’ll try to find a chaser but this is pretty tricky, rule of thumb: Wobble gives you trouble. The best runners to follow, are steady pace, straight back. They might be ruthless, they might be boring, but hell, they can keep a steady pace to pull you through the hard bits.
10-15K: “My body is A Machine.”
… around 12K: Everything will go so easy, runner’s high kicks in. I will go several K’s not even thinking about things. I Am Running. I AM RUNNING! SEE ME RUN! There is fluidity in everything, I will try to hold onto this as long as I can… This is why I run: to feel my body do this.
15-18K: “Are we there yet? … What about now?”
Slowly slowly, steam will run out. I am trying hard to keep pace (if I still follow a person this is the moment I find out if I chosen the right one) I am getting tired. If there is a niggle somewhere – a sock not quite pulled right, back muscle nagging, T-shirt chaffing, an itch on a toe – this is when I will feel it. All. The. Time. I am tired and more and more uncomfortable.
That is right, to distract myself I will think of you, dear Reader. I will think of the people who would want me to keep running, I will think of the people who I’d want to keep on running. One by one, friends from different times and different places, members of my diaspora family will pop up. Either they are suddenly running with me, I see them waving or I imagine them at the end of the race. When I am too tired to even count the mileage signs and dodge the crappy people who stop in the middle of the road, I will see your faces and keep going.
20-21K: “This is crazy, this is amazing.”
One kilometer ( bit less than a mile) is pretty long when you have just done 20. Yet the further you get towards the finish, the more actual people are shouting and waving (not just the ones in my head). This is amazing. It is a crazy wonderful emotional feeling. It’s a feeling though because if you are actually there waving, I probably won’t see you. All my strength is now focussed on the finish line, on keeping pace, on the finish line, on ‘can I go a little faster’, on the finish line, on ‘let’s not speed up too soon’, on the finish line, on ‘damn that is still further than I thought’, on the finish line, on ‘ok let’s do it – now’ , on the finish line…. On The Finish Line.
Last week, something nice happened as I was running.
It was too hot, like it has been in the last few days. Having to get up early is the only remedy but that takes some dedication I don’t always posses. Thus I started an hour late but determined to get a run in, I ploughed through with the sun in my eyes. It all got better once I reached the shade of the Park but we’re pretty much 5K in by then.
Sips of water and protection from the trees got me through the park but then you have to head back. To be fair, it was much better with the sun not blinding me and as I was in full flow, I suddenly realised that all the things I wanted to achieve were actually so close I could taste it.
I realised that right now, the only obstacle between “where I am” and “where I want to be” is time and this will pass. From not knowing where I was going, I am now so close, I can see it. I am heading in the right direction: all I have to do is keep running.
If anyone had told me last year that I would be one night away of running a (4×5)+1 aka the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon I would have declared you mad. Apparently this is happening though and as I am writing this the pasta is boiling. (I tell you the variations on spag bol / spag pesto will never be the same again after this week )
I stuck the number on my shirt with the emergency numbers on the back ( If anyone sees my darling sister, can you remind her to sometimes you know…. check her phone.), the timing chip is attached to my shoe and I think I am ready.
Thank you all for your well wishes by the book of face, text and email! I’m really excited and it feels a bit like my birthday, be it with a masochistic twist.
Tomorrow morning 9.30 it starts, I will be with Group Maroon, the slow-coaches, but I’m pretty determined to make it over that finish line. Hopefully even in time for lunch! x
Remember that as a child you wanted to have braces or walk on crutches? Perhaps have your arm in a cast and the cast would be signed by your friends and all the teachers and you couldn’t do PE.
Ok, maybe you had braces and it wasn’t so cool. They are apparently pretty hard to eat with. They say plaster itches after a while and I have heard stories of broken pencils getting stuck into the cast after trying too hard to scratch. I only *touch wood* once had to walk on crutches and it wasn’t that exciting, quite the opposite as you just go really slow. The injury also meant that my foot would grow on an angle from my leg; if I point both feet forward and bend my knees, my right knee will point left a little. I’ll give you time to work that one out.
Ready? Let’s proceed.
One of the other things I wanted as a child were sports drinks. I used to play tennis and even though I was incredibly crap at it (it is the hand/ eye/ ball coordination – and no, it didn’t get better with age…) for some reason I thought I should really drink what was known as AA-drink. Maybe I hoped it would make me better… alas. In hindsight it seemed a little much for just an afternoon or even just an hour of playing around at a not very high level. Still the sports drinks were all the rage, as was Lipton Ice-Tea for some reason.
Now I am running and actually putting some pressure on my body, I can honestly say I hate sports drinks. They are horrid. Sickly sweet and not exactly thirst quenching but possibly perhaps giving you the nutrients that water cannot give you to sustain longer distance running. I hate them. A well-known brand has decided to sponsor Sunday’s event and thus (very clever marketing) I have been trying their drinks because I had this feeling I might not like them. Which seems strange but imagine trying something for the first time on the day itself, spitting it out in disgust and realising you still have 20K to go? Exactly. Not ideal.
Still apparently a necessary evil, as it refuels your body while keeping you hydrated. In the same light of fuel and refuel I have started to carb-up as well – as my flatmate said: at this stage in the game, you might as well. Though it is an interesting experience to be able to eat a full plate of noodles and still feel like it just about filled a gap, being so conscious of your carb intake or eating gets really boring too. (Then again yes, eating is the fun part and the only reason why I am considering keeping some running up: to be able to eat. A lot.) Yet blessed with a fast metabolism, this time it might come and bite me in the arse as I will burn energy even faster and we all know who gets grumpy when she is hungry.
So ye be warned when I finish on Sunday: don’t even try to talk to me until my friends and sister have thrown food at me (from a distance), wait for the look of death to fade, then do feel free to approach me and suggest we go for the drink I have been craving for days. Purely medicinal, of course.
Going for a run has become more a mental process than a physical one. The day I reached 15k I became pretty confident that I would not die in Hyde Park (though my tombstone would say 10-10-10, which would almost make it worth it.) Today I decided to go for 20k (not the whole distance, there needs to be a challenge on the day right?) So it all started when the alarm goes off…
Alarm goes off – snooze. Obviously. 07:30 is waaaaaaay too early for a Sunday. A few weeks ago I was out of the door at 07:30am because I had a fear of running in public. The need for sleep has conquered that fear.
After breakfast and a bit of stretching I start my run at 8:30. In the cold wind, dressed in just jogging bottoms and t-shirt, my body does not want to run. Protest from my ankles to my knees, my calves that threaten to cramp up. I ignore it because in the first 10-15 min I Hate Running. My midriff starts to join in the protest, sometimes by creating a stitch, my right arm is telling me the bottle of water it is holding is too heavy. My lungs don’t want to take in oxygen properly, I cannot regulate my breathing and therefore my pace is all over the place. If you see a girl at the start and struggling, basically running like a lunatic, don’t worry: that would be me. My first 10-15min are hell on toast. Then as soon as I literally turn a corner, my body resigns itself to it.
At this time in the morning on a Sunday there are not a lot of people out. Usually huddling in groups and blocking the pavement are the tourists who want to see London in one day and they marvel at you as they would the Big Ben. ( Once an American tourist decided it was appropriate to greet me with a wink and a ‘ Hello babe!’ Having just done 10k, starting the 11th being sweaty, red-faced and gross, it was anything but appropriate. ) You also find the workaholics around this hour, suited and on mobile phones already, yes on a Sunday.
Then there are the walk-of-shamers, easily recognisable in their blatant Saturday evening attire, bottle of Lucazade/Red Bull in one hand, post coital fag in the other and a sleepy yet smug expression on face. They radiate not so much shame, more confusion to where on earth they have managed to get themselves the night before.
There are the dogwalkers, recognisable by their dogs of course and slowly the streets fill up. You can see the bed-hair boyfriend who ran out to get two croissants for breakfast in bed or the dads who are taking the child out in its stroller to let mum have her lie-in. People waiting by the bus stop mostly in work uniform. By the time I pass the church on my route for the third time around 12k, the families start gathering around. A father trying to keep three little brothers in similar Sunday best outfits together, an eight year old girl with a Hello Kitty shoulder bag trying to imitate her mum.
I am still running and when I near finish 15k the couples come out. All shapes, all sizes, all ages but mostly loved up. The younger ones usually walk hand in hand, her leaning on him a little; the older ones he has his arm around her, they usually have a bit of banter and she doesn’t know whether to push him away or to smile. The elderly couples seem to walk together, very much in tune with each other’s speed and preference of side of the road. They don’t talk much, they just are.
Thus went the thoughts and observations until I reached 16k and I suddenly realised something happened that hadn’t happened before: I was hungry. This is why you have those silly sports drinks I had forgotten to buy on Friday. I went for a run anyway cause would it really make a difference… Trying to fight it, by 18k I knew I was fighting against the clock as I was envisioning burgers and pancakes; then when I could see my flat, my Ipod playlist ran out, I was most definitely hungry and running on empty. Wow anti-climax…
For twenty minutes, sitting on the sofa, stuffing my face with pasta I am so delirious I think for a moment that I love running. I realise then that I don’t: I love eating and after the 10th of the 10th there will only be one of the aforementioned activities that I will keep up. 15 more days to go!