On Sunday I completed my first running event – the very well-organised, atmospheric Market Drayton 10k. This was something of a surprise for me, given that I vividly remember two years ago saying I would never get into running. At that point I was training for a 26 mile walk, the Clun Valley Challenge, which was a feat in itself.
If you know me, or perhaps if you have just seen pictures of me, you’ll know I haven’t exactly got a runner’s physique. It’s taken me quite a while to get to this point; I started very gently easing myself into running – each time I went out I probably walked at least half of the distance I was covering. I knew that if I pushed myself too hard, or – worse – if somebody else pushed me, I would begin to dig my heels in and any enjoyment would be lost.
After a few months we had a family holiday in St Ives, and I went for a few runs along the beach and the headland there. It was hard work; harder than the Shropshire roads I run around at home, and I built up a bit of stamina, even over a short period of time. When I returned home I determined that were would be no more walking, and that was that.
I have run with friends, I have run in the evening, and I’ve run after dropping my children off at school and at nursery, but the best times I’ve run, for me, have been more recently, when I’ve started getting up early, going out alone on the quiet streets and seeing the day start to take shape before me. I can get home, have a shower, and have the full day still ahead, without having to take my lycra-clad form into the school playground…
Now I said that if I was pushed too hard to run, I’d lose any enjoyment – which is probably true in most areas of my life; If there is any pushing to be done, I prefer it to come from me. When it comes to running, I’m still not sure that ‘enjoyment’ is quite the right word. I definitely prefer lying in bed, dozing, reading a book, staring out of the window… whatever… but I do get a sense of renewed energy from running, especially once I’m back home and have had a shower. I also find it is a great opportunity to think. I don’t listen to music; I prefer to run completely unencumbered, and once I’ve got into a rhythm I find that the thoughts come freely. It’s a good time for planning, I’ve managed to outrun annoyances I’ve had about something somebody has said, and I’ve had many ideas for my writing while I’ve been (gently, slowly) pounding the streets.
Sometimes, though, like on Sunday, I have had to empty my head of thoughts, just to keep going. Sunday was a hot day – the hottest this year in the UK – and I’m used to running in the cool of the early morning. There were also some fairly hard climbs involved; something else I am not used to. However, I was determined I was going to run the whole thing.
When I was nine, I participated in a fun run with my dad. In my head it was five miles long, but I’m going to have to check that with him. It sounds like a long way for a nine-year-old to run. Particularly as I was dressed as a cat and, true to clumsy form, got tangled in the Start ribbon at the very beginning, tripping over, ripping my black tights and shredding my knees. Nevertheless, I kept on going. It must have been the Yorkshire blood in me.
One thing I have always remembered from training for that run with my dad was, when facing a hill, his advice to keep my head down, not to look at the top, but to keep on running and focus on counting as I went. This way, Dad assured me, I would reach the top before I knew it.
This Sunday, faced again with a daunting steep incline – cruelly planned into the last two kilometres – I employed this technique again and I found it worked. I ran the whole ten kilometres, including the dreaded Phoenix Bank; although I suspect it’s possible to have walked up that hill faster than I ran it.
I was so proud when I finished that race. I have run the same distance before but never in the heat and always alone – when I knew I could stop any time I liked and take as much time as I needed. The Market Drayton 10K was something very different and my legs genuinely went jelly-like as I crossed the finishing line.
I suppose the point of writing about all this is an illustration of how people can surprise even themselves sometimes. Also to recommend my dad’s advice, which I think can be applied to other situations – if you’re facing a challenge, sometimes it’s better to concentrate on the present: find a way of focusing and you will reach the end in your own time.
And finally, perhaps most importantly now that I am a mum myself, it’s just nice to know that children do actually listen to their parents sometimes.