I miss running, I really do. I miss running almost as much as I used to try and avoid it when I was running, by which I mean I used to hate the idea of going for a run about the same as I would enjoy having been on one. This made getting out of the house a problem somedays.
My running days are currently over, unless they work out a way to 3D print knee cartilage while I still have the bladder to cope with sustained bouncing up and down, and that is a shame. I have never taken it to the level of serious competition, but I did run in a few 10 km races and the odd half marathon. I never did get to do a marathon, even though I should have been able to – there was always something that got in the way.
I never ran all year round either. In Perth, the last weekend in August heralds the City to Surf 12km ‘fun run’ – so called because the organizers say it is fun, which is important to remember as you are trying to complete the last five kilometers up what seems like a benign slope, but is actually a hill that goes on forever.
So some time around March or April, once the weather had cooled a bit, I would spend about an hour walking around in Lycra, before running out of household tasks which were allowing me to delay pulling on my Ascis. I would have an MP3 player with no playlist, just a load of songs with a fast enough beat to keep me moving and a bottle of chilled water, which I always carried with me. I hate being thirsty.
Early on, it was easy as I would limit myself to pretty short circuits on fairly flat roads. The exception to this was at the beginning, as my house was on a hill. This meant that I could start the run going downhill to warm up, and if I did not feel like running up the last of it, I could use the final walk as part of the cool down. Generally though, once I had warmed up, I would want to try and run up the hill. It is nice to finish hard, because it makes the lying down and panting you get to do afterwards worth it.
Generally, for me the worst bit about going for a run was getting out of the front door. Once I got going, it was OK. I usually have more than enough to occupy my mind and although some days I could use the time to work out stuff I needed to think about, most of the time I was just listening to the music, singing along and hoping the noise of the traffic was drowning out my tuneless singing. The other problem was the inevitable pressure to go further and faster. After a week or two of shuffling around, there was no way to avoid the fact that if I wanted to improve, the run was going to have to get longer as my pace would naturally pick up as my fitness improved. This would generally be signalled when out running when I would spot a slope and begin to imagine the day when faced by a hill, I could decide whether to take the hill or run around it – with the only decision based on where I wanted to go, rather than how the hell I would breathe.
This voice in my head – let’s call her ‘coach’. Actually let’s call her, ‘annoying coach’ was the reason I went from running 10 mins on the flat to 20 mins on a varied circuit and from there to the 10 km races. Of course you know what they say about the old 10 Ks – if you can run ten, you can do a half marathon. It is probably just as well I did get injured because otherwise I would have ended up doing a Forest Gump and I am pretty confident I would look terrible in a beard. This is also the reason I always run circuits, not ‘out and backs’. The idea of getting somewhere, only to have to turn around and do the whole thing again was not my idea of fun.
There are some who talk of hitting the wall, and this only happened to me once, but it was interesting. I am not sure what annoying coach was doing that morning, but I was in the middle of a race and started to find it difficult to carry on, or rather, to want to carry on. I could not hear the music, I did not care about the landscape, all I could hear was a voice in my head telling me to stop. It was pointless, the race was endless, I needed to stop. I did not want to do this. I found my feet slowing their pace almost involuntarily until I was almost at a walking pace.
I had never experienced this before, and it was harder to cope with than any physical injury I have ever sustained while running – and I once managed to roll my ankle with six km of a race still to go. (My first mistake that time was not stopping, my second was taking off my running shoe when I crossed the line as the second I did, my foot and ankle ballooned up and I could not get it back on to get home).
The only thing I could do was give myself permission to stop. It does not sound like that big a deal, and even if I had not done the race, there would have been no consequence – no one was going to die, hardly anyone knew I was running that day, I was under no moral, emotional or financial obligation to complete the course. So while I ran and the voice yelled at me, I told myself I could stop. As soon as I did that, I felt better, just better enough to think that perhaps if I could just get around the next bend I would walk from there. Once I hit the bend, I spied a small target up ahead I could aim for. And once I made that, found another one. For around ten minutes, I think, I only kept going by allowing myself to stop, but just adding a bit more on before I did. It is a classic coping technique, but for me that day, it worked. And the most important part was telling myself right at the beginning it was OK to stop.
I was thinking about this today as I thought about this blog. At the beginning of the year, I gave myself a target, which I knew was going to be tough, given that I have very little social life and do not want to write too much about work. Some days I have an incident that jumps up at me, other days I have an idea for a bit of creative writing, and some days I have nothing. The last few days have felt like this, which is especially annoying as I have not been at work so have had loads of time to write.
So what do I do? I sit at the table and write a title – three or so words above the line, and hope that I can put one foot in front of the other and create a couple of sentences under the line; that in a few days, the ideas will start flowing again and I won’t be running uphill anymore My pace may be slow at the moment, ideas are an effort, but sooner or later I hope a bend will appear and I will feel the blood in my muscles again and the road will rise up to support me instead of thumping at the soles of my feet.