About two months ago (on July 7th 2014 to be precise), I pulled on my trainers and headed out to my local park in Grangetown, just to see how far I could comfortably run. For innocent bystanders, it must have been like watching an asthmatic penguin rushing desperately for a bus.
I wheezed my way around two laps of the park, managing a paltry distance of 2.28km before lack of breath defeated me. I practically crawled home, and felt like expiring on the sofa for about half an hour afterwards. I had only been out for 16 minutes.
Well, this wouldn’t DO. I was determined to get better at running, for a number of reasons:
1. I had lots of stuff going on in my head that I needed space – physical and mental – to make sense of. I know from previous ‘running phases’ that there’s nothing better for just allowing you to THINK. It’s like my body was asking me to do it, for its own sake.
2. It was a gorgeous summer, and what better way to enjoy the sun coming up or a cooling breeze in the beautiful city I’m lucky enough to call home?
3. I had a shiny pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones that were burning a hole in the box marked ‘gadgets I haven’t made the most of yet’, along with a Spotify collection that needed a good airing.
So I did what I always do when I put my mind to something. I made a killer playlist (starting with White Noise and ending with R.Kelly via Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Prince and Jurassic 5). Then I went out for another run the next day. I started cycling like a demon – the school run, the commute – and swapped the rowing machine for the treadmill at the gym. I invested in some proper daps. Six days later I managed 3.2km. I worked up to 4km, then 5km, adding a lap of the park as each week went by. I started planning my week around runs, getting out as the sun came up, or straight from work. Before I knew it I was up to 7km on a treadmill.
I had a holiday to Turkey coming up in August, and I knew I needed something to keep me motivated, so I signed up for the Cardiff 10k as part of the Welsh Labour team. Suddenly, I had a new reason to train. A team not to let down, and the fear of coming last.
A random thought just occurred to me. When I was a teenager, I was picked to run for Torfaen in an athletics competition, and will never forget the look on my dad’s face when I came last but one. It was ostensibly encouraging, but he didn’t do a great job of masking his disappointment that I hadn’t placed more impressively. Coming last – in anything I do – has been a fear of mine for a long time. I don’t know if the two things are linked, but there’s a strong association there. So it was time to up the ante….
A few days before holiday I pulled on my daps, and hit Bute Park. It’s prettier, more river to enjoy, and represented a new phase in the training plan. I managed 7.5km in just under 42 minutes, and knew then that maybe I could actually DO THIS SHIT.
Holiday passed with a few token 2km runs in stifling heat, but I ate well, drank lots of water and started mentally rehearsing what 10k would look and feel like. I’d pack my daps first if I was travelling with work, and only book hotels with gyms. One trip involved heading out of my London hotel with no idea where I was going, and ending up in a lovely circuit of Regent’s Park in the blazing sun. I arrived back completely exhilarated, with the music still ringing in my ears. The euphoria of finishing a run that was that much further than the one before was completely addictive.
Then disaster struck. My shins gave in on one tricky run (long story involving a gate where there shouldn’t have been, a bleak wasteland and having to call a taxi back) and they progressively got worse. I self diagnosed shin splints. The race was 12 days away. I resolved to give my legs a rest and focus on positive mental attitude. Not doing it wasn’t even an option. Then another setback; I put my neck out one day while stretching, and a visit to a chiropractor defined this as a “crisis”. His advice was not to do the race.
But all I could think about was all the times it had hurt and I kept going anyway. I couldn’t back out now.
Being forced to rest was horrible, and my mood really suffered. So I decided to leave it to fate, turn up on the day, and see what happened.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” I asked James, 7 going on 77.
“You could fall over, cause a pile up and make an idiot of yourself” he replied, helpfully.
This morning, I turned up on the starting line.
I was so sick with nerves I woke up with a start at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had a bath and cleaned the house, completely terrified of failure. Would my legs give up? Would I have to walk the course, watching other racers zoom past me, feeling completely dejected? All I could do was visualise the route, break it up into chunks and imagine how I’d feel once I’d hit the 8k mark. Mental rehearsal was the only possibly substitute now.
I write this on Sunday afternoon, with my leaden legs stretched out in front of me on a sun lounger in the garden. I completed the race in under an hour, which was my target time all along. These babies didn’t let me down!
And I can’t explain how chuffed I feel; for not backing out, for giving a decent account of myself. And for being the only girl on a six-strong team and coming fourth, when I expected to be bringing up the rear. Not bad for a girl who couldn’t make two laps around a small park only eight weeks ago.
So what did I learn? Well, so much!
1. That when you set your mind to something, and have a goal, it’s pretty amazing what you can achieve. But you have to mean it. I am still to transfer the same single-mindedness to giving up smoking (that’s the next 10k for me).
2. That positive mental attitude is worth as much as a dry run.
3. That there’s always something to put your worries and woes into perspective. As I hit the 7k mark I was really struggling. I passed a girl in a wheelchair who was flying down the road. She soon caught up with me. I was completely overcome with admiration, and stopped feeling sorry for myself. Shortly afterwards, we passed a nursing home near Roath Park Lake. In the garden were the elderly residents in their wheelchairs, blankets on laps, waving Welsh flags enthusiastically and beaming. I wondered what they wouldn’t give to have just one pair of the legs pounding the pavement in front of them. I couldn’t help but break into a huge smile, which stayed on for a while, and it powered me to hit my target pace for that K.
4. That there’s no situation in life where you feel even an inch of self doubt that “I Can” by Nas doesn’t help. THANK YOU SPOTIFY for making that the song that kicked in on the killer 8k hill. I couldn’t have planned it any better.
5. That a gin martini will never taste as good as when you’ve just achieved something you would never have imagined possible just a few weeks ago.