Amazingly, no, I’m not talking about another woman here. I’m talking about…running.
Yes. After many, many years I have rediscovered a certain something or other for the purest of all forms of sport/exercise. One foot in front of the other, fast as you like.
When I was in my early twenties I almost took up running about three times a year. These would be the times when my older brother Tom was home from University and he’d almost convince me to take it up, by taking me out for a run, leaving copies of Athletics Weekly lying around, that kind of thing.
As a child and teenager I was self-consciously thin and I remember trying to eat my way out of my natural physique. In the summer of ’82 I managed to trouble the scales by a few extra pounds after a month or so of going to the weights room, hitting the protein shakes, and taking any opportunity to get into a pasty with chips during lunch breaks. That sort of thing.
I was nine stone, a barely credible-sounding 58 kilos, (this obviously might seem ridiculous for someone just over six feet tall but there you go). I nudged this up to about nine stone six. The World Cup was on and one Sunday morning I went up the road to a playing field with my two brothers, Tom and Nick, and we played football for a couple of hours in the sun. It was reasonably strenuous in bursts. Just before lunch I was in the bathroom and weighed myself and I was back down to nine stone! I had three more goes, triple checking everything. Nine stones! Had I lost those couple of kilos so painstakingly earned over the past month? I decided there and then that it was pointless trying to change my body so the best thing would be to find something for which it was perfect. So, the following evening I finally succumbed and went out for a run with Tom – 45 minutes chatting and looping around the same playing fields!
Yet, I STILL didn’t follow it through. Once Tom headed back up to University I didn’t have the necessary mindset to keep running and clearly can’t have had the inclination to find a club etc. I lost track of the number of false starts my brother had to witness but the breakthrough came a couple of years later when I managed to find my way to an entry to the 1986 edition of the London Marathon. I knew this in December ’85 and it was what I needed. A target. A bit of glamour and excitement.
Some people are simply born to run. They love the freedom. The fresh air. It’s not about the times, or training, or races. It’s about the actual running. But for me, perhaps because I never went for a run slowly enough for it not to feel uncomfortable, there had to be ‘a point’ to it. A justification for all the discomfort! And that point was to enter races, to improve, to test myself, to look forward to the next event. And also perhaps to dream. I was a late starter but I knew I had some natural talent so…who knows where I could go with it?
The London Marathon was the biggest, most glamorous event a runner could get involved in then (even more so now) and it was so exciting to know I was going to take part. Looking back, it’s laughable how little I was prepared. For the ridiculous length of the thing. I had planned to break 3 hours and ended up, broken, with 3 and a half; 1 hour 25 minutes for the first half and 2 hours+ for the second half, where there was much stopping and walking. In short, I ended up hating it. A month later I ran a half marathon somewhere or other, getting aching legs and not enjoying it at all, and at that point a friend kindly pointed out that, as a beginner, I was doing everything back-to-front.
“Normally, you run 800m/1500m races, then go up and try 5,000m and as you get stronger/a bit older, 10k. Finally half marathons and marathons at the end of your career!…You’re doing it all the wrong way, just run 10Ks and 5Ks.”
After that I became more like the usual club runner, though for reasons that I may reflect on in some other post, I drifted out of it after three years.
The London Marathon 2016
And here we are then. Next April 24th, I will once again line up at the start of one of the world’s great marathons, just one of a new world-record number of participants. Thirty years older and none the wiser?
We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.