Swings ‘n’ Roundabouts (and a Seesaw)

My first run of the week was super-meh, if that’s not too much of a contradiction. I managed four-and-a-half miles but every step was an ordeal. I felt tired all the way round and found myself slowing to a walk more than I have for a long time. What running there was felt laboured and clumsy.

Now, the key thing is this…

A while back I would have made an entire blog post about this, but I’ve been there and done that. Lately I’ve started to realise that as well as the physical benefits of running, I’m starting to learn stuff every time I go out. As much as I fight against leaving the warm cosy world of “comedy fun runner”, I’m finding that I’m starting to think like a runner more and more now. Okay, so in no particular order, the things that I’ve learned recently are…

1.   There will be good runs, there will be bad runs, there will be all kinds inbetween.

Not so long ago a run like the one I mentioned above would have knocked my motivation for six, making me feel that I wasn’t cut out for running. It’d have me leafing through the local paper trying to find the nearest cribbage club, or any other hobby more suited to me than running. Now though, even while I was in the middle of the aforementioned crap run, I found myself brushing off any negative thoughts, safe in the knowledge that I’ve had fantastic game-changing runs in the not-so-distant past and that more were in store for me in the future. Okay, so I’d also have more runs like this one too, but that’s life, and I’ve found that one good run tends to easily outweigh any number of bad ones. Besides, despite my veneer of cynicism I’m actually a glass-half-full type of person (just don’t tell anyone) and I count any run where I don’t get attacked by a leopard as a resounding success.

2.   Don’t go off too quickly.

Stop sniggering at the back. One thing that surprised me about this run was the time. Although I spent a significant portion of it walking slowly and feeling sorry for myself, it still took me about the same amount of time as some of my recent(ish) runs of the same distance. Looking at the results on my Garmin I realised that I’d done the first mile at a quicker pace than usual and I guess this burned me out too soon. Whenever I’ve started off slowly for the first mile to warm up, I’ve always enjoyed the run more and found it easier to  settle into a good steady pace for the miles that followed. If the times work out the same I’d much rather have this kind of consistent run that a sprint start followed by miles of breathless self-loathing and intervals of slow walking. I don’t have anything against run/walk programmes, but I’m now finally at the stage where I shouldn’t always need them if I run sensibly. Lesson learned.

3.   But it’s not all about pace…

Preparation plays an important role. There’s another reason why this particular run wasn’t great; for pretty much the entire route I was preoccupied by an (ahem) underwear malfunction. I wouldn’t dream of traumatising you with the details, but suffice to say it had the potential to make nipple chafe feel like a spa weekend. I’m not a violent man, but whoever decided it was a good idea to put a loosely buttoned flap at the front of boxer shorts needs to be tracked down and have his own ears fed to him in a bun.

4.   Running make brain work good.

In November 2010 I started a ridiculous fad of leaving my house several times a week in little shorts or tight lycra, and lurching up and down the road with my arms flapping about and my feet thudding on the pavement with enough force to make my teeth ache. The benefits of this included embarrassment, sweat and the ability to do a cracking impression of a 40-a-day donkey that’s just been chased up a long flight of stairs. Six months on, and I’m still running, which I suppose means that it doesn’t count as a fad any more. Although I’d still place myself firmly in the slow and clumsy category, I’ve stuck with it and I do feel that I’ve got much better at it. I used to cling onto a sincere belief that I just wasn’t cut out to be a runner, but now I’m doing it and (more importantly) loving every second. This has had a knock-on effect with the rest of my life, giving me a better sense of “anything’s possible”* and generally making me feel good about myself. The mental benefits don’t stop there; there’s nothing like a good trail run to clear one’s mind and focus it on the moment rather than the past or future. This is usually a good thing, unless you happen to find yourself thinking “my, that’s a big angry bull charging straight at me, but what the hell – it’s won’t get near me for another 20 seconds or so, and that’s waaaaay off in the future. I’m living for the now baby!” Shortly followed by “ArrrrghhhhhhIvebeenhitbyabullanditreallyhurttttttts!!!”

Yeah, that’d probably be taking it a bit too far.

It’s worth mentioning that Super-meh was followed the very next day by one of the most enjoyable 5k’s I’ve ever done. Everything came together and I just got into a thing (I believe those sporty types would call it “being in The Zone” or something), and although it was still hard work I felt like I was gliding through the miles like a stumpy but elegant racehorse. The only downside to the run was that I’d forgotten to charge my Garmin and the battery cut out after the first mile, which is a shame because it felt like I’d smashed through my first ever sub-30 minute 5k. A pity, but not something I’m going to dwell on – it just means that it’s still on my “to do” list for a while longer. Anyway, part of me is terrified of achieving a sub-30 5k, because it means that the next big milestone is managing 10k, and in this day and age, when someone’s gone to all the trouble of putting an efficient municipal bus service in place, that’s just a silly distance to run.

4.5 miles (7.24km) in 00:54:01

Followed the next day by a sprightly…

3.1 miles (5km) in 00:30:00(ish)

*It isn’t though, in case anyone was planning on trying to breathe underwater or eat a polar bear.

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