Four little words. Five if you count the “Um”. But it was enough for my wife to guess what I’d done*.
Probably best if I rewind a few minutes to explain. I was sat at my computer one evening last week when my mind turned to thinking about how my running’s been going lately. I’ve been running since the beginning of November 2010** but after clumsily fighting my way up to the point where I could manage a passable 5k I seemed to just sit happily at that level for quite some time, like a contented half-man-half-flapjack. But then out of the blue, the last three or four months saw my distance improving in leaps and bounds, to the point where 10k was fast becoming my default run. I’ve found that after struggling through the initial few miles, it becomes easier to just keep going for a bit longer each time, and the miles genuinely seem shorter towards the end.
This came to both a head AND an abrupt halt three weeks ago when I managed my first ever 10 mile run. It felt like a fantastic achievement, but was tainted by the fact that my right knee started to hurt at around mile 5, leaving me not quite in pain but certainly bad discomfort for the return leg.
Needless to say, the home stretch was gruelling and slow (even by my glacier-quick standards) but it was only after I hit the ten mile mark and slowed to a walk that the pain really hit. As I limped the quarter mile or so back to my car the pain in my knee was equalled by the numb realisation that contrary to what I had led myself to think, I wasn’t indestructible. In ten months of running I’d not really had so much as a twinge, but now I saw that this owed more to dumb luck than to my half-hearted stretching routine (the hardest part being the post-run stretch to reach a chocolate milkshake on a high shelf). Luckily for me, the pain and swelling subsided with some prompt RICE*** but it made me realise that I’d have to start being more careful if I wanted to keep working my way up to some serious distance. I remember idly musing at the time that one option would be to just get taxis everywhere, as I could cover the same weekly mileage with practically no strain on my knees.
Sometimes I wonder why nobody else acknowledges my genius.
Anyway, after a few rest days I started running again, starting off at 5k and then gradually building my distance, but constantly paranoid, waiting to feel that fateful twinge in my knee. The twinge never came, but that setback had definitely struck a blow to my progress.
So, as I said at the beginning of this post, I was sitting at my computer wondering how to get back in the saddle**** and rebuild the momentum I’d been gathering before my knee had decided it was going to be a w***er. The answer was simple – I needed to enter a race. As I’ve said on a previous posts, I hold no illusions of being a proper (i.e. competitive) runner, but an impending race is always a great motivator and works wonders for focussing the mind on some good preparation training. On top of that, races are fun. The atmosphere at these things (speaking with the irrefutable authority of someone who’s entered the impressive total of one whole race, as well as a handful of Parkruns) is great, and if you make it to the end they give you shiny things. I’d done enough 5k’s for now and felt that it was time to kick it up a notch, so I searched online for 10k races in my area, confident that this was a challenging distance, but not so challenging that I made an arse of myself. Almost immediately, I stumbled across an event called the Pumpkin Run which was held at the end of October and was divided into three different courses: 5k, half marathon and in the middle – the all important 10k. Best of all, it was being held at Stanwick Lakes, which featured in one of my more recent blog posts and is one of my favourite places to run.
Actually, that’s not the best bit. The best bit is the fact that they give the winner a pumpkin, which I think is a both a fantastic display of understated British humour and also a handy way of dealing with pumpkin surplus.
So, I put aside my online registration for the East Blatherwycke Lawn Tennis and Casual Necromancy Association and instead set about signing up for the slightly-more-sensibly-named Pumpkin Run 2011. Tappity tap. Tappity tap. 30th October. Heh, funny that – it pretty much coincides with my first anniversary of running. Tappity tap. Tappity…
That’s odd, I thought to myself as I typed. I seem to have accidentally clicked “previous page” a couple of times, then completely-not-on-purposely deselected the bit that says “10k” and instead clicked on the bit that says “half marathon”. Tap…
Oh bugger. Damage done, I consoled myself with the fact that I’d already proved I could drag myself round a 10 mile route, albeit finishing slowly and with considerably less knees than when I’d started. I had nearly eight weeks to add a paltry 3 miles to that and I’d be home and dry, and in fact I could probably get away with training up to 12 miles and then relying on the race day atmosphere to carry me the final mile. That night, as my head hit the pillow, my last waking thoughts were of how I’d set in motion something that would confirm my status as a runner. In a year I’d gone from a short hefty bloke who couldn’t run half a mile to a short hefty bloke who could run half a marathon. It was a great feeling.
The next day I headed out for my first training run, feeling decidedly chipper and planning to do a steady-paced 7 or 8 miles.
It. Was. Horrible.
As I’ve already said, 10k had become my default distance. But every thudding step I took reminded me that none of those runs had been anywhere near easy, and that 10k was less than half of a half marathon. That would have been bad enough if the feeling of being breathless and heavy-legged had set in at the end of my journey, but it was a hard, uncomfortable run from the word go. At every mile, I felt calculations rising unbidden into my brain, telling me exactly how much (or, more accurately, how little) of a half marathon I’d done. I was Rain Man in little shorts. At a sixteenth of a half-marathon I felt knackered. At a twelfth of a half-marathon my legs turned to stone. At two-ninths of a half-marathon I… well, you get the idea. In the end I called it a day just shy of 6 miles. I don’t know if it was the hills, the humidity or something else entirely, but it was an uncomfortable run, and it left me with one clear thought ringing in my head. This is going to be… interesting.
I think I’ll be buying my own pumpkins this year.
*Well, it was certainly enough for her to narrow it down a bit. In my house, that sort of comment could just as easily mean that I’ve put my dirty socks in the toaster or announced plans to cross the Atlantic on a papier mache yak.
**Not constantly. I’ve had tea breaks.
***Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. NOT (in case you were wondering) Regular Injections of Cat Endorphins. That’s for a different thing.
****Not literally. When I was choosing my computer I went out of my way to find one without a saddle.