I’m guessing that most runners have some sort of bucket list knocking about, specific to this wonderful activity. For what it’s worth here’s a taster of mine, some things accomplished, some still to come…
- Run a 5k race
- Run a half-marathon
- Take part in a fun run
- Take aforementioned fun run far too seriously and get glared at by a balloon seller
- Experience “Joggers Nipple”
- Finish in the top half of a race
- Finish in the top third of a race
- Get buff enough to run in the summer with my shirt off, and look more Karnazes than I do Stay-Puft*.
- Run a marathon
- Okay, shuffle a marathon
- Make some money for charity
- Enter an ultra marathon
- Simultaneously experience shame, dehydration, rattlesnake venom and full-thickness chafing
- Vow to leave ultra running to the ultra runners from now on
- · Inflict my exploits on others through the medium of blogging and/or interpretative dance
I’m sure there are many more things I could put on the list, but it’s late in the day and the coffee’s running out. I’ve also got plenty of specific goals in relation to PBs etc but they’re constantly changing so I’ve left them off the list. Anyway, there are two more goals, and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today…
- Join a running club
- Run in other countries
I’ve often toyed with the idea of joining my local running club, just to add another flavour to things and to spur me on a bit. In the past, my mojo has shown a tendency to flag a bit after races, so I was planning to counter this by joining a club straight after the recent Silverstone Half. But for reasons unknown my enthusiasm remained high after that event and I just carried on training with no post-race slump, meaning that I didn’t feel the need to get a club to kick me up the bottom.
Moving onto the second item, running while abroad is something I’ve always been keen to do, spellbound by the notion of exploring new places from the unique viewpoint of the short, hairy, novice runner. A nomadic ewok, if you like. I’ve not been running for long, and in this short time I’d only been on holiday once. As it was hot and hilly I’d settled for a half-hearted two miles on the hotel treadmill, and couldn’t in good faith cross this one off the list.
And then earlier this year I had the opportunity to hit both goals in one fell swoop. It was almost worth buying a special new pen to mark it off with, just to make the moment even more special**. We’d booked a family holiday in Cyprus for the first week in April, and in the weeks leading up to it I found myself idly surfing the interweb for good places to run while I was there. I didn’t find many routes, but what I did stumble across were several references to Limassol Running Club (http://www.limassolrunningclub.com). From what I could see, these people took their running seriously and covered some crazy mileage in challenging conditions, including 100+ mile ultras through the scorching-hot mountains of Cyprus. I’m not quite sure what possessed me, a humble plodder, to fire off an email asking if I could come along and play during my trip to Limassol, but before long my email thingy went “biiiing” and I got this reply…
Fast forward a few days and I’d arrived on the beautiful island of Cyprus, the weather a warm but perfectly acceptable 23°C. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I generally enjoy hot weather as much as a baby seal enjoys opening his fridge and finding a hungry polar bear inside, but holiday weather is different and this temperature was filed under “comfortable” rather than “Aaargh, it’s bitten off my flipper!!!”
Hmmm… You know when you think a metaphor is going to stretch, but then it doesn’t? Anyway, moving on…
After a couple of days of relaxing around the pool, eating and drinking far too much and generally having a lovely time***, it was time for me to head out for my first ever club run AND my first ever holiday run. LRC meet up several times a week for various types of run, with Sunday being a long trail run and Thursdays set aside for the ominously titled “Death Race”. Today was Tuesday though, and that meant a 10k tempo run along the beach towards Limassol Old Town. The combination of unfamiliar food and hotter-than-home temperatures had given me a bit of a dodgy stomach for the first couple of days of the holiday, and I was a little bit worried that I’d be so dehydrated as a result that a bit of exertion would see me collapsing in an embarrassed and clammy heap in front of my new running buddies. But I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I necked an electrolyte supplement, scribbled “DO resuscitate” on my chest and headed out anyway.
The meeting point was a mile and a half from my hotel, which gave me the ideal opportunity for a gentle warm-up jog. As I got closer I spotted half a dozen people in technical gear, running shoes and the occasional Garmin. Using my finely honed detective skills I quickly surmised that these were fellow runners, or possibly baddies who’d just robbed the Limassol branch of Sports Direct and were now flaunting their swag. Fingers crossed that it was the former, I introduced myself and quickly found myself shaking hands with Limassol Running Club. Now is as good a time as any to mention that I’m about as good at remembering names as I am at cardiothoracic surgery**** so forgive me that I can’t give you a run-down of who was who. I’m okay at remembering faces though, and have little problem looking through the photos on the LRC facebook page and thinking to myself “ah, there’s the chap from London” and “the bloke on the left was the one who chased a bike”.
One name I do remember is Mike, who founded the LRC and was my point of contact when I arranged to come out with them. As the group set off at a steady trot, heading west along the beach I ran alongside Mike and we began to chat about the club and about running in general. It very quickly became clear that Mike is passionate about running*****, and doesn’t seem at all bothered by stats or PBs, instead focussing on the freedom, wellbeing and sense of community that running brings. We kept a steady but comfortable pace, and I set about enjoying my surroundings. It was around 7:15pm by then, with that strange and calmly fuzzy quality you get on summer evenings when the sun’s not quite ready to go down. The terrain was alternating between rocks and sand, which made a nice change from the trail ‘n’ tarmac I’m used to, and running along with the ocean to my left was a great experience. I was pleased to find that running with a group has the same effect as running in a race, in that the company of others seems to somehow add wind to your sails without making it into a competition. Chatting to a few of the others as we ran, I learned that all of the club members were ex-pats from various corners of the world, and none of them had really known one other until they joined the LRC. There was definitely a feeling of family and community among the club; a bunch of people from all walks of life thrown together by a mutual love of running. Who wouldn’t want to be a member of a club like that?
And for the next hour I was.
The miles flew by at a pace occupying that wonderful balance between speed and effort. It was one of those runs where for some reason everything seems to glide; legs, lungs and reactions working in perfect harmony, to the point where you feel not only like you could run forever but also that you should, because it feels so damn natural. Of course, all of this pales into insignificance when compared to the fact that the LRC have an ice cream shop as their halfway point. EVERY run needs an ice cream shop halfway! Are you paying attention, Mr race director of the Antarctica Marathon 2013?
I hadn’t even noticed the sun go down, but by the time we arrived back at the starting point 10k later it was pitch black, and I relied on Mike’s familiarity with the surroundings to avoid an unwelcome introduction to several low hanging tree branches. The group were heading off for a post-run drink, but I needed to get back in time for dinner, so after a quick farewell I scooted off in what I hoped was the direction of my hotel, my legs still feeling light and fresh with the novelty of running in unfamiliar surroundings.
And that, folks, was my first taste of running with a club. One of the things I’ve always loved about running since the very beginning is the fact that it’s so accessible. Stick your running shoes in your bag and no matter where you go in the world you can head out and have an adventure; and more importantly you’ll never be alone, because if running is universal then so are runners.
I’d like to go back to Cyprus at some point in the future. Just from looking out of the bus window at the landscape on the way back to the airport it was clear that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the place, and there are some stunning trails and mountains to be explored. I feel that I need to go back if for no other reason than to find out how the “Death Race” got its name. I assumed it was tongue in cheek, but when I jokily asked Mike if the course was littered with spike-filled pits and angry mountain lions he went strangely quiet.
If you’re heading out to Cyprus, then you owe it to yourself to hook up with the LRC. A very welcoming group, and suitable for all abilities, from plodder to rocket-propelled bike-chaser. You can contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively search for Limassol Running Club on google or facebook.