Tuesday, 5 March 2013

I am not a runner

Some months ago I heard a rumour that lifelong non-runner Rachel Fox Barber had signed up to the Bath Half Marathon, raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. Suspicious and confused by this fundamental shift in the natural order of things, I asked her to write something about the experience. The following - rather humbling - account is very much in her own words.

I am not a runner.

I don’t think that pain is a good thing, I’m not fussed about PBs and I believe endorphins are a corporate conspiracy dreamed up by the sales team at Fitness First.

Yet at just after 11 in the morning on a freezing cold Sunday at the start of March, with a meagre 85 unenthused training miles behind me, I found myself whispering a prayer to Jesus as I crossed the start line of the Bath Half Marathon 2013.

Starting out felt like checking my bag to make sure I’d got my keys. Was I okay? Was anything hurting yet? Had my little timer chip thingy fallen off my shoe? I was so busy worrying and taking in my bizarre surroundings of determined athletes and cheering spectators that it was a surprise to see that first mile marker as my friend Alex told me we’d covered it in 11 minutes. 11 minutes! I’d been running just over 12 minute miles at best in training. But we kept going and got through mile two in 10 minutes 45.
Looking pretty happy about being in a race.

Somewhere in mile four, we got lapped by the elite runners – you know, the superhuman ones who can run for days without breaking a sweat. I mentally greeted each of them with a disgruntled “show off!” as they merrily sprinted by on their second lap. Alex and I, and my fiancĂ© Matt, carried on at a slightly steadier pace, entertaining ourselves by discussing the next Star Wars movie (I didn’t have a lot to add to this), worrying about chafing (or to this, thank goodness) and pointing out every single giant boob carried by the Coppafeel runners (yeah, this was mostly me).

After the eight mile mark, it all started to get slightly too much. My longest training run had been eight miles, so passing that marker on race day was entering unknown territory. Through the next few miles, I’d had enough. I was stopping and starting, my legs were aching, I was finding it difficult to breathe, which was pretty scary as it hadn’t really been an issue before, and I was hating the whole experience. Those happy, cheering people were starting to get on my nerves – in no other situation but sport is it okay to yell at strangers – and I was convinced that my view of running as the most ridiculous of endeavours had been right all along.

But once I’d got past the 12 mile mark and was onto the home stretch, it got so much better. My legs killed and I was super tired, but I was so close! I had to make myself keep running until I turned the corner and could see the finish line – from then, it was easy.

Obviously, I had a little cry. That’s code for basically dissolving into a sweaty, sobbing flood of girl tears as I crossed the finish line. I’d done it! Just like that. 13.1 miles in a vaguely respectable (well, I wasn’t last) 2 hours 38 minutes. A nice boy from the cadets gave me a medal before I went in search of a cup of tea and some chocolate.

Alex, Matt and Rach

Since I was asked to write for this blog, I’ve been thinking about how I’d finish that sentence: ‘I run because…’, and partially, it was an experiment. I’d heard so much about why it was brilliant, how my life would be enriched, how good it would make me feel, and oh my goodness, the running, I figured I should try it out for myself. My findings? Well, I’m sorry to tell you, I still don’t really get it. It’s hard! You have to go outside! I’d much rather whack Strictly Come Dancersize on the telly and prance around the living room to Elton John’s I’m Still Standing.

Tell you what though, I don’t think I was quite prepared for how much I’d like – actually like! – the race day itself. I’ve gone along as a spectator before, but being part of the thing, having all those strangers willing me to finish, high-fiving excited little kids and trying to remember to run not dance past the steel bands was kind of brilliant. That’s not the sort of thing you forget in a hurry, and I’m glad to have been part of that, just the once.

But there’s a bigger reason that that. I don’t run for the thrill of the race, I don’t run because I want to go faster or beat a certain time and I don’t run because of how it makes me feel. When someone you care about is so far along Dementia Lane that seeing him be able to blow out the candles on his birthday cake seems like a miracle, it makes you feel pretty helpless. I ran the Bath Half in an Alzheimer’s Society t-shirt, along with a hundred or so others, all running for ‘Grandma’ or ‘Dad’ or ‘my lovely mother-in-law’. I ran because of my grandad, Phil, who turned 86 on 24 February with all his family around him and had no idea about any of it. So raising a grand for a cracking cause by doing something I hate seems as worthwhile as anything else. That’s why I run, and if you asked me if it was worth it, I would tell you unequivocally yes. Will I be doing it again?

Probably not.

I think you’ll be back. Congrats Rach, fantastic achievement.

Happy running


2013 to date: miles run - 238.44, races: 1, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 3

Friday, 1 March 2013

Time may change me...

…but I can’t change time. And this is getting to be a problem.

I have trained for marathons before – some seasons much more diligently than others. But until the current fear-filled VLM/Wall Run combo I haven’t ever attempted to string together quality, consistent high-mileage weeks, and it is taking its toll.

In training terms, it’s going well. I am getting stronger and faster, recovering more quickly and even sometimes feeling like I could manage two good sessions in a day. But the timetabling of these training sessions is turning into a major headache.

I am training five times a week, running around 15-20 miles across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then doing two long-ish runs on the weekend. As the runs get longer my need to squeeze every possible ounce of training value out of my free time is becoming more intense. For example, I simply cannot fit a run of more than five miles into my lunch hour, unless I forgo one of: showering, changing, or actually eating lunch. More than once it’s the food that’s lost out. I have the luxury of a gym on hand at work and have been using the dreadmill for some of the shorter lunchtime runs, as this saves the navigation/traffic light/distraction time involved in a proper run, but this results in such a sweatfest that I spend what feels like even more time trying to make myself presentable to get back to the office.

In the evenings I have to balance the cold, the available daylight, my ridiculously high standards of designing interesting routes and other commitments. Oh yeah, other commitments. Like seeing my wife and eating food.

Oh and I’ve got a job as well, did I mention that?

And this blog to write! Humbug.

Plus sometimes I drink intoxicating beverages and this makes running much trickier.

You’re thinking that I should get up early and run before work. This is because you’ve never seen me in the mornings. So forget that – I just can’t do it.

At the weekends things are somehow more difficult. This weekend coming I’m planning 16 miles on Saturday morning and another 8 or 9 on Sunday morning. I regularly start these runs at hours that mean I’m having breakfast at a time beginning with 7. Soon it will have to be 6. At the weekend! Invariably, when I finish a long run: broken, exhausted, inspired and elated, I dash off almost immediately post-shower to meet someone, be somewhere, do something, or perhaps get on a plane or train or back in the car.

There seems to be no let up, no wiggle room and I confess that I am struggling to keep all the plates spinning. I often get to the end of the week, look smugly at my mileage total that I’ve diligently logged in the diary, then morosely look ahead to all the empty weeks stretching out until these two monstrous racing commitments are done. What kind of moron would design himself such a punishing schedule?

All that, and my mileage is due to almost double in the next two months.

Two things keep me going. One is my enormous commitments to my main races this year. Between the honour of pacing duties at the VLM and the gentlemanly bond we have entered into over the Wall, there’s no way I can let training slide. The other is the classic maxim, applicable to many parts of life, that ‘somewhere, right now, someone busier than you is out for a run’.

And I’m off to catch him.

Happy running


2013 to date: miles run - 208.4, races: 1, parkruns: 1, miles biked: 3