I’ll try and keep this fairly short, but I have been known to waffle on so please excuse me if it gets a bit long 🙂
My running inspiration comes from my sister. She started running in her late teens (if I remember right), and has been a runner ever since – I call her a runner as it’s become one of the things that defines her. She’s a (medical) doctor in a very busy job (as a consultant), and yet she’s still found the time to run over 40 marathons in the past 20 years or so. She lives and breathes running… or at least she did until she gave birth to her beautiful daughter a couple of months ago 🙂
So, I started running when I went to university, mainly because I was inspired by my sister. She’s not pushy at all but she’s very encouraging and she used to talk of runs with such real enthusiasm that I thought I’d better give it a go. I did a few run-walk affairs, mainly to get places a bit quicker than walking on it’s own. Then my girlfriend (now my wife) and I decided to take it a little more seriously with a magazine plan to a 25 minute run, and 6 weeks later we had got to 25-30 minutes running.
I can’t remember exactly when I did my first 10k – it was sometime between 1996 and 1998 in Worthing (I think), and it took just over 1 hour. I did at least 1 more 10k (again around 1 hour), a half marathon (about 2 hours 20 minutes) and got accepted in the 1999 London Marathon (sponsored by Flora back then), and completed that in 5 hours 23 minutes, half running and half walking.
I had a big issue with mental weakness back then. When a run got hard, I gave up. And I didn’t really do enough of it to build up any decent fitness or lose any weight (I was quite a bit heavier back then too). So there was an awful lot of walking from a few miles in, and I just didn’t feel like a runner, and basically gave up after the marathon in 1999.
I couldn’t quite stop it all together. Sometimes I’d go a month without a run, but then I’d get an urge and try one. In the beginning of 2002, I went to the US for business, and when I got back I looked at a few photos that had me in and couldn’t believe how much weight I’d put on. At the same time, my wife became pregnant with our first child, and everything just clicked into place.
I got more into cycling to work – 8.5 miles each way, so 17 miles a day. And I started running round the block. 3 miles at first, then extending to 4.1 miles. Starting with twice a week, then 3 times, then 4 times. And I just kept going, ramping the cycling up to 3-5 times a week (so 50-80 miles per week). And my times dropped. 45 minutes for the 4.1 miles, then 43 minutes, then 42 minutes, then 40, then I broke into the 30’s. I don’t remember the exact details, but I know by September of 2002 – when my daughter was born – I’d lost almost 4 stone, and my 10k time was a little over 50 minutes. In 2003, I managed to get 47:10 for a 10k (7:36/mile) at the Poole 10K, and this became my PB for quite a few years. I loved the improvement I had made. The running was feeling better, and I was enjoying getting faster.
For some reasons, things seemed to plateu for quite a few years after that. I started a new job in 2005 and ran at lunch time on my own. As more people joined the company, we got a little group together and used to have informal races around a 4.6 mile mildly hilly loop – my record for that loop got down to 32:10 (7:01/mile), and during my last year working there (2011) I managed to smash my 10K PB down from over 47 minutes to 43:44 and get my half marathon PB to just under 1 hour 48 minutes on the hilly Swanage course.
At the end of 2011, I started working for myself and things got very busy. Running got put on the back burner, and weight crept on. I had a massive mental problem trying to get back into running. Because 2011 had been such a good year, I expected to just pick up where I’d left off but I was miles away from that fitness level, and I kept being disappointed. I’d start a run too fast and burn out, or just be disappointed with the times on my Garmin and give up. I didn’t really run more than about 3 or 4 miles for the whole of 2012. I cursed my brain – I knew the problem was ridiculous expectations but I couldn’t seem to do anything about it, and I didn’t have any confidence to do a long run any more.
Then early in 2013, I read Born to Run.
I hate sounding like “this book changed my life”, but to some extent it did. It was the first running book I read, and I devoured it in a couple of days. It seemed clearer to me at this point that the thing holding me back on my runs was my brain – my expectations – but it didn’t have to. Reading about people running 100 miles surely meant I could do 5? Or 10? And I started to think that if I stopped thinking about 7 minute miles, and started thinking about just miles at any speed – even walking – then I could get somewhere, both physically and in my running.
So I went out on 25th February 2013 and ran 10K with all the pressure of speed off, not even looking at my Garmin. Then a week later I just went out and ran 11 miles and loved it. Then, 3 days later, I ran the 11 miles again. Then 4 days after that I ran 17 miles. The runs were slow, but I bloody loved them!
That was a BIG transition for me. I stopped caring about speed. I stopped wanting to enter events. I started to enjoy running. For the first time in 17-odd years of running, I think I finally started to appreciate the running just for the sake of running – without any big end goal. I kept looking around at woods, trees, the seaside, birds, animals, cars, houses and seeing things I’d not noticed before. I stopped and walked for short times, but then got going again and ran for miles more before stopping again – this was really new to me as I always used to think once you stopped and walked you might as well give up!
So here I am. Since February, I’ve done quite a few long runs, and I’ve had quite a few periods without any runs, but that doesn’t bother me. I’ve realised now that I can pretty much just go out and run 20 miles at the drop of a hat, even if I’ve hardly run for the last month or two (like this 27 mile run). It’s slow and hard work, but I can do it.
And now I want to get better at it, but not for the same reasons I used to have. I don’t care about speed (well, I do a tiny bit, but it’s not the main motivation any more). I want experience. I want to do mad things. I want to do night time trail runs, 24-hour runs (like the one I’ve entered for next year). I want to do multi-day off-road runs to get somewhere – a relative or just a distant train station so I can get home. I’d love to do a 50 miler and maybe even a 100 miler one day. And for that I’ll need fitness and experience, so I’m trying to be a tiny bit more formal in my running – a weekly speed session, a weekly hill session, a long run and some other runs to keep consistency and reduce risk of injury. I’m even going to get back to the running club and actually try and turn up every week!
I’m really excited about the next year. It feels like running has finally become a hobby – something I want to do rather than feel I should – and hopefully will bring some more great adventures. Watch this space!