I’m the one who is most surprised at my running. No matter the disbelief of others, I am still the one who can’t believe I’m doing this.
I was that person who rejoiced in his ability to eat 500g of pasta and not gain weight, who expounded the value of time spent on the sofa, and who asked runners what it is they were running away from.
Then, out of half a joke and half a dare, I started a Couch-to-5k programme. That’s going from sedentary, wheezy, unfit, skinny, ageing me into a version of me that was slightly less unfit, still wheezy, even older, and now injured.
As you can tell, I’m not proselytising. I’m not suggesting anyone take up running. I’m just doing as I’m told and telling the story of my journey so far.
I started just over a year and a half ago. The biggest mountain I have climbed so far was that time in the Couch-to-5K programme where I’d got to the point where I had to run for 4 minutes without stopping. It was gruelling. If you’d asked me whether I would summit the Everest or manage 4 minutes of running, I’d have said they seemed equally impossible. Until today, I have only had one more painful run than that one.
Lesson number one
The first time I managed a 5km run was a moment of unreasonable joy and an enormous sense of accomplishment. There are those around me who run ultra-marathons and complete an IronMan before breakfast. And there was my first real lesson. I’m on my own in this. My achievements, my failures, my pace, my effort, my injuries, and all the lessons I’d learn along the way are mine alone – comparison is useless.
Getting to 10km was an almost linear progression. Adding 10% to my distance every week, I scaled things up and this consistency took me there. Then I tried going faster than a human body that’s 45 years old and always sedentary should go and had my first proper injury.
This time, there were two lessons to be learned.
The first is that I had to have running taken away from me to realise the enormous benefit that it was having on my state of mind. I found myself missing something so recent in a way that I’d have missed a hobby or activity that had been with me all my life. Just as I’d slowly scaled up my fitness, so had the serenity and sense that fewer fucks should be given slowly crept into my life and I wanted them back.
Lesson number two
The second lesson came from a friend who is a seasoned athlete. I was venting my displeasure and acting like this had only ever happened to me. He shrugged without any sympathy and asked: “Did you expect a sport to come without injury? Do what the physio tells you, take the time you need to heal, listen to when your body is ready to go again, and just go again.” Eight injuries later and a couple that I still carry with me, it’s this advice that keeps me accepting the bad as part of the journey.
The first race
Back out on the road, I wanted a project. I needed something concrete to aim for and have as a plan with little steps along the way and a specific deadline. This sort of thing keeps me on track, so to speak. I figured a 21km race would be great so I tried to think of the flattest one possible and Amsterdam came to mind. So, in October 2022, a year and three months after my first attempt at running, I completed this most outstanding of events. Outstanding because an entire city shuts down for the day, business be damned, and comes out into the streets to egg you on, call out your name, encourage every step, and in one way or another turn an hour and three quarters into a constant celebration. Once again, it felt fantastic. I was almost as jubilant as the feeling after that first 5km run.
Something had to give
The time I’d usually spend walking around aimlessly with a camera in hand has been replaced by time spent racking up the miles. This year, I’ve decided I’d try and take a couple of photos with my phone to keep a visual log of the journey. It’s been spotty so far but I’ll see where the year takes me.
So, what’s next?
At my age, I either persevere and feel the aches and pains that go with running injuries or sit back and feel the aches and pains that come with a lack of mobility. For as long as I feel I can handle it, I’ll pick the former. It’s a knife-edge decision so I’ll need to keep popping in these ‘projects’, these goals that have a fixed place in the calendar, to keep me from choosing Netflix.
The next big step is April. There’s the half marathon in Madrid and I’m going there with 20 of my favourite people on the planet. Our next Switch trip is planned for the weekend of the Madrid marathon and half of us are running various distances from 10km to 42km. I’ll be sticking to what I know and doing a half marathon again. It is the only sport I can think of where, by the end of the event, you can be half proud of yourself. I’ve never heard of a half tennis match or a half javelin throw but if there is another half-effort event please do bring me up to speed.
And speaking of halves, half of us are in various stages of preparation for the distance we’ve individually committed to. The other half of us are doing their bit in encouragement, helping organise us, sorting logistics, treats at the finish line, and even threats at the start line to get us moving. Every little bit helps.
So, what am I running towards?
Partly it is the surprise that this bag of flesh that’s been around for almost five decades can still carry me the distance and do so at a reasonable pace, even if it occasionally breaks down. I’m heading towards a better balance between body and mind because even if I was the biggest skeptic, I had to begrudgingly accept this to be true.
And I’m always running towards food. As often as I can, there is something for me to eat at the end of a run because it remains one of my primary reasons for existing.
Health warning: Running can cause a serious shoe habit. I’ve bought more running shoes this year than I can use over the next ten years and there are a couple of new models out there just waiting to find a good home in my wardrobe. Your mileage may vary.