Raising the running bar

The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

Walter Bagehot

Following on from my earlier post about staying fit and active throughout life, I’ve embarked on a new fitness challenge which I’d like to share occasionally between now and the end of September for two reasons. The first is that I hope it might encourage and inspire others to have a go themselves; not necessarily at running (let’s face it, I’m not the most enthusiastic runner in the world so I’m hardly qualified to tell others it’s their thing) but at any kind of activity- be it physical, mental, practical, spiritual or whatever – that offers a new challenge and a chance to do something different, to learn new things and maybe surprise yourself (and a few other people) along the way.

It doesn’t have to be anything extreme or costly. You don’t have to trek across continents, scale Everest or swim the English Channel – although if that’s what floats your boat, why not? Something as simple as walking a daily mile or trying a new recipe or writing a blog can open up a whole new world and there’s certainly a world out there to explore. So, if you’ve always fancied learning how to kick box or dance the tango, play thrash guitar or speak Mandarin, cast a fishing line or use a potter’s wheel, go star gazing or wild swimming or bagging Munros . . . then what are you waiting for? If you’d love to walk along a midnight beach, barbecue in the snow, play in a chess championship, fly a kite, sing in a choir . . . what is truly stopping you? It’s never too late and you’re never too old; if you want to belly dance or sky dive at 70, go for it.

I have never been a sporty person, I have no running style and I’m desperately slow – any photos of me running where my feet actually look like they’re bounding off the ground enthusiastically are something of a rarity! I don’t really like running and I find it incredibly difficult but I keep at it, partly because I know it’s good for me but also because it reminds me that I’m alive. Yes, I’m a less than fit greying granny but I’m out there doing it and that makes me smile. It probably makes other people smile, too, but that’s just fine. If I can do it, anyone can. That’s a fact.

Luarca 5k in June . . . are those feet actually doing anything?

We spend too long listening to all those negative words – the couldn’ts and shouldn’ts and musn’ts – that do so much to nibble away at our self belief. Go on, do it . . . and don’t give a stuff about what others think. I have little patience for those who spend their time casting doubts or sniping and scoffing at the perceived failures of others. I might be wrong, but I think it’s better to have had the courage to try and fail, than never to have tried at all. We can’t rewind our life and start all over again so how important it is to use what time we have to the very full and cram in as much living as we possibly can. I really don’t want to get to my last gasp thinking things like, “Darn it, I never did get round to learning how to play the bagpipes.” Mind you, I know at least one person who would be eternally grateful for that missed opportunity!

The second reason for sharing is slightly more selfish: accountability. Changing habits, breaking out of old routines or developing new ones and sticking to promises and commitments is much easier if we make ourselves accountable to someone. It’s a bit of a paradox but we are far more likely to let ourselves down than let other people down so having a real live Jiminy Cricket to report to is a useful tool in sticking at something. Rather than nominate an individual, I’m using my blog as my conscience: it doesn’t matter if no-one reads it or passes comment (although it’s always lovely when someone does!), just making the appointment to write a few update posts will, I hope, be enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.

So what have I chosen for my newest running challenge? The usual route people take tends to be chasing longer and longer distances; I have nothing but admiration for those brave souls but it’s not for me. Marathon? No thank you. Ultra? Don’t even think about it. Half marathon? Nope, been there, done that and once in a life time was most definitely enough. Fell runs, trail runs and mud runs look fun but I’d rather do them at a leisurely pace in my walking boots!

After the half marathon, I did say I’d like to retain the ability to run 10k for as long as I can; it’s far enough for me (please don’t say it’s only two Parkruns!) and means an hour or so of continuous running, so remains quite a challenge. The obvious thing, then, is to shake myself out of my usual plodding pony habit and try and do it a bit faster. In my relatively short and non-illustrious running career thus far I have participated in four official chip-timed 10k races: one in France (66 minutes), one in the UK (63 minutes) and two in Spain (65 minutes and 62 minutes). My aim for number five is to try and break that elusive hour barrier and come in with a sub-60 minute time and where better than to have a go than at the Ribadesella 10k in September – the race where I ran the 62 minutes and 32 seconds last year?

Eyes closed as I came over the finish line . . .I was literally asleep on my feet.

Points in favour of Ribadesella:

  1. I’ve run the race before so I know exactly what to expect in terms of the event and the course; I know there is a tremendous atmosphere.
  2. Ribadesella is a pretty seaside town which provides a really picturesque setting for the race, part of which follows a long stretch of the seafront promenade. It’s totally beautiful.
  3. The spectator support is truly amazing every step of the way; it’s what got me to the finish line last year.
  4. The post-race victuals are a real feast, the ice-cold draught San Miguel a true life-saver.
  5. It’s flat, flat, FLAT!
What a stunning setting for a race.

Then again . . .

  1. It’s an evening race with a 6pm start. I’m more tuned to winding down for the evening at this point of the day, rather than running round a town with several hundred other people.
  2. The weather is unpredictable but it could be very hot. Last year it was nudging thirty degrees. In the shade. Which I wasn’t.
  3. The cut-off times are fairly tight. The organisers, marshals and local police do a fantastic job of closing all roads to keep runners and spectators safe and make it a true community event but the roads have to be re-opened as quickly as possible. If you don’t make certain points by certain times, you are disqualified. In this case it’s 5k in 35 minutes and 10k in 70 minutes: an irrelevance for the hares like Roger (who will probably blitz the whole thing in under 35 minutes) but an added pressure for the tortoises like myself.
  4. It’s a fast race. In my age group (Female 50) I was the last out of eight ladies, finishing in 01:02:30 – my best ever time. The winner did it in 00:42:34:50, the winner in the F55 class ran 00:52:55 and in the F65, 00:49:59 – that’s someone at least 14 years older than me running it twenty minutes faster! The Asturians have a dizzying talent for speed, so I know I’ll be flogging along somewhere near the back and that can feel a bit demoralising (if I let it).
  5. I don’t like races. I’d rather be in my garden.

Okay, time to stop whingeing, man up and get training. I’ve found an excellent training plan which I know is going to be tough but hopefully will get me there over ten weeks; actually, I didn’t really make the first two weeks as we were away from home but let’s not allow that to be an issue . . . There are plenty of new challenges to face, runs on five days a week for starters plus one cross-training day (yoga for me) and a rest day. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Two of the runs are a few miles at ‘easy’ pace (don’t make me laugh), one with an added session of strength training, one is a tempo run with a faster middle bit, one is shorter intervals at speed (now I have to laugh) with a recovery jog in between and the other is a long run, up to eight miles. Oh, and some of them require a ‘strong finish.’ Mmmm.

Salinas 6k beach race in May . . too much sand, too much wind, but the finish was in sight.

I am under no illusion whatsoever: this is going to be hard. On paper, running the whole race two and a half minutes faster than before doesn’t really look too difficult but that translates into losing 15 seconds for a kilometre (or 24 seconds for a mile) over and over and over . . . and that’s a fairly formidable mountain to climb from where I’m looking. In the end – in the grand scheme of things- it really doesn’t matter whether I get that golden sub-60 or not. The world won’t stop turning, the front pages won’t be held, my life probably won’t change that much . . . but (and it’s a big but) the process of trying will be a valuable experience, a fascinating, uplifting, frustrating, tiring journey of motivation, discipline, movement, fresh air, success and failure, tears and laughter. Above all, it will be about living and although I know there will be days when I’ve had enough and just want to throw in the towel, in my heart of hearts I know it’s the right thing to be doing. Probably a better idea than the bagpipes, anyway! 🙂