Last week I guest posted for the fantastic Kate over at Kate Says Stuff. We share a love for running and to compliment her #operationMOVE project she asked me to write a post about what it means to me.
Keep going, run through it, don’t stop, you’re almost there”. This may sound like a drill sergeant putting his latest recruits through the ringer but it was in fact my earliest memories of running with my Dad. Like most 10 year old boys I wanted to make my Dad proud and if I could achieve that by accompanying him each week for a 10km run then that is what I would do. Stitches became a familiar companion, ignored and dismissed because the prize was so great. “Well done son that was fantastic”. Come rain or shine, and there was more rain than shine in Northern England, we would be out there pounding the pavements together as father and son.
This was the beginning of a love affair that I still have today. I love the simplicity of running, you put on your runners and go, conditions are irrelevant, equipment is minimal and you don’t need to book a court. I was the original Forrest Gump, if I was going to see friends I would run, I ran to school and I ran home again. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and I suspect the head space you get through running appealed to me. Pain was something that I felt I could beat, I certainly wouldn’t let it stop me. I never ran in my comfort zone, I always wanted to push myself harder and further.
Today I run for many reasons. If I’ve had a shit day I run and my head soon clears. If I feel lethargic I will force myself to run and my day is transformed. I run for a sense of achievement, no matter how big or small the run, it always feels like you’ve achieved something. And then of course there is the shallow truth, I run because I look better stood naked in front of a mirror than if I don’t and you will have to take my word on that.
About 6 years ago I set my sights on a marathon, the Holy Grail for lots of runners. I wanted to run one marathon in my life and I wanted it to be something to remember. I plumped for the Paris marathon because if you are going to go through all that pain you may as well have something nice to look at along the way and afterwards I could gorge on French Pastries. I had a training program and stuck to it religiously, giving up all manner of fun in favour of hours and hours of dedication. I began to feel so fit and strong I felt invincible, I loved that feeling and didn’t want to let go.
A month before the marathon I was out training and began to feel a dull ache on the outside of my left knee, I brushed it off as just another niggle that could be ignored and overcome. But the ache did not go away, it stayed with me and got worse. Nobody could agree on the diagnosis of the injury but all of them agreed that I shouldn’t run in Paris. I was heartbroken, I had given myself over to achieving this goal and it was unceremoniously ripped from me.
I didn’t run for a few months and then tentatively started again, hoping and praying that my knee would have somehow cured itself but the familiar ache returned. I grew frustrated and reluctantly gave up on running. I dabbled with cycling, swimming and boxing but nothing made me feel like running did. Even writing this it’s self evident that I was an addict and like any addict I went through tremendous withdrawal pains.
Today I’ve learnt to work with my injury, whatever it might be. I run for as long as my knee allows me. This is usually about 20 mins and I stick to grass which is less punishing for my knee. I’ve found ways to make those 20 mins more challenging, I add sprints, I use benches along the way as hurdles, I search out hills and I carry weights in a back pack. At some point I will begin to feel the pain and that is my cue to stop and walk home. I could be causing further damage to my knee but it’s a sacrifice I am prepared to take in order to keep doing something I love and perhaps pass on that love to my son.
My advice for anyone out there who wants to experience running is to start small. Tackle distances that you can complete. Allow yourself to experience success. Stick to your targets, it’s so easy for your head to trick you into giving up, say no and keep on running. Go out there with a positive mindset looking forward to the run and that post exercise endorphin rush. Run at a pace that allows you to converse with relative comfort. In those early days just run by yourself, don’t allow your pace and distance to be dictated by others. I used to load my iPod up with lots of podcasts or interviews that interested me, this served as a wonderful distraction from the voice that says “stop you idiot, go home immediately”.
I see other runners out and about and I feel jealous. Every time my wife complains about lacking motivation to run I tell her how lucky she is to have the choice and all but push her out of the door. I would encourage would be runners to change their mindset, don’t see it as a form of punishment you go through in order to achieve something, recognise it as a reward in itself. Your body is capable of incredible things but if your mind won’t allow you to tackle them you will never know how much pleasure they can bring.