An ordinary woman's fascination with an extraordinary sport ... and the extraordinary people who take part

Monday, 9 May 2011

I'm Not a Runner

Those are the words I started this blog with.  And it's perfectly true. But....

This stuff is contagious.  I did find myself thinking "Gosh, I wish I coud run".  In the same way that I might think "I wish I could sing like Adele" or "I wish I could earn money like Alan Sugar" or "I wish I had Posh Spice's legs".  But it's never going to happen; I can't run and I will never be able to.

Then last November I was standing at Victora Bridge on the Way - watching runners - when the little voice in the back of my head shouted quite distinctly "bugger this, I'm sick of saying I can't".  A week later, I am in Run and Become, explaining that I would like to learn how to run and buying a pair of shoes that will allow me to do this without my shins breaking.

I can't wait to try them out that evening.  I get about 100 yards before my lungs go on strike.  Okay, this isn't as easy as it looks...

But I'm stubborn and I keep trying: run a little bit, walk a long bit, run a little bit, etc etc.

A week later it snows for the first time.  After this there is no more running, only careful steps in hiking boots and walking poles.

At New Year the snow clears and I manage one more session before the flu strikes and knocks me sideways for a few weeks.

I sign up for Race for Life on the day it opens to give myself an unavoidable target.

In February I go to Australia on holiday and, although I take the running shoes, it's far too hot to run.  Or walk. Or be outdoors full stop.

When I get back I realise my unavoidable deadline is now ten weeks away and I'm still struggling to run more than seven minutes out of a thirty minute session.  I need an alternative training strategy and discover C25K (Couch to 5k), a structured run walk program that promises to turn a couch potato into a semi-competent runner.  That would be me then....

I struggle with every single session, but complete them nevertheless.  I make the mistake of looking forward a few weeks and see a solid 20 minute run at the end of week 5 when I am barely completing the 3 minute sessions in week 3.  I give up smoking after 25 years.  My waist shrinks but I don't lose weight.

I'm slow and ungainly.  My fastest (and only) pace is about 4mph and I almost come to a complete halt on anything resembling an upwards slope.  I only run at dawn when there are no other people around.

Two weeks before the race, I break with the programme and try to complete a 5k route.  I don't succeed the first time but on the second attempt, I make it.  I text Keith who replies with the words "Well done ... now do it again on Thursday".

Race day arrives cool and cloudy.  I'm incredibly grateful as I can't even contemplate running in the heat of the Fling the previous weekend.  Bad enough that I will be running in public for the first time...

I arrive at Hopetoun House far too early and sit in the car, reading the paper and eating jelly babies (I have clearly spent too much time reading ultra runners' blogs and consider jelly babies to be appropriate food.....).  And the heavens open.  Proper torrents of water ... hmmm I wanted cool and damp but this is possibly going too far.  But it stops and I get out of the car and join the pink flood of women heading towards the House.  I'm trying not to read their back signs because I know they will make me cry, but I do anyway.

I have no intention of joining in communal aerobics or singing but it's impossible to not get caught up in the moment.  But I do find myself thinking that I will be worn out before the race even starts!  I really start to see the attraction of the one line briefing of the Fling.

Eventually we line up - runners, joggers and walkers in separate groups.  I'm somewhere near the middle of the joggers as I know my pace isn't going to be enough to keep up with the runners.  My final text from Keith arrives: "ttfu".  I am immensely amused that it has taken him this long to say it.  We shuffle forward and forward until eventually we're through the gate and onto the course proper.

I have no idea where the route is but there are 1600 women on the course, about 500 of them in front of me and zero chance of geting lost.  Within a few hundred yards, I come across a group of women walking holding hands and become very cross that they are blocking almost the entire path.  If you want to walk, join the walkers group!  Oh dear, this is not at all charitable....

A curve and a down slope, and then there is clearly a hill in front of me.  Possibly a little carried away I try to run it but come to my senses part way up and start walking.  Every runner I know walks up hills!

I'm utterly shocked when I see a "1k" sign as I think I've been going much further than that.  I suddenly find myself thinking that 5k is actually a very long way and this is going to hurt.  The fact that I've done it once before is no longer enough.

When I run I find myself going past numbers of women who are now walking, and become quite adept at picking my way through gaps or up onto the verge to get past.  A few women come sprinting past who clearly placed themselves in the wrong groups to begin with.  I catch my ankle on a small tussock of grass and it stings sharply but I can't even swear as there are both children and grey haired women around me.  Six months ago, this would have been an excuse to stop but that ttfu is now engrained....

I walk all the up bits from here on, saving my energy for the flats and downhills.  I'm not a quick walker and some of the women I run past are retaking me on these sections.

The route moves off the path onto grass and it suddenly strikes me that I've never run off-road before.  It's a strange sensation and very odd how different each step feels.  Then back into the woodland, a sharp turn and we're running on trail.  Oh I like this, it actually feels comfortable although I'm past 3k and my lungs are burning and my left ankle grizzling loudly.  The earlier rain has left some significant puddles and mud on the path that many of the women are picking their way around.  I just charge through them, giggling as the mud and water splash up my calves.  This is something akin to being a toddler jumping in puddles.

We are obviously delicate flowers as even the tree roots have been sprayed pink where they cross the path and might possibly cause a tripping hazard.  I find myself wondering just how "technical" the trail past Loch Lomond is but remind myself sharply that this is a completely different event for a completely different group of people.

We round a corner and there, over a low wall, is the most amazing vista of the Forth, looking west to Grangemouth and the refineries, north to the hills of Fife and east to the bridges.  I would love to stop and take photos but I have a race to run and no time to stop.  I'll come back another day.

Onwards I go, more puddles and mud, past a few more walkers and suddenly out of the woods into open ground and brilliant sunshine and, oh help, it's roasting hot.  Almost instantly it feels as though my face must be as pink as the vest I'm wearing.  Then relief when the trail passes back into the woods and the temperature drops again.

I catch glimpses of the house through the wood and eventually we're out into the open again; it's nearly over.  But my legs stage a final protest and refuse to continue at anything above a walk.  But as I come past the house, the roadway is lined with people clapping and waving, it doesn't matter that none of them are there for me, suddenly I'm grinning again and sod my legs, I am going to finish this as I started - not walking but running.  So this is where my runners get that last burst of energy from to sprint for the line...

Then I'm through and the boy scouts are handing me a medal, a pink bag and a bottle of water.   I don't care that the grass is wet, I am sitting down and drinking the best water I've ever tasted.

I check the stopwatch on my ipod.  44.19.  In running terms, pretty abysmal.  In my terms, pretty damn good.  Three minutes better than my only previous 5k run and that didn't have any hills!  Oh god, I'm already thinking of it as a PB....

Never again, I think and instantly burst out laughing.  How many blogs have I read that start with those words and finish with "next year I'm going to...."?

I now crave caffeine - I always want coffee after a run - and haul myself up and over to the stalls.  As I'm buying, the heavens open again and it's pouring with rain.  I stand by the finish line cheering on the walkers; I don't mind that I'm getting wet, but I do mind that my coffee is getting watered down!

As I drive back to Edinburgh, the weather changes again and the sun comes out.  I can't understand why fellow drivers are looking strangely at me.  Until I get home and look in the mirror.  I had my hair dyed last Monday and the rain has washed it out in great red streams down my face and neck.  I look like an extra from Casualty. 

Much later, my legs finally take their revenge for what I've put them through and reduce me to an agonised hobble.  C'mon guys it was 5k ... I saw people run 53miles last weekend and they weren't this bad!

I sleep badly and shuffle into work, cursing the people who inspired me to think I could run.  My right leg in particular takes great exception to coming down stairs.  But by the time I get home, I'm already debating whether I can go for a gentle jog tomorrow morning... and should I work on increasing my pace or my distance....?

I'm not a runner.

But I ran my first race yesterday.



  1. What a great race report! The wee doubts, the hard work, the emotion of the finish. One of the best things I love about running is that anyone with a will can do it, the distance of the race and the time you take to do is purely personal and never call it abysmal as long as it was your best effort. Log your PB with pride, you ARE a runner. Check out if there is a JogScotland group near you. (Don’t want to scare you but I know an ultra runner that started there.)
    p.s. you might have seen me skipping over the Fling finish full of the joys of spring, but you never heard my whinge to Pauline as I shuffled back to the car that was parked “miles” away at the Green Welly or walk the next day and I’m not gonna mention stairs!!!!

  2. i got goosebumps reading that. I said i'd stop running after my first race, i never intended to carry on, and even when i did i said never anything over 5k! that was in 2006...