Ahhh running … It’s one of those marmite sports. For years and years I was a hater but now I’ve almost been converted into a lover. Believe me, no-one could be more surprised about this than I am – I vividly remember seeing my friend Nicky climb onto the treadmill at the gym when we lived in the Cayman Islands and running at 8.5km an hour for ten minutes and I had never ever being so impressed by anything ever.
The thing about running is that it’s so convenient. You can do it practically anywhere and you don’t need any specialist equipment apart from a pair of good shoes. You can build up to it and there are a million programmes and apps out there showing you how to build up from a walk to a run. You can choose to go as fast as you like and for as long a distance as you can. It can be really social as there are running clubs everywhere and there are also loads of events. You can even raise money for charity by doing it. Therefore there are loads of advantages of it as a sport … but if you’re a hater there’s no point in rehearsing them because it won’t make any difference!
However, you really can change how you feel about running. I promise. This is what happened to me …
the bit where i started off
I did my first ever run in 2008 and yeesh I was nooooottt prepared. My friend Louise has multiple sclerosis and that year the Multiple Sclerosis Trust was the title sponsor of the British 10K, which is a pretty iconic run on closed roads through central London. Louise asked a bunch of us to do it with her and, wanting to raise money for the charity, I agreed. Let me tell you right now, I had zero idea how far 10K actually was. My training consisted of exactly one run around the block (3.7km according to my careful calculations on Streetmap.co.uk, which at the time was the last word in online mapping technology) about four weeks before the event. I figured that that would be enough and off I went. As it happened Louise and I were about the same level of speed (snail pace) so we ended up running most of it together, but with about 200m to go, with the finish line – FINALLY – in sight, I turned to her and said “Lou I can’t bear doing this any more, it must and shall be over … please can we sprint to the end?”. She grunted out that she couldn’t and I told her I’d have to meet her over the line as I simply had to get it done with. After the run itself we went to my gym which was conveniently located very close to the finish line and soaked ourselves in the jacuzzi, congratulating ourselves on a massive achievement and being fairly convinced we’d never walk again (a prediction which was about right for the next three days, getting up the stairs at my work was agony).
I completed that run in 1 hour and 1 minute, and even though I’d hated it, nonetheless something in me was determined to get down under 1 hour. I think it was the medal – even though it was this ghastly thing with the colours slapped on it with no regard for the actual design, I was so proud of it. It represented such an achievement to me at the time, I could hardly believe I’d done it. I had a look on the trusty interwebs and found out that there was another 10K a couple of weeks later, so I signed up for it. No-one would do it with me, so that one was all by myself on this incredibly hot day in July … but I did it in 59 minutes (and got a way better medal).
the bit where not much happened
After that, I felt like my goals had all been reached and I didn’t think I’d ever get faster than 59 minutes. I did the British 10K again the following year with Louise and her sisters and cousin and made it round in exactly 1 hour, but I wasn’t really that bothered about the time. The following year , 2010, was more interesting – I had lost most of the weight by then, having embarked on my P90X programme about two months earlier. There were about ten of us doing it that year, all decked out in tutus and MS Trust running vests. As usual, I did zero training, but I did manage my best ever time of 58 minutes and I was once again oddly proud. Not, however, proud enough actually to do any other runs, but just enough to keep me engaged to do the British 10K again in 2011. By then, I’d stopped smoking so I thought I’d just naturally be loads faster (cos in my head, that was totally how it worked) but I wasn’t, clocking in at 58 minutes again. 2012 was the same story – 58 minutes again, and believe me, that annoyed me. I was loads fitter than I had been in 2008, I’d lost 40lbs of weight, I was no longer a smoker … and yet I was only clocking in times of a minute faster than I had then!
the bit where i got better
It really helped that I fancied the personal trainer I’d just met, George, because I was ready to b a lot more committed than I might have been otherwise. I asked him, somewhat diffidently, if he could teach me to run, and he told me he could. That started the madness off! He and I spent an hour a week in Battersea Park and Hyde Park doing drills, various speed runs and endurance runs and strength drills. Guess what I clocked up in 2013? Yup, 53 minutes! A whole four minutes off my fastest time ever over the same course, and five minutes faster than I’d been able to run it in years. On top of that, I didn’t feel as though I was going to pass out and/or be sick once. Amazing! That taught me that training actually does work (shocker) and got me wondering what else I might be able to do.
Over 2013 and 2014 in particular I did loads and loads and loads of events. Of all the medals on my wall, those two years make up about 3/4 of the total number. My fastest ever 10K time was 49 minutes at the Regents Park 10K in 2014, but I also did a half-marathon and a whole bunch of 5ks together with a couple of one-mile events which of all events were my absolute favourite.
the bit which i still can’t believe i’ve actually done
In 2015 I’d pretty much burnt out from competition, not because of running but because of triathlon (more of that story another time) so I did hardly any events. I still loved training for running, and George and I were still running once or twice a week in Battersea on the track or in the park, but I wasn’t that keen on doing events and killing myself over times. George had, by that time, managed to qualify for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, which is commonly accepted as the toughest single-stage footrace in the world. It’s 103 miles up Mont Blanc, around Mont Blanc, and down Mont Blanc, and you have to do it within 46 hours or you’re disqualified. You also have to do a certain number of specific qualifying races before you can even get onto the start line. I couldn’t believe it when he’d tell me of these events that he’d done, running for 17 or 18 hours over crazy hilly trails (one, the Brecon 10 Peaks, was literally up ten mountains). It was the one thing I still swore I would never ever ever be able to do.
However …! In May, my friend Debbie sent me the details of the Atlantic Coast Challenge, a multi-stage ultra marathon which took place over three days at the start of October and covered 82 miles down the Cornish coast (it says it’s 78. It’s NOT). I laughed hysterically and put her email to one side and thought that I didn’t think more about it. However, my subconscious must have been busily working away, because in about July I began really to think about it. I happened to go to Geneva with a whole bunch of sporty friends and it just kept creeping into my mind. When I got back, I tentatively raised the subject with George and asked him whether he thought I could do it. He laughed and said “Of course!” … and somehow, I’m not sure why or how, I found myself signing up for it. I’d never run more than 13 miles in my LIFE and that had been two years before, but now I was staring down the barrel of running more than six times that distance in just eleven weeks’ time … and I was off to Ibiza for two weeks of that. YIIIIIIIIKES. I literally had no idea how to go about this so I just made it up as I went along, and – far sooner than I would have considered ideal – I ended up on a caravan park in Cornwall, preparing myself to spend the next three days running a really really really long way. It was emotional, and you can read my full journey here (including all my training as well as the run itself) but I did it. I have never been so knackered in my life – and my toenails are a distant memory – but it is one of the things that I am proudest of (with the benefit of hindsight, at the time I just thought I was a total idiot).
the bit where i’m not sure what the next stage will be
I haven’t yet decided what I’m doing in 2016 or 2017 or whenever the next insane challenge comes along. All I know is that when I come up with an idea, I will be able to do it. Doing the ultra has taught me that literally, anything is possible. Whether you actually want to do it or not is another story, but if there’s something you want to do, but you don’t think you can – believe me, as one who has done something I never ever thought possible, you can.
Let me know what you’re thinking of doing – anything in particular? From running 1 mile (or 100 metres) to running an ultra marathon, let me know what challenge you fancy. Also if you can think of anything for me to do in future let me know, I have no ideas!