Having my cake, eating it, eating other people’s cake too…

Since Wimbledon I’ve been giving my running some serious thought. I’ve been running regularly for a year now and am yet to make any significant progress. Partly this is because I have very little natural talent for running, but partly it’s because I haven’t been training properly. I’ve been running, sure, but I haven’t really “trained”.

To some extent this was a conscious decision when I took up running. I didn’t want to commit to running 5 days a week and exhausting myself at something completely unproven, and I didn’t want to miss out on other elements of my life.

A year on, I know I can run at least 3 times per week – which means I could do 4, with a bit of inspiration. I know I can’t (don’t want to) do more than that. It’s time for a training plan.

I’m doing a half marathon in February 2015. There are 16 and a half weeks until then. I know I can cover a half marathon distance… now to think about speed.

But, importantly for me, it’s not time to stop doing other things that I enjoy. I’m dancing regularly again, after a break over the summer (and I’m loving it – a lot of the technical things I learnt have fallen into place and I’m dancing really well). I played hockey for the first time in 15 years last week (it turns out that I’m fearless but unable to identify who’s on my team and who’s not, so I pass to and tackle the wrong people). I’m swimming a couple of times a week and making improvements (but also sometimes just swimming for the sake of floating about). I’m seeing friends and family. I’m baking, writing, watching box sets…

Can I do this? Hit the goals I’d like to achieve without sacrificing my life? We’ll see.

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Wimbledon Common Half

I always struggle, in the aftermath of running events, to find the positives. However, even armed with this awareness, as I lay in the bath (in my bathroom that looks like a crime scene, thanks to my housemate’s experiments with red hairdye) and thought about today’s performance, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmingly disappointed.

This morning I felt quietly optimistic. I’m not sure what this was based on – since my last half marathon I’ve done precisely one long run, which included a break to clarify whether I had indeed dropped my debit card. I suppose I felt that my running was, overall, moving in a positive direction, with an increase in mileage and slight improvements in speed and stamina.

Pre-race, I had the usual nerves but had good company – my friend Bernie had given me a lift and we were hanging out. We didn’t intend to run together but it was nice to have someone to chat to, as well as the luxury of arriving at a race in a car.

There were around 700 runners and we set off onto the trails. I’d underestimated what it’s like running on trails – there were a couple of places where the mud was very deep. After the first mile or so the numbers around me thinned out a little and I tried to find my rhythm, which I found, very briefly, at around mile 3.

When I run my thoughts wander and I thought of last night. I was working (a mistake, the night before a race) at Science Night, a sleepover at the Science Museum for kids. One workshop tracked the journey of food through the digestive system and ended with my colleague Sam pretending to be a rectum talking to a brain, saying in a silly voice, “brain, I’m full, help!”

I grinned to myself, then thought OH GOD. It was like Sam’s voice was inside my body. Last night’s dinner had a heavy emphasis on pringles, fondant fancies and milky way stars. My body told me, quite forcefully (and quite rightly), that this was rubbish race nutrition and that it would rather be without it.

But (surprise!) if you run on a common there are few public toilets. I spent a couple of uncomfortable miles looking forward to the loos at the halfway point (the two lap course passed the start/finish line), only to be told the wrong way by a marshal and accidentally continued with the race, forcing me, eventually, into the woods.

Too much information? Maybe. Oh well.

I did a Sean Kelly and made some calculations. I wasn’t going to be taking any sort of significant chunk out of my previous time but I figured if I could run at a steady pace for the second 10k then I might *just* sneak in under my (admittedly extremely slow) current PB.

What to say here. I mentally crumbled. Momentarily cheered by a husky trying to join in the race (“Get back here!” shouted its owner. “You’ve got too many legs!”) I struggled to keep momentum or positivity.

The final mile headed uphill away from the sounds of the finish. A man on a horse stood by the path and as I passed by the horse gave me a scornful shake of its mane. Yeah, that’s about right. I turned towards the finish and tried to pick up the pace. My leaden legs responded sluggishly and I ignored the voice in my head saying “fuck it, you suck at running anyway”.

Womble medal, hug from a womble, hug from Bernie, free fruit, drive home, coffee and croissant on the way, home, bath with a book, sudocrem on the friction burns on my back, compression socks, a great sense of emptiness.

Bernie, womble, me