So this weekend I am doing my first 10k race. It made me realise, I’ve only ever participate in half marathon running events. Which might not seem that odd, its a popular distance and there are races all around the country, but shouldn’t I have started with something a bit shorter first?
Throw back to that first half marathon in Plymouth, 2013. I was woefully under prepared, having only ever ran maybe 3 miles at best before hand. I had my shiny new shoes on that I had done a test run in down the road and back, I didn’t want to get them dirty before the race you see. I had a massive feed of pasta the night before, because you got to carb load right? But didn’t take any nutrition with me to race. And I probably wore my work shorts and a cotton t shirt, I have no idea as there are (thankfully) no pictures to document this disaster.
These were the days before I started mountain biking, but I still considered myself to be fairly fit and active as I swam at least once a week and rode my bike to work and back. I had only previously dabbled in running to get fitter for other endeavours, like my lifeguard exam or to be better at rounders. It was always a by-product of a bigger goal and I guess it falls into that category now with triathlon. I had friends that were keen runners, but I had put myself in the ‘cyclist’ camp and was proud of my chunkier thighs, I wasn’t a ‘runner’.
I remember the previous year, 2012, when I was working at summer camp in America. On the mornings when I could muster enough energy, I would sneak down to the track, determined to make a whole lap unbroken. The other counsellors seemed to be so athletic and confident and I wanted bit mor of that for myself. I didn’t consider myself to be overweight, at about 70kg, but was conscious of the ‘American’ diet I was on at camp, hoping to return home no heavier than I left. I tried, but it never really became a thing and running quickly fell into the ‘too hard’ basket.
So why run a half marathon a year later, if you couldn’t even run 400m? A lot can be said for the power of peer pressure. A group from work had signed up to do the local half marathon for charity, so if they can do it, so can I. It was hard and it was horrible. There were so many people all crammed in at the start, and hated everyone pushing past as they all rushed off. I was knackered by the first mile and already walking. By mile 3 or 4 I could feel a blister growing on the bottom of my foot. The sight of a hill* would have me in a panic attack and I would have to sit on the road side to calm down and catch my breath. At mile 7 I tripped on a cobble stone and rolled my ankle. I hobbled on and by the last mile and up that dreaded hill to the hoe, I was escorted by 2 paramedics who were poised ready for my collapse. The only thing that got me through those 3 hours and 33 minutes were the jelly babies people were handing out!! I was ruined, but I’d done it!
The moral of the story; don’t rush into something you are not ready for. There is no shame in starting slow and small, it is more likely to encourage you to do more. Your 5km might be the same as someones 50km. We need to remove the phrases ‘just’ and ‘only’ from endurance sports as every effort and distance is still a challenge for those undertaking it. It is your journey, go your own pace.
*I’d like to add that for years before the half I spent most of my days wearing a knee support and being in tears of agony at climbing hills or stairs, but since running, my knee problems have reduced significantly and no longer give me any trouble.