The events of this weekend can only be described as “not pretty, borderline ugly, and leaving a sour taste in the mouth” – and it’s probably deserved.
We’ll start with a quick roundup beginning with Friday morning, aka The Work Lap morning. Given that my last two ventures had sought out the worst in me (woe is me for delving into the dark arts of smoking again) by allowing myself to cut corners and cheat myself with mid-run rests, I was hell-bent on restoring some glimmer of pride to the early morning saunter.
So I made a promise to myself that today was all about steady-state – no PBs, no records and more importantly no stopping. I didn’t care what pace I ran at, as long as I did it without stopping. The whole point of me doing these runs is to lure my body into a place where it can remember how to function as physical athlete and given that I had just played my best game of football in months on the Tuesday, I had every reason to believe I was more than capable of fulfilling a simple 1.44mile run around the block in one stint.
So off I trot and I was still feeling the side-effects of a bruised heel sustained from the end of Tuesday’s footballing endeavour. Nevertheless, I’d already set off on my jaunt so it was too late to give up. Keeping it steady, as promised, I fumbled my way through the first mile in a respectable 8:15 before clocking off the back stretch in 3:44.
Coming in at 11:59 is more than good enough for me given that I’ve not particularly trained hard over the last two weeks or so. And I was happy enough to not stop as well, despite the growing pain in my ankles. I’ve been meaning to give myself a 5-10min treadmill workout before I hit the tarmac but I was running a little late in the morning and didn’t have time so naturally did very little warmup (when will I ever learn?)
Saturday was a completely different kettle of fish. I slept really well the previous night, got myself up nice and early, had a very filling breakfast and dressed up, ready to rock and roll.
I knew I had a problem from the very moment I started warming up though. My knees ached, my ankles sore, the bruised heel still not completely eradicated and I was having great difficulty getting my calves warmed up – even with my compression socks on (the weather has taken a significant turn now that we’re hitting October). And it’s from here that I made the classic mistake that so many runners often make…
I carried on with the race.
I had every warning sign in my body trying desperately to raise the alarm that I was clearly in no fit state to run this race and still I forced myself to do it, telling myself I’d warm up as I went along.
Note to self (and others): THIS SELDOM EVER WORKS.
Indeed, it usually makes things worse. My knees were at their worst and by around the 0.85 mile mark I had firmly agreed that I had made a grave error. I was running very steadily (somewhere around 9:50 – 10:00 min/mile pace) but it wasn’t enough for me and by the 1.00 mile mark I finally gave myself a break and did the most sensible thing I’d done all day: stop. I stopped, I walked, I stretched and I contemplated whether to turn back and walk back towards my car or walk to the half way point and try again on the way back. The whole concept of times, or PBs, or sub 30min 5k went out the window entirely. This was all about whether I could physically complete the race or not.
In fact, it’s high-time I stopped calling it a race, and called it what it actually is: a run. It’s not a race, at least not for me, it’s not even a competition, it’s just a free run with primarily similar people who all enjoy the same passion and that is running.
Hilariously, the same woman who passed by me a few weeks back and checked up on me passed by me again and once again checked up on me – she even remembered me from last time. Again, she told me to take it easy. How frustrating that she didn’t get to see me a couple of weeks ago as I smashed my PB. How frustrating that she didn’t get to see me playing football on Tuesday, where I felt like I could’ve carried on for another hour my high intensity. How frustrating, but also, how kind of her. She’s exactly what Parkrun tries so desperately hard to embody: kindness, helpfulness, compassion, fairness, inclusivity… I don’t know your name, but congratulations on being a great human being and thank you, nonetheless.
After a five minute rest, I picked up a gentle jog again, reaching the half-way point and then staring out into something completely new to me; almost emptiness. There were so few people ahead of me and for the first time it actually felt a little intimidating, or rather demoralising. Here I was, reaching the half way point significantly behind what it would be ordinarily if I was being competitive and yet I felt so… dejected, dispirited or even enervated. I can only imagine how it must feel for the slower runners who are running by themselves and feeling like the run was a completely pointless endeavour. That feeling of not being anywhere near good enough compared to other people and wanting to give up.
I’m not saying I’m such an elite runner that I can’t relate to the slower ones, but I began to empathise with the people who weren’t as lucky as me to be able to have a better run in the locker, just not on that day. Rarely have I ever been in a position in an activity I enjoy that I’m not good enough to compete, whether that’s because I don’t challenge myself enough or I’m just good at what I do, that I don’t know. And, again, please don’t for a single second think that I’m being elitist with that remark, far from it. The message I’m trying to convey is that I got a glimpse of understanding things from a slightly different perspective and it completely opened my eyes.
I truly hope the slower runners never give up. Ever. If you want something so bad then you have to keep going for it, regardless. One of my biggest fears about going running on the streets is partially down to not knowing the city very well, but also having this fear of people judging you as you run and feeling ashamed that I’m completely bang average (to coin a phrase) at it. A couple of my old friends on various social media feeds popped up and they’re extremely successful runners now and to be quite honest, ten years ago, I would never have seem them doing that – it just seems so out of character for how I remember them. Obviously I’ve been proven significantly wrong but the point is – if you want it, you CAN go and get it as long as you have the faith to commit to it and honestly, it completely inspired me for the rest of my race, injuries et al.
I mean, I had a brief walk again later down the second mile to stretch my legs a little, but I made a conscientious effort to run the last mile, no matter what pace. One rather attractive lady even squawked a “well done, big sprint finish now, come on,” as I hurtled steadily into the home stretch. Part of me resented that, knowing that I was running well below my ability, but I also had to imagine that this lovely young lady probably had the mindset that I described earlier, about the slower runners and figured that a pep talk would help me finish in style. Whatever it was, I didn’t sprint finish. There was no need, this was merely a catastrophic experiment in patella welfare; failing the test miserably was expected.
So there is it. My worst result yet (by a clear margin too). I hate to use the word failure to describe anything so instead I’ll use this as a lesson. A lesson to listen to your body. If it ain’t right, don’t do it!
Oh, just to compound my misery I finished off the day with a round of 18 – this was a terrible idea and I wholly regret it.