You may recall that, a few months ago, I took up running again (https://middlerageddad.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/light-blogging/).
Well, I call it running, but most serious runners would probably refer to it as ‘moderately quick walking’, because my average speed is around 7.5 miles an hour – which isn’t even twice as fast as my normal walking pace. To be honest, I feel a bit embarrassed saying I have been for a run, when there were mobility scooters overtaking me.
That said, if I could run a marathon at that pace (or at all), I would be extremely pleased, as I am currently more concerned with working on my distances and stamina, rather than my speed. The problem is, my distances and stamina are crap too.
When I first started running again, I had a nice little two-mile circuit mapped out, to ease me back into the metaphorical saddle after a decade’s absence. The plan was to increase this gradually, to the point where I was firstly winning half-marathons, then full marathons, and ultimately taking Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.
These were perhaps unrealistic ambitions, particularly for a 37-year-old man with the spine and knees of an arthritic pensioner, but I had hoped to reach the stage where I could at least run a half-marathon without embarrassing myself (and, for what it’s worth, I would define ‘embarrassing’ as collapsing in the street, sobbing, and then alternating between vomiting and shitting myself). Alas, after four months of ‘training’, I am now prepared to admit that there is more chance of me doing a skydive than a half marathon – and there is zero fucking chance of me ever doing a skydive.
The fact is, having run twice a week since March, I am now able to (just about) complete a four-and-a-half-mile circuit, before my body completely shuts down, and it takes all my remaining focus and energy not to revisit every meal from the previous 48 hours. This isn’t an exaggeration. I ran four-and-a-half miles for the first time a few weeks ago, and after a shower – where I spent most of the time wishing we had installed a panic button/emergency cord in the downstairs loo – it took me fourteen minutes to put my pants and socks on (my stopwatch was still running).
I do accept that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and these things take time, commitment and perseverance, but that also fails to acknowledge just how truly terrible I am at this. Also, I don’t have a great deal of time, even less commitment, and absolutely no perseverance whatsoever.
To be honest, it saddens me to think I am never going to be a good long-distance runner. At 6’3″, with the sort of legs an Ethiopian marathon runner can only dream of (except for the utterly knackered knees, and the fact that my pasty white skin would look ridiculous on an Ethiopian – like he’d been dipped to his waist in Dulux Emulsion), I genuinely thought I might be suited to long distance running. This was supposed to be my sport.
Unfortunately, unless I am going to break through a physical barrier sometime soon, whereupon everything will suddenly click into place, then running half-marathons (let alone full marathons), will forever elude me. In fact, the only chance I have of anything clicking into place right now, is my hip clicking into my spinal cord.
A few weeks ago, when I bravely/naively/stupidly chose to add a ‘bonus’ section onto my three-mile circuit, turning it into four and a half miles, I suddenly became quite upbeat about running, and wondered whether I had perhaps underestimated my capabilities. Sure, I felt like dying afterwards, but four and a half miles felt like the sort of distance where you transform from merely a casual jogger, into a more serious runner. However, I now realise that this is complete bullshit. Serious runners would see four and a half miles, as something they do in their jeans when they nip to the shops to pick up milk.
I briefly toyed with the idea of joining my local running group (‘Sandbach Striders’), for some moral support, to meet new people, and with the incentive of making myself a better runner. However, once I checked out their website, and saw that they start at five mile runs and work from there, I just knew I would be out of my depth.
No matter how much I am sure they would try to make me feel welcome, and would almost certainly not ridicule me for my dreadful fitness levels and stamina, if they consider running five miles as ‘beginner-level’, then I would feel like I was struggling (and a failure) from the word go. Imagine if I joined them, and then looked like this:
After all, it’s only a matter of weeks since I was ritually humiliated by a group of badminton playing pensioners, so if I were to now find myself struggling to keep up with an 80-year-old jogger, I think the final shred of my sporting self-confidence would desert me.
Then, last week, I came across an article discussing top tips for marathon running. I would normally treat such an article with (wholly uncharacteristic) scorn, but when I noticed it was written by Amy Hughes – no, me neither, but she apparently holds the world record for running 53 marathons in 53 days, so she’s clearly very experienced in distance running, as well as being a fucking lunatic – I decided to give it a read. After all, I have no intention of running a marathon any time soon (well, ever), but felt the tips might help with long-distance running in general, and I regard four miles as long-distance running.
Unfortunately, her ten tips turned out to be largely useless to me….
1. Vaseline your boobs and balls
Good start. I assume that men and women are generally expected to grease only one of these body parts (although, I am rapidly acquiring a delightful pair of man-breasts), but even taking that into account, if I am applying copious amounts of Vaseline to my danglies, the last thing I want to do is then leave the house and go for a run.
2. Don’t eat everything you’re given
Frankly, this is far better advice for my life in general, than for any long-distance running, but I anticipate she means the food which marshals hand out during marathons. No problem there, because the closest I will ever get to a race marshal handing out food, is the chippy near Sandbach train station (which I sometimes run past). Plus, I don’t like bananas anyway.
3. Create a mantra
Give me strength (that’s not mine, by the way).
Her suggestion? ‘You are strong. You are fearless. Don’t stop.’
Now, let’s be honest, if you ran past someone uttering that to themselves during a marathon, you would have to sacrifice your race time by a few extra seconds, in order to stop and laugh at them.
That said, I do have a sort of mantra when I run, but it’s more stick than carrot, and generally involves something like ‘if you don’t get to that next lamppost, you’re a fucking disgrace.’
4. You’re not doing this alone
I bloody am. It’s not a three-legged race, is it?
5. Head to the loo early
Apparently, this is to combat nerves before a marathon, and because the portable toilets only deteriorate in queue-length (and stench), the nearer you get to the start of the race. Not a problem, as I have no intention of entering any marathons. Besides, my current circuit is pretty deserted, so if I do reach critical bowel mass whilst running, I’ll just have to Paula Radcliffe it by the side of the road.
6. The crowds carry you through
Again, not much help to non-competitive runners. The only crowds I encounter on my route, are families and groups of teenagers, who insist on walking four abreast along the pavement – even once they have seen me – and then appear upset when I shout at them.
7. Get used to dodging bottles
I thought bottle throwing was something morons did at gigs (having usually filled them with urine), but apparently it is common for marathon runners to get hit by discarded bottles too, especially just after a fuelling station. So, as if the twenty-six miles weren’t incentive enough to avoid running marathons, we can now add ‘dodging plastic missiles’ and ‘leaping over someone taking a shit by the side of the road’ into the equation. Are all marathon runners complete sadists?
8. Don’t be embarrassed to flaunt your medal
Fear not, Amy. If I ever completed a marathon and got given a medal, I’d be dining out on that personal achievement for the next decade.
9. The runner’s high is real
Give it a rest, love. That’s delirium and dehydration setting in, not euphoria at running a long way (it might also be the side-effects of potassium poisoning, from all the bananas you scoffed en route).
10. You will walk like John Wayne for about a week
Well, I currently do that after just three miles, so I think I can handle it.
And people do this for fun?
All joking aside, I am in awe of anyone who can run a marathon, let alone what this (admittedly insane) lady has achieved. Sadly, no matter how many people claim it is purely mind over matter, and anyone can run a marathon if they train hard, they haven’t seen me run.
Nevertheless, since writing this week’s entry, I have rather impulsively (and foolishly) registered to take part in a local 5k ‘park run’ tomorrow morning. Most of my brain is now telling me this is a terrible idea, and I will embarrass myself, but there is a tiny neglected section, hidden somewhere at the back (my confidence), which keeps whispering that I can run 3 miles, I’m not that slow, and above all else…
I am strong. I am fearless. I won’t stop.
Now, where did I leave that Vaseline?
(Credit: Many thanks to my good friend Ant Longson, for mocking up the film poster at the start of this week’s entry for me. The fact that he accepts my strange requests, without even flinching, is testament to what a strange man he is. Which is undoubtedly why we get along so well).