I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three months, 27 minutes and 51 seconds in the life of darrenf

I finally got my sense of achievement.

Warning: in what follows I lay on the misery and emo melodrama thicker than an Ed's Diner milkshake. But this isn't a negative post: I feel amazed, proud, impressed, happy; also, humbled and indebted. All because I did a 5km fun run for charity the other day, on October 24th, in 27 minutes 51 seconds.

We'd only been going out a month or so when Ellie told me of her theory -- no, her belief -- that pretty much anyone can run 5km, and she can teach them how. I say "pretty much" because we obviously discount people with proper physical barriers to doing so, but your common-or-garden fat fuck like me was a definite candidate. In 3 or 4 lessons she'd have me running 5k in one go.

I scoffed. Not like scoffing a pie (though, actually, I may well have been doing that at the time), but like pshaw, tish, pish, balderdash and piffle my dear. Not everyone can run 5k, I said. I can't run 5k, I said. See I've got dodgy lungs, have had forever, dad smoked 60 a day when I were a nipper and I've got bronchitis. Hospital one Christmas time when I was young, inhalers, steroids for me lungs. Broken. So, no, you won't get me running 5k, I said.

Bollocks, she said. Listen here, she said (I'm going to stop with this "I/she said" crap soon). Anyone can run 5k. The fact that I can walk 13 miles fucking proves it. All I needed to do was learn technique, to take her up on her offer of lessons. Thus the mutual challenge was laid, both of us wanting to be right... though, of course, I didn't really want to be right. I wanted to be fit enough to go running (I could write quite a lot about sibling jealousy/inspiration here, but I won't), but I honestly and genuinely believed it would, or could, never happen.

It's not my place to comment on Ellie's motivation for taking me on as a pupil. I think and hope she recognised that I wanted to do it, and didn't think I was doing it just to (try and) impress her. Though I certainly wasn't wanting to fail, I did expect to... (Ooh, lots of italics)

July 25th 2010. My first lesson. For the first time since those fucking horrible road runs at middle school in which I always came dead last, I went running.

We're not actually sure how far we ran because the GPS in use (my Sony Ericsson Elm) was, we later discovered, a load of horse shit in terms of accuracy in tracking. But it does seem that, er, we ran 5k. On my first attempt. And it didn't kill me.

She's good, is Ellie (she's great, in fact). We walked briskly to a local park; we did warm-up stretches; she got me running slower than walking speed. It's about technique, see. Running is a gait, not (necessarily) a speedier version of or progression from walking. It's just different. That's it, that's lesson one: this is how to run, slowly, on flat ground.

One lap in, my lungs were sounding like shit. I thought maybe I was going to be right. So did she. I was wheezin' and rattlin' and making all kinds of noises. Thing is, I sounded like it on the second lap too. And the third. Because, as it turns out, my lungs just sound(ed) like shit. That's all. They work. They're not awesome, but they work well enough, and fuck me if I hadn't just run 5km. I was amazed and happy and high and proud and all that stuff. We went out and celebrated with awesome Mexican food and then beer; I won at pool, and Born To Run came on the jukebox.

The high lasted all day.

And then, back at work, I came down. Hard.

See, it all came too easy. I did it first time. I thought I was embarking on some kind of project, lasting few weeks at least, a journey from zero to 5k. But I did it straight away. Running wasn't easy in itself, but what I mean is, it just took one attempt. Now this isn't Guitar Hero, where I love playing through entire games just once and never putting the disc in again, 5*ing every song as I go. I was expecting, and (despite what I may have claimed at the time) wanting, it to be a challenge. I wanted to work for it. I wanted that feeling of doing something repeatedly and improving, improving, improving, striving for and attaining a goal. The fact I just turned up and did it started to piss me off.

What's more, I felt daft and a bit miserable and regretful about the past. I'm a fat unfit fuck. I never believed I could be otherwise, and I never felt like anyone else had thought I could either. That was me. Occasionally I'd gone through periods of weight loss, and of doing a lot of walking, but it never really made me feel fit. I used to play a lot of table tennis too, but that was, well, just me playing games. Suddenly I kind of felt like I'd wasted a lot of time being unhealthy without properly knowing it didn't have to be like that. I'm not a stupid bloke, but I felt bloody stupid. It should have been a "wow, OK, I can get fit!" high but I looked backwards instead of forwards.

There's a standard anecdote I wheel out on occasion about my family: mum couldn't swim, didn't have great skin, and was great with money, whereas dad was an ex-RAF physical training instructor plus inveterate drinker and gambler. My brother and I are very much the products of our parents: he got the fitness and fiscal prudence, I got the bad skin, drinking, and gambling. "Who got the better deal?"

Anyway, lesson 2 had hills. None of Ellie's prior pupils had ever managed the hill twice in their first attempt, but I did. Again, I ran 5k. Again, the surprised happiness and pride was shortlived, replaced by another bout of, oh, so it's actually easy, even for me. Why the fuck did no-one tell me this before? The bigger sense of discovery was about the wasted time, not that I had this ability which I should take advantage of.

I can't half be a miserable fuck sometimes.

A couple of weeks later, I went out for my first solo run (my first one fueled by negative emotion too, for that matter). I hated it. But I ran again not long after. And again. And again. Sometime in August I went for 6 runs in 9 days (I also dropped in a 13.1 mile walk home from work). And toward the end of the month, I decided I needed a target. I entered a charity race, for 2 months later, deciding that by then I would run under 30 minutes.

I should say here that I'm under no illusions that I'm a decent runner or ever will be. I know 30 minutes is a very modest time. But considering I was running 34-36 minutes I thought it was realistic. I like realistic targets.

Then, still in August, I ran 31:08 and 31:20. In early September, while coming down with a cold, I ran 30:59. Huh! 30 minutes by late October was going to be a breeze, I thought...

Pride comes before a fall. I couldn't get close to those times again. People and The Internet led me to believe I would be enjoying running soon enough, but I was convinced I wasn't. Nor was I losing weight. My times weren't improving. I took part in some organised races having discovered parkrun, yet I ran slower, despite being given the impression that race situations would improve my speed. I was kind of fucked off by all this. I wasn't enjoying it, so I needed motivation, and the only one I could think of was times. I play games, I like scores, and I want to score better. My role models told me to ignore times, but they themselves care about them, so, y'know...

For a while I tried to just treat running like a chore which had to be done, like washing up -- "if I want to be less fat I have to do this", and hoped I would then at least enjoy the feeling of having got that day's run out of the way. It didn't work. No, I needed scores, and I had a plan to improve them. I was going to Australia on holiday, taking my kicks, and would run sub-30 before I got back god-motherfucking-dammit. I knew I'd have loads of spare time and that Sydney and Melbourne are full of good running. 29:xx would be mine upon my return, a full 10 days before the race.

It wasn't. On my first run, I was so slow to 5km that I thought, OK, I'm not that knackered so I'll just keep running, see what a 45 minute run feels like... and actually carried on for an hour. 8.26km. Slow. Again came the temporary high of having done something beyond what I'd done before, again came the longer low of, oh, so running for an hour also comes easy.

I ran 5k. It was slow. I did a lot of walking, including hills, and got some moderate sense of being fitter than (ever) before, which was positive. Then I went to Melbourne and stood in the MCG surrounded by tens of thousands of runners, 10ks and half-marathons and marathons, feeling pretty shitty about myself. Everyone looked so pleased (except my bro, who was fucked off at only running a marathon in 3 hours and 7 minutes for fucks sake), yet muggins here who'd never run in his life 2 months previously was fucked off because he couldn't knock a minute off his PB.

The following morning I went for another anger run. 3 weeks until the charity run and I had still only broken 31 minutes once. I had never run a single kilometre under 6 minutes, yet somehow I had to run 5 of them back to back. So I set off around the park running as fast as I could, desperate to get a sub-6 minute kilometre under my belt and see how I felt after that. But I didn't even manage one. I ran 30:54, a personal best for sure, but only the tiniest slither had come off and it was still nothing close to my target. 3 days of my holiday left and 2 weeks 'til Kempton.

Next day I ran 10k. You know how this works. First attempt, first success. Except... there was a glimmer. The downer didn't really happen. I kind of hurt after the run. My legs knew they'd done some work. Sure, during the run I'd been miserable as fuck -- in particular I remember an almost physical sensation of being punched in the stomach when I first looked at my phone to see how far I'd gone, convinced it was about 4.5km only to discover it was 3.3km. I felt like crap and dreaded the fact I had so far to go.

But at the turn, I felt OK. I thought, fine, I'm just doing the same as I've already done. There was a 200 metre stretch or so where I had the wind blowing hard directly at me, which was unpleasant, but towards the end of the run I was even speeding up. I finished on a high. I, uh, might have enjoyed it. The pride and the happiness stayed. The reaction from my bro, no, the repeated reactions from him, because he takes so many attempts to take information in (yes, I ran 10k. yes, in one go. yes, in 1:06:11. yes, me. yes, 10k. yes, 1:06:11...) delighted me. I like making my bro proud. I like making Ellie proud. I felt pretty good. And I came back to the UK.

On the Saturday, I did another parkrun. I was better than before, felt better, was even hard for Ellie to catch up at a couple of points, but still not close to sub-30. And then, and then...

Sunday. Another anger run. Angrier than before, almost than ever before. Not just anger related to running. I was in a desperately low and hateful mood. And I ran 29:23. So, er, 90 seconds off my personal best. What the fuck? Where did that come from? I'd actually set out to run 10km and had no intention of pegging it; I guess the adrenaline just fuelled me. But fuck me my mood was so low that the high was shorter than ever. I did it. Great. So what? I was on my own, miserable, bored on a Sunday afternoon, going back to work the next day after 2.5 weeks off. I texted Ellie and posted my result to the internet, but got no reactions from anywhere until quite a while later, which in my parlous state was too late to make me feel any good about myself. I convinced myself it was a one-off. Fine, my body has it in me, but is it repeatable, will I do it when it matters, at Kempton? Will I fuck as like. After finally running sub-30 with a week to go, somehow my confidence was at its lowest yet. Miserable twat.

I didn't run (and hardly slept or ate, but that's a different matter) for the next week. Skipped parkrun the day before. Went to Kempton. Ran 27:51.

What. The. Fuck.

I didn't realise how fast I set off. If anything the kms seemed to be arriving slowly. I didn't check my watch and Ellie was carrying my phone. I was struggling hard at the end, the last km was pretty tortuous. Yet even that would have been a personal best for a single km prior to that day. I ran the first 2 both under 5:20. How the hell did that happen? But I don't think it was a fluke. Sure I need to run another sub-30 to say that "that's my time", but my body can do it, has done it.

Like a score on my xbox 360, I only need to do it once to get the (sense of) achievement. And doing it by such a margin, on deadline day, when it really mattered to me, I finally got it. I get to say "go me!" and mean it. Go me!

My bro and everyone else who listened to me bitch and whine and moan about how my running was going when manifestly it was going well. Would I listen to them? Would I fuck. Sorry about that.

But I owe the most to Ellie, who has (figuratively) added a string to my bow, and given me a way to get and keep fitter and healthier. That's awesomes (yeah, you heard me, plural). She also had to put up with a boyfriend and pupil full of all the complaints and shit that I've detailed up there, having no clue about my largely involuntary beat-myself-up technique for self-motivation. Like I said: awesomes.

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