I will cut straight to the chase. This has been a bad summer for running.
Summer is my favourite time to run. The more I have run, the skinner I have become: plenty of people hate being hot when they run and prefer cold days and rain. I’m solar powered, more akin to Harvey Birdman.
The moment the layers start to come off is some kind of magic place for me. And if I can get away with just a tiny pair of shorts and shoes, then it’s a kind of wierd, sun-warmed freedom that I struggle to articulate.
It’s real good though.
This summer, however, everything went a bit wrong. I over-did the running post-London, trying to maintain the same routine, a high mileage, etc, on my way to the North Devon AONB Marathon. I lost all my motivation. I ran the marathon, got a PB, but it is a toughie and it left me spent.
The day after that marathon I started a bit of a punishing away job. We had to work in the July sun in full protective equipment; flame retardent boiler suits, gloves, hard-hats, the works.
Drained and de-motivated, with tough days, it was all I could do to run a few times a week. Then I got a chest cold from a colleague and a bad few weeks became a bad month; a bad month became two. I see-sawed between something and nothing.
It got to September. I was home for work again and I should have run a marathon with my sister, but a complete lack of preparation on my part meant I pulled out.
October arrived and my return to training and attempt to re-build was hammered by a vile bout of flu followed by a chest infection around long work days. I tried not to be off, so it took about 3 weeks before I recovered.
Just in time for winter.
The timing of my return to health actually allowed me a weeks grace before a significant race in the annual calender. My local club race, the South Molton Struggle, was my first proper race and the only one I’ve run every year. In 2014 I won it, which was fantastic. I knew there would be no chance of that this year but I wanted to support the club and make sure we had a decent go at the team prize. I never like to lose the team prize at our own race!
On the morning of the race I was incredibly relaxed. I hadn’t raced in 4 months and my prepararion was more than a little haphazard. Could have eaten more, drunk more, etc. But I was really relaxed.
I walked to the HQ so I could stretch the legs and listen to some hip-hop (Ugly Heroes).
I was relaxed all the way to the start of the race and into it. I put no pressure on myself and tried to stay away from the red line. It’s hard not to push over the early stages but I knew it would come back to haunt me if I wasn’t disciplined; 7.8 undulating mixed terrain miles is not to be trifled with after a month out! The start of this race is typically a breakneck affair, all uphill though, so I tried to stay on my easy pace.
After a mile or so, especially after a key descent (which is very much my forte), I was actually in 3rd, about 20 seconds behind a club-mate. And miraculously that’s how it stayed for miles.
I was very aware of somebody blowing hard trying to catch me on a long climb just after half-way, but I knew there was a shorter, tougher climb to come so I tried not to panic. I hate looking over my shoulder, it paralyzes me, so I just tried to run tactically, saving myself for tough bits and trying to keep a kick in store.
The last c. 1/2 mile of the race is mostly down-hill, so after a final road crossing I started giving it all I had. I had the fear by now, how could I not?! I’d had no expectations and poor fitness and I was minutes and seconds away from a ‘podium’ finish!
As I wiggled through a footpath gate and joined the final road descent to the finish and the bulk of supporters, I was feeling a real range of emotions. It’s hard to remember exactly, I know I was still worried about having to pull out a final sprint but I thought I had it in me. I knew our club would be delighted to have had two runners in the top 3 and I was looking forward to seeing friends. I was excited to see my clubmate, knowing he would be really pleased with his performance. And with seconds to go, I was feeling a real sense of pride in myself, for coming in from such a patchy summer to get something out of a race that I wasn’t even sure I would run 2 days beforehand.
A wierd kind of redemption story, I know. I ran it slower than I’d run in the past, placed worse than I’d placed in the past. And boy, were my legs sore over the next few days (read: week). But I remembered how much I loved racing. It’s not just a series of minutes and seconds, it’s an experience that you live very intensely. And it reminded me that, although the training and summer had gone awry, I’ve not lost it all. I’m still a relatively good runner. You never go back to square 1. And that was exactly the boost I needed to enjoy my running again.