If there's one thing I've learned over the past few months, it's that you don't have to be fast to be a good runner.
And there, I've said it, and I am proud of it and it's been a long time coming, but I can hand on heart say I really do consider myself a good runner. Because it's really not about speed at all - the thing that makes us any good at anything has more to do with what we give to excel, what we give to improve, not in competition with other people but with ourselves. Which is the most important competition we will ever face. And man alive, I sure do love to run. I sure do love to improve. I sure do love to be out there chugging away, and knowing - without reservation - that just by going out there and doing this thing, by putting one foot in front of the other, I am a better person today than I was yesterday.
I love to improve, I love that I'm getting faster, but that isn't why I run at all. In fact, if the only reason you run is to get faster, you're doing it wrong. Even fast people run for a reason. My reason is to honour my Pop's memory but it's also to raise my spirit to heights you just cannot reach stood still.
Even when I don't want to run. Like today.
Roll the clock back to 6 am. The alarm I've had for ages, Supertramp's Even in the Quietest Moments, that chirping bird whispers in my ear that the sun is coming and I open my eyes. This time, to despair. My heavens I would rather have had a tooth drilled than to go out and run 16+ miles in the wind, after last week's Big Half (which I'll get to of course), the wind was not a welcome interloper once again for this race, but it was coming and I had to go along with it. Because there weren't any bones sticking out of my leg after all, so...
I was absolutely shattered to start, after a manic week, little sleep the night before, and leaving off the usual pre-race stay alone the night before so I can rest my mind and get in the head game. I was at home, being Mum, which was great, until I had to get up and go run 16 miles in the mud having had no brain break. For this mental game, that is near about everything.
Sorted myself and a quick dash up the M1 took me to the Ashridge Estate for today's race. I somehow managed to score a parking space mere paces away from the start and finish, which would serve me well at both ends of the day, got registered and popped into the reg tent to stay out of the wind. The wind had other ideas as a gust rocked the tent with a fury, scattering previously neat stacks of race numbers to the furthest corners.
The minutes passed quickly and soon enough we were off, me near the back of the throng, who made their mad dash towards the gates amongst cries of 'watch the puddle' as most of their shoes were immediately submerged. It was a precursor for the rest of the day, despite my silent smugness that I went round.
Turns out that going round would be the day's theme. When we weren't crossing great windy fields, which were few and far between, we were tucked out of the wind in the midst of vast swathes of woods. My glee at the wind block was short lived as it was clear we'd be tromping through the boggiest, gloopiest mud for miles on end.
Having passed a fair few people being way too careful picking through it, I strategically positioned myself behind a group just to watch the line they took. This failed catastrophically as they went for about five paces then all scattered in every direction like those fireworks I mentioned in my last blog. None seemed more sensible in choosing than others so I gave up chasing and took my own line. After a good while I gave up entirely and just started going straight into the mud. Hell with it, it was taking more energy trying to go around.
So therein lies lesson 1. Just go through it. I now know how to run in mud while wearing totally unsuitable shoes which looked a bit like a dance step I've always called 'sugars' where you step and swivel the ball of your foot before you pick it back up. This successfully prevented my shoes from getting sucked into the mud and actually conserved a bit of energy. Winning!
Unfortunately the longer this mud trail went on I would get so knackered and was feeling a bit like a combination of my technique was down the pan and I was somehow in the midst of the Hunger Games, running through the woods trying not to die. Then we'd pop back out into the wind and repeat repeat repeat.
I think my proudest moment today came shortly thereafter, when I was quite close but still behind a woman who was not going to let me by her. I'd already started passing people and was on about my third or fourth wind here. We came to the top of a really steep hill and when I saw her picking her way down I took off. I never did see her again, but that's not saying she didn't pass me when a few miles later I tried similar technique in the mud and fell on my ****. It was a lovely flying swivel, you'd all have been very proud.
The woman I'd taken to running with was a few paces up but on hearing me fall over turned back to check on me. Nothing broken, just a bit muddy higher up now, we ended up sticking together to the end and had a lovely chat throughout. It was great to have company up top of Ivinghoe Beacon, particularly because it was the worst weather conditions of any portion of any run I have ever experienced. The wind was so cold it made my nose block up and I suddenly felt like I had water up my nose, borderline frightened that if something happened up there I'd freeze to death, and it all improved dramatically when I remembered my emergency donut in the vest. This is what food does for a runner, it seems. Out it came, I got it down my gob and it got me home.
We legged it in the final mile, and she had a bit more in the tank than I did so got ahead of me about a minute. I came through in roughly 3:31 which I was super proud of, considering how knackered I was from last week's half and how very little I'd wanted to do the race.
In retrospect, I kind of loved every minute and it reminded me of why I run...which ain't to be fast(!) although fast(er) is blooming MAGIC.
Which segues nicely back another week...
The Big Half. THAT BIG HALF.
For the first time ever, I've run through a half marathon. I can now say I ran a half marathon. That last brings me far more joy than I thought it would. I ran a half marathon.
I had no idea how the training would go but I was feeling such huge gains from Marcothon, in strength, in confidence, in truly knowing the difference between pain and discomfort, that I charged straight into building up the distance runs from January.
The build up could have been better, and that's what we all say isn't it, always. But train I did, and as the long consecutive runs got longer, that confidence got longer with them and I went out last weekend and took 5-1/2 minutes off my PB, coming in at 2:24:32. My run walk time is usually around 2:43; I hadn't seen that 2:30 something PB in years so chuffed is not the word.
And what a race.
That vicious wind was present, blowing enough for me to lark about screaming "Aunty EM! Aunty EM! Helllllllp!" somewhere in the midst of Canary Wharf, before the next gust blew my trailing leg smack into my lead leg (thank you Kat for a proper description of that very weird affectation! Ha!)
Despite that crazy wind, I was feeling so strong that morning (strong enough to have looked at the 2:45 pacer in my corral and knowing I was completely in the wrong corral, move the heck UP). I'd dodged through people, took off straight at a good clip, and found myself jostled and jockeying for position for mile after mile. I've never in my LIFE run fast enough to be poked and prodded in a race and it was absolutely amazing.
Fought through seven miles, and on to Tower Bridge, still pacing at sub 2:20. But that WIND. That WIND. I was thinking from the start that the wind would take my pace clean off me and I sure wasn't wrong.
It took EVERYTHING out of me, to the point I was taking a gel every 30 minutes just to get a jolt. I could have murdered a flat coke at that point. Then we hit the cobbles in Wapping High Street and I was suddenly bounding over them. Why? I'm thinking... ah! No wind, legs still powering through, brain saying "you are definitely strong enough to do this". But as soon as the wind entered the fray again I started to struggle. Gah. Dig.
Slight tangent here, but bear with me...
A fair few years before he died, my Dad gave my husband a special watch of his which I'd always kept in a safe place as hubby hadn't worn it yet. Also, all my life my Dad used to wear a particular ring before his rheumatoid arthritis inflamed his knuckles too much for it to fit. When he died, I brought the ring home and stored it in that box with the watch. My husband moved the box somewhere so safe that neither of us could find it - for a couple YEARS. Lo and behold, it turned up a few weeks ago. Of course it did. So you know that the ring went straight in to my race vest pocket.
Back to mile 9, there's me, staggering against the wind, not stopping, I will not walk, I didn't come here to walk. Not today. Some of my power walking songs would come on the playlist and they'd be skipped with an angry finger mashing the button down. Not today. Not a chance in hell.
I hit a massive dip in energy after another blast of wind. It had started to feel like someone was stood in front of me with their palm across my face, pushing me backwards every step. It was the wind cha-cha. My hand went to that vest pocket and I pressed my finger into my Pop's ring. Just for a few seconds. And of course it sure helped. Head up, chin up, dig deeper.
Round another corner there comes a bhangra band and oh that beautiful tempo, pause goes the iPod and I wished to hell I could bring them along with me. I ran to it until it faded away and pressed the iPod back on.
I pressed my motivation back on.
I pressed my finger into the ring again.
By the time I rounded the final corner and saw that beautiful old glorious Cutty Sark in front of me, I could barely breathe, the tears were threatening me so hard. My grin wide enough to bridge the Thames, I caught the eye of a guy on the left hand side of the course who may as well have been a Buzzer what with the fist pumping and the celebrating for and with me. I don't know who he was but he was fantastic.
And then it was done. And those tears were so confused because there was fist pumping and head shaking and clasping my skull in my hands in disbelief. I always knew I'd do it, but I only went and did it. Many minutes passed before I was able to pack the emotions away enough to get through the finisher funnel and get the wet top changed for the dry one.
And my race T-shirt was a size MEDIUM. I haven't worn a medium since I was about 12.
This running lark, hey?!
Waited for Kat to finish crushing her half, a story which I can't wait to hear again - together we had a search for a cuppa and found a Costa and had a good old Buzzer catch up. We friends, we champions, we victorious women with missions and hearts as big as that big old ship. Hearts as big as the biggest of halves.
We Buzzers, we just keep on buzzing.
Go forth and...
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