I was very clear that my marathon exploits last year were a one off. I needed my body to bully my mind into submission on this one. But my mind is a cunning beast. “You never said anything about a half marathon” it teased. “And how hard can that be, after you’ve already done a full one?”. Well, thank you mind. Pretty bloody hard is the answer.
And so it was that last Saturday I found myself in my fourth ever competitive race at the age of 50. I was in a new category – the demoralisingly named 50-59 category. I had put weight back on. I had a man-cold. My verve and derring do had taken a bit of a pasting with the lack of job opportunities. Throw in a dodgy ankle (gentlemen, we can rebuild it), a bit of jet lag and an approaching weather bomb and we have the perfect toxic mix.
Let me briefly remind you of my previous three competitive runs. The last two both being in the last 15 months and being chronicled in this very blog. A first ever full on “fun run” of 8k, completed with kids speeding past me and an unexpectedly very expensive bus ride home. And of course a full marathon – which is my biggest ever achievement, and is still a head scratcher of a surprise to me and virtually anyone who knows me. I was proud not only of completing, but of managing to run (of sorts) all they way, even though it was at an ever decreasing pace. My first competitive run, which until now has not been journaled, was a compulsory one at my junior school sports day, where for the whole c.80 metres I was so far behind the rest that it still gives me spine chilling spasms of embarrassment to this day. Hence my 45 year hatred of running.
And yet there I was, soon after dawn, limbering up at the starting line, listening to the nasal overtures of the way too enthusiastic DJ telling us all how we were in for such a fantastic day of fun and frolics. Easy to say from where you are mate. Then we were off. A bit fast if anything, but too crowded in to do much about it without causing some sort of countryside domino effect, so I stuck to the pace. The weather bomb, perhaps launched by the North Koreans, appeared to miss its target completely, if it even launched at all, and the conditions appeared near perfect. The ankle behaved, and after a few hearty blows, the cold moved itself politely to one side. As the people started thinning out along the route, I realised I was still trucking along at a pretty good pace. Which was a genuine surprise as my last 6 months running times have been markedly slower than my exuberant debut year. Half way came and went. Far younger runners as well as the odd elderly couple (and they were odd) continued to pass me, but I kept on at my own ultra consistent pace. Never stopping. Earphones in place. Looking ahead and down. 5km from the end and I realised I was still feeling pretty good. I also realised that I wasn’t far away from my best time. I decided there and then to ignore the sage advice of my sadly departed running guru and push it hard. 4km to go. Then 3km. While the markers seemed to pass slower, my pace seemed to be going the other way. And fantastically I started to pass other runners. Runners who looked like they should be passing me. In fact I think I may have inadvertently broken half a dozen or so, who saw me coming to pass them, a bemused expression spreading across their faces, swiftly followed in each case by a fight back. When it became clear I would keep going their shoulders dropped, bodies sagged, and they sadly stopped to a walk – I just hope they all made it to the finish line. I did. I sprinted down the final half mile and was actually able to take in the smiles and cheers. I smashed my record by 2 minutes plus. And boy did my mental state need the boost. I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
The next day however, I did. The pain was immense. Ok, so some of it may have been the result of a rather over ambitious alcohol fuelled celebration, that you will not find recommended in the running magazines. But the rest of it was body. Both legs literally ached like mad everywhere. Top, middle and bottom. Front and back. Even my arms and shoulders wanted to join the pain party so as not to miss out. And then there was my back. Ok first thing, but when I tried to stand up post breakfast, my lower back had other ideas. “And just where do you think you’re going sunny jim?”. I spent the rest of the day imitating a Quasimodo / John Wayne hybrid, whilst making noises like a hyena. And all that was before my rebuilt ankle reminded me of its existence. And reminded me why the doctors had told me not to run on it. In short, 5 days on now, and the pain is still refusing to fade away. It was never like this after the marathon. The revenge of the body on the mind is absolute. I now know which is in charge.
However, the day will (hopefully) come where the pain does fade away, and I will be left once again surprising myself. I don’t know how much more abuse I can put my body through, but right now I feel like I needed that one. A boost when you really don’t expect one does wonders for your self esteem. And if yours (like mine) is a self esteem that tends to spend too much of its time in a deflated state rather than sailing away up in the sky, then it makes it all the sweeter. I’m going to reflect on this for a while longer yet, whilst hopping from ice bath to sofa, before working out where and how I can surprise myself next.