Tuesday 16 October 2012

How and why did I start running in 2008?

Like many of the best ideas, the origins of this one can be blamed on alcohol.

About four and a half years ago, after we had had a few beers, an old friend suggested that we do a duathlon. I have to admit that I was momentarily stunned. I had been caught on the hop. I didn't know what a duathlon was! (Wikipedia definition: "Duathlon is an athletic event that consists of a running leg, followed by a cycling leg and then by another running leg".)

After a brief explanation by my friend, Will, I swiftly recovered my composure and agreed that this was a fantastic idea. This was the moment that my love of running, some might say obsession, was born. But like all good stories about passion, the path of true love never did run true.

The following morning, with a clear head, I wondered what on earth I had agreed to the previous evening. After all, I hated running as it was boring. Besides, I didn't even own a bike.

Several months lay between me and the London Duathlon in Richmond Park in September 2008. So, I began my training. The first step was to buy a bike. Even as a cycling novice it did not escape my attention that in the shop I went to there were some rather impressive looking, and expensive, bikes. Thankfully, quite out of character, I listened to my wife, Aoife, when she suggested that I bought an entry level bike as I might not get into cycling. With hindsight that was an excellent piece of advice. The downside is that I have a lime green coloured bike! On a note of health and safety, I bought a helmet which I always wear whenever I use my bike. Cyclists who do not wear helmets when riding bikes are a pet hate of mine. Rant over!

I eased myself very gently into training in the summer of 2008. It would be an exaggeration to call what I did a training program. Over a period of a few months I went for an occasional 4 or 6km run, once every few weeks or so, and would return home hot, sweaty, out of breath but with a real sense of pride. I was now a runner or so I thought!

So, in a moment of madness, having seen a poster on the tube advertising the inaugural Royal Parks half marathon in October 2008 I signed up. Not once did it occur to me that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Why not go for broke?!

I mixed up my irregular and insubstantial running training with even more infrequent bike rides. I did a leisurely lap or two of Richmond Park on my bike on at least a couple of occasions before the day of the duathlon. The day of the race was very warm. Aoife and our children, Emilie and Isabelle, came to the race to cheer me on. Their support on that day and for subsequent races has always been appreciated. It is always fun, and a welcome distraction, to try to spot friends and family in the crowd when I am racing.

Although I was only doing the shortest distance of the various combinations available the 5km run, 11km bike and 5km run was a sufficient test for my first race. I was nervous but excited while waiting for the start of the race. The race was fine though and, in the absence of a race strategy, I suppose it went to plan! And, as with every race since, I wore my medal with pride afterwards as it had been earned.

After the duathlon it dawned on me that I had only four weeks until the Royal Parks HM and my training would need to step up a gear if I was to run almost ten miles more than my longest run to date. With hindsight, and the subsequent trouble I had with one of my achilles, I should have increased the distance more gradually and over a longer period of time. I did a couple of ten mile training runs in the weeks before the half marathon in October 2008 and figured that it would not be a big step up to the full distance on race day. This much I got right.

On the morning of the Royal Parks HM I had the breakfast of champions - scrambled eggs with broccoli on toast. I endured this combination for several races before instead switching to an Alpen/Dorset Cereals muesli mix which I have happily stuck with ever since.

A short while before the race I treated myself to a GPS watch - the Garmin 405 Forerunner. I have since been a slave to my running watch and obsessed with tracking my pace during races, and training sometimes, but the upside is that my splits are extremely consistent. I have only been the victim of complete technology failure and that, unfortunately, happened during the Royal Parks HM within the first five kilometres. The screen froze and nothing I did resolved the problem, so I had to run the remaining ten or so miles naked of my beloved timing device. The last three miles really hurt that day, not helped by the fact that I had no idea how fast or slow I was running. I stumbled over the finish line in 1:47:29. The medal that day was well and truly earned.

At lunch that day I adamantly told Aoife that I would never again run a half marathon. It had hurt too much and I was not at all sure that I had enjoyed what I had endured. The painful memories of the morning quickly faded and by that evening I was searching on the Internet for my next half marathon. This pattern of saying I would never do a certain race distance either just the once or ever has become a recurrent theme!

My next post will be "Why run the MdS? That's a fair question". Au revoir!

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