Last Sunday, for the first time, I took part in the annual Bristol 10K. It was an incredible experience to run through the streets of Bristol with around 9,000 other runners, and then out along the Portway, with the gorge rearing up on one side and the river on the other. It was wonderful to spot Joe and the girls in the crowd, fun to look out for my running friends amongst the Lycra-clad pack and amazing to be cheered on by thousands of total strangers. Running alongside giant bananas, polar bears and lots of superheroes was pretty fabulous too. And through the generous sponsorship of family and friends I managed to raise £245 for COCO, a really fantastic children’s charity founded by Steve Cram.
I completed the course in 61 minutes and nine seconds. Not an especially impressive time — the winner finished in 30 minutes and five seconds: those pesky seconds! — but it was impressive for me because this time last year I hadn’t run anywhere for over twenty years, and I didn’t even own a pair of trainers.
But last August, inspired by both the Olympics and my husband’s distinctly chipper post-run demeanour, I decided to give running a go. I also realised that standing in the park watching the dog run around was not really keeping me fit. Better, I thought, to go and run around with the dog.
My first run took all of three minutes and I hated it. My second run, a day later, was about a minute longer. The only reason I managed a second run was because for a good few hours after the pain of the first one, I felt completely high: a strange sense of elation mixed with a feeling of increased energy. Within two weeks I found that I no longer hated the running, and I began extending my run as soon as I could complete a particular route without stopping. In mid-september I started the couch to 5K regime with my friend and fellow dog walker, Nicki, and I ditched the daily run in favour of three thirty minute sessions a week.
I’d really recommend this approach to anyone who wants to take up running. It’s a brilliant combination of walking and running and you work steadily towards being able to run three miles in around thirty minutes. I’d also really, really recommend finding a running partner: last winter was unbelievably cold at times, but because we didn’t want to let each other down, Nicki and I kept to our routine. We ran through rain, lots and lots of rain; we ran in high winds where we could hardly catch our breath; we ran in snow, which was fantastic even though our toes froze. We ran when it was so cold that our legs felt like lead, our noses were pinched and we couldn’t feel our fingers. In fact only icy pavements and illness kept us from running.
Now, nearly nine months on, I run two to three times a week. The first mile is never much fun. But after that something strange happens. My brain detaches from my body, and even if my legs feel cold or tired, I’m able to keep going. My mind is free to think. Or, if I am running with a friend, which is often the case, we chat (though we’ve learned that at least one section of the run has to render us incapable of saying anything other than “bloody hell!”). We also freestyle our routes, allowing ourselves to be drawn down interesting-looking roads or along beautiful tree-lined avenues. Sometimes we strike out over the Suspension bridge, or drive to the woods where the paths are soft and springy under foot. Sometimes our runs last about 40 minutes, others are about an hour and a half. I am addicted. But oddly enough, as I pull on my running gear, I never, ever feel like running. That only happens once I’m doing it. And sometimes it only feels good when it’s over, which sounds perverse, I know. The post-run sense of well-being, however, kicks in without fail and lasts for the rest of the day.
And as for the post-race* high, well that seems to last even longer. Which is why I want to do it all again. Only this time I want to go a little further, and perhaps slightly faster. I’ve got my sights set on the Bristol Half Marathon.
* race — I use the term in its broadest sense because, of course, although this sort of event is a race, only those wearing white bibs are in it to win it. For the rest of us it’s simply a race against yourself in that you want to improve on your PB (personal best). The back half of the pack I was running with were still crossing the start line as the winner arrived at the finish.
PS This is the LINK to my Just Giving page for COCO, if anyone feels in the mood to donate!