5 days to go

In 5 days time I shall stand at the start line (well a little bit back from it) of the 2019 Brighton Half Marathon. The first of my 5 at 50 half marathons that I’m running to celebrate my 50th (ok technically 51st for the pedants) year on the planet.

I haven’t documented as much about my training on here as I meant to, mainly because my training hasn’t gone anything like I planned it to.

I set the goal of running 5 half marathons throughout this year in January 2018, when I returned to the UK from France. I had no clue about what I was going to do, or even who I was, so I set myself a challenge. One to do with self-care, my body, my physical being. Instead of an intellectual challenge, or one to do with work. A goal to make me focus on my body, would get me out of the house and would do me good.

So I found myself a running coach and set to it. I started by running 5k, quite a challenge in itself after not running for a number of years. But I did it, and slowly I worked up the both the speed and the distance. And in the process I fell in love with running. I want to say again, but probably for the first time.

And it wasn’t easy to stay focused. I had a lot of bad days — I described last year to someone as feeling like I have swum an ocean, meaning that my feet haven’t felt like they’ve been on solid ground for a long time. I had days when I couldn’t get out of bed. Or I could get out of bed and get in the shower, get dressed. Then I’d sit on my bed, exhausted, for the rest of the day, unable to even get downstairs for a cup of tea.

But somehow, 2 or 3 times a week, I found the will to run. To lace up my shoes, leave the house, put my head down and pound the pavements. I listened to music while I ran. Love songs mainly, with the odd dance track thrown in to remind me to go faster. Songs that reminded me of the good stuff out there, songs to give me hope. And quite often I’d get stuck on one track and play it over and over again, letting the tune and the harmonies and the lilting voice and the beautiful piano accompaniment wash over me and mend my heart while my body worked and my lungs burned and the sweat poured off me.

I made good progress. I lost weight. I got fit. Which was my objective — to enter my 50s being fit and as healthy as I could be. And I took my running kit with me wherever I went. When I was away working I’d get up at 6 to get outside, whether it was raining, snowing or sunny. When I went to visit my parents I’d run along the backs in Cambridge, beautiful, just beautiful.

I got my distance up to 9 miles. About 6 months ago. I was well on track to smash the half. I wanted to stand at the start line of the Brighton half marathon knowing that I could run 15 miles comfortably and that I could do this one with ease. And I was on track to do that. But then disaster struck, in the form of my achilles tendon.

It took me out completely for about 3 months. I rested. I walked. I took care of it. And eventually the physio signed me off and I could run again. Once again I trained and I got up to 8 miles with ease. Then, I went running in the hills on Anglesey in October, and my calf gave out. Just pinged, like I’d been shot. So I stopped running again.

And basically I haven’t run since. My coach has had me training on my mountain bike, doing long distances and intervals, to keep my cardio-vascular fitness up. And, you know, I went out for a strenuous hour’s training yesterday and I felt strong. But it ain’t running.

So I’m going to stand at the start line on Sunday morning, with a fair bit of trepidation. If my calf holds out, if my lungs can take it, if my legs do their job, then I shall reach the finish line. But if I do, it will be done through my will. My grit and my determination to finish. And, you know, that gets me through a lot. And I wanted, this time, not to have to rely on that so heavily. To have more confidence in my body and my ability and my experience to not have to dig quite so deep into my reserves of mental strength to achieve my goal.

But then I thought, maybe I will always have to do that. Maybe anything worth doing isn’t easy, no matter how well trained or prepared we are. Maybe the thing we really need to rely on is our inner strength, our passion to achieve something we have set our mind on, our will overcoming our physical limitations.

And maybe that’s the lesson in this, for me. That a hard goal will always be hard and no matter how fit your body is, your mind needs to be fitter. And my will, which has felt so battered and worn and weak during the last year, maybe that’s fit too and maybe I can learn to rely on it again, to take me where I want to go.

So I’ll stand at the start line of the Brighton half-marathon on Sunday, under-prepared, under-trained and with a will of iron to propel me round that course so that later, in the pub, I’ll be wearing that finisher’s medal with pride.