The Delusion of the 5k Race…

Dad: “How far is tonight’s race, then?”

Me: “In terms of distance? It’s a 5k.”

[He doesn’t understand a single thing about running, nor is he overly interested, if truth be told.]

Dad: “Oh, that’s alright. I’m glad it’s not some silly distance. That should be easy for you, then!”

[My heart sinks a little, as I can’t be bothered to explain to him that I’m more nervous about tonight’s 5k race than I would be if it were a ten miler.]

Me: “Yeah. I guess.”

[Silence]

He has no idea. Why would he? The usual non-runner’s understanding of running is something like this: Running further = harder. WRONG!!!!

For a long while, that was MY understanding of running. Hey, if I get fitter, I can run further! It’s a simplistic, naive, and – rather stupid – view. Oh, and it’s wrong. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve fallen foul of my own ignorance for years. I’ve run marathons at the same pace (there or thereabouts) as I have Parkruns, for God’s sake! I’ve done the first twenty miles of the London Marathon in 7 min/miles. And yet, my current average 5k time is around 21 minutes (avg 6:45 min/miles.)

So, for me, the 5k distance is my nemesis. I hate it. Why do I hate it so much? Because it’s bloody hard: that’s why.

Over the last three weeks, me and Gav have completed the John Carr 5k race series. It was held on three consecutive Wednesday nights, over at Apperley Bridge (just emerging out of the arse hole of the country, encompassing the Drive Through Hell.) To get there was at best, uninspiring, and at worst – fucking depressing.

A full day at work + manufacturing childcare logistics + an hour’s journey along the Road To Hell at rush hour = Losing the will to live way before the race even began.

And let me tell you, in terms of the ‘logistics’ of even getting to the start line for this race, it’s made me question my humanity, my sanity and every other reason as to WHY I put myself through this, just to arrive at the start of a 5k race: a distance I hate – unequivocally.

Q: Why bother then?

A: Because I need to.

I’ve fallen foul of running too many miles over the same pace. My ‘slow’ has never really been slow enough, and my ‘fast’ has never really been fast enough. The result? Unbelievable running economy, with comparably shit VO2 Max capacity. So, I’ve been TOLD I need to run my slow slower, and my fast, faster. Simple in theory, but hard in practice.

And so the John Carr 5k race series. I’ve done it over the subsequent three years now. They’ve changed the route this year, which means the 5k PB potential is no longer virtually guaranteed. The route is tougher, without a doubt. I had fears over my potential this year, having suffered from overtraining earlier in the year (post Dubai marathon) and some silly training & racing decisions which subsequently kicked off a calf injury. It all cumulated in a poor run of form, and an understandable loss of confidence.

Race 1:

I couldn’t get excited about it. I willed my adrenalin to kick in and come to my rescue, but it went AWOL. I NEEDED it to come and permeate my cells, and make my body respond with SPEED. Fight or Flight. This is that time. I need you now! It never came. Instead, I just stood on the start line, the gun went off, and I tried. I tried my very best with what I had on the day, after the journey from hell through Islamabad. Outcome? A not unrespectable 20:55. I was helped enormously by a girl who raced me right to the finish. About 3.5k in, she turned to me and said “Are you a marathon runner?” I gasped, and looked over “Erm, far more so than I am a 5k runner, that’s for sure!” I ploughed on, willing her to drop back, but she held on to me for the remaining 1.5k. I credit her with my semi-reasonable time for Race 1.

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Race 1: When will it end??!

Race 2:

The journey through Killinghall almost killed me. Stressed after a day at work, I couldn’t even bring myself to consider why I was driving through a toilet just to get to this race. There was no possible reprieve for me, other than to say “it would do me good.” Hmmm. Worse still, my confidence was at an all time low after blowing up at Leeds Half marathon only three days before. I’d messed up big style, and at the same time it really messed with my head. I decided to set off slightly more conservatively, with the hope that I could maintain some consistency over the 3 miles. That turned out to cost me quite significantly, as my low confidence + tired legs from the Leeds Half disaster + ‘conservative’ pace resulted in a less-than-ideal 21:15. However, I was simply relieved to get over the line. I’d managed that much, at least. (Oh, and remember the girl who helped me in Race 1? She kicked my arse this week.)

Me: “Gav, I really don’t know if I’m going to bother going to the third John Carr race. I don’t know what it’s going to do for me, other than piss me off having to drive through a crevice of society that I don’t wish to acknowledge as being a reality.”

Gav: “That’s fine. I’m going along anyway, but I totally understand, Rach.”

An email came through that evening. It said:

“You are currently in a trophy winning position in the F35 category in John Carr race series. We hope you will be able to stay on after race 3 for the prize presentation.”

Me: “Shit, Gav. I’m going to have to go, now. There’s virtually no chance of me getting anything, but I can’t duck out now. I’ve got to go, and at least see what I can do… Fucking hell.”

Race 3:

We turned up. Again. The drive was nauseating. Again. But it was the last one – we had that small comfort, at the very least.

I set off, and I ran. What else could I do? Just run like merry hell, and keep on running until it ends. Is there any more to think about and analyse than that? I felt better than I had the week before. I was keeping pace with a girl I knew from Harrogate Harriers: she’d left me for dead for both of the two weeks’ previous encounters. I was with her for the first 2k, at least. Also, the other lass who I’d just held off in Race 1 (and who’d steamed past me in Race 2) was nowhere to be seen. I had her in check. This time, there was a NEW nemesis on the scene. Kezzy Roo from Halifax Harriers. She came up on me around 2.5k, and she stuck to me like glue. Shit. Where’s she come from? I knew I could keep pushing on, and so – just like in Race 1 – I did exactly that. I held on, and I kept ploughing forward, willing the finish line to meet me half way. It didn’t. I just managed to keep her at bay, even when the swarm of Halifax Harriers Support Crew came into full throttle, willing her to take me in the home straight. Not today, sorry Kez! (Great run, though. You’d have kicked me into touch the week before, without a doubt!)

My time: 20:48

We hung around for the results. Did I manage – against all odds – to take a F35 category prize? Disappointingly, no. With only SECONDS between us, my nemesis from Race 2 had just beaten me into third place, and so I walked away with nothing but my own satisfaction at having faced the entire trilogy of this godforsaken racing distance, and I’d done some ‘quality’ fast miles, at the very least.

So, 5ks then – yeah, they’re a doddle for me, Dad…

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THE MESSAGE FROM CANNES… and the Ripon Reminder

THE MESSAGE FROM CANNES… and the Ripon Reminder

It’s just pinged into my Twitter messages. I don’t know her, but it feels like she knows me. Her message mattered to me: it touched me, in fact. So much so, that it’s inspired me to write a blog about it. Here’s why.

I have a persistent inner battle. It’s a battle that sometimes I win, and sometimes, I lose. It’s based on two versions of myself – I know them both well. I’ve lived with them both for years. Sometimes, it feels as though I’m living with them both AT THE SAME TIME. This is where we run into difficulty: there simply isn’t room for us all.

The old version: She can’t run. She’s unfit. She hides herself away, and tells herself she can’t do it – that it’s beyond her. She doesn’t put herself on the starting line. She’s afraid to try. She can’t face the possibility of failing. She wishes she could be braver, but she doesn’t know how. She doesn’t want to look foolish: it would hurt too much.

The new version: She can run. She’s PROVEN to herself that she can run, and – when all the stars align – she can run well. She feels confident, happy and free. She dares to put herself on the starting line. She isn’t afraid to try, risk failing, or looking foolish. She is proud of herself for that. She loves her collection of race medals. She loves the memories and the joy that running has brought her. She wants to keep trying, and to keep believing in herself.

Last weekend was the Leeds Half Marathon. It was an unmitigated race disaster. Everything went wrong.

  • I was seriously under-fuelled. Stupidly, I even felt hungry on the starting line! My body was empty.
  • I set off too fast, and (combined with my lack of petrol) I burned out. It’s that simple.
  • I gave up. Mentally, I left the race WAY before it was really over.
  • My race was over at 4 miles.

So what? We all have bad races. We all get it wrong sometimes. What’s the big deal? Get over it. Move on!

I’ll tell you what the ‘big deal’ is. It’s the fact that this was delicious fodder for Old Rach: She saw this and said “Ha! Told you so! You can’t do this. You KNOW you can’t. You’ve just made a right royal fuck up, and it’s just proof – if proof were needed – that this IS beyond you. See! I was right all along! Just stop trying. We all know it would be a hell of a lot easier if you did.”

And so, for the past week, I have been tormented by the incessant chunterings of my Old Self. Oh and she’s been loving it! Happy to be heard once again, and to kibosh any attempt at even trying, or standing on the starting line.

But I’ve tried not to listen. New Rach had to shout louder. She needed to answer back.

I had a race booked in my diary today – the Ripon 10 miler – just seven days after my unmitigated Leeds Half write-off. I also had a choice. Do I give myself permission to not turn up? Do I convince myself of at least ten good (and convincing) reasons why NOT to put myself on that starting line? Could I face turning up and having another race disaster? Would it shake my confidence to the point where Old Rach could revel in self-righteousness once again? Could I risk failing?

Who do I listen to – Old Rach, or New?

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HELLO! NEW RACH HERE…

New Rach won.

I DID put myself on the starting line today. I felt brave enough to risk any outcome. I could get a crap time, or feel rubbish. My leg might flare up. I could even have to face the Walk of Shame back to the start.

But, I told myself with some degree of certainty, NONE of those less-than-ideal outcomes would be anywhere near as bad as letting her win. Letting the voice of Old Rach shout loudest would have been infinitely more painful, and more damaging. And so, I took my place on the starting line, as planned.

The outcome?

I loved every single minute. I ran well, I felt good. I felt the sunshine on my skin. I beat one of my rivals (we had a 4 mile, balls-out sprint finish, and I won.) I looked around and I felt joy. I noticed the smiles. I felt the support. I beat my time from last year, and I was 3rd F30.

And so, back to my message from Cannes. It reads:

“Just wanted to say, love your feed and your blog posts – so inspirational. I’m attempting my first marathon in November and already I’m having moments of self-doubt and worry that it’s beyond me. When I read your story, it gave me back some faith J

My response?

It’s not beyond you, as it isn’t beyond me. It never was.

The Cappuccino and the Bus Fare

The Cappuccino and the Bus Fare

Just a medium extra hot skinny cappuccino to go, please… Oh and I’ll take some of those ginger biscuits too.”

Ever the sweet tooth, I couldn’t resist the shameless marketing ploy of the world-dominating coffee chain to turn us all into sugar addicts.

That’s £4.70 please.” She said, juggling her Barista paraphernalia around in noisy, orchestrated chaos.

Bloody hell, not much change from a fiver I pondered, looking blankly down at my two measly silver coins as she duly stamped my tatty old dog-eared loyalty card.

Oh well, that’s the going rate for a fully branded caffeine hit nowadays.

I headed off to work.

***

He came into my office. His eagle eyes wily and alert – he doesn’t miss much.

Hey, come on in. Sit down.” I offered. He rarely sits down – perhaps it’s the energy drinks. “So, what are we going to do about this here bus fare scenario then?” I continued.

The situation is this: he has already completed an extended work placement with us whilst he looks for employment. He’s worked hard. He’s increased his skill set, his knowledge, and he feels like he belongs. His whole demeanor is more confident – more positive. It’s a win / win.

But, alas, The System has stepped in and declared “ENOUGH. ENOUGH OF A GOOD THING. BACK TO MINDLESS, SOULLESS, SOLITARY JOB SEARCHING. TOO MUCH POSITIVITY GOING ON HERE. REVERT TO FORM.”

They won’t pay his bus fares to enable him to come along and build on his invaluable work experience whilst he continues to grow, develop and find his feet. Let alone contribute to a worthwhile community project. That’s that kiboshed.

So we – the charity – must take the hit. We do what we can, on the meagre budget we have. It isn’t a lot, but we can cover a couple of weeks’ bus fares, at least. We’re talking about pounds and pence. God knows, we try.

Right, we’ll see you next week then” I say, expectantly.

Oh no, it’ll have to be the week after.” he says.

Sorry? What do you mean?” I ask, genuinely perplexed. “We can cover your bus fares for the next couple of weeks. What’s the problem with next week?” I feel like I’ve missed something important, but I don’t know what.

Well, I’ll have to save up next week for the £4.70 to get me here the following week” he says.

Of course! I feel stupid, ignorant, and…frivolous. I think back to my cappuccino, and the presumption of affordability. I placed my card on a small machine and it took an invisible payment from my invisible stash of invisible money. It was that easy.

I looked at him, and I felt utterly foolish. Why did I presume he would have £4.70 for the bus fare? Why would he not have to save up for that, and account for every other penny?

Maybe he can see those thoughts flashing through my mind. He doesn’t miss a trick, remember?

Oh, yep. Of course.” I try not to sound patronising and utterly condescending. “Yep. Fine. See you on the 23rd then.”

He may not have a Costa loyalty card, but he’s got a hell of a lot of dignity.

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THE JOY OF BEING SUPPORT CREW: BLUEBELL TRAIL 10 MILE

THE JOY OF BEING SUPPORT CREW: BLUEBELL TRAIL 10 MILE 1ST MAY 2016

 I thought it would bother me, supporting in a race today – the Bluebell Trail ten mile to be precise – instead of taking part in it myself.

It didn’t.

Instead, it reminded me of all the reasons why I love to run, and all the amazing people, their smiles, and their stories.

It was a well thought-out plan. I would run to the start of the race, to ‘test my leg’ which has been playing delinquent for the past couple of weeks. I kept to my tempo pace, worked hard – leg felt tight but OK. 7 miles ticked off – job done.

On route, I heard a familiar voice holler from across the road. An emphatic “HELLO GORGEOUS!” combined with a double-handed, overhead wave greeted me around mile 5. Canal Man (aka a man who lives by the canal) used to whoop at me when I frequently trotted past his waterside residence whilst living at that end of town. He’s not seen me for a while. He seemed genuinely pleased to see that I was still alive, still pounding out the miles. I miss his waves and his generous – if slightly sexist – cheerful banter. I smiled and hollered back, together with a double-handed, overhead wave. I had a little chuckle to myself, and I ran on.

From watching the runners set off, I headed straight off in my car to the very top of the climb they’d face around 4 miles in. It’s a tough one. I’ve done it myself before a few times: I didn’t envy them today.

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Fast Lad Mr Mounsey. We had quite a wait for the next runner…ace job, Ben.

I managed to find a place to stand at possibly the most exposed, freezing cold point on the entire route, overlooking the majesty of Halifax town centre (it looks better than it sounds) right on top of Beacon Hill. My handclaps were muffled in my double-layered glove/mittens, but I tried to clap even harder to compensate.

A plethora of legs, a myriad of vests, and a conveyor belt of smiles ran past me. Every single one was amazing in their own right.

“Wow!! Look at the view!” a guy pulled over to take a snapshot of a moment in time.

“Ha ha soak it in! Enjoy! – You’ve earned it.” I laughed.

The fact that he’d stopped –during a race – to take in that moment, to absorb it and marvel at it, made me smile. That was more important to him than knocking a few seconds off his PB.

“Would you mind taking a photo of us, please?” A group of three ladies wanted evidence of their hard-earned ascent, having conquered the nemesis of Trooper Lane.

“Sure! No problem. On three… SMILE!!!” my fingers felt more like frozen Birds Eye fish fingers as I clumsily took hold of their Iphone, and fumbled around for the button.

As they ran off giddy with their high-altitude team shot, one of them turned back to me and yelled proudly, pointing to her friends “These two ran London (marathon) the other week, and that one Manchester, too!”

“Ahh that’s great! Good for you!” I retorted, with a double thumbs-up. More than anything, I was impressed by the fact they were still smiling.

As my hands got colder and more fish finger like, I clapped harder. The vests kept coming, and the leggings kept running. I wondered what their stories were. Where had they come from? Why had they found running?

Had it saved them, too?

Once I’d cheered the last runner past, I headed back to my car and inhaled a cheese sandwich, whilst the heating did its best to thaw out my fish fingers.

It feels like I haven’t even run today. Instead, I saw the vests, the leggings, the buffs and the smiles.

I’ve been reminded of what really matters, and why any of us even bother. For those who did great times and got PBs today: massive congratulations. For those who smiled, took selfies, marvelled at the view, and even managed a ‘cheers love!’ in response to my muffled handclaps and hearty hollers, a huge WELL DONE to you too: You’re all heroes.