The 20th Anniversary… and Arthur’s Seat

It’s my 20th anniversary, and I’m in the mood to celebrate. Anniversary of what? I hear you ask. A marriage? Nope. That crashed and burned a long time ago – and I wasn’t a child bride. Sobriety? Nope. Wrong again. I’m currently supping a can of M&S rum and coke on the train home from Edinburgh, as it happens. Plus, my alcohol dependency eventually resolved itself – you’ll see why. Smoking perhaps? Not quite. I tried it when I was fifteen whilst slumped all Kevin-&-Perry-like under the slide on Warley park, but couldn’t get the hang of inhaling at the right time. Not one to give up, I gave it another shot whilst at uni, but kept getting tonsillitis for my efforts. Drugs then? Snorting coke or popping pills? Erm, hardly. The closest I ever came to that was briefly dating a pothead scaffolder who looked like Jay Kay. He couldn’t string a sentence together, which eventually caused problems – I think he forgot my name.

 So, what then?

 It’s the 20th anniversary of my putting on a pair of trainers and going for a run. And that’s worth celebrating.

 It was hard going. I remember setting off from my mum’s house and seeing the road ahead of me all bendy like a cheap, warped tablespoon handle that’s come off worse in a battle with some overly-frozen Ben & Jerry’s. The pathetic rises in the tarmac threatened to defeat me long before my trainers even got close. The fear itself was enough. And so I walked. Just until the bendy, warped spoon road flattened out enough for me to believe I could face it.

 I was eighteen, and it was August 1996.

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As unfit and miserable as I’d ever wish to be… around the age of 17/18

I felt foolish, and paranoid. Are people laughing at me doing this? I frequently mused. Will I see anyone I know? God almighty, I hope not.

 I remember the endless, gradual incline of Albert Prom, and berating myself for being unable to cope with the half-mile ski-slope I saw ahead of me. That’s what it felt like – running up a ski-slope. But I couldn’t run up it. Surely I’ll NEVER be able to run up it! When will this get any easier? My mind had to resign itself to the fact that it might not. Not ever. That was the harsh reality.

 I would stop religiously at the end of Albert Prom, near the spooky old peoples’ flats or ‘sheltered housing’, which was ironically situated near the graveyard. The juxtaposition didn’t hit me at the time. I’d pull over panting and wheezing, grateful at least for the most tortuous part of my ordeal to be over. I’d meet the pitiful stares of fascinated onlookers. Dog walkers who on occasion may even risk collision with lampposts due to their insatiable appetite for tame voyeurism.

 I’d pray for endless traffic on the main road just before the park. Is it safe to cross? I hope not. The fake hand-on-hip stance indicating mild frustration at being somehow held back from continuing on my way by inconsiderate drivers happening about their business. Shit. It’s clear to cross. I’ll have to start running again. Oh, hang on – there’s a learner driver approaching quarter of a mile away. Best wait until he’s gone.

 Across in the park I’d happen across other runners. Some were ambling around, chatting idly. Chatting! Did they have no respect? They made it look so easy. How did they make it look so easy? Nothing about it was easy. 

And then there was the downhill bit. Thank God! At last some brief reprieve from the lung-busting humiliation of the previous two miles (at most.) This was the part I grew to love, when just for a short while I could pretend to be a runner. I could seemingly float down the side of Manor Heath Park and make it look as though it wasn’t actually killing me. I could begin to vaguely understand what that feeling of ‘wind through my hair’ felt like, and the first seedlings of feeling a sense of freedom through running were sewn. But why can’t it all be downhill? That part seemed so unfair.

 Once back on the flat, I’d have a half-mile plod back to my mums. Each time, seeing her driveway come into view felt like the first glimpse of the finishing line of the London Marathon. It was the visual cue for my mind to tell my body in no uncertain terms that it was done in. I couldn’t possibly take another step. And the truth of the matter is that every single time I walked back in through her front door I FELT like I’d run my own personal marathon. I’d beaten the demons that told me I shouldn’t even bother trying.  

Did you enjoy it, Love?‘ She would call down from the upstairs bathroom, as the mild stench of bleach crept down the stairs and told of a motherly cleaning frenzy.

No. It was bloody awful,‘ I would shout back up to her. Why lie?

*** 

It’s now August 2016, and I’m 38. This morning I ran twice around Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh – we were up there with Gav’s work. I ran around it because I could. I ran because it was beautiful, and because it makes me feel free and alive and grateful to see the view of the sea, and the hills and the houses dotted around like little beige Duplo blocks set out by some oversized child.

The first mile was a surprising climb, and my mind raced back to the 1996 ski-slope from my mum’s front door. It felt like that today. I reached the top, and saw the view. A man walking towards me smiled generously as he walked his enormous Dulux dog with fascinating dreadlocks – surely a Highlands speciality breed. I smiled back and even managed to squeak a dry-throated ‘Hi’.

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The second lap felt easier, as I knew the view I had to look forward to, followed by the faster downhill mile to finish. Perhaps familiarity does breed feasibility? It seemed that way today. As I let my legs roll freestyle down the final, fast mile, I saw Dulux dog man again. ‘Three times?‘ he asked me as I ran past, in his unambiguously Scottish lilt.

No! Two’s enough for today!‘ I replied, once again marvelling at the dreadlocked dog. He smiled a toothless, weathered grin and I ran off, back to our hotel on semi-broken legs.

 You see, 20 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do this. 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have got to see the view, or meet the kind, weathered man with the dreadlocked dog. I wouldn’t have felt the freedom of that final fast mile – twice – and nod at other runners who looked like I felt back in 1996.

So, today I ran because I can.

And that’s worth celebrating. I’m celebrating the fact that I could.

Welcome to the Phoenix Club! Or the Askern 10 Mile race…

“Welcome to the PHOENIX CLUB!” The Askern 10 mile race, 14th August 2016

‘Are you sure this is right, Gav? I really don’t trust your navigational skills,’ I said as we were just about to turn into Askern Miner’s Welfare Club car park a good hour early. He didn’t need to reply, as some of the more heavily afflicted OCD club runners were already milling around the car park.

The stench of beer-stained bar stools from 1982 hit us as we walked into the Phoenix Club. It was a heady combination of foists-meets-mothball, as yellow stained ceilings told of a time when the mere suggestion of a ‘smoke-free-zone’ would have got you laughed out of town. No, really – it would.

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I AM DISABLED, JERRY.

A couple of kind looking, unhurried ladies were seated behind a heavy-looking wooden table, rifling through a collection of race numbers in slow motion. They weren’t in a rush. Meanwhile, a queue was already forming outside the Phoenix Club door. ‘What’s going on here?’ a couple of disgruntled murmurs began to spread down the early makings of the South Yorkshire snake formation.

‘I’ve done this race for the past 25 years,’ a wiry looking man with troublesome teeth felt keen to share with us, ‘and we’ve never had delays like this before. In 25 years! It’s that bloomin’ new chip timing system,’ he advised us wisely, clearly keen to hang on to The Golden Years of 1982.

We really had nothing to do other than flit between the days of Crackerjack, and then back to the present, as the snaking line grew ever longer and meandered out into the fresh air of the South Yorkshire club car park.

Once numbers were pinned and gels consumed, it was a painfully slow warm-up trot before the race itself. I felt nervous. ‘I know I’ve done this one before, Gav. I think it was 2011 or 2012, but I can’t remember a thing about it,’ I said, making conversation to detract from the apprehension swirling and swooping around my head like a bird of prey over a wounded hare.

Before we knew it, we were off. I’d left Gav to run his own race, and I wouldn’t see him again until the end.

I set off pretty fast, but it felt comfortable: sub-7s for the first few miles. And then the first ‘hill’ hit, and I felt my pace fall off. ‘Ohhh shit. Here we go,’ I heard my inner chimp pipe up. ‘What you gonna do now? The pace is falling away, and you can’t handle it, can you?’ I willed it to fuck off and leave me alone to work out a way through the tough bit, as I struggled to cling on to the back of a very comfortable club runner as she trotted past me without effort. Fucking hell, Rachel. Why can’t you keep up with her? Maybe you’re still just shit – perhaps that’s it.

I could hear a couple of fellas running just behind me. They gave me some temporary reprieve from the unhelpful mantra of my inner-chimp.

‘Yeah, I –gasp – did 64 mins here last – gasp – year’, one of them said to the other, in-between hyperventilated gulps of air. ‘I’ll – gasp – just be happy to – gasp – finish today,’ he continued. I wondered what had happened in the subsequent year, to in effect reduce him to the mere running mortal we saw before us today. Or did he embellish the ’64 minutes’ he proudly shared with his friend? Perhaps it was more like 74 mins? Or 84? I gave myself a wry smile as I continued on my way.

Thoughts floated into and out of my mind.

Ten miles is a long way.

But it’s not a half marathon.

Yeah, but it’s still a bloody long way.

Break it down into 3 x 3 mile chunks and one mile at the end.

You’ve already done one chunk, Rach. Only two to go.

Where’s Gav? Is he behind me? Can he see me slowing down?

Can I pull this back around? Is this drop in pace just a blip whilst I’m dragging myself up this bloody hill?

Within the space of a few miles, a couple of really comfortable-looking female club runners ran past me. ‘Ahh shit. I must be having a bad day,’ my fragile ego joined in the party, as I gave up any hope of coming away with a personal victory today.

Fucking hell. Damage limitation then.

I dug in, and I kept running. Me and some bloke called Pat had been to-ing and fro-ing for a good few miles, until I found a sudden last ounce of energy to keep me motoring through the final painful mile.

‘GO on, lass,’ he said as I eventually inched my way past him.

‘Come on, stay with me,’ I replied, half hoping he would – I needed him to push me on.

‘Nah, I’m knackered!’ he said. ‘You go on. I’m spent!’ And so I did.

With one final lap of the field, I crossed the finish line in 71:12. Bloody hell! That’s not too bad, considering! I boasted to my bastard inner chimp, who was all on for hanging me out to dry by mile five.

Gav came in a couple of minutes after me, and we did our usual slow trudge back to the car. ‘You did well today, Rach,’ he said, with his usual look of sheer relief mixed with pride.

‘I may have got a PB there, you know, Gav,’ I said whilst racking my brains for my recent 10-mile results. ‘Oh, and I know I’ve done this race before. It may have been 2011 or 2012 but I’ve definitely done it before. I’d love to know what time I got,’ I said, thinking out loud.

Once back home and on the comfort of our sofa, we did a bit of web searching. It turns out that:

1) Today’s Askern 10 miler was a South Yorkshire Club Championship Race. Shit! That explains the plethora of really good club runners, then! Phew! My ego was relieved.

2) I DID get a PB today (71:12) only by about 20 seconds, but it’s a PB nonetheless;

3) I was 3rd F35 today. Bless Gav – he phoned up to ask about the prize. I’m guessing they won’t send a cheap bottle of wine through the post, but I was touched that he bothered to ask anyway;

4) It turns out that I HAD run the Askern 10 miler before, back in 2011, in a time of 87:35 minutes. So, that’s an improvement of 16:23 minutes! Boy, have we come a long way since then (or was I running backwards?)

So, it could be worse. We could be stuck in 1982, lighting up a post-race Slik Cut in the delights of the Phoenix Club…

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Another race adventure completed with my partner in crime

I know what happiness is to me.

I ran the Woodhouse Moor Parkrun today in Leeds, hosted by Leeds Frontrunners. It was a celebration of everything fun, colourful, positive and bright. And it got me thinking…

I know what happiness is to me. 

It’s waking up on a Saturday morning at 7.15am and creeping around the house like an out-of-season Santa trying not to wake anyone;
It’s packing my kit bag up silently, amidst the sound of weekend silence and young children’s snores;
It’s filing my Heisenberg travel mug with coffee without clumsily clattering the spoon on the ceramic sides, and grabbing a couple of chocolate digestives from Gav’s gingerbread man biscuit tin for the journey;
It’s wrestling into my 2XU compression socks without falling over – the first metamorphosis into “Runner”, not unlike Eric when he eats that banana;
It’s tip-toeing out of the door and hearing the muted ‘click’ of the front door as it closes ever so quietly behind me, as if I’m just about to enter a secret kingdom;
It’s settling in my Juke with the heated seats warming my goosebumped thighs, or cold air blasting at my feet, depending on the mood of the weather gods;
It’s pressing ‘PLAY’ on my iPhone playlist and still marvelling at the fact that I don’t need a CD player in the car – music can be played telepathically nowadays, don’t you know;
It’s having my unashamedly out of date tunes on too loud, and singing along to Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour as if it’s he best song I’ve ever heard. And then again, and again until the x-factor thrill turns into mild irritation;
It’s driving across to join the M62 and marvelling at the beauty of the rolling Yorkshire hills as they become drenched in the morning sunlight;
It’s hitting the motorway and cruising effortlessly along, enabling me to concentrate more on my talentless singing than on other wanker drivers;
It’s parking up and suddenly needing a wee, but having no idea where to go, and so making do with a brief squat inbetween my two open car doors; (yes I really do that.)
It’s the dread of the warmup trot when I – yet again – wonder how the hell my legs will go any faster than Tilly’s 5-year old Junior Parkrun pace;
It’s standing on the start line and looking around me at the other runners, wondering how they’re feeling, and catching someone’s eye for a mutually knowing smile;
It’s setting off and running faster than I believed I could, and gulping back the fears which threaten to invade my imminently flatlining positive mantra;
It’s keeping going when everything hurts and burns and aches;
It’s the feeling of relief on passing the finish line, and knowing I’ve once again successfully wrestled my anxiety into a head lock from which it can’t escape;
It’s taking my first post-race gormless selfie, when I can’t help but look like an overexcited meerkat;
It’s getting back in my car and ONCE AGAIN singing along to Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour as if it’s the best song I’ve ever heard. I am Bill Murray in Groundhog Day – it’s as if the earlier morning journey never even happened.
It’s arriving home and knowing that my family love me for all of the above reasons.
So today, this was my day. And that’s what’s made me so utterly, absolutely and insanely happy. Thank you Parkrun, and @LFrontrunners, for making my day.