Inspired by Charlie over at The Runner Beans, I thought I’d share my running journey. I’d never really thought how I got from A to B and where I’m going… so here goes…
I was never a sporty kid. I didn’t mind PE in primary school when it was fun stuff like dodgeball and dance and gymnastics, but I was more likely the girl reading the book or playing piano than playing T-ball or soccer. I loved running around in the disorganized chaos that was the neighbourhood kids playing together on weekends, but nothing really would have ever picked me out as sporty.
The one exception was swimming. I loved the water and, in the summer when our backyard pool was open, I couldn’t get enough of it. I remember spending hours in it, even when it was so cold that my fingernails started to go blue and my mom had to force me to get out. I would set myself challenges of how many laps I could swim in a certain amount of time, or how long I could dive to the bottom holding my breath.
In middle school I signed up for more afterschool sports—a lot of student awards depended on being well-rounded and I had good grades and was involved in music, theatre and volunteering, so I had to get the sports under my belt if I was going to win any awards (yeah, did I mention I’m competitive with myself?!). So I played on the soccer team, and the volleyball team, usually second string, but I was there and I played and usually enjoyed it. I even did really well one track & field day… in shot put, randomly!
Then came highschool and I really found my group of friends in the music room. And I HATED my Grade 9 PE teacher, who only favoured those who could run the fastest and jump the highest. Although, strangely, when I think back, I didn’t do badly in PE. In fact I remember totally acing our unit on field hockey (just ‘hockey’ to Brits) but the gym and the people there were not who and where I wanted to spend my time with.
Outside of school, I had some rollerblades (a short-lived love, given the hills in my neighbourhood), a bike, walked everywhere with my friends, and somehow discovered a Reebok 30 minute workout programme on TV that I started doing and did about 3-4 times a week through most of highschool.
In all of this, though, I never even thought about running. The kids who did track and distance running were like an alien race to me. I just couldn’t even begin to imagine how or why they did it or what they enjoyed about it. Running was just part of other sports, like soccer. I didn’t think about it as a sport in its own right.
Then came university and really very little exercise. I had a gym membership but I didn’t really know what I was doing. That, plus beer and eating out more than I ever had in my life, meant that I wasn’t in great shape and started to put on weight.
My first few years of work were nothing to write home about as far as fitness, although thanks to a free gym in our office and free yoga classes, I started to get back in shape, lose some weight and discovered my love of yoga.
Somewhere in that time I started to run on the treadmill. Then I ran outdoors a bit. My friends and flatmates Simon & Laurie ran at that time, too, so we would sometimes go to Queen’s Park and do laps together (with Simon generally lapping us!). And then I signed up for the Scotiabank Rat Race, my first organized race. It’s an easy 5k around downtown Toronto and it was pretty fun. My memories of it are vague and I don’t even remember if I got a medal or not!
When I moved to the UK, my fitness went up and down the first year. But year two I got a bike and got my trainers on and started really going for it. There was nothing organized and I didn’t have any goals of running races, but I liked running outdoors—it was cheap and easy—and I was starting to see that when I focused I could actually do 5k or more.
I stayed at that level for a few years. Running was convenient and kept me fit, and I liked that I could see different parts of London by running them, but I never had a training plan or really stuck to it with any consistency. I loved going to the London marathon every year and cheering on the runners—something that often moved me to tears—but I stuck to my little runs and my inconsistent bouts of training. Mostly, running was something I just didn’t think I could do.
Things changed when I joined London 2012. I worked there for two years and when you’re constantly surrounded by the stories of Olympians and Paralympians who’ve accomplished amazing and inspiring things, it does make you start to think… what if. London 2012 itself was a huge challenge to pull off and at the end of it I wanted a new, big challenge. So I put my name in the ballot for the London Marathon and booked a trip to Everest Base Camp. My thinking was that no one EVER gets a ballot place the first time, so if I didn’t get it, at least I’d have EBC as my challenge, and if I did get in, EBC would be a good training base for the running I’d have to start doing.
That does sound more than a little crazy looking back!!
So the beginning of October rolled around and the day I got back from Base Camp I got a strange email from a charity. It said something along the lines of ‘Congratulations! Now that you’re in, would you consider fundraising for us?’… Needless to say I was speechless and more than a little freaked out—I hadn’t been home yet to see that I’d gotten the magazine saying I was in the marathon, but apparently I was! It was actually happening. So now I had to figure out how to run approximately 20x farther than I ever had in my life
I downloaded a generic training plan and started running with a dedication I’ve never had for anything else in my life. I changed social plans and cleared my diary from October to April. I signed up for the Santa Run in Battersea Park because it had been so long since I’d done an organised run that I was a bit nervous of what the marathon would be like—and if you’re going to do an organised run, you may as well do it with 3,000 other people all dressed up as Santa! It got to January and was doing pretty well and then… I tore my calf. Six weeks out from the 2013 Marathon I had to defer to the next year and I was gutted. I also had to take time off running. That was bad. I lost what running fitness and stamina I had and I didn’t really go back to it until about August.
Then, with 2014 breathing down my neck, I started again, slowly. And this time I was serious. I signed up with a proper running coach who looked at my gait, gave me advice and a tailored training plan. I went to a physio who gave me strength exercises for my bad knee, which had contributed to the calf tear, and helped me with massage and learning how to use a foam roller.
And I did it. In 5:05 (I still refuse to count the bathroom stop that took 15 minutes of queueing!). And I was, and still am, thrilled.
I’m not sure I’ll ever do another marathon. It was a truly incredible experience but I feel like the half-marathon distance is more my style and I enjoy the shorter runs.
So I’ve got a 10k in a week’s time (which I’ve done almost zero training for) and a half marathon in October which my friend Yaz, a PT and running coach, is going to help design a training plan for.
After that, with ongoing knee trouble and surgery on the cards, where will my running journey take me? I’m not sure. I want to get the mechanics sorted and then hopefully make running a more consistent part of my life. Then… who knows? Maybe Berlin, Tokyo or the Pacific Coast Marathon may just lure me back for that crazy distance ;o)
What’s your running journey been? Are you just getting started or are you a veteran of the road and what do you love about running?