Feeling Connected

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I’ve never approached running with the ferocity and determination that so many do. Sticking to plans. Focusing nutrition and cross training etc. I just like to run. I don’t complicate it with thinking about the mechanics and science of it all. Normally my runs are disjointed in some way. Reactive maybe. Something happens. I feel something. I do something. Very process driven like how my mind works. But an intermittent or broken process with little control to it.

2018 has seen a change for me though. Not intentional. But like the old adage of riding a bike or learning to drive, something has ‘just clicked’. The recent Malta marathon was the moment of realisation for me.  So where do I begin attempting to translate a ‘feeling’ or suspected biological connection into some words  on a blog? I’ll go for a recap of the marathon in Malta and see where that leads…

I went to Malta conflicted. I wasn’t really bothered by the race. It was a tick box in my 12 month challenge. Neither exotic nor intriguing to me. I’d never had a strong desire to visit (its lovely by the way!). There are/were bigger races in the year to focus on and I was here alone with no one to discuss my thoughts with. So I was half-minded to just run and enjoy. My goals said “be a tourist”. I failed that. Sort of. Besides that I was on the back of a pb at muscat. A big pb. One where I ran sections faster than I thought I could. There was a subconscious target now. I knew what I could do. To not replicate it would be to not perform as I now know I could. And I’m stupidly competitive with myself. No offence, I couldn’t give a shit about competing with you or anyone else. Why should we? Be the best version of you that you can be. If that happens to make you the best in the world, even better! But you have to beat yourself first to achieve that.

I arrived at the start line and deep down I knew I’d race myself. I knew I’d struggle to resist. And that’s exactly how it went!

The one conscious decision I’ve made with running this year is to enjoy it more. Embrace

Enjoying the views
Enjoying the sights and not focusing on the road or whats up ahead

the runs. Look around and absorb the places I run. You see a lot over a marathon distance. Or you will if you take time to look around and see your surroundings. Maybe this has helped me? I’m running with a smile. Free of the time pressures (sort of. I know that contradicts the competitiveness in me). And that’s how Malta went. I was constantly looking around and enjoying the scenery. I’m so glad a few photos have captured me in this moment. I recognise now that I’m seeing what’s around me.

In addition to that though, I feel more. I feel me. I feel what I’m doing. What I’m feeling. What’s happening and reacting. I’m able to say ‘this feels good’ that whatever I’m running is comfortable (or not). Assessing whether it’s sustainable and making decisions on the back of it. I’m forming plans on the go. Saying I’ve got this, maintain this or change it. It’s now like my body and mind are on the same process. As an aside. I love processes. Process maps  (I’m tempted to draw one here!).  The inputs are my feelings. My muscles. My tendons. My nerves. Sending signals to my mind. Of course they are. This is how the body works. It’s not new. But being in touch with them and acknowledging them is new for me. I’m hearing what my body is saying. “ your breathing is off. You are panting”.  “There is a hill coming up”. “You’re struggling with this pace” etc. I feel I’m now able to register that and quickly process it into an “ok, listen up, here is what we are going to do about it”. That’s the action or workflow in my process. And, my body is listening and reacting back. Before I’d look at my watch, notice the pace isn’t what I want, say to my body step it up. And then, nothing. I can’t.  I’m either too far gone or it takes too long to change, by which point something else has happened. Now it’s almost instantaneous. My mind says step it up, my lungs take in the air, my legs do the work. Outputs. Boom. Input, action, output. A perfect functioning process. A cycling loop of feedback and continuous improvement (I’m mixing work with pleasure here. Such a geek). As the saying goes “If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream”. And it’s not just about ‘stepping it up’. It’s both ways. Hearing that it’s too much and figuring out what is better. What’s more sustainable over the long term. It is after all ‘ a marathon not a sprint’. Such cheese. I don’t apologise.

And whilst this is going on, I’m aware. Aware not just of me. But aware of the run. The surroundings. My smile. I’m running strong and happy. Above all else I’m smiling. I’m embracing my runs. I’m learning. I’m becoming a part of them. I’m not just someone ‘doing’ a run. It might click for you. It might not. But, find away to obtain your connection and become a part of it.

Malta Marathon 2018

Street Signs

WHERE & WHEN:

Malta, February 2018

WHY I RAN THIS COURSE:

No particular reason other than I hadn’t been to Malta and I needed a marathon in February. I didn’t do any research but I wish I did. I might have been able to visit something like the Hypogeum if I’d planned in advance.

THE COURSE:

The course is not a city marathon. starting in the hills of Mdina you run through the countryside, downhill towards the capital Valletta before finishing up in the marina of Sliema.

THE ORGANISATION:

It’s a simple one. Registration was straight forward and the website informative. There was little correspondence from the MMOC (Malta Marathon Organising Committee) other than a reminder a few days before the race to “follow the rules”. Bib collection was available the day before (a good thing!) and the collection straightforward (although I went back 20 mins later after ripping my plastic kit bag and the queues were suddenly huge!). Everything went as expected.

THE ATMOSPHERE/SUPPORT:

Pretty much none. I’m getting this from the smaller, overseas marathons.

MY RACE:

It’s another run, another new place, another early morning. There’s organised transport from Sliema (where the marathon finishes) to Mdina (where it shall begin). It leaves at 6am. Aaargh. The night before I’d scoped out the walk. I’ve got a fairly decent night’s sleep and it’s now 4am and I’m getting up. The hotel I’m staying at doesn’t have much in the way of room facilities but there is a coffee machine in the lobby. The night watch man grunts as I get that early caffeine fix in. Arriving at the marina there starts to form a gathering of runners (what’s the collective for a group of runners? Just runners?). No one really knows where the buses will be so I walk up and down, taking in the marina in the dark. A short ride later and we arrive at Mdina. We have well over an hour to wait till the start. But, there’s a treat in store – I spend the majority of the time walking the streets of the walled town. Taking in the sunrise from the hills. Not a bad start to the day!

Before I know it we are off. The marathon is underway and we start running The route winding through the Maltese countryside. The potholed roads (think running in the shit parts of Lambeth) are mostly lined with Stone walls and for the early parts of the race we are treated to the beautiful morning views of Mdina.

The race hasn’t the luxury of Closed roads but, there was only one occasion where this was a problem when, a few km in, a parked car pulled out and decided to try to drive through all the runners. Knobs head Other than that my experience was good. It was Well traffic-marshalled and later parts of the course had a coned off section/lane for the race.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this race. It was meaningless to me for a start. The second race in my challenge. Here on my own. My mind looking at future races. I had little incentive. Once again I thought of taking it easy. But the trouble is I now know from Muscat what I’m capable of. What I can run. And I’m also very competitive with myself. I can’t dial that back. So off I went again with the crowd when the race director said “go”. Starting out I was feeling strong and I felt that the race was fast with a speedy field of runners. Immediately I was faster than Muscat. It was happening again, immediately I started to form a race strategy.

My run plan had become – keep the fast sub-7min mile pace until 10miles. Then adapt. I soon changed this to the keeping the same pace for the first half. The adaption this time was followed by the approach of “if I’m struggling to sustain the pace or if I’m finding the pace is difficult then drop it” give myself some breathing space by lowering the pace slightly and sustain that instead. So mile 13 I did just that. I looked to slow to a more comfortable 7.20min mile pace which I promised I’d aim to keep till mile 21. Then like Muscat, anything goes. The hard work would be done. Bring it home.

The majority of the first 10 miles was downhill. Then there was a short bit steep incline around that was soon followed by a longer gradual climb. These were pace sappers. I was fighting a little to keep the pace at this point. 13 miles was my target though.

Other than those the majority of the first half to 3/4 turned out to be downhill (obviously I knew ethos from the elevation chart, but, it’s difficult to visualise a chart in reality!).Downhills look and sound easy but By mile 17 mile quads were lit. There was burning and pain. I kept going.

Malta Marathon Elevation Chart
clearly downhill, but hard to make out the individual hills

 

Malta Marathon elevation
Those inclines at mile 10 and around mile 12, 22 and 24 were little bitches!

The water stations were well stocked with kids loving the responsibility. I also enjoyed the occasional powerade supplier in small little bottles. Easy to drink perfect size portion.

Mile 20 had a little surprise in store for us – a steep bridge over a main road. It was the first but not the last. Most of the last 6 miles of the course had these little ups and downs. They were tough. I slowed my pace as promised. 8 min miles were mine. Smile and enjoy what I could.

Around miles 22-23 I started to be overtaken by a lot of people. I was hoping these were just the half marathoners but there were definitely faces I recognised from earlier. This wasn’t a fun feeling. I was running faster than ever before. Perhaps that race strategy isn’t the way afterall.

Up and down we went, round and round the twisty coastal roads. As we hit the capital – Valletta – we looper round the bays and coastal roads. On the other side I could soon see the finishing arc. 2km remaining. Here we go, Sliema here I come.

Up until Sliema there was pretty much no support. But, the finishing mile had brought the public out in their masses. A great last boost. Including huge screams from the lovely lady working at the Ta’ Kris restaurant I visited the night before (highly recommend by the way. So busy they were constantly turning people away!). I wish I’d left her more of a tip now.

It’s the final stretch and I’m ushered into the wrong finish and had a picture with a rapid Half marathon time instead. Doh.

Malta Finish
I was pretty happy to finish!

Getting my medal I glanced back and saw the clock on the other side was saying 3:03. I was shocked. But it was goodies time. That can wait till later.

Immediately after the water I queued for a free leg rub. Lovely. Fucking hurt like hell. I didn’t enjoy that.

Then I queued for a photo with my estimated finish time which my watch had confirmed was just under 3:03. Suhweeeet.

It’s great that the marathon includes free photos to social media and a free rub. You can’t argue with that. It was chaotic though. It was all too close to the finish and a bit packed as the thousands of runners started finishing.

The free T-Shirt is great and has similarities to the National footy kit!

Malta Tshirt
No? just me who sees similarities?

All in all a highly recommend race. It’s not a city marathon so is very scenic. It’s a Beautiful route that is Fast, hilly and Tough. It’s Well organised and Cheap compared to most.

As I was running Malta something felt different. I felt for the first time I was more in tune with my run, more Aware of my body. Whilst enjoying the surroundings (see pic of me absorbing it) I could sense when I was slacking. When I was ready to slow. My brain was easily able to translate the messages to my body. It felt good. I’m going to try and explain in another post. I also felt better at reacting to check points and water stations. Something I’ve never been efficient at. Maybe one part of it is that I also avoided checking my time. I kept monitoring my pace but no pressures of time. And didn’t attempt to calculate it. So i knew I was running strong. Just without the pressure of expectations.

I entered the run with a clouded mind of emotions and thoughts that had lingered for a few weeks and made me a grumpy sod for no apparent reason. The long run worked its magic though and now I can’t remember those thoughts or stresses and the freedom running gives me has once again delivered.

THE GOODIES:

MedalT-shirt, Medal, Massage, Photos. What more could you want? The medal is pretty big but features Mdina. It’s alright.

TIME/STANDINGS:

  • 3:02:47 (PB)
  • 54/883

 

Adventures in the Dark

Saturday am. I’ve just finished running with Evossi Explore and it is time to go home, re-fuel and get ready for the next run. It isn’t often I run twice in the day. Very rare actually. But I just couldn’t say no to either of these events and there were people I wanted to see and meet at both. So I decided to do them both. Conveniently they were at opposite ends of the day and would be completely different adventures. Where as the run with Evossi was a city run in the morning, the run organised by Wild Trails was going to be a night run, on the trails of Wimbledon Common.

I packed lightly (it was such a glorious day), and headed off to the meeting point, meeting up with Yvette on the way. Shortly after arriving and meeting Weronica and Maggie (again) – the brains and sweat behind Wild Trails – the runners started showing up. It was great to see so many people turn out on a Saturday night to go running. Gone are the days where alcohol and parties fuel my weekends. Now it is mud and sweat.

Weronica herds everyone to the car and hands out head torches (they partner with Silva head torches) and it was good to sample and try something other than my cheapy little Decathalon number. I need to start thinking about decent equipment like this ahead of all my runs and particularly the CCC later in the year where the mandatory kit list is somewhat more serious than most other runs.

Torches
‘tooling’ up

Lights on and layers shed we head off to the common. I’d not been to Wimbledon Common before and didn’t know what to expect. Yet again, after a decade(!) in London I’m amazed I haven’t explored such places before. It was a trial runners dream. Winding paths, mud, lakes, hills and trees aplenty. The head torches did wonders to light our way (although some were brighter than others) and we had great fun winding through various paths and routes that Maggie and Weronica had planned out.

Given the numbers (I think there were about 30 of us) the girls did a fantastic job of leading and keeping everyone together. Naturally the pack spread out a little but they were on top of us making sure nobody ran off or got left behind. Great effort!

Finishing up back at the car after about 15km we headed to the pub. So alcohol still forms part of the weekend, only it feels slightly more deserved and satisfactory after a good run! It was nice to sit down and spend sometime getting to know the other runners. You don’t always get a chance to share some conversation when running in such a large group. Meeting new faces, learning people’s stories and adventures and sharing plenty of laughter. It was a great evening and I’d highly recommend tagging along to one in future!

Wild Trails

Thanks Maggie, Weronica & Wild Trails!

A run with Evossi Explore

Sometime before Christmas I went on my first group run. I came across it after speaking with Ed from Evossi on Instagram. He organised frequent runs and on that occasion we ran from Old Street through Stratford to the Olympic Park.

A lot has happened since that first group run I atteneded. I’ve covered some mileage in that time and fallen more and more in love with running. Here we are a few months later and I get a tag – the Evossi guys are meeting up again. Hell yeah, I’m in for that!

Team Evossi
Spot the tag along!

We gathered at Mile End station on a chilly Saturday morning. The cold has probably put a few people off as the turnout is smaller this time. There’s five of us and I recognise all the faces, either from the last Evossi run or from the NSL sessions. Another reminder of how small the London running community actually is. I’ve not been going to groups for long but I’m already meeting some amazing people and making friends. It isn’t as scary as it seems.

We decide no one else is going to show up and off we head. Rich leads us all in a quick dynamic warm up in Mile End Park before we start running. Initially we run through the park, passing all the morning park runners still going strong. We head down the canal and past Limehouse Basin and then into Canary Wharf.

The Wharf is a strange place at the best of times but has that eery weekend feel as all the workers are home. Surprisingly though there is a large number of people ice skating away to some banging beats at 9:30 in the morning! Good on them.

Back in the Thames we continue south skirting the Isle of Dogs before hitting the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. I’d not been here before and it didn’t disappoint. I absolutely love Victorian architecture. Even in its crudest form, those Victorians knew what they were doing.

Resurfacing on the south of the river at the Cutty Sark, a quick run up the hills of the to the observatory and our finishing spot in Blackheath. The views were absorbed and we all went our separate ways (In Rich’s case for another 20km!) another great run was had and shared!

Thanks Ed, Rich and Evossi Explore!

A weekend of running – Part 2 – Cool Cats Run, Eastbourne to Brighton

Seahaven

6:30am and the alarm clock is buzzing. As they day dawns, so does the realisation that I know get up earlier on weekends to go running than I do in the week for work. What has happened here?! I’ve plenty of time before I need to catch a bus so I leisurely have breakfast, prepare my bag and start to wake up. I’ve time to spare and I’m waiting outside for the bus when I realise I haven’t got my running hat. I need my hat! I don’t run without a hat anymore now. I find the wicking of the sweat, the sun protection and generally the keeping the hair out of my face a bonus and one less thing to think about when running.

I run back up to the flat (fortunately the bus is a moment from my front door, grab it and am back down waiting with a minute to spare. The bus doesn’t come. Shit. It must have been early. Now I’m touch and go whether I’ll make the connecting train. Great. Morning stress and panic that wasn’t necessary.

I do make the train on time (thankfully quiet Sunday morning roads!) and walk the carriage until I find the noisy bunch of excitable runners dressed similar to me. Salomon hydration packs are everywhere! I join up with a few familiar faces (Jana, Yvette, Giffy, Suzanne and Gwyn (the yappy dog!) and meet some new faces – Maggie, Stefano, Vanna and Jakub. We’ve an hour on the train until we reach Eastbourne. Jokes and laughter are shared and the customary ‘Before’ black and white headshots taken.

cool cats before

We bounded off the train and straight into the run as soon as we left the station. Stefano helped me set up the navigation on my Suunto Ambit3 as, once again, I’d failed to even attempt to understand this watch and how to use it. I’m still struggling to come to like it. To embrace it I’ll need to step away from the familiar convenience of my Garmin Forerunner, and I’m just not willing to do that yet.

Cool Cats
Mama Cat Leading the way!

The first stretch of the run is down to the coast and along the sea front to the South Downs Way path at Beachy Head. I remember this from a previous run, it’s a steep incline to start but it rewards you with fascinating views of the Coast and Eastbourne. We could see the end goal, Brighton, in the distance. A mere shadow on the Horizon. It looked a long way off…

Following the coastal path we ran towards Beachy Head Lighthouse before hitting the Birling Gap and Seven Sisters – series of seven chalk cliffs on the English Channel. The sun was shining bright and the light on the white cliffs was mesmerising. As too were the sudden drops and ‘up and unders’ we’d run for each cliff. The Wind was blowing strong and we were struggling to speak to each other as there was no protection given we were on the coast. So we all followed up and down the cliffs, walking where we had too. Some of us having more fun than others – Yvette rolling down a hill being a prime example. A heap of photos were taken, it would be foolish not to record these memories!

As we progressed further along the coast, the group split into two and we lost sight of a few of the runners. We needed to loop inwards at Cuckmere Haven (as the tide was in enough to prevent running along the shore) and around the Cuckmere river via the road. As we reached the coast again and started to climb the hills, the group reformed and off we went.

Action shot

It was around this time, after a few hours of running, that many of us were starting to feel the effects of hill running in the wind. It’s tough. Naturally with it come the aches and pains and the niggles as well as those demon thoughts that start to beat you down. It isn’t a nice feeling. My own physical complaint being a bout of sciatic on my left side. I had it once before and it flared up earlier in the week. I’m not sure why, either as a result of over training or being knocked off my bike one night. Occasionally I could feel the pain depending on the angle my left foot was making as it hit the ground.  A few of the group decided they’d power on until Newhaven and then leave us to carry on. They’d meet us in Brighton later for the journey home.

For me, the run across Seaford was a right bitch. After hills and trails, running on the concrete path, flat, with a clear view into the distance, was a struggle.  I was so glad when we reached New Haven. Again the group had separated a little but reformed at Newhaven station where we said good bye to those stopping and welcomed David who joined for the next 20km.

Cool Cats on Trail

Food was consumed as we strolled up Fort Hill for yet more amazing views, and to welcome back the wind. The next stretch of the run has become a blur for my memory. I was in and out of phases of joy and phases of darkness, wishing the run would end. I get this quite a lot on long runs and presume so many others do too. You find a way to block it out and keep moving forward. It’s times like this where it is great having company even if you do not talk to those around you. Taking comfort in knowing you are not alone and there are others there to keep you motivated.

Somewhere near Peacehaven we were joined by Sarah. She was running into Brighton and recognised a few faces from some of the North Face’s Never Stop London Trail sessions. She joined us for the last stretch. It was great talking to Sarah as we ran, she pointed out various points of interest to me and gave me an insight into some of the history of the coastal path (her parents live in Brighton).

Passing Saltdean we headed down onto the Undercliff Walk. Like before we were once again on flat, hard concrete ground. A clear view of Brighton in the distance. We could see the Marina which was pretty much the end goal. Sand being blown in our faces, it was head down and power through. The end was near. We hit the Marina and carried on down to the Pier. Regrouping at the Aquarium. We were done. Smiles and hi-fives all around.

Brighton Pier

A few of us headed off for some Fish and Chips (had to be done!) whilst the rest headed to the pub to meet those already there. We all then headed off to the train. The ‘after’ headshots were taken and the journey home filled with laughter and reflection. Next stop – Hot Bath!

Thanks Cool Cats! (and credits to them all for the photos!)

A weekend of running – Part 1 – London Burger Run Feb 2018

Last month I joined the LdnBurgerRun, a social group of runners organised through Instagram running for a burger. Simple concept. Great concept. I had a great time and was definitely going back for some more.

I’d met Tommy a few times now and he was looking for some support with the group. I’d let him know I’d be happy to help where I can and he asked me if I could pace one of the groups for the February run. Abso-bloody-lutely. I was to pace the 9:30 – 10:00 min mile group along with Kirsty who I’d met at the last run. We’d be popping out 13 miles on the way to Byron Burgers.

Leading up to the day I’d been banging on about it to so many people. In the end a number of mates joined me for the day – Alex (who came to the last one also), my flat mate Nathan (who doesn’t do long distance), Yvette from NSL/Cool Cats, Nick from my last Run With Dai and Mike – who’ll soon be joining me for a run! It was set to be a good day.

Alex is balls-deep in his training for the Brighton Marathon now and was looking to up his distance this weekend. 20miles was his target. I told him I’d join him for 5 miles before the run (he was going to join the faster pace group who would cover 15 miles on the day). The night before I plotted out a route from Stockwell to Hyde Park to get us those 5 miles. We were prepped. It would be an early start (me getting up at 5:30 to get to Stockwell in time to do our 5 miles before the burger run began).

My neighbours were having a party that night. Me and Nathan had agreed to go so we popped in to say hello and have a chat. Not quite what we were expecting as the flat (currently in between tenants) was set up for a bit of a rave! Turns out the owners like a bit of a dance and a party and there was a lot of time spent ‘mixing the tunes’. It was a little odd, as there were less than 10 of us there. We couldn’t really talk with the music so loud but either way tried to enjoy ourselves before making the excuse (valid!) to leave. Whilst we went to sleep the music continued, Nathan’s room vibrating to the beats. Ha, he’d be a barrel of laughs in the morning!

an-early-start.jpg
Amazing sky as the day was dawning.

Morning came and I was up and out to meet Alex. We headed off chatting all sorts of shit, looping to Vauxhall and into Battersea park before heading through Chelsea to Hyde Park. As we cooled off outside the café in the morning chill, the numbers of runners started to arrive. And arrive they did. The turn out this month was huge. There must have been close to 50 runners from all backgrounds and experiences. It was set to be a good day!

Jon (the other face behind the group) led us in a warm up and gave an overview of the route. There would be hills. This caused a few sighs and groans in the group, but a big smile from me. To be fair, chatting to Jon in the week and having downloaded the route, I knew what was to come!

Everyone moved to their pacers and we were set to go. Sadly Kirsty wasn’t able to make it on the day, so Tommy joined with me to herd the group around. This meant one thing – Party Group! With his speaker on and selection of 90s hits pumping, we set off.

Starting out
Leaving Hyde Park with big smiles

This was only the second time I’d used my Suunto and followed a pre-planned route. On the way in the morning I had to google how to set up the navigation and breadcrumb trail. I might have been a tad unprepared! On the whole the route was easy to follow. Given the granularity of the breadcrumb trail, there were a few wrong turns in Regents Park and Hampstead Heath. But we were broadly on track.

The first part of the run saw us leave Hyde Park, up into and around Regents Park before regrouping at Primrose hill. The first 4 miles were done, the first hill conquered and the first photo stop posing completed. The next section of the route saw us head through Camden and up Belsize Park towards Hampstead Heath. The long, gradual stretch of uphill running was starting to take its toll on the group, but they all powered on like champs! We cut over into Hampstead Heath and veered slightly off the track, but, there were muddy paths we could wind along in the general direction needed. Result. Hills and mud. I was smiling at least. We took a little detour out at the top of the Heath to stop at Kenwood house for a much needed toilet break. Some snacks consumed and off we went again, heading towards Parliament Hill where we found all the other pace groups already waiting. Somehow along the way, probably with the few wrong turns and detours, we’d ended up ‘at the back’.

Primrose Hill regroup

A few moments and more photos later it was time to get moving again. Thankfully we had now conquered most of the hills and it was simply a matter of the long straights back down towards Soho.

The rain was starting to fall but the tunes were still pumping. There was a sudden sense of urgency from some of the group (combination of the music and the desire to bet the rain I think) and the pace increased somewhat – we were running some 9 min miles. To those who felt this increase more than others – my apologies! I was struggling to contain it at this point. Something I’ll improve if I get the chance to pace again!

As we were approaching Tottenham Court road we had some wildly varying distances covered on the various GPS devices runners had. My own was already saying we’d covered the 13 miles. I was pretty sure our detours weren’t that substantial! Either way, the group soldiered on. This wasn’t an easy ask for those already running further than they had before. Big respect to you all for powering through.

As we reached Piccadilly Circus, a few of the group carried on for a few more miles. The rest of us headed to the restaurant to warm up, consume some (loads) of calories and chat with everyone else. The burger was filling and the milkshake intense. I was done. I couldn’t move.

LdnBurgerRunners
A huge turn out of enthusiastic runners!

What another great day of running and meeting people. So many new faces, so many new stories shared. It’s exciting and inspiring to hear about all the adventures and journeys people are on. There were those casual runners, those training for marathons (so many doing London, Brighton and Berlin this year!) and those training for the insane – like 100 miles in the Florida Keys! Great to talk to everyone and promises to chat more in future to those I didn’t spend much time with!

As I relaxed that evening I started to wonder, how have I ended up at the stage where a 13 mile run on a Saturday becomes a 20 mile run as standard?! I just cannot say no to running!

Run Streaks

I learnt something….

One early influence on my running thoughts was Murakami’s “What I think about when I think about running”. I can draw so much from his attitude and perspective, and in particular his “rule” that, he doesn’t have to run everyday, but if he doesn’t run one day, he must run the next. I like the structure yet flexibility this approach brings. I never adopted it though and, running everyday certainly never crossed my mind before.

You only need to spend a few moments on social media to see the abundance of runners completing a run streak. “Run Every Day” (RED) for some cause, for some defined period (run every day till Christmas, run every day January being two recent examples) can be seen in so many posts and pictures. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever got the craze. The why? The challenge? The motivation? And so on. Then you see some of the crazies – those runners who seem super-human like Ron Hill and Jon Sutherland. Mind blown!

I saw these challenges popping up on my daily feeds and my thoughts were always “nah”. Not for me. Then, somehow, I found myself immersed in my own run streak. Wait. What. How did this happen?!

Have a look at my Run With Lydia & Louise – I met these two women who were running every day for 100 days. Nut bags! But, they inspired me. I was mighty impressed. Running with them and getting to know them started to enlighten me a little to those ignorant questions I hadn’t answered. In their case the “Why” was partly to do with charity awareness – FORWARD – check their blog for more info. Also partly for their own sense of achievement and personal reasons. Their companionship though was driving them forward, keeping them running, keeping them motivated. I started to get it, a little bit. I could understand some of the difficulties they’d encountered with raising awareness, getting others to join them on runs etc. I too had seen that. Being the ‘weirdo’ sending messages out on social media to strangers. Most get ignored or never acknowledged. If I’m lucky some strike up a conversation and there is a glimmer of hope for a meet up and run one day. Nevermind enticing your friends out for a run. Most just tell you straight up to do one and jog on (you usually know which friends will actually come out for a run). Anyway, I’ve gone off topic… I was impressed and inspired right. Nothing more. No desires here to do a run streak still. Nope, none at all.

Then I hear that, on day 75 of her run streak, Lydia has gone and got herself injured being an absolute hero and trekking up K2. Nah. She didn’t, that’s not how she got injured. She tried to jump over someone doing the plank or something. Who’s the plank now, doh! Sad though, she’d been forced to end her streak, her time was over, for now.

I can’t really explain why, but, my first response to Lydia was “what if I pick up your last 25 days?”. Classic jumping in with two feet there. I’d not thought this through. But, she was delighted. So I stuck to my word….

Besides the every day part, there was one simple rule. It must be a minimum of one mile. Pah. I eat miles I thought. That’s not even running. What’s the big deal. I’ll be doing what I usually do and running frequently, so it’s not even really 25 days, it’s just the days I wouldn’t normally be running that I need to run. That was how my mind processed it. That’s all I need to do. I’ve got this. So yeah, I’ll do it.

I had one little concern – this was less than two weeks before I would fly out to Oman for the Muscat Marathon. The thought of running before flying, after the marathon and then again when I return to the UK didn’t exactly appeal to me. But it’s just a mile. Whatever. I’ve still got this.

And so it begun. Giving it a little thought and thinking out the days, I’d already run the day before, and the also the day I’d agreed to start, so the first two runs were done. I was underway, even better, mentally I’m starting on day 3.

Day 5 was the first time I couldn’t really be bothered. I didn’t want to run. So I dragged my arse out for that single mile. It felt fake. I didn’t even put my running kit on. There was no real effort involved and I was just going through the motions. Conveniently, leaving the house and looping round the nearby lake was bang on a mile. That will be useful. Another day done. And so the journey continued.

Factoring in runs around work and social life was another challenge, a more obvious one. I’d started attending some community-based workout sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays, I guess I could have recorded the miles covered in those session (about 2 miles each night I think) but that felt wrong to me. So a 6am run before work it would be. These would often also be 1 mile efforts which seemed irrelevant and were very much a tick-box exercise for me. 10 mins running followed by the hour commute on the trusty bike. I don’t think I even sweated on these runs. Certainly my times were slow and I just wanted it done. But, I kept doing them.

Day 8, time to fly to Muscat… the first day was easy, the flight was at night so I’d run at home as usual. The next few days would need a little planning though. With some adventures planned and a few hundred KMs to drive on Thursday, a run at night before bed was going to have to be the way to do it. So, exhausted from a lack of sleep and hours of driving I did a quick 10 mins on the streets of Muscat. Angela joined me to flex the legs following the day’s excursions.  Day 9 done.

Friday, Day 10, the run was the main focus this time, it was marathon day. I’d probably covered more time and distance on this day than most of the 25 days combined. Saturday, similar to Thursday would need some planning. This time a mile in the early hours before we left for our trip to Wadi Shab. Another mile and Day 11 done. Sunday, arriving back into the wet gloom of London after a few days of glorious heat was hardly inspiring. Time for yet another single mile around the lake. Yawn. And so it continued. Another week of little runs before work. Occasionally I’d feel motivated to push it to 3 miles or so. Can you tell I wasn’t feeling the token 1 mike runs?

I tried to keep my own plans going, the odd training run, running with Louise again, a few ‘Run With Dai” runs included and some great weekend escapes to trails all helped me run everyday in a more enjoyable sense. The rest of it became a formality.

So here I am, writing this with 25 days done. My run streak complete and the 100 day challenge reached (albeit split over two people) and 101 days for Louise! And what do I feel now?

Different. Empathetic for sure. I’ve learnt something valuable, to me at least,  appreciation. I’ve had my eyes opened and I see and respect the challenge now. It’s not time nor distance, pictures nor recognition, kudos nor comments. None of that. It’s something I already knew too well but had blocked out, as I do – the mental challenge of running. The hardest part, finding that motivation. Motivation to push out those negative thoughts. The ones that put a little excuses before you. focusing your mind and saying ‘I’m doing this’. I’ve got this and I enjoy it. To keep going, keeping that streak alive. That challenge is something else. Harder I’ve found that running for hours on end. With long distance there is the benefit of recognising that you have to keep going because the finish  might be closer than the alternative. Or something, or someone,  is waiting when you do finish. There’s nothing waiting at the end of a streak. Satisfaction and achievement perhaps, but nothing you can touch, nothing that you can easily channel and visualise to turn into that motivation to keep going. I don’t think so anyway. I’ve learn this now and feel I understand it to some degree at least. It only increases my respect for those out there on a run streak of some form. Fair play to you. You’re smashing this.

For me, I’m done. I don’t want to continue. I don’t know where it would stop if I did. I’ve done what I came to do and I’m happy. And I hope it’s helped Lydia and Louise. I hope its contributed in someway. How they did 75 days and 101 days I’ll never know. But my streak is over. 25 days and out.

In the end my run streak saw me cover around 150 miles, make 2 new friends and come away a more enlightened person.

run streak
A varied set of distances covered!