Good and bad things come in threes

This week I’ve relished three fantastic running experiences:

  • a longer than planned long slow distance run
  • an interval session where my Garmin stopped bothering to pace me causing me to go faster with every interval and
  • a Friday night toughie where I kept going for 6.5 miles at a decent speed with hill after hill

I think my running mojo is back. In the meantime, to take the edge off all this positivity, let’s go through my top three list of all things I either question, or maybe even hate about running and runners:

1. Bananas – yes, the national fruit of the running nation, the jauntily curved Devil’s fruit. Of course, I know they’re jam packed with carbohydrates, they help hydration and have magnesium, potassium, calcium and protein aplenty. They keep your liver’s glycogen store nicely topped up and help prevent cramping and strengthen bones. So, why do they make me wretch and have such a nasty, pulpy texture? One day, maybe I will receive a blow to the head, forget about my bananaphobia, down a couple of bunches, pull on my running shoes and actually win stuff

2. Triathletes – now hang on, I don’t hate triathletes per se. My much fitter, faster significant other is a triathlete. I’ve been known to swim, cycle and run consecutively (only once, I grant you) and those Brownlee boys astound me with their world domination. No, it’s triathletes who enter running races I’m none too keen on. The ones who turn up for a Parkrun in their lycra all in one tri-suit with some oh-so-witty pun printed on it usually substituting the word “tri” for, hang on, yes, it’s coming to me, hahahaha “try”!!! I barely managed a marathon, so I readily admit that doing one Ironman style, after swimming across a Great Lake and cycling across a continent is one hell of an achievement. Yet, halfway through a half marathon, spotting one of those Ironman tattoos on the back of someone’s calf is such a motivation for me and my petty prejudice. I’m proud to say I’ve run two half marathons faster than a couple of unsuspecting Ironmen, who to this day will not be thankfully unaware of how they spurred me on.

A picture of a boxer, running, from www.coastalliving.com

A picture of a boxer, running, from http://www.coastalliving.com

3. Boxer Runners – I love those first summer runs, me. The ones which make you finally ditch the tights and wooly hats and whenever possible, run in little more than shorts and a t-shirt. It’s at this time of year that I start to notice the boxer runners. I assume they’re boxers and a run dressed in a load of layers seems to be part of their training regime. Or maybe I just don’t regulate my body temperature very well. I don’t hate them, mainly as if they were to find out, they might choose to whup my ass. I question them. Boxer Runners come out at the height of the heatwave, when even a technical vest feels like a layer too many and the sweat’s pouring out of every pore. Boxer runners cope with the oppressive sunshine by wearing a couple of sweatshirts, a hoody with hood up, nice fleecy jogging bottoms, hi-tops and ideally, a cagoule and waterproof trousers. I suspect their long runs are very long runs, and when the plastic trousers are finally removed, you can hear the sweat gushing onto the floors of the mythical gyms above East End pubs that they probably hang out at. Why do they do it? Is there some kind of science behind this deliberately making running as tortuous as possible?

I could go on, but that’s enough negativity for now. I’ve got a short list of future running “hates” and incredulities on the go so watch this space if you’re not a fan of raised kerbs, trios of pedestrians, motivational quotes or running while holding stuff.

What took me so long?

imageI sometimes wonder what took me so long. No, not when I get to the end of a Wednesday night club run only to see the club’s faster runners already changed and on their way home. I wonder why it took me so long to start running in the first place.

Until my 40s I’d convinced myself that I was an above average but not gifted swimmer, and that was where my sporting ability began and ended. And I’d always hated running which pretty much put paid to participation in most of the other more predictable sports for British males.

Like many, my attitude towards sport was formed at school. At primary school I remember a fantastic sports day with noise and trophies, but the participants were the people who’d got through the preliminaries in the normal PE lessons. The majority of the school, me included had to make do with being spectators on the day of the finals.

One summer, someone marked out a 400 metre track in a local park and my dad took my younger sister and I (and a rickety stopwatch) to put us through our paces over a single lap. It was a typical story of the hare and the tortoise with me speeding ahead, tiring after 200 metres and my sister almost managing to overtake me, just before a “freak accident” caused me to “fall” and sit on the grass clutching my leg, before “limping” to the finish line.

At secondary school we had a termly timed run, confusingly called the “Bristol Road Run” (my school was in Birmingham). It was probably no longer than half a mile but it used to destroy me – I can still feel the burning sensation in my lungs as my ability to breathe quickly melted away. School had a well resourced PE department including a proper running track, but I don’t remember any of the teachers thinking there might be a better way to teach us to run apart from shouting at us to run faster. So obviously, as soon as sport became optional (as a school leaver), I retired.

Apart from the occasional swim, one or two games of squash and maybe three half-hearted games of badminton, I don’t remember doing much else that could be loosely described as “sport” for something like 15 years. I don’t think I bought a pair of training shoes until my late twenties and only then because I thought they looked cool rather than because they were designed for a particular activity. Fortunately I’m blessed with the kind of metabolism that means I don’t pile on the pounds so there was very little impetus to review my lifestyle.

At some point during the 1990s, for a reason that escapes me, I started to flirt with the idea of running. Wearing the same shoes I went clubbing in, I started running down the Thames once a week, going further and further each time. I even promised I’d do a sponsored run at one stage until noticing that the totally inappropriate footwear was making my big toe nail go black. Eventually the nail dropped off, it made me feel queasy, and I gave up (again).

In my 40s, my confirmed sporty-wife (yes, a wonderful example of how opposites attract) took up triathlon. She swam, she cycled, she ran and I sat and watched or looked after the kids. I remember one hot day at Dorney Lake, sitting on a grassy bank watching the triathletes running up and down and thinking “I’m an ok swimmer, anyone can ride a bike, maybe I could learn to at least tolerate running. Couldn’t I?”. Some of the men running up and down had body shapes almost as unimpressive as mine, but wore their lycra tri one pieces with pride.

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So I broke one of my taboos and handed over money for a product made by the evil cult that is Men’s Health. A one-off book filled with tips, training programmes and kit for people wanting to get to grips with swimming and cycling. And running.

One page proved to be a revelation. A 6 week walk-to-run programme that I have since photocopied and emailed to potential converts to the running cause around the world. It really did the trick and the day I finally ran 30 minutes without wheezing or burning lungs was one I’ll always remember.

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Then I was on the slippery slope. Shoes were bought that felt better than they looked, the distances increased, Runner’s World was openly browsed on public transport, I started spending more money at Decathlon and Nike Town than Oddbins and Fopp Records. I even entered my first race since the “sibling classic” in the 1970s. It was only a matter of time (well a couple of years of plucking up courage) before I was to stand up and admit to a group of strangers that “My name is rundontrun and I’m a runner” (debut appearance at a running club).

The great stand-off of 30 years had come to an end.