It’s not about you joggers who go round and round and round and round…

I’ve got a cracked (or at least very badly bruised) rib at the moment.

This is inconvenient at the best of times but I managed to find myself committing to running the Reading Half-Marathon recently (I blame the wife’s Jedi mind tricks) and I’ve not been able to train at all this week.

I’m not a natural runner – I am definitely more built for football – but I have started to find myself enjoying it in the past few months. More evidence of my impending mid-life crisis, perhaps. Toys like the Nike+ GPS tracking with my iPhone, as well as being able to listen to music as I run, make it more enjoyable but I sense there’s been a real change in my mindset that means I now enjoy the loneliness of the long distance runner when I’ve always been adamant that the only way I could ever do any exercise of any proper intensity or length is by doing it in a team sport, where other people are dependent on me.

The last – in fact, only – time I did any organised run was the inaugural London Nike 10k run in 2005. At the time, 10k seemed like a ridiculous distance to attempt but that’s pretty much my training distance now so I guess I’ve made some sort of progress. I also run about 8 to 9k during a football game every Saturday, according to an infuriatingly inconsistent little gadget I use (shame on you, Adidas, for selling such shoddy stuff that’s not ready for market) – albeit mainly a mix of sprints and walks – so 10k really isn’t a big deal now. 21k, however, is somewhat daunting.

I only just realised tonight that I blogged about my training for the Nike 10k in 2005, so delved back into the Londonist archives to see if I could find any inspiration. Here’s what I wrote.

From Londonist: ‘Run Baby Run‘, 16 August 2005:

An unflattering photo is to blame for this. More accustomed to being the hunter, karma caught up with me, and I became the hunted, snapped unawares, with a face displaying unwelcome chin extensions the likes of which John Hurt’s make-up artists would be proud. God damn you, Flickr, and your photography-encouraging ways!

Big Brother is to blame for this. The sickening sight of Single White Male Craig’s jiggly man boobs were too much. Some men like to ‘joke’ that they wish they had breasts, to play with all day. Don’t be fooled, man boobs are not to be cherished, and their association with that unhinged infantile stalker has resolved me not to follow that physical path.

My imminent wedding is to blame for this. During the first measurement for my suit, I was shocked to discover my waist size has expanded 6? since my slim (starved) university days. I didn’t feel fat, yet here was clear empirical evidence. I haven’t dared step on those body-fat-measuring scales since that first fitting.

I am to blame for this. With an inability to moderate my food intake to a level appropriate to my declining levels of activity, the dreaded ‘spread’ has slowly taken hold. Gym membership has not helped. There is nothing less suited to the mentality of a team sports fanatic than the loneliness of the treadmill runner.

Organised activity is my only salvation…

From Londonist: ‘Keep on Running‘, 1 September 2005:

Ken got married last week and is off on his honeymoon right now. Congratulations and best wishes to him and Polly.

From Londonist: ‘Born to Run‘, 15 September 2005:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and is 10,000 metres long.

In contrast to Hazel and Alex, my training has been minimal, the small matter of my wedding and honeymoon disrupting any plans. I had departed for my honeymoon, fully intending to use the gym at the hotels to make sure I didn’t fall too far behind with my training. Unfortunately, the marketed ‘facilities’ appeared to be non-existent (or ‘under construction’). The excellence of the food in South Africa did not help, either, and I felt sure I had put on at least a pound a day in the fortnight out there.

I dreaded the return home to step on the scales but, in a perfect illustration of every cloud having a silver lining, I managed to pick up what is becoming a customary bout of food poisoning on my last day abroad. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my stomach and intestines were indisputably empty for a few days. Not the best crash diet, I admit, but effective.

Once well enough to step on the scales, I discovered two things. Firstly, I was the same weight I was when I left on honeymoon. Secondly, my details for the body fat measuring function had been set incorrectly, lopping a good five inches off my height. Once re-set, I was pleased to see I had miraculously shed several percent of body fat. (Perhaps if I’d had the scales set properly in the first place, I would never have committed to this 10k kerfuffle.)

My training so far has thus consisted of playing a couple of football matches which, whilst proving that I have a surprisingly robust latent level of fitness, will need to be supplemented by some sessions with the treadmill and iPod Shuffle. I hope, for my sake, I have better progress to report to you next time round.

From Londonist: ‘Run to You‘, 13 October 2005:

Things I have learnt during training:

1. Football match fitness is a good base on which to build for a middle-distance run. I found it surprisingly easy to run a fair distance in my first proper training run. When once I feared not being able to finish even half the course, I am now thinking in terms of how to improve my time.

2. Football match fitness is not enough to start off a training run at 10kph. Much as I would love to be able to do the 10k in an hour, I would like very much to be able to walk by the end of it.

3. Watching the video for Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love helps to pass the time and distance in a stupidly effective way. Watching football highlights, on the other hand, nearly caused me to stack it spectacularly, as I reflexively went up for a header; something not conducive to running on a treadmill.

4. Queens of the Stone Age’s Feelgood Hit of the Summer is a surprisingly great running song; The Chemical Brothers’ Hey Boy, Hey Girl is a surprisingly rubbish running song.

5. The part of the race between 3k and 5k will be the hardest for me. It represents some sort of barrier when I’m not yet ‘in the zone’ but have been running long enough to be bored of it, if the wrong songs on the iPod Shuffle come on. As long as I get through this, I think I should be fine.

6. I enjoy running more than I thought I ever would. I’m more of a team sports man but, provided I have good music to keep me occupied, I can push myself further than I ever thought would be possible during a lone sporting event. I even intend to continue the long running sessions after Sunday so, like Hazel, I grudgingly admit that perhaps this has changed my life. I don’t think I’ve got that much fitter, I think I have just proved to myself that I am capable of more than I thought, an attitude that has transcended mere sporting activities.

From Londonist: ‘No Distance Left to Run‘, 19 October 2005:

Three days before the big day, our final pre-run post goes up and I’m off out for the regular Londonist piss up. After the usual self-deprecatory discussions as to what we should do better, followed by booze-induced self-congratulatory discussions as to why we’re great and what we’re going to do to make ourselves even greater, I leave the bar. During the 50 yard walk to the bus stop, I discover that I am unable to walk properly. Nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with aggravating the injury I picked up two days earlier, I am now in such a state that I am even thinking of declaring myself unfit for my game of football on Saturday. (The ultimate litmus test of any illness or injury affecting me is to see if I’d be prepared to play football through it.) I eventually get back home safely, thanks to the wife picking me up from the station, and I put my feet up, feeling very sorry for myself.

Contradictory feelings now enter my head. On the one (injured) foot, part of me (my legs, mainly) thinks that it will be a relief to have a genuine reason not to run the 10k given that I only started my training 13 days before race day and only managed 6 training sessions (and a football match) before the injury struck. On the other foot, I don’t want people to think I’m a quitter, especially when Alex and Hazel have been putting in the hard work.

Miraculously, upon waking up the next day, my foot has recovered sufficiently for me to be able to play football on the Saturday, so I’ll be able to run on the Sunday. The football passes without great incident, although my foot doesn’t appreciate not being given a rest and my hamstring starts to tweak in sympathy. Still, nothing that should prevent me from finishing the 10k as long as I run at a reasonable, slow pace. My target is to finish quicker than 1:30 and hopefully closer to 1:15, a pace of 8kph, my training speed.

Sunday, and my body protests at the 6.30am start required to give my stomach enough time to digest my fuel-giving breakfast before the run. I’m so tired but adrenaline induced by the fear of what I’m about to put myself through soon takes over. After the horrible Americanised ‘wooh yeahs’ (so incongruous for a chilly Sunday morning in a London park) emanating from the big screen and stage, it’s soon time to run my first race since the 400m at my school sports day, and my first race above 1,500m ever.

My tactic to get through the race is to keep listening to the music instead of my protesting body and it works. The first song is the rather inappropriately-titled Stop by Charlotte Hatherley, swiftly followed by New Order’sBizarre Love Triangle (the Brotherhood version). Before I know it, I’ve run a kilometre and I haven’t even finished two songs. The ‘motivational’ signs along the way provide further distraction, especially ‘I will not think of the pee word’ which, as someone with a passing knowledge of NLP, annoys me for a full kilometre. Shed Seven’s Disco Down comes on the iPod, I briefly put my hands in the air (like I don’t care) to dance along to it, and I realise that my pace is being dictated not by my carefully-measured training stride, but by the speed of the songs I’m listening to. Still, I feel comfortable and, oh look, I’m halfway round and about to start my second lap of the park. I look up at the clock and nearly trip up when I notice that I’ve run the first 5k in 30 minutes.

The second half of the race feels better than the first, with the smug satisfaction that is gained from overtaking people who have not paced themselves properly. Not long after the 8k mark, Moloko’s Sing It Back (Boris Musical Mix) comes on. I think to myself that this song will be the penultimate one I hear this race and then think that actually, if I get a wiggle on, I could even finish the race before the song ends. Before I know it, my stride lengthens, my breath deepens, and my head breaks into a Paula nod. I see my wife cheering me on down the finishing straight, I put a sprint of sorts on to ensure my time is under the 1 hour mark, and not long beyond the finish line I come to a sudden halt, barely able to stand up. It doesn’t take long for the pain I’d been ignoring throughout the race to make itself known. Barely two minutes before, I’d been finishing a 10k run comfortably, and yet now I could barely walk! I count my blessings, though, as I notice someone vomiting profusely; at least I have the puff to hold a conversation comfortably (which begs the question as to whether I could have run even quicker than I did).

Making sure I collect my medal (it may be tacky, but I bloody well earnt it!) I meet my wife who congratulates me, then tells me never to do anything so bloody stupid again. I agree then work out that a half-marathon isn’t much more than twice the distance I’d just run…

Official time: 59m 34s

Overall position: 13499

Battesea Park Position: 1938

A few things strike me reading through those old posts:

  1. I hate to blow my own trumpet, but blimey, I think was actually in quite a good groove of writing back then. Londonist really was a great training ground (no pun intended).
  2. I can’t believe Londonist would give Nike such easy free publicity nowadays. Ah, how young and innocent we were in those days.
  3. The fact that song titles were used for the blog post titles suggests that I probably had a hand in writing them. Funny how the habit of using songs titles or lyrics is still with me. I’m particularly chuffed about the Blur song title being used for the last post.

I encourage you to read the full posts, by the way, not just my own extracts. A couple of other Londonist writers did the Nike 10K and their training and race stories make for great reading.

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