Move

Sometimes targets seem so large they just appear unattainable. You look at them and think, “how can I ever achieve that?”. This week I hit eleven hundred running miles for 2019, a figure I felt was unimaginable, and I think, “how did I manage that?”. You know how? I kept turning up. Every step has counted along the way. Small things building to a grand total.

There is nothing special about me as a runner. I am very ordinary, not particularly quick, only took it up later in life and am never going to be anything other than a hobby runner. But I take it seriously – too seriously at times to be honest – and I do my best. And that is all that I can do.

For me, running has become about trying to be consistent; about making sure I get out when I can, regardless of where I am. The runs in the rain, the runs on my own, the runs with my daughter, the runs with my JogScotland group, the runs with friends from work, the races I have done. Everything has contributed and slowly, I have got to this point. This week has perhaps been a slightly extreme example of what I mean by this because I have been in Beijing, China, for work for the past six days.

It would be easy, when travelling, to give running a bit of a miss. Flights, work, jetlag, nice hotel, comfortable room. All of the things that could conspire into thinking of exercise as the last thing I would want to do. And I will be honest, I did think this for a long number of years when I started doing this job and my health suffered as a consequence.

But not now. Not since I have made the effort to change my lifestyle. While I still enjoy myself when I do go away, particularly, like this week, when I meet up with colleagues, this does not stand in the way of throwing on my trainers and getting a few miles in.

I am not saying this as some kind of humblebrag – and I apologise if it comes across like that – it just means that I retain a strong motivation, whether I am at home or I am away. Not every day, of course. There are some days where I really cannot be bothered and sack off running, but those days are few and far between. For me, they tend to coincide with the days after a big race where, having gone through that effort, there is a feeling of “what the hell is all this for?” when you look outside to a dark, rainy street or even when you are out running ON a dark, rainy street!!

The other thing about running when I am away – and I travel a lot – is that it is a great way to also do a bit of sightseeing and perhaps get to see things that you would not have the time to see otherwise. Jetlag is another great motivating factor – getting me up early enough in the morning to get a run in before going to work.

I am not a particular fan of running in the dark when I am away, so I tend to have a look at the weather app on my phone to see when it gets light, then head out shortly before then and that was the case this week.

The view from my hotel window rather encouraged me out

One downside of being in Beijing is that Google Maps does not work. However, Apple Maps does, so I used it to look at the area around the hotel and then work out some routes. The routes I plan when I travel tend to be simple – I have got lost too many times when I have been away I can tell you, so at least I have learned from experience.

So this week I could see there was a park – The Temple of the Sun Park – relatively closeby, so I headed out down there. What I had not realised what that this was very close to a number of Embassy buildings, so had to run past loads of police and soldiers to get there! However, it was worth it for these beautiful views as the sun came up, people played table tennis, women danced to traditional music and others did Tai Chi in the park.

Sunrise over the lake in the Temple of the Sun Park

After my first couple of runs in Beijing, I realised that I was closing in on the eleven hundred mile mark, so I made up my mind that I would get over the line while I was there. But I also realised that I would probably need to do a longer run than my usual 5k to get to that mark. Looking at Apple Maps, I realised that if I extended out to 10km one morning that I could run from my hotel down to Tianenman Square and the edge of the Forbidden City.

The edge of Tianenman Square sporting my JogScotland Bridge of Don buff

Beijing is a huge place, and there are lots of Chinese people, nowhere more so than on this run. While this picture might may it look quite empty, the final few hundred metres being getting to this point was basically spent weaving between large tour groups visiting this area, and that was at seven o’clock in the morning! But I realise how fortunate I am to be able to run and see sights like this. This is the benefits of being motivated to run can bring.

This is the kind of route where even I cannot get lost!

By now I was about three miles away from the eleven hundred. Motivation, motivation, motivation. This is what targets keep giving me. So close now, but I needed a rest. I do not run every day – kudos to those who do – but I definitely find I need to take a break to let my body recover. Sometimes I do run up to six times a week, but having run four days on the trot I needed to ease off a bit.

Rest day done – it might be worth pointing out that I was doing work while I was here, which was the main purpose of my trip of course – I was then plotting another route. This time I had spotted that Beijing’s main train station was slightly more than two miles from the hotel, so a run down there and back would see my past the target mark.

I have been to Beijing before – on holiday last summer – and when I ran then it was meltingly hot and the humidity was terrible. This time, the weather was perfect for running. Cool and crisp mornings and very flat around the area where I was going. Perfect. And also Beijing’s legendary smog and poor air quality was held at bay so that also helped.

So on Friday morning, up I got at 6.05am, to get out, get ready, to leave the hotel in the dark just as the first hints of daylight were beginning to edge through at the bases of all the skyscrapers around me and I set off for those final few miles down towards the railway station. It was an unremarkable run. It was nothing special. But it got me over the line and what a great feeling that was. Another milestone passed. Another achievement attained. And once again I proved to myself I am more capable than I ever thought I could be. No need to prove it to anyone else. Only important to me.

Beijing Railway Station as the sun comes up

Eleven hundred miles done. More than I could ever have imagined at the start of the year. More than I ever thought that I would run in a year. And still a month and a half to go until the end of 2019. So what next? Another target. Maybe twelve hundred? Maybe twelve hundred and fifty? Who knows? All I can say that is that I have got there by being consistent, by running regularly, by going out when I least fancied it, by going out when I really fancied it, by realising the benefits that running brings to my mental and physical well-being. Because of all of these things I plan to keep running for as long as I can and am well enough to do it.

This week? Another work trip away looms. More flights, more hotel rooms, more jet-lag, more work. And more running. Just keep turning up.

Awake

I look at my watch. It is 1.42am. I am in a hotel room on the outskirts of Inverness and I am wide awake. I have been asleep for a few hours but now, for some reason, I am wide awake. Forty five minutes later I look at my watch again. It is now 1.27am. Damn, the clocks went back. Not only am I wide awake, but I am wide awake on the one night a year when I get an extra hour in bed. The night before a race, this is not good.

But why am I awake? What is churning through my head, exercising my brain, bringing me up from my slumber and refusing to let go so that I can nod off once again. It is because I am thinking about the race. Over and over again.

Now this is ridiculous. I know it is ridiculous. I am running a 10k. Only a 10k. This is a distance I routinely run, almost every week, and have raced numerous times before. So again, I pose the question, why am I awake?

“none of these things worried me”

And the thing is, at the time I could not really figure it out. Was I worried about the distance? No. Was I worried about setting a time or shooting for a PB? No. Was I thinking about the course or the weather or the terrain or the route or any of the myriad of things I could have been thinking about before doing a race I have not done before? Well, I guess, yes. But none of these things worried me. I have confidence in my ability to cope with most things that running can throw at me. As I have said before, running builds resilience. A 10k was not going to phase me or psyche me out. For me, running is as much in my head as it is in my legs, my lungs and my heart and what I was doing in those moments was processing how far I have come and caring about that journey.

“I vividly remember not being able to do five minutes on a treadmill”

When I began running a few years ago, I had no ambition to do the things I have subsequently done. I just wanted to get a bit fitter, lose weight, simple. I had no thoughts of doing a marathon or anything like that. I vividly remember not being able to do five minutes on a treadmill, so simply running any kind of race was way beyond what I thought was possible. As time has moved on and I have progressed to complete the races I have – this year one marathon, one twenty-one mile fun run (yes, twenty one miles for fun…), three half marathons, three 10ks, plus some month long distance challenges – what has built in me is belief.

When I was lying awake in my hotel room in Inverness what was keeping me awake was not worry. What I think was keeping me awake was that I cared a lot about what I was going to go. Running is now an important part of my life. Many other things are more important of course – I am a hobby runner – but it is important nonetheless. My wife had made the effort to come with me for the weekend and I cared that she was going to be there to support me. I cared that I wanted to do my best on the run. This was not about setting a time, let me be very clear about that. I just wanted to run the best I could on the day and as I lay there I was thinking about how I could do just that. I cared.

” I have come through so many hard situations in races,”

How would I go out and set up a comfortable pace? How would I know if I was pushing too hard? The course was described as fast and mainly flat (runners will know that this disguises at least one major hill along the route and so it proved to be the case) but what would it really be like? The weather had deteriorated since we drove up so what would it be like come the time of the race and if it was wet and windy, as forecast, how would I handle that? I stress that this was not worry, I have come through so many hard situations in races, when things are really, really tough, to know that I would cope with whatever the day threw at me. But in my head, in my thoughts, in those moments in the dark, I just thought about what I would do.

“the euphoria of achievement overwhelms you”

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that I would urge any runners to have faith in themselves; to believe. Experience has given me the belief that I can and will cope. I have been tested and come through the challenge. In the blackness of the hotel room I also thought of those moments, those testing times, those times when you think you can go no further yet you do. Those occasions when everything is telling you to stop, but you take another step. Those races when the only thing keeping you going is the finish line up ahead and you strive, and you stretch, then it is done and the euphoria of achievement overwhelms you. And you know that that feeling will be with you forever.

“I have belief that I can achieve”

I am no expert. I am no great runner. Others have vastly more experience than me. Others run further than me. Many run faster than me. None of that matters. What matters is that I know what I can do. I know the extent of my capabilities – and I am very aware of my limitations too. But I have belief that I can achieve. As I tried to get to sleep on Sunday night I knew that everything I had been through would help me in the race. All I was doing, was perhaps caring a bit too much. That is no bad thing – to care a lot about who you are, what you do, what you hope to achieve and to care about the people that are important to you and you want to do well for them.

I did eventually fall back to sleep and when we got to the race on Sunday, the worst fears about the weather were realised as it absolutely teemed down with rain, blown through on gusty, icy winds coming in from the north-west. It was at this point that my wife did remind me that no-one was forcing me to do the race, and that it was my choice to do it.

“I knew I was ready. I believed”

But as I stood at the start line in the continuing pouring rain, I realised I could barely feel it. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. Skin is waterproof. I was not nervous. I was not worried. I was a bit cold but regardless of the rain or the wind or the cold, I was ready. In my head I knew I was ready. I believed. I cared.

The run itself was relatively uneventful – flat start, lovely scenery as we ran towards Inverness, looking out over the Moray Firth with the city and the Kessock Bridge leading over to Black Isle over in the distance. Then after 3km came the hill. It was not hugely steep but it did last for around one mile, so that was always going to be challenging. But I have been through tougher moments and I even managed to smile for the photographer. Mind you, that was probably because the hill was coming to an end! But for goodness sake, will you look at the state of my blotchy, corned beef-like legs!! If you ever wanted proof of how flaming cold and wet it was during that part of the run, then there you go. All in glorious technicolour…

Nice view behind me…

Up the hill was then followed by down the hill, then it was a relatively flat, slightly uphill 4km round to the end of the race. As I got to around 8km and tried to enjoy the scenery, the rain started once again, so I guess you could describe the conditions as pretty miserable. So miserable it apparently screwed up some people’s times, but not mine. But you know what, I barely noticed while I was running.

It was not really a day to be out watching a race, so the only crowds on the course were at the finish line, including my wife, so I pushed hard and sprinted the last few metres to get over the line. Then that euphoria of finishing kicked in once again as I fought to get my breath back, thanked the volunteers who gave me my medal, water and goody bag and went to find my wife to get my finish line photograph with the medal.

Race done, medal collected, back in the car to heat up then drive the two and a bit hours back home, including a stop for some food on the way back. Another successful run completed and probably my final medal of the year.

Was the night of fitful sleep worth it? I think so, especially as I believe it was all about caring so much about something. Nothing wrong with caring about who you are and what you do. Nothing wrong with wanting to do your best. Nothing wrong with having belief in yourself. Nothing wrong with working hard to achieve aims and ambitions. Nothing wrong with running a 10k on a cold, wet and windy Sunday morning in northern Scotland in late October. Nothing wrong with any of that at all. Mind you, I would quite have liked a few extra hours asleep…

I Ran

I have a confession to make. A few months ago someone said this to me and I refused to believe it, but now I totally believe it may be true and perhaps I have been in denial for too long. I am an addict. I am addicted to running.

Now if you look up the definition of addict in a dictionary, you may get a definition like this: “a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug”. Ok, so I do not fit into this category (though I have to confess to a general craving for both fruit scones and peanuts). But then there is an alternative: ” an enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity.” And it is here that I have to admit that I am guilty as charged.

” What a nut!”

How else can you explain my behaviour over the past two weeks? One week when I had a few days off on holiday, then this week where I have been abroad for work. What is the first thing I look out to pack? My running stuff of course. Before I consider what I might want to take to make me look fashionable I am out checking over the weather forecast to see if I need to take anything warm or waterproof. What a nut!

Then there is the hotel location. Am I checking it out to see the nearest restaurants, bars or attractions? Not initially. I am out scouring Google Maps to figure out if there are any decent running routes nearby and trying to plan out a route where I do not get lost (see previous related posts on that point to discover how hopeless my sense of direction is!). You could argue that this is simply advanced sightseeing without getting on the open topped bus, but it is a bit extreme and even I have to admit that.

“Get out early for a run and get it done”

Then there is the planning element. For the holiday and for work, the plan is essentially the same. When can I fit in my run so as to minimally disrupt anything we might be doing on the break or anything that is work-related. And the answer for this is almost always the same. Get out early for a run and get it done so you have the rest of the day to get through the other stuff. Never plan a run at night as you can never tell what might happen during the day to interfere with the desire to lace up and pound the streets.

So when my wife and I went to Madrid there was only one option – early morning run. For this one, because of where we were staying, you could definitely argue that this was the advanced sightseeing option as the route I took WAS actually part of one of the open topped bus tours around the city. But for me it was easy, a straight route, basically up and down the road right outside the hotel. It just happened to pass by Real Madrid’s stadium and look towards some of the city’s impressive buildings in the more modern part.

But one other thing about addiction is when you realise you have missed out on something that could have fed your addiction and how you react. My wife and I DID actually go on an open-topped bus tour when in Madrid – it was freezing by the way – but we also saw a sign saying that on Sunday the routes would be disrupted because of an event called “The Race for Science”. Nightmare!! Was I really in Madrid and there was a run on in which I could have taken part? Yes!! There really was – and just 10k as well. I could have easily done it. And it got worse. We got up on Sunday morning, looked out the window of the hotel only to discover part of the road outside was blocked off and so not only had I missed taking part in the race, but the route actually went right past our flipping hotel window!!! The withdrawal symptoms of missing out as I watched the race pass me by dug deep I can tell you.

So with that experience behind me, I went to Helsinki and Stockholm for work this week. By now you know the planning drill, so for both cities I worked out routes, studied the forecast then got out and ran. The weather in both was perfect for running, surprisingly so for Helsinki where I had expected it to be significantly colder than it was. I worked out a route that took me close to the Olympic Stadium (which would appear to be being rebuilt) so again I ticked off the tourist box and as the sun does not rise in Helsinki until after eight o’clock I also caught a gorgeous sunrise too as a bonus.

Sunrise run in Helsinki

Helsinki done I then headed to Stockholm and this was going to be more challenging. Not because of where I was staying, or what I had packed or the route I planned to take. It was more tricky because I would need to get out really early to get any kind of run in because of my work commitments. Damned work, getting in the way of my addiction, eh? But the need to run is strong so the alarm got set for six o’clock and off I went out. Stockholm is a beautiful city during the day so it was nice to see it before the day had even really began and take advantage of the quiet streets to get in a couple of miles.

I do not tend to run too far when I am away, just a few miles to keep things ticking over, to feed my need. You see, I really do sound like an addict when I say things like that.

The quiet waterfront in Stockholm

I had thought after this run that that would be the end of my physical activity during the week but there was one last twist in the tail which actually demonstrated the benefits of this addiction; this need for speed (slow speed I hasten to add).

My return trip from Stockholm was via Copenhagen and it was always going to be quite a tight connection, including a trip through passport control to make the flight home. What did not help things was that I was in the very last row of the flight from Stockholm so would be last off the plane and then to knock things even further the flight was delayed. When we landed, this was then my challenge. Get off the plane, find the gate for the next flight, get through the crowds, get through passport control and not miss the connection. I have missed many connecting flights in my time, and there is nothing worse then when it is your connecting flight home that you fail to make I can tell you.

My view from row 29 as I waited to get off the Stockholm to Copenhagen flight

There was nothing really for it then was there? This was the time for my addiction to turn positive. To make sure I made it to get my flight home. I vividly remember this happening to me years ago (about fifty pounds heavier ago) where I had to race through Charles de Gaulle airport to make a flight to Rome. I was so unfit and unhealthy that when a sweating, breathless, vein-bulging me got on the flight, I think the crew thought I was going to have a heart attack and promptly gave me cups and water and paper tissues to calm me down as I dragged out my inhaler while crumpling into my seat.

This time? Barely a bead of sweat passed my brow as I stormed through the crowds, swept through passport control and made it with a few minutes to spare. You see, this addiction lark is not all bad.

Then I also discovered a feature on my Fitbit, where it provides an assessment of how fit you are by measuring your Cardio Fitness. (yes I know you need to take these things lightly because they are not totally accurate). This is what it showed for me.

When I first got my Fitbit (and I do credit it as being a digital nag that helped me lose weight a few years back) my resting heartrate was around eighty. It is now routinely in the low 50s (sometimes the 40s).

I may confess to being an addict. But you know what, there are worse things you can be addicted to. Now, where did I put my fruit scone?

Murmur

It is six o’clock on Sunday morning. My Fitbit starts vibrating to wake me up. It is dark outside. Chances are it is pretty cold too. I think to myself, “why are you doing this?”. But up I get. I get up because I am going for a run.

Into the kitchen for some microwave porridge – golden syrup mind you, need to have a bit of taste – and a glass of orange juice. I cannot say I have a huge appetite to eat but it goes down ok. At least today is only a short run so I am not having to eat two bowls, like I do for a long run. A trip to the loo. Then back to bed.

Yes, that is right. Back to bed. No point eating then going out right away. Need to have a bit of time to let it digest. After a thirty minute lie down – the danger zone I call it; the danger being I fall back to sleep – it is time to really get up. It is still dark. I put on my running stuff, plus a hat, gloves and a luminous jacket.

Back into the kitchen to pick up a drink, weak diluted orange juice rather than water or some special electorlyte drink today, and I pick up a gel I got given as a birthday present a few months back. I might not need it, but I will take it anyway. Better to be prepared than not.

Then out the door I go. Blimey, it is cold. But it is also beautiful. And it is still. There is barely a breath of wind. The sky is clear, a deep shade of blue/black, with tinges of red toward the east. The sun will be up soon. The darkness will fade to be replaced with joyous light. Moisture lingers on parked cars. There is no murmur of moving traffic. There are no people. I am alone. And I start to run. The only sound is my feet on the ground and my breathing. Puffs of warm air pour out of my lungs into the chill of the morning.

” I hate those opening paces. And then it worsens,”

The first few steps are slow, finding my rhythm. Counting in my head to take my mind off the breathlessness I feel as my body comes to terms with physical activity. I hate these opening paces. And then it worsens, the breathlessness increases as I go further. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.” I keep repeating over and over in my head to take my mind off the way my body is rebelling. As the metres increase, so does the discomfort. The further I have been able to run, the worse these opening miles seem to become. This is not enjoyment. This is enduring, in the knowledge the better times lie ahead.

Slowly, it begins to ease. The breathing steadies. The niggles that seem to dog the first part of a run fade away. The route today will be downhill to start. Downhill a long way. The challenge now is not to start too fast. I abandon the counting as the strides become more even, more measured. I feel the rhythm return to my movement. I become more aware of my surroundings, as if I my senses are stimulated by the run.

“This is not selfishness”

I am alone. No one for company. No one for conversation. And I love it. Now it is just me. This is not selfishness. The reason I run early is so that my running has minimal disruption on family life. I will be finished my run and back home before the kids are up, before the day has barely begun.

The day is beginning, I head downhill, planning to cross the river that runs close to our house after about a couple of miles. This is going to be an easy run. The opening miles pass quickly. Frosted edges linger on the grass and as I cross the bridge I stop. Today is a day to take in what is around me. This is not a day for head down, focus on nothing but the pace, running. There will be days like that, there will be races like that, but not today. For today we have sights like this.

Crossing the River Don

These are the sights that confirm some of the reasons why I run. Yes, it is to stay fit. Yes, it is to improve my physical condition. But it is also to feel content. It is to appreciated what I have. It is to enjoy the city in which I live. Running (or any form of exercise) is not some kind of punishment you visit upon yourself. The opening mile might feel like it, but I cannot ignore the positivity which surges through my body as the distance clocks up. It is why it is worth going through the early pain to reach this point.

” Running builds faith in yourself to stay strong when things are hard.”

Now the route takes me uphill, and the memory of those early struggles returns as my lungs heave for breath but I know I will cope. Running builds resilience. Running builds confidence. Running builds faith in yourself to stay strong when things are hard. There are always doubts, but your running body is stronger than your running mind. You just need to convince your mind of that fact as your mind will give up long before your body will. Never, ever, ever give up.

Light is spilling onto the road but the street lights still shine on. People are beginning to emerge from houses, waiting in bus shelters. The headlights from cars begin to illuminate the roads, exhaust fumes drifting into the cold air. The sky is now almost white in places as the sunlight battles through the blackness of night.

Running towards St Machar Cathedral

I work out my running routes before I go out. I think about how far I want to run. I think about where I want to run. I hate running laps. I hate just running out and back courses. I consider how fast I want to attempt to run. Aberdeen has some beautiful buildings and places. This run will take in some of them and the pace will be within my limits. I just feel that that is how it should be today.

By now, around four miles in. Everything has settled down. My breathing. My feelings. The strength pulses through my legs. The rhythmic motion of my arms. The counting is long gone, replaced by thoughts about….. anything. The inner conversation on a long run is not just about the pace, the course, the weather, the pain… The inner conversation when I run can be about football, or music, or work, or family or whatever. It is what I choose it to be and it is just for me. No music in my ears. Just my thoughts. My voice.

You see, that is what is so important about running. What it means to my mental health as much to my physical well-being. To take me out of myself and give me clarity of thought. Not about overthinking things. It is not that. It is the ability to switch off from the pressures of life, for at least the time that I am on the course. I never understimate the benefits that this alone can bring.

Because I choose the course, that also means I can choose to make some bits more difficult than others. No point in making everything easy is there? But this part is pretty flat, so the pace increases. This is why those early downhill miles were run with the brakes on. It is not worth going hell for leather early when there may be pain to come later. On towards the beach, one of my most favourite places to run, particularly on days like today. The serenity. The contrast to the ferocity when the wind roars and the waves violently batter the shore. Such peace today. Such peace.

Sunrise at Aberdeen beach

The city is beginning to waken. There are a few other runners now. Not many. There are walkers too, some with dogs. Some stay on the Promenade, others make it down to the sand. All are enjoying the beginning of a special October day. As I get towards the end of the beach, at about seven miles, I stop to take the gel and have a drink. The toughest part is to come. Now is the time to be strong. To use that resilience; to feed off it. To face up to almost three miles uphill to get home.

What goes down…

Those final miles simply add to the experience. Running uphill is not easy. Running, in general, is not easy. But running for pleasure when you could be tucked up in a nice, warm bed means running up these hills is just another test. It is a challenge to be faced and overcome. And when your mind believes you will do it, then you will. I did. You can too.

After the final hill, the exhilaration of a short downhill section and back home. Daylight is firmly upon me now as I make my way along the streets toward my house with more than ten miles done. I can feel the endorphins coursing through me as I stop, take a drink and walk through my front door. I am nothing special. I am just a guy who gets up at 6am on a Sunday and goes out for a run.

Don’t Stop Moving

Prove what you want to prove to yourself. There is no one else you need to prove anything to, but you.

If running a race and achieving the goal is the high? Then what next? To work for something for months and then reach the point that it is all over, how do you cope with what the next step is?

These are not easy questions to answer. The Glasgow Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago is likely to be my last race of the year. I would like to do at least one more event but the reality of work and family commitments makes that actually pretty unlikely. As we head towards winter, longer nights and dark mornings the struggle for motivation can be very real.

” it is really important to acknowledge the achievement”

First thing I would say about achieving a goal is to make sure to celebrate it. There can be a lot of sacrifice involved in running, particularly when targeting the longer distances of half or full marathon. The early mornings, the weekend runs, the fitting in of training in evenings after a busy day at work. For someone like me, very much a hobby runner, you can add a load of travel into the mix as well. So to go through all of that and reach the target, it is really important to acknowledge the achievement.

It is also important to have a bit of a rest. One thing that I have learned through my running of the past few years has been the importance of rest. Letting your body recover from a major effort is key, and that goes for when you are in the midst of a training plan as much as after the race itself. Good luck to those who run every day and do a run streak, but it is not for me.

“is that it? Is that enough for you?”

So you have a rest, you celebrate a bit, then you want to get back into it. But maybe the spark of motivation has gone. You did what you set out to do. It may be that you only envisaged ever doing one race – of any distance – and you did it. The question I have found myself asking myself is, “is that it? Is that enough for you?”. And if it is, then that is great.

No one will ever be able to take away that amazing achievement from you. And more importantly, you will know, truly know, that you did it. You overcame every obstacle, every challenge, ever question of doubt you had in yourself you found an answer to and you came through it and you conquered it. That’s an incredible feeling to have and it should never die. Treasure it, because it is so personal to you.

But I have found, so far, for all of my various modest achievements, that it is not enough. I want to go on. I want to do more. And for me I find motivation in setting another target. A few weeks ago I signed up for the half marathon in Paris at the start of March. This is my next goal and what will keep me going through the winter.

Like many people I had entered the ballot for London and like the vast majority, this week I got the dreaded email telling me I had been unsuccessful. While this is demotivating and disappointing, it is hardly surprising given the numbers who apply and the places that are available.

It would be easy for this to act as a demotivating factor, to think, “why bother”, when the nights are dark or the mornings or cold. I totally understand that and I went through something similar last year. But I used my London disappointment to sign up for the Barcelona Marathon and that got me through that period and led on to probably the greatest running day of my life.

” that may be the fastest time I ever achieve for that distance”

This year I have achieved many things in my running that I never thought I would achieve. Sub twenty four minute 5k, sub forty nine minute 10k, sub one hour fifty four minute half marathon and an eight minute marathon pb of four hours thirty minutes and twenty three seconds. And every one of those achievements continues to spur me on. When I set a PB I always think that that may be the fastest time I ever achieve for that distance. And if it is? I am content with all of them. I know how hard they were to achieve. I know every inch of what has gone into them. Only I know that. As I keep saying, running is such a personal sport.

The other achievement I reached this week was getting to one thousand running miles for the year. Last year I got to the one thousand mile mark in about the middle of December so this year to get to it at the start of October really reflects, once again, how far my running has come. The run that got me over the line too was special. Not far, not fast, but one with my daughter for a couple of miles to help get her back into running again.

So another milestone achieved and then the target set. Paris it is, but I still have a bit of that marathon bug about me. I am currently contemplating whether to enter the ballot for Berlin or one other race. I do find the whole ballot thing a pretty dispiriting exercise, but at least with Berlin you find out within two months as opposed to the six months it takes for London to kick you in the teeth, so we shall see.

” Prove what you want to prove to yourself “

But if I never do another one, I am content with what I have done. And I guess that is the whole point I am trying to get across here. If you are happy with what you have achieved and never ever want to race again, then that is great. Everything that you do should be for your reasons, no one else’s. In the same way that I think you should only do a race or a distance if it is your choice, not that you feel you “have” to do a race to prove something to other people. Prove what you want to prove to yourself. There is no one else you need to prove anything to, but you.

I definitely have nothing left to prove to myself about my capabilities in running because I have done so much more than I ever thought possible when I resumed running again about three years ago. If I can do it, trust me, anyone can. I am nothing special. I am a very ordinary fifty year old who made a choice a few years back to make positive changes to my lifestyle to become a fitter and happier person.

” I ran blindfolded and it was a very strange experience”

What also has helped me achieve all of my goals is the Bridge of Don JogScotland group, who this week did a great thing to raise awareness of the need for guide runners. At the Aberdeen Parkrun a group of us ran, either as guides, or guided runners wearing blindfolds. I ran blindfolded and it was a very strange experience, so I was really pleased my guide made sure I did not end up on the road or in the sea. What was scary about it was running when there were other people nearby, so it gave me a new perspective on the challenge of partially sighted runners and I was grateful for the experience. It was also another example of what a great club I am part of, for the number of people from the club who supported the initiative.

If you run on your own, I would highly recommend joining a running group. I was highly sceptical about it, but running with a supportive group is something else that can get you out of the sofa through the winter months.

Find your next goal. Set your next target. Whether it is a race or it is a distance or even if it is a time (though you might want to read this about my thoughts on that) then go for it. I find I need to have that race carrot hanging in front of me to make sure I stay focused and ensure that for those winter months to come I have the shining light of an early March day in Paris to keep me going.

Big Time

When you really think about it, you begin to realise that the only person who truly cares what time you did for a race is you. Other people may be interested but the only person who really, truly, passionately cares about whether you set a PB is you. So if no one else cares then why does it matter so damn much to me?

In reality it should not. But life is not like that. If you are remotely competitive then you want to do your best in everything you do, and that goes for your professional as well as your personal life. Now you are never able to do your best all of the time, you can only try and achieve what you can achieve in the circumstances that you find yourself in of course and sometimes it can be difficult to measure the outcome.

But when it comes to running, then it is a binary situation. Did you improve your time for a distance or not? There are lots of factors that come into play of course – the course, the weather, how you are feeling on the day – but when you boil it down it is straightforward. What was your time and was it quicker?

I recognise I probably sound like a hypocrite here. I firmly believe that running should be for enjoyment, it should be without any pressure, it should be something you do to relax, to get some fresh air, to stay healthy and when it comes to races the key part is to to finish safely, regardless of time. I absolutely believe that. Finish lines, not finish times are what truly matter.

But inside I do care about my time. I do care about getting quicker. I do care about doing my best. I do care about setting a goal and achieving it. I would not be me without those attitudes. And this brings me to last week’s Great Scottish Run Glasgow Half Marathon.

I had had a really odd preparation for the race – lots and lots of travel, disruption to my usual training routine and a bit of illness – but when it came to it, I actually felt pretty good going in to the day itself. I had hoped to run the race with my brother, Gary, but he opted for the 10km. Still it was great to meet up with him before I got started as his race was over before the gun fired for mine.

One runner done, one about to start

Heading to the start line, my previous best for a half marathon was one hour, fifty nine minutes and six seconds. As we parted before the start I said to Gary that I was going to go for somewhere in between one hour fifty five and two hours. I felt I could possibly beat my previous time, but as I had not run this course before I was unsure .

As I got to the start line, I could see the two hour and the one hour fifty five minute pacers, so I thought I would edge towards the one fifty five pacer and see if I could hang on to that pace for as long as possible. I am very much a runner who needs to get into a rhythm as opposed to someone who can take it easy then speed up towards the end.

Starting off, hoping to stay with the 1.55 pacer

The first half mile of the course is pretty much straight up a hill but after that the course ran down for a couple of miles and the pace was quick. The pacer was about one hundred metres ahead of me at this point and I just thought that if I could keep the pacer flag in sight then I would be in a good place. Then the hills started.

I had looked at the course profile before but – and this is a confession here – I had totally underestimated how challenging the next few miles were going to be. It was not a constant hill, but the gradient just seemed to go on forever. When we got into one park, every time we turned a corner and I thought the hill was over, it went up again. But bizarrely, through this part of the race, I was actually catching the pacer. By the time I got to halfway I was within about ten metres of the pacer. But boy, was I starting to struggle.

” the pacer got further and further away I told myself to take it easy,”

The hills felt never ending. Up again we went beyond eight miles and toward nine. But as the miles racked up, so the pacer disappeared into the distance. I felt that I was failing. I looked at my watch at just beyond the nine mile mark and saw that it was at one hour and seventeen minutes. I was running at sub nine minute mile pace, but as the pacer got further and further away I told myself to take it easy, go for ten minute mile pace to the end and that would still get me in at around one hour and fifty seven minutes. A new PB and good enough.

God the next few miles were hard. At least they were flat and downhill but I really did not feel that I benefited from that (though clearly I did), but while it was not quite a case of just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I was toiling on. I did not look at my watch at all through this part of the race, in fact I hardly looked at my watch at all during any part of the race.

I got to beyond eleven miles and at this point there began to be quite a few people watching the race, so let’s put it this way, I gave myself a bit of a talking to, told myself to stop feeling so sorry for myself and to get my backside in gear and get to the end.

“I managed to pick up the pace,”

Somehow, and I still have now idea how, I managed to pick up the pace. When I looked at my watch afterwards, I had not been running at ten minute mile pace, but I had in fact maintained sub nine minute mile pace for the miles between eight and twelve, and then for mile thirteen I dragged out and eight minute six second final mile.

As I got towards the line I saw my wife, mum, brother and his wife, high fived them and headed towards the line. It was only at this point that I realised I was actually on target to beat one hour and fifty five minutes, even though the pacer was long gone from my vision. In the last two hundred metres, when I realised that I totally relaxed, gave a few fist pumps as I got to the line and then stumbled over it and almost fell down, such was the relief at finishing.

I was elated. My god, sub one hour fifty five for a half marathon, me!! I looked at my watch, I stopped it at one hour fifty four and five seconds. Wow, I thought, even better. Then I got the official notification of my time. ONE HOUR FIFTY THREE MINUTES AND FIFTY NINE SECONDS. Christ, this was beyond belief. Not only had I gone sub one fifty five, I had gone sub one fifty four!! More than five minutes better than my previous best.

” it would have annoyed me so much,”

Now here is the other thing. I totally relaxed in the last hundred metres or so. I could have easily finished at one fifty four and one second. Or one fifty four dead. Would it have mattered? Would that one or two seconds really have been important. In the grand scheme of things, no, of course not. But to me, god it would have annoyed me so much. To have been that close and to not have done it. Thank goodness for that eight minute six second mile I dredged out from somewhere very deep inside.

I know no one else cares (remember the first paragraph). I know it only truly matters to me. I know that lots of people ran it faster. I know that it is inconsequential, but you know what? That is one of my greatest running achievements. And it will stick with me for the rest of my days.

Now a bit of confusion. They had an area at the finish where you could get your picture taken with your official time. So delighted I was, I thought I would get one for the record. So the guy beside the big clock took my number and then looked up the time on his ipad, one hour fifty three minutes and fifty eight seconds. Hence the photo at the start of this blog, but when I got my official time, it stayed the same as the one I got when I crossed the line. Either way, I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am.

My official time result

The other thing to point out is my 10km time. Up until May this year, this 10km time would have beaten my previous best for a 10km race, never mind 10km as part of a half marathon! This is such a reflection of how far my running has come in the past year, and particularly, I believe, the benefits of running with a running group has brought. Since I joined the JogScotland group near me, my running has come on leaps and bounds.

This year – the year I turned fifty – I have set PBs for 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon distances. I could never, ever have imagined that. I have run one marathon, one twenty one mile event, three half marathons and two 10km races, plus done countless runs all the way up to twenty four miles. All of this counts up and that is why I find myself one mile away from the thousand mile mark for the year. Last year I got to one thousand running miles in the third week of December. Another indication of how far, literally, I have come.

And so you know what I have done this week? I have made damn sure I have celebrated everything I have achieved this year. Yes, I had the extra beer when I got home. Yes, I had the Chicken Tikka I saw on the menu. For if we cannot celebrate what we have achieved then what is the point of the achievement?

Running is such a personal thing. You against the distance. You against the clock. You are not running against anyone else. You are running against yourself. There were many times in my race when the voice in my head was telling me to stop. But I did not. There are some races you enjoy at the time. There are some races you enjoy afterwards. This one definitely fell into the latter category, but you know what? I am a better, stronger person for the experience.

Clueless

Pacing is everything in racing. Pushing hard early while leaving you with more to give later on is one strategy. Holding back to finish strong is another. Going all out and then trying to hold on tends to be my approach. With a half marathon this weekend, I have no clue about which strategy to follow.

If preparing for a race is all about slowly winding things down, taking it easy, relaxing and getting set for the big effort, then this week has been anything but. In fact, the last few weeks have been so hectic that this week just felt like another ordinary few days, even though it involved two transatlantic flights and very early morning runs.

” I just need to get on and do the race”

After six flights in eight days around Europe, I made it up to ten flights in fourteen days with a short trip to Boston. Combined with a bout of illness – nothing serious just a bit of a cold – things have not exactly been ideal. But hey, there is nothing I can do about it, I just need to get on and do the race.

I know I have done the work. A few weeks back I really felt back to my old self with strong runs at my JogScotland running group and some solid times at Parkrun. Such has been the disruption of my recent schedule that I have not made it to either in about three weeks, but I have kept running and this week has been no different on that front.

” recognise the benefits which rest can play in the long run.”

Illness meant I did not run last week. If I have a cold or generally just feel unwell I am reluctant to run. I have built up enough fitness to know that missing a few days here and there is not going to have a major impact and as I grow more experienced I am also becoming more relaxed. I also fully recognise the benefits which rest can also play in the long run.

The other reason I did not run last weekend was that early on Sunday morning I flew out to Boston for a short business trip. The trip was only for three days so I took the decision not to adjust to the time difference and to stick close to UK time for the trip. So this meant early to bed, but also early to rise and with that, I could get in a couple of runs.

Early morning in Massachusetts meant going out on Monday shortly after 6am. Even at that time in the morning, it was quite humid and in the mid-sixties but it was a beautiful time of the day to run, with the sun and clouds splashing red across the sky.

Sunrise sights like this make running worthwhile

But that first run felt absolutely awful. Not initially, but from about halfway round I really felt like I was struggling. I could not really work out quite why it seemed so bad. My legs were like leg. My breathing was laboured. I blamed the jet lag. Then I got to the end and looked at my splits. No wonder I felt shattered, when I threw in a couple of mile splits at around eight minutes thirty seconds.

Not sure where miles two and three came from….

At least that explained it. I was shattered for a good reason. I just do not want to make the same mistake and throw in a mile that quick at the start of any race coming soon.

The following morning, a colleague, also trying to avoid jet lag said he would run with me, so this time I was out EVEN EARLIER!! This time we met up at 5am, when it was still totally pitch black outside, save for the streetlights, traffic and shops.

Super early for a run

This run was a total contrast to the other. We took it really easy, chatted all the way around – no work talk, all talk about running – and really enjoyed the experience. But at almost two minutes a mile slower this was much closer to my marathon running pace from back in Barcelona. So as I go in to this weekend’s race who knows what kind of pace I am going to do?

Ideally I would like to get under two hours once more. While I have done two half marathons since I achieved that target time last year, those have been races I have run with friends to help them to a target. This time I am going to be running on my own and this race also has pacers so I feel I will not have a better chance to beat my previous time, despite my preparations.

I guess this all comes back to something I wrote about a few weeks back, about confidence coming through experience. Had I had this kind of preparation last year or the year before I would have been absolutely panicking. I even barely look at the weather forecast these days for a race. The day will be the day, it is just about getting through it. Ironically, the forecast for Sunday looks pretty ideal – cool, cloudy, maybe some drizzle, little wind. In Scotland when it is almost October it does not get much better than this.

I will plan to get a couple of easy miles in tomorrow ahead of the race, then we will just see how it goes on Sunday. Finish lines not finish times are what count. Though if I am telling the truth completely, I would really like a good time too!