In one week’s time (one week, what in dear god was I thinking?!) I’ll be – hopefully – finishing my first proper half marathon, the Bath Half. Or the Bathalf, as it also seems to be called, and which just makes my eyes hurt.
A very, very long time ago, I took part in the Moonwalk in central London. That was also a half marathon, but walked, in aid of breast cancer charities. Around the streets of London. At night. Wearing decorated bras. I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve trotted through Trafalgar Square at 2am wearing running gear, a race number and a bra with feathers on it. I will never forget the group of drunk Spanish students who asked a passing tramp whether they were seeing things.
All in all, that was probably about a decade ago. I am significantly creakier now. I am significantly lazier now, too.
This also requires at least a token nod to that most foreign of concepts: running.
The training process has been… enlightening.
The first few “runs” (we’ll call them that, shall we? Just because I don’t know what the hell else to call them. Upright crawling?) were horrible. Genuinely horrible. Everything hurt, all the time. I got such hideous blisters at the backs of my heels that when I took my socks off afterwards, they were stained red.
September. October. November. Twice a week. In the cold, in the rain. With the shin splints. Almost falling in the canal I was running alongside – repeatedly. Getting chased by a swan (note: this will make you run faster).
December. Fully expecting to down tools and not go anywhere near my trainers until after New Year… and then suddenly finding myself plodding along the riverbank on the day before Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, dodging iced-over puddles and feeling like there must be frost forming on the inside of my lungs. Resolving to buy a pair of running gloves immediately. Slowing to look at stands of frozen white weeds and river reeds glittering in the early morning sun.
January. Suddenly realising that my head would give out before my body. 5k – unthinkable just a month or two ago – suddenly became the shortest run I was happy with. 10k was no longer a mythical beast.
February. Running out of road. Having to make not just one lap of my usual run, but two in order to get to 11 miles. Covering 11 miles and not crying (much).
And before I know it, it’s a week away – and here I am with what I’m told is “a congested Achilles tendon”. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Sinuses get congested. The road down to Bath from the M4 when there’s a match on at the Rec. Tube station platforms.
Stretches and a foam roller, and wondering where the last five months have gone.
It’s hurt. It’s been cold. It’s been frustrating. I’m terrified I’ll break, or I’ll fade or I’ll somehow fail.
I’m not a runner. Not even close. I’m hoping to make it round the course with a mix of jogging, lumbering, walking, crawling, limping and weeping. I’m not chasing a personal best.
My good friend Kim Curran sent me this yesterday, presumably to focus my mind.
And it did focus my mind, very intently.
Then I realised I was meant to be thinking about running, which was somewhat disappointing. Still.
What will I be chasing in a week’s time?
I’ll be chasing a choice I made: to change, to do something that scared me. Not to sit in my house. To be open. To fill life with things. Big things, small things.
I’ll be chasing five months of rain and blisters and shards of sunshine on a canal; of frost shining on leaves. Conkers and leaves falling and smoke from the chimneys of houseboats I’ve run past. Sweat and shin splints and the feeling of stepping into a hot shower after it all.
I’ll be chasing the perfect moment when it doesn’t hurt, and when my head clears and I find a rhythm – however short that moment is. Because I realised that in a lot of ways, running (or trying to run, at least) is a lot like living. Both of them will knacker your knees, sooner or later.
I’ll be chasing the knowledge that I’m also raising money for Kids Company, whose centres in London and Bristol do amazing, worthwhile work. Should you be in a generous mood and want to chip in with sponsorship as some of my lovely, lovely friends have already done, you’ll find my sponsorship page here.
And yes, I’ll probably be chasing the imaginary back of Aaron Eckhart around the next corner. Because I may be closer to becoming a runner now than I was five months ago, but underneath the passing acquaintance with stretches and compression leggings and carbohydrate gels, I’m just as shallow as ever.
Just a bit sweatier.