In saying this, I know that some of you will read it and feel a guilty sort of joy well up inside. It’s the joy of those who cannot imagine a run ever being ‘fun’. When you picture it, or give it a go yourself, you find nothing in the experience that you would ever recommend to another human being. Or at least, not somebody you actually like. Experience and imagination both tell you that running cannot possibly be a thing that is fun, which makes it all the more bewildering when somebody tells you that it is.
Basically you think I’m either mad or, in collaboration with every other runner who says similar things, complicit in the establishment of a smug uber-conspiracy constructed for the sole purpose of making you feel bad about yourself*.
This is why my horrible run yesterday makes you feel better. You’re probably not some sort of twisted sadist**, don’t worry. It just makes a lot more sense to you that running is deeply unpleasant, and having me admit it makes the world a more agreeable place. I’ve spoken to some people – not necessarily you of course – who are adamant that when I’ve told them I I enjoyed a run, I’m actually wrong. Not lying. Just wrong. They’re quick to point out that I probably mean that I enjoyed having been for a run, and perhaps take a perverse pride in having survived the experience. Or maybe I actually mean that I enjoy the benefits of having been for a run – the general lift in health and fitness that I get from having made the sacrifice of time and effort.
They’re right, of course. Both of those things are ace.
On the other hand, I also mean exactly what I say. I truly, genuinely enjoy running. I enjoy it while I’m actually doing it. Even if you drive past me and observe my face to be a twisted mess of effort and pain, I’m probably having quite a good time.
Yesterday’s horror doesn’t change that in the slightest. I truly enjoy drinking coffee, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some brews along the way that made me want to spit in the face of a barista.
Interesting fact about the body. When you start a run it takes your system between ten and twenty minutes to make the shift between fuelling your regular activity and fuelling consistent unbroken effort at the higher level. Lots of things change over that time, including how much oxygen your blood is carrying, how freely it flows, where it’s being directed as a priority, and other things. The process of ‘warming up’ is a proper, physiological thing, and it takes longer to change gears than you probably assume (it’s not all about loosening up a few muscles). That applies as much to experienced runners as newbies, though I suspect the fitter you are the less time it takes you to make the transition. In short, the first ten to twenty minutes of any run is a lot harder and more painful than the rest of it, regardless of who you are.
The problem is, most beginning runners won’t be planning to run longer than that for a few weeks. They need to build up to it, but that leaves them locked into the worst bit of being a runner – that first twenty minutes – and they quit before they ever find out about the rest. All they have to refer to is that painful warming up period, which in their heads is the whole of the running experience. No wonder so many people who try it give it up so soon. They must feel like there’s something wrong with them, especially when they look at somebody who’s been running longer and seems to experience it so differently.
At the minute that gear change seems to take me just over a mile of patient running (down from two and a bit), and then my body’s good to go. That’s somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes depending on a lot of other things. Yesterday, at the point where it would normally be getting smoother it all went to hell instead. My calves felt like they were packed with spiky sand after two miles, and the lactic acid (that burn in the muscles you feel when you’re over-exerting) wouldn’t clear up at all. I had to stop and sit down for a minute, which I always hate doing (stopping in the middle of a run trains you to quit when it’s difficult – I prefer to just stop altogether than stop/start). The last mile back was then a crippled, hobbling thing.
I’ve no idea what was wrong. The route is my regular ‘short run’ of the week – a hilly 5K/3 mile loop that I usually try to run at a faster pace than my longer runs. Yesterday, for reasons unexplained, my body just wasn’t playing. There may be a proper medical cause – this week I’ve had some weird clammy/dizzy spells from out of nowhere, and have wondered whether I might be fighting off some virus or other. Could be.
Or maybe, with my head having decided to aim for running some sort of ultra marathon in the next couple of years, my legs decided it was time to remind me that there’s quite a way to go before that’s a realistic possibility.
It’s a good reminder – to enjoy the journey instead of fixating on some far distant semi-possibility. I should apply that lesson to other things too, I think.
Running reminds you of all sorts of important things, if you let it.
*Of course, if I was then this is exactly the sort of blog post I’d write to put you off the scent.
**Okay, statistically some of you almost certainly are. But that’s not the point.