A lifetime of running (not)

2015-12-20 14.09.41I ran 4.5 km yesterday. No big deal you might rightfully think but it was a part of my progress towards a medium term goal of 5k in 35 minutes. But more about that later. In the meantime I’ve been thinking about my relationship with running from schooldays to the present.

It all began in childhood of course and all children run as a part of their play. And because I was smaller than average I was pretty nippy and could run short distances quite quickly. That was an ability that would serve me well when I played football and rugby later in life. But that’s not what people mean when they talk about running is it? They mean running longer distances and at school that meant cross country.

Few people really like cross country running at school. I was no exception but I took it up because I needed some sort of sporting achievement to add to my university application form. I was a member of the school team for a year or so but I don’t recall troubling the timekeepers with any fast times. I certainly never won any races.

I managed to avoid running for its own sake when I was at University until I agreed to enter the Boundary Run. That’s an annual run in Cambridge around the city boundary and is about the length of a marathon. Bearing in mind that I’d never run more than 3 miles before and that I did no training it’s amazing that I was able to finish which I did in about 4 hours. I remember running the first 15 miles non-stop before taking the first of several walking breaks to catch my breath.

In subsequent years I didn’t run except as a part of rugby training. It was certainly nothing I did for any sort of pleasure and when I was working in London and New York I did not run.

In Indonesia I was introduced to the Hash House Harriers which is a running club of sorts. It ran, and as far as I know it still runs, weekly ‘hare and hounds’ events followed by an opportunity to rehydrate and support local breweries for expat communities in many Asian cities. You ran for about an hour or so I guess but with many stops and starts as the trail was lost. It was good fun, it was exercise but it wasn’t really running. And the gains from the exercise would have been cancelled out pretty quickly by the beer.

It was in Hong Kong that I started to run a little more but mainly as a part of what you might term ‘overall lifestyle management’. I lived and ate well and enjoyed an expat social life so exercise was an attempt to add some balance. I played rugby, joined a gym and ran. And running of course was the one activity that I could always be sure of being able to do when I travelled. My favorite run in Hong Kong was around the peak, that’s 3.5 km, which gives stunning views of Hong Kong.

This incidental running stayed with me as I moved from Hong Kong to Cambridge via Zurich and Manchester and I can recall some pretty noteworthy runs including the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the Rocky run in Philadelphia, along the sea front in Rio and early morning encounters with the Household Cavalry in Hyde Park. I even ran in the Sylvesterlauf in Zurich one year.

I was challenged to be a little more serious about it in 2012. I was enjoying a period of interim management in Spain and one of my team was getting serious about her running. I found that to be a challenge even though I was some 25 years older than her. She had just done a first 10k so I reckoned that was a good target and set my sights on our local community run, the Bonfire Burn, in November 2013.

As a prelude to the 10k I ran in a local 5k fun run in May 2013 just after my re-election. The race commentator spotted me and mentioned ‘local politicians’ participating as we started and then told everyone that it was a good week for me as we finished. I then trained sensibly for the 10k itself but sadly pulled a calf muscle about 9k in (I went through 9 km in a little under 49 minutes). I finished walking but obviously missed out on recording a time below an hour which I’d reckoned was a decent standard for which to aim.

I didn’t give up on my ambition and entered a 5 mile run at Grafham Water at the end of the year. That was a simple ‘there and back’ course with a long hill on the return. I managed that and suspect that I’d benefited from my earlier holiday including time at altitude in Peru because I complete the course in a very respectable 47 minutes.

My running during 2014 was repeatedly interrupted by calf injuries in both legs but finally I found a decent physiotherapist who helped me to strengthen the muscles instead of just treating the strain. He got me on track to run the Bonfire Burn that year but since I’d done little training I didn’t quite make the hour finishing in 63 minutes.

In 2015 I continued to run. I ran in the 7k Cottenham fun run in May and then completed the Bonfire Burn in just under the hour in November. Job done!

I ran less after that and stopped timing my runs, although I did complete a Park Run in Cambridge and two in Wetherby (fastest run 27 minutes), and then of course it all came to a halt in August last year when I had my stent event.

I’ve been through the different stages of cardio rehab and when I started cardio 3 in October I told the excellent nurse that my ambition was to run 5k by Xmas. She suggested that maybe that was a bit too quick and she was right. However I did get to 5k at 8.5 km/hr on the treadmill at the gym before the lockdown and, as reported above, I’ve got as far as 4.5 km outdoors. I reckon I’ll get to 5k sometime during May but that improving to a 9 km/hr pace will take some time and if I don’t make it does it matter? Probably not.


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