Wednesday, February 13, 2013

26.2 miles later...

The Running Blog, soaring in popularity, from amateurs, professionals, to the launch of The Guardian’s Running Blog last week, I give you my slant... and hopefully, a little motivation to get off that couch!
A running blog: not solely a collection of technique, but a medium for the real life tale. Sometimes it is in the story of the ordinary that we are truly inspired, that story which ultimately ignites that spark of self belief and encourages others to lace up those trainers and pound the pavements.
There’s a runner in all of us, clichĂ©d as it may sound.
How do I know?
A former gym bunny with a fondness for the outdoors and a ludicrous notion, that putting one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes a day at your fastest possible speed was a little mundane. I couldn’t see the appeal.  However, the notion that 2 million people were connected through their love of this activity, yet as a sport it was renowned for its solitary disconnection from the world, left me curious. So I began to run; simple as. A daily 7km for fitness purposes I told myself, sure wasn’t that why the other 2 million were running?
Herein lay a depth I did not realise existed in such a sporting activity. I was hooked. The hour I devoted to running on a daily basis cleansed the mind after a notoriously bad day in work, it became my escape. Some days it hurt like hell, but I wanted to run on, for on some level I enjoyed it. The infamous “No pain, no gain” mantra finally resonated with me. I’d rid myself of any lingering anger I may had to deal with whilst my two legs carried me that extra mile. Furthermore, I made my best life changing decisions when out there on the road. It must have been akin to a therapy session I told myself. It was my release from the everyday, from life, and from the world for a mere 60 minutes.
A year later, resultant of an injury sustained whilst out running, was a time out – 3 months exactly. Sheer devastation. I invested in the Dean Karnazes, (The Ultramarathon Man, for which he is better known) autobiography in the interim to ensure my motivation did not wane, for in the back of mind was the ultimate challenge, a burning ambition to take part in a race. Injury healed; registration complete; my first ever running race was to be a marathon. 26.2 miles, aim high I told myself. I downloaded a first timer’s guide to running a marathon, pinned it on my wall, and told myself 4.5 hours was the target. Giving myself 5 months to rebuild my fitness following my injury, and run in a registered race, I was to run the Belfast City Marathon on May 7th 2012.
I would like to say I religiously followed my training regime, but I didn’t. I ran as often as possible, the short distances, to the long distances. In the months leading up to the marathon, Saturday and Sunday mornings were consumed by running. I began to question had running become a chore? Did I still harbour the great love of the pavements I once had, or did I now see it as a ritual all in aid of 26.2 miles? Had the punising running sessions been in vain? No, alas, running still served its function of disconnecting me from reality, an iPhone free world, if only for an hour or two. Bliss.
Two weeks before I undertook my 26.2 mile test I was glued to the coverage of the 2012 London Marathon, the atmosphere of which was infectious; energy from the hoards of people all with the same goal, scampering to the start line was tantalising. Headlines to follow that day included the story of the 101 year old Indian runner, Fauja Singh, who had proven that anything is possible finishing the marathon in a time of 7 hours and 49 minutes. Yet later that day, the headlines were marred with sadness. The news of the death of a young lady, Claire Squires, who had been undertaking the marathon, dominated our screens. For it touched not only the hearts of the UK, but those across the globe, she was one of the 2 million runners in the UK, that non exclusive club, for which we all know someone in. It was a humane story one to which we could all relate too – it could have been any one of our 2 million fellow runners.
A mere 2 weeks later, I ran the Belfast Marathon on May 7th 2012,  in what was to be a culmination of my training to date, an extremely amateur training schedule, my physical ability, but more importantly, my mental strength, which would keep me fighting until I saw that finish line. And it did, I did see that finish line, 3 hours 56 minutes after I crossed the starting line. My first race complete, my first record, and although I raised over £1,000 for a charity of my choice in running the marathon, I realised I wasn’t merely running for them, I was running for myself, and those other 2 million members of that unofficial running club, that anyone of us from any corner of the globe could be part of.
 Those 3 hours 56 minutes were torturous yet exhilarating, fraught with emotion, but far from solitary, as one by one, those lining the streets of Belfast City were united by one common goal, quite simply, to run.
I once asked a keen runner if 26.2 miles as first race was an ambitious target to set for one self, to which they replied ‘Do it, and decide then’.
I did. Turns out 26.2 miles isn’t all that ambitious, and what’s more, you’ll find your fellow runners and supporters on the day will be the ones to carry you across that finish line, albeit a little bit of training in the build up to the big day can be somewhat beneficial. 
Happy Running guys! 
The Forgotten Irish Graduate, 13th Feb 2013