A year has now passed since I first downloaded the Couch to 5k app, chose to be accompanied by the dulcet tones of Jo Whiley and launched myself on the village roads, a lumbering, perspiring, gasping mess. I have no doubt that not even the effervescent Ms Whiley, soothingly urging me on through my headphones, had any idea quite what she was taking on at that (or any other) stage. If I’m honest, I am quite proud of myself for persevering through the program, and not a little surprised that I managed to find the determination to do so. I’m sure that the circumstances of Lockdown must have helped in that respect: the streets were largely empty even though, I seem to recall, the sun shone a lot. I seldom ‘bumped into’ anyone that I knew and Lockdown restrictions meant that, when I did, they could legitimately move as far away as possible from me without embarrassment. This was a period when we were all too scared to share a pavement with anyone – especially if their breathing came in the kind of wheeze normally associated with the elephant’s graveyard – and crossing the road to avoid your neighbour became the norm. This was the time when the whole country’s social calendar revolved about banging saucepan lids at 8pm every Thursday. Like Global Conflict, we just referred to it as The Lockdown at the time, not realising that it would too soon become The First Lockdown when the second one started.
In the past twelve months I can definitely claim to have become more ‘er’: I am definitely not quick, but I am quicker; I am not fit, but I am fitter; I am by no means thin, but I am thinner. Ask me why I still do it and I most certainly will say, ‘Er…’. I can’t actually remember what prompted me to do it at the time, but I was one of many. The streets were full of people following the run/walk/run regime. We began to recognise one another, to wave, but most of the Lockdown Runners appear to have stopped now. Far more people are running these days, but I don’t seem to recognise any of them. Nobody appears to be quite as past it as I: they are all younger, fitter and altogether better dressed for the occasion. Some of them even chat as they run. I have to devote my entire attention to breathing without inhaling wildlife. There is nothing less conducive to a steady pace than trying to cough up a wasp.
What I most recall about the early runs is the sense of dread that hung about me as I prepared to set off; particularly on the final run of each week when I stupidly allowed myself to look at what the following week’s stepped-up regime was to demand of me. The joyous sensation of hearing the half way bell ring, meaning that I could turn around, was spoiled only by the knowledge that I now had to try and get back home without attracting the attention of a Coroner’s vehicle. I have kept myself going by setting targets. My early thirty minute runs were nowhere near 5km in length (they still are not) but I set myself a 5k course and I started to run it, trying to speed up week on week until I realised that I had peaked at a speed which would have shamed an end-of-round electric milk float, so instead I started to go further. These days I do not set goals – reaching them is such a disappointment when you realise that all you can then do is to set a new one – so I rely solely on the grim determination I have to keep going. The determination comes from the knowledge that someday, sooner or later, my body, the doctor or friendly paramedic will tell me that I have to stop and I will be able to say that the decision to stop was not my own. I will never be a good runner, but I am dogged and, for good or bad, it is now twelve months since I first found I had something to be dogged about. My anniversary run was the same as all of the others: breathless, hot and plodding, but I did it and, in a year’s time I will… er… do it all again.
My original post about starting to run, ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
Last week’s running post, ‘Getting on with It’ is here
The next ‘Running Man’ installment, ‘Bangers’ is here.
And there are many branch-line stops on the uneven path between then and now that you can visit if you choose – just follow the links.