About five years ago, worried by my increasing girth and spectacular blood-pressure, I decided that I should take up running. Nothing serious you understand, just a mile or so every few days to keep the weight down and help me get a bit fitter.
I got out of bed early, and walked up the hill which rises close to our house and then jogged home through the woods on a gentle, downhill trajectory. Slowly, I increased my distance; though always starting at the top of the hill and running down (I’m not stupid). A little over a year after those first few steps, I entered my first half-marathon and followed a strict training plan. My aim was to finish the race, not record a great time; well, I finished and I wasn’t last. Over the next couple of years, I jogged round the Great North Run and the London Marathon, dodging the crowds of other runners.
By now, I was regularly running longer distances; though always starting with the walk to the top of the hill. I’d also run to and from work, an 11 mile round trip. However, I was still overweight, actually, I was obese and all this running wasn’t shifting the weight, not only that but carrying a few extra stone was doing my knees no favours. Eighteen months ago, I decided to diet and to diet hard. I took up the 5:2 diet, which means eating very little for two days a week (though I often do three hungry days). It’s hard to balance the diet with running, but by trial and error, I found a system that worked for me and managed to lose three and a half stones (close to 50 lbs or 22 kg). It’s not been a bundle of laughs, but I’m no longer embarrassed to have my photo taken.
Which brings us to this year. Inspired by a friend, I entered a couple of trail races in the Lake District and didn’t disgrace myself and then yesterday, I ran my first ever ultra-marathon; the Stort30. This was a picturesque run along the Stort navigation in Essex and Hertfordshire; fifteen miles out and fifteen miles back along the same route (50 km in total, if you don’t speak miles). It was long and it was tiring, but never once did I ask why I was doing it. I enjoyed every painful step and the adrenalin and endorphin rush in the last mile was wonderful.
By happy coincidence, the Stort30 was also one of the races in the UK trail running championships. I ran in the UK championships!! I’ll never play in a cup-final at Wembley, or on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but I did run with the best trail runners in the country. Just over 11 miles into the race, I saw the race leader coming back in the other direction; moving fast and looking good. And he said to me; “well done, keep it up”. He said that to me; he’d run almost 19 miles to my 11 and would be finishing shortly after I got to half way, but he told me that I was doing well. I didn’t have enough breath to say much to him. That’s the thing with these trail races; you get all sorts of people running in them and they are incredibly friendly events.
I have to be honest, and say that running along a river bank isn’t really my thing; it’s actually more tiring than running on hills, where you get more variation and time to rest, but it was still great!
Five years on from those first tentative steps, I’ve come a long way and eight days after my 57th birthday, I became an ultra-marathon runner. That feels good! The last few months have been a fairly concentrated time of training to build up for the “ultra”, now it’s back to running for fun. I’ll explore new paths through the woods and the hills of the Chilterns and enjoying the world that God created. I’ll never be fast and I may never be really thin, but I’m having a lot of fun.
However, I’ve got one more target for the year; I wan’t to run a thousand miles (I’ve done over 800 so far). I’m calling this doing a Proclaimer (think about it!). Next year? I hope to do a few more long races, but this time they will be up and down hills.
Oh, did I mention, I now run up the hill behind our house to start my runs?
Not looking too bad after 30 miles!