On Saturday I will be embarking on one of the biggest physical challenges I have ever faced: running 42 km in Bordeaux.
I have never been a runner. Although I have played a weekly game of football for the last few years (interrupted regularly by travels), I’ve never really got into running. It always seemed boring, physically uncomfortable, and it was not something I had an aptitude for.
But about a year ago, I started going to the gym. I started running on treadmills. I had lost a bit of weight, and it was getting a little easier. In the spring I began trying some outdoor runs, including slightly longer distances. It hurt, but it wasn’t impossible.
Then, on May 22nd, a friend tweeted me. ‘Run the marathon du médoc with me? Early September. Ultimate wine run.’ With misgivings, I agreed. A week later, the practicalities were sorted – team Pichon invited me to run with them – and I had to start to think about training.
I had an urgent need to learn to run LONG distances. Wine trade colleague Sally Bishop, who had run the London marathon in 2013, sent me a book she’d used – The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. This had a 16 week schedule in it that was designed to get a non-runner ready to complete a marathon without dying. I had 14 weeks, and one of those was going to be in Canada, and one on a family holiday in Portugal. I was in trouble.
The first thing I did was get Runkeeper on my iPhone. Being able to track your runs and pace is a brilliant motivator. I would need a lot of motivation, because there is no alternative to putting the miles in. [Actually, I prefer kilometres to miles. They go quicker.]
Runkeeper tells me that my first 10 k was on June 9th. I had to walk bits, but it felt like an achievement. I repeated this distance on the 12th, 15th and 19th, and then in July on 2nd, 7th, 9th, did a couple of runs in the heat and humidity in Canada, then another 10k on 22nd, followed by my first 15 k on July 27th. I was now getting ready to try some bigger runs, and each time I pushed it a little further, I felt an immense sense of achievement. On August 4th I did my first 20 k, then on 11th I did 25 k, on 25th did 22 k and on 28th did 27 k. This week I am taking it easy in anticipation of running an absurdly long distance on Saturday.
Whatever happens on Saturday, I am now a runner. I know that I can run for relatively long periods, and still enjoy it. I have lost quite a bit of weight: nothing burns calories like running. In terms of weight loss, I’m in a job where as you get into your 40s you need to either diet brutally, or take up running, or you will get fat. [I'm not judging fat people. It's a choice. I just don't want to be fat.]
As long as my body lets me, I will now be running regularly. It didn’t take that long to make the change from being a non-runner into being a runner, and I’m quite old. There is no secret, and if I can do it, most people can. It just requires a bit of willpower and persistence to break through that horrible stage where running really hurts – this is where most people give up, or they don’t run often enough and far enough to pass that point, so it’s always an uncomfortable activity.
My biggest worry has been injury. So far, I have been lucky. I have been stretching. I have been getting into ice cold baths after long runs, and using ibuprofen and ice spray to combat muscle soreness. I have stopped playing football until after the marathon. Just one muscle tear, or back injury, or some other such misfortune, and my marathon experience would be snatched from me.
Part of me is terrified about Saturday. But the reason I agreed to it is that it will likely be a great life experience, aside from the running element. The Médoc marathon is unique, and if I was a better runner, I’d certainly like to join in with the fancy dress theme, which this year is science fiction. I know that I am not properly prepared for running 42 k, and that it will hurt. My goal is merely to finish, and not having a time in mind removes a lot of the pressure.
I am still not a good runner, and I will probably never be one. Removing the competitive element makes it more fun, though. For any non-runners out there contemplating running reasonably long distances, my tips (as someone just one rung higher on the ladder) would be as follows.
- Get runkeeper or a similar GPS tracking device: a great motivational tool
- Run small distances regularly at first, and break through the barrier, so that running becomes fun
- Get some decent running shoes, preferably from a running shop where they can look at the way you actually run
- Get some good running socks: they make a huge difference
- Rehydrate, but not just with water. Try diarrhoea rehydration salts, they work much better
- Find scenically attractive running routes, it makes all the difference
- Consider training for a race, even if it is as short as 5 k (a Park Run?). It’s great to have this as a motivation
So, just a few days to go. I’m going to go out and buy some plasters today to cover my nipples (apparently, nipple chafing is a big problem), and make sure all my running gear is ready. I may do a short run, too, just to keep my legs moving. And then tomorrow I fly to Bordeaux. I’ll keep you posted.