Sunday was the 27th Paddock Wood Half Marathon, and the fifth time I have run this race, which takes in a looping, flat circuit of pretty Kentish lanes, past oast houses, orchards and country pubs. This easiness on the eye is even more surprising, given the race’s start and finish in an unprepossessing industrial estate.
My teammates for this race were both faster than me; I hoped that trying to keep up would net me the PB of a ‘much better runner’ (cf Malcolm Gladwell’s remarks, blogs passim). I ran it a minute faster than last year, but still my time was too slow for someone who’d like her marathon time to be in the 3:30s.
Recreational runners like me hesitate to reveal their competitive streak, for fear of being laughed at. You feel a bit sheepish celebrating a minute shaved off an admittedly slow time, when the top woman in your age group ran the 13.1 miles a cool 22 minutes faster than you. In fact, one of my idols, Claire Elms of Dulwich Runners (age 51) won the race last year.
Yet it’s important not to belittle one’s own modest achievements. Running makes you feel good, strong and healthy whether you’re a fun runner or an elite. In fact, the clue’s in the name: fun runners often feel less pain and enjoy their much longer journey to the finish line.
It is, moreover, a personal journey. A great friend and running mentor slapped me on the back yesterday with the words ‘I can’t believe how far you’ve come!’
She’s right. My first ever half marathon was the Paddock Wood one. It was March 2008. I had been running properly (ie, had joined a club and had the vest to prove it) for 18 months. I was a 44-year-old mother of three who could not quite imagine being able to run without stopping for 13 miles. My longest run to that date had been a ten-miler. So I approached the race with the failsafe ‘just want to get round’ mentality.
I started off tentatively, with a vague feeling that I was making a fool of myself, but quickly began to enjoy myself, loping along happily with the other recreationals, asking for advice from sinewy old club runners from all over London and the home counties. It was my first race off my home turf, and I took great pleasure in the scenery, and small children high-fiving outside their garden gates, proffering jelly babies and words of encouragement.
Most of all I remember the worms. Like last Sunday, the weather was sunny but the ground was wet, and heavy rains the night before had washed a multitude of earthworms on to the lanes. During my first Paddock Wood half marathon, I stopped to stretch aching calves frequently and took the opportunity to rescue worms from pounding feet while doing so. I finished the race in two hours and two minutes and felt ecstatic. Last Sunday my popping eyes were focused on my Garmin, trying to stick to my preferred pace. The worms copped it. I finished the race in one hour and 44 minutes and was cross with myself. There’s a lesson there; something about not taking yourself too seriously, perhaps?
The following morning, I took the advice of Fraser Clyne, an inspiring coach, runner and writer (marathon PB 2 hours 11 minutes and 50 seconds), and ran a further 13 miles, this time at marathon pace. At least I tried to; my hips didn’t want to. The idea is to get your body used to running on tired legs: this method has you running the full 26 miles in 24 hours. It’s a marathon dress rehearsal.
Except at the end, you don’t get to drink several pints with your team mates in salt encrusted club vests in a state of euphoria (if not for your own PB, then on behalf of the team’s fantastic results).
No, after the second 13 miler I hobbled to my desk to work, while my hips seized up like sprung traps. It took quite a bit of stretching and rollering to sort myself out.
Perhaps I am taking all this too seriously.
The schedule for the coming week
Tue: Rest and stretch
Wednesday: 5 miles easy
Thursday: strength work and a 5k race (first Assembly League of season)
Friday: 5 miles easy
Saturday: parkrun and a mile warm up/down either side
Sunday: 15 miles