I remember thinking, when I decided three months ago that I would do the Winchester half marathon next year, what an enormous task lay ahead. At that point, I hadn't run further than three miles and the idea of doing 13.1 was daunting. I really did doubt that I'd be able to do it. It felt like a challenge too far. But training and determination change your ability and therefore your perception of what you're capable of. They give you the confidence to have a different view so that what once appeared difficult becomes achievable.
Preparation makes all the difference. I'm now ten weeks in to my thirteen week 10k training programme (including having two out for illness) and I'm running eight miles without really noticing it. The 10k at the end of December (which was to be a staging post to judge how my running was going and whether I'd be up to doing a half marathon) I'm barely thinking about because I already know it won't be a problem, and I'm looking forward to the five mile race we're doing this weekend for the same reason. Three miles has become insufficient for my regular run, and next week I'll be extending it to six. The one ten miler I clocked up before the flu hit, although hard work for the last two miles, was doable and I know with more training I'll be able to make that a regular distance. Once you've done ten miles, thirteen starts to look within your reach, and that is a good place to be, mentally.
The point of telling you all this is to encourage anyone reading this who'd like to start running or wants to try a marathon or a half but lacks the confidence because they think they won't be good enough/ it's too hard/ they'd never be able to/ other people do it better. And also to encourage those of you who have started running but aren't sure where you're going with it. You really don't know until you set yourself a challenge what you are capable of doing. The trick is to start small and work your way up, do it steadily and don't worry if you have an off day when nothing seems to work.
And who cares what other people think? I ran past a group of workmen yesterday and one of them smirked as I went by. In the past I might have felt intimidated, but knowing you can run ten miles without collapsing in a heap at the end gives you an inner buzz of satisfaction and a certain sense of steeliness. I found myself thinking: when you're running too, buddy, then you can smirk at me, but while you're walking and I'm running, don't (he wouldn't have smirked had he been running, because runners don't do that to each other). I gave him my best Paddington Stare as I went by and he had the good grace to look down :o) Channel that my dears if anyone smirks at you when you're out running!
M has been instrumental in helping me improve, by setting tough targets and treating them as if they were not out of the ordinary, or particularly challenging. He does congratulate me afterwards by saying that was quite a tough one, or, I was a bit naughty and set that harder than it could have been, but only because I know you can do it. He doesn't mollycoddle me which is what I need. At the end of Parkrun he runs the final stretch yelling at me to push on and go faster, because I have asked him to. If he started making soothing noises and saying nearly there, love that wouldn't help at all. You need to harness aggression and adrenaline at the end of a race when you're tired and other people are trying to overtake you, and someone shouting at you telling you to keep going helps with that. I grew up riding horses and every riding instructor I ever had was tough, straight-talking and no-nonsense because you can't afford to be less than 100% committed when you're competing on horseback. I guess that approach has stayed with me and I respond well to it.
Yesterday we met up at M's office to go for a lunchtime run together. I'd just assumed it would be a three miler and was a little taken aback when he said oh no, I thought we'd do five and set off.
Anyway, we did it and it was fine and I felt good afterwards. When I was tired, I walked, when I wasn't, I ran. We got back in around 45 mins which was a lot quicker than I'd expected and works out at 9 minute miles, which is OK for off road (and for someone who was a little tired after running the day before).
And this is my point really: you can run however you want to. You don't need to run all the miles, or set a fast pace unless you want to. To be a runner and to get all the wonderful benefits that come with this free and straightforward exercise you just need to start. Who knows what you might achieve?