Pretending I’m a runner

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About a month ago I completed my first half-marathon, which was one of my 2015 resolutions. I had wanted to run the half-marathon as part of the Geneva Marathon in May. This would have been a big event with thousands of participants and spectators to cheer me and all the other runners on.

In 2014 I ran the 10k as part of the Geneva Marathon events and really enjoyed myself, despite the physical challenge, so I assumed that the half-marathon in this setting would have been more of the same (more effort, more kilometers but also more spectators and more satisfaction). Alas, this event clashed with one of the many UK weddings we had this year so I had to give it a miss and my enthusiasm for running started to dry up without the motivation to put on my trainers, that is until I found another half-marathon in Geneva, the Demi-de-Jussy, taking place at night.

I thought a nighttime run sounded nice, it’d be cooler than running at daytime and perhaps a smaller event would be a better place to start. In hindsight, I’m pretty certain that running the smaller event as my first attempt was not a great idea. Or at least I think I might have enjoyed the half-marathon in a bigger setting for a little while longer before the intense misery associated to the physical pain kicked in. What I hadn’t reckoned on in tackling the smaller event was just how lonely it would be.

The loneliness in itself wouldn’t have been much of a problem, I usually run alone and often late at night, although always along well lit streets. However, I made the mistake many runners do and completely failed to pace myself. I was excited when the race began and was running kilometers in record times, not thinking that my body wasn’t prepared to be going at these unprecedented speeds. Perhaps I had hoped that hoards of spectators cheering away would have helped me keep up the pace but the few spectators that had been cheering us on for the first lap had clearly given up by the second, contributing to the growing sense of isolation I felt as the race progressed.

The course was two laps and it was dark. Runners had been advised to bring headlamps, and before the race I had wondered how essential this would be but was really glad the fiancé had managed to find me one the day before the race. As the course wound its way through mostly unlit country roads and sometimes wooded areas I was very grateful for the lamp, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable addition to my running gear!

For each lap there were about 3 or 4 themed stations along the way (which seemed to be based on seasons). At each station were people dressed up shouting encouragement, there was music and fun things to look at. On the first lap this was highly entertaining on the second lap these stations made me all the more conscious of how fast I wasn’t running and how alone I happened to be.

At the penultimate station, one man in drag tried to motivate me with falsetto words of encouragement and sympathy as he jogged beside me for a little while. If I had had the energy I would have punched him in the face, but he did at least encourage me to run a little faster to get away from him. I knew he meant well but by this point my mood had already plummeted from the optimistic high of ‘look at me I’m running a half-marathon’ to something much darker along the lines of ‘why am I doing this? Everything hurts. I haven’t seen anyone in a while and I’m probably going to get murdered in the woods any moment now.’ I was not in the mood for some light joshing from anyone who seemed remotely happy!

I had been prepared for the fact that a smaller event and tighter time limit (only 2.5 hours to complete) would have meant this event was likely to appeal to more serious runners than I could pretend to be. I expected to be somewhere near the back, but assumed I’d still be bumbling along with others in sight, but almost everyone had outstripped me by the 14k point. Although I wasn’t last, I was second from last.

I only managed to hobble, cramp had struck by this point, past the final person in the final kilometer, so for 5k or so I was actually last, with the constant annoyance of the sweeper car following behind me, which I resented for reminding me of my rubbish effort. (Although I appreciated the car whilst running through the woods with nothing but my little headlamp and all too many thought of how many horror stories start and end in dense woodland.

I managed to complete the course within the time limit and there were even a few stragglers at the end to applaud me, but my fiancé wasn’t among them. He’d agreed to meet me at the finish but the place wasn’t easy to access with one bus an hour so he only made it a few minutes after I finished. I had cramp, I was exhausted and I had thoroughly not enjoyed myself. When I finally saw him I promptly burst into tears and collapsed into his arms. It was a far cry from the euphoria I felt upon completing the 10k last year.

After the race, actually about 3/4 of the way through, I vowed I would never run again. But now the physical and psychological pain has faded, I am actually keen to put the running shoes back on and have signed up for the course d’escalade in Geneva this December to motivate me to get going again. I also want to run another half-marathon next year to try to put in a better effort than this performance. Memory loss is clearly a dangerous thing!

From running with butterflies to hobbling with bluebottles

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I signed up for a half marathon this September and I’m keen to complete the distance within the allocated, and quite limited for a beginner, running time. I know half a marathon is a long way and this isn’t something that I can optimistically train for a week or two in advance, so I found a training schedule online and have been determinedly sticking to this.

I’ve been in and around the UK of late, back for a wedding and sticking around for some parental performances (one play and one choral production). However, being away for a prolonged period presented me with two options, either I temporarily suspend training activities or I adapt to my UK environment, bring my running gear with me and find some new running locations.

I chose the latter option and have been experimenting with where to go for my runs. Each week my schedule has me undertake two shorter and one longer run, that gradually increases my distance on a weekly basis. The idea being that by the time I get to half marathon day the idea of 20+km doesn’t induce a heart attack before I even cross the starting line.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of the UK heatwave I started out on my long run of the week. The first few km, were pretty challenging, more so than usual but I think this is partly a psychological thing as I fear that running a further distance each week will be beyond my capabilities. Anyway, after 20 minutes or so I settled into a happy pace.

Past the half way mark, emerging from shaded woodlands in the early morning sunshine, I found myself running along the edge of a field, trying to navigate a way back into the less heat-oppressive woods, when I became conscious of a number of butterflies. At first there were just one or two that seemed to be fluttering along in my direction and then there must have been twenty, flitttering about my head and engulfing me in my own personal cloud of winged supporters. This happened as the wonderfully catchy Andrews Sisters rendition of ‘I don’t want him, you can have him, he’s too fat for me’ came on through the headphones.

I am not sure if it was too much sun to the brain, the ridiculous song, or some sort of butterfly induced hallucination but I started to laugh out loud in what I can only explain as a moment of pure euphoria. It felt as though everything in my life at that very moment, had come together in one wonderful joyous union.

It was just as well I wasn’t running along the main roads and wasn’t currently in sight of any dog walkers as I must have looked like an absolute maniac, padding along with a swarm of butterflies, a huge grin on my face and some very loud outburst of laughter. Had I seen me, I think I’d have nervously hid in the undergrowth until the guffawing lunatic passed on their way, and then quietly called the relevant authorities to resolve the situation.

Last week I prepared for my long run again and as I was staying in a different part of the UK, chose a different route. Even at 9am it was roasting and regretablly the route I had chosen offered almost nothing in the way of relief from the sun and, although it was a designated walking path through the countryside, mostly it was running in a straight surrounded by similar looking hedges so the route was pretty dull.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 14.42.39After my first 2km the running app suddenly got confused and decided to add an extra 12 minutes to the next km and promptly threw my average running time off kilter so I no longer had any idea if I was maintaining pace, speeding up or slowing down. The blisters that had gradually been getting worse since I started longer distance runs (with some fairly old trainers) held their designated plasters in place for the first 6k before promptly giving up, wandering down my socks and agonisingly exposing already damaged skin to the hard impact of running. I hobbled on for a bit longer, suddenly found a lot of flies chasing me and some bastard insect bit me. I decided enough was enough and cut my losses for the day.

As I had been running a straight route, planning to double back and run the remainder of the course at half way point, when I decided to give up was a good 6km from where I started. I limped back for a couple of kilometers until I reached a point where I could get my mum to rescue me in the car. This was my worst run since I started training.

But running is like that, sometime it is wonderful and you can fill full of ecstatic joy as your legs pump along the countryside swirling up endorphins and beautiful swathes of butterflies and then other days it just seems that everything, yourself included, works against you and you cannot emerge from the funk of a depressing and painful run.

The good thing about having committed to the half marathon though is that although I have leave to allow myself a week to recover and heal those blisters I cannot indulge in the temptation of giving up completely and will have to relace my new (and therefore obvioulsy blister resistant) trainers and hit the trails again soon. Hopefully the next run will be an endorphin blasting confidence booster that convinces me there’s nothing I want to do more than just keep going and if not I’ll have to just glue myself to my run schedule until I can convince myself I enjoy this exercise malarky again!

Wear sunscreen

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A friend recently posted a link on Facebook to the ‘wear sunscreen’ graduate advice speech written by Mary Schmich and later turned into a cool Baz Luhrman song. The whole speech is great but one line really stuck out for me as I re-read it this week:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

The original point of this blog, although it may have sidled off into a different dimension or two now, or at least the basis for the title, was not to let fear hold me back from trying new things. Not to get to my death bed and be full of regrets for the things I was afraid to do. Or rather, it is my fear of being full of regrets later in life that motivates me not to let other fears hold me back from taking advantage of opportunities now.

On an overall scale I feel like I’m doing my best to live up to this grand philosophy. I’ve not been afraid to take risks with work or moving to new places, although I accept I’m at a point in my life where it is easier for me to do this than it would be if, say, we had kids or our parents weren’t well or for any number of other reasons.

But I was thinking about this line and how often I actuallyy incorporate that philosophy into my daily life. I’m not always great at this. There are many times when I’m ensconced in the comfort of my flat on a weekend and I might pass up spontaneous opportunities that arrive to try new things as I dig deep into nest-like mentality and fear the possibility of something out there being less enjoyable than the cosiness of being in here.

However I am a lot better at trying new things than I used to be and this week has been a good week for that.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try and complete a half-marathon this year but I became disheartened when the two half-marathons I had intended to train for I realised I wouldn’t be available to participate in, owing to immovable factors like a wedding and work (for lack of money reasons the races needed to be in the local area). I stopped running in January and felt a little sad at the thought that I wouldn’t achieve my 2015 goal.

Then, last week, I discovered another half-marathon in the Geneva area in September. Having not been training regularly since January, and worried by the challenging time limits for completion, I ummed and ahhed about whether I should go for this or not. On Sunday I decided to quit worrying about why I shouldn’t do this and just sign up. Overthinking can often let fears take charge, so a bit of impulsiveness now and then is good for you!

Now I am motivated to train again, on the internet I found a proper training schedule for beginners and I’m determined to give it my best shot. It may be that on the day I fall behind the time limits and my attempt isn’t officially recorded but if I can still complete the course, even if in my own time, this will still be an achievement. Even if I don’t complete the course at least giving it a go is something to be proud of. I’m not running to win or compete against others, I want to do this for me.

On Monday I was presented with another intimidating notion, that of auditioning for a play with a local drama club. I have wanted to get back into acting for some time, having enjoyed this at school, but although I tried for a couple of things at university (mostly unsuccessfully) I have been lacking in confidence to put myself out there and audition for anything since.

Nonetheless, as part of my realisation that a large part of acting like a grown up is just that, I thought I would start with the acting before I got to the audition. I decided to act the part of someone who isn’t afraid to audition.

I wasn’t expecting to get a part in a four person cast so lacked any real fear during my audition. I enjoyed reading lines in a couple of scenes and I took on the director’s request to read in an American accent without flinching. And although, ultimately, I wasn’t cast in the play I enjoyed the process and was gratified to be told by one fellow auditionee that he thought I was the best actress, and for others to say my American accent was really good (years of watching American tv shows clearly paid off).

After the audition I expected to be rejected, not because I failed but because the director showed a clear preference for a number of actors. However, it still stung a bit this morning to officially hear I had not been cast. But that’s okay, sometimes putting myself out there is going to smart a little bit and I suppose it is this that makes it scary.

The idea of failing at something can often be used as a valid excuse not to try. Not trying can save you from a bit of hurt every now and again but the not trying can also prevent you from finding out who you are and what you are capable of, from bringing you closer to success on future attempts.

Whilst I wouldn’t advocate doing things only because they frighten you, no way would I want to have some up-close experience with a room full of tarantulas, but where fear holds you back from things you do want to do then that’s where it becomes a problem, if you let it. And I have no intention of letting my fears get in the way of who I want to be.

I wonder what potentially frightening challenges next week might have in store for me? I hope I’ll be brave enough to face them.