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!

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Ten reasons to be a secret exercise fanatic

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1. If you exercise in the morning, even if you only spend 30 seconds attempting to do five push-ups, you get to feel really smug that not only did you manage to get out of bed 30 seconds earlier than you absolutely had to, but you can assume most other people around you haven’t done this. Don’t talk to anyone about it though or it might turn out they are secret exercise junkies too and will pop your endorphin fuelled ego as effectively as scissors taken to a balloon.

2. Getting sweaty and being gross is sort of pleasurable in instances where you can legitimately acknowledge and enjoy the feeling. Going outside with greasy hair that hasn’t been washed for a week is frowned upon, whereas untying a post-jog sweat-soaked ponytail to find the hairstyle stays up all of it’s own accord is a badge of honour!

3. Wearing comfortable clothes. If I were to go to the shops in a scrotty t-shirt covered in paint from three house moves ago and in muddy sweatpants with a hole in the knee I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the face, but going out in this super comfortable, if wholly unattractive, gear is positively encouraged if you are exercising.

4. You can surprise people. You can be sat in the bar after book club, tucking into your third pint, and casually come out with ‘I’m a runner’ and then sit back and enjoy watching people try to disguise their slightly offensive surprise face (only works if you don’t have the average physique of an athlete).

5. Being a secret exercise fanatic is a bit like being a member of an exclusive cult (you know, not the kind where they let anyone with a fetish for duck themed hat wear in but the fancy kind you’re not really sure if it actually exists or not). When you come across another closet workout enthusiast and discover each other’s secret you will share a bond for life, which will only be ruined if you actually discuss mutual physical activity and discover one of you is far superior to the other. Better to just find out you both like exercise and occasionally throw out a quick ‘go for a run today?’ and give each other a sly nod in passing.

secret exercise nod - bp image6. Running isn’t easy, there are times when I huff and puff and wish the world would end after less than 30 seconds of actual movement, but it does get a bit better over time. It is satisfying to know that the me of today could run rings round the me of six months ago. Although actually that might still make today me pretty dizzy, but I could beat six-months ago me in a race. Probably.

7. No pain no gain. I wouldn’t advocate properly overdoing it and crippling yourself for the next week or so but there is something rather pleasant about being able to feel a gentle ache across muscles irregularly used the day after exercising.

8. Some people will try to tell you exercise is good for your health, will make you lose weight, live longer blah-de-blah, but this is all irrelevant nonsense to the simple truth that exercise only exists to remove junk-food fuelled guilt! I like to think of exercise as balancing out those terrible unhealthy life choices I stubbornly plan to give up (I’m sorry but chocolate just tastes too good!). Think of half an hour’s run as carte blanche to eat an entire family sized bag of crisps and/or a tub of ben and jerry’s ice cream and ignore anyone who tries to tell you otherwise

9. Novel ways to hurt yourself. If you are a bit of a clutz like me, you will often find yourself covered in bruises or with twisted limbs for no particular reason, this is both painful and quite frustrating. But if, whilst running, you twist an ankle tripping over a tree root, fall over trying to dodge a dog or scalp your knees careering into the tarmac of a busy  carriageway you will most likely remember the cause of your injury much more vividly. It will also be a lot easier to simply explain ‘I hurt myself exercising’ than bringing up any of the more embarrassing details.

10. If you are good at one particular exercise you can feel superior to anyone else that isn’t as good as you at that particular thing. I joined the rowing club at university and was taught how to use rowing machines properly. Every single time I go to the gym I check out other people’s rowing form and if they don’t know how to do it properly I feel infinitely superior. This feeling of superiority remains undaunted even if said individual is simultaneously half the size of me and yet capable of lifting weights twice the size of me. Whatever. I can still row better than they can.