Learning the Hard Way

A good runner knows, not to increase distance on a long run by any more than 10% at each increase. A new runner may have read this, may have been told this, and may even have repeated it back to someone else. However, chances are if you’re like me, you didn’t listen to that advice and doubled your long run, for no other reason than because you could.

Even as I dragged myself that last mile home, I knew I had gone too far. My left hamstring was sore, my heels felt raw and the newish trainers which had felt like clouds when I first put them on, had somehow morphed into plywood coverings.

In January of this year, I was feeling bold, reckless, and had way too much free time. In the midst of a two week holiday, there is not much a man feels he can’t do, and a half marathon which is still five months away seems like an achievable goal. Even for someone who’s running experience in life equated to nothing more than fruitless sprints after school buses, that I was never going to make, ten years prior.

The latter end of the holiday was spent running, and feeling wonderful. Then came work, oh work, how I could have forgotten in that first week just how tiring a day sitting down behind a desk can be. All too soon the work day lethargy convinced me to sit down after work, and not to go out. A string of reasons not to run could be summoned at a moment’s notice, too cold, too wet, too dark, too busy, too tired, and my personal favourite ‘realistically, running outside at the moment in conditions so far removed from the conditions in May, will only be to my detriment overall.’ The list was limited only by my imagination, perhaps why some of my justifications were so elaborate.

Of course I would tell myself, while sitting behind my desk,

“Tonight Darren, you will go to the gym!” and what is worse, is I believed the voice that said that. It didn’t matter at which point of the day I’d say it, as long as I had five more minutes of my work day to protect me, I’d agree to going to exercise. However at 17:01 as I was climbing into my car, the closest I got to exercise was my mind stretching to consider what I’d like for dinner.

I awoke last weekend with the prospect of a whole weekend off, a percolator full of coffee and a couch to sink into, I readied myself for a weekend of laziness. That is before I opened my emails to see a message from the Edinburgh Marathon Festival team, casually congratulating all of those clever cookies who were already weeks into their training plans. The fear struck.

In just over 11 weeks, I will be taking part in my first Half Marathon.

After more than a month since my last run, I donned my lycra, laced my trainers, and ran. I had very little option, my brother drove me to his work three and a half miles away and I had no other way back home than too put one foot in front of the other. Strangely enough though, I really enjoyed it, I quickly found a pace that worked and just kept moving, all too soon I was back home and felt like I could tackle another couple of miles.

But I didn’t push myself, instead waiting till Sunday, as Sunday is the day for long runs anyway. As it turns out, moving from three and a half miles to six, really makes the difference. Those last two miles weren’t so much walked as crawled. I learned two things on Sunday, 13.1 miles, is a lot of miles. Secondly, a body which has not been trained properly, will fight back when pushed to its limits. The balance of endorphin rush versus muscle fatigue is a curious feeling, my reading and research had never covered over-training, so when my dehydrated, and ravenous body demanded I eat some post-run soup, I didn’t even stop to consider the effect that food may have had.

I said earlier that I learned two things on Sunday, in actual fact a third thing was learned. If you eat rich, heavy food after a long run, be prepared to taste that food again about an hour after you eat it. A mistake I hope to never make again, but a lesson well learned.

Over the coming weeks, I’m sure I’ll tell you all a little bit more about my training, and also about the reasons which pushed me to sign up, but for now I leave you with a piece of advice, learned the hard way. Whatever you are doing in life, listen to your body, the advice of other people who have trained in the same field as you is invaluable, but it is still advice which works for them. Your body, will always tell you how it’s feeling, you just have to be ready to listen.

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