Category Archives: Running a Half-Marathon

Running in the Park, a.k.a The faces and the simple goodness

It’s hot and undignified and there is a level of ornery endurance which is not quite pain but is too close to be called anything else, and once you reach it you truly don’t give a shit what you look like. It’s not particularly freeing because you then realise you don’t care and start to worry anyway. It’s not about the endorphins or the tight feeling in my body all day afterwards. It’s not the glorious stretch of hot muscles. It’s not a flatter belly, a guilt-free pile of hot buttered toast.

It’s the faces and the simple goodness of them. The stumbling man in his too-big sweat-stain of a shirt which wasn’t designed for cardio but is the oldest, plainest thing in his wardrobe. He lumbers on at barely a trot and grimaces if you catch his eye, but he’s there and he’s doing something better than lazing on the couch with a fry-up.

There are the groups and classes of runners whose constant determination ranges from competitive to agonised. There are the dog-and/or-kid runners, stop-starting along the outer paths, bodies constantly lopsided as they squint over their shoulders.

Then come the wobbling warriors who grit their teeth past the sweat-stained stumblers. Their running clothes are new and already loose, their limbs flab beneath the vast, angry rashes of skin, but you can almost see the fat melting as they pound the pavement one jiggle at a time. Their faces are the most open because they are engaged with the best of themselves, they wear their pride in all its extra pounds of glory.

There are the gliders. The svelte tans and jiggle-free thighs, running shorts clinging lovingly to their pert bottoms as if to say yes, this is where I belong, back on the model, back on the runway. Ears beneath styled, sweat-free hair are wired to iPod armbands and beady eyes rake your body, assess your fitness and thinness and smugly look away. But let’s face it, we don’t look them in the eye much because as soon as we’ve lumbered our way level with the gravity-defying incredulity of their lower bodies, they glide themselves off into a beautiful sprint.

Leaving us. The rest of them. Plugged desperately into our iPods because music is the only thing that keeps our feet pounding onwards, distracting us from the fact that we are running and we’ve got miles to go before we can stop. Our running clothes are the right size but somehow there’s always something that goes wrong around mile two – something slipping down or wedging up where it shouldn’t, an uncomfortable jiggle or pinch of pain somewhere deep and unreachable. We’re lone and in the zone, but not quite enough not to notice the stumblers and gliders and the dogs and kids, the wobblers and the groups we’d join if we thought we could commit to doing this on a regular basis. We admire the stumblers and the wobblers – most of them are fitter than us. We are wary of the kids and dogs. We hate the gliders. They are who we could be if we did this everyday. They are who we fail to be because we have a weakness for our sofas. But we tolerate them because they push us and even though we know their perfect arms and non-stomachs will glide on and leave us in the shadow of their beautiful bottoms, we will still grit our teeth and our arses and try, try to catch them.

It’s the faces and the simple goodness of them. Of being one of them and knowing that even though we judge and we stumble and we smell, we’re all here and we’re all moving. We’re linked in this inherently human thing, like ants in ranks, our bodies our own for the good and the bad. We might be lawyers or mothers or jobless or journalists. We might be cheaters or monogamists, liars, beaters, bullies or saints. Stumblers, gliders, wobblers, groupies, kid-and-dog owners, loners. We’re all here, doing something simply good.

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Racing for Life into Week Five…

After a dogged struggle from last Tuesday’s agonising first-run-after-holiday all the way to a much more confident (but still a bit slow) 5k by Saturday, I went to the Exeter Race for Life event on Sunday feeling like I would at least be able to stagger my way around the track.  Maybe it was all the hills I’ve been struggling up round here, maybe it was the fact that there were so many runners and joggers all around me (as opposed to The Only Runner In The Village syndrome I get when training) but I actually found it quite easy and really good fun.  The route was fairly flat, and a lot of it passed over rocky or grassy terrain which meant I had to hop, skip and jump a few times to avoid getting my foot stuck in a rabbit hole or knackering my tendons by springing unevenly off random grassy mounds, but all in all it was a much easier path than the runs I do around Dartmouth.

Me and my running buddy Fry at the Exeter Race for Life

Above is a pic of my running partner and old school friend Helen Fry and I as we were about to set off.  I know hot pink isn’t exactly my colour (and after I’ve been running a couple of k it REALLY isn’t my colour) but vanity isn’t exactly high on my priority list when running.  For someone who never left the house without a full face of makeup since the age of 14, the freedom of being in a situation – training, I mean – where it genuinely does not matter at ALL what you look like is so freeing.  Having said that, I don’t understand what it is about a runner that makes people stop and STARE, like I’m some freaky rare species of elephant that’s sprouted a pneumonic drill from its bottom and tunnelled, upwards, to burst through the tarmac in front of them.  I mean, really.  I’m just running.

Anyway, back to the Race for Life.  The experience taught me two main things – one is that I am fitter than I thought and if I keep up the training I might just be able to do the half marathon in a few months.  The other is the totally humbling realisation that I have some of the most generous friends and family on the planet.  I launched my fundraising page 6 days before the event with the very hopeful target goal of £150 and, thanks to them, entered the race on Sunday with more than £300 sponsorship.   THAT is what I’ll remember about this Race for Life, for me it just completely outstrips any part of the race itself.  Well, maybe except for the giant, cottage-size mound of manure on the 1k hill.


Week Four: I Think I’m Dying

So technically I’m on Week Four of my marathon plan, which means I should be running for 20-30 continuous minutes at a go and, acccording to my own system, reaching around 4 -5k.  Unfortunately, my running plans took a bit of a detour over the past two weeks due to a Greek holiday.  I set off with the best of intentions only to find that it was actually physically impossible to even THINK about putting on my running shorts in 40 degree heat…   So I did a lot of swimming instead and hoped for the best.  The good news is I didn’t gain weight.  The bad news is that I just did my first run in 2.5 weeks and it KILLED me.  My god.

Today’s route went up a few semi-to-evil steep hills (I did slumpingly run up the first one and then alternated floppy-walk-jogging to stop my lungs incinerating inside out) and then down a nice big one.  I ran continuously for about a 20-25 minute stretch which sounds good but most of it was downhill, which is not so amazing.   On the subject of hilly runs, which are an inevitability in the South Devon neck of the woods, this blog has a few interesting hypotheses on how you calculate the calories burned.  According to my pedometer, my run of 4k today burned 140 calories.  Yet when I entered the approx speed and time (around about 40 minutes) into the My Fitness Pal app, the number was nearer 350 calories.  Considering the app knows my height and weight, I’m hoping it’s the more accurate figure.

I’m taking part in the Exeter Race for Life on Sunday, which is 5k.  My friend and I are aiming to complete it at a ‘gentle lolloping jog’, although I’m a bit nervous that she will be much fitter than me.  I’ve done the Race for Life before, but many years ago and we didn’t take it particularly seriously.  In fact I think we got bored of walking so we made up a new method of moving forward involving hopping, skipping, twirling… we had quite the berth around us in no time.  But this time I really want to do it right, partly to convince myself I have any hope in hell of completing a half marathon in three months, but mainly because it comes three years after I lost my own dad to cancer.  If something I can do might help prevent anyone going through that heart-savaging experience, I’ll fight for every painful step.


The Redhead Runneth…

Now I’m a fully fledged and unemployed journalist I am finding that the past 9 months of intense training have left me with a few interesting additions (mainly in the form of lbs and a death-defying liver) and subtractions (£££s).  I’m not exactly destitute but I DO have a hemorraging car and a very broken laptop, which means I’m not jumping at the chance to re-join my old gym.  I’m not reeeeeeally overweight either but I used to be a stone lighter and I was much happier with how I looked then. 

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, not just to have a marathon-runner’s figure (although, let’s be honest, if running put ON weight how many people would still do it?) but because I want to be someone who is just that fit.  It’s also one of those things I want to do while I’m still supposedly at the peak of life fitness, before I hit 30 and my knees start disintegrating or whatever.  So I’m going to run a marathon, possibly next year’s London Marathon, but first I’ve set my sights on running the London Half-Marathon in just over 100 days…

Actually, after googling how to train for your first half-marathon, the results don’t seem all that bad.  I’m following a mixture of this plan, which measures my training in minutes, and this one which goes for miles.  As my old pedometer only measures in kilometers, I feel I’m already on a winning amalgamation. 

I’m going to blog my journey as I go, mainly to keep up my writing (now that my melted laptop has probably swallowed the diary I kept for 6 years) and share with anyone who might be interested in reading how I’m even going to attempt to do this.   As well as those who are doing the same – please get in touch 🙂

And just so you know, I’m not a good runner.  I was never fast at school, I go tomato-red within the first 10 minutes which is NOT a good look with red hair and I have horrible short, stubby legs which wobble when I’m going downhill like an unsteady shopping trolley.  Filled with sweating tomatoes. 

Today I launched my half-marathon campaign with a 3k run around my hometown of Dartmouth.  I didn’t run up all the hills, but I still sweated like a trooper and got many a wry and amused look.  It wasn’t too bad though… Something I would like to point out is that on the rare occasion I ran before I used to always do so  first thing in the morning (otherwise I would end up putting it off all day) before breakfast. 

This time, following the advice on the training programme I ran an hour or so after breakfast and I did find that it gave me extra energy so I was able to do more.  I also read that if you run first thing in the morning it helps you burn more calories during the day, which is always a good thing.  But I would like to try an evening run sometime too, just to compare as well as prepare for the possibility of someone actually giving me a job someday. 

If you’re reading this and are attempting something similar or have any advice or tips for a first-time half-marathon runner, I would love to hear from you.


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