Why I run!

Running for me is something of a fortunate accident. I’m not a natural runner. I’m not a fitness fanatic. I eat a lot of bad food. I drink. I’ve been known to smoke.

I’ve tried most sports but am generally mediocre. I was ok at rugby and my body still holds together enough to let me play football once a week (I have no idea how) but I’m not the sporty type. I was never good at sports at school. I was one of the only people in my peer group at school to suffer the ignominy of being in the “B” group for games. My old friends always remind me of how clumsy I was at football, even though I still play when most of them retired long ago. I hated running with a passion. Cross country felt like punishment. Once, when I (reluctantly) agreed to make up the numbers in a 400 metre relay race on a school sports day even my teachers teased me about my skinny milk bottle legs. I think I came in last.

I don’t lead a very healthy lifestyle either. I spent most of social life in my 20s in pubs. When I tell people that I’ve run marathons their first reaction is between surprise and shock. The disbelief on their faces says: “How can this bloke have run marathons?” But I have run marathons. Three so far and, all being well I’ll be running two more in 2017 including being the first official Bhopal Medical Appeal marathon runner at the London Marathon.

There were three things that got me into running. The first and most important was my wife. While I was happy to spend my spare time watching the television or going to the pub she decided that she wanted to get healthy. She signed up for a 10k run with a friend. I was suspicious about the whole thing. I’d join her on training runs occasionally but never took it seriously and would mess about or slow things down. On one training run I was so awful that she finally lost her patience and at me for holding her up. That changed my view. She was taking this seriously, why couldn’t I? When she completed her 10k I was envious, so when she signed up for a half marathon I signed up for one too. We made running part of our routine and trained together. When she completed her first half marathon I was cheering her on, when I completed my first half marathon a few months later she cheered me on.

From then onwards I had the bug. I loved it. The endorphins that a good run releases create a natural buzz that can last for hours. The aches are pleasant reminders that I can still test myself. Running also proved to be a great stress reliever enabling me to clear my head and focus. I also came to see the social side to running. Running alone with music can be a great thing but running with friends and colleagues can be even more rewarding in terms of sharing advice and building up camaraderie.

If my wife is credited with getting me into running then my sister and (more bizarrely) the author Haruki Murakami deserve credit for turning me into a marathon runner. After my first half marathon my wife took a break from running because she was pregnant. I carried on running with workmates but I was coasting and not really pushing myself. Meanwhile my sister, who took up running before I did had started to step her game up and was covering much more distance than me. My sister, like me, hasn’t always had the healthiest lifestyle but (unlike me) she changed her habits to become ultra fit and healthy. She started out doing walking events Trail Walker UK but quickly progressed onto running which egged me on even more. When she did her first marathon the gauntlet was laid down and it wasn’t long before I’d rashly (and perhaps competitively) signed up for one myself.

But for me the distance still seem unobtainable. It’s worth remembering that the first marathon runner Pheidippides died upon completing his run. I had no confidence in being able to complete the distance. Around the time I picked up a copy of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami. Murakami happens to be one of my favourite authors so it seemed fated that he’d written a book about running just as I got into running. What I read echoed perfectly with my own situation. In typically modest tones Murakami charted how he took up running at a similar age to me (33), despite being not particularly sporty or health conscious. In one passage he recalls his first real attempt at a run in which he notched up about 19 miles before having to stop. 19 miles! With no prior training! He also affirmed some key mantras that help with running over distance such as “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and his proposed epitaph “at least he never walked.”

Murakami and my sister both added two important details that enabled me to step up from just occasionally running to being a marathon runner. The first and most important was that anyone can do it. Marathon runners are perceived as great athletes or fitness freaks. Some are… but the majority aren’t. They’re mainly normal people with the same vices and virtues as anybody else. They just happen to have, with careful preparation, run 26.2 miles. The second is that running is an easier discipline to keep if you keep testing yourself and setting new targets. Murakami started by running circuits round an office block but ended up participating in punishing ultra-marathons and triathlons. My sister has also now stepped up to ultra-marathon level. Hopefully, after my two marathons next year I’ll be able to join her.

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