A wise man once said that in order to successfully recover from a half marathon one must run till ones legs are numb…Actually no wise man ever said that because it’s a fucking ridiculous proposition but once a fool, always a fool.
It started out this morning with Marc and I both wanting to run but not necessarily together. Marc has much less opportunity to run these days with long and unsociable working hours so his runs tend to be heavy on the distance to make the most of the chance. I’m working my way back from surgery just before Christmas and despite having run a brill half marathon, my first since September, on Monday I’m still trying to regain my stamina and endurance. Ten would be more than enough for me today while Marc would try to get a half or longer in. This of course was before we discovered we had a new housemate in the form of the tiniest fieldmouse imaginable called Winston (I’m not sure if this is his actual name but he definitely responded to it so we went with it). Living next to a park it’s no surprise but rather a privilege to be visited by the local wildlife but in our hearts we knew that Winston had to be returned to his abode. This was no easy feat, despite being small the little fucker was faster than Paula Radcliffe needing a dump, he had us run ragged for the best part of an hour whilst we effectively ransacked the house. Eventually and not without incident (we nearly maimed some unsuspecting park strollers with a flying bin) we got Winston back from whence he came. Now knackered and frazzled we decided to run together, just the ten miles and nice and easy paced.
It was a gorgeous day and to mix things up a bit we decided to drive to nearby Hightown from where we would take the trail that Marc has been running recently through the Pinewoods. As we headed off past the rifle range it felt weird to be so fresh at a point where I’m usually about to turn for home. But the conditions were perfect and I was so excited to run paths I hadn’t seen since London Marathon training days just on two years ago.
Historically I’ve never been much of a trail runner, I like the comfortable predictability of concrete and inclines were my enemies but over the past year or two my attitude to running has changed and with it has come a love of trails. We talked between us as we ran about how funny it was to see my splashing through muddy puddles and clambering up Sandy dunes with a grin on my face, one time of day this would have been a preposterous notion but these days I’m just glad to be alive and nowhere makes me feel more so than when I’m out, pounding my feet and feeling my heart beat strong and steady with the wind in my face.
Marc said that it felt more spiritual in a way to be in places more removed from civilisation and closer to nature, I had to agree. As hard as it was on my legs it was feeding my soul and yeah I know, I sound like a twat, but it felt something like grace to be out there on an amazing day amidst majestic pine trees hearing the rush of the ocean and seeing miles of rolling beauty heading out before us. As we neared the five mile turning point I had already prepared my reply for Marc’s inevitable question and I heard myself say ‘let’s just keep going’.
Now, if you know anything about me then you know that the aforementioned words usually precede a run going tits up in the most catastrophic of proportions but I felt deep down today that this would not be the case, my legs felt strong and my heart felt full. I have developed a habit of measuring distance in foodstuffs and I was smugly racking up an extra flake and bag of doritos. As we staggered up increasingly sandy and steep dunes we would soar down the other side, our arms outstretched like aeroplanes shrieking and guffawing like idiots. You should have days like this, especially as you get older, you should remember the stuff that made you happy when you were a kid and you should do it. I spent so long being so sick and so scared and now I see my mum feeling the same that it’s reminded me to just be ecstatically joyful for the goddamn honour of walking the earth.
My legs pushed hard up tough hills and on unstable ground and they hurt and my face was hot but I was laughing hard because not everyone gets to do what we do on a Tuesday afternoon and I just felt lucky.
And then we got lost. I mean proper fucking lost. Not amusingly ‘oops we’re going in the wrong direction’ lost but rather ‘I’m no longer sure what fucking county we’re in’ lost. And with that ghastly realisation my legs began to hurt. And I needed a wee.
Long story short I had a wee and it was lovely and Marc took a photo of me because he’s a bastard. My legs continued to hurt as the grass on the dunes became thousands of tiny daggers but still, my spirit didn’t fade. It didn’t fade when we ran to a beach we didn’t recognise despite knowing pretty much all of the north west coast (Marc took a pic of me at that point and admittedly I looked a bit like I was dead inside)
it didn’t fade when we eventually saw the forest which was so far away from us we thought it might be a mirage, it didn’t even fade when I realised just how far from home we’d actually come (ok so I may have had a small but significant panic attack but I hid it well). I just felt blessed to be there.
Yes, we may have had to jump over a fence and illegally run through a nature reserve and then wee in it and yes I almost cried a little when we tried to run on the beach and my feet sunk into the sand as the wind tried to hold us back but still, I felt lucky.
In the final two miles my legs became numb and the hurt became an old familiar friend as the path moved beneath our feet and we pretty much silently ran each of us facing our own demons. For my part I know mine had already been slain as ten miles had become over fifteen and still we were running.
Over the past year I’ve become a very different runner. Once I was an angry runner; a bald, sick, scared, frustrated runner who battled the weather, fought the hills and conquered distances. These days I run with gratitude, a total feeling of relief that I’m still here, a need to thank the universe for every single step I take and an unutterable joy in the beauty of this planet. Does this make me a better runner? Fuck no. When I was angry I was fast, I cared about pace, times were important and improvement needed to be measured. Gratitude makes me a lazy runner, it makes me stop when I feel like it and stretch my arms out, it makes me slow down because it’s easier and it just feels better. But it also makes me a happy runner who can find ecstasy in hailstorms and hilarity in hills. Do I need to say it one more time? I just feel lucky.
And with Marc at my side I’ll keep saying ‘let’s keep going’ because I know that recovery along with happiness can be found in every single step. In every possible way, distance makes the heart grow stronger.