Does running for long distances feel like an impossible task? Writer Alex Sims explains how signing up for a 10k race without any experience repaired her relationship with exercise.
Running and I have a, er, complicated relationship. Over the last decade, we’ve had whirlwind love affairs, which usually involve me being seduced by the allure of being able to call myself a ‘proper runner’, taking up Couch to 5k and vowing to devote myself to regular circuits around the park.
But, as with many ill-fated love stories, my dalliances with running have turned out to be brief and fanciful.
After a month or so of staying faithful to a routine of running three 5k runs a week, my attention is usually hijacked by evenings in front of the TV, nights out and lie-ins nursing hangovers. Before I know it, I’ve ghosted running so much that the relationship disintegrates.
Our separation usually lasts for a good few months, before running turns my head again. But, as ever, the inevitable happens and so the cycle repeats, ad infinitum – or so I thought.
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After being talked into it by a friend, I initially signed up for the Asics London 10K in the hope it would finally give me the impetus I needed to turn my brief flings with running into a long-term partnership. And over the eight weeks that led up to the race, I certainly found myself running more regularly and working up to distances I’d never run before.
For the first time, I actually tried to create a plan when it came to training, mixing up my usual 5k routes around the park with shorter and longer distances, and running in areas of London I hadn’t explored before. In the lead-up to the race I’d managed to run 7k – a distance I never thought possible before.
However, as the race drew nearer I began to get cold feet.
Would I be able to make the leap from running around the park alone, headphones plugged in, to a group event? Could I hack the competitive aspect that had so far kept me away from running even my local Park Run? And would I even be able to make it to 10k – a distance I’d yet to conquer?
To say I made my way to the starting line with apprehension is an understatement. It was hot on race day, with temperatures that morning reaching 25°C, and arriving in central London to see runners limbering up in quiet corners of Trafalgar Square was intimidating.
However, the hot weather made me think a lot more about what I’d need for the race and I invested in a handheld water bottle, some hydration tablets and for the first time really considered what I was eating before exercising, making sure I had a good helping of carbs to enhance my energy levels.
What I didn’t expect was the atmosphere. This was the first time I had run any kind of distance with friends beside me and not only did their presence diminish my pre-race jitters, but they also gave me running tips along the way. I learnt warm-up stretches I’d never heard of before, I found out runners should push themselves rather than pull their limbs and that it’s good practice to count up the distance markers until you reach the halfway mark and then count down to the finish for motivation. In short, having people by my side spurred me on in a way the music I usually pump through my headphones never could.
Throughout the whole run, I felt like part of a beautiful team. At the starting line, there were ladies with “I’m 80” written across their T-shirts, groups raising money for charity sang and danced their way to the start, and runners who had already finished the race arrived at the sidelines to cheer on those still going.
The steel pan bands, choirs and DJs along the route encouraged us on as we pounded our way through central London. By the time I’d jogged past the 7k mark and into the unknown, I was riding high.
I’d kept my pace steady and thanks to the pace-makers running alongside us I felt OK, rather than a failure, to be running slower than lots of the other participants. In fact, the fun-filled atmosphere eschewed any sense of competition or self-consciousness I had at not being a fast athlete.
Bounding down Westminster Bridge with the London skyline flashing by and people cheering from the sidelines was one of the most supportive and joyous moments I’ve ever experienced. By the time the finish line appeared in sight, I was so buoyed up by the camaraderie of it all I was able to sprint to the end and collect my medal with a huge smile plastered on my face.
It’s one of the few times I’ve actually understood what people mean when they say that exercise gives you endorphins. Being able to complete what had felt like a huge distance with energy to spare was a massive confidence boost.
When you’re at a music festival, you often feel like part of a special group of like-minded souls and that it’s your lot against the world. I had the same feeling with the group of runners who plodded around London with me in the baking sun.
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Since the race, I haven’t shied away from my 5k loops around the park, I joined my local Park Run for the first time and plan to go as much as possible, and I’m already talking about signing up for my first half marathon – none of which I’d have even entertained before the race.
Being part of such a huge mass of people all striving for the same goal was illuminating and special. It made me feel courageous, that I’m stronger and fitter than I think, and that I was part of something more than my usual day-to-day life.
Gone are my flighty affairs with running. Thanks to the race, running and I are at the beginning of a very beautiful friendship indeed.
Images: Lauren Geall
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