A decade is a really long time. The UK was still happy in its relationship with its European cousins, the US was laughing at crazy old Sarah Palin with Obama firmly in the White House and Tom Hanks landed a plane on a New York river.
At the same time, I was living in London, relatively clean shaven and pretty out of shape.
Towards the end of 2009 I was training for the London Marathon, upping the mileage too quickly and subsequently starting months’ worth of physio and rehab, culminating in a painful, elated hobble from Greenwich to Buckingham Palace. Soon after, I vowed never to run again.
Then in 2013 I picked up a book called Born to Run.
This year, I completed a marathon in 3:38, completed a 36-mile run around Guernsey and DNF’d two ultras at a combined 125 kilometres. I’ve completed 17 parkruns in three different places and came last in one of the best trail runs I’ve done.
So I honestly have no idea whether I should be happy or disappointed with my year in running.
In 2018 I completed the one goal I’ve ever had in running – 100 miles in under 24 hours – and since then I’ve been struggling a bit with motivation. I thought I wanted mountains and scenery so I signed up for Madeira Island Ultra Trail but I realised that as much as I wanted the experience, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to continue to the end; I didn’t want it enough.
So I’ve lolloped between races and parkruns and month-long challenges with no real direction. I’ve enjoyed running with the group at work (we won the male running series) and started a couch to 5k group which was probably the most rewarding of them all.
I guess what I’ve realised when thinking about this post (and yes sometimes I do plan them) is that races aren’t everything.
My grandad died this month on Friday the 13th (dun dun duhhhhhhh) after 94 years of walking around the UK. After visiting my grandma the following week, I spent a day in the Lake District learning first to walk and then run with trekking poles. Those six hours of failing to co-ordinate my arms and legs, slipping down hills and my broken iris struggling to adjust to falling darkness felt like the purest expression of why I like running – for those moments I was absolved of all adult responsibility and stomped through puddles and clambered over trees with no care for pace or goal. Yes I wanted to learn a new skill but in doing so, my feet got wet, my clothes got muddy and I got changed in a dark car park outside a closed information stand, tired from the fresh air and unrelenting joy. What I needed was to fall asleep in the back of the car as my parents drove, waking up somewhere new and exciting with food but as an adult, these luxuries are rarely afforded so I had to drive over the highest pass in the UK in driving rain and the pitch black.
I’m not complaining, I’m perhaps just upset that it doesn’t happen anymore. But perhaps also finding the real reason I fell in love with running and why I’ve fallen out of love. If you have a goal, you have a reason, a search for meaning. When you lose that, what comes next? I’d argue that my goal now is the raw, meditative escapism that running became for me at its best, to throw away the shackles of responsibility and just be me and the untaken footsteps in front of me.
So, what have ten years of running taught me? Don’t take it too seriously and find what you like with it. If you want to do parkrun once a week for a coffee and croissant afterwards then that’s cool. If you want to run an ultra on basically no training then that’s also cool but don’t expect it to be pretty or fun. Running is a privilege so enjoy it and if you’re not enjoying it, do something else – the world is a big place.