As I ran towards the 10k finish line, athletes powered past me on all sides. I could feel the whoosh of them thundering through and considered jumping out of the way, but then decided to hold my course in case I caused a collision. Frank Greally from ‘Irish Runner’ magazine was calling out on the microphone; welcoming people across the finish: ‘…and there’s Teena Gates’ he yelled out in delighted surprise as I joined the athletes coming across the line. I took a brief moment to lift my head up and smile, before pushing through the 10k finishers – to start my second loop!
I think that was the hardest moment of my 2 month battle to run this 10k for Aware. Plodding through the puddles towards Chesterfield Avenue, in the Phoenix Park, leaving behind everyone else who had just run their 10k in the time it had taken me to run 5. It was the loneliest shuffle of my life. The second loop brought me up the Avenue and back around the 5k loop again and for a good few minutes I could still see the finish line behind me from the side of my eye. ‘Would anyone notice if I slipped away now? would anyone really care?’ the demons whispered in my head, but a crashing loud voice kicked back; ‘You’re damned right someone would care, YOU would care. What’s the point of running in the rain for the last two months if you don’t give it welly on the day?’ Happy with my angel for answering back the demons, I ran on.
I’m holding onto that word. Run. I don’t care if a run as fast as a tortoise slipping backwards up a hill. As far as I’m concerned, I’m lifting my legs, my arms are moving vigorously, and my heart-rate is higher than usual. For me, that’s running – and I can only get better at it the more I do it. Actually, in a moment of reflection, I’m beginning to think that it’s only myself that beats myself up about my lack of speed or animation, perhaps I’m only beginning now, to scratch the surface of what it means to be a runner.
Out on that Aware 10k, I really only began to appreciate what Elaine and I had done when I started the second 5k loop. Last month I’d run the Remembrance 5k along a similar route as part of training for #Couch2Christmas and I thought I’d never finish it. Today I knew I would finish double that distance regardless of how tired or sore I might be and what the voices in my head might say. Some part of me knew I was definitely going to do it. That’s strength right there – the physical strength of being able to run 10k and the mental strength of knowing in advance that you will do it. I didn’t have that strength when Elaine and I began this journey, and I do now. That’s progress, that’s a gift, that’s something to take forward with me into everything else I do.
I have often dreaded a run, but never regretted one
Last weekend Elaine and I went off to a parkrun during Storm Desmond when most sensible people were turning over for a second sleep. It was HORRENDOUS and the parkrun we were aiming for was cancelled. We still decided that we’d go to the park for a run though, seeing as we had taken the step of getting up to brave the elements. Our amazing coach, Irish International Ultra Runner John O’Regan spoke with us on the phone and was happy enough with our plan until we mentioned going for breakfast afterwards, at which point he instantly told us to hang on for him. He knew us too well, he knew if we were already thinking of breakfast, it was probably shaping up to be a short run. We ended up running over 6k in that horrid storm and I hated every minute of it, but when all three of us went for breakfast together afterwards, we were glowing with delight and pride. It’s been said before but I can honestly repeat it…. ‘I have often dreaded a run, but never regretted one’.
Two days later I ran 4.6k on a dark Monday evening with the C25K runners at Le Chéile running club in Leixlip. I was all on my own out on the road. The ‘newbie’ runners were well ahead of me, and I was plodding along behind with my own slow, awkward shuffle. But something strange happened; I enjoyed every second of the run. I got quite emotional afterwards and posted about it on Facebook. As long as I’ve been trying to run, I’ve been saying that I want to be the type of person who WANTS to go for a run. This was the first time I got a taste of that. It had vanished again by the time we ran the Aware 10k. There is no way that I will pretend that I loved that rainy, puddle-laced, lonely trot around the park, and yet, some little part of me put the memory of my ‘happy run’ up there among the grey cells and it consoled me as I started into that second loop. That, and the knowledge that I will surely get that feeling again, if I keep running, and if I keep looking for it.
There were plenty of other things to support me on the day. Our coach John O’Regan and visually impaired marathon runner Sinead Kane both ran the last 2k with me and it was just lovely to see them running down towards me, with the finishing line up ahead – this time knowing that it really was the finish and not just a gateway to another loop! I was enormously proud of my running buddy, TV3 Midday presenter Elaine Crowley, who finished well ahead of me on her first ever 10k. Elaine had not only taken on the task of running 10k but had managed to learn a dance routine for the Strictly Against Breast Cancer fundraiser which came smack bang in the middle of our training. Not only that, she had very little sleep on the day of the Aware 10k, having travelled up from Cork that morning after a funeral in the family AND she had a tummy bug. I’m telling you, that lady is a #shero and as hardcore as they come. She joked that we might just do a half marathon in the future, and you know, neither of us actually laughed too loudly at the thought, so you never know.
Natural ability is a wonderful thing, but working hard takes you places
So many other things inspired me over this journey; the support from strangers both on-line and in the street, the volunteers standing in the
cold at rainy parkruns and races, and at the Aware 10k on Saturday, and the amazing athletes who took time to shout encouragement while whizzing past for their own PB’s or ‘personal bests’. It really touched me that these fit creatures would take the time to look at another human trying very inefficiently to do what they do so gracefully, and pause their thoughts long enough to shout out ‘well done’.
I also made a startling discovery as the 10k winners swept past me on Saturday. I could hear them gasping and groaning as they pushed towards the finish, I could feel the power, the pain, the frustration as they approached the line. I realised that I wasn’t the only person struggling. It may sound foolish, but I’ve always looked at the fast runners and thought that they achieve what they do effortlessly. I’ve envied them and wished I could move as fast as them, but I never realised that they’re pushing too. That thought followed me around on my last loop, and I felt more comfortable about feeling uncomfortable. I felt less embarrassed about feeling tired and exhausted. I felt happier about having to work hard, and I realised that natural ability is a wonderful thing, but working hard takes you places.
Elaine and I worked hard at our #Couch2Christmas and we ended up with two medals that we both really appreciate. I have a feeling they just might be the first of many.
Happy #Couch2Christmas everyone.