We deserve a medal. 8am on Saturday morning and we’re pouring ourselves out of bed and into leggings and trainers. Elaine tumbled down the steps and across the road towards where I was parked and her expression mirrored my own. I burst into giggles as I caught her eye. ‘Water’. She greets me. ‘There’s a bottle in the back’ I said. Gunning the engine as she drank deeply, I laugh out loud ‘Oh Lord, what are we like? I was so tired this morning I couldn’t even face brushing my teeth’. ‘I’ve just drunk your water’ she replies. ‘That’s ok.’ ‘No, all your water’ she adds sheepishly, as we pull out into the light, early morning, weekend, Dublin traffic.
I’m bringing Elaine along to her first ever parkrun. I’ve been preaching proudly about parkruns for the past 6 weeks, ever since we first began our #Couch2Christmas challenge to run 10k for Aware. The parkrun is such a clever idea. You register online for free, print off your barcode, and are then welcome to participate in a timed 5k run in parks all over the world, every Saturday morning at 0930. It’s all organised by volunteers and the runners are a varied mix, ranging from walkers and joggers, right up to elite athletes. I’ve dipped in and out of parkruns for a year now, according to my fitness levels and I’ve always found a warm welcome, whether I’m running or walking.
We cut down along the Grand Canal and out onto the motorway heading for Celbridge, then turn off at Junction 6, in search of Castletown House. This is a new Parkrun and I haven’t been here before, but our coach, Irish Ultra runner John O’Regan had mentioned how beautiful the trail was. Heading up the drive towards the main house, I could see he hadn’t exaggerated. The stunning Autumn weather is amplified here, where the heavy woodland sweeps down towards the river. Gloriously green fields glow emerald against the copper gold of the trees that weep drifts of brightly coloured leaves at our feet. We park in front of the big house and as we walk away from the car, I feel guilty as if I am trespassing. We pass a groundsman who salutes us with a cheery smile and I stop to talk, surprised, because I had half expected a reprimand. It is the first of many welcomes.
Down to the start and a hug from run director Sharon Ashmore who explained the course and then announced our presence to the group of assembled runners; as Elaine and me stood mortified and wishing we’d stood behind a tree!
You don’t have to win to succeed..
To be honest I didn’t feel much like a winner as I plodded on towards the river. The trail was slightly downhill which helped, but I felt every ounce of the extra weight that I’m currently carrying.
As I watched Elaine’s long legs disappearing around the bend ahead, I felt a flash of envy. Then looking down at my stumpy little tree trunks, I decided that they’d have to do, and I grinned, as I ever so slightly extended my shuffle. The sound of the river renewed my interest. I looked off to my left and considered if I could get my kayak in there, and was still pondering the silver, gurgling, eddies of the river when I got to a bridge, and took a cheerful word of guidance from a Marshal to ‘look out for surface leaves’. I didn’t exactly need to slow down… but I tore my gaze from the shiny river to concentrate on the trail. It took a bit of concentration too, because there was a hill here. Focus, breath, step. A cheery Halloween scarecrow shouted encouragement as I headed into the hill. No I wasn’t hallucinating. This was the Marshal who had believed that instruction to wear fancy dress….
As I prepared to head out into my second loop, I swung out of the way of the flying feet of finishers, coming quickly up behind me. Their 5k was over while I was less than half way through mine. They were pushing hard for good times or PB’s (personal bests). I could hear their breathing, hard and heavy; but still they took the energy and time to call out to me ‘you’re doing great, keep going’. That’s the generosity of spirit that I’ve come to expect at parkrun, and I so admire it. It still quickens my heart to hear real athletes call encouragement to this huffing, puffing, red-faced steam engine, chugging up a hill. If they can believe in me, it’s so much easier to believe in myself.
I hadn’t heard of a fartlek session before tonight. In fact, one of my sporty friends on Facebook had to tell me how to spell it! But that’s what I ran headlong into tonight, when I decided to return to Le Chéile AC. Extreme Ultra Runner John O’Regan was taking the session – what about that for running royalty? as we started off, he reassured me that I’d be running ‘within and outside’ my comfort zone. While my brain was trying to process that, I tried to explain that just turning up was outside my comfort zone!
Growing up, I always felt the definition of being fit was being able to run, and it was something that always eluded me. But this February I turned up at Le Cheile AC in Leixlip, determined to finally give it a proper shot. I joined their Couch to 5k programme and with persistence, patient trainers, and the support of the other ‘Fit 4 Life’ runners, I finally made it to my ‘graduation 5k’ just as the evenings were turning long and bright. Chuffed with myself… I threw my running shoes in a corner and left them there for a couple of days, which turned to a couple of weeks, which turned to a couple of months. Eventually I knew I’d lost my run-fitness but kept thinking that I’d start running again myself on my own, before facing the embarrassment of huffing and puffing my way back to the club. Well you can guess how well that worked for me!
Finally this week I decided to bite the bullet. I need to be fit for the Liffey Descent challenge for LauraLynn Children’s Hospice in September, I’ve got to keep my weight down to fit into my Sásta fitness training kayak, and I’ve signed up for the Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race on October 5th – so it’s time to get my running shoes back on and face the music. I didn’t exactly grumble on Twitter, but I did suggest I might have to drive home when I found the car-park was full…. The Tweet said I wondered “if this would be the day when I realised I loved running”; well it didn’t quite work out that way – but…
We started with stretching exercises led by John who defies gravity with his balance. When jokingly challenged about his dance-like ability, the running supremo grabbed a girl out of the line and waltzed his way across the track in a decidedly accomplished fashion, to the collective squeals and delight of the group gathered along the start-line. Ice-breakers over, we moved to the main event.
The session involved a couple of warm-up laps on the track and then intervals of jogging separated by fast ‘pick-ups’ … running fast for 90, 60, 45, 30, 20 second bursts – something like that. To be honest, the numbers were swimming around in my head, I just concentrated on John’s whistle bursts to tell me when to run fast and when I could slow down. At first I tried counting the seconds to myself, pacing out the beats with my footsteps and breathing. I struggled to the end of each burst, running out of breath and begging in my mind for the whistle to blow. Then my mind settled down. Instead of counting and hoping for the sprint bit to end, I told myself I was relaxed and this was easy and I could run like this all night. I kept the pace slow and steady on the recovery stretches, running more slowly than anyone else, but running fast enough for me. I kept telling myself that I was comfortable instead of convincing myself I was struggling; and do you know, something happened. I began to believe. I began to believe I could run like that all night. I watched the sky turning dark, I watched the trees in the distance above the track, I looked at the runners ahead and their form and the beauty of how they moved, and I felt my joints moving easily, fluidly, almost like a dance. I think I almost meditated. I thought about warm days and felt the cool breeze on my face, I felt the sweat trickle down my back. I heard the whistle and I slowed, I heard the whistle and I picked up, and in the background I heard an encouraging voice telling me I was running faster than when I started. Finally we got the final whistle and sprinted to the end; and to my amazement I was sad to pull up.
I’m not quite ready to say I enjoyed the running… but I could have danced all night….
Monday Aug 12th: 15k cycle in and out of work (total 30k) / 20 mins lunchtime running in Stephens’ Green / couple of lengths in the pool with dad 🙂
Tuesday Aug 13th: 15k cycle in and out of work (total 30k) / 45″ Gym session – S&C
Wednesday Aug 14th: 40″ running session (Fartlek) with Le Cheile AC