Running Up That Hill
About six years ago, I discovered running.
Now, that sounds a ridiculous statement to make. Of course I’ve been running since I was a kid when I used to do a lot more of it! Not to mention it’s a prerequisite when playing football, at least for most people.
Not that I play football at any level other than friends organising seven-a-side games, but that’s my level.
So when I say “I discovered running”, what I really mean is I discovered I really enjoyed covering distances and pacing myself to do that all for no other reason than that enjoyment. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not playing anything, I’m not even competing against anyone else, I’m just running.
Its a good thing I don’t compete because I was never any good at it. Running as a kid was never my strong point competitively. For instance, I was a terrible sprinter. At school I once remarkably set a faster time in the 60m hurdles than I could manage in a flat 60m! Even today I sprint like Usain Bolt – in that I have a really slow start and then pick up speed eventually.
That is definitely where that comparison ends!
Even as a kid though, I always preferred longer distances. Things like cross country or the 800m where I could at least have a satisfying sprint finish. After all, if I’m already running, the slow start doesn’t exist so a sprint finish if I still have enough in the tank at the end to pass someone just before the finish line is always satisfying.
I was never one of the leaders though.
Fast forward to 2010 and a few things all fell into place. First of all, we moved into a bigger house and acquired a treadmill now that we finally had space for one.
Second, I was struggling with injuries that were stopping me playing football but weren’t stopping me from running – groin injuries mostly. So in an effort to keep fit I started using the treadmill more and more.
If I’m honest, running on a treadmill sucks. It gets boring as you never go anywhere, and you’re limited by the pace it sets and whatever hill settings it offers which never include a downhill option. No amount of smart programming can truly resolve these issues, and indeed we’ve long since got rid of our treadmill again.
Another aspect I discovered though was Parkrun. For those who’ve never heard of it, Parkrun is basically a volunteer organised five kilometre run in a local park, usually on a Saturday morning. Although it’s not really a race, it is timed so you can compete against yourself over time if you wish. It’s a terrific concept, and it’s free unlike so many other race like scenarios.
So it was one which I decided I’d try just as soon as I could run 5k on a treadmill. So I built up to it, gave it a go, and having been pacing myself to do ten minute miles on the treadmill I somehow managed to do my first Parkrun in 27 minutes and 1 second.
Quick conversion – a 5k is somewhere between 3.1 and 3.2 miles. My treadmill only measured in miles and only to one decimal place. So I was a lot faster through the park than my ten minute miles had suggested I should be.
Overall I was quite happy with how the run had gone and decided that it would become a regular thing as I built myself up to the third aspect of running. I signed up to do the Glasgow Half Marathon.
To put that into perspective, that’s more or less another ten miles on top of what I could do at Parkrun.
Why did I sign up? Well, I wanted to set myself a challenge. I was enjoying running, but the idea of basically doing a tour of Glasgow which would include running across the Kingston Bridge – the bane of my commute to work most mornings – had a real appeal to me.
Over the course of roughly ten weeks, a period of time that meant I could go to San Francisco for a week before my proper training began, I built myself up from the 5k of Parkrun to the longer distances required to even consider attempting the half marathon. I did this in two ways.
First, I stuck in at Parkrun. A timed 5k helped me see how I was pacing myself and as my distances built up elsewhere my times started coming down gradually. One week I even managed a time of 23 minutes and 3 seconds, and I’m still not sure how to be honest! It was nice to get my token with just two digits on it that week though!
The other good aspect was that I was able to find some good routes around where I live that I knew would be approximately 5k or 10k in length. Nowhere near the same distance as in a half marathon, but perhaps more crucially I pretty much live on a hill! So training runs at home would either inevitably be a big uphill struggle followed by a nice coast home or, since it was the longer route, an easy start with a monster finish! I could even combine the two and get somewhere in the region of 15k on a training run, hills and all, and both the start and the end would then be uphill.
It was tough going, but it was very rewarding in the long run – if you’ll pardon the pun.
The only time I ever approached the distance of the half marathon before the race itself though was three and a bit laps around the loch at Strathclyde Park. It’s about three and a half miles around, so it came to a little over 11 miles by the time I stopped. It’s relatively flat, which was a nice break from my home runs, and gave me the confidence to know that I could do the distance when I needed to do it.
On top of the training runs, I also ran a few 10k races as preparation. They helped me get to know what the set up would be like on a race day, while also changing the scenery and getting the miles in too. Of the three that I did, the first was the “Bella Belter”. Run by the Bellahouston Harriers, that race took place through Pollok Park which was also where my Parkrun of choice was held, as well as being part of the route of the half marathon. The second 10k was on the new link road at Kirkintilloch, joining the town to Scotland’s motorway network. Curiously I set exactly the same time in these two races despite the former being two laps and the latter being a “there and back again”. That time being 51 minutes and 23 seconds.
The third 10k I did was in Paisley. I’d lived in Paisley for a couple of years, and indeed I’d seen the 10k there make it awkward for me to get out to Asda in the past, so it was one I fancied doing specifically. I’ve since joked that because I knew areas like Ferguslie Park I ran that little bit faster just in case and ended up with a time of 48 minutes and 52 seconds – a full two and a half minutes quicker than the first two 10s races I ran.
Despite that, one of the most consistent aspects was actually my pacing. Ten minute miles seemed to work well for me, although I inevitably ended up quicker than that over shorter distances as I was able to run further as you’ve seen. So come the half marathon I was fully expecting to run it in around 2 hours and 15 minutes despite never actually sticking to ten minute miles in any timed event previously!
The day itself arrived and it was actually a really nice day for running. Not too warm, not too bright and sunny, no wind and it was a dry day. Ideal. The route started in George Square and once I was through the longest wait I can remember in quite a while it was up the St Vincent Street hill and down into Finnieston.
The route then took us along the expressway, up over the Kingston Bridge – which was as surreal an experience as I’d expected – down into Tradeston and then a long way along Paisley Road West before eventually turning into Bellahouston Park. Once out the other side and onto Mosspark Boulevard we headed down towards Pollok Park and joined the long stretch on the Parkrun course. Exiting the park again it was up along Titwood Road heading back towards the centre of town and eventually into the Gorbals.
Throughout all of that I actually felt pretty good. It was only as I approached the Gorbals that I heard the event had been going for two hours from a radio DJ who was broadcasting from the side of the road. My memory suggests he was from Radio Clyde, but I’ve no idea whether that’s the case or not. But that aside, one thing started to form in my mind. I hadn’t actually been going two hours, I’d been going for an hour and a half because the chip that activated my timer didn’t start until I crossed the start line at the end of that long queue.
It occurred to me that I must have been making good time and could be faster than I’d though. Maybe, just maybe, I’d break the two hour mark.
I really REALLY wish I hadn’t thought that. The Gorbals section seemed to last forever, but not quite as long as the turn into Glasgow Green. I knew the race ended there, but nothing has ever seemed as long as that final section. It went on, and on, and on. But eventually I crossed the line and I was delighted as I knew I’d ran the whole thing. No walking, no stopping, just start to finish in…
2 hours, 4 minutes and 25 seconds.
Originally I said I was doing the half marathon once and then never again. Even on the day I swore that was me done. I was going to stick to 10k as I enjoyed that distance a lot more. 5k was a nice morning run and I’d probably keep going to Parkrun as well, but 10k felt far more like my distance.
But the 4 and a bit minutes started to rankle with me more and more. That, and the fact someone jokingly said to me that if I did another half then I’ve done a whole marathon and that kinda appealed to me!
But I made one fatal mistake after the half marathon. I stopped running altogether. A week after the half marathon I went to Florida for a holiday, so I had always intended on having a break. But that break kept going and going.
I got married in 2011 so with that and other friends’ weddings to go to I knew I wasn’t going to be around for the half marathon that year, but for 2012 I bit the bullet and signed up again.
By this time I had got back to playing football. I’d seen a physio who told me that the groin injuries I’d been having would never fully heal properly, but if I managed them properly I’d be able to play on without too much trouble. So I did, and I was happy about that. I still manage them today and although they’re never 100% they’re strong enough that I can play from week to week.
But when I finally got back into running again in 2012 it didn’t go to plan at all. For one thing, playing football and distance running don’t relate at all. Although I could play football for 60 minutes every week no problem, I still had to build myself up to running the 5k distance again. I’d managed to do that and was now going to go back to Parkrun – which I’d been avoiding for fear of having woeful times compared to my 2010 runs – as well as building myself back up to 10k by doing my home runs again.
On one of those training runs, just after I’d turned back up the hill at the half way point to “head for home”, something gave way in my left leg. I tried to run through it but it was pretty clear I couldn’t. It was so much pain that even walking up the hill was a real struggle, to the point that I had to phone my wife to come and pick me up instead.
A trip to the physio revealed I’d seriously strained the Sartorius muscle. Diagnosis? No chance of running the half marathon. If I was lucky, they could help me run again the following year, but like the groin muscle it would be seriously weakened. In fact, it was quickly revealed that it would be worse than the groin muscle problems as I’d have to see the physio every few weeks to manage it – it wasn’t something I was going to manage myself this time.
Basically, running was now going to cost me money just to avoid being in pain, never mind the costs involved in entering 10ks and buying new running trainers and all the other things that add up over time. So given that or packing in the running altogether I reluctantly went with the latter. My 2012 registration for the half marathon, despite them offering to defer it to 2013 after I informed them of my injury, went unused and I’ve never even considered entering since.
I’m not a serious runner, I never have been. I ran because I enjoyed it, and an enjoyable way to keep fit and set yourself goals is never a bad thing. But when that enjoyment is replaced by worry over whether you’ll be able to walk and costs to try and minimise that risk, you have to question whether it’s worth it or not. I decided it wasn’t, and hung up my running trainers.
Many others would choose differently of course, and I can’t say I don’t miss it. I certainly missed it enough to take part in a Stroke Association 10k in 2015.
Three years on, I figured I’d try again. This was different from before as I was raising money and I’d basically been roped into doing it at work. But while that the primary goal, I was also using it to see whether or not I still had it.
7k into the two laps of Glasgow Green and I found myself running slightly up a hill into a head wind. Now, I never could master the head wind issue and it was one that had defeated me on training runs in the past, but I’d already done it on the first lap so I figured I could do it again.
But then I felt that Sartorius muscle.
For the first time in any race, I stopped and decided to walk. I swore there and then that I’d finish this race but that would be it for me. Thanks to a kind volunteer and her jelly baby boost, I was running again before the 8k marker and didn’t stop until I finished the course. It took me just over 1 hour and 4 minutes to complete – I actually don’t know the exact time as I never saw what it was but clearly it was by far my slowest 10k time. Regardless though, I was glad I’d done it.
I’d love to be able to run like I did in 2010. Everything worked, I enjoyed doing it, it was a great time. But I just don’t have the confidence, and nor do I have the physicality to do so. Years of wear and tear from ignoring stretching advice before and after football no doubt caused many of the problems I now have. There’s a warning to anyone reading this who hasn’t stretched properly!
But there are other factors now too. I don’t really have the same time I did in 2010 due to parenting commitments for instance. I don’t have 1-2 hours of time to just go out running on my own any more.
And yes, I have tried running with a buggy! It’s really not for me!
I don’t know if this blog is cathartic or if I’m hoping someone reads it and offers some advice that might help. It might be a bit of both. But then again, maybe it’s just the timing because last week I signed up to a toddler class that happens on a Saturday morning – the same time I used to go to Parkrun. In doing that, it feels like I’ve closed the door on another part of my past, and I feel like I should acknowledge that somehow.
No matter what though, I did still do the half marathon once. I’m proud of that achievement, even if the four minutes and 25 seconds do still nag me a little.
I know this though. They don’t nag me anywhere near as much as the shocking miss I had at Celtic Park!