September 2016. I had just moved into what was to be my house for my 3rd year at university. During an unassuming conversation with one of my new housemates, she casually mentions to me she’d been thinking of signing up for the next year’s Nottingham Half Marathon. Before this, I hadn’t really considered going for a jog around the block let alone 13 miles around a city. A few days later though, all changed quite rapidly. After what was probably less than 5 minutes of reading the first result on Google for “marathon training”, I found my myself not signing up for the 2017 edition of the Nottingham Half Marathon… No no no, that would be all too sensible. Instead, I was filling in a form for the full marathon – yes that’s right, the 26 miles of running one!
My train of though was something along the lines of that September 2017 was due to be my final year as a student in the East Midlands, therefore I should try to do everything I had previously not had a chance to experience there. I’d never ran the Nottingham Marathon before… Thus… Next year I will? Yes, why not? My house for the next year was not too far from the River Trent and the Beeston canal. This meant I could do some nice loops either by heading west toward Derby or east into the city centre, all off road along tow paths, cycle tracks and public rights of ways. Pleasant! Luckily I got into doing this fairly regularly and more often than not I wouldn’t have a specific route or distance in mind which meant I got to know the surrounding areas quite well. A Wednesday morning, often rainy, adventuring fix! This helped to keep it interesting and amazingly after the first few times I’d even say I started enjoying myself. Relax the shoulders. Breathe in gently through the nose and out through the mouth. I’d go as far saying it was relaxing. It was an ideal and much needed mind numbing experience to listen to my pattering legs that seemed to compliment the rolling snare that was the running water of the rocky riverbed.
As word got around I’d signed up for this, my cousin who already had done a fair amount of running, rightly advised I experience a few half marathon races before the full one. Once again I was filling contact details, phone numbers etc etc for a running event. This time for the 2017 Reading Half.
As the 2016 turned into 2017, I had fewer and fewer days before my first 13 mile run. Before then though, I thought I should probably invest in some proper running shoes. Up until this point I had been using a holey pair of football trainers. Being inspired by reading the craziness of the Barkley Marathons and UTMB etc, I decided a pair of trail shoes would be worth the investment. I thought they’d be more versatile for me and would be fine for running on the road. Hint: the ones I bought were not…
The months went by and soon the weather slowly improved as March 2017 was upon us. Or as it was to me, time to 13 miles round a place I’d never really been before… The day before’s main activity: carb loading by eating more than 20 chicken nuggets from McDonald’s… Whether this helped or not I don’t know but it meant I was in no way hungry for the early 6AM start. Awake. Dressed. Shoes? Yes, now to the putting on of my fairly new trail shoes… As I was doing this I distinctively remember my cousin forebodingly saying, “your feet are not going appreciate 2 hours or so of repeated pounding against tarmac in those…”
Before I knew it I was off running in the warm ish Reading morning sun. After the first mile or so my nerves began to settle as my running legs fell into a steady rhythm. Quite quickly the crowd disappears as you leave the start, though every so often as I ran through the city you’d pass crowds of cheering people. I found this bizzare but I wasn’t complaining as often crowds meant free water and bananas and in one case a beer from a group outside a pub.
My body seemed to be coping well with all the strain I was putting it under. This all changed though on the long final mile. A long straight retail and business park surrounded boring final mile. The feeling I had in my feet at this point is right back with me as I write this. Every step there was a sharp raw pain in the inside of my feet. Despite the few hesitant limping steps, I’m encouraged to continue by complete strangers cheering my name. Yet again, I was confused by the crowd dynamics. With “how the hell do they know my name?” repeating over and over in my head, I push on and get running again – the name was on my number bib. With the legs pumping away I crossed the line in the Majeski Stadium in one hour and fifty-one minutes after I was at last here. Despite the good time, it soon becomes apparent why my feet are in agony… Turns out trail shoes often have less flex than road shoes as they’re made for muddy fields… See image below at your discretion…
After this I invested in some new footwear for road running. I would go onto running a further few half marathons before I did the full 26 miles around Nottingham. One with a group of friends during a thunderstorm in the French Alps, another 21km for my 21stbirthday and finally the Severn Bridge Half Marathon in 26°C the day after an intense 6 hours of trying and failing to wakeboard… Bloody hell that bridge is long… Eventually marathon day arrived and despite three halfs, I’d be lying to say I was adequately trained. I managed to do it nevertheless and afterwards would go on to more long distance running. A lot of these epics are worthy of their own writings and I will get round to it at some point in the future.
My desire for this was to help me ponder how my attitude on running has changed and developed, like the rest of me has over the last 12 months. My last Half Marathon was in November ’19 after which my right knee decided to be really unhappy for a while. This was probably caused by the previous six months of caving without kneepads and lack of long distance training leading up to the race… Between then until, well, about a month or so ago it had consistently been a little twingey on a daily basis. A walk downstairs hurt, so naturally I haven’t been able to do much intense exercise even if I had the time too. Apparently it was cartilage I had damaged. Fortunately, it has improved conveniently around time I moved to the Alps, so I’m slowly getting back into running. This time I’m going to do it properly though and work up to the long distances slowly and carefully. I have no goal in mind other than to simply enjoy myself. I won’t be signing up to the Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc anytime soon… Here in Hautville there are lots of loops, tracks up mountains and along (and through) lakes I can follow so I still get my exploration fix. This time though I’ll go for it at a more self-kind and gentle pace. I think this says a lot about how much I’ve learned to appreciate my body and myself over the last year.