I’ve always enjoyed running uphill. I think it’s probably because I have always equated running with struggling; I’m not a natural runner. I’m a struggler. So I enjoy the pain that running uphill invariably brings because it reminds me of the things that I’ve struggled with, and struggled against, and struggled for. It’s a long list. I enjoy the burning sensation in my lungs. I’m not quick enough of a runner to make my lungs really, really ache on the flat. I just can’t run fast enough; my legs won’t pay any heed to my thoughts to get a move on. There is a disconnect between my nerves and my muscles and my subsequent shuffle is too sedate to really challenge my heart and lungs.
But uphill is another matter; when running uphill I gain the searing sensation across my chest that is the precursor to feeling cleansed from the inside out and I love this feeling. I cherish the idea that, somehow, with each gasping breath we are renewed. On some level each fading footfall brings us closer to who we could be and the mistakes of the past recede into an ever-diminishing memory. We gain perspective when we sweat.
Of course, it’s all too easy, after the pain has receded, to make this sound philosophical. While racing uphill in the brilliant Mast Race a couple of week ago I was hardly thinking of anything at all. And for me, this is always good thing. The brutal uphill slog of Bolton’s Smithill’s Dean Road required a simple and unthinking focus: breathe. So, it was a welcome and meditative climb through the fog which after a mile cleared to reveal a stunning morning sun. Over Coal Pit Lane we rose and beyond to the icy paths that lead up to the television mast that sits atop of Winter Hill. I breathlessly reached the turn around point at just over three miles in ninth place, took another deep gasp and turned back to run the way we came.
On the downhill I remember thinking that I must avoid the ice which glistened in the relative warmth of the clearer air. It was just as well that I did: some runners obviously came unstuck and returned to the finish clutching grazed limbs. I also had thoughts of being caught; I’m just too timid to let everything go when running downhill. I make the fatal mistake of projecting into an imaginary future. Before I’ve run very far I’ve ended up falling, breaking my leg, smashing my pelvis, dying, burying myself, imagining my own funeral… The worst thing is that I know that I’m doing it, and I know how to stop doing it. But, in the time that it takes me to organise my thoughts, I have invariably tightened up a little and such tightness is the enemy of the little speed that I only occasionally manage to muster. An impromptu self-coaching session with just a touch of cognitive behavioural therapy saw my head back in the game. Ultimately, I didn’t lose too much ground by gingerly stepping over the rocky path that marked the last mile on the uphill and the first of the downhill. I was only passed by two runners on the downhill, and on the line another dipped for eleventh place leaving me twelfth. I’m delighted with this progress because there have been many occasions in the past where I’ve been caught by countless others when running downhill. But perhaps more pleasing still was the fact that I left the race thinking that I’d put as much into it as I could at the end of a week of hard training.
This metaphorical climbing continued with a solid 19:17 in the Stretford parkrun two weeks later. Despite putting in some hard sessions and a higher mileage I felt great all the way round and was pleased to get a PB despite deliberately holding back at the start. It felt good to be running at faster than target marathon pace and to feel controlled. I was working hard towards the end, as I started to pick off some places, but at no point did I tip over into it becoming a battle against lactic acid and dwindling confidence.
So, two solid timed efforts, and back to back weeks of hard training should have meant that I felt good at Sunday’s Central Lancs 5K. This race is the first of the Central Lancs Grand Prix races, and with it being the first official race of the club championship I wanted to hold my own and run as well as I could. In the end, it simply wasn’t to be. I’d incurred the early morning wrath of Mrs C by leaving the house in the first place. I don’t blame her. I’d spent all day on Saturday unable to move from bed having been laid low with some sort of bug; I literally couldn’t summon the energy to move. Every trip to the bathroom to refill my water glass hurt my hips. Although I wasn’t sick I could not abide the thought of eating. I believe that I was suffering from what the medics call ‘Being Knackered’. I slept for six hours during the day and ten hours on Saturday night. By Sunday morning I felt a lot better, although it must be said that it’s all relative. By the time the 5K had left the track, a mere 300 metres into the race, I knew that it’d been foolish of me to even start. My legs felt detached and a day of eating very little had left me feeling totally drained. Three miles later, and a very uncomfortable 20:52, I wandered over to Mrs C and the children relieved that it was over.
Blackpool marathon: 61 days to go.