It’s a glorious spring Saturday afternoon. I’m walking round the park with my family and dog; we’re all enjoying the first really warm sun of the year.
I’m in a good mood. My hip, so very painful since last weekend’s Manchester Marathon, feels ok. It’s not grinding, not burning, not aching. It’s stiff. Stiff I can cope with. Stiff is ok. Stiff is a gentle reminder to get stuck into the rehabilitation exercises that I started this morning after jogging to parkrun to cheer on my friends. Stiff is the nudge that I need to stretch. Stiff is the alert needed to get my foam roller out and gently roll away at the scar tissue at the top of my left hamstring.
Our walk takes us round the parkrun course and to the bottom of a hill that I must have run up close to a thousand times in my life. Training runs, hills sessions, parkruns – it’s a lot of times that I’ve made the trip from the steps at the bottom to the crest of the hill. My boy, just six, starts to sprint ahead with complete disregard for his clearly unsustainable pace. He turns and shouts back, ‘Is this how you run up here, Daddy? Watch how fast I can go!’ It’s a moment of joy. His face beams with the sheer pleasure of moving forward under his own steam; he really doesn’t care that he’ll have to stop to catch his breath before starting all over again. For that moment in time, all he wants to do is run – and he loves it.
It’s a moment of joy for me too. It’s yet another timely reminder that despite the disappointment of last Sunday’s Manchester Marathon, despite the fact that I will need to devote a long time to rehabilitating my hip, running is a gift. And it’s a gift that I don’t want to take for granted anymore. I don’t want to turn up to races just for the experience of completing them anymore; I want to race and see how fast I can go. I don’t want to waste the gift of running by simply running; I want to train methodically, with an aim, an objective, a purpose. I don’t want to waste the gift of running by doing the same things that I’ve done up to this point: the same runs, the same routes, the same pace. All of these things have left me with a chronic injury that is getting in the way of being able to enjoy the simple gift that is running.
And so, as my boy sprints his way up the hill, and as I walk up behind him, grateful that I’m no longer in pain, I vow to myself that the next time I run up here it will be to find out how fast I can go too. At the bottom of the hill I’m faced with a reminder that I can continue to run in the way that has got me this far, or I can take a step back and learn what I really need to do to get faster, stronger, less prone to injury. I can learn what to takes to become a different type of runner. That’s the gift I choose to give to myself from this point on.