It may come as a surprise to you that sometimes I doubt my abilities as a runner. I know right? I best give you a moment to get over the shock of that particular statement.
I’m not even sure what my problem is. Frustration that I didn’t discover running earlier, worries that I’ve not achieved what I feel I should have done in 33 years, general lack of patience and comparing myself to those who are fitter, stronger, younger, more experienced. Probably a combination of all of those things and many many more.
But I’ve noticed a change in the last couple of weeks. I think a tiny part of me may be starting to believe that I’m a good runner.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this and hovering your finger over the mouse to read about people pretending to faint to see if their dogs really care about them. Anyone who has only known me for a couple of years may only know the Duracell bunny, fitness fiend version of me and think I’m just fishing for compliments. But those who know me from years back (and especially my family) will know that I never looked like someone who could do the things I do know. I was a real trier, but few things came naturally to me, especially in the world of sport. I’ve always had to work pretty hard to be good at anything, except maybe for being a bossy loudmouth. That always came pretty easily.
But on the 10th September I was set to do the final Kevin Henry League 5k race for Ely Runners. I had only done the Ely sprint tri on Sunday 6th and that had tired me out more than I had expected, because when I run a long distance race I can get into a groove and switch off ever so slightly, but for the triathlon I had to stay more tuned in and consider the various disciplines and transitions, so my mind and body had been worked HARD. So when I left work at 6:20pm on Thursday to head half a mile down the road to the athletics track where Cambridge and Coleridge were hosting the run, I felt shattered with my stomach in knots and my hands shaking.
My pre-race nerves are pretty epic, but I had one thing in mind – keep my training partner Mary in sight. Alan had given me a talking to (read: slight bollocking) that morning. He told me to stay with Mary, and I told him I couldn’t. Big mistake. Alan doesn’t understand the “can’ts” and “couldn’ts” of the world. But I know that Mary is faster and stronger than me over longer distances and I thought he wanted me to stay literally on her shoulder. But he explained that he just wanted me to keep her within my sights, and I told him I’d try, which is all he ever really wants from me.
It was a gorgeous evening for a run – the temperature had dipped to about 16 degrees, and there was just a slight breeze. At the start I was gabbling to anyone who would listen, threatening to demand piggy backs from strangers and to run in the opposite direction, but then Mary made me laugh (slightly manically) about my nerves, calling them my “nervous owl” (thanks to a previous post) and I settled into the start in the same sort of place as her. It was time to see if my nervous owl could become a bit more confident.
I then went on to run the race of my life and I’m still not entirely sure how I did it. Somehow I managed to not only keep Mary in my sights but to actually stay on her shoulder the whole way round. I kept thinking to myself “it’s ok if she gets away at 2k, it’s ok if she gets away at 3k, oh my giddy aunt I’m still with her at 4k and flipping heck am I really at the final 300m and still only one place behind her?” I had pushed myself so hard that I didn’t have enough left in the tank at the end to catch her at the line, but when I heard thundering footsteps and heavy breathing at my shoulder I knew I had not run that kind of race only to be overtaken by someone at the line, so I dug deep and managed to finish one place behind Mary.
It took 5 days for the official times to come through. FIVE. DAYS. I am one of the least patient people I know so I cannot tell you how agonising it was waiting to see my time. I knew I had a PB, but I had no idea how much time I had taken off. I NEVER expected it to be 55 seconds. And it turns out that I had managed to keep not one but two other C&C runners at bay in that final sprint.
I think during the run, I found myself wanting to push for Ely Runners who have been so welcoming and do so much to create opportunities for people to enjoy running and even to excel at it. I wanted to do them, Alan, Mary and myself proud. And ultimately there was a feeling of “this is the last race of the league. I may as well hammer it.” The resulting PB is somewhat arbitrary compared to my existing one of 21:14 on a rougher, harder course (Milton Parkrun), but that is still I time I never, ever thought I was capable of achieving even on my very best day in perfect conditions on a fast, flat course.
So now I find myself in what feels like a quandary. I’m starting to believe that I’m a pretty good runner, but of course this means my head is running even faster than my legs and I’m over thinking things again. How seriously do I want to take this?
What if I fully commit and I’m not good enough?
What if I fully commit and I am?
What if, what if, what if?