I always imagined that the first time you tried something would be the hardest. Trying anything for the first time – swimming, playing the recorder, kissing, harem pants – is always going to be nerve racking, and these nerves, coupled with the new but necessary co-ordination of movement and self-consiousness, make the task even more difficult. But surely the first time is the hardest? Surely things get easier with practise?
I have enjoyed swimming ever since I learnt not to drown. Similarly I have grown fond of kissing and wearing harem pants, and I eventually even mastered the recorder and joined a chamber group (embarrassing fact of the day: I played the bass recorder). But running seems to defy this logical life-rule. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve got the hang of this running thing, you go out on a familiar 6-miler and feel completely out of your depth…
I started my half marathing training this week after a month of rest following the race in Berlin. Though I have not run very much during this month I have stayed active with pilates, cycling and a bit of swimming, and after my speedy (by my standards) parkrun on the weekend I thought that perhaps my fitness levels hadn’t dropped that significantly.
Last night I joined my familiar 9min/mile group at the running club to go on a pleasant 6 mile route around Hampstead Heath, but 1.5 miles in I was stretching out my calves and dropping back to the slower 9:30min/mile group. One hill later I was at the back of this group and convinced I was going to have to walk home.
My calves hurt. My glutes had zero energy. My breathing was uncoordinated. My shoulders ached. My arms were heavy. And I sweated so much I thought I was going to drown in my own bodily fluids.
How on earth could I have forgotten to run? How could my fitness have dropped that much? I began to worry that the summer half marathon was a terrible idea – signing up so soon after Berlin was too cocky. I began to worry that I would have to rest from the club runs for another few weeks. I began to worry that I would never run again – Berlin was the climax of my running career and now I would be forced into retirement by a cramped calf.
Obviously none of the above is true. I can still run, my fitness (though lower) hasn’t dropped that much, and as far as I know there are no recorded cases of anyone having ever drowned in their own sweat (if you know otherwise, please let me know). So why did I get so worked up? Well it was just an attack of good old runners’ pride, that masochistic tendency to expect your body to go that little bit further than it is currently capable of.
When you are in the midst of training you spend so much mental energy pushing your body further and further that it can be a difficult habit to break. And when you are regularly running a high weekly mileage and scoffing at a 6 mile jog, it can be a massive knock to your pride to admit that you find 6 miles tough. But rather than be grumpy about my rubbish run last night I am actually feeling quite positive. You see last night’s run proved to me just how hard I had trainined earlier this year. I thought of 6 miles as a ‘short run’, but 6 miles is actually pretty far! And so if I stick to my training plan over the next few weeks, patiently but persistently, that 6 miles will soon become the ‘short run’ it once was.
So is the first run always the hardest? Yes it is, but it’s not just your first ever run that’s hard – it’s the first run that sits at the start of every single training plan, the run that forces you to confront a slightly lower fitness level and accept that your body is wonderful machine that can become just as accustomed to rest as it can to running!