Olivia runs a mile

Recently a film has been released called ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’, and I’ve heard it’s rather an emotional one for some of us runners. You see, not all who run are equal, not all who run did it at school, not all who run are fast.

I began running in April 2018 and was greatly enjoying it. My level of enjoyment took me completely by surprise (as it took everyone who knew me by surprise too!). I slogged away through the endless summer heatwave, into the autumn and winter. I went out in all weathers, including the pouring Lancashire rain and, when it was too hot that summer, at 10 o’clock at night. I was obsessed!

I loved the high I experienced after each run. I loved that I could see how I was getting better and fitter each week as my times came down or I could run for longer. I even ran an 11 mile fell run in the Yorkshire Dales. But then disaster struck…

In June 2019 I was playing netball and I landed badly on my ankle, tearing a ligament and putting myself out of action for months. After some serious rest and physio, I was given the all clear to run again (gently, slowly) at the end of September. This was a shock, as the initial examination with the physio in August had predicted October or November. I merrily skipped out of the physio, ran a handful of times, and then packed it all in.

You see, for once my mind wasn’t letting me down. My mind was telling me, yes, let’s go, you can do this. But my body was saying, nope, and prompting me to give up after just a few minutes. Suddenly, each run brought with it disappointment and demotivation, where it had previously brought elation and motivation. Instead, 3 weeks ago, I turned back to netball.

I took it very gently, no sprinting or jumping, but it was fine. My ankle felt good, and I enjoyed myself… except for the fact I was desperately unfit. I am desperately unfit. And so I told myself 3 weeks ago that I would start running tomorrow. The problem was, tomorrow never arrived. I always had an excuse.

Mainly, though, my biggest excuse was that I can remember the hard work I had to put in during those early months of beginning running back in April and May 2018. I can remember having to force myself out when I was shattered, when it was raining, early mornings or late at night. I can remember feeling ridiculous as I plodded along slower than walking pace as I ran up another Lancashire hill. I can remember all of the sore thighs and aching lungs. I can remember all of what it took to get myself to the place of being able to run 10.9 miles across fell land on my own. And I just didn’t think I could be bothered to put that work in again.

Last night though, I went to netball practice, and shared this with some of the team. Their response? Well, you’ll have to do it, if you want to get back to where you were. And, of course, they were right. What it comes down to is how much I want it. How much do I want to be able to run for miles and miles? How much do I want to feel that blood pumping runners high again?

Well, it turns out, I want it a lot, because this morning I went out and I did it. I put my trainers on and my headphones in, selected my music and ran 1.6 miles. Ok, so I ran for 8 minutes, walked for 5 minutes, and ran for 8 again, just as Jo Whiley told me to (I skipped to week 5 of Couch to 5K). But I moved forward for 1.6 miles. And it felt so good!

My lungs ached, my thighs burned (especially up that hill), but my blood pumped and my heart soared.

How much do you want what you want?

Don’t let anything stop you.

The Long Run

10.94 miles, to be exact.

I don’t think I can adequately put into words how amazing the run was. It helped, of course, that the weather was on my side: sunny, for the most part, with a gentle breeze which kept me cool. The conditions were perfect for a long run / walk / climb up and down the fells, through brooks, streams, mud.

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I set off from outside one of the Sedbergh School boarding houses on Long Lane, with rucksack on and feeling well equipped for what lay ahead. 2 miles in and I wondered if I’d made a mistake: I’d already had to walk considerable amounts. At least if I turned back, I’d get a good 4 miles under my belt, and there’s always next year. I reached for my phone to text my friend, Emma, to let her know I was thinking of turning back… but then I knew what she’d say. So away went the phone and on went the legs.

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It was at this point that the first set of ‘elite’ runners came past me with great strength. These were the real runners, in my mind, their calf muscles flexing as they shot past me. I heard their “Well done!” and it pushed me on. As I ran on to Cautley, I met 2 members of the walking party who had set off before me. I stopped for a walk of around a mile, chatting to them, refuelling with Percy Pigs and water, and sharing how my training was going. I had a final stretch at the Cautley pitstop, chatting to more walkers who assured me that I was a proper runner, before I decided to head off towards Baugh Fell.

Within a mile I was walking again as I hit yet another steep descent, and then the real work started. I don’t know why, but I had made the assumption that it was a case of making the climb up Baugh Fell, and then it’d be straight forward: run across Baugh Fell, find my way back on to the A684, which would draw me back into Sedbergh. Of course, things are never that simple, and you should never assume anything. 

In reality, Baugh Fell was a series of very serious and sudden declines of 100-200feet (30-60 metres), a great deal of mud, rivers and streams to run through and very uneven soft ground. This was where my ankles took a real beating as they bent this way and that with each landing. At one point I decided a farm track would be the best route, rather than the uneven boggy terrain of Baugh Fell. It was more solid than the marshy fell-land, but I soon found both feet firmly planted shin deep in mud, a la Vicar of Dibley. The only way out was for my hands to go all the way in too. Thankfully there was yet another stream for me to stop beside shortly after to rid my hands of the majority of the mud before continuing on my way. Who wants to run 4 miles with dry mud caked on their hands? 

Shortly after my attempt to clean up a little, I realised I was at 6.5 miles. This was officially the furthest I had ever run… though I still feel a fraud for saying that, as I had been walking considerable amounts. An incredible feeling rushed over me. What an achievement! I was 6.5 miles in, out of 10. And the only way back now was to run on; the quickest way home to a shower was to finish the race. Before I knew it, I could see the car park at Danny Bridge ahead of me and I knew I only had one 70ft climb ahead of me before the 2 and a bit miles on the road back to Sedbergh.

Sadly, my hamstring suddenly gave out. It was less of a tight muscle pain, more of an injured feeling. Kissing goodbye to a sub 3 hour time, my running pace slowed to a 15 minute mile (I’d normally run an 11.5 minute mile) as I hobbled on down the road. I was rather alarmed when I looked to see I had run 10 miles, but knew I was still a fair bit away from the finish line. It turns out that this 10 mile run is actually just short of 11.

As I came down to the final 500 metres a message came up on my phone from my friend, Emma, asking if I’d finished. She must have taken my silence and non text back as a sign that I was in fact still running because, as I came running down the final strait to finish, I looked up and she was running down to join me. Just like that, 3 hours and 20 minutes had passed, and I’d run over 10 miles.

It’s only been a day and people have been asking how it was. Quite honestly I’m not sure there will ever be anything like it. To finally complete a run that I was always too unfit or scared to tackle feels incredible. At the end I ran past the teacher who often had to stop me at Cautley because I was taking too long and wouldn’t be able to complete the run in a quick enough time. He smiled and congratulated me. I wondered if he remembered me. I mean, there’s no reason he would. I didn’t run at school, and that was over a decade ago. So I replied, “Thanks! I wouldn’t have qualified though.”

What is incredible is that, year after year, 16-18 year olds run this gruelling route. Some train for it, some don’t, and they finish to rapturous applause and cheering. There is something of a determined and motivated spirit in these young people, that they would choose to complete something so outside an ordinary person’s comfort zone. Now I have done it, I can see why. There is something so freeing, something so exhilarating, something so life giving, about being on the open fells, surrounded by nothing but creation.

Next year the run will be in its 140th year. I’ll be there, chasing my sub 3 hour finishing time. What will you be doing?

The Night Before

And so it’s finally here. The night before. In the morning I take on 10 miles of mud, rivers, hills and a bit of road too. Am I ready? Absolutely not. I’ve had cold after cold, shin splints and the sort of tooth ache that makes you want to cut your own jaw off. (Seriously, I was in A&E vomiting because the pain was so bad.) And so, I want to call it off. Part of me wants to wait until next year. There’s always a next year. But no. Tomorrow I will run.

Back in 2006 I chose not to run ‘The Wilson’: a gruelling 10 mile fell race for 6th formers at my old school. Why? Because I was fearful. Sure, I blamed it on my bad knees, my lack of training and my previous chest infection, but I was really just afraid. I was afraid I’d come last or, worse, not finish; that I would finish so late that there’d be no one there to cheer me on along the finishing strait; that I would be a bit of a laughing stock amongst my peers. I told myself I wasn’t fit enough, or strong enough; that sport wasn’t my thing, music was. I believed the lies in my own mind, and I let them win. But the truth was, I could have done it.

Now, over a decade later and around 4 stone heavier, I am nowhere near physically ready for 10 miles on the vast and bleak moorland of the Yorkshire Dales. I am not ready for the hills; I am not ready for the mileage; I am not even ready for the 5k stretch on road at the end. I am not ready. Yet, mentally, I am. I’ve been telling myself that I will be doing ‘The Wilson’ since April last year; since I went on that first run and it felt like an impossible dream that I might get from running for 60 seconds to running the impossible 10 mile in just under a year. Yet here it is. The impossible will, tomorrow, be done.

It isn’t even the lack of physical readiness which puts me off tomorrow. It’s the emotional. I have built this up in my mind over the years. I’d run the whole thing, with the exception of Baugh Fell. I’d get round in a respectable time for a 30 something mum of 1. I’d have family at the end cheering me on. Tomorrow I won’t have any of that. I definitely won’t be able to run the whole thing – though I’ve made my peace with it. My time is irrelevant tomorrow, it’s about getting round in one piece. And everyone’s busy (as is the case when you go to run on a Tuesday morning), so I’ll finish that 10th mile in silence and alone. It will be my biggest physical achievement to date, but I will celebrate on my own, probably via social media. There’ll still be tears though.

And really, all of that is ok. There is still next year. This year I can get round, find my way, survive. Then next year, 2020, I can fly round, find my way, thrive.

Giving up would be easy

In April it will be a year since I started running. Following the NHS Couch to 5K program, I quickly began to see improvement. I was running faster, and further. I was feeling fitter, more determined. Each time I ran, I’d be sure I could beat myself in some way.

Since September, though, I have lost my mojo. I’ve been running, but I feel as though I’m really not getting anywhere. And with a pretty poor January record, I have come into February wondering whether I can keep going.

I mean, of course I can. But it all feels a bit rubbish right now. I’m thoroughly fed up of running at the same speed (or, indeed, getting slower) and it feeling hard. It feels harder now than it did when I started 10 months ago.

And so, giving up would be easy. Especially as I seem nowhere near ready for my upcoming 10 mile fell run in March. I ran 1 mile yesterday and it felt impossible. If 1 mile on a relatively flat road feels that way, how will I get through another 9, with mud and hills and, probably, rain?

I know I can’t give up. It’s just that it would be so easy to say, “I’m done.”