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2017 - A pace odyssey

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

BACK in January, you may remember me sharing my new year’s resolutions in this column. As usual, mere weeks later I can barely remember these virtuous aspirations. The road to hell, and all that.
One thing I do remember however, is resolving to become a better runner.
Now, we must bear in mind that the bar was pretty low, given that I’d only run three times in the previous six months. One of those times was from car to house to escape a shower. Any progress on this front, therefore, was a guaranteed win. At the time, I think I may have harboured ambitious notions of running five kilometres every day for the month of January. That wasn’t at all delusional, was it? Looking back, I can’t help wondering whether I was still under the influence of the Christmas cheer when I signed up for that challenge, but needless to say, it didn’t happen.
Before you scoff, however, it wasn’t a total disaster. While I didn’t run every day (I mean, really, who was I kidding?) I did manage (mostly out of shame) to pull on my runners at least every two or three days every week. And something unexpected happened. Over the course of the weeks, I started to feel fitter. Now, this of course may to a normal person seem like a natural progression, but remember, we are not dealing with a typical athlete here. By the end of January, I found I could run those five kilometres without needing an ambulance on standby. I even started to enjoy it. Somehow, in failing to achieve what I set out to do, I discovered my running mojo. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Of course, having reached these dizzy heights of achievement, the thrill started to wear off. I was craving a bigger hit, a stronger high. So I went and did what any notoriously flaky runner would do. I signed up for a half-marathon. Obviously.

What have I done!
Look, I can only conclude that I’m in the midst of a mid-life crisis. For 30-odd years I have regarded long-distance running with suspicion, much like the way a dog will look at a curled-up hedgehog or a child will look at an electric fence - with the assumption that by going there, there will inevitably be pain. I’ve always thought those people who ran distances for fun were a bit mad. Now, I suddenly want to be one of them? Anyway, seduced by the prospect of actually achieving something worth bragging about in 2017, I signed on the dotted line, victory speech already in mind.
One week in, and I won’t lie - it’s daunting. I’ve entered a whole new world of jargon and terminology I never knew existed. Aerobic pace and anaerobic pace and lactate threshold and marathon heart rate and high intensity training zones. Luddite-like, I don’t even own a sports watch and the thought of learning how to use one stresses me out more than the thought of running thirteen miles. (THIRTEEN MILES. Mother of God.) The soles are about to fall out of my year-old running shoes and I can’t seem to dress for the weather, no matter what I wear. I’ve committed to training four times a week, and the sessions are already ominously long. I’m afraid of getting injured, getting bored, or just becoming a bore. But, barring disaster, I am seeing this out if it kills me. (God, I really hope it doesn’t kill me.)
Already though, the bug is biting. Last weekend, I ran an unprecedented (for me) eleven kilometres, and I swear, I felt like an Olympian. I’ve started to believe I might be able to do this. I’ve decided not to set any targets, so there’s no pressure. I don’t care how long it takes – I just want to cross the line. I also want to be one of those people who nonchalantly wears the souvenir top that subtly, smugly tells people I ran 13 miles (13 whole miles!) without dying.
It’ll be an interesting journey, and here’s hoping it’s not the road to hell, in every sense of the word. I’ll keep you posted.

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