“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

I have had so many discussions with people over the last nine months where I’m told I’m so lucky that I can run because they can’t run for more than five minutes without stopping. It doesn’t matter how often I try and explain it to them, it doesn’t seem to sink in. It doesn’t get any easier – your body just allows you to run a little further, whilst suffering the same pain. I suffer as much as them, but my brain is better trained to block it out.

I am no more able to run for 2 hours without stopping than anyone else. But, I’ve spent a year training and building myself up to it. I think that, on the whole, it is not our body saying “no”, it is just our brain. Frequently, half way round a run I will decide that I am tired and I need to walk. The pain hasn’t increased a huge amount or arrived suddenly, but my brain has tired of ignoring it. I will then walk, for all of about five steps before sternly having a word with myself because the pain isn’t changed by walking and the pain is only prolonged by walking, so you just have to get on with it.

It seems to be a common belief that some people can run and some can’t. I hate to burst the bubble, but I have to work bloody hard at it! And it’s not the muscles that need training, more than anything, it is the brain. If you don’t feel like doing a run, or your brain isn’t truly focused, you will find it impossibly hard. Whereas on a day when your brain is switched to the correct function, you can ignore all the aches, pains and hills and simply carry on.

I think that despite the next 6 months training, nothing will prepare my brain for the 26.2 miles that I’ll be running in April. Someone told me that I had to stop thinking of it as 26 miles, but 10 water stops. No matter what we do, it’s impossible to switch our brain off; on Saturday, I decided that my ‘long slow run’ would be from home to course build at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I looked on Google maps and decided it was 10 miles. Sadly it was 11 and ½ miles. Now, I can hear what you are saying – if you’ve run 10, I’m sure you can manage another mile or so? But my brain was so focused that I was going to get to stop soon that when I got to 10 and was in the middle of nowhere still, I could have cried. I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep on running. I did carry on, but it felt like another 5 miles to the finish.

Whatever the distance you are running, I can guarantee that your body will begin to tire in the last 10% of the race. Well, put simply, if you don’t have that pain that feels like you are dying, you just aren’t trying hard enough! But if I do a 10km race now, I just know that at 9km, I would feel like I didn’t have another step left in my body, even though I know I’m fit enough to do the race twice. It is entirely psychological and unless I find a way of unplugging my noddle, I’ve just got to learn to live with it!

Normally I fall into a bit of a retirement in the winter as although I would love to carry on, running alone in the dark seems a bit silly. I went out once and was so terrified that I was going to be mugged or raped that I forgot to look out for potholes and nettles; I came back looking like I’d taken a scalpel to my legs. Thankfully that was the only damage, but I thought that realistically it would be safer to run in a pack. It might also help to keep that noddle of mine motivated through the dark, wet, cold nights. So a few weeks ago, I embarked on a couple of running adventures…

My first experience of running en masse was by invitation of a friend; she said that she does hash every Tuesday and it’s the most fun way of running. I wasn’t sure that smoking dubious roll ups prior to running was that wise, but I went online to do a little bit of exploring about her kind of hash. The next Tuesday, I found myself sat in a pub car park awaiting the arrival of the High Wycombe Hash House Harriers. Clad in more hi-viz lycra than you could shake a stick at, soon everyone arrived. I was taken into the middle of the group, lit only by our headtorches and pronounced a Hash Virgin and welcomed to the group.

Then we started running; there is no easy way to describe it, but essentially one of the hashers (called the hare), has been out earlier in the week and laid a flour trail for the hash to follow. So you run through woods, fields and along lanes shouting “on, on” every time you see a dot of flour on the floor. Every so often, you’ll get to a checkpoint, where you have to find the right way to go, which often means half a mile or so in the wrong direction first. There are some other odd rules here and there to make sure the faster runners run further than everyone else. Once you’ve been lost in the dark for a good hour or so, you eventually stumble back across the pub where drinks and chips are shared by all.

It was, quite possibly the most entertaining run I’ve had – everyone was so friendly and I think everyone made a point of talking to me and making sure I was having fun. Everyone was a mad as me – quite proved by the fact that next week, we’ll be dressing up in Halloween clothing for the hash! Nobody took themselves too seriously – but they made sure everyone was enjoying themselves, which is just what I was looking for! I have to say, despite certain friends likening it to dogging (which it isn’t!), it’s a great way to get some exercise in.

Quite buoyed up by the friendliness and the fun of the Hash, I bit the bullet and emailed a local running club to ask if I could join them. A few days later, I got a perfectly polite email back inviting me to run with them on Thursday. Again, I found myself decked out in hi viz lycra lurking in the carpark, waiting for more people to arrive. Bravely, I walked into the club house, at which point everyone stopped, stared at me and then carried on with their conversations. Try as I might, I couldn’t hide any further in the corner than I already was, but I stood there studying my feet, waiting for someone to talk to me. Eventually, the “ladies captain” came over, asked me if I was new and told me I had to join one of two groups, but failed to tell me how to decide which group to go with. They made some announcements including the classically friendly “there is a new girl in the corner” followed by pointing and staring and then we were off.

Out of sheer fluke, I found myself with the fast group, who ran at a faster pace than I normally train at, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep up. I started to notice that we were losing people on every turn, but no one seemed especially bothered, which further motivated me to keep up! I was damned sure that I wasn’t going to get left behind in the middle of nowhere, when I didn’t know anybody! We ran a good strong 8 miles and by the end, one or two people had said a couple of words to me. I finished, cooled down and went home. It wasn’t that fun, but I think it’s what I need in the run up to the marathon. If I don’t have people pushing me to go faster and further, I’ll be lost. It’s just a real shame that I couldn’t have a laugh along the way.

So that’s how my marathon training has started – hopefully it’ll begin to pick up pace as I get deeper into the winter. In my next blog, you might even get to see a picture of the Halloween Hash!

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. suz@zannerogers.co.uk
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 18:07:43

    Bry, this is brilliant – you’re so right about it being a mental issue than a physical one! And running in a group is so much better – even more so when they’re friendly. I’m so glad I found the Run England (Maidstone Group), who were really welcoming – like your hashers (but no chips afterwards …). Keep on running and I’ll try and catch up with you one day 🙂

    Reply

    • sillybry
      Oct 27, 2011 @ 19:38:51

      I’m sure running is 99% mental strength and 1% physical strength. Luckily I can be a bloody minded git at times!!

      I am enjoying running in a group – even the less friendly ones, who were a bit better tonight – it pushes me to run faster and/or further, which can only be a good thing. Plus most of the people I’m running with have run marathons before, so I can ask them for advice!

      Of course you will catch me! Keep running, I’ll wait!

      Reply

  2. felinedot
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 12:58:36

    You’re so right about the mind over matter. Annoyingly, that means so was my P.E. teacher at school. However, as she was viewed as a twisted masochistic dictator her advice wasn’t well received. I blame her for putting us all off physical exercise. Looking forward to seeing pictures of the Halloween Hash…..and wondering what their Christmas one will be like? Some poor pixie being chased through the woods by a pack of howling Santas?

    Reply

    • sillybry
      Oct 29, 2011 @ 18:47:31

      I think most PE teachers do nothing more than put kids off exercise! I know most people refuse to go anywhere near a tracksuit and t shirt for years after leaving school! It’s only when they realise that not exercising, plus drinking and eating, is bad for you, they find a way to do it again!

      You’ve had a preview of my Halloween Hash outfit… I’ve got some neon green nail varnish to finish it off though!

      Reply

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