Running the race

me runningApologies for blogging yet again about parkrun, but you see not only is it about the only thing going on that’s not work at the moment, but this blog isn’t really about parkrun anyway, not really.

I’ve found that at certain times in life I can draw parallels between the main event and a sideshow, so to speak, and that’s what running is to me right now.  So I’d like to take you through this morning’s race.  You might see what I mean, you probably won’t know the whole story, but I will.

As I’ve already said, parkrun is a 5k run that takes place on a Saturday morning.  The run I go to takes place over two laps, which go along the promenade next to the sea, up a steep slope, back along the grass at the top, down a slope at the far end where we started, then over the same route again finishing at the top.

This morning I was driving myself again – last week hubby came with me but today he was out – and I decided to approach the seafront from the other end, so I was parked as close as I could get to the start but facing the right way to head home.  In fact I had to move down quite a long way, as the road was busy, but a car pulled out just as I passed, leaving a useful gap, so I parked there, changed my shoes (can’t drive in my running shoes) and walked up.  As I’d approached the building from the south, there was a beautiful wide rainbow out to sea that would have made a lovely picture, as it appeared to finish at the parkrun building, but it had disappeared by the time I walked up from the other way.  Still, I pulled out my camera to take what turned out to be a rather poor quality shot of the crowds as my pic of the day.

I jogged up the road a short way past and back, just to get my legs warmed up, and discovered a group of people on the far side of the building doing warm up exercises to music, which looked great.  The building, by the way, is a toilet block, which provides useful facilities for the start and end of the run.

At this point the weather was dry but looking a little overcast.  I was greeted by a lady I spoke to last week, who came back out to pace me in the last bit, and she told me about the group going for a coffee after, but I said that I have to go shopping – I’ve changed my weekend routine to delay shopping by an hour and a half to fit this run in.  It was nice to be recognised and greeted, though. We all made our way to the bottom of the slope, listened to announcements and then set off. I started my GPS watch as we left, and hit the start button on my zombies run app  – running the same 5k mission I did last time, because it times story segments with distance rather than time.

Standing in the pack ready to go is an amazing feeling – this large group of people, all there for the same thing, and I’m one of them – at the moment.  No-one is behind, no-one is ahead, we’re just all part of a group.  That feeling can last for the first couple of minutes or so, and then reality starts to kick in – most of these people are fitter than me and faster than me, and as we all start stringing out I take my place towards the back of the pack.  Still I’m running, listening to music, and for a while I can pretend that I can really do this.  I can stay with the pack all the way.

Then the lungs start burning, the legs start protesting slightly and I tell myself that I only have to reach the edge of the beach huts and then I can take a walking break.  I must use this as a marker for next time, because it’s useful to try pushing just a little further.  I make it to the beach huts, ease off to a walk, slip my jacket off to tie it around my waist and check the time on my GPS watch as I do so.  Nearly 3 and a half minutes! In training at the gym I’ve built up to 2 mins walking 2 mins running, so to set off like that was pretty good.

Shortly after the beach huts comes the sailing club, and after that the boats pulled up on the grass.  Amongst these is the 1k marker, and as I pass it my app announces “1 kilometre.  Time 6 minutes 40 seconds.”  An amazing time!  This means I’ve been averaging the same speed as I set the treadmill to, so I guess it must suit my stride.

Shortly beyond that it’s a cheerful greeting to the marshal at the bottom of the steep slope, and I start running again, remembering what I was told last week by the ultra marathon runner about keeping moving but taking smaller steps.  This point, the furthest away from the start/finish point, and knowing that I have to do the circuit again, is the worst, also involving a steep slope followed by a long gradual slope, but my ipod seems to have figured this out and finds the right music for me – last week it was Meatloaf’s “I wasn’t built for comfort I was built for speed”, while this week Defying Gravity came on – check out the full lyrics, but hitting lines like “I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so, some things I cannot change but till I try, I’ll never know” I find myself running merrily and singing along at full volume.  Luckily at this point the field is pretty spread out, and I don’t think anyone hears – besides, you’re supposed to run at a pace where you can still breathe enough to sing, right?  My mind goes back to the way I’d felt when I’d first woken up – I feel so much better now, I’m on a real high and I’m glad I came, even though I’m still aware that I’m walking far more of the course than I would like.

Along the top grass, 2k mark at a time of 15 mins or so, and past the shelter where it starts sloping down very slightly again.  Most of the pack is still within sight but quite a way ahead, with a few runners strung out behind them, then me, then a few after me.  The grass is a little wet and muddy, but not as bad as last week.  I see one runner meet up with a spectator and collect his dog for the second lap.  Round the funnel by the building, a walk down down the slope, then running again along the prom.  I get a little irritated at this point by a couple who feel it necessary to let their dogs off the lead, which means I have to swerve slightly to avoid them – couldn’t they have waited the two minutes it would have taken to let the last runners past? – but soon I’m in my stride and making good progress.

The 3k mark is this side of the sailing club, and I’m still running steadily.  The pack is drawing away, but there are plenty of us spread out behind them, and I’m more relaxed about it this time – it’s become more about me and the music and physical exercise, and less about being anxious about being left behind.

Another greeting to the marshal – love those guys! – and up the slope again, another marshal at the top, and then along the grass.  More of a struggle this time, but at least I know it’s nearly the end, although there’s still well over a kilometre to go.  Not sure how I’m doing for time – will I make a personal best?  Is it worth really pushing it?  I want to get there, but it’s tough, and my lungs ache and my legs ache and I’m not sure whether it’s better to give in and relax the effort, because I’m not sure I’ll make it even if I do try my hardest.  The story through my headphones is entertaining, though, and the music is good, and I’m enjoying myself, and whatever happens, I’ve given it a go, and I’ve tried, and not doing it isn’t the big failure it could be, because after all I made the effort in the first place and there’s always another day and another challenge.

Then the last shelter is passed, the building is in sight, and I’m running again, determined that I make that last stretch at a run.  The photographer is standing in this section, and I try to look as though I’m fit and enjoying myself.  I feel my jacket slipping down from where it’s tied to my waist, until it’s more round my hips, and I idly wonder for a moment if I’ve lost that much weight already, but then I realise it’s probably the knot working loose, and I pull it tighter. The funnel is in sight – a narrow area with tapes each side that you go through at the finish – and I think I’m going to be able to make the last bit without slowing down, but where’s the guy with the timer?

I spot him, standing to the left of the funnel, ready and waiting, and at the same time I feel the first few drops of rain falling.  I enter the funnel, hears him whistle or beep or whatever he does – I’m on too much of a high to notice exactly what, just that it’s done – and there’s someone to hand me my barcode ticket.

This week, like last week, I’m close enough behind the rest of the pack to join them in queueing to check in, and start chatting with the lady who passed the line just behind me as I do so.  We’re soon done – they scan the ticket you’re given, plus your personal card with barcode that you print out when you register with parkrun – and we walk together back along the seafront to the cars, in what by now is rather heavy rain.  It’s her first parkrun, although she’s run elsewhere before, and we exchange stories about running and training, until we come across my car and it’s time to say goodbye, put my other shoes on and drive home for a well deserved shower.

The only thing left to do is wait for the official timings to come through.  My GPS watch said around 38 mins, but I did it in 38 something last time, so until I see the official record I really don’t know if I made it or not, whether all that effort was worthwhile or whether I’d done too little too late to beat my previous times.

Eventually the times are up, and yes I beat my time by 23 seconds, in 38:23!  Not much, but I did it, and I guess that sometimes you have to go slow and consolidate what you can do before pushing too hard to beat records.  Still, I’m steadily improving, and I feel good for it.  I came in 137 out of 142, and I’m starting to feel like one of the regular runners, even though I don’t yet feel like one of the pack.  At least I know that in this situation I can control the progress I make, and I can take as long as need to improve.

PS the picture at the top is of me last week – couldn’t find one of me this week, but you can see the sea in the distance.


My big secret

musical notesI cannot resist musicals.  They have a strange effect on me.  From the time I went with school as an impressionable 14 year old to see the opera version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, any time I see a musical I end up falling head over heels in love with at least one of the cast.

It’s true.  I can’t help it. I used to work with amateur theatres, and one pantomime season I fell in love with the principal boy.  And yes, it was played by a woman.

There’s just something about the power of the poetry in the lyrics, combined with the lure of the music, that pulls me along with it, until I melt.  As they sing their emotions, I feel those emotions touching me, until I almost suffocate under the weight of them.

We’re currently watching the 10th anniversary concert of Les Miserables, and it’s Javert that grabs me.  There’s usually one central character – whether I identify them, or whether for some other reason, they take a firm hold of me and I can’t escape.  It’s the sort of experience that can lead to those bitter-sweet crushes that people usually associate with teenagers.

I watched the musical episode of Buffy, and got dragged into watching the whole 7 seasons.  I’m hooked on Glee.  I’ll watch musicals avidly.

I’m just a little wary of live musical productions these days – to experience those in a crowd amplifies the experience, until I’m totally overwhelmed and can’t handle it.

If I could produce something that could produce that emotional reaction in someone?  Yeah, that would be beyond cool.  That’s where I’m starting to understand this “write what you know” business.  It means that if you can feel a place, or an emotion, or a situation, your writing is much more powerful because it comes from the heart and can penetrate much more powerfully.  How can you expect a reader to respond to an emotion if you as a writer can’t feel it?  So yeah, writing at times can be painful.  But it can also be cathartic.  And the painful writing is also the powerful writing.  I’ve noticed with reading blogs that it’s when the writer really opens themselves up honestly, that they’re often afraid of the reactions of others, but their writing is so amazingly powerful that the reader can’t help but react to the emotion in it.

It doesn’t mean you can’t write about something if you haven’t experienced it, but it does mean you can’t possibly write successfully about something if you can’t feel it yourself deep inside where it really hurts, whether that be a painful hurt or a pleasant hurt.  As a writer I believe you must develop your feeling muscle, so that with experience and practice you can bury yourself deeper inside the emotions you haven’t personally experienced, but for beginners?  Yeah, probably better to stick to writing what you know, or at least what you feel. Because that’s what writing’s about, isn’t it?  Getting to the truth, the feeling, rather than the exact facts?