This story actually begins back in primary school. And it keeps on going right up to the present day.
I wasn’t the most popular child in my class. By my own unofficial ranking system, I came second from the bottom of the social pecking order. The Jarvis Ranking System? Who got caught the easiest in Tag games. Most lunch breaks involved a Tag game of some description, and I invariably got chased down as easy pickings and tagged. There was only one girl I could consistently and repeatedly catch at my sprint pace, I couldn’t consistently outrun anyone else. Hence why you often found me playing football…
I remarked upon this frustrating trend to my mother, who applied sensible adult logic to my misery: I wasn’t necessarily good at sprinting…but perhaps that just meant I was better at stamina and long-distance running? She even did a couple of mixed jog/walks through the local caravan park with me as “long distance running”.
A seed was planted.
I took part in “x-country club” through my early years the secondary school. “X-country” meaning (a) a few circuits of the school playing fields (b) getting driven out of town in a minibus and having a 20 min run back to Madras or along the East Sands promenade. And yes, I really enjoyed that. I took part in the annual x-country championships on behalf of my School House, I’d be significantly faster than the random element who joined to get out of class. I regularly went to the regional and Scottish secondary school x-country champs (long coach trips and running around DIFFERENT fields, some not even very muddy).
There was just one problem. X-country Club was a seasonal thing. After the Scottish champs in March, the PE staff switched to an Athletics Club. And I mean, I was decent at the 800m…but I’d known since I was about 6 that I JUST WASN’T A SPRINTER. My father helped research out any x-country or running clubs in the local area that didn’t call off for the summer. He found me Fife AC. And did you know it, they were holding a 5K race in St Andrews in a few weeks? I remember asking just how far 5k was. (Turns out that it was slightly further than I’d been expecting, but never mind…)
I was about 13 when I first showed up to a Fife AC Thur training night. They met up at the
University sports centre and during the summer went down to the West Sands for the interval/circuit sessions. It turns out that adults ran considerably longer and faster than the S1-3 X-Country Club. Ouch. I was lagging behind before we’d even got to the golf courses. My memory kind-of blanks out about the rest of that first training session after that point: suffice to say, I found it brutal and unnecessarily extended.
Nearly a decade on…I still find group training brutal. The level of brutality has kept up with my ability: we make our own pleasure and pain, it seems.
I stuck with the running. I found that the Fife AC sessions became tolerable – I could walk the next day. I took part in various races, got to make friends through shared car rides to races. Through my teenage years I ran up to three times per week, running fast and racing frequently. People came to see me as an incredibly fit and athletically-able person, and I liked that: it felt like I was respected for being a runner.
And I really enjoyed it. Even when it hurt, when I was tired, distracted or stressed.
In the summer I’d run intervals barefoot along the West Sands of St Andrews, tackling the infamous sand dunes (guaranteed to dissolve your quads in lactic acid by the third descent). Or else at the Cupar Tuesday training sessions it’d be lesisurely laps of the playing fields. There was the Sunday hillruns out in the wilderness for hours on end, trotting through marshes and agreeing to yet another hill, because I knew there would be an awesome collection of cakes in the Fifers’ cars waiting for us to eat when we got back.
In the winter however, it became exciting. Then there was cross-country – real swampy 5K races in the biting cold and sinking mud. There was the night running – speeding through the deserted amber-lit residential streets or doing something insane on a cliff-top with only a headlamp and some flour marks for guidance. Running became synonymous with adrenalin and endorphins – the feeling of being truly alive. Of being something…powerful. Something relentlessly strong. If I could find it within me to get out of the house on a frigid icy winter night to do fast laps underneath the Cathedral, surely I could find the strength within me to achieve anything?
Yet, the running got phased out. I managed a solid year or so with Edinburgh University Hares & Hounds – a good, dedicated crowd who had fantastic team spirit. Unfortunately, the degree was the most important thing in my life, and other stuff had to give. And I didn’t click as well or as quickly with the Haries as with some of my other social circles. Then training clashed with a Committee meeting of another society…
Yada, yada. You get the picture.
…But damnit, I missed running. Running was something I’d done since I was 13. Running was what I was GOOD AT. I still kept up the exercise and did plenty of solo runs around Arthur’s Seat…but that wasn’t quite the same thing…
So, we’re now in Switzerland and back with a training group. Basel Dragons Running Club, the international/English-medium club in the Basel area. Twice a week, long distances at nippy speeds. I was surprised to find myself still capable of keeping up easily with a group after such a hiatus from running in company. Though I realised after a few weeks that I’d been suffering a smogasboard of stitches during those first runs, which probably meant that my body wasn’t optimising oxygen-intake as much as it should. However, after those first few weeks the stitches had disappeared and it didn’t feel painful any more.
I’m going to make a commitment to a half-marathon or 10K race in the near future, so watch this space. Then I’ll know I’m truly back in business.