A challenge is something which takes you out of your comfort zone.
I am a lazy runner. I am very comfortable in my mind about where my limits are and what I can reasonably achieve. I run just enough to reach my target and rarely push myself hard enough to want to stop. I like to make my running easy. This weekend for the first time I scheduled two races less than 12 hours apart. I don’t even do normal training runs that close together! Why would any sane person want to push themselves that hard? I needed something to jerk me out of this complacency I have settled into.
No one would ever describe running a half marathon as easy; so combining it with a 10k race the night before would definitely be considered a challenge.
I might have enjoyed myself too much on Saturday night. I loved the Uni Lite Night trail, it was much more fun than expected with a great atmosphere. It was just that last vertical kilometre that made it a little bit harder than expected. After all who doesn’t want to run up a mountain in the dark? Just a little kick at the end to give the race a bit of zing. I power hiked to the top listening to the cheers at the finish line getting closer, then all too soon the race was over. I wondered if I had made the challenge too easy. Should I have pushed myself harder by running the marathon instead?
After about five hours sleep I set out for the Llanelli Half Marathon with one goal in mind…finishing. I knew I wasn’t going to be fast, this wasn’t about getting a PB, but I couldn’t run it as slowly as my normal training runs. That wouldn’t be challenging enough! It wasn’t as hard as I expected to start running again after such a short recovery period. In fact the only time I wondered if I was going to finish was before I crossed the start line. Once I started running I began to enjoy being out in the sunshine and appreciating the beautiful Welsh coastline. After the first five miles I settled into my normal walk/run routine and the mile markers started becoming targets in my mind. Slowing down was the right strategy. I could talk to other runners and still appreciate my surroundings. I was still enjoying myself.
By mile 10 the night before was catching up on me; there were shooting pains up the side of my leg, I was hot and I lost my sense of humour somewhere back at mile eight. I was also getting paranoid. Why were the runners coming from the other direction starting to shout encouraging things at me? Did I look like I was losing the plot or maybe in imminent danger of collapse? Why were they smiling so much? Then I reached the final turn round point. Two and a half miles to go; less than a park run! That never fails to amuse.
I can’t say I suddenly got faster. I didn’t. It didn’t suddenly become easier. I kept to my run walk intervals and counted down the minutes. I did do my normal sprint finish for the finish line and I know there were more miles left in my legs which is a good way to end any run. My mantra these days is run easy enough to be able run another day. Does that make me lazy? Maybe.
I haven’t achieved a zen like state to help me understand the mysteries of the ultra. It was a challenge and it took me out of my comfort zone a little bit. That’s enough to keep me from getting complacent about my running.
What I did learn this weekend is a new respect for 13.1 miles. It’s a long way, a huge journey. It isn’t ‘just a half’. It’s half of nothing! I remembered why it’s my favourite distance. You get a real sense of achievement. It lasts long enough to be challenging without becoming tedious. Today I ran my tenth half marathon and it was still a challenge.