This Much I Know: On the business of finding my inner ‘gump’tion…
Funning old business, going running. I’ve always thought that, sometimes in the middle of actually running. Round some lake, up some hill, along a promenade, panting. No purpose, except for the one that’s inherent – you run, it seems to me, for the bit that comes after – being able to say how far you ran.
I jest, of course. Running is the best kind of exercise – unbeaten in the ‘jeez I am cream crackered’ stakes. (Unless, of course, you Iron Man or Tough Mud or Tri-ath. But you don’t count, because YOU ARE INSANE.)
Running’s also weirdly addictive. I know this because I look back and still find myself wondering. Did I really do the Cardiff half-marathon? Yes, I did.
I started running back in early 1985. And then stopped running. About half an hour later. Then tried again, in ’94 (we had just arrived in Wales then), dressing sensibly, putting the doorkey on a bit of string to wear round my neck, prepping a water bottle, stretching out, and so on. Had I been asthmatic, I would have also taken a puff of my inhaler, but since I wasn’t, I simply took a few preparatory deep breaths. You can do it, you can do it, you can DO IT. (Even though I doubted that I could.)
Duly pumped, I set off, on a perfect spring morning. And, apart from the first bit, when I thought I was going to die, I made excellent progress round the village. “There goes Lynne! Doing running!” I could imagine people saying it. Lynne, the runner. Lynne, who runs. Lynne “Forrest” Barrett-Lee. It was the beginning of an exciting new chapter in my life. A world of fresh air and exercise and exciting new apparel. Why, very soon I would go to a high-end running retailer and ask the important question – did I pronate or was I neutral? And at some point in the future, should they invent such a wonder, I might treat myself to some sort of clever doohickey that could not only time me, but plot my progress via satellite! Oh, imagine! Oh, I so hoped they would!
I eventually returned home (loneliness of the long distance and so on), flushed with bloodflow and giddy with success.
I had been gone all of eight minutes.
Seriously, though (because, as runners know, running is a serious business) it really was the start of something life-changing for me. Oh phooey. I hear you say it. But it really does seem like that, because becoming a runner marked an important psychological watershed. It took me from being someone who thought of themselves as vaguely unfit, to someone who thought of themselves as, well, as a runner. Hard to articulate, but enduringly precious. Not least because it’s a mindset that never seems to leave me. I can go months without running and expect, if I attempt to, that I will soon be so breathless and racked with pain that I will have to stop again.
Yet I don’t. Yes, it’s hard, but you soon find a rhythm, and a place in your head where the pain doesn’t matter. Where the miles amassed mean so much more.
And more still, if you run in the company of other runners. Where the term ‘the spirit moves you’ is so apt.
Not that I meant to run a half marathon, exactly. It was my sister’s fault – she’d won a Runner’s World competition, in which the prize was a Marathon Training Weekend. And guess what? None of her friends would go with her.
So muggins here – she of the fancy kit but strict ‘5K’ limit – agreed (not the word, quite) to go. And let me tell you, gentle joggers, it was not for the fainthearted. 5K? That was the pre-breakfast warm up. On BOTH days. Kenyan Hills? I have never been so terrified on two legs. Then the biggie. The far-as-you-like-and-probably-much-too-far training run. Through a forest (very scenic), en masse.
To this day I don’t know how, quite, but I ran for nine and a half miles. Nine and a half MILES. That’s fifteen kilometres. Another three and a half miles and I’d have run half a marathon. Half a marathon! Imagine! I could not have felt better. I was a lioness. A titan. A goddess in lycra.
Six months later, still a she-lion, I ran the Cardiff half marathon. Which – no halves about it – is a very long way. Good luck to everyone who is running it tomorrow. Especially if it’s your first. You can do it too.
First published in the Western Mail Weekend magazine. Oct 1st 2016