I can’t do fast running. I can’t! When I try it triggers panic*. I’ve tried lots of different strategies to manage it but avoidance has been the most successful. However, after the Yorkshire Marathon my running was broken. My legs were heavy and didn’t seem to remember how to run. I had to go right back to basics, running every day with small targets, like to run 1km. It worked and my legs started to remember, and so too did my mind: this is is running, this is why. I could be happy in my small achievements but, with London Marathon in the future, I dared to allow myself to wish that perhaps I could be a little faster? All the while knowing that I can’t run fast, I can’t even try to run fast or I panic!
What is “fast” anyway? Well, obviously there’s Olympic athlete fast. Paula Radcliffe, for example, can bust out 3:24/km in a marathon. THAT is fast! No doubt. How about Mr Usain Bolt and his 1:36/km?! It’s only over 100m so it doesn’t count right? Well, they’re fast. OMG they’re fast but, assuming you’re not a decorated athlete, what is fast? Fast is a personal thing. You know how fast you can run, you know when you’re running your lung busting, legs pounding pace. That’s personal to you. My own fast isn’t really considered particularly speedy, I won’t be winning any prizes and I’m OK with that. I do want to be faster though. For me. With all of this in mind I decided that I’d give it a go. I’d actively try to get faster. Inspired by others both online and in real life, I joined a local running group so that I could go along to their track sessions.
I was late to my first ever track session. Yargh! I found walking onto the track quite an experience. It was dark with a chill in the air so the floodlights were on. There were different groups of runners doing different things – bouncing about stretching, or zipping up and down on the track in short bursts. I liked it. It was like a new world and, rather than hang back, I decided to throw myself into it. We did various warm up exercises involving swinging legs this way and that. Then we went on to do a selection of skippity-skip-jog between two cones type thing. We all looked daft but this seemed like the done thing. I could see the other runner groups also doing similar weirdo moves. Excellent.
Then it was time to run. Gulp. Oh dear.
The track was 400m. (Intimidating much?) There was a warm up lap (ok, a bit hard, starting to worry a bit). Then we were told to run 800m at 10K pace, run 400m at recovery pace and repeat 4 times. Now I was worried. I wasn’t even sure that I could run around the track that many times let alone trying to do 800m at a faster pace. Anyway, I tried my very, very best and I DID IT! I was lapped, obviously, but I was OK. My head kept focus on me:
Don’t panic. They are not chasing you. It is OK to be last*repeat*. The group were supportive, panting out “well done” as they passed. The panicked wheeze started a couple of times but each time I slowed down, got it under control and carried on it. After I had completed the track session I felt AMAZING. I had never in my life been able to run around a track, not even once! I remember trying as a youngster, I couldn’t even get halfway round, but look at me NOW! Look at me running around a track! Not even just once but, what, thirteen times! Wow. Wow. WOW. You bet I was pleased with myself. Before I left I promised the other newbie that I would be back – I’d see her in a fortnight – and off I went enjoying that sense of incredible disbelief. That feeling you get when you’ve just done something that’s quite a big deal to you. That buzz of possibility when you’ve tried something new and it worked! So track sessions… they are now happening. Un-bloody-believable.
Another part of operation Get Faster is 5K Time Trials. I signed up for a season ticket which means I’ll be able to run 10 of these timed 5K races. This is a big deal. For a start, when you sign up you have to give a predicted finish time. Submitting a time of 34 minutes meant that I was signing up to potentially be last in front of a lot of speedy club runners (they’ll laugh! Or they’ll feel sorry for me! They’ll be annoyed if they have to wait for me to finish! I’ll look ridiculous! What if I have a panic attack and cry?!). Lets be clear: this is no parkrun. This is a time trial. These are the club runners who run in teeny vests and shorts – even in the cold. The runners to whom 1 metre or 1 second matters. Ah, sod it. Of course there was the fact that I hadn’t actually managed a 34 minute 5K in quite a while…err, since…I can’t even remember when… definitely before the marathon. Oh balls! Finally, the time trial was laps. Laps! Five laps of a 1km cycle circuit.
Let’s cut to the chase: I DID IT!!! Oh yes I did.
I enjoyed it. Oh yes I did.
I ran the fastest I have run in a long time (32:05 babies!). I had some little chats with some other runners at the end too. One lady and I both talked about how we were both hoping to get faster over the year. Turns out she ran it in 23:40. WHAT?! I can only dream of a time like that! Once I’d picked my jaw up off of the floor we continued on chatting because we still could. What is fast to me is different to what is fast for her and that’s the point: fast is personal and we both wanted to get faster.
I want to get faster, at my own pace, in a way that allows me to manage my panic. For now the pace doesn’t even matter. The fact that I’ve achieved these two massive things, with enjoyment, fun and positivity instead of panic attacks is so amazing. It’s better than any medal. To be fair, I did get a Twix at the time trial so I’m off to eat that now. Celebrate the wins. Every one. Even if you come last (and look shocking in the video!)
*When I try to consciously run faster my brain panics. It takes me back to being chased, to trying to escape but I was never fast enough. My legs would collapse under me and I’d have to submit. Now when I try and run faster my brain defaults to that. It only happens outside. When I’m inside on a treadmill I enjoy cranking up up the speed. Outside though, it doesn’t matter the situation, ‘legs go faster’ means panic, fall, bad things, can’t do it.