Worse than that, actually. I like to think that I’ve grown used to how my body copes after running these days, I mean I’ve covered enough bloody ground over the last six years. Literally, thousands of miles, through six pairs of running shoes, training, competing and even commuting. Running around Manchester, Bedfordshire, Merseyside, Northamptonshire, Newcastle. Long runs, short runs, sprints, jogs, intervals, Fartleks. On road, off road, alongside a river or a dual carriageway. On the flat or up hills, round and round a water park or sprinting through Ardwick. A sub-20 minute 5k, or a three hour plus marathon. A little bit of everything, you might say, apart from Tough Mudder and the like. Too much of a pansy for that sort of thing. The thing is though, despite all that running, I am still learning about myself. And I’m learning the hard way.
Last Sunday’s 10k around the bizarre model village of Port Sunlight was, in theory, one of the more routine runs in my calendar. I honestly cannot remember how many times I have run the distance over the years. In terms of events it’s probably approaching double figures since that very first one in May 2008. In training, goodness knows. Last October alone I did four alongside competing at the distance round Standalone. November and December, a pair each. It’s a common distance for me to put it mildly, and so going into Sunday’s event I did not have a single regret about not doing any training whatsoever. By the middle of the following week though it was a different story.
I thought I was the big man. Pah, 10k. Just 6.2 miles. I’d already run more than twice that distance in one go this year, multiple times, in fact closer to three times that distance on one occasion. I’d run 398.8 miles in 2013. I’d got myself in such good shape by mid-March that I obliterated a pre-race target with time to spare, and could probably have done even better if I could tell the time and had arrived at the startline before it had actually started. How hard could it be to run half that distance again? Easy peasy. Bring it on. Who needs training.
I suppose there is some semblance of truth in my misplaced bravado, in that I was going in on the back of a fairly decent fitness base. You don’t lose that completely in two months, now matter how much beer you drink, and anyway, I’ve still been cycling a bit. What I have found though is that you lose that basic conditioning, your muscles no longer used to the relentless pounding of the concrete. I got round the 5k village loop twice, I did it in a pretty decent time, and generally felt fairly pleased with myself. Since staggering over that finishing line though, it hurt. Aches, strains, twinges, creaks and pains. Every joint, every muscle, everything from the waist down felt in some sort of discomfort. Standing up, sitting down, walking, it didn’t matter. It all hurt. Even rolling over in bed was painful. Let this be a lesson to you, kids.
The race itself was pretty decent though, all in all. I arrived in time for the start on this occasion, which was a bonus after last time. I was fairly far back from the front as we kicked off and the opening few yards were pretty narrow so it was a bit congested, but as I wasn’t taking it too seriously I wasn’t too worried. It was just a nice leisurely jog around, with residents of Port Sunlight out sat on deckchairs enjoying the sun and watching us go. I managed the first mile in 6:39, and with a less congested second mile down in 6:31, I briefly thought I could pull something amazing out the bag and hit a sub-40. However, coming round to start the second lap on the back of a 6:38 third mile, the lack of training began to tell.
It was bizarrely humid, and the course was hillier than I expected. Nothing major, just a few minor inclines that I knew I would have to tackle again in 20 minutes time on lap two. The only opportunity for water was at the 5k point, which normally wouldn’t be a problem on a 10k race, but the heat was getting to me. Heading through mile four, it was suddenly the furthest I had run for over two months, and it was beginning to feel like a bit of a battle. At this stage of the half marathon, I was chipping along about 20 seconds a mile faster than this, and with barely breaking a sweat. It’s amazing how much your body can change in such a short space of time.
The last couple of miles, I just eased back and just decided to enjoy myself as best I could, waving to the crowds and trying to spot my mates as we doubled back repeatedly on ourselves. I had support out on the course, but the only time I saw her was when piling onto the final stretch, by which time I was drenched in sweat and unable to muster the big finish. I was hoping to steam across the line and get a shoutout over the tannoy, but in the end I was just relieved to actually get there. The “10k without training” experiment was over, a full two minutes outside my PB. And I was absolutely, bloody knackered, collapsing on the grass in a heap, a horrible, broken, sweaty mess.
Unfortunately, the pain was just beginning as my poor broken body decided it would then need a full week to heal itself. It still surprises me how bad I felt and for how long. I’ve had a couple of occasions in the past where I’ve felt a bit crippled after a run, my first half and full marathons both destroyed my legs completely for a couple of days as you’d probably expect. But it’s never been a full week, and certainly never after a 10k. I was totally fine after Standalone and I didn’t train that much more for that than I did for this one. I suppose it just goes to show that even just two or three training runs can make a difference. In terms of time, I was actually faster than Standalone by 10 or so seconds. But oh my days, the pain and the agony. NEVER AGAIN.
It certainly won’t be happening for a while anyway. Over the past couple of months, I’ve gradually felt myself drifting away from running and more towards cycling, revelling in the freedom of being able to travel a bit further, to see some new roads, some new sights. Wizzing along a country lane at 20mph instead of staggering down the Princess Parkway a heaving, lumbering oaf drenched in sweat. To not be constantly worrying about pain in my knees, feet and ankles caused by the weight of my body relentlessly smashing them into concrete. Training for Port Sunlight fell completely by the wayside. I’ve not yet bothered entering the 10k runs I had planned in June and September. Instead, I somehow ended up browsing the website for the Great Manchester Cycle and, with a couple of glasses of wine in me, foolishly going straight for the biggest option: 52 miles. I now have five weeks to train for it what I am pretty sure is the biggest bike ride I have ever done, and that’s not including the fact I might have to cycle a few miles to and from the start. Which is at 8am by the way. What the bloody hell have I let myself in for?