OK so I am going to start by blowing my own trumpet here. That is because last Saturday I did my first Park Run at Rother Valley Country Park (photo above). For those not in the know, which includes me until recently, a Park Run is usually a five kilometre course, run on a Saturday morning. It is entirely staffed by volunteers and is free to enter; there are hundreds of them up and down the UK and they are a brilliant idea.
This was something special for me because it marked the end point of eight weeks of training, I last wrote about this when I was about half way through here. This has taken me from being hardly able to run for one minute, to running 5k non-stop in just over 37 minutes. Not an outstanding time admittedly, but nevertheless a time that I feel proud of and hopefully one that I can move on from.
But this is not the main reason why I am writing this because it is not the achievement I expected too be making. What I experienced last Saturday was something that was far more profound for me. I only realised as I was setting off that getting to this point marked something of a victory for me over both myself and experiences I had over forty years ago. This might seem to be a somewhat dramatic statement to make, but bare with me.
When I set off on the run on Saturday my prime motivation was to get round, and if possible to get round by running all the way. This would mean running ten minutes more than I had done before on my training programme, so the fact that I achieved this was just brilliant. However, as I started to run strictly at my own pace there were, of course, many seasoned runners who ran past me and off into the distance. This did not bother me, but it did take me right back to my school days and doing what for me was the dreaded cross country run.
For me at the time, looking back now, this was not so much a sport to enjoy as a weekly ritual humiliation as those who were fitter than me disappeared into the distance and I struggled round with a few other non-sporty types. I remember reaching the end and not so much being congratulated for getting round as met with pitiful glares from the PE teachers with their stop watches… another poor time… another lesson filled without any thought to advising on technique or offering encouragement. I guess those PE teachers were the sort who were always at the front of the cross country race.
I remember one particular occasion where we had a ‘handicap’ race whereby the slowest started first. This seemed like a good idea until about half way through and most of the field passed me, adding insult to potential injury as I tried to keep up, but of course in vain. Things did get better when I moved schools, because me and a few others used to dip off the course and have a cup of tea and watch TV at a mate’s house, which was handily near the start… and end… of the course.
For me then PE at school did not help me to be more sporty, it told me that I need not bother… it told me that I could not do it… and for nearly forty years I have avoided running at all costs. That was, then, until I decided to start this Coach to 5k programme that I wrote about a month ago. I have amazed myself with it… me… I have run 5k without stopping! I cannot tell you what this means to me. I feel like a runner and I feel like telling those PE teachers from all those years ago exactly where they can put their stop watches because I have done it!
More than that though, I have proved myself wrong. I have always said to myself that I could not run, and I should not run. I had listened too much to those who told me that I could not do it, and in turn I believed them and convinced myself of it.
As I set out in the introduction, this blog is about freedom and balance. I feel that doing that run on Saturday restored an imbalance that has been forty years in the making. An imbalance that I did not really think that I had; one that has only really just come to light. So although there was some definite anger and frustration in writing this piece, there is also a sense of calmness, and feeling more centred from the whole experience. This is also tinged with regret. Regret that I could have been running for the last forty years… regret that I had a sense of myself that need not have been the case… regret of what I might have achieved.
There is also, however, a sense of what that change would have made to the rest of my life… and raises the question of whether obviating any particular regret would have brought up others. I have no way of knowing this of course. What I do know is that Saturday was a major achievement for me, and I want to blow that trumpet. I know owe it to myself to keep running, and keep on breaking down those barriers… with a sense of equanimity and balance of course!
What were you told you could not do at school, or since, that has stayed with you?
What have you overcome?
Are there things that you still need to prove?
Who would you like to stick it to, and why?
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