Running; hobby or obsession?

Today it is 2 weeks until my first marathon. I’m aiming to do the Edinburgh Marathon. I’m sitting here with my feet up, in the sun, drinking coffee, contemplating what could be ahead, and what has gone before.

Bath Half

It might sound completely ridiculous to be so wrapped up in this particular goal, and indeed so passionate about such a gruelling hobby. I know running isn’t for everyone. I also am keenly aware of this sudden collective obsession we seem to have with fitness in general – updating the world on our individual fitness goals and acomplishments. Almost every other facebook post seems to be about fitness or healthy eating of some kind, and with the increased fascination and interest in the quantified self through fitess apps and wearable technology, I can see why some of you are becoming weary and bored of the whole thing.

I’ve been running on and off since I was 18. It didn’t really appeal to me much in school, I wasn’t much of a sportsperson at all really. I played sports, but I didn’t excel at them, nor was I that interested in excelling at them. But running was something that started to appeal to me as I got older, busier, and more aware of my tendancy to over-think and over-analyse absolutely everything. Running became my escape, my stress relief, my time to think. I became more and more interested in it as I came emerged from the blurred hangover that was my early 20s, and realised that it was something that actually really calmed me – the rhythmic pounding of the pavement, the fresh air, the views, the space – I found all of it actually relaxing, not hard work.

I started entering into events a few years after I moved to London – 5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons. My once solitary, calming exercise becoming something competitive (suddenly I cared about my race time), but also something I wasn’t alone in. I enjoy running around other runners, watching the expressions on their faces, knowing what’s going through their minds, secretly wanting to beat them to the finish line. I enjoy event days, spectators standing for hours clapping and cheering for you, even when they don’t know you, encouraging you and spuring you on.

The marathon was on my bucket list for a while. I had wanted to do it before I hit 30. I didn’t quite make it, but when I turned 30 (at the time off the running with a knee injury), I took the leap and entered, thinking almost year to recover and get the fitness back up was ages.

But training for the marathon has changed running for me. I’ve come to realise that to train for a marathon, (and to do it properly), you have to be a little stubborn, a little obsessive and also slightly on the crazy side. The training programme is FULL ON. It completely takes over your life and you find that between working and running, you’ll not have time for anything else. Forget sleep, forget your social life, hell, forget having time for your husband, you’ve got to run!

It’s just coming into summer so my 5 month training programme started in winter. This means cold, dark, early starts – often in the rain when, more often than not, you would much prefer to roll over and snuggle under the duvet for another hour or so. Or if you do give in to that extra hour of sleep, prepare yourself for feeling guilty all day and end up dragging yourself to the gym after work before it closes to make up for lost time.

Evening social activities are hard because you find yourself pretending to listen while really you’re watching your clock, mentally calculating how many hours of sleep you’ll manage to get before you get up for the next run, and really hoping no one wants to ‘have one more’ because you don’t want to be hungover the next morning. It’s easier if you just say no to going out.

Like I said, you become obsessed. You don’t want to miss a single session, knowing that it’s really going to throw the whole programme out. Every set-back is heart wrenching, every blister, every pulled muscle, every time you feel that old injury flare up. The physio sessions,┬áthe foam roller, ice, and shoes that cover your toes (thank god it’s been cold for most of the prorgamme) become part of your routine and deep heat, anti-inflammatories, compeed blister plasters become a regular appearance on your shopping list.

For the most part though, I have still thoroughly enjoyed running. I feel blessed to have seen almost every sunrise this year so far, to have the luxury of running around such a beautiful city as London or along the beach when I was in Australia visiting family. I’ve enjoyed the discipline of it, the fact there is a big goal at the end you’re working towards and everytime you run you’re just a little closer to it. The only thing I hate is the interval training. MAN, DOES THAT SUCK! It’s the only time I really, really, hate running.

But any time it’s felt like a real chore to drag myself out of bed, by the time the run is over, I’ve forgotten that feeling and instead I feel amazing. And also kinda proud – seeing your speed and fitness improve is so incredibly rewarding. Ever get that feeling after a workout where your muscles hurt but you sort of feel like that’s a good thing, like you’ve actually made a difference? Well it’s like that. You start to wear your ‘wear and tear’ like a little badge of honour, even if no-one else can see it, you know it’s there and it makes you feel weirdly accomplished. The closer you get to M-day the less likely you are to want to miss a day of training, it’s become routine and you can’t imagine a day without it.

Training for the marathon has meant that for me, running has moved from being a hobby, to an obsession. I don’t just run when I fancy it anymore, I’ve been following a strict programme, and looking forward to my long runs despite them taking the best part of my Sundays. It was a breeze up until I hit the 16 mile mark on my long runs, and from that point every Sunday I was running further than I ever had before, 16, 18, 20miles. And suddenly it dawned on me just how far it is. Just how much it’s going to hurt. Just how much I’ve taken on. I suddenly start to wonder whether I can actually do it. I realised that aside from the people in my life, running this marathon has become the single most important thing in my little world.

And just as I hit the week where I was supposed to do 22 miles, the week before tapering began, my good knee gets injured and suddenly, 3 and a half weeks out, I am told; ‘Strictly no running. Rest it and see how it goes’. Like it’s THAT easy to just forget the last 5 months!! To just stop running. There were tears. Lots of tears. It’s so incredibly frustrating to know I had put so much god-damn hard work into this, and suddenly, I just have to pause, rest and hope that it will heal in time for me to get to the start line, let alone the finish line.

So here I am, 2 weeks out, suddenly unable to run and gripped with a fear that I may not be able to run on the day, and even if I am, anxious about how much these last few weeks are going to affect my time. Terrified it’s all going to fall apart, gutted that I’ve put so much in and I might not even get there.

I’m terrified. I’m nervous. I’m anxious. And I’m hopeful. All of these things all at once. But I am also determined never to give up. If I don’t make it, there will be other races, and I will never, ever stop running for good. I am a runner, it’s a part of who I am. As sad or as dull as that may be, this is me. Completely and utterly obsessed with running.

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