To be honest, all running is outside my comfort zone. When i was young(er), i never ran unless it was after a football or after cattle. Oh to be young in rural Ireland in the days. The idea of running without a very specific purpose, not just finishing a race, just didn’t appeal to me. I tried it once or twice but was left unimpressed.
That is until about three years ago, when i thought a bit of jogging outside in the spring-time might be nice. There are no windows in my gym and it gets a bit stuffy, and sweaty, there during the summertime. So some sun-shine, Irish weather permitting, fresh air, trees and other green things certainly appealed.
So i took some advice, good advice it turns out which goes something like this, “GET GOOD GEAR, GET BETTER GEAR AS YOU GET OLDER, GET THE BEST GEAR YOU CAN AFFORD”, and off i went to a professional sports-gear shop. There, behind the counter, i met a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic runner. First i had a gait analysis, nothing to get excited about there, i have a neutral foot alignment, and then we had a long discussion about running shoes and the pros and cons of different types. I was hooked and i hadn’t run a step – well other than on the mini track for my gait analysis.
I bought a pair of trail running shoes – my new friend told me about the joys of trail running and the series of urban trail races which took place in three different parks in Dublin each spring. By happy coincidence, the first of that season was on the following Saturday. I took myself off to the nearest park, Bushy Park, to see if i could run about 5k, satisfied that i could complete the distance, i signed up and ran my first race that very weekend.
Thus are runners created.
I finished first in my age group and received a beautiful pottery mug. Visions of Olympic golds swarmed around in my head.
Thus are runners set up for years of disappointment.
A series of injuries, mainly knee and back, illnesses, including a persistent cough i cannot out-run, age, and lack of focus – maybe i really wanted to be a body builder – meant no progress in three years and bucketfuls of frustration.
Well that’s not entirely true, lung tests show my lung capacity to be about 140% of what would be expected for a male of my age – thank you running.
And, of course, there is Age Grading – this is a wonderful thing; especially as you get older. Here’s the definition of Age Grading from the parkrun website, “Age grading takes your time and uses the world record time for your sex and age to produce a score (a percentage). This score allows you to compare your personal performance against other people’s performances even though they might be a different age and a different sex to you – the higher the score the better the performance. The scores can also be compared across different race distances – to allow you to, for example, compare a 5km time against a marathon.”
My current Age Grading is about 57%, which means i am, just about, in the top half of times for a 5k for a male my age. This year, thanks to my birthday, i moved up an age category which automatically improved my Age Grading. So, I calculated, all other improvements failing, if i can maintain my current speed until i am 88 years old, i will be amongst the fastest on the planet over 5 km for that age group – how exciting is that!
Great web-sites, like those of the parkruns, give you your Age Grading as well as your times, place and other useful information and display your results for every parkrun you complete. I am looking forward to reviewing my record when i hit 88.
And so to Tymon Park and my latest steps outside my comfort zone. On Saturday last, Tymon Park held its first ever parkrun. A friend who was volunteering, volunteers are the life-blood of parkruns, told me about it.
I usually run in Marlay Park, but a change seemed OK. I hadn’t realised, until the morning of the run, how comfortable i had become with the same route, the same surroundings, recognizing many of the same faces, and knowing instinctively what pace i was running at.
Here i was in Tymon Park, the second largest public park in Dublin, second only to the Phoenix Park. I didn’t know the route, didn’t know what speed the average runners would be running at or whether they were all elite runners out to humiliate me for the day. I didn’t know if there were hills or not. I was nervous.
I must get out more often.
It was great, of course runs and races always are. There is no such thing as a bad parkrun. The gradient was pretty flat, the runners were their usual mixed and friendly selves; but i struggled. After about 200 m i was struggling badly, my breathing was labored and my legs were leaden. I was struggling and had to dig deep to keep on running the whole distance. Wonderfully, the last hundred metres or so were downhill and that always helps and colours your view of the run as you look back on it. I came in just under 27 minutes, a few seconds shaved off the previous week – this was encouraging but still painful.
Perhaps it was the humidity, perhaps the training during the week, when i pushed it a bit, had left me tired, perhaps the experience of watching the Netherlands trash Spain in the World Cup had left me emotionally drained – you see how runners think.
I’ve mentioned before about my target of running a sub 25 minute 5k run – it felt a long, long way off on Saturday but never give up; there is always next week, always the next run, a new training programme, perhaps a new pair of running shoes, or perhaps the discovery of an elixir of eternal youth is happening right now in a secret laboratory, perhaps ……….. – runners think this way too.
I shall return to Tymon Park next Saturday – body permitting – with a target of getting closer to 26 minutes, one small step at a time.
Keep on running.