The slow-grown runner

Hubby Steve was recently digging through some old photos, and found some of me during my early running career. Wow! Who is this not-so-fresh-faced runner, I thought?

Staggering towards the end of my first (and last) 30km race.

Staggering towards the end of my first (and last) 30km race.

Unlike many, I wasn’t really a runner as a kid. Yes, I could belt a hockey ball up a pitch and hot foot after it but I didn’t run as such. And yes, I’d usually get pressured into doing the longer distance athletics events come school sport’s day. You know the ones no one else will do after the faster runners have baggsied all the shorter distances.
I could hang on for 1600m but that’s because no one else was daft enough to sign up. I preferred to spend my spare time horse riding, mucking out stables, and grooming ponies. Aged ten I could toss a bale of straw over my shoulder and push a laiden wheelbarrow while balancing a saddle on my hip.
I actually only started running about nine years ago, as a mature adult. While my current basic running style is similar, I’m physically a different person.

To me this proves several things:
1) You don’t need to start running as a kid to become a runner and develop a runner’s physique. Even though I was past 30 when I laced up my runners for the first time i.e. well-past the scientific sell-by date for seeing improvements my physique has adapted, I’ve got faster and I can run further.
2) It takes time to develop, meaning years for many of us, as runners. There’s no way I could have withstood the training I sign up to these days when I first started out. Trust me, I tried and got hurt fast.
Running is not an overnight success and why should it be? When I started out, I never had any wish to go past the half marathon distance. I just couldn’t see myself ever being able to run a marathon, so why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to accomplish big distances immediately?
I didn’t tackle my first marathon until I’d been running for a good three years and then the reason was pretty dubious – I knew I was off to Qatar, suspected I wouldn’t get to race much, so decided to give a marathon a stab after entering the half distance of the race.
3) I was then a road-runner through and through. I trotted off road every now and then, hitting a grass track for a few intervals, or during race starts and finishes, but I never saw myself as a trail runner. I found off-roading tough. I hadn’t got the requisite experience, mental or physical, demanded by trail. A good few years on and I’ll take trail any day.

February 2016, albeit over a short 10km, but much leaner, stronger and straighter.

February 2016, albeit over a short 10km, but much leaner, stronger and straighter.

The lessons I’ve learned from Steve dusting off some old snaps have shown to me, that there’s nothing wrong with starting out mastering the 5km (or even returning to the 5km once in a while), moving to the 10km, half, marathon and then ultra distances. What’s the rush to run a marathon first? Surely it’s best to learn to walk before you try to run?
Our world is an impatient place? Everything has to be accomplished now, this instant, immediately. It’s all about now, now, now! Quick wins and debt. This is wrong. Slow grown is best. Develop sound foundations and a better final result will no doubt follow.
Back to the equestrian knowledge I picked up grubbing around the stables, aside from Thoroughbred racehorses, no one starts to break any other breed of horse or pony until it is at least three years old – some older still. Why? Because they are not physically or mentally mature enough to cope with carrying a saddle. They get damaged! Even Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t expected to tackle National Hunt fences until they are four years of age.
Us humans are pretty similar, unless we’re born that breed of super fast athletic youngster aka a Thoroughbred there’s no point, and even then it’s debatable, flogging ourselves to get super fast or to run super long from the off.
We’re all different and we all take as long as we take to develop during training, and as long as we’re seeing gradual progress, and not getting injured so what. Yes, it might be nice to PB at every race, it might be nice to build your training mileage every year, it might be nice to tackle a marathon in your first season, but for whom? If it’s because someone else did, then forget it because you’re not them. You’ll get to ultra distance in the end – the enjoyment is in the journey. I’m a slow-grown runner and happy to be one.

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