On the 31st of May 2015, I was sitting on the sofa, about a third of the way through my first playthrough of Mass Effect. It suddenly occurred to me that videogame characters could run forever, never getting tired or slowing down, and as Commander Shepard ran forever on my TV screen, a fleeting notion came to me. ‘I’d like to be able to run forever,’ I thought wistfully, before being launched into another space gun battle and forgetting all about it for a few more hours.
On the 1st of June 2015, I started running.
My first running route was a 1.1k loop around where Geth and I live. On that first day, I had to take two (planned) 50-second walk breaks; the total route took me about ten or eleven minutes, nearly twice the time of the fastest kilometres that I do nowadays.
I got home and had to sit down on the stairs for a while, my breath icy and my chest aching. I had spent 2010-2011 doing Wii Fit on and off, and had attended a Zumba class twice a week for the last eighteen months before we moved from Southampton to Newcastle in February 2015, but running was a whole new level of cardio and I wasn’t used to it. As I thumped at my chest to try and bring it back to life, Geth looked at me pityingly. ‘This isn’t going to last,’ he observed, and in that moment, I also had my doubts.
However, I’m a stubborn cow, and so I went out again to do that 1.1k loop for the next four days in a row, cutting the duration of the walk breaks down by five seconds each day. I decided to run five days a week, Monday to Friday, and do a bit of strength training at the weekends. At the end of week one, I signed up for the Great North 5k, already feeling the need for a target race to help with motivation. By the end of week two, I could run the whole loop in one go (slowly!), and by the end of week three, Geth was convinced enough to buy me my first pair of running shoes (Karrimor trail shoes, because I didn’t know anything about running shoes). For week four, I doubled the loop to 2×1.1k and started again with the 50-second walk breaks.
Training for my first 5k was not without its challenges. I was a lot heavier then, and so I suffered from a lot of debilitating hip pain that really slowed me down. I also spent a week in the south of France with my family, and every morning I diligently staggered up the steepest hill I have ever run on, in 30°C heat! I later had to take a week off training due to an attack of runner’s knee, and found this a bit panic-inducing, not yet realising that training plans can be flexible. In the event, I only managed to run my final 5×1.1k training loop without stopping once… but that was enough, and I completed the Great North 5k 2015 in 35:51, a 5k time that I wouldn’t be able to beat for nearly two years, even after I started parkrunning most weeks.
While I had big running ambitions and dreams when I started, and always hoped to be able to run faster and for longer, I’m still amazed sometimes when I look back over the last five years. I have run approximately 1,770 miles (Strava says 1,769, Smashrun says 1,771, FetchEveryone says 1,773!), which isn’t huge mileage over five years by a lot of runners’ standards, but I’m more than proud of it. I’ve completed three 5k races, 112 parkruns, ten 10k races, two 10 mile races, eight half marathons, and one full marathon – my proudest achievement, even though my time wasn’t much to write home about. In the early days, I regularly staggered in with the tail runner at parkrun, and came last out of thousands of runners in the Great North 10k 2016. I am still slow, but on my good days I’m almost a mid-packer now. On New Year’s Day 2020, I started running every day, which has massively improved my speed along with my mileage.
I can’t express how much running has enhanced my life. I prioritise health and fitness in everything I do now, and I’m not sure that I would have lost five stone or managed to get sober if running hadn’t made me more aware of my general wellbeing. I’ve made friends through the wonderful running community that exists in the north-east of England and beyond. Above all, it’s an amazing hobby that I’ve been able to share with Geth – he was inspired by that first Great North 5k that I did, and started running himself the following year.
This morning, I ran that first 1.1k route again as part of my regular 2k-ish easy run, and cast my mind back to that first difficult attempt. I think that on the 1st of June 2015, if you’d told me that I would one day be able to run that loop without even really noticing I was running, I would never have believed you.
I still can’t quite run forever. But a marathon feels like forever, and for the time being, that’s enough.