Before any big event you never sleep well. Your body is a battlefield with the melatonin army being ambushed by the guerrilla forces of nervous adrenaline at every hand’s turn.
And so it was last Saturday night into Sunday morning. The ghostly wrestling of a sparse and fitful night’s sleep. The ceiling staring and heartbeat counting of the insomniac.
Last Sunday was one of the roundy birthdays, of the decimal sort, easily divisible by 10, 5 and 2. I’d decided before Christmas that after a few years of a broken body it was time to see if I’d broken my will.
The plan was to run 50km. And to try and maintain my dignity by not taking all weekend to do it. Easy, I hear you say. Only a short warm up in the world of long distance running you tell me. Long distances are run in your head, not with you legs. Set your head to the task and it’ll drag everything else with it. The question was, do I have the head for it?
The added twist was that, as I write, we’re all restricted to a 5km limit from our front doors as a result of the Covid-19 public health measures. This would mean that my birthday run would be limited to a simple loop run several times. Nothing as boring as the men and women who run around a 400m track for 24 hours (there’s always someone crazier than you) but still, not exactly the highlands of Scotland.
When I finally found some sleep it was the sort that you wake from and feel like you’ve had a 5 minute nap and could do with an awful lot more. At least I was in my own bed. In the past I’ve woken before a long run in a tent, in the back of a car, in another country, under a picture of the Virgin Mary. Each one less than helpful for the task in hand.
After a solitary breakfast of porridge and coffee I slipped out the door and into the darkness and the rain.
Over the next 5 hours or so the darkness gave away to a dull and heavy morning but the rain never let up. Within the first mile my feet were wet, after the first hour I wasn’t going to get any wetter. I consoled myself in the fact that it was the same for everyone else running 50km on their birthday today……………….
Looking back on the run, the first hour was the toughest. In the first hour your mind is struggling to let go of it’s normal moorings. The wind hasn’t caught your sail and it all seems so bewildering.
And then it happens. Time stops. There’s no past, no present, no future. The world is just a single ongoing moment. Time falls away like the raindrops on your face.
The last hour was no picnic either but that just because your body eventually has to have its say in affairs. I had my youngest child with me for the last hour – proving me with a musette service and a welcome distraction from the pain.
I managed to finish in a respectable time and only made a fool of myself twice (fully aware that the whole venture was foolish). Once around 30km into the run when I accidentally stopped my gps watch for a few kilometres and had to add the missing kilometres to get the final numbers on the watch to match up with 31 miles. So, probably a 52km run in the end. The second time was at about 48km and was much more public. In mid-stride I finally acted my age by stumbling over myself and falling spectacularly in front of a bunch of Sunday walkers. They made that slightly-repulsed-to-see-an-adult-fall-like-toddler look and then offered to help me. By then I was becoming obsessed with cracking 5 hours for the run so I was up and away before they could do the Good Samaritan bit.
The first mile took over 10 minutes while the last one was run in 7 minute 45 seconds.
The rest of the day was cake and beer and family. All good things on your birthday.
In the days since my birthday run I’ve been hoping that I could put the idea of more long runs on the shelf. But no, the fire still burns. And I’m happy.