Frank wore his club’s hoodie. That was to help me recognise him. I didn’t. He found me and sat down. A young looking man in his early forties, Frank wore shorts and trainers. He had neat, cropped hair and was heading out for a run later. When he spoke, words and ideas tumbled out like they had been through a washing machine. He circled round points and repeated phrases as they surfaced and re-surfaced in his mind.
So you’re a runner yourself then? I’m a relatively new runner. I started in 2017 and I used to play football but then I stopped. I got a bit unfit, put a bit of weight on, and then I thought sod it. So I just entered the local half marathon.
It was a bit of a last minute thing. I did some rough training that I enjoyed because of the sense of achievement you get from doing it. I got a buzz out of doing the race so I wanted more. I have been well and truly hooked on it ever since.
I’m quite a competitive person and running helps me get that out now that I don’t play football or anything like that. I’m almost reliant on being able to run now. I’ve had a couple of long-term injuries and it’s not good for my mental health when I can’t get out for a run.
On race day I’m competitive. I’m competitive with myself as much as anything. When I was new to the club I wanted to show that I was one of the quicker people there. In my first race, I did alright, and was the second person from the club over the line on that day.
A few months after that, I thought right, I’ve got to do a marathon. That was the next thing. I tried to get into London but I didn’t. Inevitably. So I thought, well, the second biggest marathon in the UK is Edinburgh and I entered that instead. I downloaded a free sixteen-week training plan off the Internet from BUPA. It had all the dates set out from when I was going to start to follow it. Training went really well to be honest. I was hitting personal bests all along the route and feeling good. I dropped quite a bit of weight as well.
Even though I was on my own, the Edinburgh Marathon was special. The support that I got both before and after was amazing. I had so many people messaging me. They said they were all checking Strava every five minutes trying to see when I finished and what time I did. They knew how hard I trained for that and it meant a lot.
Because the London, Brighton, Southampton, Edinburgh and Milton Keynes marathons are all in and around the same time there was a big group of us all doing the training together. Even though I was on my own – it was just me and my wife up there – I felt like part of a team and that definitely stands out.
Joining the running club was brilliant. I’m a relatively confident person, so I wasn’t going in all shy or anything like that. It’s become one of those things now where, even though I’ve only been at the club a couple of years, most of my circle of friends now, are runners. I’ve got a few of my old friends that I still talk to, but my social circle now is within the running club. That makes it even harder now I’ve got this injury. I feel like I’m out of it and not involved. It’s tough.
Well, it’s knee pain that’s brought about by tightness in the muscles surrounding my knee. It all stemmed from pulling my glute. It still blows my mind that I can have a pain up near my hip that manifests in my knee. But that’s what I’ve been told by two separate physios. I’m in the gym now once a week doing all the glute strengthening stuff that all the better runners tend to do, and which is something I neglected to do for quite a while. I probably paid the price for that.
I have found it very frustrating being injured. It’s not just the physical, mental thing. You get addicted to the endorphin rush you get from doing any exercise. But it’s also the social side of things that I miss out on.
A lot of the speed work that we do is based around Jack Daniels’ teaching methods. Not the whisky, no! He’s a running coach. He’s come up with various different methods of training that our former coach was a real big believer in. When I first joined, I did a lot of sessions with him. They worked during my marathon training, so he’s put that faith into my head.
There’s lots of different ways to structure speed sessions, but it’s based mostly on effort and then recovery. An example might be you might do six runs of 1km, with one-minute recovery between each of them. Each of those kilometres will be run quicker than five minute pace. It’s effort and recover, effort and recover.
At the end of those sets you are buzzing, because you’ve got the euphoria of an endorphin rush to your brain, and the relief that you’ve finished another set. Those speed sessions are definitely more effort than normal runs, but they’re also more rewarding at the same time … especially if you’re doing it in a group.
There’s a really good camaraderie and teamwork that goes into speed-work. No matter what your running ability, because of the way they’re tailored it’s suitable for anyone.
The support you get from being part of a running club is amazing. I wouldn’t have carried on running or got as much out of it if I hadn’t joined. I may even have fallen out of love with running, or stopped doing it. I certainly wouldn’t have achieved some of the times I’ve managed. I wouldn’t have done a marathon, that’s for sure.
In my experience, you get a lot more testosterone in a football club. Football clubs are more brutal environment to be around in terms of Mickey-taking. You get a bunch of lads together in the changing room and they’re all just ribbing each other. It’s not as supportive. At the running club you have a mix of backgrounds and genders. I liked it both ways. Football was good fun, but some of the best people I’ve met in my life have come from running.
The social media side is where running sort of takes over your life. Pretty much everything I post now is running related. I actually deleted my Facebook account and made a new one just to keep up with the running stuff. I’ve got a bit addicted to Strava as well. Especially now I’m injured, I find myself just spying on Strava.
Strava is a way of logging runs, and it’s got a social media element as well. I love it. Every time you get a good run, it pops up on Strava and everyone’s all over it. They’re all really supportive. It’s good to get a pat on the back from people isn’t it?
Strava tracks your distance, where you’ve been, maps your route, and gives you the crucial information of distance, pace and time for each run. It can sometimes bring out the competitive side of me. That’s dangerous because it can make me run quicker than I maybe should, because I don’t want people to think that I’ve done a rubbish run. Strava is addictive, but I enjoy that side of it.
Running has changed my habits. I now go through phases where I go five or six weeks without drinking, eating really healthy, training really hard and getting fit. But I find that goes hand in hand with running. When I’m injured, the diet and the drinking go the other way. When I’ve got a race, I won’t drink in the lead up to it. I haven’t raced for months now, so Saturday night, I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine or something like that.
I like signing up to things and training towards them. I’m actually in the process now of following the marathon plan that I followed last year just because I like the structure of doing it. It gets me in the right place where I wake up and think: right! I’ve got to do eight miles today, and then tomorrow I’ve got to do 12 miles. It helps me to keep focused. Otherwise I get a bit complacent and think ah, I won’t bother. But if I’ve got that plan and it’s on the fridge, I’ve got to do it.
In terms of goals, I would like to do an Ultra-marathon at some point. What distance? I don’t know. It’s a bit of a broad term. You can run a 27-mile race and that’s classified as an Ultra, and then you can do a one-hundred mile race and that’s also classed as an Ultra. If I could run fifty miles I would be happy. I would be very happy with that.
I’d like also to win some sort of running event at some point, or certainly win an age category or something like that. But it’s very difficult. I’m nowhere near good enough really. I finished 23rd in the last 10km race that I ran, so I was happy with that but I’d like to pick a trophy up of some sort at some point.
It’s quite a difficult thing to achieve, but you never know.
The other thing is that I set so many goals last year, and even though I hit them all, I got injured twice. So my goal for this year – and I’ve said it to a few people – is don’t get injured again.
I don’t want to be someone who runs for three or four years, breaks down and then just gives up and ends up sitting on the sofa, drinking beer for the rest of my life. I take inspiration from some of the older guys at the club who are still running into their late sixties. I want to be fit and active at that age. I don’t want to break myself and never be able to run past my forties. If you can still run well in your sixties … that is an achievement.
There’s a guy in our club who’s close to seventy now, and he won his age category at the London Marathon a couple of years ago. He also rocks up at a parkrun and wins his age category in that. He’s ridiculously good.
I remember the first time I met him. He’s a really small guy. He rocked up to a Sunday run and I thought, what’s he doing here? He’s not going to be able to keep up with us. Then I found out that he’s one of the quickest in the whole club even though he’s getting on a bit. That’s something to take inspiration from. It’s impressive! It’s crazy! I just don’t understand it. I’m 42 and things are aching all the time, so I don’t know how he does it. Fair play.
© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019