Chasing Laces – Voices from the Running Scene – Chapter 12

Chasing Laces – Voices from the Running Scene by Arthur Knaggs

Clara

Clara was the only customer in the café when I walked in. A tall woman of about middle age, wearing comfortable hiking clothes, she was outgoing, bubbly and very content with the shape her life was taking.

I don’t enjoy running. The physical act of running I find really hard. I would rather walk. That moment at the end of a run where you stop and walk… it’s lovely. The relief!

I originally started running to get fit. I wasn’t a runner. I’ve always said that I’m not a runner and I can’t run. But I wanted to get fit, and running is the most efficient way to do that. All you need is a pair of trainers, and you can do it from your front door. In half an hour, you’ve done three miles. You could do that every day and that would be enough. It’s really efficient. Everything else you’ve got to drive to a gym or pay membership.

So without any experience I signed up for a 10km. Not 5km. I wanted to get fitter than that, so I just trained for it. I followed a plan. I did that 10km, then more or less stopped.

I had kids relatively late in my thirties. If my kids also have their kids at 35, I’m going to be a 70-year-old grandparent. I see a lot of people in their seventies suffering with ill-health, and I don’t want that.

So fitness was my life goal, and I came up with the marathon … ridiculous. I wasn’t even running regularly at the time. That’s where I really started running – straight in with the big one.

I trained on my own, and that made it hard. Really hard. I had young kids at the time. When I started training they were one and three, so I only had little windows to run when they were at nursery. The thing with young kids is they get ill all the time, and I had to stay at home and look after them. I don’t know if you have kids but they sneeze all over you, so my training was constantly interrupted by ill health. On top of that I’m a slow runner. It takes me forever to run eight miles. I just plod along. It’s so boring.

I didn’t enjoy the marathon. I had just got up to running half marathon distance, when I got injured. I got a thing called ITB syndrome, which affected my knee. When it happened, I was pretty much at the furthest point away from my house, and I hadn’t brought warm layers. It was freezing cold and raining. I had to walk quite a long way before I could get a taxi home.

I came home after that and cried. The physio said that I probably wouldn’t be able to race. I’d put so much into running for months on end. I couldn’t do any long runs after that. I could hardly run at all, but I wanted to do the race.

So the physio strapped me all up for the day. The plan was to walk and then run. After five minutes of running I had to walk for a bit to stop the pain in my leg from getting too bad. After the starter’s gun went and I finally got through the start line, I did my five minutes running then I started walking. Everyone around me must have thought that I hadn’t done any training. I felt like an idiot.

My run-walk strategy worked for about 18 miles. It was weird. I ended up running with the same people mile after mile. In the walking bits, I’d drop back. Then I would start running and very slowly catch up with them before dropping back again. That carried on for 18 miles and my pace was OK, but as the race went on, the lack of training hit me and my walks got longer until I couldn’t run at all. Then it was grit and determination. Absolute determination, just to get to the end and finish.

The thing which really surprised me during the marathon, was that all around me people were wearing shirts saying who they are running for. I felt a bit of a fraud because I was just running on a whim.

That stopped me enjoying it. Plus the fact that I was in pain a lot of the time. So I didn’t enjoy it in the slightest. I’m a great advert for running aren’t I?! It was miserable.

Eventually we’re going to come to why I run, but that’s why I started.

***

When I moved here two-and-a-half years ago, I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone. Our kids didn’t go to the village school, and I thought that we weren’t going to get to know anyone. Then I found the Newton Mum Run on Facebook. I joined them when I was still in London, which was a first for them.

It’s been brilliant. Almost everyone I know in the village I met through running. It’s completely changed running for me. It’s still about fitness, but it’s completely social. We go and we chat, and I’ve made loads of friends through it.

One of the things I love about the Newton Mums is that our kids aren’t all the same age, and they’re not all at the same school.

What can happen with mums is that the relationships you build ends up being all about the kids. Everyone’s in the same class, with the same teachers and the same issues, so it’s refreshing to be in a group where although technically all of us are mums, our kids are at different schools and not everyone’s married, so we don’t end up talking about kids as much.

Running probably does help deal with the stresses of life but if I look now, I don’t really have any stresses. I’m a life coach so I’m quite good at figuring stuff out, and I’ve got quite an easy life. I work for myself – I work part-time. I’ve got happy kids, my husband’s happy, I’m happy … it’s all ticking along quite nicely.

When you do have problems though, running definitely helps. I can see it in the other girls sometimes. If someone needs to rant, they come out running and have a rant. It’s brilliant for that.

One of my favourite runs was freezing cold and pouring with rain. One of the girls was having a nightmare, and we ran in this cold, icy rain. She ranted most of the way and we all ended up laughing. At the end of it, I got home so cold I could barely turn the shower on. I took my clothes off and just felt amazing. I get more of an endorphin rush when the run has been tough. It’s like you get an extra boost. There’s more of a sense of achievement.

***

After the marathon, I didn’t run very much. I realised that my fitness had gone, so I entered another race to get me fit. That was stupid. I tried too hard to match my other half marathon time. I ended up with heat exhaustion, throwing up out the side of the car on the way home. After that, I said I’m never doing a half marathon again … but I just did one on Sunday!

The three months leading up to this last race have been ridiculous, and I have regretted entering it every day. First, I got an injury. That put me out of action for a couple of weeks. I got over that, and kept running. Then, we had snow and ice so I had to run on a running machine, and that was horrible. But I kept going. Then I went skiing and had two massive wipeouts. I think I cracked a rib, and couldn’t run for a couple of weeks.

After that I tried to run really slowly so that I didn’t have to breathe hard. Because of the ribs, I couldn’t do stretches properly so I ended up with another injury, and I ran the race with that. When I had finished, I very clearly said no more half marathons. They don’t suit my body and I don’t enjoy training for them.

Unfortunately, by that point, I had already signed up to run the Endure 24 race with the Newton Mums. Absolute idiot! They said it would be Glastonbury for runners. I love camping, and I loved Glastonbury the times I’ve been. Now I finished this stupid half marathon, I’m thinking why am I doing that?! I’m just an idiot sometimes.

What I do love is the fact that I’m 48 and I can run 13 miles – albeit in a bit of pain. I’ve run 13 miles! Running helps me to be a role model for my kids. You show that you don’t give up. You keep going. We make our kids do a parkrun every Saturday. They don’t have a choice. It’s part of our family culture. My husband is stupidly fit. He runs the marathon in under three hours. I can now plod round a half marathon. Being a role model is important for us.

I’ve never run in the dark before. I can’t run in the evenings because I can never get my eating right. I’ve tried to eat earlier, but I just feel like I’m going to be sick the whole time. I’ve tried eating afterwards, but that’s too late. It’s too close to bedtime. Before the clocks changed, I wanted to do one evening run but I haven’t managed it. I wasn’t going to risk it before the half marathon in case I fell over.

***

My favourite thing about The Newton Mum’s? No runner is ever left behind. If you’re fast you’ve got to loop back and scoop up the ones who are at the back so no one feels like they’re last. It’s the loveliest running group ever.

My husband goes to another running club, which is very different. He’s all about competing. That’s not for me. His club is hardcore. Ours is about chat, socialising and running.

I’ve been with the Newton Mums for two-and-a-half-years. I don’t have a role within the club, but I did win Personality of the Year. I want that on the record. Everyone had to vote and I got it. Best thing ever! I was happy as pie but really it’s the kudos. Sometimes, if I bump into the girls and they’re with a bunch of Couch to 5K runners, I’ll stop for a chat and they’ll go “this is Clara, she’s our Personality of the Year.” I milk it for all it’s worth. Or I might turn up being all chatty and silly and they’ll go “yeah… that’s our Personality of the Year.”

Unless I start getting really injured, yes, I’ll keep running for as long as I can. I enjoy the group and that makes me run more than I would otherwise do.

***

This year, I really wanted to do a 10km under an hour. Not a race, just around here. So I put it on the group and asked if any of the girls wanted to join. It was brilliant. They all came out and paced me. I did it in 57 minutes or something. I nearly died. My average heart rate was something ridiculous like 180. Ludicrously high. I ran all-out the whole way.

The motto in the club is that if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count. On Sunday we went out to the pub to celebrate all of the people who had done half marathons in the last few weeks. At one point, we were all sat there comparing our VO2 max on our watches. Who else would do that?!

© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019

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