“Crap, baggage drop off is miles away, Mrs Happly please, please, could you take my bag for me. I can’t run with it on my back.”
“That bag constitutes a terrorism threat”, she replied with that teeth-clenching inflection that turns a simple statement into a question? Like that, see.
“But…shit, shit, shit. They’ve already started. I’ve really fucked this up”.
The half marathon was still two days away, but the anxiety dreams were coming thick and fast and appeared to involve my eldest daughter’s beloved year 2 infant school teacher who, incidentally, had turned into an unhelpful witch.
Mrs Happly is the nicest person I’ve ever met. Damn you pre-race brain, now I have to glare at her at school pick up.
The problem with entering races, I complained to literally anyone who would listen the following morning, is that you then have to then run them. But the real problem is the sheer volume of logistics to solve and the hurdles to leap before you even set a nervous foot on the start-line.
My main worries were as follows:
Getting there: couple of hours drive, but the M25 might be closed, and the M4 and how do I even know if I’m anti clockwise and what if there’s an accident and I need a wee? Oh, and there will be children in the car. See below:
Additional family members: “Mummmmmmmmmy” etc etc etc etc etc.
Nutrition: I won’t have wine the night before. Good. Sorted.
Race number: I’ll forget it, I’ll forget to run, I’ll fall down a mine shaft. I WILL CATASTROPHISE.
But the real problem here is me. It’s not the roadworks, or the sheer volume of car snacks I’ll have to pack to quieten down the hoards in the back seat (plus husband), it’s my self-belief.
The fear of failing, the fear of finding it just too hard and stopping — and having to be airlifted off the field (actually, I quite like that). The fear of making a fool of myself.
“Running is hard, breathing right is hard, fighting tiredness and negativity and self-doubt is hard.” - Me, just now.
Why in the name of…
A pertinent question to ask at this juncture might be, why? Why put yourself through something that requires so much from you, mentally and physically. Does a shiny new medal and finisher’s t-shirt really compensate for hating an infant school teacher who’s been nothing but kind to your 7-year-old?
Do those endorphins really displace the anxiety, tiredness and sleepless nights in the weeks building up to an event? And why do you still experience this level of fear when you’ve run countless similar races in the past?
Because every run is different. Every time you embark on any kind of distance you really don’t know what to expect. On a good day you’ll meet a lovely dog and have a fuzzle before merrily skipping off down the seafront. On bad days you’ll have nothing short of an existential crisis. It’s a bit extreme. Or maybe that’s just me. Tell me it’s not just me.
But whichever part of the rollercoaster you’re on before, during and after your run, you never regret doing it. Honestly. I’m not entirely sure I’ve convinced you, but it’s true. I have no reason to lie to you. I’ve already told you I’m going to fall down a mine shaft, I’ve got nothing left to lose.
Races aren’t for everyone and are misnomers as far as I’m concerned. I’m racing no one. What I’m doing is running in the opposite direction from negativity and the little voice that tells me to stop being ridiculous and pack it in. If I can beat them, it doesn’t matter if I come first (I mean it could happen) or last (this has happened).
Sport, whether that’s running, wheelchair tennis or lawn bowls, should bring out the best in people. And by best I don’t mean performance, come on, if you’ve got this far you know that. I mean the best in communities (the running community is phenomenally supportive BTW), the best in chubby, wine drinking middle-aged women and in gazelle-like, ponytail swishing 20-somethings. Although less about them.
It brings out the best in people scarred by school age experiences of PE and it brings out the best in people who live to see the whites in their competitor’s eyes.
This Saturday I’ll be hoping it brings out the best in me as I cry, laugh and grit my teeth over 13.1 miles of trail half marathon.
If you can bear the wait. I’ll report back on how it went and if I did get a free helicopter ride in the rather obviously named: The Problem With Breathing Part 2.