As runners, we are constantly thinking ahead; ahead to the next training run, the race that is coming up and the PB we so desperately seek. Not only are we looking to next week, next month and the rest of the season, for many, the challenges we want to take on next year and beyond occupy much of our headspace too. That’s not to say that planning for the future is not a good thing. It is. Without dreams for the future and plans to achieve them our lives would be dull and our training somewhat aimless. But what of looking back on the many runs and races we may have completed in the past? We tend to remember the good runs, the runs where everything went to plan and we felt great. Those that did not go so well we try to erase from our memories, even if we have learned much from them and moved on.
How often though, do we really take time to reflect on our running histories, to identify those moments that have defined us as runners? Not often enough, I suspect, certainly not for me. So, with time on my hands due to injury, I took some time to look back at my life as a runner and find those moments that have made me the runner I am.
I was not a keen runner in my early days at school, possibly because I was tall. This meant I was usually nominated to run the 1500m when no-one else wanted to. I was no good at it and usually came last, but no-one seemed to catch on that being tall did not necessarily equal good speed. It was at about the age of 14 or 15 that I first enjoyed running, and I can remember the moment so clearly. A friend and I had decided to take up canoeing, and we joined a club that was based by the sea. After a few weeks of learning to paddle in a straight line and ride over the waves, the club announced a race, a canoeing and running race. After a five mile paddle across the bay, we would run to the top of the Golden Cap cliff (the highest point on the south coast of England at 191m), run back down and paddle back the 5 miles across the bay. In my teenage innocence, I overlooked the fact that I had little canoeing experience and even less of running up steep cliffs, and decided to give it a go. Whether it was because I was relieved to get out of my canoe and onto dry land after battling 5 miles of choppy sea or not, I don’t know, but ‘running’ up that cliff and back down was undoubtedly where the seed for my love of trail running was sown. It was steep, it was rocky in places, and I probably walked and fell over more than I care to remember (I had no proper running shoes never mind fell shoes). I loved it though. The exhilaration and exhaustion on reaching the top, the wind in my hair and the sea air in my lungs. I can recall it as if it was yesterday. My love of running off road had begun.
Fast forward a few years (well, a lot more than a few actually) and my next defining moment. In the intervening period, I’d dipped in and out of running, mixing it with hill-walking and kayaking and generally as much adventure as I could lay my hands on. But now I had a new challenge in mind. A triathlon. Not just any triathlon, but a triathlon where the run was up and down a mountain, Helvellyn. I’d been up and down Helvellyn many, many times, but still found it incomprehensible that anyone could run up and down the mountain after swimming a mile in Ullswater and then riding over 30 miles around the Lakes, including up the notorious ‘Struggle’. I was up for the challenge, though, and set about learning to swim properly and ride a road bike. The swim was cold, very cold, and the bike so tough. I was convinced I’d be setting off last up the mountain. But no, I wasn’t last, and being a runner rather than a swimmer or a cyclist, I soon found I was passing some of those who were. Up Swirral Edge to the summit I was in my element, running where I could, scrambling where needed and helping those who were less confident on the rocks. The descent, via White Side, was even better; whilst the quads of the runners around me were screaming, mine just wanted to carry on. I could have run forever that day; I’d never had a runner’s high like it. Having suffered the swim and tolerated the bike, I knew without doubt that it was running for me. My triathlon career was short-lived after that, as I returned to my real passion. No more water and wheels, just feet.
Looking back, I’ve unearthed so many running memories I had forgotten about. The fear I felt in my first race, 10K around the streets of Ealing and the incessant steps of the Midsummer Munro. The sunset runs pottering around Loughrigg and the March sunburn on my arms from Exe to Axe. Each one is a tale in itself, and each one contributes to my story, but those moments on the Golden Cap and Helvellyn define me. This is my story; what’s yours?