Saturday, 10 March 2012

Running for Distance

This morning I ran 17 miles, or 17.28, to be exact. This is the furthest distance I've covered yet, following a 16-mile run that I did on a leisurely day off just before Christmas, but somehow it didn't seem that much - the miles melted behind me, and for the most part I was strong and glad to be just where I was.

There's something about distance that really excites me. Passing through new places, getting further and further away from home - it's addictive in the best sort of way. It's also, I have found, the best way to get to know a place, and the best way to develop a decent sense of direction. Cycling was always the way that I would find distance in the past, but now that I am becoming a stronger (or more crazed!) runner, I actually find it more satisfying to get there on foot; exhausting, but satisfying.

I chose my route on Friday evening, following the canal tow-path for 7 miles and then heading off through farmland, and back home skirting the foot of Ilkley Moor. On shorter runs I often just head out wherever I feel, but seeing the route on a map beforehand sets it in stone, and I follow the map in my head for the entire run (or, on fell runs, take the map and a compass with me!!). I set out this morning with an energy drink, an energy bar and my phone, heading off to seek the distance that I so greatly need right now.

I have so much racing around my mind at the moment it's untrue. I am filled from tip to toe with excited butterflies, and getting on top of that feeling is proving impossible. I lay awake until late, and then woke up way before sunrise, blood cells fluttering and thoughts racing until I could do nothing but run away from them. So I ran: I set off at a slothish pace, not wanting to get ahead of myself and be tired out by mile 10, and plodded along the tow-path without a thought for anything but my breathing and the dog dirt scattered over the path that I diligently avoid at all costs.

As I've already described, the miles just melted away. I followed my internal map, running gently and patiently, enjoying the various wildfowl by the canal and the views across the valley. Leaving the tow-path I knew that I was in for some killer hills, and sure enough my legs did kill, but still - gently, step by step, the hills came and went and at the top of each I was treated to long bright views across the countryside. It was breezy (some of the winds were stronger than me, but most were fine), but the sun was out, and the first real warmth of spring spread over my face and arms. I stopped at 10 miles to eat half of my energy bar - taking a short stop is something I always indulge in on long training runs; even when running I think a slow, leisurely pace is more the point of the exercise - for me, at least! By this point I was really enjoying myself - I didn't know for sure where I was or whether I was even going in the right direction, but seeing the road pass underneath my feet, turning corners, climbing hills: it was the distance of it all that made me feel so elated. Leaving the comfort of the tow-path and heading out into the unknown meant undiscovered roads and unseen views - the adventure was literally underfoot.

It took me a good while to realise that all of the worries, anticipations and daydreams that had been overwhelming my thoughts for the past few days had not entered my head once. I was literally thinking of nothing; just taking in the scenery and the way my body was responding to the pace, the sunlight, the hills, and everything else. This is what distance gives me; a serenity that can only come through space and solitude. A sort of meditation that links my thoughts to the purest actions of my body, and allows both my mind and my body to function independently of each other, and independently of me.

I love running half marathon races. I love the atmosphere and the build-up, the training and the pressure that I put on myself to do well. I love the feeling of success afterwards, which I never get when I run alone, no matter how far or how fast I go. But thirteen miles doesn't always cut it anymore. It doesn't make me ache, it doesn't remove me from myself into a strange, removed delirium, and it doesn't give me time to appreciate the simplest physical matter of putting one foot in front of the other and getting somewhere by doing so. There was a time when 6 miles did this to me, and then 9, and then 13. Now, having conquered 17 miles and looking forward to more next week, I wonder how far I can actually go, given time, patience, and green monster recovery smoothies!

Green monster with spinach, banana, pear and milk - surprisingly tasty!

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