Getting my stuff together for this weekend’s race it struck me that, over the course of the past 10 years in running so much has changed. My first marathon was the New York City marathon in 2005 and woah – was it a huge deal for me! I had a 5 year old and a not-quite-3 year old at home. Getting the training in was tough. I trained following a Hal Higdon method, on my own, on the trails on the farm where we live. The arrangements to get away were elaborate. My parents flew across from the Netherlands to look after the kids and Adam and I tagged a week’s holiday onto it. I ran a fairly slow race (4:55) but loved every minute of it and basked in the glory of doing something I had never believed within my abilities.
I followed that race with Chicago in 2006, Amsterdam in 2007, White Peak in 2008 (I think? The race I didn’t train for. Won’t do that again!), Chicago in 2008, London and Berlin in 2009, Boston in 2011 and London again in 2011. Over the course of that time my running goals changed. From running to complete I slowly (and slow is the key here – it took me a long time!) transformed into running to compete. My training changed – I introduced speed work and tempo runs. In the past 6 months I have introduced strength work and core work. I have added cycling and swimming to my cross training. And I have got faster.
But that first race was about so much more than just doing a marathon. I was astonished by myself and what I could do – that this formerly fat girl, who had let go of a bit of her zip and her drive when she moved to the country and stopped working and started having babies – could actually turn things around, turn herself around. That all this stuff about believing in yourself and being the change you want to see was true! In those first years, I also raced to have a break from my adored but demanding small children and to have a grown-up holiday. I traveled to Chicago with my mother in 2006 (still a memorable holiday – so glad I did this) and met up with blogging buddies there 2 years later. Running and racing gave me an outlet, a goal, a community to connect with that I credit with the enormous growth and development I feel I went through in my 30s.
While I’m happy to overshare on the details of my life, I don’t often talk about the specifics. Often, they are just not necessary for you to understand where I’m coming from. But I have come to realise that moving to rural England when you’re an educated, professional, essentially urban girl with a very international background, is not an easy thing. I jumped in with two feet at 29 – and with no idea of what I was giving up (a career, friends in London, a whole way of life) or what I was getting into. It’s quiet round here. Empty. Many of the people we know socially through our kids school or locally don’t run. The predominant interest of many women in my position round here is horses. Followed by gardening. And I respect both of those hobbies but don’t share them. I happened upon running out of desperation, as a way out of the loneliness and boredom and fatness that I was feeling. And it has repaid me not only with weight loss but with travel when I needed a break from my life here, goals when I was struggling to redefine myself away from the working world, and friends. Near and far – I have met so many of you and hope to meet so many more of you. A community of like-minded people whose lives are often extremely different in every way who share this love of running and where it can take us. Ultimately, running has led me to build up a new career as a personal trainer that is rooting me here in the countryside in a whole new way and which is so much more fulfilling than the path I was on professionally in my late twenties.
This Saturday’s race is not a destination race (the race course is wedged between a motorway and the trainline for the Eurostar to Paris). Nobody I know is coming with me (though the other runners and I are already making friends on the runnersworld events pages). I’ll travel there alone, sleep in a motel, get up, race and go home again. I am racing this race to race, to test myself. To see how the work that I put in will come out. To see if I can face that demon that always comes along and tells me I can’t do it and face it down. To see how hard I can push myself and to discover something within myself that I won’t see in any other aspect of my life. And strangely enough, I’m looking forward to this race as much as I looked forward to the New York City marathon in 2005. Bring on Saturday!