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In the long run, even the long run has to stop – finally

1987 Melbourne Marathon. 2.41.46 - 1st M50-54
1987 Frankston to Melbourne Marathon. 2.41.46 – 1st M50-54

THAT was a good run. Covered several thousand miles, wore out countless pair of shoes and somehow collected a few trophies along the way.

Felt terrific for most of the route as it led me through numerous countries around the world.  A few blips and wobbles, but that was to be expected.  So, too, was the occasional breakdown but fortunately nothing major occurred despite the length of the run.

I was thus able to keep plodding on with only one major break and a few far lesser stops and delays.

At times, the pace was immensely pleasing, a true runner’s high. An “I can conquer the world” feeling. And even a handful of  “out of body” experiences.

To counter these exhilarating peaks there were the challenges posed by weather (Oh, those Cornish gales), the terrain (Oh, those Cornish hills) or simply lack of condition (mostly the red wine factor).

Regardless, the outcome remained more or less the same throughout: an initial burst of sheer exhilaration, followed by joy, relief and that feelgood sensation that explains the healthy glow and smiles that light up all runners’ faces.

Job done.

And it has only taken seventy years to reach the Finish line. [A couple of decades ago the end was very much in sight and mind when I vowed to stop if I took more than three hours to run a marathon — but then churned out a 2.58.55 at age 61 and so kept on going].

Throughout this lifelong journey (addiction?) I always knew where I would rather be — out there on track, road or trail battling the elements, my fellow runners or the stopwatch.

Far preferable to being slumped in an armchair watching instead of doing, pretending to be a sporty type as the fat gathered and the heart stuttered.

But things change. Especially bodies. As do the brains and minds that govern them. And only those who go through these periods of change (menopause, ladies?) can fully understand them.  The effects they have, the dilemmas they cause, the mental turmoil.

Those around me have been hugely supportive and encouraging during my recent period of indecisiveness and doubt.  Yet none fully understand. How can they if they haven’t been there?

It is the old sporting conundrum of knowing when to quit. And it’s a right bugger to solve. The body’s fit, the heart is strong; the brain still functions enough to solve the cryptic and spot a misplaced apostrophe at a hundred paces.

But there is nothing more pathetic than seeing a once prime athlete entering the ring, court, arena, track, pool or wherever they once performed so well in the vain hope of resurrecting their glory day. An unbeatable double act of Time and Nature dictates otherwise.

Canberra Mara
Winning the 1990 Australian Marathon Championship (M55) in Canberra in 2.59.41

Eventually it is the mental and physical effort required to get out and get going that becomes  more exhausting than the actual running.  

On top of which there is the envy-creating sight of all those smiling happy glowing faces gathered at the end of another run, whether it be a 5km family Parkrun or a strenuous 100 mile trek  along the coast path.

Paint me yellow and green, jealous and envious.  Emotions hard to dampen or ignore each time another cluster of happy snaps goes up on Facebook.

But acceptance  of the situation is slowly coming. After all, I can’t really complain; it’s been a good (running) life that  has been far more than mere exercise and competition.

Better than a packet of pills or a seat on the shrink’s couch in the down times, and one of the best stress relievers when problems need to be solved — or when all other attempts to clear the cursed writer’s block have failed.

Now comes the real crunch time. This weekend I am due in Hampshire to run for England Masters versus the Celtic Nations in the Fleet Half Marathon.

I saw my selection as a fitting finale to this running life. Go out on a high, as the saying goes.  

But it is not to be; something that deep down I have known for some time but have refused to admit.  The energy has faded. The willpower is no longer there, not even for such an occasion.

Believe me, I have tried, oh how I have tried. And all it has done is plunge me into depression.

The writing was already on the wall at my most recent race — a painful 10-miler that took almost two hours to complete and several days in recovery.

“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” has hitherto been a joy, a positive. It has now become a negative as I drift further apart from running and runners while the pack speeds off into the distance. No one wants their run to become a shuffling start-stop jog at a woeful 12-minute pace or slower.

Any encouragement given is of the predictable “You can do it” variety as they flit on by.  No I can’t do it, but I wish you would try to understand why. Because one day it will be you battling to pull on runners, shorts and top.

I need to be active so will doubtless drift out for the occasional jog when the mood dictates. Perhaps tackle a Parkrun.

But any actual racing is off the agenda with entries (non-refundable) having to be made months and months ahead of race day and the emphasis now on excessive distances and courses so demanding that they entail almost as much walking (and stumbling) as running.

So, happy running everyone.  Have fun. Stay fit and healthy — what more can one ask?

For the record: More than 50 marathons as a master athlete from M40 to M60 — all but a few in under three hours. Best time 2.41.41. Winner of all age categories from M45 to M60 in Melbourne Marathon. Two bronze and one silver in World Masters Championships. Numerous age-group wins nationally and internationally in half-marathons, 10-mile and 10km races (track and road).






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