Sunday 1 December 2013

Making it Painless, like Potter

I'm running, and it's all wrong.

My head is down, when it should be up. My shoulders are round, when they should be back. My back is curved, when it should be straight. 

My knees - oh dear. My knees go in, when they should go out, and my feet go out, when they should go in. My heels go down when they should go up, and my toes go up when they should go down.

How I have managed to run any races at all - let alone finish them - seems a mystery.

The scene of my latest embarrassment is a quiet tree-lined dead-end road beside the local golf course. Amelia my trainer has taken me out for our first session in a long time. She is assessing me before we start formal marathon training, and she's not very happy with what she sees.

It's been so long since I did any strength work that I’m running like an old lady. All of my bad habits have got worse, and Amelia is warning me that unless I fix them, I’m in danger of experiencing the same excruciating back pain that poleaxed me during my training for London 2012.

So I’m listening. I don’t like what I hear. I’m ashamed by it. Some of it is the result of behaving like an arse, frankly. For most of this summer and autumn I ran random distances, rarely. I drank and I ate too much, and I went running with hangovers and indigestion. I shuffled, rather than ran. I didn’t do any sprints and the only intervals I completed were very short ones between opening bottles of wine.

Amelia gives me a look. She has a way of doing this very politely, I should add. But I still feel it. Amelia ran the Marathon des Sables this year. She’s planning for her next challenge to be the Mont Blanc 100. (That’s 100 miles up a mountain covered in ice.) I am 6ft 1 to her 5 ft 7, and I feel very small.

Amelia gives me a training plan, and a list of things to fix. I have to think about where I’m putting my feet when I run, and what I’m doing with my shoulders and my head. I have to start doing some speed work, and I have to start fixing my poor mushy core.

In essence, I have to pull myself together. Literally.

The next time I go out for a run, I list Amelia’s instructions in my head. My head must go back and my shoulders go up. No – my head goes up and knees go back. No – my feet go down and my head goes out. No - ... I am exhausted before I get to the end of the street.

It would be funny were it not so frustrating. As I hop and shuffle and jerk down the avenue, muttering to myself and hoping no-one is watching me, I remember a scene in an old film called The Paleface, starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell. The action is set in the Wild West and Hope plays a cowardly dentist - of all things – who goes by the name of “Painless” Peter Potter and finds himself married to the delicious Russell. In a turn of events too complicated to go into here, Hope – who can’t shoot a gun but can shoot off his mouth – gets set up for a confrontation with the baddy who has just run into town. In a scene that makes my mum and me howl every time we watch it, he is approached by a number of grizzled saloon regulars who whisper lines of advice to him – “He draws from the left, so lean to the right”, “There’s a wind from the east, so aim to the west”, “He crouches when he shoots, so stand on your toes”. By the end, cross-eyed with the effort of maintaining his bravado and remembering his instructions, Hope is shuffling and sloping along the now-deserted main street, muttering “He draws on his toes, to lean towards the wind..  There’s a wind from the east, better lean to the right.”

I am laughing out loud now as I run. I hold my head up very straight. It feels very odd. I can’t see my feet. I realise that I have got used to watching my feet. I have got used to a process of running that is only about putting one foot in front of another. When I run with my head up, not watching my feet, I realise how long it is since I looked at the horizon.

I think about the reasons I run. I think about the reason I last ran the London Marathon. I think about how painful my life was and how painful Grace’s life was and how painful the training was, and the pain of the Marathon itself.

Then I think about why I’m running the London Marathon again. Life is better. Mostly, the pain has gone. So maybe I should start running like life is good again.

As I think these things, my shoulders go back and my back straightens and I am suddenly properly running. At last.

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