In a COVID-19 world, where all of our races, competitions and motivations/targets are taken away, it’s been a great time to sit back and take stock on the reasons why we run.
I’ve been reflecting on my running journey, how I got here; and why I even run in the first place. Those of you that know me know me as ‘Amy: she’s a runner, from Hyde Park Harriers’. Humbleness aside, I’m not slow. Often this statement is followed by ‘she’s fast’, or some other similar comment. Since I joined Hyde Park Harriers and started racing, running has become about competing. Which it never was before. Now, when all of that is taken away, I’m finding that running is about exploring, having some time for me, taking in my surroundings and (most importantly) snacking and taking photos!
(By the way, HPH as a whole isn’t just about competing for me, I have made best best best friends from it; joined the committee and it’s such a big part of my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world. This blog is just reflecting on how I’ve been focussing too much on being fast, rather than having fun!)
Back in 2005, when I started running, I ran in a world without GPS, without real sports gear, no way of tracking what I was doing and no way of creating a record of what I’d achieved. So I didn’t care! As a 14 year old, I used to do a little loop from my parents holding a stopwatch, and keeping track of my ‘PB’ in my head. The old-fashioned Strava! I joined a little local running club in 2006 in the deepest, darkest depths of Essex. Someone spat on my foot (accidentally) on my 5th time of attending, and I never went back. Gross. Plus, it was in Essex and that’s always a risk.
Throughout school and uni I just ran for fun. Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes I’d not come back for hours. My mum just became accustomed to the fact I’d not tell her how far or how long I’d be runningvfor. I’d run to feel and, being a student without a care in the world, it didn’t really matter (to me) when I came back. I never really appreciated how amazing my body was, being able to achieve these things (particularly during the ages of 16-18 during a period of anorexia where I was lucky if I’d eaten half a cucumber stick to fuel said 2 hour run).
Mostly, running was about exploring, clearing my head and, yes, that typical runner’s statement ‘to deserve more cake’. My mum used to say that as long as I was running she knew I was okay. I suppose she was right – my head would be sorted and my weight was manageable through running. I also appreciate that’s not a great way of thinking on my part, but this didn’t matter to me back then… nonetheless, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was a challenging daughter and at least I had systems in place to manage that. And that mum noticed. I suppose she was thankful that I understood that, to run, my body needed at least some form of food. So it meant I was eating.
This theme pretty much continued for the next ten years. I ran to be able to eat and for my head and I ran on my own and loved it. I battled with so many inner demons for such a long time and, through it all, running was the thing I could use to control all of those things.
Counselling, friends, family, they didn’t work. Running did. So I stuck to it. It’s been a constant throughout my life for longer than I can really remember and I’m so thankful. Like so many, I’m not sure I’d be here without it.
I didn’t even consider that I could be good at it. I used to run past my local parkrunners on a Saturday morning and I didn’t understand why they would want to run with people. ‘Running is for me, I don’t want to share!’ was my attitude. When I finally took part in my first race in 2013 in Perth, Western Australia, where I lived for 5 years, I was persuaded by a friend. I completed the 12km race in 57 minutes pretty high in the female field, I realised I wasn’t too bad at it. I entered another race, a 14km along the river, and finished in 1:00:40 (a time I’d still be really proud of now!) and 4th lady. It was time to enter my first marathon.
I wanted to run a marathon before my time in Australia was up. Training along the Swan River was like a dream. I could do 20 miles and see no cars: just cyclists, fellow runners, kangaroos and dolphins. The training was a learning curve. I spewed more than once and I fuelled wrong more times than I have fingers to count on. Anyway, the race was amazing. Having support from people really does matter. I loved it and I got such a buzz. Except when my favourite Lion King song came on with 4km to go and I wept: thank chuff it was only 4 minutes long.
When I moved back to England in 2015 I went back to running alone but entered a few races, doing okay in each of them. I vowed to join a running club but couldn’t make it work commuting from Hertfordshire to London and back every day so just run-commuted instead: clocking up over 50 miles a week to save on public transport.
The move to Leeds in 2016 changed everything. My new house in Hyde Park meant I could join what was deemed the ‘friendliest running club in Leeds’ : Hyde Park Harriers.
I guess the rest is history, really. My running has improved incredible amounts since having such a great group of running buddies. I’ve taken 31 minutes off my marathon time and done 5 ultras and achieved so many other countless things like triathlons and getting into the GB Age Group duathlon squad. A feat I could never have dreamed of even 5 years previous. Being surrounded by amazing people really does make you realise you can do things you never thought you could and it’s great to have the HPH cheers in the back of your head when you’re struggling – physically and mentally.
And speaking of a mental note, I just cannot thank HPH enough. The friends I’ve made since being a member have helped me through so much thick and thin and I wouldn’t be here without them. Even to those of you that don’t know you’ve helped: you’ve helped. Thank you.
I can’t wait to see what we can all achieve in the future, but you ain’t getting my running an ultra in my garden…