The Scribbler

24 October 2010

Of writing and running

Filed under: language,run,words — The Scribbler @ 21:17
Tags: , ,

I have had an amazing, inspiring and humbling week. I have sung, read, listened, thought and written at high volume. I have given my writing the same focus, energy and passion as my running.

In two days at Toftcombs, I have been whalloped by words, lambasted by language – Russian, Swahili, Arabic, Spanish; flailed by the feathers of a parakeet, smothered in spices and chocolate, bombarded by beetroot.

I have exhausted my mind, my memories, my emotions. Delighted in discovery and found the quiet confidence of belief.

I am beaten. Empty. Satiated. I have feasted well and am satisfied. I left joyful and hopeful, but craving rest.

I have never felt less like a run. My adrenaline habit had been fed by a riot of images, ideas and conversations. By simple complex human connections. After a late night that I never wanted to end and sad sweet goodbyes to my housemates of the past couple of days, I felt weary.

But a run was the plan. And a much anticipated run too. A new course promising pace. And a chance to see some old friends I’ve never met before.

Me and Alastair at the beginning of Edinburg parkrun

On my way to a new PB

Alastair met me at the appointed time and place and we drove to Cramond, catching up on his time in Tyneside. We were only parked up for a moment when Lesley arrived. I couldn’t get the car door open quickly enough. She has the best and brightest smile and the most enveloping hug.

Busy with parkrun preparation, I began to shake off my tiredness. The cold air had me pondering extra layers as we made our way down to the course.

The sea churned into mudflats. The trees glistening golden leaves, shaking off the remains of a shower. This is a course that promises riches.

Al knows everyone and introduced me to a couple of the parkrun regulars. I was keen to be moving, to warm through my cold legs. A few jumps, heel kicks and knee lifts and some perfunctory stretches and I Geordied up, ditching my hoodie and long sleeved top.

Before I knew it, we were lining up at the start. I felt small in the crowd, unsure where to place myself, not catching any eyes. An almost casual three, two, one – go. And I start the Garmin. 

Al running beside me, we set off at a lick. Two days of reading out loud, talking and discussing words around the fire have left me with a dry throat. The cold air catches my breath and I struggle to soothe it, coughing to clear my airways.

Lesley and me

Lovely Lesley and a big hug

“Are you okay?”
 “Yes!” I say confidently, resolutely. At least I’m not cold now.

We wave and smile at Lesley and the camera.

Out along the sea front and the wind whips my face, but my legs are warming through and stretching out and I sense this first kilometre is fast. The Garmin beeps and I check it at 4:44. That is fast for me and it’s the only time I look at my watch.

Al pulls ahead, running easily and I keep pushing to keep pace. But the wind’s stronger now and I start to drift backwards through the pack. Never mind, never mind. Run your own race. Keep pushing. You have a precious 15 seconds in the bag.

The runners stream ahead, impossibly distant. I cannot see the turning point. I sense I have slowed and Al is more distant still.

I feel empty. My core is hollow. There is nothing left inside. I am here running beside the sea, on a cold autumn day and I do not feel it. My heart has left me.

I always wondered what it would feel like to run cold, not caring. Just the white clean focus of a race. I do not like it. The emptiness unsettles me. I need the heat of the passion, the desire to race.

I feel my dreams of a sub 25 min or a PB are over. And I’m sad, because I feel like that’s letting Al down. But then I think, it’s Al, he’ll understand. I keep his bright red shirt in my sights and my stubborn legs propelling me forwards.

I realise I cannot feel my toes and have been clodhopping flat footed for goodness knows how many strides. I try to wriggle my icy extremities and roll through my feet.

As the turning point approaches, Al’s spotted that I’ve dropped back further than he realised and veers off the racing line, slowing down to meet me. “Come on,” he encourages, “Not far now.”

We turn and I am lifted. Is it that I am out of the wind or just that I have my good friend running beside me? I don’t know, but I feel more hopeful.

It’s hard though and my breath is still patchy. I slow to catch it, but cannot afford to lose the speed. When my breathing is like this, it’s too easy to let everything else go. I push on and try to stretch out, allowing myself a brief grunt of frustration as another runner passes, pushing a buggy, and shows us a clean pair of heels. 

Al is jogging. I can hear this pace is easy for him though it’s not for me. As we pass Lesley again, he fools around for the camera. I cannot even spare the energy for another smile.

The final stretch approaches. We are into the last kilometre and I’ve tried to pick it up, once, twice, three times. Fighting the urge to slow down. Doing the opposite of what I feel and going faster.

“Don’t go until we get into the trees,” Al advises. Even when we get to the trees I know there’s still a fair distance and I’ve learned my lesson from parkrun a few weeks ago when I tried to chase down the girl in black from 800m.

This time it’s a girl in blue who is my nemesis. She eases past as we approach the end. Marshall’s fluorescent jackets teasing us towards the finish.

“Come on!” Al cries. “You can crawl from here and still get a PB.”

Can I? I have not looked at my watch, but I sense I have picked up the pace in the last kilometre and maybe dogged determination was enough for the middle two.

Now my blood is up. Now my heart is in it. If you’re a girl, you don’t get past me this close to the prize. I start to rev through my gears. A bit faster. And again. Get the arms moving. Stop thinking, just bloody go for it. I put the hammer down and sprint for the finish. The girl in blue doesn’t stand a chance.

Over the line. Stop the watch. Collapse, fighting for breath. 

Al keeps me moving through the funnel. I just want to keep my head down and recover. Eventually I scroll through to today’s time –  24:43. You beauty!

The demons of doubt and tiredness have been beaten. This run was good. This run had heart. This run did matter. It would still have been a glorious run, because my friends were there. But to break that magic 25 minute mark for the first time is very special.

We escape to extra layers and warm ourselves with hot drinks and cake in the nearby cafe and another cuddle from Lesley. It is a fitting way to finish a brilliant few days and I feel incredibly lucky.

I’m lucky I have found running and it has found me. I’m lucky it’s brought me new friends and unimagined experiences.

I’m lucky too that my first love has not left me. Through running I began to return to writing for myself again after too long away. Two days at Toftcombs in the company of some stunning Dark Angels has reminded me of writing’s richness and the power it has to speak to my heart, if I let it.

I have returned to my neglected love and been welcomed with open arms. We have vowed not to take each other for granted again, but to spend more time together, working on this relationship, and enriching each other’s company.

1 Comment »

  1. So so proud of you Michelle you really are special only your Mum can say that & think it has something to do with her input into your being who you are. I Love You so much.XX


    Comment by mum — 24 October 2010 @ 22:39 | Reply

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