The Journey; or, That Time I Ran 10k and Learned an Important Thing About Living
I’m an emotional wreck. And I have been for a solid 24 hours, following the amazing Bupa 10k yesterday, which I ran for my favourite charity, the Willow Foundation – who give special days to young adults suffering from serious or terminal illnesses.
Y’all know that’s something I can get behind.
It seemed like a great idea at the time – I mean, pushing myself, further than I’d been able to go before, to be the girl who’d ‘never walk again’ running a 10k around a city that took a long time for me to call home… It seemed kinda grand. Kinda heroic. Y’know… Cool.
But as with many recent events, including my nightmare hill at the Body Retreat, and my attempted 5k for Sport Relief, this run was more of an emotional punch-in-the-gut meets shot-in-the-arm than anything I’ve done so far.
But first… Let’s rewind a little.
My training – or rather, my Phoebe-from-Friends attempts at running anything more than 1km without collapsing – has been a lil’ stop-start. Three weeks ago, I spent two days back on my crutches trying to rest a screwed up knee joint; five days later, I managed to reach 10k for the first and last time before yesterday’s race.
By yesterday morning, I was pacing back and forth. I had the shakes while trying to rustle up breakfast. I was practically seeing my 290lb, becrutched self hobbling around in the mirror. And I arrived on site at least 80% certain that I was going to be sick, or faint, or dislocate a knee half way around and be forced to die in the heat on the steps of St. Paul’s.
At the start line, I jumped up and down and chatted nervously with my sister, who was playing the role both of trusty sidekick and ass-kicking coach, in an attempt to distract myself from the inevitable fact that I was about to be made to run a distance far beyond my comfort zone, alongside thousands of other people who were what you might call ‘proper runners.’
Seriously – I’ve never felt as though I’ve embodied the words ‘all gear, no idea’ more in my life.
But then, we were off – legging it down the Mall to the Prodigy’s Firestarter, no doubt with ol’ Queenie peeking out of her bedroom window and having a lil’ rave to send us on our merry way. I can honestly say I’ve never felt more exhilarated in my life.
And that buzz, that feeling of ‘holy hell, I’m actually doing it’ lasted all the way to about the 2k mark, when I suddenly remembered that 10k is actually pretty damn far, no matter which way you slice it. While the crowds that lined the route were a huge encouragement, the heat, the wind, and the feeling that I wouldn’t make it all the way around without vomiting hit me with the resounding, thundering force of The Fear.
So we slowed down. And like all the big, ugly adversities I’ve had to get past so far – learning to walk, losing 130lbs, and so on – it needed to be broken down into achievable chunks in order to get done. Running 10k? Impossible. Running to the next set of traffic lights?
And that’s what we did. For the next 3k, it was all about getting to the next set of lights; the next bus stop; the next corner.
By 5k, my knee was beginning to jar – but this potato-leg and I have been sharing the same space long enough for me to know what’s acceptable, and what isn’t. When you’re overcoming an injury of any sort, half the battle is psychological – which is why, for a long time, I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk unaided again. I didn’t think I could.
This pain, though, was of the ‘not the end of the world’ variety – and I knew a peace offering of an ice pack, rest, and some ibuprofen later on would probably sort things out… So we carried on.
And suddenly, at 7k… It actually seemed like we might make it. We were almost at the point of being closer to the end than the middle, and that last 3k seemed pretty achievable – until just after the 8k mark. That part was pure pain and suffering from traffic light, to bus stop, to ‘holy crap, that’s Big Ben’ to yet another goddamn traffic light, to the beautiful, wonderful, thank-god-maybe-it’s-almost-over 9k signs that appeared up ahead.
As the 1k-to-go became 800m, and the 800m became 400m, it really started to get emotional up ahead. Suddenly, there were crowds again – and speakers with music and excitement and cheers for people as they crossed the line… And the 200m mark up ahead in the distance.
My sister (my hero, at this point, for keeping me moving throughout) and I had decided that, no matter what, we’d do the last 200m at a run, presumably while the Chariots of Fire music played from the heavens. Kind of. And so we did.
I had nothing left. The only time I’d managed a 10k distance previously, I’d had a boost half way through from some coconut water and brief sit down. But as the finish line appeared up ahead, I dragged myself across it on emotional energy alone – and promptly burst into a flood of tears as I crossed it.
Man, I was a mess.
A hot mess, in fact. Check out the Ultimate Relief Face:
Suddenly, the last hour and a half felt like absolutely nothing. It felt like it had flown by, and as though I could have done it all over again. I’d managed to do the thing I’d always thought impossible – and I’d gone from the girl who couldn’t walk to the damn fine woman who could survive a 10k. I could do anything.
As with my recent 5k, all sense of time and space was promptly thrown out of the window by this whole affair. I’m always struck, at each milestone, by how short a time it feels since I felt as though there was no hope.
There was one day, sitting alone, in my room, taking yet another painkiller and ordering yet another pizza, that I’m pretty sure was ‘rock bottom,’ or something like it – and even now, it doesn’t seem like all that long ago. In reality, it was August 2010 – and never, ever could I have imagined I’d be standing outside Buckingham Palace, collecting a medal and high-fiving a stranger at the end of an event like this.
And I think that’s what I’m starting to love about running.
Like a big ol’ metaphor for the last four years, the journey – with all those epic highs and crushing lows, the moments where anything’s possible, and the moments where one more step seems like madness – is the real source of happiness. Sure, finishing is a thrill – and every single milestone, every achievement I didn’t think I’d see, are moments I’ll treasure forever – but what makes you strong, and what gives you the force to live with force, fire and passion, are the steps you take to get there, no matter how slow and painful they may feel.
And the hardest moments are the ones you’ll be glad of later on.
I look back at my rock bottom, at all those hospital appointments, those moments when I wanted to quit, and the times when I did – and they’re up there with my first unaided steps, my first 10lbs lost, the moment I started to love my body and the realisation that it could do anything in the pantheon of Things I’m Glad I’ve Lived Through, because they’ve made me who I am now.
In other words – and to return to the whole reason I signed up to do this crazy run in the first place – every single minute is special, and has the potential to be a defining moment of awesomeness when you look back, years from now.
All you’ve gotta do is keep going.