We all have those moments in our life when we think “what next?” and for me one of those moments came in September 2014 (having just turned 53) when I thought it would be a good idea to run a marathon. “Heck, what do you want to do that for?” most of my friends and family were asking and I wasn’t really sure why either, I just thought it was something I wanted to do. It wasn’t as if I had never run before, certainly in my younger days I had run some short distances and a half marathon. I had always kept fit but I had never taken on the 26 miler and had not really done any training for over 10 years. So my first step was see if I could still run and if I could or would be able to make the distance before I committed my entrance fee, time and effort. Not only that but could my body take it, let’s face it the possibility of keeling over is always in the back of your mind if you’re going to put yourself through something as demanding as a marathon.
Now enthusiasm is fantastic and I was pretty quickly able to get myself around Virginia Water Lake (5 miles) without any Para-medics in attendance but enthusiasm and age can be a dangerous combination and it was not long before I suffered a calf injury, resulting in 3 months of physio, rehabilitation and a number of exercises my office colleagues thought were a little strange. None the less by the end of 2015 I felt strong enough to sign up for the 2016 Brighton Marathon and start training. Some 17 weeks later and after some very dark, lonely, cold and wet Saturday mornings around Windsor Great Park I made the start line in Brighton. Family support along the route, High 5 gels, a random runner telling me not to walk and a few blisters I managed to run, yes run, over the finish line in a very respectable 4hrs 9 mins. I should be proud of this and of course I am but I had set my sights on a sub four hour marathon so whilst I was pleased I was quietly annoyed I had not reached my goal. Now, anyone that has run a marathon, especially the first, gets the post run never again syndrome. It took me a couple of months before I managed to get my head around my target time and if I could beat the sub 4 hr goal I had set. Regardless of that I signed up for a second run of Brighton with the sub four hour as my goal. I knew I had to increase my performance but the thought of just more long runs on my own was not very appealing so I decided I should join a club, where there were likely to be other daft people out there that might also be looking for a running partner.
I chose Runnymede Runners (www.runnymederunners.com) as they were local and appeared to press all the right buttons in terms of nice pics on their website friendly atmosphere and regular meets at Windsor Great Park. The option to check them out for a while before you join properly was also appealing as it gave me a chance to see if it was a good fit for my ability and if we actually got on. It’s a bit unnerving trying to work out who you might first run with when you start with a club but I found myself soon accustomed to who is running what sort of speed and ability. The pre-run huddles normally cover speed and distance type conversations for the various mixed groups and abilities so I soon found the groups I was most suited to. That said I did think I was a reasonable runner but soon found myself pushed by some of the chaps and ladies who were obviously quicker and more able than me, even though some were actually older than me which I found very inspiring!
It was not long before I had attended a couple of cross country races, 10 miler and half marathon and have become a regular Tuesday night and Saturday morning runner. The club has definitely given me an enthusiasm and motivation to get out there on a Saturday morning, there are some inspirational runners amongst the club and to be running with likeminded people also aiming for either their first or personal best on a marathon is a fantastic driver. I have carried and been carried (not literally) on some of our long runs and thanks to those that have helped me when needed.
Being part of a club like Runnymede does force you to mix things up a little, in everything from where you are running, to events and type of runs. No way would I have been running hill repeats up Tite hill in Egham, cross country, intervals or have had the opportunity for structured track work. All of that alongside some fantastic people and a very friendly atmosphere.
I can’t say I can attribute all of my performance improvements to my club membership but my training so far this year is so much more advanced than I managed in 2016. Over 7-8 miles my average pace has improved by around 40 seconds per mile and our Spring Marathon Group are now running long runs of around 15-20 miles on our Saturday long runs so I am feeling pretty confident. That said a marathon is a big ask both mentally and physically and you just can’t tell until you are on the start line, injury free or better still crossing the finish line. Can I take 9 mins off my 1st marathon effort, well I will only find out when I compete in April but there is no doubt that joining a club has drastically improved my chances and given the chance to meet some great people.
I shouldn’t finish without also mentioning that I have taken both these running ventures as opportunity to raise some good cause money as these also provide me with that extra kick I’ll need at 22 miles. In 2016 it was for Macmillan in support of my Aunt June and this year it is the Maxiofacial Unit at Royal Surrey County Hospital in support of my niece Samantha Ashford. My latest venture can be supported through http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Russ_Hammond. So if you have thought this a worth reading to the end and can spare a small amount of cash then please visit my site for more information and the opportunity to help.
Thanks for reading