It would be fair to say that, for most of my life, I’ve lived a somewhat sedentary lifestyle.

As a kid, physical activity was anathema to the enjoyment of my school days. I used to try every trick in the book to get out of PE lessons. Partly because I was so unfit that I just didn’t enjoy them, but mainly because I used to get mercilessly bullied by the ‘cool kids’ (and, in secondary school, one of the teachers) as a result of that poor fitness.

Eventually, I found a way to get out of PE lessons permanently. I (along with some friends) built a website for my secondary school — the first school website in the region, no less — and my IT teachers wanted us to update it, maintain it and look after it on the regular, and PE lessons provided a good time to do this. I think the PE teacher was secretly happy that I wasn’t dragging down his average times any more.

The years that have passed since leaving school have seen various aborted attempts to take up running and other sports. Apart from Taekwon-do, which I started in 2016 and am still doing, nothing stuck.

All of which is to explain why, if you’d said to me just over a year ago that I would be training to run a half-marathon in August 2024, I would have spat my drink right in your face and then laughed heartily. And yet, it’s true.

So how did this come about?

Step 1: Couch to 5K

Such a great idea in theory. A 9 or 10 week course (depending on the one you do) which aims to get someone that has never run before up to being able to run 5K (3.1 miles in The King’s Units) without stopping.

The course is pretty simple — two or three runs per week (again, depending on the course) that slowly build your distance and time up. As alluded to above, I’d attempted a few of these in the past, and without fail, I would fall out of the routine after 2 weeks and never pick it back up.

I think part of the problem was that I always chose to do it in the winter months, so poor weather and cold temperatures were a constant fixture and that’s not a very good way to encourage me to get outside.

When Jem suggested I join the Broseley Joggers Couch to 5K program to start in May 2023, I joined up but internally scoffed at the idea that I would stick it through.

For unrelated reasons, in March 2023 I’d decided — quite arbitrarily, I might add — to set myself the goal of walking 50 miles in the month. I think I was just curious to see how far I did walk in an average month, and by tracking all of my walks (no matter how short) on Strava, I got an answer — it was just over 50 miles.

So in April, I decided to go one better (well, 50 better) and see if I could walk 100 miles in a month. Owning a dog was quite useful here, of course, but even then to my surprise I succeeded — if I remember correctly, my final total was 108.3 miles.

And then it was time for the Couch to 5K to start. Two runs per week, for 10 weeks, followed by a ‘graduation’ Parkrun (a timed 5K run, for those unfamiliar)

To my surprise, and I imagine because of my walking activity in those two months prior, I didn’t find it to be particularly troublesome compared to literally every other time I’d tried.

To the point that, at about halfway through the course, I decided to try and do Telford Parkrun without stopping to walk. I didn’t expect to be able to, but (with Jem pacing alongside me) I managed it, and in a better-than-expected 34 minutes and 54 seconds.

Knowing that I could run a 5K at this point was a big confidence boost. I carried on with the Couch to 5K course though, and continued doing parkruns each Saturday, eventually getting down almost to my target time of 30 minutes dead.

Then, the parkrun graduation run took place — in Shrewsbury, rather than Telford, because Telford was closed that weekend. And, despite the extra gradients in Shrewsbury parkrun, I did it! I cracked the 30 minute mark, and not by a small margin either — 29:39 was my official time at the graduation parkrun. No doubt helped by the wonderful Broseley Joggers cheering me along.

So what was next? Well, after a 5K, the next logical step is double that, right? 10K beckoned.

Step 2: The First 10K

As the Couch to 5K programme drew to a close, I reached the conclusion that I was able to focus better when I had something to work towards — the graduation parkrun and a sub-30 minute time was the goal for the 5K distance, now I needed something to focus on for the 10K distance.

So, I picked a race. The most local race I could find, the Telford 10K. Taking place in December 2023, this would give me nearly 5 whole months to train up for it, which seemed plenty.

The advice I was given, by Jem and various others, was to slowly ramp up my distance over time, generally by 10% each time. I flat out ignored that, and jumped straight from doing the 3.1 miles of a 5K up to just over 4 miles on my next run.

And then I hit a bit of a wall. Not literally, of course. I found it difficult to summon up the motivation to go out and run, mainly because I was running alone and, up to this point, I’d been running with the Broseley Joggers, or with the crowd at parkrun.

I persevered though, and my training for the Telford 10K was coming on nicely. My stay at the BeEx Cottage (there’ll be a post about this eventually I’m sure) saw me going out for an early Saturday morning run with Jem, KovacsC (Mark) and MaliA (David) — and although I’d originally only intended to do between 4.5 and 5 miles, I felt alright and we decided to just power on through to the full 10K (6.2 miles). I managed it, and was very pleased with myself. Again, knowing that I definitely could do the distance was a big confidence booster.

Step 3: The Official 10Ks

A few weeks out from the Telford 10K, Jem realised that she could no longer attend a 10K that she had been planning on running in November, around the UK theme park Alton Towers, so she offered me her place. Why not, I reasoned? I can do the distance, and it’s only a few weeks before the one I’d been training for, so it could be just another ‘training run’.

The day of the race came, and I’d decided that I was going to aim for 1 hour and 10 minutes. I was getting on really well, enjoying the atmosphere and the musical acts situated throughout the park as I jogged past them, and marvelling at just how many water bottles people threw around the place after the halfway water station, when disaster struck at just before the 5 mile marker.

My knee packed up, a recurring thing that’s afflicted me for many years but comes and goes. It meant that I had to pretty much walk the last mile, which was intensely frustrating, but I still somehow ended up with an official chip time of 1 hour, 12 minutes and 3 seconds! That was also frustrating — if I hadn’t had to walk, I would easily have beaten my target time.

This just meant I had a score to settle at Telford 10K.

I had Jem and Matt running with me for this race. Again, my target was 1 hour and 10 minutes, with a secret goal of trying to get under an hour. I knew I wouldn’t achieve the latter, but I was hopeful for the former.

I didn’t experience any awful pains this time, and the course went by pretty much without incident. It was a very flat course, especially compared to Alton Towers, so I expected a faster time regardless.

As we rounded the final corner and the finish was in sight, I found it in myself to really push on for a sprint finish, and my final time was 1:06:55! Beating my primary goal, I was very happy with that.

But I still wanted to go faster.

So then I entered the London Winter Run, which took place in late February this year.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember that Jem and I made the decision to separate in early February, so I wasn’t sure how well I’d perform at this run. Jem was supposed to be there with me for support, but decided not to come with me because of the separation, so I was largely on my own. Two of my brothers visited me in London the day before the race for some beers and a catch-up, which was hugely appreciated and much needed.

The atmosphere for this run was electric, it was so good. People dressed as polar bears and penguins lined the streets asking for high-fives, loads of musicians playing funky ditties… it was great.

I thought I had stuffed my chances of getting a good time though, when — just after the first kilometre had been ticked off — I landed awkwardly on a kerb and it felt like my ankle had just split in two. I spent a couple of minutes trying to run it off and fortunately the pain eased off and I carried on going.

I crossed the line at London after 1:02:34 — still a far cry from my goal of sub-60 minutes, but a PB all the same and I was very pleased with it, especially given the turmoil of my life at the time.

I decided at this point to give the running a little bit of a rest and focus on some work at the gym instead, strength training etc.

And then Matt asked me if I wanted to run Bedford Autodrome Half Marathon with him in August…

Step 4: A Half Marathon? Are you mad?

I’ve maintained right from the start of my running journey that I am not stupid enough to run a full marathon. I don’t want to put my body through that, I’ve seen other people close to me do it and how they feel afterwards and I don’t want to put myself through that.

But I figured that, as unlikely as it might be to ever happen, I could probably give a half-marathon (13.1 miles) a try.

So when Matt popped the question, as it were, I gave it some thought and realised it was 6 months away and that I had nothing to lose, so why not? It’s four laps around a very flat race track, so it’ll likely be boring, but it’s another milestone ticked off my journey to being a bonafide Long Distance Runner.

I am now just over 1 week into my training plan from Hal Higdon (which I started two weeks later than I should have done, oops) and so far it’s all going well. My confidence here is boosted by a run that I did in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago. I’d only intended to go out and do 5K but I ended up doing nearly 7 miles (11.3K) — by some margin, my longest run to date — and in 20 degree weather too! I wasn’t particularly fatigued afterwards either.

I’m also running a dual 5K/10K race at Port Sunlight in a couple of weeks time, with MaliA. I’ve never run two races consecutively like that before, so it should be interesting. My game plan is to take it very easy on the 5K and then hope that I’ve got more in the tank for the 10K. It should be a good training run, if nothing else.

So, what’s my goal for the half-marathon? Firstly, to finish it would be amazing. Secondly, I’m setting myself three goals:

  • Realistic: under 3 hours
  • Hopeful: under 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Dreamy: under 2 hours 30 minutes

Let’s see how it goes…

Where’s the torture?

Yeah, you got me, the torture that I mentioned in my post title doesn’t really exist here. I haven’t ever finished a run and thought “Jesus, I don’t want to do that again” and — knee pain at Alton Towers excluded — I’ve never found myself in so much pain that I felt like I wanted to stop and give it all up. And even at Alton Towers it subsided after 12 hours.

What is a fact, though, is that I am just so bloody proud of myself for being able to run these distances. And I’m sure if Mr. Shortman, my old PE teacher, could see me now he would be proud too. Although for all I know, he could be dead by now.

And who knows, despite my misgivings, perhaps this time next year I’ll have a marathon on my race calendar…