Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Can a month of running change your life?

I am a one for obsessive behavior, so when I heard about the advent streak it sounded like a great challenge.
The idea is that in the month leading up to Christmas Day, you undertake to run every day. For someone like me who is constantly looking back wistfully on the carefree, pre-children days when I was in superb physical shape (time does play tricks on the mind I know), it seems an opportunity to kickstart a bit of a fitness regime.
This is a theme that has emerged throughout my life. The first time I can remember getting serious about fitness was when I was about 12 or 13 when school sport started to get more competitive. Although I took part in school sports and played for school and club football and rugby teams, there was always a feeling that in order to get to the next level I needed to be doing something more off my own bat. I think I'd seen too many Rocky films.
I had a friend Paul who was forever talking about "getting superfit" and who would take himself off on evening runs to this effect. Before long I was trying to do the same. Throughout my life it has always been running that seemed to hold the key to mythical superfit status. Maybe it's because it allows you to push yourself to a point where you really feel you have nothing more to give. It must be doing some good!
The problem for me is that I've never been that good at running distances. I'm the wrong shape really - short legs, bulky, more of a sprinter I used to think until Usain Bolt came along and blew that myth out of the water.
I have tried over the years to push on through the burn, but it's never come easy to me, even back in my peak running days - pre-kids and pre-marriage, natch - when I could push out a 5 mile run round the parks and canals of Hackney with relative ease. However I never felt there was much else in the tank - certainly no marathon on my bucket list.
In recent years I've gone completely off running due to (perceived?) lack of time and foot problems which the rare bout of running did no favours. But since number one son went to school I've been doing cycling, initially pulling him by trailer, and that was a pretty good daily work out. Now that he can ride himself, that's gone, since he doesn't want to cycle all the time. We do the school run by car most days.
So, advent streak!
Basically you commit to running a minimum distance every day. I've set the bar very low at one mile. I've worked out the point in our local park that I have to get to before I can quit. I'm happy to say that so far I've exceeded it - only by another mile, and I'm only on day three, so let's not get carried away.
But it feels good! My legs have been a bit stiff, but nothing I can't handle, and I anticipate this will ease. I also anticipate that I'll build my mileage to get in a longer run or two during the week or at the weekend. Again, I'm taking it easy because I want this to be the start of something longer lasting.
Which brings me back to the question posed in the blog title. Can a month of obsession change your behaviour?
My personal experience here comes from repeated no booze Januaries, something that I've done for so long that I can generally, and fairly smugly breeze through it. There's something about the process of denying yourself that I find quite gratifying, but at the end of the day it has not tempered my taste for alcohol. Nothing tastes so sweet as that first pint in February, unless its the subsequent three or four in the same session.
In some ways, the fact that I usually have a month off at the beginning of the year allows me to ignore how much I drink for the rest of the year. My behaviour becomes ingrained.
So, we'll see with this running thing. I'm keen that it will help me become more active generally, and perhaps lead to more social running. I've always viewed running as quite a solitary affair - no partner, no earphones, just man and his creaking bones against the march of time - but I know some guys in Colchester who run together. Perhaps I'll get to a stage where I'm good enough to join them. If not I'll be happy to keep plodding my weary mile until my knees really do give out.

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