Thoughts on the run

9 minute read

I’ve been running (as an amateur, nothing serious) for a while now, and it sort of happened without much planning. It became an integral part of what I am and do now, so am sharing some thoughts, on the run. It’s a bit of a stream of consciousness down here.

Why did I start?

I had started picking up some running in the summer of 2014. I don’t recall whether it was at that London bootcamp I had done (there were several people doing some running at the campus) or earlier at my parents. I was certainly jogging around in these two places during that same time though, and I was probably awfully slow - no apps record to testify/check.

I don’t even recall why exactly I picked it up, probably because I had no real alternative to doing something to try staying fit while I was writing my PhD thesis. Before then, I was going to a gym and swimming a lot but maybe just because I moved out of the around Rome where I was I had no other thing to do, for that short period of time while sorting the next step in my life. That’s also when I met a dear friend who’s an avid runner - he was already too good though so we never actually run together.

Then I moved to Scotland, started running with a friend and the rest is history. For a long period of time I never tracked the runs, didn’t really care. I was doing it because there was this friend of mine - an experienced runner - acting as a motivator. Those were the times when running on my own wasn’t a thing. I had actually gone running alone a few times (some of those are tracked - currently looking in my Strava where I migrated every data I had) but always felt like a huge effort. In contrast, I remember with great joy all those runs we were doing from the old office in Edinburgh, especially the Arthur’s Seat ones (always my favourite - challenging and rewarding).

Honestly, if it wasn’t for this friend I’m sure I wouldn’t have kept going. Thank you, you’re awesome.

The Marathon nonsense

He asked “wanna sign up?” (to the Edinburgh Marathon, taking place in May). I’ve been undecided for long, then well, why not. Signed up at the end of December. 5 months to train, last year we didn’t do (almost) anything - “I’ll do it if you promise you’ll train with me”. Which we did.

Also, was 5 months within which we both had long holidays so March was off (in terms of running together).

Looking at Strava now, looking at the progression of the bars, they plot the monthly distance run:

A screenshot for my Strava with the monthly distance run for the first months of 2019 (I didn't cut off the y axis, it's that I can't make it show just this desired period so had to cherry pick within the plot).
  • January: 54.1km run total, averaging a pace around 5:30 min/km;
  • February: 79.1km run total, starts to go down already to an avg page around 5:20 min/km; these are mostly the Meadows (a park near the office) ones - we got sick of the place now;
  • March: 90.2km run total - well these are mostly me in the US. I had promised myself I’d do at least one run in each place visited when on holiday. Avg pace starts to stabilise at 5:10 min/km and my favourite one - will always remember the feeling - was the 21km in Philadelphia, 1h50m, was such a great run, so great;
  • April: 140.3km run total, this is the month with the long distances runs, a bunch of half marathons in for training the long one;
  • May: 140.9km, but mostly due to the Marathon itself and a 30km preparatory one (longest distance in the training plan before the race). Another memorable one was my first 10km in less than 50m - such a great feel again.

Before the race, I was quite pleased with the progression I had done. If anyone had asked me in December, I would have never thought I’d be able to run at nearly 5min/km (didn’t even have a feel for a pace then, back then I was desperately reasoning in velocity, so in km/h). Also I would have never thought that in a relatively short time I’d become able to run long distances. I was still quite adamant I’d have to leave the race due to fatigue. But I signed up.

All in all, my training was sheer willpower, and yielded results beyond expectations.

The race

I was hoping I’d get a good night’s sleep - from someone that used to sleep quite nicely my sleeping patterns have a bit changed and I tend to wake up, sleep unwell, blah. I did get a great sleep though, was jumping out of bed. Got up early indeed, stuffed my stomach with carbs (semi-jokingly considered having a beer but decided wasn’t a great idea), went at the start.

The tale from my race is:

  • 5km: hold the horses, go slow
  • 12km: going strong
  • 25km: still doing well and loving it
  • 30km: hello fatigue
  • 35km: oh I’m struggling
  • 37km: Blink 182 to the rescue in the ears
  • 40km: DON’T STOP! Don’t give up
  • last 500m: managed to run at 5:05min/km, such a brill feel

I finished in 4h16m59s. At the end, I am immensely pleased with the result. I had said from the start (without believing it’d be possible) that if I did less than 4h30m I’d be happy. And I did. Happy.

Next one less than 4h, need to shave off those 17mins. I will. In reality, even though it’s easy to say after the fact, I think I could have pushed a bit harder in those last 10 kms. I was struggling, hot, windy, fatigued, bottom of feet in pain. But the fact that I got the last 500m fast tells me I still had something.

Why I run - now

So now I’ve done a marathon - I can call myself an amateur runner, right?

I run primarily because it makes me feel good.

Every run is a different story. That’s also why I run. There’s so much variability: the time of day, the weather (huge influence, I definitely don’t love it above 15 Celsius now), how well you slept, how tired you are, your mood (well that’s for me at least), whether solo or in company, …

Running makes me feel good. At the end of a good run, I feel stronger. It’s mostly psychological, but it does happen that you get stronger the more you do it. I like feeling my quads tougher, my posture steadier, my spine more flexible. It’s all a great sensation and I do because I am dependent from feeling good, it’s the reason why all my life, one way or the other, I’ve always done some sport. The other one who used to give me (but I was a kid and wouldn’t really appreciate its effect) a similar feel is swimming. Swimming is awesome. In fact, I’d like to pick it up more - have done a few things but at my current gym the pool is too small. Maybe I’ll sign up for the Edinburgh council pools, they’re pretty neat.

The sensation when I realise that - without me deciding it - I am going sub 5 (min/km), is one of the best things in life. It happened to me a few times, I was running without a particular intent to push, then I get to be warmed-up and the legs decide to speed up. I realise because I see the landscape moving faster alongside me, then I get Strava confirming it and I smile. I don’t master this pace yet, as in it only happens without pushing when I’m really good for some reason, and man I do want to.

Then I run because it’s a challenge with myself. I like challenges when I consider them to make sense. It’s what I’ve done all my life, giving me a goal and looking towards reaching it. I got many drawbacks, am difficult to deal with, but I got good willpower - it’s because I value reaching a goal, again, it feels good and it’s worth the effort. So far, everything paid off for me.

Have to say I think I’m quite lucky with the body I have - people usually think I get offended but I actually love being small and I like the jokes around it. I fit everywhere (comes in handy in planes). People usually think being short is a less desirable trait for some societal reason. Then I’ve also always been very healthy and having seen people with problems I do feel grateful for it; I want to preserve this. I also happen to have near-to-zero breasts, I think it might help with running (don’t need a sophisticated bra and given I hate running with things hanging about and jumping around I’ve no idea what it would have felt/been otherwise - not sure though, every body is a different story as well).

I also run because it clears my mind. I have a certain tendency (ahem, tendency?) to get into a stupid state of mind. At the start of the year, I had never considered running would help clearing your mind, but it does! I don’t usually think anything important while running (maybe not got there yet), but it gives me that time to not keeping doing the same things and consuming myself. Used to think it’s boring to run long distances, and it used to be - not really anymore.

I still need to sort my dependency to music. I still need it - differently from months ago, have been lowering the volume to make this dependency weaken, but I do still think I would struggle without the beats (maybe I’ll get there).

Another reason I run is because I spend too much time indoors, and in this country this has definitely increased as a thing. Some hours a week of staying out, breathing fresh air and getting some rain on are just plain good stuff.

All of these elaborate reasons anyway can be summarised in saying that I do have great fun running. I do! Didn’t use to, now I really do!


My goals for the near future:

  • A half (marathon) in 1h45m
  • A full (marathon) in < 4h
  • Mastering the < 5mins/km pace

I think the first one is more ambitious than the second. Improving is a kind of a logarithmic (?!) process, it gets harder and harder the more you do improve. In fact, say I’m trying to master the 10km in less than 50mins, and it’s not that it feels comfortable. 5:30 mins/km feels comfortable. Running sub5 consistently still does not.

Here’s to more kilometers coming.