Finally!!! I ran a long run that didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest or my thighs or my shoulder. I’ve been waiting for this moment all through training for Marathon No. 2, and it’s taken a little while to feel good.
After a week of squally wet weather and irritably low temperatures (England, you really can’t do summer), last Sunday was actually pretty hot. I actually loathe running in heat. I perform on average 20-30 second worse per mile, my stomach rebels because of the extra fluids I’m drinking, I feel like I need more gels, and it just feels haaaaard. The only thing that’s nice is the immediate aftermath, which can usually be characterised as lying horizontally in grass with beer and a lot of bread.
Sunday began brightly, and initially the temperatures looked as if they were going to peak over 20ºC, but thankfully the clouds came back and the day cooled down into the afternoon. I set off at around 3pm and decided I’d do an urban run for a change. Usually I trot off down the canals or head to Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats or the Isle of Dogs for my long runs, but this time I thought I’d correct the shameful fact that I’d lived in London for nearly 7 years and had only once run in Hyde Park.
I set off westwards, winding my way through Finsbury Park down to Kings Cross before dropping down onto a familiar cycle cut-through past UCL and into Marylebone. I came across two street festivals going on – Cally Festival, on Caledonian Road, where I witnessed an adult dance group moving to Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes; and then the Marylebone Summer Fayre, featuring salsa dance from London Salsa. Each time I took a moment to stop, stretch and enjoy what I was seeing. The endorphins were pumping so hard that I cried a bit with the Sea Interludes (it is some of my favourite music – listen here), and couldn’t help dancing discretely to the salsa.
Then on around Hyde Park, through tourists and joggers and kids on bicycles and scooters. A trio of boys were racing up the Broad Walk and that made me smile. Everyone seemed very happy to be out even in the cloudy warm weather.
From there I headed south through Chelsea navigating the lovely red-brick Victorian streets, dodging overgrown roses and small dogs. When I reached the Thames, I crossed Albert Bridge, which I’ve never set foot on before, and then explored Battersea Park a bit – also a new haunt. The area around Battersea Power Station meant the river path was interrupted by private developments and building works, and I had to head into Vauxhall via Nine Elms Road – an unpleasant trafficky mess but made slightly more interesting by the presence of the new Covent Garden Market and new skyscrapers. I don’t like the look of most new developments but at least the visuals on the hoardings give me something to focus on (and get angry about).
I was feeling the distance by this point, but as soon as I hit the river path at Lambeth and Westminster, my energy levels perked up. Running past the Houses of Parliament at such a politically sensitive time felt tremendously uplifting (VOTE REMAIN!), and I picked up the pace for the home stretch back to the Southbank Centre and Waterloo Bridge. At this point the music from all the street performers gave me an extra boost, as did crowd dodging. I sometimes feel a bit self conscious with my running rucksack on (I’ve got a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction) as more than a couple of people have commented that it looks like a suicide bomber vest. But by the time I got onto Waterloo Bridge I couldn’t care less. The wind was blowing hard, music was filling my ears and I was grinning madly at my personal finish line. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be amazing to finish a race crossing Waterloo Bridge going south, with the iMax and Southbank Centre and National Theatre in view?!)
As I pulled up on the Strand I realised Runkeeper had paused four miles back, which was a bit annoying, but I knew I’d covered approximately 15 miles in no more than 2.5 hours, including stops and street-party watching. And it had felt really, really good.
Yesterday I read a piece in an old Runner’s World (February 2016) about the psychology of celebrating success vs. striving to do better. “You need to shift from outcome-oriented thinking to mastery-oriented thinking” – in other words, run for the run, not the time. My speed might not have been race pace throughout. But the reason it felt so good was that I ran it for the experience – seeing new places, stopping to take in the atmosphere, crossing a new bridge, and finishing in a place I love.
[RW mentioned keeping race diaries as part of the article. Do you do this? This is my first attempt at writing down a long run. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember even 2 days afterwards!]