Teuila Fuatai: Running to stand-still on my half-marathon training life

OPINION:

About three weeks into my new “training regime”, I made an all-too-real confession.

“Guys, I still haven’t done a run where I haven’t felt like I’m going to s*** myself.”

It was the beginning of a three-month build-up to my first half marathon.

When the idea was raised last year, committing to a weekend away for a running event sounded like loads of fun. Comments were thrown round about how 21km was “totally achievable with training”, and that doing “the half is so much cooler” than the 10km option.

I also thought it would make me a better person. I had visions of stepping outside my door a couple of times a week to seamlessly knock off a pleasant 10km.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for that dream to come crashing down.

To be honest, the warning signs were there long before the excitable race registration period.

First, there’s my intense disdain for running. It’s a sport I’ve never taken to, nor am designed for. Gliding smoothly along the footpath is not a thing for me. I’d say the descriptor “pounding the pavement” is far more apt. The level of misery that comes with attempting to do that over a prolonged period is also significant. I’ve tried running with music, listening to the radio, podcasts – you name it – to achieve “zoning out”. Despite concerted efforts and constantly asking myself “is this it” while on the move, it continues to elude me.

Instead, I’ve settled for uncomfortable silence while I trudge along. Most of the time, that consists of sounding like I’m on the cusp of an asthma attack. It also means when people describe how running helps clear their head or order thoughts, I actually zone out.

Second, I know very little about distance running. To build confidence, I decided to start with getting through 3km without stopping. When I achieved that in week two, I thought: “Sweet, just six more times around and that’s you”. From there, my self-styled training programme consisted of three runs a week, with one day being allotted for a longer route. For a while, that distance increased as planned by a kilometre each week.

Sure, there were a few setbacks, including one 6km run where I woke up the next day with sore biceps. After a flurry of thoughts around my potentially whack running style, I dismissed the arm tenderness as being bad posture. Around the same time, I also plugged my progress into a running app which informed me I’d be ready to do 21km at the end of June. Given my run was mid-May, I also deleted that from my brain, and phone. The key phrase being: “I’ve actually been running for over a month now, thanks.”

In hindsight, that brief period of progress was likely the happiest point of my 2021 running career. I was completely enamoured with becoming “a runner”, even purchasing a watch to accurately measure improvements.

In the end, it didn’t matter much. About seven weeks in, around the 10km distance, my earnest training regime fell away. A slight calf-twinge led to a relatively uninformed but easy decision to break from running until the big day. At that point, I was proud I could run for an hour without any concerns around toilet stops. Unfortunately, I still very much despised it.

Here, ignorance/cluelessness helped ensure I remained wholeheartedly focused on being a “half-marathoner”, despite suggestions a lesser distance may be more realistic. It meant last weekend, I moped around the race start-line wondering how I’d make it through the morning.

At the 10km mark, everything went numb – a welcome departure from my legs screaming at me to stop. I then spent another 20 minutes simply repeating the words “lengthen your stride” to round out a particularly grim portion of the run.

It all culminated in a rather desperate final four kilometres, where I latched on to a complete stranger by saying: “I’m just going to run with you because if I don’t, I might not finish”.

In the end, I snuck in at 2 hours 29 minutes – an achievement I’m proud of despite the rather loose lead-up to the race. I also realised, after being in a world of pain for days after the finish line, walking might be more my thing.

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