I have a yearly challenge. Every year, I run around a reservoir about 20 miles from my house, a reservoir I used to cycle around with my parents. The “short” loop is 16 miles and is a mixture of trails, gravel tracks and some roads, and as it follows the shore of the reservoir it also follows the contours of the landscape, up and down steep hills and shorter inclines.
It’s not a major challenge. It isn’t a race where I have to best my previous time, and I don’t even normally tell people I’m doing it until after the fact. It has been counted first as the longest distance I’ve ever run, as part of two marathon training regimes, and as part of a regular series of long runs that I have been doing recently.
As I have mentioned in past posts, I was always an active child and my parents took every opportunity to take us on walks and bike rides – probably to try and wear all of us 4 children out! The circuit of Rutland Water always presented a challenge to a little child, as it seemed such a long route, and the rolling hills seemed never-ending. I definitely remember having to walk my bike up some of the steeper sections, and complaining to my mum when the ride seemed like it had lasted all day.
When I was 12, 13, 14, 15, I stopped going on those outings with my parents to the reservoir, because of a lack of time, and because fitness just stopped being “cool”. Hanging out with my parents stopped being “cool”. Sweating and looking like you’ve done something that required effort stopped being “cool”.
Luckily, I moved from that phase, into a phase where running and exercise now plays a big part of my life. But I started this challenge before I turned Paleo, before I started lifting, before I’d run anything further than a single half-marathon. I started it for the sheer euphoric joy of taking on a challenge just for myself, with no medal, no awards ceremony, no pat on the back from anyone. Just me and my own achievements.
The first time around, I took a long time. It was October and rainy, and I ran with a backpack and a jumper. I got tired and stopped at a café and read for half an hour. I ached like hell afterwards, and whilst running with a backpack ended up injuring my hip so badly that I couldn’t run for the next month. But I took such pride from getting around, from conquering the fears of my childhood and just running.
The second time, it was part of my marathon training. It was after I’d been running continuously without injury for over a year, a record amount of time for me. It was after I’d increased my weekly mileage to over 30 miles a week, when I was about to start lifting. It was only 6 weeks before I ran my very first marathon.
The difference between the first time and this second one highlighted how much I had grown into running, and how much running had come to define me as a person.
I used to cry on my long runs.
I used to think that 10km was going to break me.
I used to think that anything over 25 miles a week was crazy.
I used to think that I could never run faster than a 10min mile.
I used to think that I was never going to be worthy of the name of a “runner”.
Over a year has passed since I returned to run around that reservoir a second time, and since then I have been twice, including last Tuesday. I still always forget about the intensity of the hills, and I always forget that the trails take it out of me more than road running. I always forget to carry water so have to stop at over-priced shacks to buy fruit juice to help me around.
But since that time I have learnt other things:
I have learned that long runs feel good.
I have learned that not even 40km can break me.
I have learned that my body can handle 30, 40, even higher weekly mileages, once it is wearing the right running clothes and shoes, and sleeps enough.
I have learned that I can run a single mile in less than 6 minutes, and that I can complete 13.1 miles with an average pace of 8:30 per mile.
I have learned that these records can, and will, be broken with enough time and effort.
I have learned that my body can do anything it wants to. It can achieve anything.
I have learnt that I can achieve anything.
By returning each year to the reservoir, I conquer the challenge of my childhood. It highlights to me just how much I have changed as a person and how much my fitness and willingness to push myself has increased. And year on year, I look back at what used to be a challenge, and what now is simply a fun morning of exercise, good views and better music.
Do you have a similar personal challenge? How do you track your progress aside from the usual racing and PBs? Drop me a comment below the line, or DM me on Instagram (@primallyimperfect) if you enjoyed the post!