Paul finds that the time has come to take better care of his body. He’s 49…
Sometimes in life you need to embrace new ideas. It’s amazing how locked in I can get with my running. I’ve found my routes and usually I do them at around the same speed. They say madness is doing the same thing again and again while expecting different results. Therefore, I’m nutty as a fruitcake.
This is a roundabout way of saying I’ve started properly stretching before and after my runs, and I’ve done a gym session. For years I prided myself on not stretching. I ran, I sprinted, I surged with no ill consequences. I ran slow at the start and quicker at the end and then I stopped dead, had a bath and sallied forth into the day without consequences. Then, a couple of years ago, I started to get the odd twinge. Now it appears my body is in a constant state of rebellion. Aches burst forth randomly in all areas. There’s a structural defect on my right side, a slight tearing sensation from toe to knee to hip and an ever-present tightness in the Achilles. Added to that, I’m lopsided. To witness the first walk of my day from bed to bathroom is to be privy to the movements of a decrepit gargoyle. My body is hard and intransigent, my back is sensitive, shifting mysteriously, prone to sudden spasms. For the past 18 months or so I’ve just ignored it. Why not? I can still run, at least after five minutes or so. The body is an adaptive organism that makes allowances for our idiocy. I run my body warm and by the end it feels loose(ish). Then I stop and everything goes wrong again. My lifestyle compounds it. Long drives. Long writing sessions. It’s an idiot’s charter for long-term injury and I’ve had enough of it. At the age of 49 I’ve got the body that my behaviour deserves and I’ve resolved to begin again.
It started on holiday. In Greece, I was reborn. Stretching in the Greek heat on a veranda overlooking the sea was way more appealing than doing it in the lounge at home. I rose and fell with the sun. Surrounded by nature, you piggyback on its rhythms and habits. You run slow and long in the heat and then swim afterwards, and lunge and play in the surf. At home you’re surrounded by bills, mess, the accumulation of things left undone. The run is something nicked from the day.
I found my running felt so much better with daily holiday stretching; my body felt taller, languid. Then I went to the hotel gym. I still ran, but on the treadmill: starting slow, winding it up till I was running as fast as possible, and then collapsing in a sweaty mess. It was after one of these sessions that my daughter sauntered through the door. She’s 18 and goes to the gym four times a week. A bit of cardio but loads of complicated stuff as well, by which I mean she uses the equipment. I’d always viewed the resistance machines as ugly manifestations of a disturbing vanity but, it turns out, they can help me get stronger. I told my daughter about my glutes and she gave me some exercises to help make them stronger. I shared my hamstring wobble and she pointed me in the right direction. She’d seen my back dramas over the last year or so and offered simple exercises to strengthen the area. I did them, slowly and carefully – I started to work on my body without running. I found that I quite enjoyed it – it made sense.
I’m a soulful-run-in-the-woodstill-you-can’t-run-anymore kind of guy. I don’t see the body as a machine. But I know that, like a car, it needs a service from time to time. You need to lift the bonnet and have a tinker, reinforce some bits of the structure and loosen others. And as you put more and more miles on the clock, the services need to get more regular, a daily tinkering. You need always to be doing something different.
Until this year, Matt Gossage had rarely run, but he is now aiming to cover one million metres to help support the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust. Matt’s wife, Rebecca, has been treated for thyroid cancer and he wants to help other families going through a similar challenge.
‘Anyone who has had their life tainted by the Big C knows that it’s not merely an illness: it’s an ongoing anxiety about what might come next,’ he says. ‘ We’ve been lucky, but have still suffered so much, so I really wanted to dedicate my running to a charity that helps fight the disease.’ Matt began in August and plans to complete the distance – 1,000km – within 12 months. ‘ I can’t just run for the sake of it, so the Million Metre Challenge is giving me that motivation.’ Pushing a three-child buggy is difficult enough in itself. So kudos to Cynthia Arnold, from Montana in the US, who pushed her three kids around the Missoula Half Marathon in a record-breaking 1:29:08. Cynthia, 34, competed in track and cross-country events in high school and college, so she’s no stranger to running. The idea of beating the record – which stood at 1:47:32 – came from Cynthia’s husband before the birth of their third child. ‘ He said, “You should try for the triple world record in the half marathon, that would be really neat for the kids,”’ says Cynthia. ‘ It was more of a parent moment than a running moment.’ As for how her kids – aged six, three and just 11 months – felt while their mum was belting along at 6:48min/mile pace? They were just licking their lollipops, enjoying the ride.
CYNTHIA ARNOLD Broke the triple-buggy half-marathon record