Tuesday, 22 October 2013


The cool, calm autumnal tranquility of the Cotswolds is one which is shattered around 12 o'clock that afternoon. 

There's a crash against the front door of a small cottage. A rasping at the window and a grasping at the handle. Someone is desperate to get into the house. Fighting the weight pushing down on his chest, and the sensation that his legs are walking through treacle, a poorly dressed, socially awkward man fumbles his key into the door, and bursts in, gasping for what little air he could drag into his lungs, and collapses on the sofa. His eyes losing focus, and ears struggling to cope with the pounding in his head and his and heart, the man drags himself across the floor, props himself up against a nearby table, and hoists himself up to eye-level with the fridge. Scanning the contents, he spots a chilled beer, and all is well again. Slung over the sofa, the man swigs away and lists off into a Sky Sports-induced slumber.

It is safe to say that the training for the run isn't exactly a shot-for-shot remake of Rocky IV. Each burger purchased is justified with the phrase "But I'm going to do some exercise tonight, so it's okay", and each session of exercise is concluded with "Brilliant! Now I can have a burger and a pint!".

No, if I'm going to succeed in finishing this 11k run for the Royal British Legion, I'm going to have to use my cunning and wit over brawn and stamina. Mind games is what I need. Pure and simple 'Positive Mental Attitude', as my brother (who studied the great art of rugby at Hartpury, no less) would re-iterate if he were here motivating me. 

Though a noticeable problem is, I don't have anyone to motivate me. Hardly anybody seems to believe I can complete the course, and the minute percentage that do believe it'll be in such a slow time, the organisers will call off the search for me, pack up the event and start looking forward to next year.

In desperate need of a gee-up, I seek out our competitive friend, who, it transpires, is a bit of a half-marathon aficionado, and still believes that this whole event is some sort of race, despite my pleading with her that it is not a duel, it is simply a charitable event. 

"You'll be fine- what sort of times are you doing?"
"Yeah, like obviously the distance isn't the issue [excuse me?!], what sort of time do you think you'll do it in?"
"Oh, erm... (desperately trying to work out what a respectable time might look like), I was thinking of aiming for about an hour?"
"Hmm... Yeah a couple of the girls last year managed it in 55 minutes, but I'm sure an hour's a good target for you."

Deciding to ignore her Alex Ferguson-esque toying with my morale, I decide to take a work social as an opportunity to canvass a slightly more objective opinion of my chances. 

Them: "It's not so bad once you get into a rhythm, I was fine up until about 10k then it really started to burn."
"You'll be fine, but I don't think you'll beat our competitive colleague."
"No, he's right, she's really good, I wouldn't aim to beat her"
"No, just run at your own pace, I'm sure you'll do fine"
"Mind you, how far have you run already?"
Me: "I haven't"
Them: "Oh! Oh, okay, you may struggle"
"Yeah, definitely don't try and make it a race"
"Yeah, our competitive colleague (obviously when this conversation was happening, we were all addressing her by her name, else it would have made for very uncomfortable listening for her, as she was right there the whole time, silently eyeing me like a hawk would a little shrivelled, defenseless worm secreting itself with fear) will probably just thrash you"
"Yeah, you're not going to fare well"
"Haha! We should all come watch and cheer our competitive colleague on!" 
"Yeah, but this is a bit easy for her, she's used to doing twice that length!"
"You're right, but don't worry about cheering James on"
"Nah, he'll be alright"
"No he won't!"
"I don't think he'll manage"

I politely excuse myself from the conversation. 

This is utterly dreadful, I tell myself in the mirror. What the hell am I going to do?! I can't run 11km- I can barely run 1km! The last time I fully engaged in any physical activity was refereeing a tag-rugby tournament that definitely wasn't tag-rugby at the end (hence my conversion to whistle-blower). I'm so screwed. 

In order to bail some water from my capsizing vessel of self-esteem, I decide there's nothing else for it: it is time for me to rediscover my hatred for the gymnasium. 

I shuffle in through the door of a new gym which has opened in the same town I work in, Cheltenham. It's a hive of finely-honed specimens, a hub of heavy lifting and a centre of muscular excellence, and, of course, myself. I stand at the door, my "small" Stevenage F.C (you may have to Google them) football shirt hanging off me in the same way a tent canvas hangs of a quivering telegraph pole. But I can afford myself a moment of private smugness: my motivator is waiting for me. A personal trainer who, for 60 gloriously agonising minutes, puts me through my paces and pushes the very limit of what I am capable of. 

Five minutes into the warm up, the ace in my deck says, "Right, as this is your first session, we're just going to do a couple of regimes which will just let me gauge your stamina, and then we can work from there." I wheeze something back to him, but I can't remember what it was, and it was probably unrepeatable anyway. Sweat was dripping into my ears after about 25 minutes, and festering more self-doubt about my ability to put one foot in front of the other for eleven thousand metres, which sounds like a lot when it's written out like that. 

However, upon returning home, having a quick sob in the shower and a blub into my beer and bowl of Coco Pops (which is perfectly legitimate at night, don't stand for convention!), my body suddenly feels like a million dollars! This is what it feels like to be trying at something, to be making an effort, and it feels fantastic. Expectations raised slightly, I quickly search for the 10,000m world record. 26 minutes, 17 seconds, set by a man called Kenenisa Bekele. Wow. Mo Farah, Britain's go-to distance runner, has done it in 27:44. Usually, such numbers would demoralise me back into submission- it took me 40 minutes just to watch Mo Farah win at the Olympics last year. Okay, those two pretty fast, but if I get inside half of that- that's 54 minutes! Plus I'm doing an extra kilometre, so it wouldn't even be that bad! There we go- all I have to do is be twice as rubbish as the fastest man in Britain. I literally have to be half the athlete Mo Farah is!

How hard can that be?

and how hard can it be to donate to this magnificent cause? Not very, all you have to do is click on the link below and then part with some of your very undeserved money. We all know you don't deserve it. These people do. Fix this mess right now and donate as much as you can or a little as you want, it all goes to a great cause. 


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