Happy New Year

IMG_0838I spent 279 hours running in 2014. That is 279 hours of free therapy, meditation and physical exercise combined with friendship, competition, toe-nail loss, and some sunburn on the bits I couldn’t reach. Even counting the miserable hour limping to the finish of Borneo International Marathon, and the few training runs that were frustrating and painful, I don’t regret a single moment of the 2250km I covered. I ran in the dark in Malaysian smog with inspirational, supportive women, and interrupted Catherine Ndereba, the Marathon Queen’s dinner. She was eating pasta in case you wondered. I got injured (ITBS) because of my weak butt, sought treatment from physiotherapists on three continents, and became reasonably accomplished at the single leg squat. I ran 10km in 48 mins, discovered a love of running skirts, and completed the Angkor Wat Half Marathon without stopping to use the bathroom. I know, I was quite the overachiever in 2014! I reluctantly left the friendliest running community in the world to move to Australia where no one knew that I’d appeared in Expatriate Lifestyle Malaysia, not once, but twice. In running gear of course, before anyone thinks I got photographed at some glamorous social event. I completed the running leg of two Half Ironman’s in furnace-like conditions and came to the same conclusion each time – ice cubes stashed in one’s bra are essential for hydration, triathletes are awesome and crazy, and I secretly wish I was one. With that in mind, I bought a racing bike but haven’t saddled up since I test drove it outside the shop in May. If I was going to mention goals for 2015, I might segue off there but I won’t as swimming is a major challenge, and these days I spend a disproportionate amount of time running by the beach, watching out for sharks in the sea. I have been in the water precisely once. Speaking of wildlife, I discovered the Australian magpies can be not only unfriendly but violently confrontational. Thankfully, Australian people are far more welcoming and better behaved. A lot of them run but it seems that even more of them cycle; swarms of lycra-clad pedal-pushers appear on the roads every Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve heard rumours that the real die-hards are out on weekdays too. I discovered parkrun which is a fabulous community of runners who gather every Saturday morning to run 5km with barcodes in their pockets. It’s organised by volunteers, one of whom is always a photographer, which is a massive relief because having grown used to the paparazzi at races in KL, I was getting seriously worried that I’d never ever be tagged in a running photo again! Finally, if there is a singular running achievement worthy of mention, it must be the fact that I did not fall flat on my face, wrists, elbows or knees once in 2014. That’s an improvement of 300% over 2013. You can’t ask for better than that.

So cheers runners – and walkers who don’t yet know they are runners – thank you for accompanying me on some of my kilometres this year, either in person or via the power of the Internet. Here’s to moving forward, and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

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When Self-Doubt Takes Hold

Last week I blithely, yet proudly, mentioned to a friend that I had done a PB on the hilly 7km loop from my house through Desa Sri Hartamas/Mont Kiara. My father-in-law had just died suddenly and unexpectedly in Denmark, and my husband had flown home for the funeral, so I guess I was using my legs to blow out some mental cobwebs.

‘Oh I never run PBs in training,’ my friend replied matter-of-factly. A-ha! Of course she doesn’t. Just this past weekend she stood on the podium of a 15km race and received a well-earned trophy for third place. My friend, and probably most runners, keep their best for race day. Most runners, aided by adrenaline and motivation to succeed, can out-perform themselves when there’s a medal to be gained. However, I find that nerves get the better of me so that my adrenaline levels peak before the race begins, and I’m lucky to make it from the portaloo to the start line in time for the gun. For my last race, I didn’t even manage that!

In the run-up to the MPIB 2014 12 km race next Sunday, I have found myself crippled with self-doubt. I have a a severe case of performance anxiety, so bad, that yesterday I was wondering whether it was time to drop this whole racing lark altogether and just run for pleasure. (I’ve had similar anxiety issues about work in the past so it’s not as if my personality isn’t being consistent). Despite my injury, I’ve trained hard in the past 12 months, and I can see from my Garmin logs that my training pace is noticeably higher than it was in December 2012. I’ve also done speed-work since September, something I had never heard of a year ago. So, on paper, anyone would expect that I will run faster in this year’s race than last, when I was unexpectedly awarded 10th place and won some nice prizes and a trophy. This time, I’m terrified that on race day, I won’t be able to come up with the goods, that I will fail to get placed, that I won’t live up to expectations.

The philosophy about running for fun, running to be part of something whether it be a community or a race, has been somewhat overwhelmed by anxiety over whether I can out-perform myself (and others) in this upcoming race. I think it’s safe to say, that even if I’d been born with Paula Radcliffe’s lungs and pre-injury legs, my brain would have sabotaged any chance of World Championship medals. It must take an astounding level of mental toughness to withstand the expectations of a nation on top of one’s own expectations, at a task at which there is only one chance.

This morning, in an attempt at quelling my nerves, I ran much of the MPIB 12 km route with my husband. Last year I remember cursing aloud good-humouredly as I struggled up some of the hills. Despite the physical effort, I enjoyed the absurdity of the situation I had put myself in at sunrise on a Sunday morning. This morning I wasn’t cursing so much but aware that my suffering was self-imposed, I was metaphorically shaking my head at having signed up for a race at all! Darn, but it was hard going. Of course, running hard is similar to childbirth-once home I was hit by a sense of achievement and euphoria, the physical sensations felt en route slightly forgotten.

The route for the MPIB 12 km is very, very challenging with much of the first 5 km uphill. Anyone who completes the race in any time deserves a bloody medal – and should feel a sense of achievement and boost to their self-esteem! Somehow, in realizing this today, I recaptured a sense of why I run, and why I need to push myself through my fear of races. My body is capable of far more than my mind will ever give it credit for and my mind has been doing a fairly decent job lately of sabotaging my running joy. This morning’s run allowed me to stick two rude fingers up at the little voice that keeps undermining me, the voice that continuously tells me that I am never good enough. The endorphin effect was as short-lived as an epidural but strong enough to convince me to try to race on Sunday – with lower expectations. I’ve decided that I don’t need to do a PB on race day – even if I’ve managed to do one today in training – if the pressure to do so takes away every ounce of pleasurable anticipation and replaces it with dread. Who’s pressurizing me anyway, other than my own ego? I’m no Paula Radcliffe after all. Being capable of hauling my ass around a hilly 12km route next Sunday is simply going to have to be good enough, PB or not. Actually, getting to the start line in time, and near the front, will be the bigger achievement! No kidding!

Wherever you are, runner, walker, couch surfer, whether you’re facing a race or other less trivial challenges in your life, whatever your dreams and ambitions, I wish you all the best as we head into a new calendar year. Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you haven’t tried running, I recommend that you try it 🙂

Happy New Year.

Johanna x