When I started running just under a decade ago it was for all the right reasons. I wanted to improve both my physical and mental health. I remember my first stagger as if it was yesterday which is somewhat ironic as I normally can’t remember what I did earlier today as opposed to 24 hours ago. After that I was hooked and within a year I’d ticked off my first 5K, 10K and half marathon. My times got faster and the weight fell off me. So far, so good.
There then followed races. Lots of races. Almost every weekend I was at some running event or another with my new running friends. I even joined a running club and became totally immersed in the large Irish running community and culture. I ran one marathon, then another, then another again. Ten in total. It became an addiction as I chased medals and personal bests. Much to the neglect of my family who I saw less and less. I became Stephen the runner.
Shallow, vain and self-absorbed. Looking down at those who weren’t as quick as me or who didn’t wear the right training shoes. Posing for selfies at races with my cool new friends before we furiously punched at our phones to see who could post it on their social media platforms the quickest. I was living the dream, or so I thought. Finally slim, popular and the centre of attention. Until that dream became a nightmare.
A few months ago I decided that I didn’t like running anymore. It was a chore, something I forced myself to do as opposed to enjoyed. My times were getting slower and my chest filled with anxious dread at the thought of hitting the roads. I started to make excuses not to run. It was too wet, I was too busy, anything to avoid the activity I used to love. Deluding myself that this was merely a blip and I’d soon be back, blasting out sub 4 hour marathons.
My little dog, Charlie, saved me. So long neglected by his marathon man master I picked up his lead and started to take him for walks. It was no longer a race against the clock, I could take in the beautiful countryside around us. I still was exercising, getting fresh air and having the time to think but there was none of the pressure or collateral damage. I was free and nobody thought anything less of me. A few pounds heavier but a whole lot happier.
The runners pass us now. Heads down, faces contorted in pain, checking their stopwatches every five seconds. I see myself in them, the way I used to be. I don’t envy them or feel the urge to dig my running gear from the drawer. I’m a walker now with new challenges ahead. Charlie and I will take our time and eat up the miles at a more leisurely pace. My name is Stephen and I’m a recovering runner.