I don’t know if any of my current readers are left from the days when I first started blogging in the spring of 2003, a few months before I left the UK for good. Around that time I was into long distance running in a fairly serious way, taking part in 10km races every weekend that I could, and running during my lunch hour every other day. After a couple of months of this I “got fit”, or at least by my standards I did. By the standards of some people I was running with in the races, I might as well have had one lung and a cancerous heart. But I was probably as fit then as I’d ever been, and I recall a fantastic feeling once or twice when running up and down hills in the Peak District with a Royal Marine buddy of mine, mile after mile for several hours, knowing that I could get anywhere within a six mile radius without any trouble or any help from anyone or anything save my running trainers, t-shirt, and skimpy shorts.
Sadly, that June I left to work in Oman, followed immediately by Abu Dhabi and Kuwait where the temperatures made running impossible. After a month I’d lost most of my fitness, and after two I was right back where I started. I was bitterly disappointed, and try as I might to periodically do some running on a treadmill or along the scorching streets, I never kept it up for more than a week or so. Motivation to run was in short supply in the Middle East, because even in the winter months when running was perfectly possible, you knew you’d have an eight month period where you’d have to stop and it’d all be for nothing, so what was the point? Besides, running along dead flat pavements amongst rivers of traffic is not much fun. In the UK, what motivated me was being able to run against a backdrop of spectacular scenery, and the knowledge that there was a race a week away in which you stood a good chance of beating your last time and “winning” a t-shirt, mug, or small medal (I generally only used to enter races where you got something at the end). I remember in the Middle East that I really missed all of this, one of the few things I missed about the UK (along with Gregg’s Bakeries).
Then in September last year I arrived in Sakhalin, to find that this place is made specifically for long-distance runners. There are miles upon miles of dirt tracks running through forests and over hills all around the city, not to mention the large public park with its running track. The weather in the autumn was perfect for running, glorious sunshine a lot of the time but still very cool. I was sorely tempted to go for a run or two when I first arrived, but didn’t for two reasons: I knew I would have to stop for the winter months, and my running kit was still in the ship on the way over here. By the time it arrived, there were several feet of snow on the ground. But now the snow is melting fast, and spring is in the air, so today I donned my Ronhill Tracksters and Helly Hansen thermal top and, looking like a complete twit, went for a run.
Memories came back, with a vengeance. A burning chest, lungs slowly filling with liquid. A sharp pain in the v-of the stomach, another in the kidneys. A feeling of sickness in the lower stomach, with an ache developing in the shoulders. The crooks of the elbows stiffening up, thick spittle running from the corner of the mouth. Then, when I got home, the burning up of my head, the stiffening of the calves, the pain in my right hip, and the inevitable thumping headache I always used to get. I ran for no more than 25 minutes, all on the flat. I am seriously unfit.
But, I have done the first run, and I know what now needs to be done. Motivation comes in the form that I really miss how I used to feel when I was fit; summer and autumn ought to be perfect for running (large, biting, insects notwithstanding); the fitness will be extremely useful for hillwalking (of which I plan to do a lot); I am likely to find one or two others to run with on a regular basis (which always helps); and when the winter comes I am told there is a wonderful sport called cross-country skiing which is exceptionally hard work and makes you fit as a fiddle in no time. I might also clamber back into a boxing ring at some point, like last time, just for fun.
One thing is unavoidable though: before I get to a summer of enjoyable running, I must first get through a very painful spring. Spring 2003 seems an awfully long time ago.