The Resurrection of the Long Distance Runner

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.


12 thoughts on “The Resurrection of the Long Distance Runner

  1. Tim, I perfectly know how you feel. In my military days I used to do long distance running in military boots with a 25 kg backback. Then I was stupid enough to damage my spine and the only sports I can do now is playing in the sandbox with my youngest son. And not even this without the pain you described. You have the advantage to know that you will be back in shape shortly. What a lucky lad you are. Keep on running !

  2. Hey, nice photos Tatyana! Did you take them?

    As for running a marathon…the word alone makes me want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

  3. Oh, c’mon, Tim!
    If my son could do it (it’s him in that picture with his friends) while in HS, you surely can.
    No, I didn’t take that shot…don’t know who did, actually.
    But I thought you would appreciate why NYers love jogging, biking and rollerblading in Central Park. Oh, the soft rolling hills, romantic bridges and old trees – the closest thing we have for the Nature.

  4. Yeah, maybe one day I’ll give a marathon a shot. I always found the half-marathons a more attractive prospect though, because it appears more of a race rather than an endurance course in which the achievement is simply finishing.

    I spent a day in Central Park once, and was mightily impressed. I can see why New Yorkers love it. But I’ll challenge the nature of Central Park with that of Sakhalin Island any day. 🙂

  5. Tim, you’ve got some good long uphill stretches too. I can see by the pics you post that some of those ski slopes can be used for building endurance, once the snow has melted. In times past when I didn’t have time for long runs I would do 200yd windsprints on steep grades. You can really get a leg burn in 1/2hour doing these. In any case if you’re running in the forests, watch out for the Bears. They’ll be coming out of hibernation any day now.

  6. Tim, you inspired me to go for evaluation session with a trainer in my gym today.
    What can I tell you…I’m ashamed of myself. 10 min at 5.0m. speed, on kiddy #2 incline – and I had a 152 heart rate, flashed cheeks and vision of a sweating water bottle.
    OKie, then that’s where we start…

  7. Larry,

    There are lots of good hill runs here. I hate hill sprints, though. I don’t have the leg power for them, I’m better over distance. Hill sprints are killers. Besides, the ski-slopes are way too steep for running up. I went hillwalking at the weekend, and was on hands an knees part of the way it was so steep. Good training, though.

    As for the bears, apparently they woke up some time back and found there was not much food about. I doubt they’ll eat me, though. Use me as a toothpick maybe, eat me no. They’ll want some big fat bastard.

  8. Tatyana, there is nothing to feel ashamed about. The average Joe off the street would collapse and die after about 2 minutes of exercise. What’s important is getting started and improving from there. I did a tough few hours of hill walking at the weekend, and went out for 30 minutes running this evening. I feel a lot stronger than I did last week.

  9. Tim,

    Do you find that most Russian towns are runner-friendly? I’m actually moving to Russia in the summer (though where is still to be determined, somewhere provincial no doubt) for a year and am a fairly serious runner, so I look forward to exploring what options are available. The dirt trails through the woods sound perfect. I spent a month in Novgorod in 2004 and found that running on the streets there was manageable, although from the looks I got probably considered rather strange.


  10. Hi Dusty,

    I’ve not tried running in any Russian towns other than Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. But from what I’ve seen of Russian towns, provided you are not in the centre of a big city like Moscow, you are never far from a forest track or nature trail of some kind. As far as finding good running routes goes, provincial Russian towns is probably as good as it gets.

    I know what you mean by the strange looks. People watch me running through the streets and expect to see somebody chasing me.

  11. Good to see I get a mention for our Peak District runs. Do you remember that hill coming out of Charlesworth?!?

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