For years I'd told people, with nothing whatsoever to back it up, that I was quite good at running. I'd challenge people to running races and, as they never took me up on it, I was never tested to prove it.
Then in 2004 I had one of those complimentary health checks at work. Turned out my cholesterol levels were high. In retrospect not dangerously so but it gave me quite a fright at the time so I decided to start eating (a bit) healthier and to do some exercise. It was time to put this running business to the test.
On my first run I didn't go much further than round a few blocks. Second time I added another block. Third time one more. And so on and so on. I'd sometimes have to stop for a rest but I'd make sure that I never walked. I ran all the way. It wasn't far though - probably about 3-4k maximum - and it wasn't fast.
I had my cholesterol checked again. It had gone down to a much more respectable level. I went on holiday to Mexico. I drank Corona. I ate chimichangas. That was fair enough. It was a holiday. But when I came back I carried on in pretty much the same fashion.
For about five more years. Turning forty I was starting to feel my age and I wanted to get fit again. So I ran again. First time round the block. Second time adding in another block. Third time another. Same pattern as last time. You can see how it works.
This time I stuck at it. I'd joined the gym at work, also, and was putting in some time on the treadmill so this time I didn't stop at 4k but kept building it up, eventually to over 21k.
In October 2010 I put in for my first 5k race in Crystal Palace Park. I wasn't bothered about times or positions. I just wanted to finish it, say I'd done one. On the day I was pretty nervous and a little excited too. I had no idea how these things worked but I figured if I turned up it'd all become apparent.
Which it did. Us runners headed off into the park and I was surprised to find I was in front of quite a lot of people. As we ran past a boy in the park he counted us. I was in 19th place out of a few hundred. I overtook one more person but then one person overtook me. So I finished 19th. In my first ever race. I was made up. I was buzzing. I was updating my Facebook status for sure.
The next step was a 10k. So I booked one up for Wilton Hall, near Salisbury, in March 2011. Some friends signed up too. I headed down to Salisbury, alone, the night before and stayed in a B&B. It was weird to be on holiday without alcohol playing a part. After a look round the town and some food I spent Saturday night in my room watching Harry Hill on tv.
Some might call me a loser at this point but I didn't feel too much of one and I was good for the race. I completed it in just over 50 minutes and, somehow, managed to finish in front of my friends. The pub lunch afterwards was well earned. An element of the Sunday morning run that's become almost obligatory now.
I did a few more 10k runs and managed to get my time down to just over 42 minutes. I've never dipped below that but I aspire to. Age may have other ideas. One regular feature is the Oxford Town & Gown 10k which I'll be running with, as ever, my friend Rob, this Sunday. It's a beautiful flat run that takes in the sights and architecture of Oxford and, we've been lucky, the weather's normally good for it.
From 10k runs I progressed to a ten miler and, eventually, to a half-marathon. I've done four of them and my times have always been between 100 & 120 minutes. Again, I'd like to improve but, at the moment, I don't think I have a half-marathon in me.
Let alone a marathon. The idea of reaching the end of a half-marathon and someone telling you to run back to the start doesn't appeal. I'd like one day to do the full distance but, again, age isn't on my side anymore.
On completion of a run I usually post some details on Facebook and I have observed an interesting response. A lot of female friends (and some male ones) tend to be pretty positive. A selection of male friends tend to be sarcastic. These are all friends about the same age as me who drink too much like me. Probably the ones who'd most benefit from a bit of exercise!
So just to clear up I've heard all the jokes. What are you running away from me? You could get there faster on a bus? I don't need to see the link to an old Daily Mash story because I've seen it before. If you can think of some new jokes though fire away. I'm all up for some #epicbantz! Lol!
I prefer the nice stuff though and without wanting to get too X-Factory about it all it's been quite a journey. One where, admittedly, my physical destination is the same place as the starting line but where, psychologically and mentally, I think I'm in a better place than I would be if I didn't go out pounding the streets on a regular basis. I sleep better. I drink less (most of the time - well, it's all relative) and if I catch a glance of my body in the mirror these days I'm not horrified.
So thanks to Rob, Cheryl, Rebecca, Alex, Darren, Tony, Sanda, and Naomi for joining me in my running races. Thanks also to Michelle, Tori, Adam, Simon, Alexandra, and Daniel (the only family member to run with me - so far) for joining me in running non-races. Every bit of motivation, every friend turning up to support, helps.
So, I'm afraid, those of you who get riled by Facebook running updates, I'm not planning on stopping them any time soon.