When I started running, I was a cyclist.
Cycling had become, for different reasons, a burden to me and those close to me. Spending a quarter of a weekend in the North Downs wasn’t ever going to be fair to a partner and two small children, while the more I felt I was expected to care about chainsets, overshoes and frame weight, the less I found myself enjoying cycling.
Running, by contrast, felt immediate, elemental, less consumerist, purer.
In 2014, I ran 187 miles, in 2015 I ran 247.
I became a runner. Not amazing, no special talent, but a thing suited to my physique that I could do well. A thing that gave me joy.
In 2016 I ran 64 miles.
The problems began on one easy-paced run in new running shoes bought with naivety, sold on terrible advice. My right foot flared up after twenty minutes, feeling unbearably swollen as if the tiny bones in the top of my foot were splintered and grinding against each other. I stopped, walked, breathed, then tentatively ran again.
Between then and now there have been many false starts, recurring pain and resistance bands, red wine, black moods and a thickening middle, frustration and physio. But at the same time, I lost a sense of who I was, what I was for. Without running, I lost a balance somewhere.
Injury is the accumulation of small sadnesses. The unexpected twinge walking to the shops, the Garmin watch in an underwear drawer, the unworn running shoes by the front door that remind you that you don’t do this anymore. Strava’s annual report, a celebration of achievement, instead becomes an exercise in what might have been.
It’s unfashionable these days to care about quantified self services like Strava. It has, in some parts, a bad reputation for those who can only see the segment-chasing alpha males. But for the majority of us who’ll never see a KOM or QOM and whose only competition is ourselves, Strava is a ledger of quiet achievement. And throughout my time injured, I’ve continued to find some satisfaction watching my friends’ mileage mount, their routes vary, the mile times improve and decline. Of all my social networks, Strava speaks truth more powerfully than all the rest.
For much of the past year I’d accepted that my body was done with running. Finished. And yet, all this time off has served to bring home to me how much running is - for me - about mental health more than physical health. A meditation, an escape, a means of coping.
I need to run.
Now, I’m back. Running again, slowly, with caution and patience. Short, flat runs interspersed by physio sessions and learning yoga to belatedly build strength. If I never run more than 12 miles a week, I won’t mind, because those 90 minutes a week is all I need to remember who I am.