I was always just a bit slow. Slow-limbed, slow-witted. In school once we had to write an essay entitled “My Hero” and all the kids wrote about Nelson Mandela or Neil Armstrong but I wrote about my friend Breda who sat beside me because she could run fast and was good at Maths.
I consoled myself that my secret quality was endurance. I was the Triumphant Tortoise who would eventually think of a smart answer by the next day and could run long-distance forever, after I got into my stride. I did come somewhere in a long-distance race once, back in the mists of time.
But even I was shocked at my own feebleness on my first day of the running challenge as agreed with Niall and Dave. January 21, 2015. Round the dark streets of Stoneybatter. Run is hardly the word. You could have out-walked me. I hobbled at a half-trot for 10 minutes precisely and may not even have covered a mile. The meniscus in my right knee niggled, my inner groin complained, I was as weak as an old, old lady. But I’m only 39. Right. Time for the Tortoise.
My name is Niall and I’m an optimist. I’m also a complete idiot. I have no real talent for anything. I’m usually okay at new things I try and then when it gets to the stage where diligence is required to take something to the next level I’ll stop and move onto something else. I’m also the type of person that once I start anything new, I assume I’m going to become world class at it. When someone bought me my first cookbook, I thought I was going to win Masterchef. When I learned how to swim, about ten years ago, I was planning ahead to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2012. So when I was challenged, thirty days ago, to run every day for 30 days I quite naturally gravitated towards breaking the 4 minute mile as my 30 day challenge.
The 4-minute-mile has a great mythic quality and it brings to mind that great period in the 50s when all these runners were trying to run the sub 4 minute mile, like a South Pole expedition or the space race. I’m 33 and have never been as unfit in my lifetime (I would have always played or been involved in sports teams but have not been in 6 months). I decided to run in the evening when my 1 year old went down to sleep after 8 o’clock. Below is a daily record of my running challenge.
My mission wasn’t just to run 3 miles a day for 30 days but to be the type of runner that occupants of passing cars would admire for their technique and pace. To this end I failed miserably. There were multiple reasons for my failure, including, but not limited to:
Most of my running was done in work during my lunchbreak on a treadmill that began to smoke when my pace was anything over 7mph.
I often wore boxer shorts that chafed my skin, once causing a river of blood to run down my left thigh.
My footwear were 6 years old and had less support than an unemployed single-parent with 3 dependent children.
I greatly over estimated my fitness and athleticism.
I used to be a good runner. As a teenager I played a lot of sports and had man-proportioned leg muscles by the age of 14. I’m talking quad muscles like an AC Milan midfielder in the late 1980s. I ran cross country for my school, made it to the regional finals, and finished 4th (I think). I found running easy, if slightly boring, and often finished races with plenty of energy left when those around me collapsed over the line. I know, I know, bad race management.