What I have always loved about running was the simplicity of it. Note that I did not say “easiness.” There is nothing easy about dragging your body outside in the dark to plod with eyes squeezed shut against an onslaught of hailstones, but there is something satisfyingly simple about the process of setting a target, finding a training programme, and following that programme until you achieve your goal. After my second son was born, in 2000, I decided to take up running to tone up my saggy bits. It worked. In 2005, I resolved to write a book and run my first marathon: I completed the Dublin City Marathon in 4:05; the Mommy lit masterpiece Where Are They Now? is still languishing in a drawer. Running has always been the most reliable area of my life, the one pursuit that yielded the expected results once I put in the required effort.
Until now. I’m training for the Lakes of Killarney Marathon on May 16th, following the trusty Hal Higdon Chicago Program, which is the most straightforward plan for any kind of runner to finish a marathon in a relatively respectable time. Usually, all that is involved is putting one foot in front of the other and completing the mileage: a six- to ten-mile run midweek sandwiched between a pair of three- or four-mile runs and capped by a long run at the weekend. Not easy, but definitely simple.
The problem is that, for the first time in my 15-year relationship with running, my body is cheating on me. It’s failing to keep faithful to the clear and irrefutable partnership that involves my brain overcoming its desire to remain wrapped in a duvet while my body logs the distances necessary to get me across the line in four hours or less next May. My brain is doing its job, but my body is letting the side down with a bothersome hamstring. I stopped running for a week earlier in my training and that seemed to help, but now the pain is back, shooting down the back of my left thigh and humming nastily through the day, even when I’m not running. I’m trying to adapt my running style, pumping my arms more, walking up hills, and favouring the balls of my feet more than my heels. I’m slathering myself in Deep Heat and Biofreeze and stretching my quads more to help balance the load, but, with only seven weeks to go to the actual event, I’m facing the possibility of having to drop down to the half-marathon. Or worse.
Turns out running is not that simple after all.