If you’re reading this blog, odds are high that you already know who I am – nevertheless, let me try to summarise:
I live in London, I am a plus-size runner. I am also a geek (predominantly of the videogaming and tabletop roleplaying variety, with a dash of boardgames), love cooking, hate emotional eating (and working on defeating it), am a member of Slimming World, and am agender (I don’t identify as a man or a woman). It’s plausible that all these things may be mentioned at moments during this blog.
In the main, this is about my journey to becoming the strongest me, physically and mentally. I’m rather emotional about just how far I have come in both these ways over the past year.
A big part of that was to start thinking of myself as a warrior. To be a warrior is not a pretty thing. There will be times you are victorious and there will be times you struggle and fall. But as long as I am living and breathing, I want to get up and keep fighting.
This is what brought me to sign up for the 10k at Crystal Palace today.
You see, whilst I am signed up to run my first half-marathon in late September, I have thus far only done parkrun at my local park (which I love), and my training sessions on my own before or after work (as well as short runs with colleagues during lunchtimes twice a week).
This was going absolutely fine until Thursday last week when I went on a run early before work and ended up being mugged. I know, right? That’s not something that should happen to anybody who is going out and exercising to feel good about themselves.
I didn’t go out and run that weekend. And other than a short run at lunchtime on Tuesday, I didn’t do any other runs. But I knew I needed something to make me feel strong again – I needed a ‘win’. So I found a 10k that is only a short train ride away and I packed my bumbag and off I went.
My journey to 10k
On the train platform, a lovely woman stopped me and said “Hey! I didn’t realise you lived here!” – my normal assumption in any given situation is that I have forgotten a face… so I went along with it, until it became clear that she’d mistaken me for somebody else. Never mind, I got to have a lovely chat on the train with her about her first aid training and career as a BSL signer, and about my running. Then I got off, headed to the park and the event village, and drank water slowly while waiting for time to pass until it began.
I really like the way runthrough do things – they had a personal trainer leading people through a warmup routine (I just danced and did my own thing) and then we all lined up – faster people at the front, and just as with parkrun, people with higher times towards the back.
And we were off!
My thing with running is to go as slow as I possibly can. After having whittled my average time for 5k down from 45 minutes to 39 and a half, I am still twice the duration of fastest runners. So I try to switch off from people passing me and just focus on smiling and running, smiling and running – then I see a small boy crying because he fell while his dad comforts him – I pause to check he is okay, and then I get back to it…kinda grateful for the momentary rest.
I was struck by how beautiful the course was – they wound it around the ponds with the dinosaur statues, up and down slopes, through a little bit of woodland – gorgeous. But long. Oh my goodness so long. My normal parkrun is three laps of a section of park, so I’m used to passing the same things again…here, it felt like running for ages before reaching a new checkpoint. The highlight was at about 3.5km when I passed an icecream van and a bunch of picnickers – they all cheered and whooped as I passed.
Then I reached the moment of truth – the part where you either stay to the left to do the next lap, or you point to the right to finish your 5k. With runthrough, that is when you choose.
And I chose my win. I stayed left. I kept going.
I reached the 6k flag – the maximum I’ve ever run before. I kept going. Every time I passed a marshal, every time I passed an arrow, I told myself “This is the last time I see this place”.
I tried to say to myself “Just pretend you haven’t run that far” and quickly realised I needed to change that to “Come on! You’ve run so far! You are so strong!” – I knew I could finish it and I just needed to keep going no matter what.
Then some of the most amazing things started to happen. The marshals at this point were far apart. I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind. (Indeed, I presumed correctly that I was the last runner). There were a few moments that the course pulls alongside a later part of the course and I got to shout words of encouragement to those 20 minutes in front of me and many shouted that encouragement back… but I was ‘alone’ on the racecourse.
But not alone in the park.
I started passing families who would point and cheer – the tiny little girl in a sunhat and dress jumping up and down in the air, clapping rapidly and shouting “Keep going!”
The father sprinting around with a three wheeled stroller and a toddler fast asleep inside it, who I passed three times – a nod, a hello, a grin.
More families, and most moving of all for me, a row of four girls ranging from about 4 to 14, all shouting and cheering for me.
Not a single one of them cared that I was running long behind everybody else – they saw somebody who was running a race and still going, and they cheered for me, and I know they meant it.
At the end, the marshals came up with me and kept saying to keep going – at the end, I wanted to cross by myself, so I dug deep and found my sprint and I kept going – I had to hesitate to pull up my leggings over my knickers. I saw a race photo later where my lower teeth were pulled up over my upper lip into a gurn. But I was running so fast and they were cheering. And then I got my water, got my medal, and I went home to where my partner had wine and cheese waiting.
On the way out, I met up with a woman who had been near me in the 5k – she pointed me out to her kids and told them I’d done the full 10k. I told them I’d see them next time.
On my way to the station, a young mum holding her little girl said “See Caroline? See the medal?”
I ran 10k today.
What does it mean to me to be a runner? It means thinking you can’t do something and then doing it anyway.