Last week was half term for us Welshies (I’m an honorary Welsh person now, on residency) so mid week I piled the boys and half the house in the car and headed up to my folks’ house in West London. Thursday and Friday I didn’t get to run due to trips to parks and museums and trying to be a good mum. I therefore had my eye on Saturday being a long run day. My legs were feeling ok after the 800m reps on Tuesday so I estimated that I’d like to do somewhere between a 15-16, possibly even 17 miler. Anyhow, I wanted to run for over 2 hours and 20 minutes.
I spent some time considering my route. In West London I was pretty spoilt for choice. There was Bushy Park, Windsor Great Park, all the paths by the river if they were accessible and of course Richmond Park. I decided, after reading about so many other runners love running there so much, to go for Richmond Park. But how would I get there? Bus, get dropped off or just run there? I logged onto the computer and mapped out how far it would be from my parents house to Richmond Hill Gate and it didn’t seem to bad, roughly 5 miles. Plus when I checked how far it was round the perimeter of the park it came up as about 7 miles. It seemed doable.
Now this is where I went wrong. Maths and I have a very hairy relationship. Adding I can do but stick decimal points in there and ask me to convert things to other measures just blows my brains. Now I say roughly 5 and I say roughly 7 but in fact I was converting in a very rough way, in my head, from kilometres to miles, based on what I know 5km and 10km to be in miles. This it turned out later was a huge mistake.
I set out into the cold crisp air on this St David’s Day in London with all my gels and water packing me out like a little donkey. It was cold but it was dry and that was ideal. And so I made my way up to Richmond via Hanworth and the river side path from Twickenham to Richmond. As I reached the gate I looked to my right to have a look at the Star and Garter House, the place where I had my work experience as a teenager, now closed.
When I left my parents house to run to the park my mother had urged me to be careful as ‘there are nutters in parks that might attack you’. Well she needn’t have worried as activity within the park jumped at me as soon as I was through the gate: other runners, dogs, walkers and hundreds of cyclists. It was going to be fine. I checked my watch, it read 50 minutes. I didn’t check the GPS running on my phone as I assumed that all my calculations were correct.
Running in Richmond Park itself was blissful for the most part. There were of course hills everywhere but I tackled them and didn’t let them deter me. I glimpsed round from time to time trying to work out where I had run cross country for the school but I think my radar was well off.
Some runners nodded, some runners said hello and some runners stared ahead robotically, tuning in only to what was playing to them from their head phones. I had no idea what trail I was on but I stuck as close as I could to the perimeter. The second time I looked at my watch it was reading 1 hour and 45 minutes and I started to panic a bit as I told myself I should be nearing Richmond Hill again. As I was pondering to myself I managed to run through the start for a 10k race. Moments later crowds of runners came past me, ruining my void and my running chi. ‘I’m not in your race, I’m doing a really REALLY long run’ I wanted to scream at them.
After what seemed like a path leading to no where, I finally reached Richmond Gate and it was at this point that I realised I could have made a little bit of an error. It was now 2 hours into the run. If it took me 50 minutes to run there it would probably take me well over that to run back. Thankfully I was able to run down hill for a while, down Richmond Hill and down over the bridge. In my head it gave my legs a short rest.
After Richmond Bridge it became a case of putting one foot in front of the other. My longest run up until Saturday had been 2 hours. As my brain whirred I estimated I would be running at least an hour more than that. As I run towards Twickenham on the main roads this time I almost screamed at people to get out of the way as I knew that if I stopped, then that would be it. Game over, miles from home. I started to shorten the rest of the route into chunks to make it seem quicker and forced myself to ignore the shrieking that was coming from my painful quads.
Somehow, through gritted teeth and bloody mindedness, I got back to my parents’ house. My father opened the door and grinned at me, my boys ran full pelt at me (ouch) and my mother took one look at me and told me I was nuts.
As I started unravelling myself from water belts, gilets and trainers I took my phone from my pocket. 30.88 miles in 2 hours 50 minutes. Eh? It’s ballsed up I thought. But then I realised Runkeeper could mean 30.88 km. Which if you convert it using online tools becomes 19 miles.
Holy Mother of Running Socks. Had I really run 19 miles? After I felt more human again I checked via Map My Run which gave me an estimate of 29.65 km, so I’m sure my phone app must have been correct. And I also realised that my maths was shocking and that I had woefully underestimated how far I was attempting to run.
Then as I often do, started to wonder how I had managed to run that far with a poor amount of training behind me and not a great deal of distance in my legs. Was it muscle memory from previous long runs and my history as a runner that enabled me to do it? Had I slightly altered the construct of distance in my head to lead me to run further than I had intended to? Am I more capable than I think of running the longer distances? My last long run was 14 miles so this was a giant leap for me. The last time I ran anything close to 19 miles was in 2012 and since then I’ve been injured. Was it just fluke or did I really do that?
I have checked and re-checked maps and apps to make sure I’m right and it hasn’t changed: I ran somewhere in the region of 18.5 to 19 miles on Saturday and I really enjoyed it. It was a complete error of judgement on my part but it was a good error. Just don