There are many things in life for which a ‘first’ is rather memorable. First kiss. First car. First time you’re the only person in a cinema screening (I confess for me, when it became apparent that there were to be no other cinephiles attending the 6pm showing of Hyde Park On Hudson it led to a paradoxical mix of emotions perhaps best summed up as a euphoric freak-out). For us runners, surely ‘first finisher’s medal’ should be added to that list. Mine came at the 1999 Great North Run, which was not my finest hour. I undertrained, underestimated the challenge and chose to don a very unwise t-shirt – if I close my eyes I can still feel the nipple rub now. I’ve never been happier to see a St Johns Ambulance lady offering a finger’s worth of Vaseline. And that still didn’t prevent a case of the dreaded Bloody Nipples by the end of the race. But, nipples aside, I do remember my pride when crossing the finish line and adorning myself with the finisher’s medal. And of course, I still have it.
I made an unwise return to the Great North Run in 2009, replicating many of the same mistakes (except the nipples – nipples never forget, as the saying goes) and blundering to (by my own standards) a very poor time. In fairness, I wasn’t ‘a runner’ at this point; I was simply ‘an idiot’ who thought it a good idea to sporadically risk death by overexertion. I took up running properly a couple of years later and duly entered the Riverside 5k. Picking up the finisher’s medal for this one resulted in a new feeling – I’d earned it. Trained for it. Pushed myself. And here was my reward. My shiny, gleaming reward. I was hooked.
Since then I’ve bagged a chest full of medals and, like many other runners, they adorn a display board along with my race numbers. One that basically declares ‘GOOD GOD THIS MAN IS AWESOME’ every time I pass it. And with it comes the annual new-year tradition of stripping everything off the board so it can build up again across the course of the year.
Of course, if I accept that a considerable proportion of the post-race high comes from cladding myself in the post-race bling, I must also accept that finishing a race and receiving no medal is like a crushing blow to my materialistic ego. Because, as many runners will attest, there are plenty of races out there where no medal is forthcoming. And no amount of complimentary bananas, flapjacks, running gels or conditioner samples can fill that medal-shaped hole.
Having recently completed two medalless 10k races I decided that I would, effectively, reward myself with a medal anyway. Because I’m worth it. As Andie MacDowell keeps telling me. Does she actually do anything other than flog cosmetics these days…currently starring in Magic Mike XXL? Who knew? Anyway, where were we…ah yes, I signed up for a ‘virtual running’ 10k.
To the uninitiated, a virtual run/race involves signing up with a virtual running company in order to commit yourself to running a certain distance over a certain period of time. You pay a small fee; you get a medal on proving that you’ve done the deed. I opted to go with POW! Virtual Running because I had a 10% off code courtesy of RunManiaUK. Now, I can see many benefits to the whole virtual running deely. As well as offering an opportunity to ‘medal one off’ to those who maybe can’t make organised races for geographical or logistical reasons, its good for motivation too – especially outside of the main ‘race season’. Also, its great for people like me – irrationally furious that a sweat-sodden race number and a sense of achievement are not enough to prove I DID THAT THERE RACE YOU KNOW. So, here we are. Well, were. I’d signed up for the POW! Virtual Running 10k.
I couldn’t retrospectively apply this medal to the 10k bling-free runs I’d completed at Croft or Harrogate; neither in accordance with the rules nor my own skewed sense of pride. No, no. I’d have to do another 10k. Which wasn’t too problematic, as I do two runs a week that are more than 10k. However, the inner monologue decreed we/I had to give it EVERYTHING in order to deserve it. It needed to be a belter. A PB smasher. A world record worrier. What the ol’ inner monologue was conveniently forgetting was the fact that the day previous to this undoubted landmark moment in running history, I’d been out for a 15-mile marathon training run. The legs…they had very little left. To be fair, I was quite quick (by my standards) for the first couple of miles. Then a large bee struck me on the earlobe and something inside said ‘nope’. I kept going, but finished the 10k at a more relaxed pace. Unsurprisingly, Stuart from POW! didn’t take one look at my time and declare ‘pfft, shite, no medal for you sonny’ but instead congratulated me and duly posted out The Precious. And here it is:
I’m thinking come the winter, post-marathon, when the demons come, I might give this another go in order to motivate myself through the darker months. Because as I would say to any runner, you should take motivation wherever you can find it.
This weeks running: Since the last entry I’ve knocked out another 10.4 miles, including a 10k training run. No medal though. Boo.