In the early noughties, when I was in secondary school, I couldn’t think of anything worse than running. I enjoyed football, but running for no reason and towards nothing was a pointless waste of energy. Each year we had a cross-country race where we would run around the school playing fields. I certainly wasn’t the slowest, but I could barely make it a quarter of the way round without having to stop and take my breath, bearing in mind that the course was probably less than a mile long in total.

It was in 2011, at the age of 24, when I had my first, voluntary run. I joined a local gym with a (much fitter) friend and he introduced me into the fitness world. That first day I ran on the treadmill at a speed of 8 kmh, a pace I could only manage for a couple of minutes at a time before taking a walking break. I slowly built it up though and was soon running at 8 kmh for 20 minutes without stopping.

Our gym closed down in 2012 to make room for a hotel for the Olympics, and so we took to running outside instead. We did maybe 2 or 3 runs together before giving up. More for fitness than anything, I decided to keep going, and joined a new gym. As my fitness improved I started running outdoors again and my distances gradually grew, leading me to sign up to the Coventry Half Marathon in 2012, quite a big distance for my first race. My goal was to finish in under 2 hours and I did so by 2-3 minutes.

The Coventry Half Marathon coincided with me beginning a part-time degree. I was working as a mechanic at the time, a job I had done for almost 10 years, and just felt that I wanted to better myself and try something new. Engineering was the subject of choice, which seemed like a logical and natural progression from working on cars.

I continued with the running but not to the levels that I had been. Full time job, part time degree and a growing relationship left little time for training.

Life continued in this way for some time, as I married my partner, started a new job in the engineering field that I desired, began growing our family and also moved home. Again, the running continued, but it was maybe 3-5 miles per week, nothing special.

After that first half marathon, I had always wanted to do another one, but never actually got round to it. Early in 2015 I decided to sign up to the Rugby Half Marathon and began really training again. I didn’t train well enough however, and finished in a time slightly slower than the Coventry one 3 years previously, although still under 2 hours.

It was at this point that I decided to join a local running club, in an effort to improve. It was more sociable than sessions, but it got me excited for running again and I began taking in more events in the form of parkrun, before entering the 2016 Silverstone Half Marathon.

Geelong parkrun, Australia, 2015

Given my previous race times, my goal was sub 1:55. The training went relatively well and I finished in just over the 1:55 goal time, although my watch did clock a distance of 13.3 miles as opposed to 13.1.

For the rest of 2016 I trundled away, clocking up the miles but not really progressing, not really knowing how to in all honesty. At the start of 2017, I changed running club, to one that held weekly, structured sessions. This helped me massively as I completed the Warwick Half Marathon three months later in 1:45, followed by the Coventry Half two weeks later in 1:44:41. I also took over two minutes out of my 5k time during that period.

My university course finished at the end of 2017, in which I achieved a First Class degree with honours. From this point, I should have got some time back, quite a significant amount in fact. In truth though, with a big family (now with two biological and two step-children), a wife that I genuinely enjoy spending time with, a demanding full time job (I am now “living the dream” by designing cars as opposed to fixing them) and helping my wife out with her business, that time has been absorbed elsewhere. Running has to fit in around that. I try to do around 20-25 miles per week and, although that isn’t always possible, three runs per week is always my goal. Despite being busy, I make an effort to get my trainers on and get out, even if that means a 5am run on a Monday morning before heading off to work.

Running gives me a release from the busy lifestyle that I lead, a chance to clear my mind. I don’t run with music, it is my time to think and to reflect when running solo, to chat and put the world to rights when in company, all in a moment when nothing else truly matters. Many an issue has been solved during a workout. That being said, I am certainly not running away from anything, as often seems to be suggested. This is where The Antisocial Runner comes from. 

Please don’t be confused in thinking that I don’t like running with others. On the contrary, I quite enjoy it, despite being somewhat of an introvert. The Antisocial Runner comes from my behaviour when I don’t have my trainers on. As mentioned above, I am a man who genuinely enjoys spending time with his wife and family. I can’t think of anything better than a messy house full of noisy children, as long as they are my own children of course. So whereas many runners from the club meet up for weekend drinks, post training or race drinks or post parkrun coffees, I just want to get home and spend time with my family, particularly as other aspects of my life take up so much of my time that often very little is left for them. I often find myself apologising for a lack of availability but, in truth, if it comes between spending rare time with my family or social time in the pub, there really is no contest. If that makes me seem antisocial, then so be it.

My ultimate running goals moving forward are to run a sub-20 minute 5k, a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-1:30 half marathon. Once achieved, in my mind at least, the plan is to settle and maintain as opposed to training for further gains. I guess we will see if that is the case when I get there. These goals are perfectly achievable given my age, providing I put in the right training, but three runs per week and 20-25 miles make them more of a challenge. I know exactly what I need to do to get there, when to run, how to run, but time unfortunately does not permit me to do that. At the time of writing, I am trying to squeeze in a fourth run, and to up the weekly mileage closer to the 30 mark, but this has resulted in Friday, Saturday and Sunday being training days, which is not ideal for rest and recovery. I therefore need to train smarter and make better use of the miles that I do put in.

In the spring of 2018, I ran new PB’s for each of the above distances, a 21:16 5k, a 44:18 10k and a 1:41:22 half marathon, so there’s still some way to go to achieve my goals. It’s important to remember however, the reasons why I really run. It’s not for the medals and it’s not for the PB’s. It’s for the joy, and boy do I love running. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of that.

Running is great for both the mind and the body and has done wonders for my sanity. If you don’t run, maybe you should consider it.

Rugby parkrun, 2018

“People ask me why I run. I say, if you have to ask, you will never understand. It is something only those select few know. Those who put themselves through pain, but know, deep down, how good it really feels.”

Erin Leonard

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