I just returned from my first run in a long time. My first run to fulfill my pledge to start running again, as part of the development of The Runner. I need to understand how the subject, Salah, feels. I need to understand what it does to your body, your lungs, your throat, your mind as you compete in long distances. I decided to start with a modest 2.5km, a short distance, something I could complete without much training.
I'm wearing the same running clothes I've been wearing for years. My shoes are still filled with sand from filming in the Algerian Sahara with Salah, in February. Fine, red sand, smooth, not scratchy. I still haven't been able to get it all out of my shoes, it fills the fine mesh on top made for air circulation. There are patches of light red sand on my bedroom floor now, but at least it provides some continuity to this endeavor. It links my run today with the Algerian Sahara where this all began.
As I'm running, I try to concentrate on the pavement, the three steps in front of me. I concentrate on the rhythm of my breathing more than anything else. You can train your legs quite easily, I find, but training your lungs is the real challenge. My legs aren't so bad, I suppose riding my bike everywhere helps keep them in shape. But my lungs haven't had to make this much effort in a long time. I think the last time I ran was around 5 months ago, and even that was only 2km. That was the distance from my front door, up Green Lanes and around the corner from my old house. Now, if I'm going for endurance, a 2km training run is useless.
My legs can take the repetition, but my throat is starting to burn and my lungs are straining, even over this short distance. My sweat pants are far too thick for this hot weather, but I stopped wearing my running shorts years ago when I decided they were really too short. Dom made fun of them once, years ago, when I told him I was going for a run. "In the 1960's?" he asked. Then I decided the shorts were too short, and now I only run in my sweat pants. But I think I need to buy a new pair of (longer) shorts.
I want to know what it feels like to win, again. I fenced competitively for years, and I was good enough to win, but my last bout was around 2004 (was it really so long ago?) I'd like to know that feeling again, the stress, drama and adrenaline of competition. The thrill of winning. The pain of losing. My ideal is to develop my running well enough to do a few races seriously, at least feel that competition again. But it all depends on how well my knee can handle the training.
As I'm running, the warm sun on my face, I remember training in Morocco in 2003. I was training for the Marrakesh marathon. I asked a friend to bring me proper running gear and a pedometer when she came to visit Morocco, and I was taking it seriously. I asked two of my clients, tourists who I had taken on a tour, to draw up a training regime for me. They had completed many marathons and talked me through it. At one point I was up to a maximum daily run of 15km. One morning in Essaouirra (I had to train while I was still leading tours, so I was in a different city every day), I was up to 12km when my knee suddenly gave way. I had to take a taxi back to my hotel. I could barely walk for six days. Weeks later I received an email saying I was registered for the Marrakesh marathon, but I had already quit. I still couldn't walk without feeling pain. I nearly cried with disappointment reading the email. I was angry at my body for letting me down, and mad at myself for not training properly and more carefully. More than seven years later, and my knee is still not back to normal.