Running Commentary: Dark skies, quizzical dogs and determination

Running Commentary: Dark skies, quizzical dogs and determination

December 10, 2014

Andy Mahony caught the running bug a couple of years ago. He works with the council’s public health team. In Running Commentary, he shares his favourite running routes and parks, as well as tips he has picked up while being overtaken by a speeding Santa and nipped at by geese. And then there are all the other weird and wonderful things he encounters along the way.

There is no doubt about it, running in the winter months is more of a challenge than in the long, sunny days of summer.

For a start, the dark mornings and evenings limit your choice of running route.  In the dark the borough’s parks become unadvisable choices for the runner. One trip or stumble and you could be there all night. So instead one has to stick to well-lit streets and run the gauntlet of cars, children’s buggies and pedestrian smartphone addicts who are oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

Taking on the weather

But the real threat to the winter runner is the weather itself. When arriving home from work in the dark, with cold and blustery wet weather outside, any rational person would be glad to stay in the cosy warmth of their home and install themselves on the sofa with a nice cuppa.

Not so the keen runner; who decides the sensible thing to do is to don a pair of shorts and a running top, and then head straight back outside into the biting rain of the British winter.

This takes willpower and a little compromise. The compromise being that one does not have to go on the longest run, but any exercise is better than none.  Apparently the only run you regret is the one you do not do. This is no doubt the sadistic mantra of some triathlete, pain loving and machine-type person. I am by no means in this group of runners, and furthermore have no desire to be, so it is just a good 30-minute run at a decent pace for me.

However, one other guaranteed way to get you out and running regularly is signing-up for another event. It need not be the endurance test of a full marathon or even a half marathon. A five-mile fun run can be enough encouragement to get you outside and running a few times a week.

Getting out there
It was at the suggestion of a colleague that I signed up to the Perivale five-mile fun run. That is just over eight kilometres to those of you who prefer new money. Not a particularly long distance, but a bit more effort than the regular five kilometre Parkrun.
As part of my preparation I decided to head to Gunnersbury Park at the weekend and time myself on this exact distance. And, so, at 8am on a rather cold Sunday morning I found myself in a very quiet and foggy corner of Gunnersbury Park. Just when I was beginning to think that every sensible person was still at home festering under the duvet, I spotted three other runners. Not bad going considering sunrise was barely 20 minutes earlier. A few dogs were enjoying an early start, too.
Nods of the head and a querying canine
All three runners acknowledged me with a smile and a knowing nod of the head as they passed by.  All runners you encounter at this time of the morning will do this. Like you, they are aware that getting up in the dark and leaving a warm bed to go running around a cold, foggy park is not everyone’s idea of fun or, for that matter, sanity.
And so I set off on my run because that is why I was there, and standing around in the fog was getting me quizzical looks from a Labrador that had just shown up with its owner. Dogs do tend to look at you with suspicion if you are not doing anything, I’ve noticed.
Keeping moving; and more dogs

Moving keeps you warmer, so a few minutes into my run had me feeling less cold. After about 20 minutes I pass one of the earlier runners who was heading around the park in the opposite direction to me. He smiles and gives me a thumbs-up sign. I think he is just relieved to see someone else.  There are a few people walking dogs, even at this early hour on a Sunday. I decide that dogs, as well as great companions, are also a terrific way to get you off the sofa and out walking regularly. Though running does have the advantage of not needing to continually stop to pick up poo.

Roughly two and half laps of the park equals the eight kilometres I was aiming for, and I manage to complete this distance in 40 minutes. I think I could do it slightly quicker, but I passed thumbs-up guy three times and polite waves to him may have cost me a few seconds. Well worth it though because friendly fellow joggers keep you going when the winter willpower is at low ebb.

Early arrival and the loo
Andy after the run
Andy after the run

And so the day of the Perivale five-mile fun-run finally arrives. Good practice dictates arriving early to pick up my race number, pin it to my running top and generally soak up the atmosphere, which is remarkably upbeat considering it’s a damp and fairly cold morning.  Early arrival also allows plenty of time to go to the loo; the need for which I’m convinced is more psychological than physical.

Follow Father Christmas…
As 300 runners congregate near the start I look for the 40-minute pace runner. With a red suit and beard it seems that none other than Father Christmas himself is this year’s 40-minute pacer. Though, on closer inspection, he does look suspiciously like my colleague Andy, who suggested I enter the race in the first instance.
Nonetheless, I stick with Santa for much of the two-lap race and ease ahead towards the end of the second lap, finishing a half minute ahead of Santa at 39 minutes and 31 seconds.  I’d comfortably beaten my 40-minute target and so I’m very pleased with the result.  It also started raining 50 minutes after the start, so I was pleased to be in the gym collecting my bottle of water, banana and commemorative t-shirt.
In my first year of entering official race events, I’ve completed a 10-kilometre race at Osterley Park, the Ealing Half Marathon and finally the Perivale five-mile (8K) fun-run. Not too bad for a first year.
Do I up the ante to a full marathon in 2015? We’ll have to wait and see; it’s far too cold, dark and wet to be thinking about that now…