There’s this run I do near to my mum’s house. It’s a road run, through the farmland.
Has a few hills and is about 6.3km long. It’s the road I did my first run on, nearly 20 years ago (which resulted in not being able to walk properly or sit down on the toilet without wailing for a week).
I don’t often run this route now, but I do occasionally. Part of that is to test myself and ask questions such as:
Is my other training paying off?
Have I improved my time?
Am I getting worse or better?
It’s a fitness test, basically.
A few weeks ago I ran the route twice. The first day was after 4 hours sleep (I have some seriously bad sleep issues) and also after a boozy night out at the weekend. I hit a time and pace I was happy with (especially on low energy and lacking sleep) and that, I thought, was that.
But then two days later – and two more awful night’s sleep later - I found myself driving to that route again.
“I’m going to beat my personal best,” I told Adam, before I left.
“But you’re tired. You haven’t slept,” he said. “Are you sure?”
I shrugged. “Not sure. But, if I did okay two days ago on little sleep and a residue hangover, I reckon I can do better today with even less sleep and no hangover.”
“Ring me when you’re done,” he said. “Good luck.”
I set off on the run and had a good pace. But jeeez, I was tired and the sun was beating down.
As I ran I thought about things: the year ahead. My plans. The fact that my life is changing rapidly before my eyes. Kids are leaving. Kids are flying the nest. My mum’s been ill. I want to travel. I want to nurture my feral Artist to fulfil her creative potential … even though I’m 42 and don’t actually know how to use Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator and am not even comfortable calling myself the A word.
I turned the bend and started up the first sloping hill and as I did, my thoughts turned a corner too.
“You’re too old,” the thoughts said, jingling little tambourines of antagonism into my sweating face. “You’re in your forties. You’ve had your stab at life and now you’re over the hill. Tech is moving quickly. Quicker than the run, you’re doing. By the time you’ve sussed out what most Uni kids know, AI will have taken the entire world’s worth of creative work anyway…”
By the time I was over the ACTUAL hill and running down again, I had a proper sweat on. I was thirsty. Wondered when I’d actually last drunk any water. Wondered what all this sweat on my face was doing to my skin.
Two days ago, when I’d done this route, I had Frida the dog with me. She’d stopped to sniff here and there and I’d had to jerk her onwards, much to her dismay. Then cars and tractors had come past and I’d had to haul her onto the bank. All this had slowed me up, but today I was feeling slower than ever.
I got to the brow of the second hill and followed the bend. Headed along the lane, past where I used to pick black berries with the kids when they were young, past where my dear friends, the Nordbruchs once lived and past the big trees where I used to cycle as a child. Up another hill, down the hill, back up a hill … literally running along memory lane.
Suddenly I was just shattered.
It was like my energy had gone.
I slowed to a walk and in that moment relished the walking. The land around me was really quiet. The fields, not yet thick with leaves and crops, were so peaceful. I felt my heart rate begin to slow.
“I might just walk back,” I thought, partly to myself and partly to Strava who was ticking on in my pocket, recording every slow step forward.
"You don’t rule me,” I added, just to let Strava know that I knew she was still counting my pace. “I don’t have to run. I don’t have to beat my personal best. I’m 42. I choose what I do.”
Strava was silent. Counting seconds.
I strolled around the next bend and a flash of yellow opened up; a massive oil seed rape field. So bright. So gaudy and brilliant. I paused to take a photograph of it. Once the photo was taken I stopped altogether and got out my phone to turn off Strava. Ha.
Looked at the screen. Paused.
“What the … ?”
Staring down at the time – that had stopped for no man and certainly not this woman - I saw that I was STILL within time of beating my previous run. I literally had multiple minutes to spare… despite all the walking!
Stuffing my phone back into my bag, I ran; belted up the road quicker than I’ve ever run. Never have I had the motivation to bomb it for half a km like I did in that moment. And all the time, in my heart I was leaping and air punching and crying, “Holy hell! I still had time and I didn’t even realise it!”
Even Strava seemed to be gunning for me.
And weirdly, as I flashed past the purple sprouting broccoli field (yes, scrumpers, I know where there’s a purple sprouting broccoli field!) and past the telegraph poles and the house that is being renovated and the final hill that reached to the finishing line to my mum’s house … that feeling of, “I’ve still got time” flooded my entire brain.
It gushed and penetrated all of my secret wishes and ambitions that were hanging like threadbare socks over the gravestones of my forty-something-year-old could’ve-been dreams.
And it occurred to me that we’ve ALL still got bloody time.
You and me.
Whatever age you are, I don’t think it matters, (because trust me, even the young people in their early twenties are under this weird time line illusion that they should have achieved something by some point) … we’ve STILL got time to make "it". Make whatever. Make our dreams and our lives and our projects happen.
Time to write our books, change directions, redesign our days, change our habits, learn new things, meet colourful people who make us happy, build a house, create a home, forge a family, begin learning again, start afresh or skill up in peculiar genre that no one else understands why you’d want to, but who gives a flying fuck what anyone else thinks?
Yes, we may have to run faster, jump in with more passion and sweat and tears, but we STILL HAVE TIME to pull our socks up, get our big girl pants on, gnash our teeth, take a lung full of air and run / leap / dance in our own gorgeous way.
By the time I punched FINISH on Strava, I was nearly sick in the hedge.
…. Sat down on the step to catch my breath.
… Texted Adam.
“I beat it,” my text said. “And I walked for a massive chunk of it.”
Then I just sat there for ages, listening to the birds singing and thought about still having time.
And what a massive gift that is.
A massive gift.