This morning, I began trying to win the parenting fitness race once again. I competed in my first 10km road race for two years. Last time, the father of just the one child, I was still fairly fit and managed to claim a personal best of 50 minutes in the Abbey Dash from Leeds city centre out to Kirkstall Abbey and back again. This time, I was six whole minutes slower but it feels like much more of an achievement.
For one thing, I’d barely trained before this one, on top of rarely running this past year since the birth of my daughter, Little Buddha. For another, after cautiously making it to the halfway mark at the abbey in 30 minutes, I gritted my teeth, kicked on and overtook loads of people to register 26 minutes for the return half. I ran the last 3km at the kind of pace I achieved a few years ago and finished the race without having stopped once. I collected my race t-shirt with pride rather than the sheepish grimace I’d half expected when I left home in the fog this morning.
I’m always quick to exploit my son’s bowel troubles, so it’s worth pointing out that part of my achievement is due to the wondrous Immodium. I don’t whether it’s an age or diet problem but I’ve had to cut short some of my recent training runs due to certain stomach cramps. So today, I made sure I didn’t become Yorkshire’s answer to Paula Radcliffe.
Mostly, it was a case of bloody-mindedness and some residual stamina from a lifetime of playing sport. I entered the race – and spurred myself on today – because I’m 40 in a few months and I can feel my body increasingly wilting, and expanding, in the face of middle age. We’ve had kids fairly late in life, so I’m very conscious that I don’t want to be a fat, breathless excuse-ridden embarrassment just when they get really active in a decade or so. They run me ragged now but it’s only going to get more intense.
More importantly, like the rest of the human race I don’t want to get ill and, let’s be blunt for a moment, die relatively young. My job is increasingly stressful, the price of climbing the ladder to earn more money I never see, so I need to keep healthy. After all, when I recently updated our life insurance, I was very comforted to learn the premium had shot up because a lot of men die at 43.
I got into running a few years ago, when one of my oldest friends became editor of Runner’s World and started running marathons – ‘I can’t write about running if I don’t understand what it’s like’. I’ve always operated at a more modest level, running several 10km races and one, never-to-be-repeated fell race, but I enjoyed it and it was easy enough to fit around family life once we had our first child.
This past year, though, with two of the little blighters to care for, I just haven’t found the time: the Duchess looks after them all week and she needs help in the evenings, so it’d be very selfish of me to disappear for a good hour or so like I used to do. I attended Park Run on Saturday mornings for a while but then it clashed with Boy Wonder’s Socatots classes and his sport needs came first.
In the end, I realised the trick is to adapt fitness into daily life. So, on the infrequent occasions I trained for the Abbey Dash, I ran home from work, in the dark, tired after a day at the lathe but with no option but to keep going and get home.
I now need to make this a twice-weekly exercise so I don’t lose the momentum I’ve achieved today. So I lose a bit of weight. So I prevent the Duchess from claiming the life insurance and restocking her shoe cupboard.
Winter offers lots of excuses, so I need an extra bit of motivation to keep winning the parenting fitness race. That’s why I’m going to enter next year’s Great North Run. I better stock up on the Immodium.