In the second year of the pandemic I ran 2,000km. This was a big leap from the first year of the pandemic, and the preceding 50 years, during which I’d only ever dragged my dad bod around the same 5km route a few times a week. In running terms I was stagnating, so my New Year’s resolution was to run further and faster. Go Forrest!
To help, I downloaded a running app to track each effort. The GPS recording of times, routes and distances turned into a challenge (obsession) to go faster and beat personal records. I re-read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and imagined myself following his disciplined daily running routine.
Through January and February the runs stretched to 7km and then 8km. By March they included a 10km weekend effort. My legs ached and there were blisters, but I lost weight and my legs strengthened. In April I was running up to 12km. I registered for a June half-marathon. When May came I was doing 15km runs and by the start of June I’d tackled a 20. This gave me confidence I could complete the race.
Then the pandemic kicked-off again. With three days to go, the marathon was cancelled as the Sydney lockdown began. So I ran my own half-marathon length on the day and finished in a respectable time. Murakami would be proud.
While exploring my app’s advanced features, I discovered the goal-setting function. Reviewing my the distance I’d already covered, I set a goal of finishing 2,000km by the end of the year. It had a nice round-number sound to it. Lock it in.
Working from home during lockdown, my day was structured around a lunch run. With nothing going on, it was always the highlight of my day. I ran the deserted Sydney CBD, down an empty George Street to Circular Quay, past the Opera House, through the Botanic Garden.
As restrictions eased I’d head over the Harbour Bridge or to Bondi, the inner west or Centennial Park. Sometimes I’d run with a friend, but usually it was solo. At first the family feigned interest in where I’d gone each day. I’d tell them what I’d seen, how far I’d run. I’d share my pace and my exertion rate. And then they stopped asking.
On a group run in October, while chatting and distracted I rolled an ankle on a kerb. Pain shot up my leg. I hobbled home and removed my sock to find a swollen foot. By evening it turned purple-black. I retired to the sofa with an ice pack and an exaggerated war story for anyone who’d listen. There were doctor trips and an ultrasound and I was advised to take at least a month of rest. I tried to accept the end of my challenge.
In the absence of running I felt stale and sluggish. I scoured running websites for recovery-time advice. Most concurred with the doctor but I kept looking until I found shorter recommendations. Call it stupidity or hope, but three weeks after the injury I was doing short walks and a gentle shuffle. In the absence of searing pain I was back.
Building up from short, slow runs, I increased to 5km and then 7km in the first week. With no significant complications I reviewed my challenge: I’d lost a lot of time.
I was way behind the schedule. But I was also obsessed, and it was mathematically possible that by running 11km a day for six weeks, with one rest day a week, I could reach my target on Christmas Eve. This would give me an end-of-year break, and a chance to boast at the family Christmas table. It was back on.
By December it was hot and wet. I learnt why running is not a summer sport. The morning runs got earlier to avoid the heat but the humidity was miserable and I was dripping and exhausted. With only one day off a week, the relentless schedule became a chore. When the alarm went off I’d lie there dreading the kilometres I had to run before work. But I also had to do it.
And I did. On Christmas Eve I completed my challenge. It was the first New Year’s resolution I’d kept longer than two weeks. To celebrate I did the final run with my sons, who came along for the glory lap. Heading up the last hill, I considered whether to keep going in 2022.
But then we rounded the last corner and sprinted home, while I ignored the twinges in my ankle. Two-thousand kilometres sounds like a long way – but it feels even further.