The reluctant runner

Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Matt Colville running the Jumbo Holdsworth trail race.

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The push to start running, for me, came because I was depressed. Bone-wearingly, heartbreakingly, agonisingly depressed. And a bit fat.

I was coming to the end of my first year of teaching. It had been hands-down the hardest year of my life. Most days were a haze of stress and angst, and after work I would crawl into bed, curl into the foetal position, and ask the good Lord why I chose to move to Northland to teach English at a low decile school (I love it now, by the way).

My diet was crap, I was constantly tired, and I was angry and irritable most of the time.

I over-reacted and snapped at people a lot. In other words I was quite often a bit of a prick.

I had underestimated the challenges posed by moving from one end of the country to the other, and starting a new profession, and, as a result, was quite lonely and isolated.

I attempted to get out of the rut. I tried my hand at a fun run early in 2012: the Baylys Beach to Dargaville 13-kilometre race.

As preparation, I didn't run a single step, and had a Coke, a Crunchie and a couple of cigarettes for breakfast on race day.

I stood at the start wondering if I could just maybe win this thing.

Thirty seconds after the hooter went, I knew the answer. I just made the finish line. Walking.

I gave running away as a bad job for ages after that.

Late in 2012 my colleague asked me to go for a run one day. I said yes, begrudgingly. I wore a heavy T-shirt and trackpants. I lasted probably 2 kilometres before nearly expiring, and that was the end of my running career for another six months.

In March 2013 I tried again.

Teaching was a bit easier to deal with, and I wanted to be fit.

I ran 8km and I felt great!

In fact, I felt the most positive, natural high I had had in years. It was a true rush of endorphins.

The addict in me was hooked instantly, and ironically, I soon gave up cigarettes after taking up running seriously.

Unfortunately, as with any drug, the high becomes more elusive and the means of procurement more radical. I stepped up my mileage too fast, chasing the dragon as it were, trying to keep up with my training buddy, and catering to my own intense inferiority complex.

We went from 8km runs, to 10km, to 16km, to 24km far too quickly. I didn't stretch, I was too lazy.

I got injured. First, a pinched sciatic nerve, then shin splints. Shin splints are the bane of any runner's life - agony in the lower leg, caused either by tiny fractures or severely tight muscles. It was most likely caused by an awkward running style.

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In between injuries, however, I had some good runs. I did the Baylys to Dargaville run again, and finished in the top 20.

I ran several 20km-plus runs, including one 35km jaunt in which the universe aligned perfectly: it was a mystical, near-religious peak experience and one I will always remember.

Unfortunately, I ran another 35km and a marathon in the following consecutive weeks and totally buggered my legs again.

I also timed a visit to my hometown of Masterton to coincide with the Jumbo-Holdsworth trail race: 24km of mountain running.

I prepared by doing no hill running whatsoever. I finished (barely) and swore never to be underprepared again.

The last month has been bereft of running. I have instead been completely sidelined by the shin splints, relying on biking and surfing for my exercise, and visiting my physiotherapist and sports masseuse numerous times for my lower legs to be painfully manipulated.

I need my legs to heal, and fast. All my recent training and hard yards are meant to lead to running the 60km Tarawera Ultramarathon on March 15. I have paid $365 (non-refundable) to travel 500km to Rotorua to run a gruelling 60km trail race.

I haven't run more than 42km before, and I won't have run at all for nearly two months on race day, due to the ongoing injuries.

There is a significant chance I will crash and burn spectacularly. Maybe I will permanently cripple myself.

Despite the leg troubles, I feel fit, strong and unbelievably more positive. Every aspect of my life has improved. I stress so much less.

My self-belief has increased exponentially, my relationships are better, teaching is great.

Running has changed my life. 

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