Christmas is not traditionally a fun time for me. It’s not just blistering misanthropy on my part – it is that a bit, but not wholly – and I’m not miserly or lonely. Even a perfectly normal happy-go-lucky sort of soul will one day hear that Wizzard song crackling over the tannoy in Marks and Spencer as a middle aged woman vaults them to get to the last pair of suede gloves and will go all Michael Douglas Falling Down, but it’s not the forced cheeriness or the Bacchanalian orgy of consumerism either. It just so happens to be the time of year most of my family members have died and so has become an advent of anniversaries.
On the odd year when things aren’t quite so morbid Andy and I are doing the annual merry-go-round of Christmastime visits. At the moment that’s Bromley, Sydenham, Basingstoke, Salisbury, Newport, and Wakefield. Without a car. Last year we juggled this around a surprise visit from my Turkish family, insisting that they didn’t want to ruin our plans while dancing around them like Dumbo in a Royal Doulton outlet store. My heart nearly gave out.
And as regular readers of my rants/articles will know (hi, both) my diary is fundamentally based around the QPR fixture list and the whim of Sky executives tearing merrily through the schedule, moving games for TV slots just before it’s too late to get decently priced train tickets. So, finding time to squeeze in a run is a logistical minefield.
During 2014, something clicked for me. Running went from being a means to an end to an end in itself. First I ran to lose weight, then I ran to get fitter, then I ran to train for races, and now I run to be free. So as my relationship with running changed, my motivation for going out for a run changed too. When I was persuading myself to go for a run using rewards – or punishments – it was easier to justify missing one, because the purpose of the activity was the receipt of the reward and not the activity itself. And with irregular working hours, football fixtures, social events and a lawless set of relatives there were always plenty of reasons to miss a run.
Now though it’s become a sort of sanctuary for me; my corner of the library, my allotment, my toolshed. It’s an hour – or two, or three – where I can ignore my phone, dodge zombies, switch on my audiobook and escape. I get downtime at home of course, but it’s usually when I do laundry, reply to emails, make phonecalls, finish off project work. Only when I run does my time belong entirely to me.
I’ve found ways of making time work for me: running home from work, running at lunchtimes, getting up at the crack of dawn for parkrun and trail club, two regular weekly social runs. The key has been to set myself a routine – this way the unusual thing and the usual thing have switched places, so I’m making a decision not to go for a run rather than finding the impetus to get out. It turns out that breaking a streak is much harder than dragging myself out into the cold ever used to be. Funnily enough, the trickiest thing has been finding time to actually race. And Christmas has certainly not helped with that.
So with this reasoning in mind (and inspired by the amazing Marathon Man Rob Young) I’ve set myself a new challenge for 2015: to run at least 1 mile every day of the year. Andy is dubious; not about my commitment or stubbornness, but about the logistics. What happens when something comes up that we can’t avoid? What about away days at the football, when we usually leave London at the crack of dawn and get back home again long after dark? What about when I’m not feeling well? He’s not wrong, and it will be difficult, but then that’s the point of a challenge.
My own questions aren’t logistical ones; I’ll wear running shoes all day every day if I have to, and I’ll get up at 6am for away days rather than 6.30am, and unless I’m at death’s door ten minutes of jogging won’t kill me. My questions are harder to respond to: will I risk injury; will I totally screw up my work-life balance and become a selfish runner; and most of all, will this kill my love for running? I set the challenge because it’s something I’ve never even come close to doing before, and it means I guarantee myself 10 minutes of me time a day. Plus, I’ve always found the concept of sustaining a streak to be hugely satisfying, good for keeping my mind from unravelling and for practising discipline and focus. But if my motivation becomes sustaining a running streak rather than running itself, I could end up jeopardising my run-life balance altogether. I think we both knew that’s what Andy was really alluding to when he asked about logistics.
So the real challenge will be, can I keep up my streak without losing out on something more important?
I’m going to try it anyway, and I’m also racking up the marathons wherever they fit in. I’m not afraid of failing the challenge as long as I’ve given it my best effort, and as long as I don’t cross the line between commitment and obsession. I just want to see how far I can go.
Watch this space.