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Paul Northup - VLM Update

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In his first journal entry, CLC Striders’ representative at the Virgin London Marathon 2016 Paul Northup shares his experience and expectations for this year’s race.

“I found out I could run (far, but not very fast) when I was 16. Having played football and basketball for the school, the idea of middle-distance running (cross country, track and road) was something awakened in me when a new boy arrived in our sixth form who actually took running seriously and was very good at it. He even trained and belonged to a club. Our friendship grew. And so did my love of running. I even started doing a bit of training, too.

“But it was all very instinctive and spontaneous back then – the first time around. I seemed to be able to just turn up and do quite well. I got selected to run cross country for the county (I ran in three national school cross country championships). I won the ‘under 18 category’ (yes, they even gave a medal) of one of the first Tewkesbury half marathons. I even went through 10 miles at a Stroud Half Marathon in the leading group of runners, just behind the timing car – the fastest by some margin that I ever ran 10 miles. (What happened in the remaining three miles is consigned to the history bin marked ‘crash and burn’.) When I went to Uni I kept up my running and represented the Uni at cross country. And so on. I took it all for granted. I got a thrill from it, but I never realised how precious a gift being able to run and enjoy it is.

“The next part of my life involved years of touring with a band – week after week spent in a converted panel van with fellow band members and all our gear as we toured incessantly all over the UK and into Europe. Or holed up in recording studios for day after day without seeing the sky. The bonkers rhythm of this life, together with a diet of motorway service station pasties and too many beers on the riders, took its toll on my running. The habit faded as music took over. I forgot I was a runner and how good it used to make me feel.

“Over the many years since I lost that early running regime I have periodically dabbled with a few runs here and there, thinking it would be as easy to fall back into as it was when I was a teenager. But it never stuck. My calves would turn to lead and my lungs would burn. I would give up after just a few jogs out.

“But as a dad of four young boys now I have increasingly felt the need to look to my fitness in more recent years. Just to be able to keep up! So, a few years ago, I decided that I would make a more concerted bid to get back into my running – second time around. I re-established the discipline of training in my life and persevered through injury after injury and gradually began to enter races again. I said to friends that I’d like to run five marathons before I was 50. I’ve managed three so far – two in Bethlehem, Palestine, in 2013 and 2015, and one in London, in 2014. It’s been painful and slow, but – with huge thanks to everyone at the club who have made me feel so welcome – it has really just been since the autumn of 2014, when I joined CLC Striders (my first ever running club), that I have finally started to feel something of the thrill of running I felt the first time around. I can’t get anywhere close to the times I used to run back then (I still feel like that was a different person, putting the gulf in performance down to the pasties and the fact I lumber now rather than glide, instead of just acknowledging that I’m 30 years or more older now!) ).

“I love running again. And I guess the main thing I recognise as different second time around is the effect my running has on my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. First time around, running was all about the the race, the rush, the endorphin, the medals, the times. Second time around I am persuaded that my running (especially the training) helps me to be a better husband, dad, colleague and human, and I’m thankful for that. I’m really interested in the ritual of running and the resonance between its physical discipline and the disciplines of mindfulness and prayer. But that’s another story.

“I’ll be 50 in a month, and the chance to run in the London Marathon in my 50th year – and to represent a club I’ve come to love – is the best birthday present I could have hoped for. With the three marathons I’ve run to date I’ve done them primarily to raise money and awareness (for a just peace in Palestine-Israel) and not to see how fast I can run them. I’ve trained for them haphazardly and alone, according to half-baked plans I’ve drafted myself with no real method or experience. In each of them I’ve blown up in the last 10k or so (even spending a few hours in the care of St John’s at the end of the London Marathon in 2014 with severe dehydration, having attempted the run it off the back of a few days of sickness and diarrhoea!). But this time I can train and run to represent my club and I can draw on that privilege and on your collective wisdom, enthusiasm and experience. I can approach this marathon challenge as more of a race – aiming at last to run the sort of time for the distance I know I am capable of. (My three marathons to date have seen me run times of between 3 hours 25 minutes and 3 hours 30 minutes but I want to run under 3 hours 10 minutes this time – and get as close to the magical 3 hours as I can.)

“So, my expectations for the day itself are to do the club and myself justice; to prove to myself and my family that my 50 year-old self is indeed the same person as that young slip of a thing who used to be able to run fast and far way back when. To do my best. And in my next blog I’ll tell you about the training I’m doing to ensure I have the best chance of making this dream a reality.”