42: The answer to life?

By Matthew Franks

According to The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy, the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. For me, 42 will be the age that I decided that the way I led my life was to change for the better.  This happened with the help of a well-timed social media mail shot, an established NHS health programme and an immensely supportive and generous group of runners, giving up their time to encourage and advise over 9 weeks, to the goal of running non-stop for 3.1 miles.

For over a decade I hadn’t really exercised at all. At work I sat in front of a PC all day, the middle age spread had fully set in, leaving ever decreasing options in my wardrobe. But it was the day down The Salts when my 10-year-old daughter and her best friend invited me to play a game of “manhunt” that made me realise how unfit I really was. I was unable to get anywhere near them, saved only by a turn in the weather and a plea to stop.

It just so happened a few weeks later my wife alerted me to a social media advert that Seaford Striders, under the leadership of Tom Roper, was starting a couch to 5k group. It was with more than a little trepidation that I turned up at the leisure centre on 22 March to start my journey.

I look back on those 9 weeks now with more than a little pride (and over a stone lighter), remembering the early runs spent desperately looking at my phone, yearning for the next period of walking, cursing the ill-advised quickening of pace as another runner passed in the opposite direction, just to banish the feeling of inadequacy and not buying a pair of running shoes until my calf muscles seized up a few weeks in. The decision to deliberately choose a running route that started with a long gentle incline always stood me in good stead to increase the distance each Wednesday. After week 7, I had managed to extend my usual route to the full 5k distance, a real personal high.

It was therefore with great confidence a little over a week later that lining up with my fellow couch to 5K graduates, at Preston Park Parkrun, I established my first personal best.  The commencement of our own local Parkrun at Peacehaven gave me opportunity to further my ambition to get quicker that motivates me now to get out running. Setting a new PB is a truly great feeling, something I have now managed to achieve on 5 of the 6 occasions I’ve participated in timed 5ks to a point that I am almost 5 minutes quicker than that very first marker, but in truth as long as I have given everything it’s an incredibly fulfilling experience.

During those latter runs I’ve surprisingly started to overtake some of the more experienced Striders and what typifies the club and the people is the genuine words of encouragement from all of those I’ve passed, to push on and achieve a good personal time. Sport wouldn’t be the same without a rival to get the best out of yourself (where would Cram be without Coe?) therefore I must thank one Strider, in particular, Simon Nixon, for not only mentoring and leading our Wednesday runs but also for giving me extra motivation to improve.

In recent weeks, pushing myself by joining in track nights and the Monday get-together that varies the distance and speed of runs, has not only shown me that Cuckmere Haven is not as far as I think but contributed greatly to new PBs and my first 10K finish in just over 50 minutes.

The most special thing about taking up running is that it’s an activity that has rubbed off on my two daughters, who are now regulars at Peacehaven junior Parkrun, and Madeleine, my eldest, has recently become a Junior Strider herself.  She may have escaped me back in March but I’m pretty confident that if she and her friend invite me to play manhunt again I won’t be chasing shadows anymore!

As I now reflect on how far I’ve come in such a short space of time and think about what I’d like to achieve in the future, I’ve decided that 42 might not be a bad place to start, 42 minutes for the 10k that is. I may never achieve it but one thing’s for certain, I can count on the support and encouragement from the inspirational people who make up Seaford Striders running club.  If you are interested in joining then I know you will be most welcome.

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