Always Remember Your Day Zero

September 02, 2023

If you are a runner, you have a Day Zero. This is the day that your running career started. It might not be your first ever run, but it’s the first meaningful landmark on your journey.

As we enter September, this time of year will always trigger a reflection for me to my Day Zero. The Great North Run, the world's biggest half marathon, and now more entrenched in this part of the calendar than even the sacred All Ireland hurling and football finals, was where my story began. Up until that point, running for me was only done during football matches. Short bursts of speed to get to a ball, or to tackle an opponent, did not replicate 13.1 miles of steady pace running very well. Or so I thought. Living in Newcastle, I was well aware that if you ever resided in an NE postcode, you must take part in the Great North Run. I think it’s the law. Having no knowledge of how these things worked, or even an interest in taking part, I missed the ballot. The only logical thing to do then was to take a place from an injured runner eight days out from the event. At least I was sensible enough to know that this wasn’t enough time to complete a training plan. Plucking a finish time mainly from thin air, and maybe a Google search of “What is a good half marathon finish time for a male?”, I set my sights on finishing in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Four days out from the race I decided to run 11km at the pace required for this finish time, and completed it with ease. “Just do it twice” - not as punchy as Nike’s original slogan, but that was the plan.

A race with 50,000 participants is perhaps not the best way to ease yourself into a new hobby, and everything about the start area was suitably manic. Although that is just a typical weekend on Tyneside. The more you race, the more you should learn about pacing. So appropriately on Day Zero, I had no understanding of pacing. I did at least have a watch which tried to keep me in check. But the atmosphere, the other runners, the support, and the sunny weather all meant that the watch was ignored for the first few miles. It didn’t get much tougher in the middle section, probably due to the amount of jelly babies handed out by the overly friendly Geordies en route, and doing the mental maths I realised that the planned finish time would be easily beaten. Unless I blew up in the final miles. That is what should have happened - an untrained runner heading off way ahead of target pace only ends one way. Except this time it didn’t. The final mile of the GNR route along the South Shields coast is a truly memorable experience, and I’m sure that is what makes people come back year after year. I crossed the line in 1 hour and 33 minutes, and even better, I didn’t need any paramedic assistance. It was so enjoyable that I wanted to do it all over again, but I don't think “just do it twice” would have gone quite so well this time. So I had a beer, soaked up the sun, enjoyed seeing thousands of other runners finish, and immediately decided to swap my football boots for the latest pair of road running shoes (this was before the supershoe era unfortunately). And I haven't stopped running since.

In reality, it wasn’t the finish time which mattered, it was the experience. The shared joy and pain with other runners, the support of the crowds, and running further than I had ever imagined. These are the things which get us hooked. Becoming too addicted can come with its own problems; injury, lack of identity outside of being ‘a runner’, or frustration at poor performances. But remembering your Day Zero can help to get through these difficult times. It can give you that extra push to dig deep at mile 23 of the marathon, or to do that extra set of exercises in the gym when rehabbing from injury. Even if it wasn’t a good day, if you crawled over the finish line or felt close to death after the first run of a couch to 5k, you kept coming back. You kept showing up for more. And when you repeat that for mile after mile, week after week, running gives you an incredible return on your investment. So wherever it was, however it went, always remember your Day Zero. It is part of who you are.

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