From Hades with Persephone

With all religious myths, there was the need to explain how the world worked and how mankind could be at the centre of everything, so in all cultures and societies stories were told to bring sense to our existence. That myths still prevail bears witness to the comfort of lazy thinking, something I have never been blessed with. However, myths have a familiarity and allows me to juxtapose my life with stories that are literarily rather fun and are analogous to what I wish to say. Hence, Racing the Reaper Man. Giving death a persona simplifies what I see as our inevitable end, but staying ahead of this metaphorical pursuer is possible, hence my blog.

In Greek myth Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and fertility. Her daughter, Persephone, was tricked into living with Hades in the underworld and Demeter went into decline and the world began to die. Eventually Zeus intervened and Persephone was allowed back to the world, at which point Demeter readied the land by causing great fertility and spring and summer happened. The winter months coincided with Persephone’s return to Hades. This year my return to health and fitness corresponds with the burgeoning spring, so in my metaphorical world she accompanies me – my underworld was burnout, my walk with Persephone is my recovery and reconstruction as a stronger man, and an ultra runner. To be accompanied by a pretty, mythical woman at 60 is no bad thing, and luckily I have that in real life too, my Passepartout.

I am training again. From a dark winter of broken health, when walking a mile seemed like scaling a mountain, I rallied my befuddled mind and knew I needed to start training. I had let alien agendas define and control me, but those nightmares, born of others’ arrogance, gave way to dreams of my future self. I dreamt in winter sunshine and remembered Thomas Edward Lawrence’s words from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

‘All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.’

At my lowest point my daydreaming led me to find my perfect race. There is a race in Greece that has caught my eye. The Alonnisos Challenge 30km takes place in early summer on that beautiful island of the Northern Sporades. I now have a goal beyond career and duty, so I will gather myself and see what I am still capable of. Could running repair me? Would I be able to shrug off the Reaper Man in all his craven forms and be stronger? That was my turning point. Commitment was all it took. Now I had to get well. I wanted to race again, and why not under blue Aegean skies?

From nothing much in January I took on board the advice of various running magazines, books and my years of experience, in which the constant theme was start easily. My Irish DNA kicked in. Why skirt around a wall when I could run through it head first? I needed to test my broken spirit. I ran 10, followed the next day by another 10 – slow, but my heart and lungs were fine. Just to force the point I ran 5 more 10s and an 11 over the next couple weeks, then by the second week in February knocked out 60 miles including a 15 mile long run. By the second week in March I had ran 15 x 10 milers, some 11s and another 15. My base of fitness was set and I had not broken down.

So here I am set to examine my base fitness and figure out how to go from plodding to racing. I can toddle along at 10-minutes-a-mile and have no illusions that I need to improve my speed and trim down. Right now I am constructing a schedule to suit. This is my starting point and where I am now.

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