Turns out it can be done!
The Bath Race for Life was on Sunday. I signed up against my better judgement with a colleague and her daughter long before I thought I could run any significant distance, hoping that it would motivate me to keep on truckin' when I felt like giving up.
As the months rumbled on, I persevered with the plan and ran with my (supremely fit) colleague during our lunch break; our route along the tow path was just over 2km each way so, with a short break at the halfway point, we were running 4.5km a few times a week.
With a few weeks to go, I had planned to cut out the break we were taking and complete a 5k in whatever time it took but, of course, the best laid plans etc... With a week and a half to go, I sustained my first sports injury: an impact bruise on my big toe. For two days I could barely walk and couldn't run again until three days before the Big Race.
My first run following injury ended up also being my last run before the race and was GENUINELY TERRIBLE. I got a stitch after about 1.5km and we were in a headwind on the way back, which didn't exactly do my confidence any favours.
Nevertheless, time screeched on and before I realised what was happening I was in the car on my way to the university, trussed up in the most ridiculous fluoro kit I could find (not being a fan of the race's official colour, pink, I went for the laughs in hi-viz yellow and green), nervously making my way to my first ever 5k run.
When I finished the warm-up and found my teammates, I was a lot more relaxed. The buzzing atmosphere kindled actual excitement in me; a welcome change from the blind fear that used to fill me before I went for a run, and as we lined up at the start line in the 'joggers' group (those who are likely to complete in under 40 minutes) I was ready to get cracking.
Throughout the race, I was relaxed and going steadily at my favoured pace. We passed the walkers and were in turn passed by faster runners but I concentrated on enjoying the run through woodland and fields, encouraging my mind away from thinking about how fast we were going and how much further we had to go.
The race ended by doubling back towards the start line so for the final 700 metres we could see the flags and crowds forming what was now our finish line. Around the final bend we went and decided to sprint to the end. Gasping like a trouper, I crossed the finish line with my far more composed teammates in 34 minutes and 40 seconds.
It's not the perfect half-hour 5k, but it's MY not-perfect 5k. I did it. For the first time in my life, I ran for five kilometres without stopping. If the me from this time last year was told about what happened on Sunday, she would laugh and laugh and laugh.
It's difficult to start running when you can only manage two minutes at a time, and for a long time I felt exposed and embarrassed when I was out doing the early weeks of the plan but having a deadline to work towards kept me out there, quietly improving each week until I had the confidence to run a whole race in front of other people.
There's no feeling like it.