Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Lifestyle

Turning Portuguese? Running up that hill

In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, scarred Achilles tendon be damned, she’s training for a half marathon.

“Thursdays and Sundays are hunting days and so I make sure to wear my brightest turquoise”: Sarah in the wild.

At the end of this month, I will be running my first half marathon. I’m not a natural athlete. The trauma of being told by my netball coach to “stop leaping around like a monkey’ remains. I was tall; I was uncoordinated: I was Goalkeeper – it’s one of life’s givens. What else was there for me to do in my semicircle of flailing ineptitude?

I was never first pick for anyone’s team, unless it was a team for nostril flaring or piggybacks. I was passable at athletics – the long legs helped – but success never came my way because apparently I wasn’t ‘hungry enough’.

I’ve been hungry enough to be marginally overweight for most of the 30 years since, but sadly that has never been an Olympic event. Athletics remained my thing until I stopped fancying Seb Coe, my Achilles tendon waved a damaged flag of surrender, snakebite and black took over and I never ran again.

Last year, Daughter – we’ll call her Flipper since that is one of the many names she insisted on being called during her childhood, routinely bringing home paintings from school signed Amy, Becky and Flipper, which she assured me were all created by her and not stolen from her classmates and school dolphin – began running with some level of seriousness, i.e., not just to KFC and back in the rain; serious enough to sign up for the Brighton Half Marathon.

“Keith and I were passed by a runner a few weeks ago, a runner who I would have described as ungainly and panting. Cunningly, I asked Keith whether I looked like she did, hoping for reassurance of my new gazelle-like gait. He replied: ‘No, she looks graceful.'”

Flipper and I look very similar despite the 19-year age gap. Friends in Morocco would call her ‘Photocopy Sarah’, which is not what any child dreams of.

I was jealous of her plan, but even running for a bus was a distant dream due to my scarred Achilles. I have had the ankles of a much older woman for decades, being known to stiffen at the first sign of damp like a human barometer.

A few months after Flipper’s decision, I was coincidentally in Brighton on full Marathon Day. I got emotional, inspired and decided that if a man dressed as a rhinoceros could complete a marathon, then I could do half that, and I signed up on the bus home.

So, for the past nine months I have been quietly training, with little expectation of making it past the first chocolate stop (they have chocolate stops in marathons, right?).

Sarah's shoes on the doorstep
While poor Flipper trudged her miles through English frost, rain and misery, I’ve been galumphing around the Algarve on empty tracks with early morning sun and the Arctic Monkeys (THE running music of choice) to accompany me on my increasingly hopeful jaunts.

Thursdays and Sundays are hunting days and so I make sure to wear my brightest turquoise. Peacocks are not native to these parts, meaning I was confident I would not be mistaken for dinner, unless the wild boar had been to Decathlon too.

During the initial forays, progress was marked by the rare occasions when I managed to return from a 20-minute stumble without an injury. I once pulled a hamstring within the first five minutes, which left me limping for weeks (yes, I’d warmed up). Once I came back with three pulled muscles, all in different places.

For months I felt despondent and stupid that I had ever thought this was possible. The few people I told about my plan made a kind of painful grimace and gently questioned whether I was sure that this was a good idea and had I ever considered yoga. My dreams of making the kind of monumental comeback fit for a Rocky/Wrestler style biopic were slim.

curious dog
It’s fair to say that rural Portuguese people don’t run for no reason. Why would they? Chasing goats is cardio enough. My Lycra clad frame has bounded past many a tiny, bemused Portuguese lady with a cheery “Bom dia!” followed by my temporary entourage of small barking dogs who halt with an inaudible screech at the invisible border of their territory, sauntering off to let the next gang along have a shot like some sort of canine relay race with my leg as the baton.

Keith and I were passed by a runner a few weeks ago, a runner who I would have described as ungainly and panting. Cunningly, I asked Keith whether I looked like she did, hoping for reassurance of my new gazelle-like gait. He replied: “No, she looks graceful.” Shit. Reality bites; I’m still in the washed-up, loser stage of my big comeback movie.

Despite, my lack of finesse, last week I managed 10 miles. It was the first time that I actually thought I might actually reach the finish line, or somewhere close to it.

If you happen to be in Brighton on half marathon day and see something turquoise lumbering towards you at the back of a throng, several miles behind a much younger doppelganger, please give a cheer for the underdog. Perhaps je suis Rocky Balboa, after all.

Read all of Sarah’s ex-pat dispatches here.

@sarah_hendrickx

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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.