Just over three months ago, I started running.
Slightly foolishly I found out about a five mile race that I wanted to take part in, signed myself and my partner up for it, and started training the next day. I had three months to train, three months to dedicate myself to learning to run, and only the small matter of my wedding and honeymoon in the middle that could possibly get in the way. Why this race? It was taking place at the Olympic Park, home to the events of London 2012, and would finish in the stadium itself. How could I not try for that?
Exercise and I haven’t been close friends. I’ve been fat (but healthy) for a long time.
I’ve been fat for most of my life. As a kid I wasn’t. I was a running, jumping, climbing trees, certified tomboy and I spent more time outside the house than in. But when I was about 10 we moved from a place where I had lots of friends and could cycle to school, and would go swimming most afternoons in the summer, to somewhere where I had no friends at all (at first) and then even as I made friends, had none within about 5 miles. The road to school was too dangerous so I had to take the bus. Oh, and I hit puberty. All of this contributed to a gradual ballooning in my weight.
There’s a vicious circle inherent in fatness: the fatter you are, the more difficult it is to find clothes that you can wear to exercise in, the more physical effort it requires to exercise, the more strain exercise puts on your body, and the more abuse you get when you do exercise. All things that are likely to make you fatter not fitter.
Despite this, this time I was determined. I pulled on the proper running shoes that I had invested in two years before and never made much use of, plugged in my iPod and started the C25k training programme. C25k is something of a phenomenon in beginners running circles, it’s a training programme designed to get people off their couch and up to running 5km through a very gradual approach. That first run I was supposed to run for a minute, walk for a minute and a half, and repeat eight times. I felt I was going to die, I had a hideous stitch after the first few minutes, I had to skip one of the running stages to have a longer walk instead. Including the five minute warm up and cool down walks I had completed only 28 1/2 minutes of exercise. But I did it, and it was a start, and improvements came quickly.
Well, I say quickly. My ability to keep running improved, my running speed is still slower than a good walking pace. But every second day, more or less, I would get up at half past five pull my shoes on, and go for a run around the roads at the back of my house. Half an hour to 40 minutes later I’d get home again, get showered and changed and get the bus to work. This has been one of my biggest challenges with running: time. I’m sure this is a problem that lots of people experience, for me it’s the work commute that takes up my time: 2 hours in, 2.5 hours back, if I’m lucky and there’s no traffic problems, and all the buses turn up on time. People who manage to find time to run and have kids have my undying respect.
But even the early morning runs are easier than weekends. Weekends when you want to have that well deserved lie in before you even contemplate leaving the house, so that when you do finally go out, you’re not faced with the quiet and deserted roads of the weekday, but other joggers who can make you feel terribly inferior when they comfortably disappear into the distance at twice the speed you can manage in your fastest sprint. Weekends when people have time on their hands, including the time to shout at the poor unfortunate runner who doesn’t conform to their aesthetic ideals. Or follow the unfortunate runner who does.
Eventually I made it up to running 30 minutes in a go, and covering just over two miles, with no walking. A huge achievement for me, but still not half the distance I would have to cover during the race. The support that I got from the lovely folk of twitter as I built up to this level was extremely motivational.
The day of the race I was as nervous as all hell, but when we got going I felt good, although I was soon overtaken by almost everyone. I had set myself three targets for the day: one main one: Finish, and two stretch targets: Don’t finish last and Complete in under 1 hour 30 minutes. I had to walk about a mile out of the 5, but yes I finished. There were still people behind me. And I completed in 1hr 28mins. Hat trick of success! Woohoo!
But now comes the difficult bit. I need to keep going. It’s been just over a week since the last race and I haven’t put my trainers on once. There’s a feeling like I’ve now done that, it’s finished, it’s over. But it isn’t. This isn’t about loosing weight, or being a runner, it’s just about being active and achieving something at a time in my life when other things are getting a bit out of control. So, this evening I’m going to find another race to enter, and I’m going to keep going.