I’ve always wanted to be a runner. I would admire people I passed in the street casually pounding the pavements, and think “wow, I’d like to be like that”. Then I would dismiss the idea. I could never be like that, I’m not a runner. I’m the fat kid who was told at school that they were an embarrassment and couldn’t succeed in sport.
At college I changed my lifestyle, sick of being “fatty” I decided it was time to show everyone. I lost half my body weight, I did sit ups and steps ups every day. At university I took up fencing, but still I was never someone who was “good at sport” and I could certainly never be a runner.
During my postgrad degree I finally did get some running shoes. My “sista from another mista” encouraged me to try to take up the sport I longed to be good at. She took me to a running shop and bought me some shoes. I started. No plan, no training. Every morning before I would settle in to write my thesis I would try and run. It became an obsession, and not in good way. I was only focused on trying to lose more weight, on eating as little as possible, as if shedding weight would shed the damage done by those P.E teachers.
After six months I gave up. I couldn’t run any further than the first few weeks (because my poor body didn’t have enough fuel) and I was still embarrassed and worrying constantly about not being a “proper runner”. The shoes went into the back of the wardrobe.
2019, 12 years later, separated from my husband, stressed out by suddenly house sharing, new job, new country, I realised I needed something that was just “mine”. A friend recommended the C25k app and I began, only to be thwarted once again not only fear of what I looked like, but the heat and humidity, combined with a travel schedule that saw me at home sometimes only a few days out of a month.
Fast forward to March 8th. We woke up to see that Covid-19 was spreading exponentially and it was likely that a lockdown was coming. Within two hours of making that morning’s coffee my husband was out the door heading to the airport with no real idea of when he might be back. Almost within moments of knowing he was safely on the plane I was overcome with the desire to run. I needed something to calm my brain, to quiet the noise. I dusted off the shoes, re-opened the app and left the apartment.
The strange rush of joy I felt when I discovered I could run for 3 minutes without stopping is hard to describe. I ran/walked for the whole 30 minutes and came back determined to do the next run. I did. I still worried about being a “proper” runner, I knew I looked terrible with my bright red face and sweat dripping off my headphones, but I kept going. Soon I could run for eight minutes without stopping, and I had discovered areas near the apartment I would never have found.
When the stricter restrictions came into force it was a huge mental blow for me, it made me realise how much I had come to rely on my runs. They truly were my form of therapy. I was so focused on the running, on pushing for the last minute that my washing machine of a brain couldn’t spin. I took Zoom yoga classes, but missed my blisters, my stinky football tops, and bad 90s playlist. I also gained weight, which triggered so many past emotions and sent me into a tailspin. Fortunately, a close friend reached out, they taught me patience, and literally to breath (seriously, I will never underestimate the power of a deep breath again).
They were right, eight weeks later the restrictions were adjusted to allow outdoor exercise again. I excitedly threw on my shoes, loaded up ITunes and off I went. Only to be totally crushed by how far back I was. I needed to restart and for several weeks struggled to reach 8 minutes of straight running again. Almost in tears on the phone I nearly gave up. I was never going to be a runner, the teachers were right, what was I thinking?
“Did you put your shoes on and get out of the house today?”
“if you put one foot in front of the other you’re a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, it doesn’t matter how often you have to walk, you’re a runner”
Seven weeks later I ran for 41 minutes straight and completed my first 5km.
Every single time in those seven weeks that I was hitting a wall, every time I heard the coach in my ear telling me I still had 20 minutes to go and thought I couldn’t make it, every time I got lapped by the local running group, I just repeated to myself “I’m doing this, I’m running, can you believe it! I’m actually running” and a huge smile would break out on my face. Because I was. I was doing it. I was running. The first time I hit 20 minutes of straight running I literally air punched with delight. The day I managed 30 I almost cried with pride and joy. The time I realised that I wasn’t going to make it to the 5km of C25k in 30 minutes, I decided to just push on to try and reach the distance and ran for 41 minutes without realising.
I’ve just treated myself to new running shoes and downloaded a 10 mile training plan.
So now I’m a runner.
Except that’s not true. I was always a runner.