Many’s the time that I’ve said a book has changed my life. I just never thought one would change the way I think about running.
I never thought I’d love running because I never thought I was capable. Running at school was more like a punishment than anything, a cold, lactic torture based entirely around muddy laps in winter. When I moved to London I walk-sludged Race for Life a couple of times, and optimistically did a very, very slow 10k round a horrible industrial estate in rainy Wembley when I was 24, but these were reluctant Things One Did For Charity. I never trained or got into it, just looked up from whatever I was drinking and smoking and went “Oh, okay then”. I didn’t even have kit. I did the 10k in high-waisted shorts from Primark like your classic unprepared dickhead.
A couple of years of sporadic jogging ensued from 2011, but it always felt too hard. I didn’t like challenging myself because a little voice told me that I would fail. In early winter last year I was in the midst of my usual seasonal fug where I can’t do anything much, or eat anything that isn’t a comforting, hot wheat-based dish. I dragged myself out for a lunchtime walk, winding around the river through Wapping, and sighing over all the runners going past.
“I wish I could run,” I thought.
And then – well, why can’t I? It’s just a question of jogging, but a bit faster, and doing more of it. The only person telling me I couldn’t run, was me.
(That same lunchtime walk also answered the “I wish I could own a cat” dilemma.)
The months passed, my cholesterol rose alarmingly, and eventually, towards the end of February, I felt optimistic enough to begin slowly. I downloaded Runkeeper and started walking to work. And after a couple of weeks of this and feeling pretty good, I went out armed with my beloved Zombies, Run! app for some very gentle jogging in a zombie apocalypse. Feeling ever more optimistic, I found a 10k that I could run for Special Effect in gaming fancy dress, and started a training plan, and today I’ve not only reached my sponsorship target thanks to my incredibly generous supporters, but News International will match it. HOORAH MONEY!
A key ingredient to me feeling as though I could, and was allowed to, get into running, was Alexandra Heminsley‘s book Running Like A Girl, which I have been feverishly recommending to all and sundry whether they run or not. I absolutely ate it up. I walked to work with my nose in my Kindle. I cried every time she wrote about running marathons (which was a lot – she has run a ridiculous amount of marathons) and identified with everything she wrote about not feeling like her body was meant for running, but getting over it and suddenly, joyfully realising that her body was capable of more than she had thought.
I really want that, I thought. I want my body to be capable of more. And really, I want to respect it enough to just bloody get on and do it.
So now I run. I’ve started venturing out at lunchtimes at work. I have an unironic bum bag. I have no idea why my hips hurt at times, but it feels so good when I suddenly realise I’ve run further than I was planning, or that my average pace has gone up, or that I will probably have to upgrade my trainers from the ones I got at Brixton TK Maxx, or that What the Hell by Avril Lavigne always comes on shuffle just as I’m trudging up the what-the-hill in Brockwell Park and needing that boost. After my 10k, I am going to do the Olympic Park run, and start training for a half-marathon.
Last week I got even more ambitious and went out with the Brixton Blog running club. I managed a whole five minutes at their pace before I had to tail off and carry on at my rather slower amble. But I see that as an achievement. Five minutes at their pace! When a year or two ago I would barely have done five minutes full-stop. The shitty little voice gets shut up now.
Slowly, steadily, I am becoming capable of more than I thought. And it’s scary, but above all gloriously freeing.
Last week I entered the ballot for the London Marathon.