I’ve been thinking a lot about running recently. That’s a bit weird for anyone who knows me well. They would say, I do it because it’s good for me. Because it gives me time to think. They would never say I love it.
They’d be right.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I’m not a graceful runner. In Confessions of a Clumsy Northerner I put paid to speculation that I was ever any good at it. In Another Running Triumph for Mum of 3 (that’s a sarcastic title by the way) I was dramatically overtaken by a man in army gear the equivalent of my weight on his back. We have a complicated relationship, running and me, you know, a bit love/hate; as in running loves to torture me, and I hate it most of the time.
Nearly 4 years ago I set myself a target of running four miles. This seemed like an impossible mountain to climb; 28, awkward, clumsy. Carrying 13 pounds of excess baby weight and self-esteem that a ‘tut’ could flatten, the odds weren’t in my favour. I had two small children at home, which in itself was a pretty good reason to take up a hobby long distance running! Setting out one Sunday morning to break that elusive four mile barrier felt as likely to be successful as the prospect of a good night’s sleep and an uninterrupted hot meal.
I had to do it.
I set off early enough that the roads would still be quiet, hoping I didn’t run into anyone I knew. After only six weeks of training (in my entire life) this felt like a significant milestone, a game changer and a test to see if I could actually do it. The route was all planned, my music prepared, my phone app fired up. As I set off slowly up the familiar hill with an iconic Coldplay song blaring in my headphones, I saw an elderly man who lives nearby. I often see him when I’m out and about running or pushing the baby in the pram. We sometimes pass the time of day, he’s really sweet. As I ran past him he called out something encouraging, waving his arms. I couldn’t hear him, or breathe enough to reply, so I gave him (what I hoped was a sporty) thumbs up, waved, didn’t fall over and powered up the hill.
I hadn’t realised how nice and encouraging people could be.
Before my children, I didn’t feel a great deal of pressure to do things that challenged me or things that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. I used to be slim, I was busy in an active job as a teacher and felt little need to put myself through the torture of regular exercise. Running? Not unless I was late for a bus (even then I did the fake looks-like-I’m-running-but-I’m-really-not run in the hope that the bus driver would pity me enough to stop). I had a really busy social life and could catch up with my friends whenever I wanted – why bother punctuating that with torturous activity that I clearly wasn’t cut out for?
But then I had them.
Glorious, noisy, beautiful and so so lively. From 5 in the morning until 7 at night they were on the go. From 7 in the evening until 5 in the morning they would try to be on the go. Those nights out, were no more. I was too tired, I was breastfeeding, and if I’m brutally honest, I couldn’t even muster the energy to make the effort sometimes. Often, all I wanted was silence.
Two close friends forced me to go. They literally turned up at my house and nagged me until I put trainers on and grudgingly joined them. One (a fellow mum), quietly confident that I could do it; willing me on, encouraging me every step of the way, understanding every obstacle, every stifled sob as we went from two, three, four miles and beyond. The other a cooler-than-me friend who hadn’t had children yet; always a brilliant story to tell, (the only one of us who could talk while she ran) made me laugh even when breathing didn’t see possible.
I hurt in places I didn’t realise running could exercise. I chafed, my teeth ached, I had the worst stitch I’d ever known and I wanted to give up on every single step.
After the first month we all signed up to take part in a half marathon for charity (after a bottle of wine I hasten to add) it seemed like a feasible, logical and fun thing to do.
That is a hangover I will never forget.
The hangover that stayed with me for the entire duration; that hangover made me realise that I have one ankle that is more flexible than the other (who knew). That hangover meant I had to sit through a doctors’ appointment where he helpfully pointed out that ‘losing some bulk’ would help bear the weight on that sore ankle. The physiotherapy, the long runs in the sodden, chilly and seemingly endless British Summer Time, the change of altitude running in the hilly Yorkshire Pennines visiting my family. The hills, the flat, the endless bridge separating two counties in my hometown (which I hasten to add is not flat); the awkward High-Five Incident me and my friend Kate (of course) never speak of, two pairs of trainers, one tub of Vaseline and many, many tears.
That four mile run was at the beginning of a very long journey. Psychologically, I think the road to half marathon was one of the toughest things I’ve encountered besides being a mum. Physically, that day was merely a journey around the town in which I live, breaking the four mile barrier.
I collapsed on the sofa after a victory jog around the living room, high-fiving my toddler son and baby girl. My husband stood thoughtfully with his head on one side, this is it, I told myself, the moment where he says… do you know what? I think you can do this!
“You’ve got a huge hole in your leggings, on your bum. And you’re wearing bright pink pants.”
I thought back to the dear man shouting ‘encouragement’ my confident wave and thumbs up literally 30 seconds into that 4 mile run. I wanted to bury myself in hole for a month. Could I possibly make a fool of myself for the next few months whilst committing to a task I neither wanted to, nor believed I could do?
After enduring childbirth twice at that point, I decided that I probably could give it a few miles more. Four years later, I’m still just giving it another few miles.