If someone had told me in my early 20s that I’d be a ‘regular runner’ in my early 30s, I’d have laughed them out of the pub! In school, PE class heralded my weekly dose of public humiliation and ‘cross country’ were swear words in my book. Before each and every sports day my mum would remind me that it didn’t matter if i was first or last, it was the taking part that counted. I was usually last (but remain eternally grateful to mum for always being the loudest spectator cheering me on).
Sports never used to feature fully in my life and throughout university; my definition of a workout was a brisk walk to the offy to buy wine and cigarettes. My friends weren’t jocks either. Occasionally someone would make the token suggestion that we could play a game of tennis or go for a swim but this would be brushed aside after a strenuous game of table football in the Student Union. Besides, I was good friends with the president of the Sky Diving Soc which made me feel suitably athletic.
When I first moved to London, my job and social life took priority over any form of exercise. After multiple interchanges on the tube and navigating through Soho to the office, my heart rate accelerated enough to satisfy on a daily basis. And when a post-work drink turned into a bar crawl and midnight curry, my dash for night bus felt like fitness enough.
It wasn’t until a Christmas at home in my mid-20s that mum tactfully pointed out I’d gained a few pounds; two stone in fact, when I asked the scales for a second opinion. I was gob smacked, dumbfounded and mortified! Til then, I’d never really worried about my weight but now I was panic stricken. That New Year I enrolled in Weight Watchers and my local gym and it didn’t take long for me to realise that I far preferred the company of health fanatic, fit people to self-conscious, depressed chocoholics.
And so began my love affair with running. I tried spinning, rowing and weight lifting (!) before finding my stride on the treadmill. And bonus, you could watch MTV and listen to music whilst clocking up the miles, which put paid to the boredom factor I had so frequently associated with exercise.
Admittedly my commitment to fitness fluctuated during the following few years but after the birth of my first son, my best friend and fellow university ‘jock’ suggested we enter a 5k charity race. On the day, having inadvertently ended up in the elite runners’ paddock, we started the race upfront before being swiftly overtaken by countless ladies in Lycra. But it was fun – a fun run and thereafter I tried to make running a regular and consistent part of my life.
Fast forward six years and three more kids and shock, I’m still running! Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not very good at it and when I say I’m going for a run, what I really mean is that I’ll be jogging at approximately 8k an hour for as long as possible before collapsing into a breathless heap.
And no matter how hard I try, I never quite look the part either. My running shorts make me look dumpy and my earphones make me look extraterrestrial. But even with a pair Oakleys and Dr Dre’s, I’d still struggle to look cool and athletic.
I’m also an antisocial runner. Running partners and clubs don’t appeal as not only do I find it impossible to talk and run, I’m also a self-conscious runner who prefers to turn puce and pant in private. The only company I keep on one of my runs is with Molly, my dad’s dog. Her silent support as she trots along at my heels is comforting but even Molly throws me the odd pitying look as I gasp my way up anything steeper than a slight slope.
However, I’m well practised at hiding my physical discomfort when passing fellow runners en route. From a fair distance I can usually assess how ‘serious’ a runner my counterpart seems to be. This then dictates the extent to which I suck in my stomach, steady my breathing and force a relaxed facial expression.
So, although my running habit is rarely that ego boosting or socially satisfying, I do it because running makes me feel better about myself. It can often take a gargantuan effort to drag myself out of bed or off the sofa, don my running shoes and pound the pavement but once I do, I enjoy the solitude, the satisfaction and even the hard slog itself. I’m no Paula Radcliffe by any stretch of the imagination but as I run towards my early 40s, I hope to do so with a little more confidence and a little less middle age spread.