Why (almost) anyone can run

I did something almost unthinkable today. I woke up at 5:50am, and by 6:30am I had shuffled out of the door, still bleary, powered by a banana, while even my infant child still slept soundly. And I did a five minute warm-up, then jogged for twenty minutes without stopping.

There are so many inspirational posts about marathon runners and this that and the other about, that that probably doesn’t sound very impressive. I mean, I was jogging, not running, and it was only twenty minutes, not five hours. But I’m not here to impress fit people. I’m here to tell myself, primarily, but then people like me, that this is something almost anyone can do.

Here are all the reasons why I thought I couldn’t ever do this:

I’ve been overweight since I was 9. Seriously, as a teenager (like 16 stone at 14 years old seriously) then less so. For a brief period in my late twenties I was within a half stone of a healthy weight for my height, and now I’m rather more and a size 14-16.

I’ve never enjoyed exercise. I quite like swimming, but it can be a bit of a hassle, and I’m not terribly good at it. School PE lessons were a nightmare and I spent a lot of time getting out of them with spurious injuries. Also:

I hate being coached, and I thought people should have ‘running buddies’. I don’t find it motivating. I also realised I don’t like training with other people because I can get discouraged if they do better than me and resentment is not a good motivator. More about this later.

I’ve had a slipped disc, and spinal surgery to correct it. Also, I have really awkward feet, with inherited b-words. (You know what I mean. The bumpy bone thing. I don’t like to say the word. It’s ugly.) So I could use all sorts of physical excuses not to try.

I had a baby last year. I was never fit before and then I shared my body with another human being. And as if that wasn’t enough, I then shoved that human being through a rather delicate anatomical area! And although she’s slept through the night from three months – thank God! – she doesn’t always sleep peacefully and she’s a thoroughly energetic and exhausting individual. So I spend most of my time being Extremely. Freaking. Tired.

And yet… there I was, pounding the pavements and pathways of London at arse o’clock. I punched the sky at the end, Judd Nelson style. And a man walking his dog saw me. And I didn’t care.

I could put it down to a lot of things, like doing it ‘for Ramona’ or ‘to lose weight’ but in the end I think the reason that this attempt to do something and stick to it, for two months so far, is currently working is because I’m not actually doing it for anyone else. Or for any other reason than just because it’s good for me, and I want to push myself.

I’ve always been perfectly motivated at work, not so motivated to do things for myself. Some of it is pure idleness, some of it a lack of self-confidence. The shuffling, weird fat kid who liked the odd music and books and had a small band of equally odd-bod friends is still with me in some ways (actually the friends are still with me too, which should tell you something about the loyalty of freaks and geeks). But now I see more and more good in her.

I find myself being able to accept a compliment with a simple ‘thank you’. I still qualify some of my statements – “I ran! But I was slow…” – but I’m consciously trying to do that less. Even though my tummy is bigger than ever post-baby and I needed to go up a size in swimwear, I have bought only two-piece bathing stuff for my holiday – I only managed to wear those for the first time at my thinnest but I refuse to go backwards in confidence. I feel the pressure to be a good role model for Ramona by at the very least convincingly faking happiness in my own skin, and you know, as a wise woman once said, if you keep pretending eventually you find that it’s real.

I’ve finally begun the process of accepting that the only person I need to be in competition with is myself. When I started running two months ago I couldn’t complete the exercise (which involved eight one-minute intervals). I couldn’t complete it the first two times. I had to do week one of the programme for two and a half weeks. And there were times when I followed people calling a four mile run ‘easy’ or transforming themselves in just a month of exercise and I wanted to quit and cried. But I kept putting myself through it, until I could achieve something I was proud of.

Today was that day. Now comes the hardest bit – pushing on to the next stage. There’s a balance between celebrating each achievement and getting complacent, between setting the next goal and never accepting a stage as good enough (for now). I didn’t dare to think about a 5k in real terms before now, but I sort of am now.

I don’t want to give up this time. I hope blogging about it will be another reason to have to continue, so I don’t have to write a sheepish “remember that? Yeah, then I quit” post.

And if you’re like me, now you know. If I can do it, anyone can. Well, okay, there are probably some people who have a killer excuse, like a particular disability (although I do know two runners with arthritic / orthopaedic conditions. Ask a doctor, it might not be impossible!) or they work three jobs and have fourteen kids. But most of us are just stopped by our own mental demons.

If I can help you out of the door, to puff alongside me in spirit, and go all red-faced and sweaty but accomplished, then so much the better for us both.

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15 responses to “Why (almost) anyone can run

  1. Fab blog. I too hated PE as a child. It was a weekly ritual humiliation. I tried running once and was amazed how quickly my fitness level went up. But I didn’t keep it up (tried too much too early). I might try it again though….

    • I’ve tried before and done exactly that – expected too much and become dispirited and bored too early. Trying to hold back from doing it again!

  2. Running at that time of the morning too is so more liberateing you feel like the only one in the world word which is why often you can run further and /or feel better about it. Also remember it takes 21 times for something to become a habit. I’m on 17 swimming, I actually missed it when I went to Ireland and couldn’t go!

    • I think I’m just about there, so here’s hoping! It is nicer first thing for all sorts of reasons – including weather – IF you can get yourself out of bed…

      Well done with the swimming! Yay!

  3. Mr Bigweasel

    I hear tell that her husband is very prout…sorry, I mean proud of her. And that even though he’s a relatively healthy, skinny beanpole of a man, there’s no way in the world he could’ve jogged for 20 whole minutes.

  4. Fantastic!!!! It’s an amazing feeling isn’t it?

    Is this where I say, I told you you could do it? 😉

  5. This post, and your success at running so far, is incredibly inspiring. I’ve been thinking about doing c25k for a while now – I think this might have been the final push. Thank you!

    • That’s brilliant! Go for it. I recommend tweeting about it… the support I get from people there is much more motivating than running with someone somehow. We’re all fighting our own little personal best battles and cheering each other on. 🙂

  6. I remember the first time I managed to run for 20 minutes without stopping, and I think it’s a HUGE achievement. Like you, I have always hated exercise – I couldn’t even run for 20 seconds when I started, and I’m seriously not exaggerating. I bet there are very few people who can run for as long as that, so you should feel justifiably proud!

    What I found was that once I’d cracked the first 20 minutes, my fitness started to increase at a much faster rate, too, so it wasn’t long before I was running for much longer than that (I say “running” – I’m a jogger, too) – I think the fact that I’d been able to crack that first 20 helped spur me on!

    • I always thought when people said “oh I couldn’t run at all, but now look at me” they WERE exaggerating, so I wouldn’t be able to do it… but now I’m writing this because I know it’s true!

      It is a mental milestone as well as a physical one, I think. Well done you – I know you’ve done 10k since, which is amazing. 🙂

  7. You make me want to haul my hindquarters off the couch. Maybe this is the year I can C25K from start to finish? I don’t think I’d want a running buddy for the same reasons as you but I sure would love a cheering/butt-whuppin/get out there and do it buddy. I have all the time and none of the drive. But this might be when that changes. Thank you, Alex.

    • I am happy to virtually kick butt if you would like. 😉 I rely on some very good pals online to make me feel the desire to get out of the door. Also, I’ve read before that if you sit around waiting for the motivation it’ll never come; you just have to do it whether you feel like it or not. I suspect that’s the way people achieve anything. Shame it’s taken me so long to work that out with regard to running. 😉

  8. Pingback: Journal: 27.05.11 | The Me-est Me

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