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.

Running, Mumming and Baking: It’s all go here…

Today is one of those days when I want to blog about six different things, and I only have time to blog once – if that. It’ll be a miracle if I get to say everything I want to say and considerably more miraculous if anyone’s still with me at the end. For ease of skimming, therefore, I’ve split things into three categories: running (as in the exercise), mumming (as in a made-up word for parenthood, not a seasonal, traditional folk play) and baking. Baking is the shortest, so we’ll start there, in reverse Miss World (ugh) order:

Baking

I haven’t had time to do much baking at all since Ramona’s been born as she’s a light napper during the day and I’m freakin’ exhausted at night. But I’ve discovered she’s not much of a breakfast eater, except if it’s toast, eggs or yogurt. In a bid to get her to eat a little more, I’m investigating some low-sugar banana bread options. All the recipes are online, so once I’ve decided which one to make and I know how it’s turned out, I’ll post links and descriptions. Cake is certainly the quickest baking option, non-iced cake even quicker and loaf-style bready cakes the easiest of all as the vast majority of the time is spent with it maturing in the oven. Plus they freeze and keep really well, so if she likes it I can churn out a bigger batch next time and freeze it in 1/4 or 1/2 loaf batches for occasional breakfasting / dessert.

She loves bananas, so it should go well; plus it’s never to early to get her in on the Roumbas family addiction to cinnamon. (The Goldsteins are a bit indifferent towards it, but some of them are also incredibly fussy eaters which is not going to be tolerated from the smallest Goldstein).

Mumming (and a bit of Working)

Dear God, it’s been a trying few weeks. I refer you to BitchBuzz and my ‘Stay Confident Through Baby Phases‘ post to see what I mean, although recently we’ve had an unwelcome addition to the fun and games – as the screeching has started to recede – just to keep us on our toes: waking up in the night. It’s only twice so far, and she is only eight months old, but it’s all the worse for being somewhat unfamiliar to us (yeah, I know, there are going to be parents out there thinking ‘cry me a river’ as they go through their 300th consecutive disturbed night. Sorry guys. I feel for you, I really do).

I’m not even sure it’s a good thing for the baby if she sleeps through the night early but ours did and we were bloody grateful for it. Unfortunately it means that when she has been waking up recently, we’re slightly at a loss as to what to do because it’s not like at the beginning when all she wanted was a drink and a burp. We usually tick off the checklist first: water, milk feed, change, cuddle and shushing, soothe. Once we’re sure her basic needs are met and she’s not ill, we try a bit of gentle ignoring for a few minutes at a time, stroke hair, ignore some more. But last night she built up to a fever pitch of upset which culminated in a river of projectile recycled milk all over her dad’s chest. We should be thankful it was a warm night and he wasn’t wearing a top.

Funnily enough the vomiting seemed to calm her down. After a cuddle and some more milk she was out for the count until her normal waking up time. But meanwhile she’d been awake for two hours in the middle of the night. I should be sleeping now as it’s her nap time, but can’t, and Ash is at work. He adores his job; and┬áthank goodness, as it gives him a reason to be upright and alert!

So, yes, mumming is being rather challenging at the moment.

But on the other hand, the last thing I do at night before I go to sleep is cast an eye into her cot, and there is simply nothing in the world more beautiful to me than the site of my snoozing, pouty-mouthed little bundle of gorgeousness looking calm and quiet, arms flung out to the side, or occasionally raised to either side of her head as she used to have them when she was really tiny: the traditional baby ‘pea on a fork’ pose.

I do so adore being a mummy. Although I am also looking forward to being a worker ant again. April 7th marked three years at Dogs Trust, and I have missed the digital team and the exciting and fun things we get to do. It will be a wrench tearing myself from Ramona just as she gets even more independent and interesting, but it would be a wrench to tear myself away from the things that I’m good at: community management, customer service and all that jazz.

Running

I’m not a runner. I’m barely even a jogger. But it seems to be the Done Thing at the moment, doesn’t it? People are giving up the gym left, right and centre – I’ve just quit after going twice in three months and simply not having the time or inclination to make more of an effort – and taking to the streets. It’s cheap; all you need is a pair of decent running shoes. It’s less time consuming; just exit the door of your house, go as far as you can and come back again. It’s flexible; no peak times, opening hours or people taking up machines you want to use. It’s less pressured; little if any comparing goes on, as the other runners are far more focussed on themselves than you and you all look equally red and sweaty. But it’s also quite hard. Running outside is harder work than running on a gym treadmill for all sorts of reasons, including the weather, uneven terrain, not keeping to a steady pace and a harder surface not taking the impact from your joints so well.

So, anyway, I started ‘running’. Actually what I do is interval training, similar to week one of the couch-to-5k (C25K) programme, only it’s the ‘easy’ (ha!) workout on RunKeeper. Basically it means brisk walking for one and a half minutes and then jogging for one minute and doing that eight times, with five minutes walking at the beginning and end for a warm up and cool down respectively.

I’ve been seven or eight times over the last three weeks which is something of a record for me. And though it was impossibly difficult at first – I could only do three-quarters of the workout and just added ten to fifteen minutes of as brisk a walk as I could manage to try and make it up – it got a little easier every time. After one more workout I’m going to start adding 5-10 seconds of extra jogging to each fast interval, so the whole exercise is only about a minute longer but it’s harder work. I expect this means my pace, which is poor but improving, will dip again but now I’ve seen how it can keep going up from session to session I have more faith that it will go well. I’ve found my speed slightly increased even after several days’ break, and even on a day when I felt tired and demotivated but forced myself out of the door so I wouldn’t have any excuse to feel guilty and beat up on myself.

So many people have told me that they couldn’t run to the end of the street when they started but improved very quickly once they got into it. I’ve started exercise programmes over and over again and hardly stuck to them, but this does feel a little different. For one, Ash said he felt a sort of ‘joy’ (his word, not mine!) radiating from me when he saw me running. I can’t say I exactly felt that, as I was desperately repeating ‘you gave birth to a child, you can do another interval’ over and over in my head, but I do feel a sort of determination that I hope will stay with me. I usually don’t say this sort of stuff publicly so I don’t feel all humiliated when I give up, but maybe humiliation will keep me on track. If I can’t think positively, maybe fear of negativity will keep me going instead! I prefer to try and focus on the former, though. I know from HypnoBirthing that positive thinking and mental preparation can do amazing things, so here’s hoping.

And in the meantime, I try to inspire myself by reading posts like this, by the lovely CupCate, who is the founder of and my editor at BitchBuzz, and one of life’s good guys.

And I wrote that literally just as the Ramona alarm went off from her cot. Nap time is over, and so is blogging time. Ding.