In the last few weeks several people have asked me about about how I can help inspire them to start running – so here it is: my running story.
Up In Smoke
I first started running when I turned 30 in 2000. At the time I was overweight and was smoking spliff most days. Basically sitting around watching telly and eating crap. I decided one day to give it a go. I knew nothing about technique or what the right kit was, I simply put on what trainers I had and got out of the front door. By the end of the street I was out of breath and had to stop. But I didn’t give up. Over time the end of the street became the end of the next street. And despite the utter humiliation I felt as a chubby woman running down the road, with my face so red it looked like it might explode off my neck – people staring at you out of bus windows, people walking their dogs eyeballing you with disdain – I continued. I just thought: fuck ’em. I signed up for a 5k which at that time was a huge achievement. I didn’t intend to stop smoking weed, it just happened. I also cut down on the fags. I just didn’t fancy it anymore, I found my new high, and it felt so much better. No more crisp and mayonnaise sarnies at 2am. The weight started to come off and I felt so much happier. I felt the darkness around me starting to lift.
Sadly, during the majority of my 30s, I was in-and-out of hospital having various hideous operations on my uterus. After the first major one in 2004, which didn’t go so well – and which took several months to recover from – I decided to sign up for the London Marathon. I needed a positive goal to focus on. The training for this helped me both physically and mentally. I lost weight and ran off negative emotions and the sadness I was feeling. I got nerdy about kit and spent a fortune on running shoes. Running took over my life: it was a buzz. Like anyone who lived through acid house, that runner’s high became addictive. Running a marathon for the first time was a mix of fear and hysteria in equal measures. It was an emotional experience I will never forget. Being able to challenge myself to take on such a distance after being so unwell changed my life. I had to make a decision, it was either move towards the light, or sink back into the darkness. Aim for happiness – for a better me – or lose myself in sadness. So after every operation I made sure I bounced back and signed up for another one, and another, and another. Being fit helped me recover every time. I was not only stronger physically, but I was able to find a strength from within to help me get through a difficult period of my life. And this stamina and commitment to the end goal I’ve been able to apply to other areas in my life ever since. I doubt, for instance, if I hadn’t run four marathons, nine half marathons and countless 10ks, I would have the discipline to do a PhD. It makes you tough, focussed – able to embrace an inner strength you had no idea existed.
Let There Be Light
14 years on, now at 44, I’m still running. Fortunately my knees are still intact. I don’t do full marathons any more, but I head out, come rain or shine, 3-4 times a week, covering distances between 4-10 miles. I ran 20 miles over Christmas, even when I was still a bit drunk. For me, running has saved me. It continues to save me. Through all the ups and downs life brings – work stress, relationship break-ups, existential anxiety – being able to sling on some running shoes and get outside has always made coping with it all so much easier. After my last break up running helped me get through it – there’s nothing quite like crying and swearing while pounding the streets to alleviate heartache. When I’m midst writing chapters for my PhD thesis and I’m having a confidence crisis, running helps me work out my thoughts and get back on track. And when I’m hungover, like today, and have just remembered rolling in late and eating two Scotch eggs and a packet of crisps, going for a run shakes off the post-booze jitters and those unwanted extra calories. Running makes you less fat, and more sane. What’s not to love?
In short. If you want inspiration to get out of the door and discover the joys running can bring, I can’t make it happen for you. You have to find it from within yourself. So, what are you waiting for?