Friday, 31 August 2007

What's the opposite of a runner?

I have always, ALWAYS said that I am not a runner. And I have always meant it. I was not the athletic sporty type at school. As soon as puberty hit, I decided that for reasons of comfort and safety, breaking into a trot was not wise. I was, as a friend of mine says, “built for comfort, not for speed”. When cross-country running cropped up in the PE schedule (which it did every January just in time for the puddles to freeze over and the ground to develop the resistance of reinforced concrete), my like-minded friends and I would basically take turns pretending to be ill and escort each other back to the changing rooms, regretfully missing the joyful experience of dousing ourselves in freezing mud.

I carried this distaste for running through university and into adult life. I would rather miss a bus and walk home than run for it. Don’t misunderstand me, I was not completely sedentary. I swam, I played (bad) squash with a friend of mine, I walked for miles and I even flirted for a while with aerobics classes (remind me to tell you about my one and only step class!) I just wouldn’t run.

Time went on and after I had children and the middle-aged spread….well, spread, I even joined a gym. I happily underwent induction but told the trainer I would try pretty much anything but DON’T MAKE ME RUN. So I would go on the rowing machine (blech) and even the stair stepper climber thingy (hate!) but no running. Brisk walking good. Running bad.

Then for some reason, when I was 39, this state of affairs began to annoy me. I saw all sorts of people running. It occurred to me that running would be a handy form of exercise for me as I could fit it in round work and the kids. So, one day, I slunk into the gym and checked out the treadmills. From a distance. Working out which one was most inconspicuous so that when I made a complete fool of myself and fell off the end of the belt and knocked my teeth out on the floor, I could bleed and whimper in private. I sneaked onto the machine in the corner, behind the pillar, facing the wall. You couldn’t see any of the TVs from there but more importantly, hardly anyone could see me. And I ran. Slowly. Clumsily and with much huffing and puffing. But I ran. And I kept doing it. I could only run for about 3 minutes at first but I gradually built up time till I could run for nearly 10 minutes. And on the 16th December 2006 I ran for a mile. Without stopping. It took me nearly 15 minutes and I was not a pretty sight when I finished but I did it. And I was so pleased with myself, honestly you would have thought I had won the Booker Prize. But I proved to myself I could do it, even though I had been convinced for 39 years that I couldn’t. And that felt great.

I’d love to say that since I had the great realisation that our limitations are mostly in our heads that I have also taken up white water canoeing, skydiving and mountain biking and that my first novel is nearing completion but, meh. Baby steps, eh?

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