I used to think that running was something that other people did, much like budgeting, staying in on weekends and taking packed lunches to work. “That’s nice for them,” I thought, “but obviously I could never do that”. As for why I thought this, of course I was fantastically well-skilled in finding a reasonable excuse; I call this my cortex of justification (CoJ), the part of my brain that is tasked with defending any of my behaviours, be they positive or negative. When friends or colleagues told me that they’d been for a run, I thought to myself “that must be nice for them in their lives”, but never did I ever imagine that it was something that I, or these two feet of mine, could do.
That was until around December last year when I was starting to put together a plan to take control of my body and lose the weight I so desperately wanted to. For diet, that was easy, I’d sign up to Weight Watchers. But what was I going to do for exercise? “It’s all so expensive,” I bleeted at my boyfriend (good one, CoJ), “I just don’t like gyms, they’re too synthetic”. “Why don’t you try running?” he offered. “RUNNING?! ME?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!” This was followed by a slow and steady battle between my CoJ and my boyfriend, a medical student, who explained the multiple health benefits of running to me (and it’s FREE) and suggested that I try the NHS couch to 5k app, which was made for people, like me, who had never run before (except for in miserable freezing cold conditions during PE as a child). At the end of the first round, the score was boyfriend 1-0 CoJ.
So in January this year, I went and bought a pair of (really expensive) trainers, and embarked on week 1 run 1 of the app. It was freezing cold, but I was quite surprised to learn that, contrary to my previous beliefs, I, like other running-enabled human beings, was capable of putting one foot in front of another at a quickened pace. Mind = blown.
This experience was enough to capture my attention. “OK, running,” I thought, “I’ll give you a go”. My super supportive best friend would act as a mediator whenever my CoJ flared up:
-“but it’s cold, I might get sick”
-“You won’t get sick, shut up and run”.
Another of my good and fantastically supportive runner friends offered to sign up to a 5k with me in order to give me a focus for my efforts. I was building confidence, not to mention fitness, with every run, and to be honest, I felt happier and more in control than I had ever felt. I know this sounds completely crazy, but I was actually sad on the days that I didn’t run, because they weren’t as good as running days. “THIS IS FANTASTIC,” I thought, “I’ve got the running bug; next stop Paula Radcliffe” (minus the incontinence).
This is when fate intervened and disaster struck; when out on a lunchtime run in the penultimate week of the Couch to 5k programme (week 8), a crippling pain in my left calf stopped me in my tracks. In the days that followed, even walking was hard, but I tried my hardest to submerge myself in the comfort of denial. And so I did the thing that you should never do: I kept running. And, of course, the pain got worse and worse until a doctor diagnosed me with tendinitis and referred me to a physio.
“About 2-3 months”. That was the response of my physio on my first appointment when I desperately asked him how long I would have to wait until I could run again. TRAGEDY. I was frustrated to say the least. My diet and running had been the perfect combination; the pounds were dropping off and I had been feeling mentally balanced and strong, what would I do now? The anxiety cloud descended and it took all of my inner strength not to rebel by throwing in my fitness plan. But with the help of my very patient boyfriend, friends, physio and therapist, oh and my inner warrior of course, I kept it together, and bought a gym membership. For the next few weeks, I went to the physio a couple of times a week and went crazy on the crosstrainer and bikes at the gym in between visits to the pool, in a desperate attempt not to lose the fitness that I had worked so hard to achieve.
Anyway, long story short, I kept this going, was strict with my diet, even when the weight-loss inevitably slowed, and did as my physio instructed. A couple of months on, I’ve just returned to running, and it feels fantastic! Not only am I fitter than I was when I stopped running, but I am more confident than ever, having proven to myself that I can withstand adversity, and keep strong even when challenges present themselves, as they always do. Not to mention the fact that the spring is a runner’s best friend, and I’m now able to reap the benefits of my hard work and escape the office at lunch for sunny runs (which, by the way, are also great for tanning). In one month’s time, I’ll be competing in a 5k race, and I’ve just signed up for a 10k in September with my brothers in memory of our recently departed Grandpa.
Flatteringly, many of my close (non-running people) friends, have been inspired by my foray into running and also started the Couch to 5k programme. So I guess the moral of this story is that running doesn’t have to just be something that other people do; the only difference between those people and you or I is belief, and you’d be surprised how quickly you can build that up.