The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
Picture the scene if you will. It is September 2008, and I am going for my first ever run. I cannot say that I’m particularly good at it – I’m wearing an ill fitting t-shirt with a hole in the right armpit, some faded tracksuit bottoms, and a pair of shell toed Adidas. My running style sees me lurching forward, squinting, attempting to run towards an invisible point in the near distance. The overall effect makes me look like an 80s rapper caught in a high wind, and it’s not particularly gratifying.
I am taking up running as I wish to change my life. I have recently been dumped, and, after doing all the usual things that a person does to get over a particularly nasty break-up (such as cutting all of their hair off and getting a tattoo), I have realised that greater changes need to be made if I am to blossom into the type of person I want to become. Namely, a woman who is professional. Who is sharp and focused. Who isn’t prone to drinking too much wine in public, falling asleep on the 86 bus home and waking up in the Princess Parkway Bus Garage with chips down her bra.
Cut to three and a half years later and (bar a few blips here and there – one of which was an injury I acquired after a drunken-falling-off-a-table-in-heels incident), I am still running. Instead of battered old trainers, I have invested in expensive running shoes which cushion my soles and make me feel like I’m running on air instead of stained concrete. I have exchanged the t-shirt with the hole in the armpit for something slightly more stylish. And while my running style may still make me look like I am trying to propel myself through a high wind, I have a body which is capable of running four miles without making me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack at any moment.
Running makes me feel like a better person. There’s something about it which allows all the clicks and cogs and self deprecating voices in my head to shut up for half an hour or so. When I’m jogging down the Dock Road near my house, I don’t think about anything else, and just lose myself in the moment. It feels as though my entire body becomes something else entirely – not a person with thoughts and fears and feelings, but just some lump of energy that needs to keep itself moving forward. It allows me to clear my head. Focus. Become simple. It’s also given me a body that I don’t mind looking at when I look at myself naked in the mirror in the mornings. My legs have become more toned, my bum firmer, my stomach tighter – my soft white flesh slowly morphing into that of a person I’m not entirely sure I recognise. That of a person who exercises.
I know what you’re probably thinking reading this. That running is for other people, not for you. That your time is too scarce, your legs are too weak, your spirit too lazy. It’s understandable. Running takes time, effort and an astonishing amount of mental strength – especially when it’s a wet Saturday morning and you’d rather be in bed than running around a soggy patch of grass for an hour. But I am of the opinion that if I, an overweight woman with tits the size of small African countries (an ex of mine lovingly nicknamed them ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’ and ‘Congo Brazaville’ in tribute) can do it, anyone can. I’m running my first race this coming Sunday, the 5k Race for Life. I know for a fact that I will not be the fastest woman on that track, but I do know that when I finish I will be one of the proudest. And that when I finish, I will be wondering how soon it will be before I can participate in my first (half) marathon.
There’s a wonderful bit in Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman where she describes how, when you run really fast, it feels like dancing. And she’s right. It’s like your own private disco with your head transported to this magical place while your limbs flail wildly underneath you, and you couldn’t give a shit about what the person next to you thinks. And then there are the other moments – like when you’re caught in the middle of it, when there is that moment of perfect silence in a normally terrifyingly noisy head. Because when that happens, it’s worth the pain. It’s worth the sweating. It’s even worth the local kids taking the piss out of me for grunting when I’m completing a particularly gruelling lap. It’s worth everything.
Running shoes image taken from puuikibeach’s Flickr stream and used under Creative Commons License.