Recently and pretty accidentally I discovered running, and more so what it can do for me. I always knew running was a thing, I’ve seen what it can do and has done for friends, and I’ve read about other peoples experiences of the sport. I was in awe when one friend ran a marathon a few years ago, always looking forward to her marathon blog posts, to read about something that at the time baffled me but did amazing things for her. It had always stopped there. I never thought I could be a runner, it was, until recently, something other people did, and not me. I was stagnant in the supporting friends in running events, cheering at the Blaydon Races, and looking admirably at a world I didn’t understand phase. Always from the side lines.
After a job came to an end, challenging discrimination in another, and my mental health deteriorating again, needing another talking therapies referral (yay NHS when you reach the top of a waiting list!) I got up one day, put on my trainers and went for a run. I wouldn’t call what I did that first day “running” as such, but I kept moving, I was suddenly focussing on making my feet move quicker than before, I trotted along and I felt that whatever was going on in my brain, would pass. This is what a “runners high” must feel like, I sighed.
Previously my relationship with any form of exercise has been pretty problematic. I have always been a good swimmer, and thrived as a kid when in water, when I could do my own thing. PE, however was a different story. In primary school I did the Junior Great North run, and a bit of cross-country. I don’t remember how or why, but I have certificates telling me I took part in a few races. In secondary school I remember wanting to join the school athletics club in year 7, and being told “no” because I wasn’t good enough. Since then my efforts in PE consisted of lurking at the back of the sports hall trying desperately not to be noticed, and one time deciding I’d had enough so disappearing back to the changing room for a nap. They did eventually discover I was missing and sent the school nurse to find me. Most people with dyspraxia find PE hard, but it need not be, if like everything else theres the right support and encouragement in place. My school was a sports college which added another layer to the competitive atmosphere, and the one thing I wish they did more, above all the dealing with bullying, difficulties in maths and resolving daily arguments I had with teachers, is to encourage me with exercise. In the long run, it could have helped my mental health from a much earlier age. The average onset of anxiety disorders is 11 years old, and mine had made an unwelcome appearance as early as age eight. I didn’t care about winning or losing, and would happily announce “I’m not competitive” much to the bafflement of my peers. This didn’t bode well for team netball games, and I was quickly not a favourite to have on the team. I mean, who would want the uncoordinated, clumsy hippy, who doesn’t care if we lose? I see their point.
I’ve been running regularly for just over four months now, and realised I didn’t know what I was doing, or even if I was doing this running thing “right.” I kept leaving the house, running faster and a bit further each time. Pounding the streets to Thea Gilmore, The Proclaimers and the Dhuks. And avoiding a local elite running club who I would often see out and about. My experience of group sport had always been of intimidation and fear, I was intimidated by people “better” than me, and I “feared” doing something wrong and being laughed at. Painful PE memories are etched on the brain. So, I was enjoying going out, doing my own thing, having time to think and seeing what happens. There was no way I was going to join any group now, not while I was so new to running. I don’t know what changed my mind, but something in me did.
A few months ago, through a local news item I learned of the existence of a running group close to me. They described themselves as “motivational” and had groups for all abilities to join in, people even brought their kids. My own running was going well, but I wasn’t really following an app or any guide, and I had no idea if I was doing it right, how to progress and what I needed to improve. The running group looked friendly from the news piece, so I thought it would at least be worth a try. I hunted them down on twitter, (as I do with most people these days!) and signed up to join the 6 week couch to 5K programme.
Hours before my first session I was terrified, I walked down, which is a fair way but gave me enough time to think and contemplate what I had signed myself up for. When I walked in, I was greeted by “You look new” and was asked to sign a registration form. I waited around nervously, in that kind of social awkward way, when your water bottle and phone suddenly become incredibly interesting. Eventually we were ushered outside to take part in a group warm up, my mind harked back to PE lessons, and again I wondered why I was there. It was no where near, or even on the same scale as group warm ups I’ve known before. I looked around me and remembered here there are people of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and stories. We’d all come out on a very rainy Tuesday night to run together. We were complete strangers but united over a shared goal. A goal to move one foot in front of the other, at whatever pace was comfortable for us, and to pound down the pavements. That was powerful. I suddenly felt comfortable, that no one was going to judge me here and that I was part of a team. Pretty good going for half way through a warm up.
The instructors are friendly, and approachable, with the emphasis on doing what you can and supporting each other. Our group is mixed in ability, some people have ran before, others its completely new, and some, like me are a bit in the middle. I was amazed that I could keep up, that I can apparently run, and didn’t feel as overwhelmed by group running as I’d imagined. I’ve been running twice a week with the club for three weeks now and once on my own on a Sunday, and every time I’ve gone back I’ve felt it getting easier, that I could do more than before. I’ve met new people, and while I find it difficult to hold a conversation while going faster than my normal dawdle, without falling over, I am getting there.
I am a runner.
Words that I thought only belonged to other people and not me.
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