….but we are all fabulous.
I have an on-off relationship with running. I first took it up when I worked for the police as a civilian 15 years ago. I was overweight and wanted to get in shape and one of the officers I knew basically acted as my personal trainer – taking me out for lunchtime runs and helping me improve from being out of breath with a stitch after 100 yards, to completing my first 5km Race for Life with a healthy BMI.
Paul Klee, Was läuft er? (Why Does He Run?), 1932
Unfortunately, exercise, unless you are actively committed to your relationship with it, is often the first thing to fall by the wayside when you change your routine such as moving house and getting a new job, or even just when life gets a bit busier with looming deadlines. Over the next few years I went through exercise-intensive spells and exercise-lite (to say the least) spells. I have dabbled with badminton, yoga, swimming, circuits, pump classes, spinning and walking as well as running, but these activities had become increasingly intermittent and gradually my weight crept back up and my fitness levels slid back down.
I have been aware of this and half-heartedly trying to stem the tide for the past year or two, but it was only when I saw a doctor recently and had a bit of a wake-up call that I was finally motivated to act effectively. So, I have managed to lose about a stone since this time last year, most of which has been in the past 3 months, and I have achieved this through a mixture of eating more healthily (portion control thanks to some old Weight Watchers books and more sensible choices) and fitting in 3-4 exercise sessions per week. Since running is relatively easy to fit in – just put on a pair of trainers and run out of the door, this is usually at least 2 of the sessions.
I like running – I like the way it makes me feel, especially when I am running regularly and you get that amazing sense of your body getting fitter and being able to move efficiently. It’s a great way to lose weight, but while I am still overweight, more than a couple of runs a week and my knees and other joints start to ache so I am mixing it up a bit with yoga, spinning, swimming and walking.
The dreaded ‘should’
It’s an odd fact about running, for me at least, that although I invariably feel better after a run I repeatedly forget this fact and have to cajole myself out of the house most times. I was talking about this with a couple of friends last week, one of whom is a keen runner, and I realised that we have a terrible attitude towards exercise in this country – it’s seen as a ‘should’. In other words, you should exercise to keep fit, you should exercise to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, etc., you should exercise to keep your weight under control. Very rarely is it sold as something that might be pleasurable in its own right – unless you are reading a specialist magazine which is probably preaching to the already converted.
However, running, walking, swimming, team sports, yoga, hiking, rock climbing and many other ‘exercise’ options are actually just really great pursuits in their own right – with the additional benefits if they are outdoors, of enabling you to experience great early morning light, evening sunsets, lovely scenery and to really engage with the seasons and the weather. In my experience, rain usually looks worse when you look at it out of a window than it feels when you are out running in it – especially if you are wearing the right kit. I also love being outside and smelling the first hint of autumn in the air or seeing the first signs of crocuses peeping from the ground.
The other great thing about exercise, is that if you focus on that as an enjoyable activity, persist and start to see yourself improving, then other things such as food, alcohol, etc. will fall into place – as my running friend pointed out, she drinks less these days – not because she ‘should’ but because she will think “I really want to go on a long run tomorrow” and looks forward to that so much that going without a Friday night drink is not a hardship or penalty but rather part of achieving that goal.
Another friend suggested that I might find it helpful to have an exercise buddy to keep me motivated. No-one I know springs to mind as a potential running partner and somehow joining a running club feels a bit hard core for me at the moment. However, while I was considering it, I came across the Parkrun scheme. This is a brilliant network of volunteer groups who run timed 5km runs in parks across the UK (and elsewhere – check out the website http://www.parkrun.org.uk/) at weekends. My local one is the Hanley Parkrun, held at a lovely Victorian park near Stoke station, at 9am every Saturday.
Now, I confess, I am not a morning person. I don’t have children, I often work from home and unless I am teaching at 9am, I am unlikely to be doing anything very active at that time of day. On a Friday, I will usually drink wine in the evening, which hardly increases my engagement with Saturday mornings. However, this week I decided to give it a go and it was fantastic. I was lucky enough to start talking to two lovely women who were walking towards the park and they explained how things worked. They also waited for me after they’d finished running at the end and cheered me past the finishing line which was wonderful (thanks Karen and Tracey!). There were 181 runners – all shapes and sizes and all ages, including some kids. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive and the volunteer marshals encouraged us around the course. It was a lovely misty but sunny morning, peaceful in the way that mornings can be and a very pretty park to run around.
Me completing my first Parkrun, 30/8/2014
My time was not fast (35.14 mins) but I ran the whole way and am looking forward to my next one and hopefully to improving my time. It will even be worth forgoing my Friday night wine to try!