The funny thing about running is that it can change your mind-set. I have, for fifty-one years, seen myself as a non-runner. Now I want to run, and I’m becoming a little obsessed.
Not that I was always inactive – as a child I was constantly (as children were in the ’70s) ‘on the go’. We played outside all day long throughout the school holidays, after school and at weekends. We played in a large group, all ages together, and felt safe to go off and explore. There were no mobile phones, and our parents didn’t always know where we were. Of course bad things still happened then, but the world felt safer.
At the back of our road was Elmdon Park. A land of wonder and exploration to the imaginative child, where we built dens (and sometimes camp fires) in the woods, where we rolled down hills in the summer, and sledged down them in the winter. We fished and paddled in the brook, and climbed all over the enormous fallen tree that seemed to have been there since time began. We cycled along the park paths, ignoring the ‘no cycling’ signs, trying to dodge the park keeper (or did we want him to see us so we could have a dramatic getaway?)
When we’d had enough of the park, we tracked each other through the streets of our neighbourhood, following chalked clues. I remember running then, gasping for breath, holding the stitch in my side, and yet still pounding away on the pavement with my chubby little legs as if my life depended on it. Sometimes we would take off on our bikes for an adventure. When Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre first opened, we went to visit it, cycling along the A45 Coventry Road. It was about 3 ½ miles each way, but it felt like a marathon. I remember getting a flat tyre, and having to walk back with my big brother. It was 1976, the summer of The Heatwave and ladybirds, and I was nine years old.
Then, as a teenager, I remained active. I loathed school PE, as only someone who is rubbish at team sports can loathe. Hockey left me cold, literally, as I stood in goal on frozen ground, waiting for someone or something to come near. Netball was just an exercise in extreme humiliation. And as for gymnastics – there are no words for how I felt about gymnastics. I couldn’t do any of it – not one thing. So I saw no point in it at all (even now, as primary school teacher, I struggle with teaching gymnastics – it gives me the shivers).
But out of school I swam, cycled, walked for miles, and joined in all the exercise classes that the Lycra-clad ’80s had to offer. Sometimes, I played tennis or badminton. Once, just once, I tried to jog. I went with a friend back to Elmdon park. We chose a nice level bit of grass, and planned to jog for a minute at a time, walking for a minute in-between. I seem to recall that my friend could do the running bit. But I was at a loss. Since when was a minute so long? I was fit, healthy and young (probably about seventeen). I could cycle all day, and I could swim a mile. Why could I not run even for sixty seconds? So I gave up there and then, never to try again – until now.
Now? Now I am on week four of couch to 5K (it works, it really, really does!) I’m running three days a week. I walk or use you-tube fitness videos on the days off from running. I just ran my third park run, and have signed up for a festive 5K in December. At each park run my time gets a little quicker, I feel a little better, and I can’t wait for the next time.
Against all expectation, I am a runner.
The lake at Elmdon Park, Solihull