The first day of winter, and the day when excited children begin peeling open advent calendars for the big Christmas countdown. I lie in bed listening to torrential rain drum down. We’ve had a week of stormy weather, flooded roads and fallen trees. My daily commute across the gorgeous Quantock Hills has been challenging. But the weekend is here now, and it’s time for my first ever winter run.
I lie and listen to the rain. I’m shattered, and weepy. A super stressful Friday led to an agitated night and I need more sleep. The rhythm of the rain is a lullaby. I feel drowsy. But it’s Saturday morning; parkrun day. I want to run. I need to run. I need to give all those stress hormones somewhere to go. The rain beats down. I haul myself out of bed. If I don’t do this, I know, I am going to feel a lot worse. So, I get up, get ready, and take off to Minehead for parkrun.
There’s a bit of rain as I drive along the West Somerset coast, but nothing significant. Anyway, I tell myself, I like running in rain, it’s cooling. Yet, as I arrive at parkrun, the clouds are beginning to break apart. The air feels mild, warm even. The sun starts to shine.
We set off, sun shimmering on the waves as I look out towards Minehead harbour. A parkrun regular jogs alongside me for support, and we chat.
‘It’s so pretty’ I say. Not very profound. But inside I’m thinking – look at me – running and talking at the same time!
I’m now on week five of couch to 5k – today I need to run for five minutes at a time. When my app tells me that there’s only sixty seconds left to run, I’m relieved, happy. I grin. Yet just a few weeks ago, sixty seconds was more than I could manage. The app only takes me halfway round the course, so I reset it and let it play again. I know this isn’t recommended, but I listen to my body, and I know I can do this.
We run, jog, and walk up and down the promenade, dodging puddles, holiday makers (even in December) and windblown sand. We also dodge other runners, smiling, cheering and encouraging each other as we pass. And one by one, in our own time, we make it to the finish.
My first winter run was not what I was expecting. I cross the finishing line pink, hot and sweaty.
I manage a personal best of just over 41 minutes. But for me, the true personal best is being able to run for longer each week. And the real triumph, the absolute steal, is how I feel at the end. From stressed, exhausted, and weepy to utterly elated – in just over 41 minutes.
I don’t mean to be simplistic – my problems are still with me and so is my stress. But knowing that I can achieve some clarity and make myself feel better through exercise helps give me mental as well as physical strength.