"Oh for fucksakes not another one..."
That was the thought that went through my mind earlier this evening as, whilst heaving my less than capable body on it's first real run of 2017, I was overtaken by the sixth beautifully toned, hi-vi lycra wearing, bouncing pony-tailed runner. "How is it possible that every single person in this god damned city is a better runner than me?" I thought. "Surely running is just quick walking and I'm good at walking so WHY do I feel like my calves are going to explode and my lungs give in?"
I'm not a positive runner. I'm sure you have gathered that by now. When I do go out for a 'jog' on my own, which is a rare occurrence in itself, I am not left, as so many fitness bloggers claim to be, in a state of peaceful euphoria as I use the time to gather my thoughts and finally get some 'me time'. I don't ponder life's big questions, I don't convince myself I'm in a music video and I certainly don't clear my head.
In fact, it's the total opposite. My head is so far from clear when I run, it is absolutely chockablock full. Full of the most depressing and demoralising internal monologue you've ever heard.
This is the sort of thing you could expect to hear from my brain in the first mile of my run:
"Ow ow ow I'm getting foot cramp, fuck me these shoes are tight. I need new shoes but trainers are SO expensive. Why are trainers so sodding expensive? Shit this is really hurting now, OK just slow to a walk quickly until it eases. NO, actually don't do that, if you start walking now then you have totally failed as a runner. You can still see the fucking house don't be ridiculous. Literally, everyone at the bus stop just watched you lock the door, walking now would be the single most embarrassing thing that you could possibly do. Right, round the corner now they won't be able to see you if you walk. No, but the running gods can see you, and you'll have to go home knowing that you failed, DON'T WALK YET. OK but when can I walk because I'm already out of breath? So out of breath. Oh god is that a stitch? It feels like a stitch. Oh great well now you HAVE a stitch because you kept thinking about having a fucking stitch, you did this. Is it too soon to check my app and see how far I've come? YES Em it's too soon, if you had your glasses on you'd still be able to see the front door..." etc etc etc.
This hellish nightmare is my reality when I run, I can't escape what I am doing. I can't get away from it all, I can't get distracted. When I am running there is only one thing that I can think about: the fact that I am running. Oh, and the fact that I hate running. OK, maybe I can think about two things.
I know what everyone says: oh you'll really get it into it when you try. After a couple of weeks you will be totally addicted and you won't feel like you if you haven't bashed out five miles by 7am. Seriously though. Stick with it, you'll really love it when you get it into it.
So here's the thing: I don't doubt that. SURELY the six women that overtook me on my 40 minute pootle this evening must be proof that there is something great about running. Surely the hundreds of thousands of people that applied to take part in the London Marathon and the tens of thousands doing it are proof that there are elements of running that are great. SURELY there is something that I am missing. I've got friends that love to run that totally and utterly adore it, that are obsessed with it. We're very similar in lots of ways these friends and I, we have the same humour, the same dress sense, the same love of tequila, the same year of birth, the same bad habits, the same love of cigarettes and yet, for some reason, they love running and I do not. So what's that about? Where am I going wrong?
Well, I overthink things for starters.
Physically, thanks to my 10 weeks to fitness training programme that I am on, I'm not in bad shape and running three miles shouldn't kill me. I did it tonight, it didn't kill me. If my body was not attached to my head, if everything just stopped at my neck and I was nothing more than arms and legs and a torso I could probably run for about 30 miles without stopping. Maybe longer. Without my head there to worry about how out of breath I am (I wasn't until I started worrying) or over reacting to a pain in my chest and convincing myself that I am having a heart attack, or bullying and undermining myself to the point where I stop believing I can do anything, I'd be fine. My body, without my head, is amazing. So it's not the physicality's of running that are the problem here, the problem is in my head. But that's hardly surprising is it?
So I just went for a run. As you read above, the first mile did not go entirely to plan. Until something wonderful happened: I was so busy arguing with myself that I missed my turning and got a little lost. I wound up on a road that I had not expected to get to, about a kilometre further away than I thought I was. If my head had won that particular battle I would have used this as the perfect excuse to stop catch my breath and pretend that I needed to check where I was going. Luckily however, my body did and, since I already knew exactly where I was, I continued. I promised myself that I would allow myself a pause for air when I got to what I thought was the half way point. This kept me going and with every foot step I thought, just three more corners, just two more corners, just one more street, just one more turn. And then, bugger me, when I got to where I'd promised myself a pause? I realised I could keep on going. So I did.
I kept going and going and going, without stopping and when I got home and checked my app I realised that I had actually run over half a mile more than I had planned on doing. As I walked through the door I was actually disappointed that I didn't carry on, I felt better than I had at the one mile mark and had damn near convinced myself that Bruce Springsteen had been singing about me when he performed Born to Run.
So what changed? Well, I'm number obsessed. I can't get away with the fairies or out of my head or whatever you want to call it, I need to know exactly where I am, how many calories I have burnt, how long it took me and how much longer I need to be doing this for. I can't just go into it blind and allow myself to get swept up in the moment. Which is why I overthink the whole thing so much. Today though, for the first time, rather than trying to stop myself from over thinking, I found a way of redirecting my thoughts. The nice surprise of getting to where I thought would be my breaking point, only to find out when I got there that I wasn't broken, spurred me on to new heights and allowed me to do better than I thought I could. Rather than allowing my internal pessimist to stop me, I let my body take over and somehow convinced myself that I could do this, I could do anything.
And I normally wouldn't be writing about something so hopelessly cheesy and annoying, apart from the fact that it worked.
I'm still no Mo Farrah, I haven't fallen in love with running and I don't think you'll see me using it as a way to blow off steam any day soon, but the fact that I did it, well I'm proud as punch. I realised today that SO much of running, and my problem with it, is in my head. My body is way more amazing than I give it credit for and I let the gribbly little bitch in my brain win out before my body ever gets a chance to remind me how wonderful it is. But not today. Nope, today the body won.
My advice? Plan where you are going to run, work out exactly where a third of the route is, where half is and where two thirds is, I promise you, you will get to the first mile stone way sooner than you thought that you would and before you know it, you'll be channeling your inner Forest Gump.
And that's going to be my new focus, backing the little guy and letting my body do what it's got to do without my know-it-all head ruining it for me.