I have this theory that running finds you when you need it most. Let’s face it, starting to run is really hard. Going from walking to constant running takes time and determination. Pushing your body feels unpleasant. The voices in your head tell you to stop. Feeling out of breath, sweating and a racing heart aren’t always nice sensations. People often start and fail and start again and then every now and then someone keeps going, works through it and running becomes a regular and essential part of their lives. What is it that makes the difference?
Now I’m at a point when I know the power of running and how it helps me in my everyday life, ambitions and dreams, I can’t imagine my life without it. I’ve heard myself and others say, “I wish I’d started running years ago”. It’s easy to look back and think how running could have helped me in past years. How those years as a junior doctor might have been easier if I’d realised how a good run would help me after a hundred hour week to process the emotions, fear and vulnerability I felt. How, despite the fatigue, a quick 15 minute run would have improved my mental wellbeing after the birth of my first baby who never slept and reduced me to a quivering mess. But despite this, I know that they weren’t the right times for ME to fall in love with running. Yes, there’s no doubt that running would have helped me but I wasn’t receptive or ready and it wasn’t my time.
I tried to run in the past. My friend and I decided we liked the idea of going for a jog when we were medical students in about 1994. We made the classic mistakes of going too fast and setting unrealistic expectations. We hated it and only went a handful of times before we reverted to the PopMobility class in the gym instead.
I tried again in 2000 when I was a junior doctor. As newlyweds my husband and I decided to train for a half marathon. Again, I made classic errors, did too much too soon and got knee pain. I know now it was runner’s knee and probably ITB syndrome but the pain was pretty bad as soon as I started running. Every run was a struggle and I assumed it wasn’t doing me any good, so I stopped. I had enough challenges at work, I didn’t need a self-induced one. All credit to my husband who did run the half marathon. He didn’t run after it for many many years but discovered it again, a few yers ago when, like me, he really needed it.
Running found me 11 years ago. My third child was a few months old, I was flabby and unfit and with three children under five I needed something that I could have control over. I needed time away from noise. I needed to find myself again, to rekindle my ambition and drive, to remember who I was. I was absolutely loving being a mother and thriving in that identity but I knew I’d lost something else along the way.
The time was right, the circumstances were right. Something at that point made it work when it hadn’t worked before. I had to take it slowly because I could only move slowly and I only had short periods of time that I could be out of the house. I had a friend in exactly the same boat. The joy of simply being in the fresh air, away from everyone, to have an uninterrupted conversation with my friend, or myself was immense. To see the effects it had on my child bearing body. Time to dream, to realise that I could take on a challenge. I needed to be striving towards something and I badly needed the positive rewards that reaching your targets gives you. It was liberating and empowering.
My story is nothing special. I see, hear and read more dramatic examples in other’s stories. I read Bella Mackie’s piece in the Guardian about how running helped her when her marriage ended and she was overwhelmed with anxiety. I was struck by her words:
Throughout my life, if I couldn’t do something well on the first attempt, I was prone to quit. It was embarrassingly clear to me that I was not running well, or getting better at it. And yet, much to my own quiet disbelief, I carried on.
This is just one of many examples of how running often finds people in their darkest hours and at the time they need it most. Looking back at my failed attempts, I didn’t need running in the same way at those points of my life. Yes, the mistakes I made didn’t set me up for success but I still experienced the post run highs and personal achievements yet that wasn’t enough to keep me going. When I really needed it, when the benefits of running were exactly the things I required, when the power of running was my best medicine, it worked. I believe running found me when I needed it most and I’ll be forever grateful.
I’d love to hear how when and how running found you. If you’ve tried running in the past and thought it didn’t suit you, then don’t be put off, try again, you never know …