I used to live in London, and shared a house. One day my housemate Karen and I decided to go for a run. Until then, I was a swimmer. I lived a short walk from London Fields Lido, a heated, outdoor, Olympic-sized swimming pool that was open all year round. Why would I not be a swimmer? But then that day we decided to run. We made it about 400 metres to the end of the street and had to walk back. It hurt. God, it hurt. Legs, arms, eyes, lungs. It underlined everything I thought I believed about runners: they were smug and they were idiots. So I left running alone for a while, until I moved back up north to Leeds, and there was no heated, outdoor, Olympic-sized swimming pool that was open all year round, or even at all. There’s Ilkley Lido, but it’s cold and far away. I had to find something else to do. I don’t remember now what led me to the Get Running Couch to 5K app, but something did. Then I had to go to sea on a container ship for five weeks to research my book, and there was a gym on-board Maersk Kendal, and a treadmill. I learned to run (and wrote about it here for The Guardian); I did half of the Couch to 5K, and although I didn’t love it – I had to run with a towel over the clock and something to watch on TV or I would stop from a combination of boredom and my stop-running voices in my head – I didn’t stop. I carried on, and on and on. Of course, being stubborn and insecure about running, I stayed on treadmills for about a year. I tried running outside and it was harder (because it is, the first time, because of wind) so I fled back to my treadmill and persuaded myself that that was the best place to be, that all the runners – ie nearly all runners – who said running outside was better, far better: they were wrong.
They were not wrong.
Since then I’ve had two lots of surgery for endometriosis. I have the most severe form of endometriosis, which I wrote about here. My insides are riddled and various organs and parts inside me are stuck together. But I’m lucky that unlike many women, I don’t have chronic crippling pain. Two days of co-codamol a month is the current average. And I think that partly that is because I run. I run because if I am diseased, and incurably so – at least until the menopause – then I want to be the healthiest diseased person I can be. I also run because it heals my brain and my passing depressions better than anything I have ever tried. My friends think me a running geek now. They smile at my six pairs of running shoes (although they call them “trainers”.) My mother worries that I’m running too far, or too remotely, or at all, but she admires my fitness, I think. And I am infecting people. My friend Charlotte said, “I can’t run,” though she was walking regularly every day, so I showed her the Get Running app, and now she runs, a lot. My friend Elliot, who used to run, needed something to soothe his mind, and I said: RUN. And now he does, a lot.
I began racing. The first race I did was the Bradford 10K, and though it was flat and boring – though I knew no different – I finished it, and it was OUTSIDE. Then I did the Kirkstall 7, a lovely seven mile race around Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, run by Kirkstall Harriers. I’d written to them a year earlier enquiring about joining and though they had sent friendly emails back, I’d been too scared. Clubs are intimidating. Club runners are far too fast. I would get left behind.
But at the Kirkstall 7 they seemed so friendly, and I liked their purple hoodies. So I joined. And it has been one of the best things I’ve done. There are fast runners, and slow ones. No-one is ever left behind. We encourage each other, we give each other advice, and we run through muddy woods on a Sunday morning together and afterwards someone hands round a tin of chocolates, and you are sweaty and cold and sizzling a little, and you take the mini Snickers bar and think: there is nothing I would rather be doing on a cold Sunday morning in January.
Yes. Runner’s crack. Endorphins. But they work.
The capitulation of the title: when I started running with Kirkstall, I thought people who talked of marathons were weird. I said, I will never run a marathon. What is the point of running 26.2 miles? I will never, ever say something as ridiculous as “sub-40” or “PB.” But I do. And I will run 26.2 miles, because I’ll be running the London marathon on April 13 for Seafarers UK. Because, why not?
TODAY’S SPORTING ACTIVITY
- ACTIVITY: Strength and cardio training session
- MILES: 0
- TIME: 1 hour but it felt like 2 (first session since Christmas)