Kit

I’ve had a difficult few years, as most of my friends know. A stepfather with dementia, a diagnosis of my own, a relationship breakdown in the middle of a book deadline (thanks, ex). Along the way I’ve had great support from my friends, from Twitter and Facebook, from all sorts of quarters. And one of the things that calmed me most was running. And another thing that calmed me was KIT.

I love kit. I’ve loved it ever since I had my first Dunlop Green Flash trainers, then my beloved hockey boots and shin-pads. In 1993 I went to Siberia with Operation Raleigh on a three month expedition around Lake Baikal. We had three different projects each: mine was a survey of the remains of a nuclear underground explosion ten years earlier (that meant gathering mud and leaves and giving them to a bearded scientist named Viktor and never knowing the results); a paleontological survey with a delightful Buryatian scientist Margarita Erbaeva; and a three week hiking trip through the astonishing Sayan mountains. Throughout all that, whether digging for million-year-old frogs legs or gathering mud or hiking, our conversation covered three topics, consistently: food (that we couldn’t get), toilets (of course) and kit. So maybe it’s the memory of those soothing conversations about bivvy bags and Thermarests that gently pushes me to spend hours on sports kit and running gear websites. This habit gets worse when I’m under stress. I bet my running related purchases spiked during the three months last winter I was rewriting my book.

I love my daily email from sportspursuit.com even though I rarely buy anything. But oh, those merino wool long-sleeved tops! I love looking through sportsshoes.com; running geek; Striders Edge; far too many other sites to list here without you wondering how I get any work done. Sometimes I even go to Sports Direct, although I never buy online. But clicking on the colours, the shoes, the accessories: it calms me down. I think it helps me get work done. I think it must be a form of meditation.

It also means I have a lot of kit. They say that running is cheap. It’s not, if you buy expensive race fees (£50 for the Great North Run? really?), and if you spend as much time gathering accessories and clothing and shoes as I do. It would take me too long to do an accurate list, but here is one from memory of my running possessions:

1 Garmin 210 watch

1 massage stick

1 foam roller

1 spiky massage ball

2 boxes energy gels

About 15 short-sleeved or vest running tops

1 club vest

3 long-sleeved running tops

3 high-vis jackets

3 pairs capri running tights

2 long running tights

2 pairs running shorts

6 pairs Karrimor running socks

2 pairs orthotic insoles

2 Moon finger-held lights (though they double as bike lights)

1 pair running gloves

6 pairs running shoes: road, fell, trail, race, freebie, mistake

Then there are the massages, podiatrist and physio appointments, and running gait analysis. It all adds up to a lot of money, and every penny is worth it.

 

Capitulation

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)