I have turned into one of those people with a belt around my middle, with a bottle of water tucked into it, who permanently walks around in their “active wear”. I know. I can’t stand people like that either. We are awful, but we cannot help it. Long distance running is coming back into my life – and my heart and head could not be more relieved.
Like many people in lockdown, I put on a bit of weight. A stone and a half, to be precise. I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes, which was fine because I mostly lived in pyjamas anyway.
When my PJs started to get tight, I realised I wasn’t getting the exercise I needed. I have a very athletic field golden retriever who I thought would keep me fit in lockdown, but the reality was very different. The parks were chock full of people who didn’t usually go to the park, and many seemed to have a fear of big yellow dogs charging around.
One woman picked up her toddler when she saw us coming, over her head, Simba-style, until we were long gone. I understand – to a toddler, a golden retriever might as well be a dinosaur.
My galloping dog, however, was frequently on a lead. I bought a special running belt you can attach the dog lead to. Disaster. She runs a great deal faster than me. I fell flat on my face, still attached to her as she ran on the spot trying to chase a squirrel, the bulk of her owner (me) weighing her down. We provides free slapstick comedy to all the passers-by, and never tried it again.
So, in lockdown, I grew and grew – like James’s Giant Peach. I embraced my new size, bought a load of clothes with elasticated waists and bundled my size 10 dresses off to the charity shop.
The weight gain I could manage, but the fog in my head – which had previously been cleared while rushing about everywhere for work and the kids – now began to engulf me.
Before my daughter was born, I lived near Richmond Park and was a keen long-distance runner. I fell into running by accident. Going through a divorce in my 30s, I needed to get the old endorphins going to keep my spirits up – so I joined a Zumba class.
The gym is not for me. I’m not coordinated for the classes, the machines are boring and I don’t like sweating indoors. Zumba was basically just dancing around. At school, I was a fat kid picked last for games; and huffed and puffed up the hill to our sports field, dreading the humiliation which lay for me once I got up there.
I still shudder when I remember the frustrated shouts of “SPRINT!” from the sporty kids who were stuck with me in the relay race. Why they cared about winning, I never understood. I dreaded sports at school. All the shouting, competing and freezing showers did not suit my personality.
Zumba, I found, was forgiving of someone with bad coordination – and no one cared if you got the dance sequence wrong. The classes cheered me up, and – without much effort – took my fitness to a point when running to the park wasn’t out of the question (though of course, once I got to the park, I walked, looked at the deer and sat up in trees, tweeting that I was looking at deer and sitting in a tree).
Eventually though, my feet picked up and I found myself running through the park, listening to endless playlists, indulging myself in music I didn’t have time to lose myself in post-baby.
Running got me through my divorce, got me through a half-marathon in a decent time and also got me a fine, firm bottom. I moved away from Richmond Park, had another baby and stopped running – other than occasional jogs for a good few years.
I’ve spoken quite a bit lately about having a late diagnosis for ADHD, and when I went on medication this summer, I started running again. My body didn’t want to, but my head did. Whenever someone tells me, “Oh, I hate running, I can’t do it,” I think, well – don’t. It’s not for everyone and there are other ways to keep your head together.
For me though, in lockdown, I realised just how much it helped quieten down my ADHD brain – getting me back into that zone when my mind goes off and leaves my legs to get on with things.
I did the Ealing half-marathon last week and it was a beautiful, uphill gift. Event running brings a community together. The people who come out and clap as you run by – kids holding trays of jelly babies for you to scoff – lift your spirits and make your heart soar, however sore your thigh muscles have got. Pounding the streets with other runners, my heart beating in my ears, feeling the support of spectators, is a joy I have never found on a treadmill.
The London Marathon is in my sights for next year. I’m not in the realm of marathon runner yet – when I am, I will enjoy wandering around the shops in my Lycra, being insufferably smug. Sorry in advance.