running like a girl

If you haven’t already, I urge you to pick up a copy of a book called ‘Running Like a Girl’ by my new running heroine, Alexandra Heminsley. I have only read the first two chapters so far but they have already spoken to me more than the opening pages of almost any other book I have read (with the possible exception of Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes). The beauty of this book is that it shows although Alexandra has since gone on to run five marathons, she too started at the very bottom of the running food chain, with a juddering, wheezy, soul-destroying first attempt at ‘running’ – and if you are just starting out, there is no better encouragement than knowing you aren’t alone at finding it impossibly difficult.

A friend of mine who swims regularly but had never ventured much further than the pool for her exercise recently decided she wanted to try running so came to me for advice on how to get started. When did I become someone who other people viewed as some kind of expert on the subject? It was only a couple of years ago I was my friend, enthusiastic but completely clueless, and it has to be said, completely inept at putting one foot in front of the other going slightly faster than walking.

After a few goes on the treadmill at the gym, at a ridiculously slow pace, and struggling to manage ten minutes of continuous effort, I remember my first go at running the mile circuit around Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside (a beautifully picturesque run on a sunny evening if you’re lucky enough to live down that way, as I was at the time). I returned to the finish at the Millennium Bridge after at least 11 minutes, beetroot red in the face and not foreseeing a future when I could ever run any further and not die.

At this point in any new runner’s journey, the future is up to you. You can either convince yourself you will never get any better and just give up there and then, or you can be strong enough to carry on and try again, and my God, you will be so glad you did. I persevered, took my time to improve, started to reap the benefits. I lost weight, I felt invigorated, I had an amazing sense of achievement every time I went out and bettered my previous run, and almost a year after I couldn’t run for 10 minutes, I ran 10k for the first time in the 2012 Great Manchester Run. Without a doubt the best decision I ever made was not to give up.

Now I am proud to be someone others might ask for advice and I am glad to help because I have been right where they are, as all of us who consider ourselves runners have been. I find it almost unbelievable I am a little over a month away from taking on my first half marathon, as I used to struggle running for the bus. Running has improved my life immeasurably and I sincerely hope that nobody is ever put off getting to the good bit because the beginning bit is so hard. The brilliance of running is that even as you get better at it, it can still be amazingly hard, but you are so much better equipped to deal with it. In her book, Alexandra rather wonderfully calls running ‘an honour, a privilege and a gift’, and it is one that I am very thankful for.

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