It is seven weeks into lockdown and I’m out for my third run of the week. I’ve abandoned my previous caution and am enjoying the happy exhaustion of the final kilometre. As I enter the home straight, "The Eye of The Tiger" playing on my motivational playlist, my ankle turns in a pot-hole and I fall flat onto the tarmac. I limp home, leggings ripped, bleeding from every limb and wondering why I ever started running.
I’ve always been inherently indoorsy. As a child, I was excused from taking breaktime outside in the playground because I offered to count the Tesco vouchers our school had collected instead. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything worse than running around in the mud. Things didn’t change as I got older. I hated competitiveness and the ‘jolly hockey sticks’ nature of sport at my secondary school. When I didn’t make the A, B or even C teams, I shrugged off the wounded feeling and opted to invest my time in learning about makeup instead.
I never understood the love of sport that many around me seemed to have, in my mind they were a different type of person to me. While they liked getting sweaty and out of breath, finding physical exertion came naturally to them, I preferred to read books and drink pints.
When lockdown arrived on 23 March, I still didn’t consider myself a lover of sport. But I was facing unprecedented change in my life; the remainder of my postgraduate degree had moved online; job offers had been retracted; and I had to move home to live with my parents in Derbyshire. For the first time in my life I had no idea what I was going to do next.
I was aghast to find I had only done 0.7km after what felt like a decade...
Then I was nominated for the NHS Run for Heroes 5k challenge: run 5, donate 5, nominate 5. I was horrified. Who would put me up to this? But with nothing better to do (and the risk of being publicly shamed on social media for not doing so) I heaved and gasped my way through it, checking the distance tracker every 30 seconds. I was aghast to find I had only done 0.7km after what felt like a decade of shuffling along the road.
Eventually, I hit the 5k mark. As the tracker hit the magic number, I sank down in a chair in my garden and vowed to never do anything of the sort again.
The next day my muscles were in such agony, I wondered if I’d ever be able to move. But a couple of days later, to my own disbelief, I laced up my trainers and embarked on a second run. Since then I’ve kept going (I even bought myself some neon pink leggings).
Don’t be misled: I am still pretty rubbish. I will not be sprinting, triumphant, through finish line banners any time soon. But I am in the habit and I enjoy it. I’m sleeping better at night, my appetite follows more of a pattern, and as I run down country lanes I feel a sense of self-confidence and optimism I so desperately need right now.
Running is giving a purpose to my life I was scared had disappeared...
Dr. Paul Gorczynski, senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at Portsmouth University, and keen runner, says this is a common feeling among runners: “Running, like many forms of exercise, helps individuals feel accomplished. With running, you can set a goal and set a strategy to achieve it. This satisfies a lot of psychological needs, like competence and control,” he explains.
He’s right, when I run I can’t think about the life plan I had, which has been wrenched away by a pandemic, or the number of emails rejecting my CV, the nagging feeling that there is nothing I can do about it all. Instead I’m thinking about whether it’s too hot, or what direction the wind is blowing in. I’m thinking about whether I’ve worn the wrong socks, or whether I’m running slower than usual.
I will always look back on this period as a time when I was very, very lost. But running is giving a purpose to my life I was scared had disappeared. In the absence of other things to work on, running makes me feel like I’m making progress. Running can’t let me down because it only relies on me getting out of bed in the morning and putting on my trainers.