Since I started trudging up hills and around parks four years earlier, I have become healthier, slimmer and sunnier and sometimes I even enjoy it
It is a damp, grey morning in south London and I am outdoors, still half asleep. The wind cuts like a bayonet and all I am wearing is shorts, tights and a polyester jersey. My muscles have clenched from the cold and no quantity of stretching or scratching will loosen them. But I tighten my laces and start to run. Uphill, as if things weren’t bad enough. My body jars with each step. Before I have gone 100 metres, I am thinking about packing it in. But no: if I give up today, perhaps I won’t even get this far next time. So on I plod. Thud thud thud, trudge trudge trudge, up through Norwood Park, past the swings and skateboard ramps, through the boggy, doggy hollow, then left along the main road towards the Crystal Palace transmitter. I gain a little more height before peeling off down a side street to windswept park number two.
Beyond are more ups and downs, followed by the long, gentle decline of Beulah Hill
Four kilometres in, I am dripping with sweat. I push up my sleeves and try to forget that, because of the style I have looped back on myself, home is simply a short walk away. I focus on the positives( I am almost halfway through; the bits “thats been” hurting at the start aren’t hurting any more) and “il do my best” to ignore the negatives( I am not halfway through; the bits that weren’t hurting at the start are hurting now ).
On it runs- more quiet streets and silent despair. Somehow, I make it home, to a cup of tea and a sausage sandwich.
” How was it ?'” my wife asks, exhaling from the side of her mouth so that she doesn’t have to smell me.
” It was all right ,” I say, believing:” It was hell ,” but knowing I will be doing it again. And, secretly, both dreading it and looking forward to it.
I have been running regularly since early 2014, when I decided I had to do something about my ever-expanding bowel. After moving to London from the French mountains, where wild swimming and hiking had kept me fit, I had found the pounds sneaking back on. Although I had never once run for pleasure, I liked the idea of an activity that was cheaper than gym membership, could be done almost anywhere and fit easily into the weekly routine.
I probably wouldn’t have managed it without the NHS’s couch-to-5k scheme, a specify of free podcasts that use cheesy pep-talks and detailed, real-time instructions to guide you through a series of gradually lengthening runnings. Although I had scarcely operated since I was a schoolboy, the podcasts’ gently-gently approach built the transition as painless as possible. I occasionally get breathless, but I never seemed as if I was being pushed too hard. By the ninth and final week, I was just about capable of operating 5km without a break, which seemed pretty good for an overweight fiftysomething. A year later, I was into doubled figures and operating every two or three days.
Little by little, the distance has snuck up. I now run about five times a week, totalling 40 -4 5km. I have done it in London and Barcelona, Cornwall and Moselle, Dunbar and County Durham, down city streets and grime trails, on mountaintops and marshes. If I can’t get out first thing in the morning, I will go for a “runch” at work. My shortest regular itinerary is 5km, through the wooded mounds of Dulwich and Sydenham, the longest a flat 14 km to the Guardian offices in King’s Cross. I have raced in two half-marathons and one full.
I am not the most wonderful thing on two legs: it takes me five or six minutes to cover a kilometre, nine or 10 for a mile. The New Forest marathon took an embarrassing five and a little bit hours , not least because I ran out of steam and objective up strolling some of it. The only reason I can imagine for doing another is to prove to myself that I can run the whole 42.2 km. I am, nonetheless, a lot fitter and slimmer than I used to be- down from 100 -odd kilograms to 84. It is not all because of running- I have cut down on the cakes, chocolate, biscuits and liquor and even done a little bit of Weight Watchers– but operating will no doubt helped. It has built muscle and staman, too. I will never be “ripped”, but I am in better shape( in all senses) than I have been since my 20 s.
This may sound like bragging, but I need to remind myself why I do what I do. Sometimes I enjoy running, but mostly I suffer it. I frequently dislike it. As for the much-touted ” runner’s high “~ ATAGEND, the closest I go most periods is a panted:” Thank Christ that’s over .”
Because, above all, operating is hard work. To put the full horror into words, you have to stick one foot in front of the other, again and again and again. On a good day, running just happens; on a bad period, every step is necessary willed into existence. On my most recent outing- a joyless slog through Islington and Hackney- I had to bully my legs nearly 6,000 times. That is four pleas of” Again, you bastard” for every word in this article.
It merely takes two or three bad operates in a row to seem as if “youre not” getting anything out of it. Running is also possible boring, too, specially when you are pressed for time or short of ideas and just do a circuit you have done 100 periods before- past the same mansions, down the same streets, guessing the same reckons. Every now and again, I only give up, mostly with the words:” Sod it, I can’t be arsed ,” rather than:” Sod it, this is too painful .” I tell myself that the feeling will pass, and usually it does, but sometimes it persists until the very last step.
For me, at the least, operating successfully is about psychology as much as physique. So, I have learned to do everything I can to shake things up, from listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music( nothing gets me moving like Agatha Christie or the KLF) to trying new roads constantly. There is a wonderful app called RunGo that lets you map out a path, then furnishes turn-by-turn guidances through your headphones. Without it, I would either be running up and down the same main roads or getting lost down side streets, stopping to work out where I was, then trying to remotivate myself to run. With it, I can happily navigate my route across London or through a foreign forest.
This doesn’t do anything for the hypochondria, regrettably. I often seem a little discomfort- tired muscles, too-tight tendons- early in a run, although this usually passes as I get into the rhythm. I suppose its psychosomatic, with my body offering an excuse to cut things short.
But that doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore it. Sometimes you really do damage yourself. I have been lucky in so far: my only real hurt was a couple of years ago, when my hips started to hurt after a string of long run. It turned out that I had been pushing my muscles too hard before they had had time to adapt; a few weeks of physio thrown things right. Other than that, I am happy to say that I have never felt better. I am pretty sure that the next time I injure myself it will be by tripping on a tree root, slipping on ice or trusting a automobile to stop at a zebra crossing.
Not that this stops non-runners telling me I am doing irreparable damage to my hips, knees, ankles and heart. Although examine after analyse has shown that running is good for your joints and can extend your life by several years, many armchair experts will not be told. It is hard not expressed the belief that at least some are looking to justify their own indolence.
So, why do I keep running, when my intellect and torso and so many other people tell me not to? Two reasons. First, when I am not actually pounding the pavement, I am pretty clear about the very best it is doing me. When everyone around you is get simply a little bit chubbier and a bit more out of breath, there is undeniably a thrill to seeing your own belly get flatter and your endurance increasing. Likewise, I am in a better feeling when I have operated. After two days of idleness, I get restless and irritable. I am not sure if this is my default government and running relieves it or if I am now so addicted that I get withdrawal symptoms when I stop, but the result is the same.
I am happy with my own corporation and I usually run without a partner. I enjoy the chance to be alone with my reckons, even if they are mostly about how uncomfortable I am.
Plus, every now and again, maybe once or twice a month, I desire, adoration, adoration the experience- enough to make up for all the horrors that have gone before. I am not too hot and not too cold, just the right amount of tired, with the feeling I could run for ever- and then nature gives another nudge. It might be early on a December morning, with daybreak gilding the eastern horizon, or midday in August, with rabbits scattering across a field. Once it was in Catford, with a thunderstorm soaking my clothes and cleansing the sweat away. For a few moments, it seems as if I am flying.
I don’t think a habit like this can last for ever, although some people carry on into their 80 s. Fauja Singh ran a marathon at 100. I will be happy if I make it to 70.
And then? I don’t know. Cage fighting looks like fun.