I tried running cross-country in school. Hated it. Used to walk the whole way then sprint over the finish line. I’m pretty sure that hating cross-country was a requirement for doing cross-country. I think I started to hate cross-country when I was running and inhaled sharply through my nose, sucking an entire daddy long-legs up one nostril.
They used to make us run around the sports fields in school. We did rugby in the autumn term and we weren’t allowed to wear underwear beneath our rugby shorts. I still remember the sight of one boy who’d tried to sneak onto the field with his pants still on being chased into the distance by an irate teacher.
Another teacher would say to us “You’ve got to think about your fitness. What about when you’re in your thirties and you’ve just shagged your girlfriend and she wants to go again but you’re too tired because you’re unfit?”
But, I’m fourteen, I’d think. I don’t even know what I’d do with a woman if I laid my hands on her now. This is weird.
It’s no wonder I wasn’t a fan of running. PE teachers are psychos.
I tried running about fifteen years ago. Got up early on a Sunday morning, ran halfway round Wandsworth Common, got a stitch, walked home. That was bullshit, I thought to myself. I’m never doing that again. I decided I was a non-runner. “I’m built for comfort, not speed” I’d say. Might as well have said “I’m happy with visceral fat and no discernible chin”.
I know a guy called Chris. He’s a former Marine. He ran last year’s London Marathon. To get to the start line, he ran a marathon first. Then after he’d run the London Marathon he ran another marathon.
If he can do that, I thought, I can get off my lardy arse and shuffle round the block. So I did. Except that this time, I started a basic couch to 5k training plan. It started easily, pretty much a brisk walk. Then it built up over the next few sessions. One minute running, ninety seconds of walking — intervals. Then one minute of running, followed by one minute of walking. And all of a sudden, just running.
When I’d tried running round Wandsworth Common fifteen years ago I just started and thought you had to keep going indefinitely. I was doing it all wrong. Who knew?
I got the shock of my life when it turned out that running was awesome. That if you switch off you just kind of run on autopilot and almost just get to sit back and enjoy the ride. That it gets a bit easier every time. And those endorphins? Are they good shit. I get days now where I realise that I need to go and run to feel better, clear my head. It’s like going for a good long walk but faster.
And I am a dog-dodging ninja.
A warm-up helps. Five minutes brisk walking first. Music helps. I still run intervals mainly, but after mainlining cheese over the festive period I’m back onto a couch to 5k training programme, the one provided for free by the NHS. I want to run a 5k by the end of March and a 10k by the end of June. I’m not an athlete, I look like a tramp in my cheap running gear, but I don’t care. I’m 42 and I am a runner, because I stopped listening to my brain telling me that running was rubbish for long enough to go out and just try it.