born to run

From mad dashes to out­pac­ing an eat­ing dis­or­der, run­ning has al­ways been a part of Ruby Tan­doh’s life. But she still doesn’t con­sider her­self a true run­ner. So why does she al­ways de­cide to jog on?

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

For this writer, run­ning is so much more than ex­er­cise – it’s helped her bat­tle anx­i­ety, too.

Iam not a run­ner. That’s not to say I don’t run: I’ve jogged back from nights out, cut­ting a weav­ing path down empty streets, phone in one hand, pil­fered beer coaster in the other. On the last day of Year 6, I ran home through pour­ing rain, half cry­ing, half gasp­ing for breath. I’ve done a run-skip shuf­fle to the su­per­mar­ket in py­ja­mas and a coat for a car­ton of milk. I’ve run cross-coun­try races and pounded pave­ments. I even planned to run the Lon­don Marathon.

But still, I’m not a run­ner. A run­ner is a strange thing – a neon-ly­cra-clad, grilled-chicken-anda-salad type of per­son. They’re light-footed and com­pe­tent; I re­cently dis­cov­ered I’ve been in­cor­rectly bend­ing my knees my whole life. What kind of per­son can’t even bend their own knees? Run­ning has been part of my life since I was 11 or 12. The rea­son I started was to be good at some­thing. I was un­gainly and lanky and I didn’t have many friends, so the more ac­tiv­i­ties I could be good at, the less I had to worry about feel­ing good. I’d go run­ning after school, slink into the gym at lunchtime and even do laps of the field. I was the only per­son sick with ex­cite­ment, not dread, on cross-coun­try days. I’d al­ways fin­ish with a fer­rous tang of blood in my mouth and my lungs burn­ing, but I’d still want more.

I wanted to win. I never did, of course, but I couldn’t stop my­self from pulling on my train­ers and set­ting off around the track. I loved the feel­ing of it, no mat­ter how av­er­age I was. I’ll never for­get turn­ing up to a cross-coun­try event after a sum­mer of train­ing and be­ing ef­fort­lessly lapped by a girl called Naomi, who had not trained once. I hated her, but I was still proud of how far my body could take me, and how fast.

Other than th­ese spikes of emo­tion, I find it dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber the thoughts I have while run­ning – it sends my mind to a strange place. Run­ning is so of­ten a world of high-per­for­mance sportswear and heart-rate track­ers, but my sham­bolic kind of jog­ging is a long way from all that. When I run, I don’t think about per­sonal bests. Frag­ments of words and phrases get stuck on a loop in my head un­til the words barely make sense. Other times, it’s a bro­ken thought – re­cently I silently role-played or­der­ing a pain au cho­co­lat for the en­tirety of a two-kilo­me­tre run. I end up think­ing about tiny de­tails that were use­less then and are even more use­less now, but that some­how stay in my head after be­ing drummed in by the rhythm of my train­ers hit­ting the ground. I know the ex­act weight of my old wa­ter bot­tle and the grassy smell of my cross-coun­try races. Th­ese things make me so nos­tal­gic I al­most want to take to the streets and run, right now.

I re­mem­ber one sum­mer in my early teens when I ran nearly every day. A fam­ily friend took me out on long runs with her dur­ing the hol­i­days. I kept a jour­nal list­ing how far we’d run, where and in what time. It was per­haps the hap­pi­est school hol­i­days I ever had. Later, I joined my grand­mother’s run­ning club. She didn’t take up run­ning un­til her for­ties, but to this day – even now, with her knee re­placed and her body host­ing a mil­lion aches and pains – she stays ac­tive. The run­ning gave way to jog­ging, which be­came power-walk­ing, but she’s my in­spi­ra­tion. With the run­ning club, I went on a few of their shorter jogs. On one, I pushed my­self so hard I threw up, 100 me­tres from the fin­ish, into a stiff breeze that sent my vomit fly­ing over the man who had been my pace-set­ter. I got a good time, though.

As I grew older, my teenage body be­gan to fill out and be­come strange and new to me, and my run­ning took on a dif­fer­ent role. Suf­fer­ing from bu­limia, run­ning be­came a way to make my body smaller. I knew all kinds of ter­ri­ble things, like how many kilo­me­tres equalled a Mars Bar, or how long I’d have to run to earn a packet of chips. I’d purge after a day of com­pul­sive eat­ing and then go run­ning, des­per­ate to sweat out any fat that might have come to rest on my bum or thighs. I ached after every run.

With this his­tory, it might seem dan­ger­ous to choose to run a marathon only a few years after fi­nally shak­ing off my eat­ing dis­or­der. To run it for Beat, an eat­ing dis­or­der char­ity, is an ex­tra twist of irony. But that’s ex­actly what I planned to do; I wanted to re­dis­cover the kind of run­ning that punc­tu­ated those care­free sum­mer hol­i­days more than a decade ago. I was ready to be­come a real run­ner, once and for all. I didn’t want to run for my weight or my speed or my fit­ness. It barely had any­thing to do with my body: be­ing a real run­ner meant throw­ing my­self into a sport that I love, that keeps me ac­tive and fu­els my mind with en­dor­phins. I put the idea of run­ning the marathon to my fi­ancée Leah dur­ing a half-hearted mid-week jog. We hadn’t done much run­ning to­gether be­fore, but as soon as our com­pet­i­tive anx­i­eties had worn off, we found it was the per­fect way to stave off the bore­dom of those dull week­day jogs. As we were walk­ing the fi­nal leg of the run, I said, “Maybe I should run the marathon.” “Maybe we should run it,” she said. And that was that.

Train­ing was hard. I live in a city of hills, and even the gen­tlest jog can feel like a moun­tain hike. There were some sparks of glory, such as when I ran my first 10km in an event where (and I’d be ly­ing if I said this hadn’t swayed me to en­ter) all fin­ish­ers got a free Christ­mas pud­ding. But mostly, it was tough. We would train when the sun was sink­ing low in the sky. In win­ter, we ran into the coun­try­side, cut­ting through frosty grass, our skin smart­ing with the chill of the icy air.

Then I de­vel­oped shin splints, which made every step feel like run­ning on glass, and the marathon dream was over – for the mo­ment, at least. Leah and I have had to de­fer our places un­til next year. But some­how, it doesn’t even mat­ter. Run­ning has be­come so much more than this one race. What’s caught me off-guard is I’ve hardly given a thought to my body. I’m sure parts of me have grown fat­ter and oth­ers have be­come leaner, but I’ve hardly no­ticed. With all this run­ning, I’ve started think­ing about health in a way that’s so dif­fer­ent to the kilo­joule-count­ing, kilo­me­tre­track­ing kind of fit­ness that used to in­ter­est me. Now, it’s my mind that I’m work­ing out when I stretch my legs: I’m get­ting bet­ter at run­ning off the anx­i­ety and I’m be­com­ing stronger at bat­ting away creep­ing feel­ings of de­pres­sion.

My men­tal health is bet­ter than ever. You can’t run off men­tal ill­ness, of course, any more than you can stride away from di­a­betes, but the phys­i­cal out­let helps to dis­tract me from the mess of my mind. When your brain is ty­ing it­self in knots, it can be cathar­tic to work your limbs, fill your lungs and re­mem­ber that you are a mirac­u­lous, liv­ing, breath­ing hu­man body. I’m still not a “real” run­ner. I haven’t got the hang of sportswear; my bed­time and run­ning out­fits are one and the same. But when that fa­mil­iar feel­ing of anx­ious en­ergy comes over me, I hit the streets. I nurse my bad legs back to health. The first few steps are like wad­ing through golden syrup, then my body starts to move a bit faster, I gain mo­men­tum and my legs be­gin to stretch out in joy­ous strides. I am up and run­ning again.

“MY MEN­TAL HEALTH IS BET­TER THAN EVER. YOU CAN’T RUN OFF MEN­TAL ILL­NESS, OF COURSE, BUT THE PHYS­I­CAL OUT­LET HELPS TO DIS­TRACT ME FROM THE MESS OF MY MIND”

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