I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to face my neme­sis - run­ning

Af­ter months of us­ing ev­ery ex­cuse pos­si­ble to put it off, I re­alised my mind­set had to change

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Rachel Fla­herty

Icouldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to face my neme­sis – run­ning.

The ex­er­cise I have yearned to be good at for many years, en­vied and ad­mired those who are while si­mul­ta­ne­ously dodg­ing do­ing any­thing by con­vinc­ing my­self maybe run­ning wasn’t for me.

“I don’t have a body built for run­ning,” I’ve told my­self many times, among my myr­iad of ex­cuses for not start­ing train­ing. In my mind, the ideal body for run­ning is that of So­nia O’Sul­li­van, but I know deep down I do not need the ath­leti­cism of a for­mer Olympian and world cham­pion to run a few kilo­me­tres.

I’ve of­ten won­dered if am I the only per­son in Ire­land not to have run a 5km race? It feels like I am and ridicu­lous I haven’t even tried. The longer I have put off run­ning, the big­ger the ob­sta­cles to be­gin have be­come.

Since I’ve started this col­umn, I’ve jumped off 14m-high trees, walked on a wob­bly thin wire be­tween plat­forms on a windy day con­vinced I was go­ing to fall, clung onto the top of in­door climb­ing walls as my arms ached, and thought about tack­ling the high­est moun­tain in Ire­land, Car­raun­toohil, next in or­der to avoid go­ing run­ning for one more week.

What­ever ex­er­cise class I tried in re­cent months, I al­ways chose another op­tion when the run­ning sec­tion came up. Each time I did that, I killed a bit of my con­fi­dence and I be­came more self-con­scious about try­ing it all.

When I was at my biggest weight last year, 5st 6lb (36kg) over­weight, on one of my “good days” I set off for a run. It was ter­ri­ble. Ev­ery­thing jig­gled, my clothes felt un­com­fort­able, and putting one foot in front of the other be­came an in­sur­mount­able task in my mind. Within a few min­utes I was out of breath, red-faced, my heart was rac­ing and I felt ut­terly de­feated.

I stared down at the ground and stopped, afraid to look up at who­ever might have seen what I con­sid­ered at the time my pa­thetic at­tempt. I gave up. Look­ing back, I could eas­ily have kept run­ning or ap­pre­ci­ated that the small bit I did was bet­ter than what I done in pre­vi­ous months, which was noth­ing, but my mind­set was all wrong.

I wanted to run. I’ve al­ways hugely ad­mired and re­spected peo­ple out run­ning for the en­joy­ment, for 5km runs, 10km, marathons and en­durances races – all of them – whether they leaped along ef­fort­lessly or ap­peared to strug­gle and kept go­ing, I al­ways no­ticed they were so much hap­pier when they’d fin­ished. The “run­ner’s high”, I was told. I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence that.

Ele­phant-like thuds

Re­cently, as part of an ex­er­cise class, the group was sent on a 400m run. Nor­mally, I would have found a way to do a dif­fer­ent type of car­dio but on this day, I found my­self mak­ing my way up the road mut­ter­ing “I can’t run” to my­self but re­luc­tantly shuf­fled along any­way. A man in the class, who nor­mally bounded out in front like a gazelle, started chat­ting to me as I em­braced more ele­phant-like thuds with each slow step.

“Oh no, don’t talk to me, I may ac­tu­ally die try­ing to run while tak­ing a breath to talk at the same time,” I thought in my head as I tried to chat back. But the dis­trac­tion worked and to my own sur­prise I was soon back at the fin­ish point. “You can run per­fectly fine, you just don’t want to run,” he said.

Oh, he had heard my mut­ter­ing and made a good point. I was con­vinced I’d al­ways wanted to run, but I was miss­ing that some­thing spe­cial that run­ners had, so I couldn’t run. But the truth was I wouldn’t run be­cause I was likely to be slow and not that good at it when I started, and I didn’t want to face that.

I could run and I would, although I still con­tin­ued to find ex­cuses for many weeks to de­lay do­ing it.

I’ve have used ev­ery ex­cuse pos­si­ble to put off run­ning from: Met Éire­ann has is­sued a weather warn­ing for rain, which was for Mun­ster and I live in Dublin, but you can never be too care­ful; to telling my­self that even though I’d lost a good amount of weight I was still too heavy to run yet. Other ex­cuses in­cluded my run­ners be­ing too old; I must find the right pro­gramme first or I’ll get in­jured; I’m too hun­gry so I won’t have en­ergy to run; I’m too full af­ter eat­ing.

Then, one day, I found my­self in the shop look­ing at 2019 di­aries and re­alised months had passed and there was never go­ing to be a per­fect time. It was time to just do it. Mu­sic ready, fit­ness tracker ready, favourite run­ners ready, and off I went.

It was slow, un­com­fort­able and tor­tu­ous. Where had these hills ap­peared from? Okay, in­clines would be a bet­ter de­scrip­tion, but I’d walked this route many times think­ing the ground was com­pletely flat. The temp­ta­tion was there to stop, but I wasn’t let­ting that hap­pen this time. My goal was to reach 1km and I could fig­ure out a pro­gramme to fol­low later. Run­ning that dis­tance, no mat­ter how slow, would be more than I’d done in some time.

Heart didn’t ex­plode

My main pri­or­ity was get­ting the idea that “I can’t run” out of my mind. I checked my fit­ness watch a lot and my heart didn’t ex­plode, which was en­cour­ag­ing. It seemed to take for­ever to get to that 1km. I was close to reach­ing the 1km and stop­ping when a lit­tle golden re­triever puppy es­caped their owner and jumped up to give me a big lick on my hand. The lively dog was so en­er­getic and en­cour­ag­ing I de­cided to keep go­ing. I re­laxed my breath­ing and picked a point ahead to run to. It was a sense of achieve­ment when I reached it. I’d run 2km, more than I ex­pected, and didn’t keel over. A few days later, I was eager to get out again so this wouldn’t be a one-off at­tempt. It was rain­ing and windy, I was tired af­ter fin­ish­ing work, a bit hun­gry and my favourite run­ners were miss­ing – the ex­cuses were jump­ing at me but I was de­ter­mined. I was so eager to get out­side be­fore I changed my mind I re­alised too late I’d for­got­ten my head­phones, a dis­as­ter, I thought, as

I’d re­lied on be­ing dis­tracted to get run­ning so far. I knew if I went back in­side I would not come out so I kept go­ing. I couldn’t check my watch this time be­cause the rain was slap­ping me in the face and wind push­ing me back.

It was un­com­fort­able, but af­ter about 15 min­utes I started to feel bet­ter. I was cop­ing with­out mu­sic and not look­ing at my watch ev­ery minute to see how far I’d gone made it a bit eas­ier. I started to lighten my step and stop look­ing at the ground as I ran.

I looked a pi­ti­ful sight soak­ing wet but I was ex­cited – I was begin­ning to be­lieve I could run, and run much far­ther than I had orig­i­nally thought, al­beit slowly. I started to feel stronger and my breath­ing stead­ied.

hen I fin­ished and checked for the first time how far I’d gone with­out stop­ping, 3.5km, I was happy. Four days ago, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to 0.5km. I be­gan to won­der what more my body could achieve if I get my mind­set right. I’d know I’ve a long way to go but I’m look­ing for­ward to do­ing it. Any ef­fort is bet­ter than none.

Now I need to find a 5km to sign up to and get out of my com­fort zone even fur­ther.

I’ve of­ten won­dered if am I the only per­son in Ire­land not to have run a 5km race? It feels like I am and ridicu­lous I haven’t even tried

Rachel Fla­herty: “In my mind, the ideal body for run­ning is that of So­nia O’Sul­li­van (be­low), but I know deep down I do not need the ath­leti­cism of a for­mer Olympian and world cham­pion to run a few kilo­me­tres.”

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