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How Running Transformed My Life

Reflections from an unlikely runner

In 2019, I ran my first half marathon. 

This came as a huge surprise to everyone in my life, most of all myself. I hadn’t ever been good at sport, and viewed running as more of a punishment than anything else. I went to a weird school where they put us into sets for PE, and my main memory of running before 2019 is the time I won the 600m in house athletics but promptly lost my title because I passed out on the finish line. 

I simply didn’t view running as something that I could do; because it wasn’t something that I was good at. 

However, when my family signed up for a half marathon to raise money for the hospital that treated my sister for years, it would’ve made me look a decidedly bad person not to join in. I found myself downloading Strava — on the start line, no less — and running the slowest, most chaotic half marathon you’ve ever heard of. Suffice it to say I ate a Welsh cake and a piece of pizza during the run and couldn’t walk properly for weeks afterwards.

Regardless, I had achieved something that I myself had designated impossible. I wasn’t a good runner by any means, but I’d run 13.1 miles. In front of a crowd. And nobody laughed at me. I’d be damned if I couldn’t call myself a runner after that.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I slowly began to see running — and myself — in a different light. I wasn’t good at it, but it didn’t matter, really; I could still say I had achieved something huge. My perspective on the limits of possible began to change.

I began to run, and through some heretofore bizarre twist of fate, I’m now completely addicted. 

More often than not, my brain feels like a radio that hasn’t quite been tuned properly. It’s mostly scratching white noise, a vague, pulsing anxiety, thoughts that are impossible to discern and impossible to ignore. It’s been my life’s mission to try to get it to shut the hell up. 

Falling slowly into the rhythm of running, being totally enveloped by the steady certainty of one foot ahead of the next, is the only thing that’s guaranteed to numb my thoughts. It’s also guaranteed — no matter how far I run, or at what pace — to make me feel proud of myself for having achieved something I never thought I would be able to do, let alone enjoy. 

Am I quite literally running away from my problems? Yes. Big time. But I’m also making a commitment to remind myself that the limits on what I am capable of are arbitrarily self-imposed. Making this commitment regularly has healed my relationship with exercise, with my brain, and with my body. 

Running seems to be incredibly in-vogue at the moment. My Instagram is filled with beautiful girls with perfect hair and matching fits running around Richmond Park at breakneck speeds before grabbing a matcha and heading to hot yoga. Don’t get me wrong: power to them. Wish it could be me. I think, however, that if I were not already running, it would put me off. Just like the netball girls of set one PE I so envied, they present a flawless image that encourages you to think if you’re not good at something — or if you don’t look good doing something — you shouldn’t bother. 

My favourite runs are the ones where I pull on whatever I can find, head for the nearest muddy path available, turn my music on loud, and run at whatever speed I can: walking up steps, sprinting down hills, frequently stacking it completely. Another excellent option is a slow chatty one with a good friend as the sun rises, the time of day when utterly unguarded honesty is permissible because you’re in a random field looking down into St Andrews and there’s physical distance between yourself and your worries. Or else, the runs I go on purely because I’m desperate for an excuse to listen to Taylor Swift for a gloriously uninterrupted half hour. 

I am confident none of this is good running form. I am also confident I don’t look hot yoga-ready afterwards. I’ve enjoyed the process of learning more about running, and the feeling of getting better at it: but I was wrong to think that should have been my ultimate goal. 

The goal should be to find something that allows you to be the most confident, uninhibited, version of yourself. It should be to fall back in love with the place where you live and the people around you. It should be to embrace things because you like them, rather than because you’re good at them. 

And it should be to always, always, get a pastry afterwards.

Photo by Harriet St Pier

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