The Curious Lure of Running

I started running two weeks ago. That in itself is odd enough – I have always hated running. When I was training with the university ice hockey team, we ran twice a week. I always went, and I disliked every second.

So it is rather a surprise even to me that I decided to start running again, voluntarily, on my own. I’m following the Couch to 5k programme and using a podcast that plays music with a good running beat and tells you when to jog and when to walk briskly (we’re gradually building up to running 5k non-stop, but that’s a long way off). Then I announced my plan to several friends, including some internet friends who immediately decided to join me. We’ve now got a small group scattered across several different countries who are all following the same programme and reporting back on progress.

I still wouldn’t say that I enjoy running, exactly. I have to force myself through the run, reminding myself that it will be over soon and I will feel a buzz of triumph when I reach the end. Some days are harder than others. Today was horrible; it’s drizzling, there was wind blowing against me along the first stretch of the park, and for some reason every step was a trial. But I made it without walking during any of the run sections, or stopping at all.

Generally I’ve been running early in the morning, before anyone is really around to see me lumbering through the park with a bright-red, sweat-covered face. On Thursday evening I realised I hadn’t done my second run of the week, and if I left it any longer I would either be running on the morning of what was already going to be a long day (I went to see Singing in the Rain on Friday night – more on that another time) or running two days in a row. So I pulled myself together and went out.

I’m not sure what was different on Thursday to today, but I almost did enjoy that run. I did extra sprint sections, I pounded along with a smile on my face, and I felt like a real runner. I was still very glad to reach the end of the podcast, but then something possessed me and I ran another two minutes just because I felt like it. Part of the motivation was having run past someone I knew slightly – I didn’t want him to think I was too unfit or lazy to keep running. I doubt he even noticed me, honestly, but the psychological impetus was there.

Next week the programme steps up a bit, and I will have to run for 3 minutes without stopping. That sounds difficult to me; it’s twice as long as I’ve been running so far. But I used to run that much and more, when I was forcing myself around the 800m track with the ice hockey team, cursing with every step. There’s no reason why I can’t do it now as well.

I think most of running is about mind games: you trick yourself into thinking you’ve got much further left to go than you have, so you are pleasantly surprised when you can stop. You tell yourself how much you’re enjoying this, even if you aren’t. You smile at little birds or small children and your brain believes you’re smiling at the run. And somehow you make it through. Well, that’s how it is for me anyway.

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