'I didn't imagine I would find so much joy in something I am terrible at'flickr/kosalabandara

I’m not being self-deprecating when I say that I am truly abysmal at running. The mere mention of a bleep test is enough to send me into sweats – and not the good kind. Our relationship with exercise is so often formed by our experiences as children. If your experiences, like mine, involved finishing last in practically every athletic event, this isn’t good news.

For context, I was a tiny, dyspraxic 11-year-old who possessed the unfortunate combination of great enthusiasm and very little coordination. At school there was a kind of social currency in being athletic; a bizarre correlation between those in the Netball A team, and those who got to kiss boys. I’m sure you can imagine which side of the graph I was on.

I've carried with me a niggling jealousy of athletic people

It wasn’t for lack of trying (with both athletics and boys) – I certainly gave it a go. But after years of being picked last for sports teams and routinely coming last in swimming, I resigned myself to failure in the athletics department, and instead found comfort in drama classes and books. Since then, I have avoided exercise like the plague. To exercise would take me right back to being that 11-year-old year girl who simply could not run and looked like a fool for trying.

However, I’ve carried a niggling jealousy of athletic people, particularly runners. It is impossible to avoid the pervasive narrative that runners are fitter in both mind and body. Running improves concentration, lowers your risk of heart disease, strengthens your bones. The positives are endless. In today’s sedentary society where disease is on the rise, improved physical fitness is universally hailed by specialists as necessary to give yourself the best chance at longevity, health, and happiness.

I’ve also just picked up a copy of Bella Mackie’s Jog On and am astounded by the benefits of running on mental health. She writes that taking up jogging after years of mental health difficulties provided her with a space to silence intrusive thoughts. If you haven’t read it, buy it – or listen to her discuss the book on a podcast. She’s totally inspirational without being preachy, and still extols the virtues of wine and ice cream – my kind of hero.

After years of resenting my inability to run, I finally decided to bite the inevitable bullet and give it a go. I realised I had literally nothing to lose, and besides, running sounded like a more productive way of procrastinating than watching vine compilations.

I tend to run early in the morning to avoid the glare of Mill Road's inhabitants as I huff and puff up and down the pavement'twitter/bakerpaintings

Before my first run, I did a visualisation exercise (close your eyes, and imagine the Thing you Don’t Want To Do in order to mentally prepare yourself for it). Well, I had catastrophic visions of me flailing about with my phone in one hand, and my love island water bottle in the other. My keys? Lord knows where. Dignity? Can’t see it either.

So, I went to Decathlon to get kitted out and I’m not going to lie, I felt incredibly smug. I walked straight past New Look and headed into the hitherto uncharted domain of a ‘real life sports shop’ and bought myself a small water bottle, a wristband to hold my keys, and a strange phone holder which you wear around your upper arm. Very modern and very swish indeed.

I have found so much joy in something that I am terrible at

Fast forward three weeks later, and I’ve been on twelve runs. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m beginning to understand the hype. My ability to focus has improved, I have more energy, and my fitness levels are already improving. I’ve tended to run early in the mornings in order to avoid the harsh glare of Mill Road’s inhabitants as I huff and puff up and down the pavement.

For any of you aspiring joggers, I would thoroughly recommend the Couch to 5K app to guide you through these arduous first weeks. I have a tendency to either work myself too hard or not enough, and find a lack of structure incredibly frustrating: as such, I’ve found something incredibly soothing about Sarah Millican telling me to stop, start, stop, and start again.


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But it isn’t just this. There’s been a consequence I didn’t expect or aim for: I have found so much joy in something that I am so terrible at. This morning I watched the sunrise on the bridge looking over the train tracks during the time I’d usually still be in bed. I’ve discovered the bliss that is running to Amerie, Christina Aguilera, and Chaka Khan as I plod along with an ever-increasing speed.

I’m slowly learning that running doesn’t have to be competitive or traumatic, or even glossy and Instagram-worthy. Instead, it can simply be a way to show your body and mind kindness. That’s more than enough for me.

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