This week, I’m feeling rather pleased with myself. At the ripe old age of 31, I went for my first ever run. In fact, I have been for two (short) runs in the last week. This may not seem very impressive to the avid joggers out there, but until earlier this week, the furthest I have ever run is to catch a bus (although I can actually sprint pretty quickly for one of those if the alternative is to wait another 5 minutes for the next one).
I have never found an exercise I love, and for a long time I have thought that I really “should” include some form of regular exercise in my life. Ideally one that was cheap, easy and that I wouldn’t hate doing.
Lots of my friends are into running, and have been for some time. I have always regarded them with a kind of wary confusion. Are they pretending to enjoy it? Are they secretly crying inside with every foot they pound the pavement with? (This is how I imagined my first run would go).
At the weekend, I was having a drink with some friends who (along with some of their running friends) had just finished the Hackney Half marathon. Someone enquired if I would consider doing the run next year, and I almost spat out my Sauvignon Blanc. “I’m not a runner. I’ve never run.” I confirmed confidently.
“Neither was I until last year – I hadn’t run at all. Now I love it” was the response. And many others chipped in with encouragement, saying that they only started relatively recently, and had never considered themselves runners before.
In my head I felt sceptical. I felt like I was trying to be recruited into a cult that was way out of my comfort zone. I found myself getting defensive and listing reasons why I wasn’t a runner and therefore couldn’t start running.
Some of the genuine reasons why I felt I couldn’t start running included that I didn’t know how to run (I actually looked up ‘How to run’ on WikiHow). I also felt that I would look like an exaggerated version of Phoebe running in Friends, and that large groups of youths would point and laugh at me.
I thought that my non-running friends would think I had fundamentally changed as a person, and that my running friends would think I was an embarrassment for even thinking about trying to join in their fun. I was also convinced that I would hate it, never do it again, and consider myself a failure.
The encouragement I got last weekend from runners that completed the Hackney Half, along with my defensive justification of “You might be able to do it, but I can’t” started to sound familiar to me. It reminded me of how I used to feel when I met career coaches back when I was in my old corporate job. It was great for them that they had made the move to career change, but I simply couldn’t. I wasn’t ready yet/good enough/ambitious enough/brave enough (all of the above seemed like extremely valid excuses at the time), and I doubted I ever would be.
But I wanted to become a coach, and slowly but surely I worked out how I could become one. Looking back, I recognised I was so attached to my comfort zone that I clung to my limiting beliefs like a person lost at sea clings to her life jacket. Believing it was impossible for me to make a career change gave me a level of comfort and security – at least I wasn’t going to fail and look stupid.
Perhaps that was the same as running. Maybe I could try it just to see what it was like.
So I did. I put on my cheap pink Adidas trainers and went for a short run around the Olympic Park. And it was OK! I didn’t really like it – I felt self-conscious, nervous, and had to walk for parts in the middle, but I actually went on a run. I am feeling so pleased with myself I actually went for a second run today, albeit to and returning from a dentist appointment.
It might not be a half marathon, but it feels like an achievement for me. I don’t want to let my fear of youths laughing at me or my limiting beliefs about my ability stop me from doing something I want to do. So, thanks Phoebe, for providing some long-overdue inspiration.