For many years I told myself that I wasn’t a runner. I would tell myself over and over again that I was not built for running, I was not athletic, that I’d never been fast at any sport. I have distinct memories of coming up with the most pathetic of excuses to try and get out of school athletics carnival days; anything running-related would send a shiver down my spine and I would look for the nearest exit. The only running I was interested in was running away from running!
Fast-forward to a few years ago when I took up triathlon training in my then home city of Brisbane, Australia. I did this to lose weight after living in London and indulging in too many pints on school nights! Through triathlon I met some great people and even started to like running despite having told my coach how much I hated it – that’s got to be considered improvement, right?!
I remember thinking, “OK, this running thing may not be so bad after all.” Oh, it was still bloody difficult at first and I remember laughing to myself whenever the coach said things like ‘right then, the session today is going to consist of 10 by 1 kilometre intervals with negative splits’. Woah, 10 what? Negative what? “There’s no way I’ll make that,” said the little voice inside my head as I struggled with the first 1km, let alone the other nine.
But gradually things improved. I’ll be honest and say that the weight loss was fantastic so perhaps that was the first thing to keep me motivated to run. But all of a sudden I had this energy that I hadn’t experienced before. I started to enjoy the feeling of increased oxygen in my lungs, my legs getting stronger, getting a little quicker each time I trained and the camaraderie I enjoyed with my training buddies was fantastic. I formed friendships that are still strong today and for that I thank triathlon training, in particular running because that is where I received a lot of encouragement from my mates, some of whom are brilliant runners.
On a particularly challenging day in the midst of my amateur triathlon life I was absolutely gutted when one of the coaches said to me – in response to my saying I didn’t think I was cut out for running – “well, you can blame your genetics for that.” Bam! What a slap in the face. Despite the fact that I was a strong swimmer and even stronger cyclist, what he said really stuck in my mind. You know what it’s like, when a negative comment plays around in your mind like a record stuck on repeat. I lost motivation, gave up triathlon and definitely ruled out running; I told myself it wasn’t for me. “You’ll never be good, so why bother?” was the track that kept playing over and over. For various other reasons I waved goodbye to triathlon but I’d be lying to say that that one comment was reason enough to give up.
For those ‘other reasons’ I moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, where I fell into a completely different routine, one which involved a lot of drinking fantastic local wine (yum!) but one that unfortunately didn’t involve nearly enough running (ouch!). Give or take the odd lap of Hagley Park I really gave running a wide berth. I even had the gorgeous trails of Banks Peninsula at my doorstep in addition to the city’s beaches, but I still didn’t feel the inspiration to run. I was up against myself, big time.
Fast forward again – because, hey, this isn’t meant to be an autobiography – to a few years after that and I started running again when I was living back in Brisbane, but only to help with fitness training for a trek I was about to do in Papua New Guinea. In the midst of ‘trek prep’ I went trail running with some friends. It was kinda fun, despite it being a winter’s morning and not being appropriately attired for winter running. But that is how I met my husband. Yep, through a running group! He was one of the fastest in the group and I was one of the slowest, but I will always remember how encouraging he was and how he didn’t treat me any differently because of my speed nor ability, and especially didn’t make a comment about my genes – lucky for him!
Fast forward one last time and here we are, living in France (I’m Australian, he is French), training for and participating in trail running events in the French Alps! Who would have thought?
But that’s not to say running comes easily to me. Absolutely not! Every time I step into my running shoes I have to win the war against my own mind, much like the Oatmeal cartoon, which nailed it for me. Those grey clouds filled with doubt hang around far too often and I’m constantly up against myself. I still suffer from the occasional bout of runner’s block, but when I get out of my own mind, lace up my shoes and head out the door, it feels fantastic. It really is a case of blowing away the cobwebs once my feet start pounding the pavement or, preferably, the trail.
For me, the trail is where I truly start to challenge myself. And by that I mean focus only on myself and not think of other runners flying past (or perhaps that’s just because there are far less people in my local forest!). It’s where I leave behind my doubts and just focus on enjoying running.
I use my time out on the trails to de-clutter my thoughts. Often I read how writers run and runners write. This to me makes perfect sense. The mental space you create by running allow your thoughts to flow and it’s liberating. I write a lot as part of my ‘day job’ so running brings clarity to ideas I have for work projects and generally just blows the crap out. I can now say that I love trail running. I’m getting stronger, more confident and feel as though I can now say that I’m a runner. I’m also proud to have stepped up to the line and not let that comment of years ago completely defeat me.