COLUMN: The reluctant runner

Wensleydale mum-of-two Alison Champion gives an insight into her love/hate relationship with her new hobby.

I did not want to go out this morning.

I seem to have lost the desire I had just a few months ago. A desire to get out as much as I could. I loved talking about running, following others, planning routes. I finally thought that running had now become a lifestyle for me, rather than a health kick to attain that goddess boddess I have forever dreamed of.

But here I am feeling resentful, guilty and tired. I’m still recovering from an amazing weekend (although as I’m writing this, I realise it is Friday, therefore that statement is ridiculous). My husband and I were finally hit by the plague a few weeks ago, before that of course was Christmas. Before that, a highly anticipated magical few days away with the kids, which unfortunately resulted in very little Christmas magic, but lots of Christmas sick. Excuses, excuses.

As I drove the kids to school this morning, the temperature read -3, the hills and fields surrounding me are a eucalyptus green, beautifully shimmered with silver. The sky bright blue and the sun intense. A gorgeous morning. But alas misery guts over here insists on trying to talk myself into and out of a run. Luckily, I did put my PE kit on when I got up. Stage one complete. I had already wrestled the way into my sports bra, pulled on my leggings (still splattered in mud from a few days before) and slung on long sleeved football shirt I had stolen from the husband a while ago. As usual I would have grunted and sighed to myself when I caught myself in the mirror, making me suck in and straighten up.

Alison Champion.

Stage 2 comes with the relentless whining from my two hounds. Yes they will be fine with a brief walk, they will be thrilled at the prospect of a ball thrower in the back field. But like me, they need to get out for longer, unlike me their excitement builds with each added item, to which they have become familiar. Trainers on, still full of mud, bright yellow jacket, that offers nothing in terms of warmth or waterproofing, but feels the right thing to do. Gloves… I find my gloves, inside out of course. Head band, unflattering but essential, as my ears refuse to heat themselves. (does anyone’s?) Jogging lead, for the old man, which induces actual barking. Second figure of 8 lead for the psychopath. I’m stood questioning why we (I) ever thought dogs were a good idea, whilst I try and negotiate the door and play our usual game, simply named, “the door will not open, unless you get out of the way!”

Watch set to outdoor run, Strava started and away we go.

I mean it’s ok. I soon forget about being tired and set off on a slightly different route, stick to flat today. All cows are still in and few sheep about so we run along the river in fields which will become out of bounds for us in a few months.

As we plod along, it dawns on me that I have now been consistently running for a year. I think back to this time last year when I joined many others in a challenge.

We started to run for Simon. Friends, of friends had received the beyond horrendous diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. A father of two small children.  A husband. A son and a brother. A loving and normal family hit by an earth-shattering meteorite. Terri, Simon’s wife along with friends, wanted to increase awareness of this cruel disease and of course raise money by setting up the challenge for herself and others to run 28 miles in February.

So we joined and we ran.

At the time I had no trainers of use. My Nikes which had been gifted by my husband, as a much-needed present (apparently) 10 years earlier, were now scooping up more grass between the soles that a combine harvester. My skater style suede(y) trainers had enjoyed a pleasant summer of river fun and now kindly allowed the underside of my big toe, to ever so shyly peek out. Two pairs for the bin (or wrap up in a bag for life and shove in the shed, because you just never know) This left me with two choices. Wellies or leather walking boots. I hear the shocked horror from seasoned professionals, to whom I apologise, but I was only doing this run/walk for 28 miles, it was snowing most of the time and my feet would get wet and cold otherwise. Big heavy walking boots were the obvious choice.

I had no desire whatsoever to run/stumble with anyone or be seen by anyone, therefore I headed up. You can get up and above the roads and houses in just over a mile from where I live. It’s a fairly hard mile, which involved very little running to begin with, even now it’s a bobbity jog, rather than a run.

I found my own little routes, Strava clicked on segments added by others, so I enjoyed the challenges of increasing my times and spending ages enjoying the post run evaluations. Eventually I did allow myself a purchase of some trail running shoes, where had they been all my life?! I hadn’t the foggiest where to start with shoes but headed instinctively to a brand we were familiar…Nike. I searched for trail running and up popped some nice simple black juniper trainers. Sold.

I wanted to get out more frequently, the dogs didn’t know what the hell was going on, but they were on board. I remember getting to the top of the big hill, for the first time without as much struggle as before and literally whooping out loud and raising my hands in the air, like I was in an advert for Tampons or women’s sportswear.

However it wasn’t without setbacks.

My ‘bull in a china shop’ tendencies meant I started a little too adventurous. There was no warm up routine. My cool downs consisted of me sitting down with a pint of squash. This meant I succumbed to pain, pretty much everywhere! “if it’s hurting it working!” I told myself. Getting up that hill, as character building as it was, probably didn’t help with what I later self-diagnosed as shin splints. I refused to stop.

My knees had caused me much suffering, more embarrassment than anything else. The previous year, my (laughing) Night in Shining Armour had to come to my rescue. I found myself happy as Larry up on a hill, but due to pain in my knees, was completely unable to attempt the descent. Silly Mummy. So I hung up my combine harvesters again…..

This time I forced myself to battle courageously though, constantly complaining to anyone that would listen. My knees hurt, my shins hurt, my back hurt. My eyes threatened migraines when exposed to any form of sunshine particularly the low winter kind, meaning that I was now that prat, not only in walking boots with a face redder that Mars’s blush, but with oversized sunglasses, looking anything but glamourous.

To top it all off a few months in, even with my snazzy new trainers I developed barbaric pain in both my feet. The mornings especially were agonizing. I could barely put my feet down, leading to some very near misses en route to the bathroom. I should have put my feet up and relented again… however unless I stopped walking altogether, impossible with dogs and children it seemed pointless to give up running too. Another self diagnosis of plantar fasciitis was explained to my unpaid therapist, (husband) who never said, but was probably wondering what one earth was the point of all this alleged suffering?

And so we (him mentally, me physically) battled on. A year down the road I analyse my achievements. No notable weight loss. No gazelle-like elegance attained. A cross country half marathon completed, a running club joined, 523 Strava miles recorded.

Terri has now raised over £20,000 in Simon’s memory, kicked off by that initial 28 miles in February.

For those of us who didn’t know him, his face is now familiar to us. He appears in my thoughts when I consider turning back after only mile 2, when I question why I am doing this and when I need a kick up the backside to conquer that bloody hill!

I have not yet crossed the barrier where running becomes a need rather than a want or a should.  I love the adrenaline, but am not yet an addict.

But, I will keep trying and unlike all previous attempts, I will keep running.