🕒 7-8 minute read
I hate running. I can’t run because I’m asthmatic and too fat. At the age of 46 that’s what I had spent all of my life believing, but then one day, during the third interminable lockdown, something changed. I share my journey from hating to (sometimes) loving running.
By the time the UK entered its third lockdown, my mental health was in the bin. I rely on regular gym visits to help support good mental health and with the gym closed and unable to swim I bought an exercise bike and along with everyone else, had to make do with local walks and home yoga sessions.
Although these things helped, none of them gave me the boost a good cardio session provided. I don’t get on with home workouts and whilst I was getting some cardio from cycling and walking, working from home and largely exercising at home meant I was rarely leaving the house and the sameness combined with the monotony and gloom of winter meant I was at breaking point.
That’s when It dawned on me that perhaps I should try running, and I’m not alone. The BBC C25k training app reports a surge in demand of over 90% as people all over the UK have laced up their trainers and turned to running during lockdown.
A lifetime of hating running
At school, I was always the asthmatic wheezing one who came in last when we did cross country. I hated running then and since, despite being active, have mostly tried to avoid it.
I’d go as far to say that if the zombie apocalypse happened, I’d be more likely to curl up in a ball and accept my fate than attempt to run away.
Running is just something I’ve never got on with and it baffled me that people could claim to actually enjoy it. I figured they must either be liars or else be blessed with some kind of mutant running gene.
It doesn’t help that in most running mags and on the telly, running appears to be the sole domain of the seriously thin for whom a body fat percentage of anything above 10% would be unthinkable and this played into my belief that running wasn’t for someone as big as me.
Despite my dislike and avoidance of running, every few years, for some reason, I’d decide I was going to attempt to run. I’d step onto the treadmill at my gym and 2 minutes later I’d be wheezing. It didn’t make sense, how could I swim for miles, snowboard all day and hike up mountains, but running as slow as I possibly could instantly felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest squeezing the life out of me?
I’d keep at it for a few weeks, but the fact I didn’t find it remotely enjoyable combined with my lack of progress eventually caused my motivation to plummet so logically, I’d bin off running and simply return to doing other things I enjoyed instead.
Everything I read about running told me a beginner should be capable of reaching 5k in 3 months, that I should be able to hold a conversation whilst running (ha!) and countless other bollocks that made me believe I was a freak and that running obviously wasn’t for me.
Although I did love the high I got even after my very short runs, it wasn’t enough of a reason for me to keep on doing something that frustrated and made me feel like a failure.
Deciding to give running a proper try
I then avoided the treadmill for another couple of years but when the gyms all shut and my mental health was really starting to suffer I began to quietly consider running as an option.
Before putting on my trainers for the first time, I started by nerding out on the topic of running. I was determined that this time I was going to give it my best shot instead of a half hearted effort and so I learned about technique and all sorts of things that helped me gradually move from thinking about it to doing it.
I’m a ‘top breather’ which means I don’t breathe deeply from the diaphragm so a lungful of air for me, isn’t really a full lungful of air at all. Combine this with me carrying extra weight, a floating patella, exercise-induced asthma that wasn’t properly controlled and a propensity towards doing too much too soon and it’s not really a recipe for running success, but I felt like a seed had been planted and that running was something I was going to have one final shot at.
In January of this year, I made a simple decision. I was going to ignore all my anxieties about being heckled or having the piss taken out of me for being fat, running slowly and generally being crap and that I was going to give running a go.
On 9th January 2021 I faced my fears, laced up my trainers and headed out of my front door for my first ever outdoor run.
My first few runs
I’d read extensively about training plans for new runners and had decided against doing C25K as I wanted to listen to my body, so I chose to follow an intuitive approach, running for as long as I could and walking for as long as I needed to.
My first run was awful. I ran for perhaps 2 minutes, barely reaching the end of the road before I needed to stop and walk. My chest was instantly tight, but in a way that didn’t feel right for my fitness level and I was audibly wheezing. I managed a total of 2.7km running and walking and returned home feeling a mixture of pride I’d done it but also disappointment and frustration.
After more reading and lurking in groups and forums, it sounded like my breathing would improve if I kept it up but increasingly I suspected that my uncontrolled asthma could be holding me back.
Run after run, it was never my muscles getting tired or a stitch that made me stop, it was always my breathing, I simply couldn’t breathe. After several weeks of increasing distance, but not really increasing the amount of time I could run for, It finally dawned on me that I needed to get my asthma sorted out.
A glimmer of improvement
As well as the ongoing breathing problems, by week 4 my shins were sore, really sore so I felt like I had no choice but to take a week off.
I took a week out to let my shins heal, then went out for a run. It was during that run, which would have been my 11th, that I experienced a brief few seconds that didn’t feel awful and I remember smiling while running for the first time.
Fleeting as it was, along with bagging 5 personal bests, it gave me a glimmer of hope. After the run, once the endorphins subsided however I realised the pain in my shins had returned and was now much worse.
Injury strikes again
Regardless of what I’d just achieved, the run was clearly a mistake and my shins obviously hadn’t healed enough. I then spent the next 8 days howling in pain, unable to sleep at night as it was so intense, endlessly medicated, iced, hot water bottled, elevated and compressed.
If I hated running so much, why was I thinking about it and keen to get back out there?
I felt like I was still in an unreasonable amount of pain, so I booked to see my physio who gave me strict instructions to rest and told me that it could take a further 3-4 weeks for me to recover fully.
Over a month off running when I was still at the start of my journey felt like a huge blow and taking that time off was hard. Really hard. When the pain finally started to subside I was itching to get out there.
This made me start to question my long-held beliefs. If I hated running so much, why was I thinking about it and keen to get back out there?
Getting my asthma under control
Once healed I got back out there but took it slowly sticking to 2.5km to 3.5km 3 days a week, keen not to injure myself again by doing too much too soon.
I’d sorted out my running shoes, bought compression sleeves for my shins and now had a great pre and post-run stretch routine, so the only remaining thing I needed to address was my asthma. My hunch that it had been holding me back proved to be right.
I had an appointment with the asthma clinic and was given an extra new steroid inhaler and importantly, was told how to use it properly and was assured that after 2 weeks of using it twice a day, every day, I’d notice a difference.
By day 5 the difference was incredible. Being able to breathe has, rather unsurprisingly, made an enormous difference to my running and most of my runs since getting my medication sorted have honestly filled me with joy during and after.
I am a runner
I realised I was spending more time on running forums and groups and loving reading posts from other people and I’d started watching technique videos and even finding new virtual challenges to enter. I was following fat couch to 5k runners and fat marathon runners on Insta, all of which helped my confidence in my own abilities improve.
On bright, dry mornings, all I can think about is putting my trainers on and running. The night before a run day I’m excited and filled with anticipation, mentally rehearsing the route I’m going to take. On rest days I’m so keen to run that sometimes I ignore it’s a rest day and head out again anyway.
Running is no longer something I’m grudgingly forcing myself to do.
I’ve also realised I have rapidly amassed a running wardrobe to see me through every season and have spent more on running gear in the past 5 months than is perhaps reasonable.
I’m clearly heavily invested and the reason for this is obvious. Not only is this lifelong hater now a runner, I bloody love it.
The transition from hating to loving running
It took a couple of weeks for this to really sink in and the boost in performance I got from being on the right asthma medication really has cemented it firmly in my head.
I run because it’s good for my physical and mental health and not because I need the ego boost of being ‘better’ than someone else.
8 days after starting my new medication I did my first ever 5k. Yes, my/our pace was glacially slow compared to other runners, but you know what? I’m not a competitive person and I have no desire to be a competitive runner. I run because it’s good for my physical and mental health and not because I need the ego boost of being ‘better’ than someone else.
4 months ago I genuinely hated running, couldn’t run for longer than 2 minutes, and never for one second believed I’d get to the point where I could honestly say I enjoyed running.
So thank you lockdown for forcing me out of my exercise comfort zone and fuck you anxiety for telling me I couldn’t do it. I don’t love every run. I am still not a natural. I still don’t find it easy even doing short distances slowly, but that doesn’t matter.
I am a runner and I love it.
Special thanks in particular to Sara, Francis, Laura, Michelle and Nathan who have all been a huge inspiration to me over the last few months and to all those who’ve posted kind words of advice and encouragement on my socials x
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