I don’t consider myself ‘a runner,’ but I really love to run. Just like countless blog posts about running, I’ll start it with the same truth, I used to hate it. I’ve always been sporty and active in my spare time, but just running?! Urgh. No.
My earliest memory of running was cross-country PE lessons; being forced to loop around the school, up and down the concrete pavements in the humid Hong Kong weather. Hell. I tried to take it up in my late teens, twice, but I found it deathly boring.
But age 31, after backpacking for a few months, and failing to get my endorphin hit by trying to sneakily work out in dorm rooms or people’s houses I figured it was my only option. For Christmas my brother put some money in my account for me to get a pair of semi decent trainers (bless my wonderful big big bro) and I begrudgingly downloaded the 0 – 5k app. My first run was on a Koala trail, or, to be more factually correct, a path that had those yellow Koala signs along on it, in the Tea Gardens, just outside Newcastle, Australia (duh!) I was surprisingly fitter than I thought, and started to ignore every other ‘rest’ minute, and tried to focus on Koala spotting rather than the fact I was running. (or jogging or plodding? ) I saw no Koala’s but felt pretty good. The twenty minutes of hell I envisaged was twenty minutes of ‘alright I’m doing this’ followed by ‘FUCK YEH I DID IT.’
After a few more runs in Australia, I landed in Los Angeles feeling anxious, lost and restless. I figured anything goes in Hollywood (I was right) and in movies people are always running on the sidewalks, so I could get away with running around without feeling too stupid or obtrusive. I came back to the hostel feeling pumped, anxiety levelled out, and, as a bonus, I’d got my bearings around the area I was staying. This run taught me not to rule out any location, aside from when I have safety concerns, obviously.
Over the next few months, running, strangely to me, became something I looked forward to. Even if I really didn’t want to do the running bit, the knowledge that in just 20 minutes (yes, that’s all it needs to be) I would feel a zillion times better, would make sure I put my trainers on and took those first vital few steps.
As a teenage goth in Hong Kong I learnt not to care too much about people staring and pointing at me, which has helped A LOT. As a curvy, 5’8” white blonde with tattoos, travelling, I did, and do get stared at a lot (and that is said not in some ‘oh I’m so gorgeous’ way!) Cars slowed down to look at me doing sit-ups and press ups on the side of a road mid-run in Tulum, Mexico. So what did I do? Smile and wave of course. In small town France I like to greet the confused looks of the elderly morning walkers with a big smile and a loud Bonjour. Sometimes I get a smile back, sometimes a look mixed with disgust and confusion.
Running whilst I travel makes me seek out local parks and promenades, and many times I come across, or end up doing fun random stuff. The inspiration for this post was how happy I was stumbling across a ‘Jungle trail’ whilst running through the park towards the beach in Ventspils, Latvia. On a coldish, wet morning, I was laughing to (and at) myself attempting a low level obstacle course mid run. I climbed up small walls, fell off logs, squeezed through rope tunnels, and eventually ended up, happy and sweaty at the coast.
In Hoi An, Vietnam, the stormy weather changed our beach day into a day of cycling in the warm downpour, but I still wanted to go for a morning run along the beach. After 30 minutes of sweating it out the water was irresistible and I just jumped in fully clothed, (but shoes off, of course.) It was magical. I think I failed to sneak back into the hotel, dripping wet, unnoticed. I felt like I was wearing a soggy nappy… But worth it. SO worth it.
I love the freedom I feel when I’m running. There have been time where the mix of endorphins, scenery and present contentment has almost brought me to tears. My brother lives in a small, gorgeous French seaside town near the Spanish border. Looking down across the sparkling bay, with the sun on my back, the wind in my face, I remember wanting to explode with, contentment. Which is much more powerful than it sounds.
When I did my first non-school forced run in Hong Kong, Nov 2016 I couldn’t stop smiling. Thinking back to how my teenage-self wouldn’t believe not only that I was choosing to do this, but how much I was loving it. Running in HK summer heat is HARD, but so rewarding, especially when I’m able to collapse into the sea after.
I’m so grateful to live by Victoria Park, home to a 700m jogging track lined with towering trees, bright flowers and home to many birds and butterflies. The track surrounds a large grass field with open sky; a rarity in urban Hong Kong. In the mornings I run past groups of elderly men and women practicing Tai Chi, sometimes with swords and ribbons (which perhaps is not Tai Chi, I’m not sure.) In London I was so lucky to have Kensington Gardens on my doorstep, a gorgeous running playground, getting a little lost on misty February mornings, saying hello to the baby swans in the spring, and crunching along the autumn leaves.
But it’s not always breathtaking and sometimes I run incredibly boring runs – 10 times/5km around a farmhouse whilst at a wedding in Wales wasn’t particularly inspiring, but I felt great after. Though the run at the Hen-Do, the month before around an old village in Kent? Another story…
Occasionally I feel like I’m flying a little, though I usually feel like a running potato. I don’t really like running with other people, it’s my time, my headspace, my pace. But I have two exceptions; my niece (along the Dodder in Dublin, Ireland) and for History learning! I did a great 10km run on Women’s Day with Secret London Runs stopping at various locations that celebrated remarkable women and their achievements.
It’s not just the endorphin kick I love, but the pockets of freedom I feel. I say pockets, because I go in and out of being fully aware of what I’m doing, wondering how much further I need to go, and then being blissfully unaware that I’m running, just happy in the moment, either lost in my thoughts, soaking up what’s around me, and sometimes just manically pumped.. and depending on what I’m listening to and how bouncy I feel.. might get a few subtle dance moves in my stride…
When I’m travelling I also do a lot of Yoga. Like running – anywhere I can; parks, beaches, hotel rooms, or I keep an eye out for free or cheap, turn up and pay classes. In Mexico I found a 50p Zumba class and wow, regardless of shape, size or fitness, the ladies could move! It was also a great way to get to talk to some local people. I turned up a couple of times to a step aerobics class in Valladolid held in the back of a ‘man’s man’s’ weight gym. Total silence the first time I walked in. I just smiled and stood at the back. As the class went on, people smiled at me. At the end of the class, people talked to me. The lack of fans also switched me from the ‘Is the a/c on?’ person in the gym to the rolling eyes at the ‘Is the a/c on?’ person at the gym… You’re there to sweat so bring it on!
This isn’t a post meant to inspire, but just to share my joy and love of something I once ‘hated.’ I went for a run this past New Years Eve, all the way to Pizza Hut to pick up a vegan cheese pizza takeaway (with a 30 minute detour) and it was the perfect end to the year for me. A cold crisp evening with the streets largely to myself, reminiscing over the year, then full of endorphins, curled up in my PJ’s, stuffing myself with pizza, surrounded by three of my most precious loved ones.
BUT! If you want to be properly inspired, check out these two incredible women runners I know*:
If you know me, you’ll have heard me talk or post about my amazing adventure athlete friend Laura, who pushes herself, mentally and physically in such a beautiful, inspiring and uniquely humbling way. Last year she ran 100 miles across Fuerteventura. That’s a marathon a day.
Check out her epic journey here:
Emma has Type 1 Diabetes, which hugely effects running and her training for runs. I’ve known her since she was 3, and always remember her having diabetes, wearing a small silver necklace saying so, but didn’t really think much about it, or what she had to do each day, especially at a young age. It did however give me the knowledge that diabetes was not always due to people ‘eating too many sweets’. I can’t imagine how irritating that misconception must be! What she has achieved, and the challenges she has overcome, really are inspiring.
Check out her blog:
*awesome by association yeh?