After giving birth to my daughter, one of the things I promised myself I would do while on maternity leave was to spend time outside, and to get a bit fitter. I hadn’t really thought about it much, but after about three months of sleeping in a separate room and screaming at my husband I thought that would be an excellent time to try running.
Looking back, I was so angry all the time for that first six months I should probably have seen a doctor, but despite it nearly breaking my marriage I thought my stress and anger was perfectly normal.
Now, a little secret, a long time ago, while I was at school, I used to go to a local athletics club, and even was forced to compete occasionally, so in my head I knew how, right? I could do it, easy! This was just when the C25k programmes were coming in, so I downloaded a few, and bought a new bra (breastfeeding boobs wouldn’t fit anything I had). And I ran.
Except it didn’t quite go like that… My technique was terrible; everything hurt; my bladder leaked enough to make me cry; and I gave up after week two. I also booked myself some specialist physio!
I went back to work after nine months off, and gave up on running until almost a year later, when I left my job and moved to a new house. I was still angry, and my marriage was still on the rocks, but my pelvic floor felt like it could take it. So, I picked up my trainers, put on a pair of leggings and a boys’ t-shirt, ditched the accessories, and just went outside. I went really slowly. That first week, I probably went at half my normal walking speed. I concentrated on getting my feet right. Toes landing first under my knees. Back straight. Tiny steps. I was amazed how easy it was! (Again, I was going very slowly!) Gradually I built up time, still at a snail’s pace: 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes.
I never checked how far I was going, or how fast, I just was happy to be outside, and gradually my mood improved too. Fewer arguments, less anger, more laughter. I started to feel like me again. I hadn’t even noticed how bad my mood had been until it started to lift.
Then came a big change: we moved away from everyone, I started a new job, and my husband started working away for a week or more at a time, leaving me playing single parent part-time. But I wanted to carry on running. I started to miss it! And when my husband was away for 3 months in the winter and my running was just too hard to fit in, I could feel my good mood slipping and the stressed, frustrated one creeping back in.
So, I started working out how to fit it in, like medicine: it balances my mind and clears the day away.
I now manage about three or four runs a week, slipped in between my daughter leaving the house and me going to work, or during my lunch break at work, or sometimes after my daughter is sound asleep at night if it’s been a bad day. I would love to manage more than 30–40 minutes but, without paying for childcare, it just isn’t an option, and as someone who is ‘just about managing’ I need it to stay cheap.
I don’t compete. I don’t do park runs. I have no idea of my average pace or distance. But I enjoy it. It makes me smile. So, if you ever see someone running in the pouring rain, covered in mud, with a big smile on their face — it might be me!
Running gives me time to myself in the busy schedule of childcare and work, time to breathe when I’m angry, time to reset when the morning getting-ready rush has left everyone at their wit’s end, or when brushing teeth for bed has left everyone on the verge of tears. It calms me down, and, I hope, makes me generally a happier person to be around! And best of all, it’s free!
So, if you think running means going super-fast, tracking times and distances, joining a club, or anything you find scary, just try it. Really slowly, one tiny step at a time — you might discover that you love it too!