At what age do we stop enjoying running? We are built to run and as children we run everywhere, around the playground, down to the shops, running just because we could and it was fun. When did that fun stop?
I clearly remember the day that I stopped enjoying running and became self-conscious, it had been our school sports day, I can’t remember what I had taken part in but I remember walking with my mum down the street and some other children were laughing at me and pointing out my beetroot face, I hadn’t been aware of this, I’d just run and enjoyed it, now I felt stupid with my sweaty big beetroot face. I’m not sure girls in the 1970’s were meant to get hot and sweaty, in fact how long has that stigma lasted? How many times are female athletes scrutinized over their appearance when they are in the deep throws of a race/jump/football match/swim, Rebecca Adlington was famously affected by the negative press attention that she received about her appearance and not about the Gold medal that she won!
After my initiation into the awareness of what sport made me look and feel like I was a reluctant athlete in secondary school, I’d attempt to try out for the Netball trails, I never got into the team, it seemed that only the girls who were chosen for the teams where the girls in the top form, the thirteen-year-old awkward girl who never felt good enough and who got a big shiny beetroot face soon gave up. What other teachers who taught the school curriculum discouraged students to excel in their topic, in Math if you weren’t good enough you were encouraged, supported until you achieved, why didn’t that happen in PE? In fact I was actively encouraged to not attend PE lessons, the fake sick notes were never questioned excusing me from lessons, hiding in the bushes on the cross country run until the group came back round was never noticed and I certainly can’t remember attending a parent’s evening where my parent’s questioned my sporting ability, they certainly questioned other subjects but never PE. You guessed it I just gave up and took up smoking instead, I was quite good at that as it turned out.
Fast forward twenty years with 2 small children in tow and the smoking habit kicked, my Dad was now a seasoned runner having himself kicked his smoking habit and he had returned to his beloved sport now in his 40’s. He ran most weekends and with 2 small children and a naval husband who was away a lot of the time, I spent many hours supporting Dad at his various races. I enjoyed the atmosphere; time away from the children and was mildly curious about these events.
We were away one Christmas in France and as Dad was getting ready for his run, I asked if I could join him, of course he said yes and off I went. I couldn’t breathe, I thought I was dying, my chest was so tight and my legs were on fire. But Dad said to me “Slow down, take a walk break, then go again. Run and walk in between lamp posts” and do you know what, I did and I was hooked, I could breathe, I was given permission to walk and recover. The weather was perfect, cold and crisp but I was doing it, I was actually doing it. I felt strong and invincible, was I a runner, could I be a runner, would this be a possibility? On returning to our cottage my mum asked if I was ok (remember my bright red beetroot face?) I think she thought I was going to pass out but from that moment on I couldn’t wait to get out and do it again. Running gave me a super strength that I’d never had before, it made me feel good about myself. And that’s how I started, run/walk in-between lamp posts, slowly slowly building up to running 2 lamp posts, then 3 until I was running 3 miles without stopping.
Running has changed my life, I wish I had been encouraged as a teenager but like so many others, boys and girls, it was always about competition, beating people or other schools, it was about winning and not so much about just taking part and enjoying it. Some running clubs are still like that and I will share my experiences of this with you at a later date but the reason I set up RunVerity was because I believe in inclusivity, regardless of ability, as I know how much running can change people’s lives.