Having confessed that I’ve never been particularly sporty, I feel like it should come as no surprise that finding something I like exercise wise particularly tricky.
I think I had the competitive gene bashed out of me at school by my hockey stick wielding, ankle bashing friend Hannah. I just don’t care whether I win or not which, as you can imagine in a team sport, doesn’t go down that well. I’m also not particularly aggressive, which has ruled out a lot of body combat/boxing style classes. I’m not a ferocious person and the idea of punching an invisible person whilst an instructor screams at me to ‘kick him in the nuts’ (which really did happen at a class once) doesn’t appeal. I’m also not very strong, and so lifting weights or doing a body pump class never appealed either. I’ve flirted with Zumba in the past, although I had an off-putting experience once where in my head I looked like Shakira, all sexy and lithe, but when I caught sight of myself in the full length mirror I’d never looked more white, middle class and stiffly British. I find swimming very relaxing, but can’t be faffed with all the getting changed, showering and smelling like a chemical factory for the rest of the day.
Then I found running. It wasn’t love at first sight, but we’re definitely in a long term relationship now.
I think I’m pretty co-ordinated, have a good sense of rhythm and am bloody stubborn, so in theory running should suit me. When I first started, I followed the NHS Couch-to-5k programme. The podcast tells you when to run and when to walk, building up over a period of 9 weeks so that you can eventually run 5k without stopping. I followed this plan religiously for the first 5k I did and it did what it said on the tin. I ran the Race for Life in 36 minutes. I know this wouldn’t make me the next Olympic champion (one guy at work actually laughed in my face when I told him my time) but to me I was a running goddess! I’d gone from not being able to run to the next lamppost to being able to run a full 5k. I even left hockey stick wielding Hannah behind on the last kilometre as a never seen before surge of competitiveness kicked in.
And then I stopped. Stupidly. Life got in the way and I was back to square one.
The next time running and I got together I was trying to lose weight post-baby. I tried to go back to the Couch-to-5k, but found that it wasn’t working second time around. There’s lots of running periods, then walking periods in the podcasts and I found that stop-starting all the time was giving me a stitch and I was too out of breath. At this point I hadn’t exercised properly in a couple of years. Then Runkeeper was recommended to me and I haven’t looked back. I use the phone app much more than the website and I find it’s a really good way of tracking what I’ve done and seeing how much progress I’ve made.
Having said that I’m not very competitive, I’ve found that I’m very competitive with myself. If I know I’ve done a faster time before I’ll damn well sprint the last section to make sure I beat my previous time. I’ve found the training plans on the app to be the most useful though. I started off with a free 5k plan, but have now upgraded and pay a couple of pounds a month to access the faster 5k plans. The plans are great because they’re a mixture of interval and continuous training and it’s a real variation; there’s no opportunity to get bored. A few weeks ago I completed my first sub-30 minute 5k and it was the most wonderful feeling. I actually did a little whoop to myself as the beeper in my headphones went off; the poor woman walking her dog on the cycle path didn’t know what to make of me!
This time I can’t imagine running and I will break up. It’s a really cheap way of exercising that fits really well into my busy life. If I have an hour between school and tutoring I know I can fit in a run and a shower before I have to go out again. It’s also a break from the baby and the house and the million-and-one jobs I should be doing. It’s me time and I really relish it.
One day I might want to be the next body building UK champion, the next Judo Olympic medalist or the next gymnastic commonwealth gamer (although I’m far too old and my hips are far too big for that). All that might be in the future, but for now I’m happy plodding the pavements around where I live and trying to be my own world champion.