At the age of 44 I had a sudden urge to get fit and lose weight. So around 4 years ago I gave running a go. Well, I gave running, wobbling and walking a bit of a go.
I used to go out early. Around 6.00am was best. Before anyone could see me. Before anyone younger, fitter, and more toned and honed was running on the same road as me.
How they seem to love gliding past me effortlessly. A flash of tanned calf and Nike trainers leaving me in their wake, seemingly saying “Eat my dust waddler! You don’t belong out here. Get back to your tea and your daytime TV.”
But I wasn’t brow-beaten. And for a while I didn’t give in.
Going through the pain barrier
Starting physical exercise was a huge decision for me. I was the sort of 1980s girl who regularly bunked off ‘games’ at school. All I remember is hideous humiliation. Too small. Wonky eyesight. Poor spatial awareness. Not a fast runner. Couldn’t catch a ball. I was always the last to be picked for teams.
I wasn’t a winner.
So, it was a pretty startling idea when I told MM I was going to start running.
My determination not to be frightened out of my life-changing decision started back in the running shop. I needed to buy ‘proper’ trainers, you see. To protect my ageing knees, ankles etc.
The super-fit shop assistant looked bewildered. He looked me up and down.
‘You? You are going to start running?”
He gazed down at my high-heeled sling-back shoes.
“Strange choice of shoe to come out in,” he grinned.
But what does he know about being a short 44 year old woman? How flat shoes would do nothing for me? (Except make me look stumpy).
After asking my shoe size, the Fit Smiling Man (FSM) brought out a pair of children’s trainers … my little size 3 feet are obviously not allowed to look sophisticated while they get me fit.
Now, as an ex-goth, the idea of wearing shiny metallic trainers with fluorescent purple and pink piping is not really appealing. I wanted to ask if he had them in black… but no.
My shame was not over yet.
He took me over to a treadmill in the middle of the shop. In broad daylight. Under bright lights. Amongst fit, tanned laughing people.
He cheerfully asked me to ‘hop on’ to the running machine, wearing my child’s size flashing neon trainers.
And he asked me to … run.
Run away from the running shop
So. I’ve gone into a running shop in order to purchase running equipment. In order to run.
But the idea of running in front of the FSM and MM makes me suddenly petrified. I can feel the sweat beading on my brow, before I even start.
The FSM starts The Belt of Shame at what he calls a ‘slow pace’.
I thought I was going to fly off the end. Not cool.
So FSM starts adjusting buttons and then he is training a special camera on my bottom and the back of my legs.
I want to die.
He is saying stuff about ‘pronation’ (in order to track my running ‘style’ apparently). And I am acutely aware that I am a panting middle-aged woman running on a treadmill in the middle of a bright shop, and there is no ‘style’ involved.
I feel red and shiny with sweat, my boulder-like buttocks bouncing and pounding after me. Chasing me. Jumping up and down madly inside my jeans. I know the men are watching me.
I want it to stop.
To go back to being a quietly un-sporty person.
To forget this misguided attempt to be someone else ever happened.
Then the FSM says “I’ll just pop it up a pace.” (I am now thinking he is possibly a sadist… or perhaps a potato couch voyeur?)
But all these thoughts have to be ignored, because now I am really having to exert myself. To run.
Not just my quick London skitter to catch the tube or bus, or a gentle jog after a toddler at the beach; a real proper RUN, perhaps for the first time in over 30 years.
My body is in trembling shock, but I am pounding on. All the time FSM is saying “Just a minute more … just one minute more”.
I still have enough sardonic breathing space in my brain to imagine him somehow getting excited by my humiliation.
Then. Then. He puts the treadmill up ANOTHER notch, and I’m sure he is actually getting off on this.
I cannot believe I can go on. The next 30 seconds seems to last for a hot-horror-pain hour, but then he slows down the treadmill to a walking pace. It eventually comes to a halt, and I can stop.
I grab onto the guardrails. Huffing. Puffing. Red, dishevelled and shamed.
Girl on film (2 minutes later)
I must then stand there, in the shop, whilst he analyzes my ‘running technique’.
I didn’t know I could run until today, let alone have a ‘technique’.
I pant with effort, after what to him is probably the equivalent of a walk around Sainsbury’s.
I want to die of hot prickly embarrassment as he shows the film. The film of my chubby legs and bottom FILMED FROM BEHIND.
But he talks me through my posture, the muscles used for running and ‘pronation’. I am waiting for him to smugly diagnose how shit and unfit I am.
But he is non-plussed.
He keeps saying, “Well this is really unusual …” And “You’re telling me you’ve never run before?” And “It’s very rare to see this…” “And you’ve never run before?” etc. as I pant my lungs up over his TV screen.
She’s a walking miracle
It turns out I am one of the world’s rare 10% with what is called a natural running technique. Big news to me.
So I left FSM bemused and amazed which was almost worth all the pain and embarrassment.
I like to think that somewhere, way back in the mists of time, my Celtic women forbears are smiling to themselves at their gift to me of sturdy calves and meaty thighs.
All that running about the hills and valleys chasing sheep and running away from invading Romans, marauding Anglo-Saxons, Norman French, Viking raiders & co. was not in vain.
So I can tell you that I began to run regularly. And it didn’t just become a physical thing. It was also good for my mental health. It scratched an itch I never even knew I had.
I even managed to find black running trousers, a black top and black socks.
Still had to settle for hideous purple/silver trainers though. So uncool.