‘I Thought I Was The Wrong Shape To Run’: Four Running Converts On Their Lockdown Salvation

'I always swore I could never, ever run... I was wrong.'

Woman running

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

First it was an easy – and cheap – way of getting our daily exercise; then it helped the nation boost its mental health. Now, thousands of converts have found salvation in their daily run – and there’s no stopping them...

'You can experience a lifetime of emotions on a run' - Laura Antonia Jordan

Laura Antonia Jordan
©Laura Antonia Jordan

Running and i have been in an on-off relationship since my early teens. I always felt I was ‘bad’ at it (by which I mean I am slow, so slow that I have been overtaken by someone wearing jeans before) and lacked the willpower to get ‘good’. I am a consistently inconsistent runner – a couple of intense weeks on and then, plumped up on the self-satisfaction of my last aerobic burst, a couple of fallow months off.

Since March, however, I have fallen in love with my daily runs. As normal life ground to a halt, all I wanted was to move. I was sad, I was bored, I was desperate to be outside. The endorphins couldn’t hurt.

Over the years, I had been told repeatedly – by people smarter and, yes, faster than me – that running is good for your head. And while I had experienced this to be true, it wasn’t enough to consistently motivate me. Who cares? I used to think. I just want lean thighs and a tight butt! Well, suddenly, I did care.

My father is 70 and runs every day. Whenever we run together, he outpaces me with an ease that’s embarrassing for both of us. He has always told me that you can experience a lifetime of emotions in one run. I know what he means now. Life’s gigantic, sweeping story arcs can be contained into a single jog like perfect Russian dolls.

There are the people who sprint past you with ease, only to stop moments later. There are the hills you fear, but which you haul yourself up, triumphant and invigorated. There is the sharp stab of a stitch followed by the feeling that you could keep going forever. There are the unexpected turns
you take and stumble across a view that, if your breath wasn’t already yanked out of you, would take it away. There is your astonishing capacity to keep on going.Your jog is a fertile track for metaphors.

My daily runs, at 6.30am around Hampstead and through Regent’s Park, are my most precious hour of the day. It is my time, to think about everything and nothing. I feel my tight mind loosen, problems unravel, solutions arise. In the past few weeks I have learned not to try and outrun the pain, but go with it.

The physicality of running is mentally liberating. For me, it is meditative.
You burn, you pant, you sweat, there is something empowering about allowing yourself to see what your body can do, to surrender to the beautiful simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other. It is when I run that I feel my head still.

'I thought I was the wrong shape to run' - Rhiannon Evans

Rhiannon Evans
©Rhiannon Evans

I’ve boxed, swum, yoga’d, weight- lifted and Zumba’d. But I always swore I could never, ever run. I’ll say it: I’m fat – and I just thought my body would never move that way. But, it turns out, after starting Couch To 5K, like a total lockdown cliché, I was wrong.

What I’ve learned I cannot do is run painlessly and easily (and that that was a stupid expectation). What I can do – thanks to the excellent coaching of Olympian Michael Johnson and the witchcraft that is Couch To 5K – is just run anyway.

As well as improving your fitness, the programme mentally coaches you to just keep moving. It hurts, it’s hard, I pretty much always don’t want to do it. I only manage it by blasting The Saturdays into my ears to cover my panting (and sometimes lip-syncing to distract myself). I’ve found it hard to overtake medium- paced walkers. I’ve had terrible conversations with myself, telling me I can’t do it, to stop, not bother, I’ll never manage it, I’m too fat.

But I can. I know, ground-breaking; my longest distance so far, in fact, has been 6K. And yes, annoyingly, I do feel better afterwards. I say all this in an attempt at encouragement and comfort, in case you too are looking at this page, eye-rolling and also thinking you could never run. It’s fine if you don’t want to run. But if you do want to try it, just don’t make the mistake I did and believe you can’t.

What I’ve learned is that runners already come in all shapes and sizes. They’ll probably smile as you pass and think nothing more of you.

There are things that might help – I liked support from friends also struggling to run; kudos on the running app Strava is addictive; you need good trainers; nice leggings can motivate you; and a banging playlist got me out of the door. But, ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to be able to put one foot in front of the other, then you’ve got all the skills you need. Don’t listen to voices, inside or out, that say otherwise.

'I ran because I missed human contact' - Rochelle White

Rochelle White

I’d never run at all before lockdown. I thought it was boring. Instead, I could head to the gym, do a class and achieve far more. Also, being with other people motivates me. I’m a people person – that’s why I work in PR – and feed off human contact.

So when all of that vanished overnight, there was no other choice but to start running. I got myself some new trainers, a good sports bra, a tracker watch, downloaded the Nike run app and created a fun running playlist. This helped me mentally kick-start my new routine.

Now I wake up at 5.15am with a coffee then head out for a jog. At first I started small – walking to the local shop then running home – progressing on to my local park in Milton Keynes, where I run circuits around the lake. Now I can run for 30 minutes straight, around three miles.

What I’ve really missed in lockdown is people – not being able to meet my team or clients face to face has been difficult. I thrive off a change of environment and bouncing ideas around. Running has helped me through this. Even though it’s a solitary activity, I’ve loved seeing the same friendly faces each day on my run, whether they’re fellow runners, dog walkers or family friends. It has become such a tonic to see other humans who are not in my house.

I’ve also found an inner peace on my runs, which has helped me have clarity for life and work. Running soothes the mind and helps me solve problems. I can see why people say it is good for your mental health. My sister has always been a keen runner, doing half-marathons. Well, I’m a convert now. Running has become my unexpected saviour.

'Running has transformed my life' - Guy Pewsey

Guy Pewsey
©Guy Pewsey

Before lockdown, my experiences with running had been limited to sprinting for the bus or jogging to the Co-op for discount Ben & Jerry’s before closing.

But in March, as my life of parties, after-parties and, well, after-after-parties became one of sitting in my rented flat in Hackney, I knew that my sanity – and that of my A&E doctor flatmate – depended on me getting out as much as the rules allowed.

So I put on my trainers – usually worn only to take the bins out – and ran around the block. The next day, I ran two. The next, four. I downloaded a tracking app in the first week of April. Three months later, I have just recorded my 555th kilometre.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I went from being breathless walking up a few flights of stairs to doing a casual half- marathon after clocking off at work. But after a few weeks of running for the length of two or three songs on my nostalgia-heavy Spotify playlist before taking a walk break, I realised that I didn’t need to any more. I would reach 5K and stop, before thinking, ‘Why? What’s at home? Do another five.’

Running clears my head completely, allowing me to process my problems and concerns during what I, like most of us, have found to be a difficult period for my mental health. I have discovered brand new pockets of London. I have fallen back in love with the river. I’ve been able to pay socially distanced visits to far-flung friends.

It’s changed my relationship with food and alcohol (you really don’t want to sink half a bottle of wine and a pizza when you’re fresh from the elation of a good run, or planning one the next day). Running has completely transformed my life.

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