I have never been a runner.
That started when I was 11 and started developing boobs that bounced a damn sight more than I was comfortable with on sports day, continued with the teacher who graded me E for PE when I was 12 and told my parents “Ceryn looks as though she should be athletic (?!) but just isn’t…” and was cemented by many years of feeling like my lungs were going to burst out of my chest every time I went faster than a quick walk.
In almost a quarter of a century nothing has changed that mindset; not the people who told me there was no better way to wind down after a long day, not the ex who told me while I was training for my first half marathon (more on that in a sec) that I should be proud of how shapely running was making me (I know…), and not even the good friend who absolutely swears by the running group she joined a couple of years back.
Over the years I’ve tried to run; buying a fancy dog lead so that Kali could run with me, signing up to no less than five half marathons – confession: the two that I completed while pushing a wheelchair were only marginally slower than the three I completed solo and vowed to run – and downloading all manner of running apps – but running and I have just never gotten along.
Recently though I’ve found myself lacing up my trainers – not because I have to or feel like I should, but because I want to; and because I can actually feel the benefits it’s having on me (and not on my body shape thank you long gone ex).
answer – perhaps unsurprisingly for a bookworm like me – lies in a book. Jog On by Bella Mackie to be precise.
It’s not often I buy books in December, the combination of Christmas and my birthday within six weeks means I usually have enough reading material to see me through until summertime, but when I heard about this one it felt a little serendipitous.
After years of denying it and telling myself I was fine, I’d recently started to realise how much anxiety affects my life and was looking for something to help bring me out of my head and back into my body.
And since I’m a big fan of Bella’s on social media, and of her husband who – unsurprisingly – had nothing but good things to say about Jog On, I decided it might just be worth putting some Christmas books on hold.
Now if this had been some sort of runners’ book written by a smug person in Lycra telling me all of the million reasons why I should be pounding the pavement, that might just have been a purchase I regretted, but from the off reading this book felt a little like sitting down with a kindred spirit, who’d discovered a love for running almost begrudgingly rather than because she was so damned athletic. And also fortunately this was also a book about more than running.
I found so much warm and beautiful soul medicine inside it that it felt a bit like sitting down for a cuppa with a good friend. On more than one occasion I paused the book (on Audible) and rewound it to note down a sentence or two and send them on to a friend.
But warmest and most beautiful of all was the understanding the book gave me for my own anxieties, and those of the people around me.
Now I say this as someone whose trained to work with human minds and emotions, and who talks to people about their feelings and thought patterns almost every day of the week.
But the way Bella explained her own anxiety made me sit up and take notice; recognising how many of the flags and challenges so many of us face each day aren’t just an unavoidable part of human life and shouldn’t just be ignored and buried, but can instead be recognised as something to be worked with, noticed and maybe even overcome.
What’s more, as the book went on to give insight into specific common anxiety disorders I found myself gaining a deeper understanding into someone close to me who suffers from OCD than any number of hours’ internet research had given me in the past.
Listening to Bella explain her experiences, and those of others she’d spoken to brought me a peace of mind that I hadn’t felt in a few months previously, and helped me see how much better I could do for my friends, my clients and myself when it comes to anxiety in its many forms.
Then there was the running. Now let’s not forget that I’m fortunate to know a number of ladies with inspirational running stories; one of my closest friends is an ambassador for the brilliant these girls can run and regularly extols its benefits to me, while I spent most of last year getting to know another amazing lady who is part of the same organisation and fully credits running with pulling her through some of the toughest times. But as a bit of an introvert at heart, the idea of a running group has never really appealed to me.
And even aside from that, there are a few things that have always held me back from turning the odd attempts at a training jog into a regular running habit; I’m not fast, I hate the idea of looking ridiculous when I try to run in public, within five minutes of starting to run I generally feel horrendous, and trying to breathe while I run outside feels a little like my lungs are going to explode.
That’s not to say I don’t move my body - I wall Kali as often as she’ll let me (I think I have the only dog in the world who doesn’t jump for joy at the idea of a walk!), and I swim at least twice a week.
To me swimming rarely feels like exercise, it feels more like a meditation... No matter what else is going on, swimming is the one time more than any other I feel strong, powerful, connected to my body and as though I’m focused completely on my breath. When I swim I can breathe easier than any other time (weird given that I’m under water I know), I forget about the people around me (except those who inevitably dawdle into my lane and need to be swum around) and focus my brain on breathing, repeating affirmations (seriously, swimming is a great time for affirmations!)and moving forwards.
But there’s one problem with swimming - you need a pool.
And since my local pool only has lane swimming at specific times each day, swimming isn’t always possible when I need some time to plug back into my body and my breath, and remind myself I can do anything.
Running though? Well all we need for that is a pair of trainers... hell, I could even run in circles around the garden if all else failed.
If I could get past my various running hang ups that is.
And that’s where Bella’s book came into play. Because it reminded me of some bloody important facts.
For starters it reminded me that no one cares how you look - as she rightly says, most people are too busy looking at their phones to even think about where they are at any moment, never mind you.
It reminded me you don’t have to go fast or run a marathon. Hell, if you want to walk and then run in internals and you only ever run for an hour at a time so what? Just as long as you feel good and keep moving!
It gave me the super wise wisdom that the first handful of minutes of any run are always tough (just like some swims actually), but keeping going for one more minute at a time will always help with that...
And most importantly it reminded me that the motivation for any exercise is to treat it as a gift to yourself - mind and body, not as a torture or something you must do.
It didn’t quite answer that burning lungs issue, but it was enough to get me to pull on my trainers again.
And you know what? I’m actually enjoying my runs. The other day I ran to the supermarket, bought some shopping (which yes, did include a post-run treat) and then ran back, albeit a little slower with a bag full of shopping on my back.
And not only did I - fittingly - finish listening to the amazing Bella Mackie’s book during my run; not only did I come back and crack into my brownie feeling like I could take on the world; but I actually came back buzzing with ideas and inspiration... turns out maybe there is something in this running malarkey after all!