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One Foot After The Other

I am never going to be a good runner. This is a fact I have been certain of my whole life, and as yet there's been no evidence to prove otherwise. But I am running.

One of my bigger flaws is that of the classic academic over-achiever: I am bad at being bad at things. When you're used to holding yourself to massively high standards, and usually, used to reaching them, it can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself to do something new. I have a good memory; I am good at writing; I'm a strong empath and I always try my best to help people; I'm focused and have an eye for detail; I am good at making music. These are things I know. Within these things, I am comfortable. 

As a result, I set the bar of my ability to learn (and, really, to master) any new things, way too high. I expect more of myself than it's possible for me to give in the time I allow and, when it feels as though I'm failing, I admit defeat, submit to self-loathing, and give up. 

This has been the story of me "running" so far. 

And this is a flaw - really, really, a flaw. It disarms me in so many ways. Why should I deprive myself of being excited to improve at something? There are so many more things I could learn if I were willing to give myself just that bit more space to actually develop. If I were kinder to myself, and as patient with my own abilities as I always am with everyone else's, I could do so many more things. Why should I feel ashamed for being bad, when the only way to become good is to be bad first?

Every year, around January-February time, I remember that it's not long until I go to the Lake District on our annual family holiday over Easter, and I get extremely excited. Quickly - not 10 seconds after the excitement starts, in fact - I become acutely aware that I want to be able to climb up lots of mountains while I'm there, and that, to be able to do that, I should probably start moving much more than I currently am. This is usually where the running inspiration begins. 

In the past, I've set off with high hopes, and been quickly disappointed with myself when it becomes apparent that I can't run for nearly as long as I'd like to. To anyone else, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a person can't immediately run for long periods of time without any training. To me, it always feels like an immediate blow: I've failed, and will never be capable of succeeding. 

This is simply because I don't recognise that it's okay to be bad at first. It should come as no surprise to me that I'm bad at first - when I was born, I was bad at pretty much everything, and as I practised, I got better. Running is no different - I'm just being 'born' into it at 20 years old. 

This year, I'm determined to know that. I'm determined to let myself be bad. 

The thing is, I've always been worried about being bad at running because it's such a visible way to be bad. I don't like gyms, and I don't have the money for them - I run to places, from places, around places, outside. Outside, there are people. Lots of people. Strangers. People who don't have to be nice to me. I have always, always, always, been afraid of these people, because I filled their heads and their mouths with my own negativity. I imagined what they might say when they saw me, but all I was really imagining is what I thought of myself. 

I've never encountered any negativity while I've been out. In fact, just the opposite. A fast, reflective-jacket clad, rucksack-wearing runner of form that I could never hope to possess, who I was terrified would laugh at me as he overtook, gave me a thumbs up and one of the biggest grins I've ever seen. A man of about my age, who I jogged towards incredibly slowly at the end of a run, I was certain would say something demeaning, but he clapped me silently and told me to keep going. 

It's insane that these random strangers have more confidence, and more pride in me, than I do. That's another thing that's changing this year. 

"So what's different about this year?" You ask. 
This year, I am taking matters out of my own hands. 

One of the main problems I had before was that I didn't set myself realistic goals. I expected too much, and so, obviously, I failed. This year, I'm not setting myself goals; someone else is. Before, I ran without music and mentally berated myself constantly for not doing as well as I thought I should. This year, how long I run for is controlled for me by someone else, and every so often, they tell me that I'm doing well. I'll be honest - I'm very human, and validation from others is important to me. It helps me think more positive things about myself. This does that.

"So what is this mystical 'someone else'?" You ask. 

Well, my lovely reader, it's a podcast. It's free, it was originally produced by the NHS (and this is the version I'm using, though there are others), and it's very appropriately called: Couch to 5k. There are a lot of reasons why this is right for me, and they might not make it right for you, but that's life. 

It's perfect for me because: 
  1. It starts from 0. It expects you to be bad. It's all about being positive about being bad, and appreciating the courage and dedication it takes to stick with something that you're bad at. 
  2. It steps up gradually. It's neither extremely hard, nor extremely easy. There's a podcast for each week, with nine weeks in total, and you do each podcast three times. Each week, you run for that bit longer, and walk for that bit less. The changes are achievable. It challenges me, but within my limits. 
  3. It plays the music. Playing my own music has always been an issue for me, because I pay too much attention to it and it messes with my emotions, which is hardly helpful for running. The music has good beats, it helps you with speed, and it's well-chosen to motivate you and make you feel empowered while you run. 
  4. It's got a voice. Her name is "Laura", she tells you when to run and when to stop, and she tells you that you're doing a good job. I need that. It cancels out my negativity.
"So how's it going this year?" You ask. 

So far, so good! I reiterate: I hope to complete the podcasts and be able to run 5k, and I'll be so, so proud of myself if I do that, but it'll still be slow. I won't be a 'good' runner; I won't be fast and I'll probably never be effortless. But that's fine.

Running is good for me. I've learnt, in just these brief few weeks where I've actually given myself time to learn, that half of running is actually just breathing right and believing. Focusing on my breathing means not thinking about any of the rest of my life. This is a thoroughly good thing. 

It gets me outside for longer - I experience urban wildlife like garden birds and the occasional fox; I feel the sunshine. I explore new places and see the tiny changes as Spring tries its best to start.

It makes me feel good about my body. I've often felt very detached from my body, as if it's something I have to deal with and don't have that much control over, but by training it, I take back control. I want to know that my body can do the things that I ask of it, and running is a great way to experience that. 

It's empowering: even a slow run is faster than a walk. 

My point, really, is simply: if you too can't run for more than 10 seconds without feeling like a failure, you should try this podcast, and find out that your '10 seconds' is actually much longer than you thought.

Secondly - and mostly to myself - I reiterate that it's okay to be bad at things. Being bad at things leads to being less bad at things, which leads to being good at things. You are never above learning, and never above starting at the bottom. You just have to accept that the bottom is, in fact, where you are, and reward yourself for whatever progress you make. 

Run by run, no matter how bad you see yourself as being, you're still much better than you were before you started trying. 

"Little by little, one travels far." - J. R. R. Tolkien


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