The strange, dark art of running

Running is a strange, masochistic sort of activity. I realised today that I’ve never blogged about it before, which is silly really because I’ve been running (jogging/plodding) regularly for 5 years now.

I’m not fast, or competitive. I don’t have a runner’s body, or a particular gift for it. I don’t run very long distances and I don’t wear fancy running clothes. I’m just consistent. I run regularly because for some strange, ineffable reason, I like it. It makes me feel better.

Each run is a mini lifetime – a complex smorgasbord of emotions. You never really know until you set off what kind of run it’s going to be – what thoughts and feelings are going to be dredged out of your subconscious when your body reaches the point of exhaustion and you have nowhere to turn but inwards.

It’s hard to explain really, so let me take you through one of my typical mid-distance 4-5 milers.

5.30pm – Get home from work

Have told myself all day I will go for a run after work. The moment I step through the door my resolve diminishes. After all, the flat’s a mess. Shouldn’t I clean it? I haven’t practised drums for a while. That’s sort of exercise isn’t it? Besides, the sun’s gone in. I’m quite hungry. I could just do some yoga in the living room? I’ll go for a run tomorrow.

Healthy Zoe interjects. ‘Just put your trainers on. See how it feels.’ Reluctantly, I put my running things on and, once the sports bra’s firmly and possibly permanently pronged into place, realise that there’s no going back.

5.40pm – Setting off

It’s okay, I tell myself as I close the door behind me and start a light jog across the road. I don’t have to go far. I could just go around the block for 20 minutes, come back and put the oven on for dinner. I’ll be curled up on the sofa watching Breaking Bad in a towel turban before I know it.

Healthy Zoe: ‘I thought you said you were going to do the big Beachy Head hill?’

Me: ‘Well that was earlier, when I felt energetic. And where were you last night when I was eating all that irresistibly cheap Aldi chocolate?”

Healthy Zoe: ‘If you don’t do the Beachy Head hill it’s only yourself you’re letting down.’

And so I concede. Besides,there’s always the option of walking part of the Beachy Head hill if I feel like it.

5.45 – Already experiencing massive regret

I’m only a few minutes in. The seafront is flat but my legs already hurt. I can’t think about anything but running. Has it always been this difficult? Everyone’s looking at me. Why is everyone looking at me?

Healthy Zoe [with a self-satisfied smile]: You may be slow but you’re much faster than all those people who didn’t go for a run tonight.

6pm – Have finally worked up some energy

I’m listening to Rage Against the Machine and I feel angry. It’s spiked my adrenaline levels which is good, because I’m at the top of the Holywell hill about to turn up the even steeper, longer Darley road. I’ve taken my speed down to the lowest possible gear because my calf muscles are burning up from the incline. And also may have weed myself a bit.

Healthy Zoe: “Don’t even think about stopping until you get to the top of the hill. Probably if you stop everyone you love will die.”

6.05 – Dying. Think I might actually die

This was a terrible idea. This hill is ridiculously long and steep. I’m not made for running. My boobs hurt. I’m sweating all of my water. I have definitely weed myself. Why is my pelvic floor so weak? What if I collapse? My breathing is getting wheezy. I think I might just…

Healthy Zoe: ‘Shut up and run, you loser.’

6.15 – I made it! I’m an athlete, I’m invincible!

I collapse on the grass at the very top of the hill overlooking the whole of Eastbourne. Pink Floyd Comfortably Numb is playing in my headphones.

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?
Come on now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again

Yes! I think, leaping back up. This bitch isn’t done yet. I run along the Downs with renewed vigour. I am Healthy Zoe.

6.17 – Runner’s high

So this is what runner’s high feels like.  I am alone on the hills above the town, running like Phoebe from friends. My limbs are loose, I’m grinning, I don’t give a shit about anything. Who needs drugs? Life is good. In fact I think I might just be the luckiest person in the world. God, the grass is so GREEN.

6.20 – On the home run

It’s all downhill from here. But wait! My legs are starting to ache. I’m back down on the road, with cars and people. Peoply people. The endorphins are leaking away. The muscle ache is setting in. I think of the mess I left in the flat. I’ve got to go to bed soon. Work tomorrow. What’s the point of life, anyway? Can I stop now?

Healthy Zoe: [morosely] “Yeah alright then, stop, what do I care?”

I stop for a bit, pretending to admire the view. I wonder if I should make a call, get someone to pick me up. I’m only five minutes from home but this little bit of pavement looks comfortable enough. I might just stay here.

6.22 – Nearly there

No. I’m too close to give up. The sooner I get going, the sooner I’ll be home. I prize my phone out of my sweaty bra, put some uncomfortably sexual funk-rock on and psyche myself up for the last leg. I’m going to run this bit fast. I’m angry – really angry. My energy levels are almost entirely depleted and everything hurts but I’m sprinting. People are looking at me but I don’t care. I hate them all. They don’t know what I’ve been through. I am GI Jane, on a mission. I can see my flat from here. I hurtle over the roundabout, bringing traffic to a standstill. I might be flying.

6.30 – Home

I collapse on the stone steps outside my building. I realise – suddenly and overwhelmingly, how thirsty I am. If I don’t get a glass of water in the next two minutes I might not make it. My mouth is stuck together, my head swimming, my blood thick. The stairs are too steep. I crawl up them. Fumble with my keys. Miss the lock a dozen times. Finally get in, lurch past my perplexed husband to the kitchen. Lean against the sink rasping. Down 3 pints of water. Breathe.

Healthy Zoe: ‘Well that was fun! Same time tomorrow?’

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