Jul 162018

#18: Conquer a Fear (or, Exercising* Some Demons)

* Not a typo, just a pun.

Not the world’s most flattering pic, but I was so damn thrilled I don’t care!

 

Last weekend (Sunday 8 July 2018, to be exact) I ran my first ever 10k race. I ran it in aid of Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young people, where I work – a wonderful charity that provides care and support for life-limited youngsters and their families. All in, I raised £535. It was an extremely hot day – when the race began at 10:10am it was 23°C, and by the time I finished it was a scorching-by-British-standards 27°C!

Apart from the fundraising, I had two goals: finish the race, and don’t be dead last. I’m pleased to report I hit both of these goals, finishing towards the back of the pack but NOT last, with a time of 01:32:43.

But why is this “conquering a fear”?

I think it’s safe to say I came out of compulsory secondary education some 12 years ago (gulp) with a not-so-positive relationship with exercise. To explain why, I have to give a little bit of background. I was not a popular kid at school. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I remember very few days where I wasn’t on the receiving end of bullying of some description. And nowhere was this more apparent than in the hell that was PE. Being not-sporty and not popular often go hand in hand, and sadly the bullying in this department was at best ignored and at worst actively perpetuated by teachers as well as fellow students. Bless my mum and her liberal attitude towards sick notes to get me out of this mess as often as reasonably possible, to be honest.

The way sports, exercise and physical activity are taught to young people in schools is, I am convinced, utterly broken. At best, you’re good at it and have a happy old time. A small but vocal minority learn that being good at it means it’s okay to be utterly vile to anyone who isn’t. And for those of us who are not so naturally gifted in this department, well, let’s not get into the gory details but suffice to say it’s pretty bleak.

All of this to say that I left school convinced that I was simply Bad At Exercise and destined to be fundamentally unfit my entire life. I did Couch-to-5K a few years ago, but didn’t stick with it long enough to stop being “bad at running.”

So why the hell did I decide to run a 10k? In part to raise money, of course. In part, cheered on by colleagues who convinced me to sign up before I could talk myself out of it. And, in part, to convince myself that I actually could. I don’t want to be unfit. When I’m not exercising, I struggle with my weight – and I really like cake! At a certain point, I realised that convincing myself I couldn’t wasn’t serving me any more. So I convinced myself I could, instead. And at first I was terrible. I could barely run 3km without feeling like I was going to die. But 3 became 5 became 7 became 9, and on the day – by force of sheer adrenaline, willpower and the thought of the giant iced coffee I was going to have at the end – my body carried me through.

I spent the weeks before this race building up the fear of it in my head, convincing myself I would be the last to cross the finish line and – like at school – that would be the Worst Thing Ever. My last couple of training sessions, I found myself kind-of-hoping I’d sustain an injury, not a serious one, just something moderate but enough to take me out of the running (so to speak.) The Thursday night before the race, I very nearly went online and cancelled my entry. It sounds ridiculous. I knew I could finish! As I said to my Dad on the morning of the race, “if push comes to shove I can WALK 6.1 miles!” But not finishing last mattered so much to me. It mattered because I felt, on some level, like coming last would somehow prove the opposite of what I was trying to convince myself of.

I am so damn glad I stared the fear down and did it anyway. What I wasn’t prepared for on the day was the sense of camaraderie and solidarity. Runners are a cheery and supportive bunch! Even in the scorching heat, those who had already finished cheered us back-of-the-pack-ers over the finish line, and the stewards all had a smile and a thumbs-up or encouraging few words for everyone. The other thing I wasn’t prepared for? It was just damn good fun!

I cried a bit writing this and I feel like this whole experience has broken through something. A mental block I didn’t even really still know I was carrying feels lifted.

Throughout this endeavour I had tremendous support, notably from my colleagues (thanks guys, sorry for nearly having a nervous breakdown in the office!), my friend E who acted as a sort of virtual running coach/motivational powerhouse, my parents and my partner Styx who completely believed I could do it and kept reminding me that “coming last doesn’t matter!”

On the wall in the gym at the Hospice, it says: “Strength doesn’t come from doing the impossible. Strength comes from doing what you thought you couldn’t.” I’m going to be holding on to that as I start training for “#14 – Run a Half Marathon.” Current plan is to aim for the Leicester Half, which will be around October 2019. Watch this space!


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