So here we are on the last day of 2020. I haven’t had a great year if I’m honest, and I know I’m not alone in this, and I’m privileged in that it’s been better than so many. Nevertheless, I’ve been impacted by covid, changes to my business, home-schooling my kids and worrying about our collective safety. But more than that I received some pretty devastating news about my mum, who has been critically unwell, and have had to watch her deal with overwhelming levels of pain, indignity, expense and uncertainty whilst not being able to visit due to the closure of the international borders.
Through all of this running has been a real solace for me this year, protecting my health and my mental health and my heart in so many ways. It’s given me time to think and to connect with friends and draw breath from the demands of grief and home schooling and work pressures and more.
And then a few days ago Strava sent me a funky graphic summary of my year on the road, and with it the incredible gratification of knowing that I achieved a pretty significant number of kms. 1500 in fact, more than I’ve ever run before. Achieving this goal was like being filled with sunshine, a brief but all-encompassing smile that started in my solar plexus and radiated to the tips of my hair, because I know it was earned the hard way.
I am the polar opposite of the runner featured in most running media. I am not graceful, or thin, or naturally fit or fast. In fact, my gait more closely resembles a duck than a gazelle. My face goes bright red when I run, my hair is frizzy and never contained by its elastic band. I am always, always at the back of the pack, usually gasping and cursing and fantasising about chocolate.
But despite these and my many, many other shortcomings, I have run 1500 freaking hundred kilometres in a single year and with that arrived at a little town called pride.
So here’s my takeaway from the lessons I’ve learned from a year of hard running.
You don’t need to be fast to be a runner. You don’t need to be thin to be a runner. You don’t need a perfect ponytail, six pack abs, expensive shoes, a crop top or an Instagram account. You don’t need to be particularly fit or rich or pretty or perfect in any way. To be a runner you just need to go for a run.
You can often run if you’re injured. You can usually run even if you’re busy. You can certainly run if you’re poor, or overweight, or anxious, or single, or married, or worried or happy or drunk. Okay, maybe not if you’re drunk. Maybe that’s just me. But back to my point. You don’t need a gym membership or expensive gear or even to really know what you’re doing. You just need the will to get out the front door and a pair of running shoes.
There are a few ‘props’ I use as a runner that really help me get out the door, which can be incredibly hard when it’s cold or early or I’ve had one too many gins the night before.
I love having a goal, and I find it hard to run without one. When I first set out my goals were to complete my first 5km, my first 10 and my first half marathon. In 2020 my goals expanded to run a sub 30 minute 5K, which I never achieved by the way, and to complete the 80 km Bondi to Manly course which I’m hugely proud to say that I did. In the last few months, as I saw my mileage creeping up, I focused on a target of 1500 km for the year and squeaked in with less than 24 hours to go.
I love running in a group. There’s something about knowing that someone is waiting for me that incentivises that roll out of bed and the lacing up of shoes. I’ve made some of my best friendships through running and I use it as much for socialising as I do for exercise. I am a member of three different running ‘groups’ and I’m the slowest member of all of them. And that doesn’t bother me one single bit.
I have stopped worrying about my speed, at least to a point. I am almost 50 years old, and physical limitations definitely play a part in my abilities, but more than that, I just can’t do the “must be faster must be better must go harder” thing that so many runners find important. For me, a run is sometimes nothing more than a precursor to a coffee with a friend, a chance to mull over a work problem or rehearse a hard conversation with my teenage son, time away from the demands of my desk and time to enjoy the morning.
Nutrition and sleep are important. Says she who guzzles gin at alarming rates and sneaks chocolate after dinner most nights. But smart carbs and protein, proper hydration and glucose can make or break a long run and determine the way you feel along the way.
And then there’s a few unusual things that have meant that 2020 has been a great running year for me, and these won’t apply to most but I’ll mention them anyway. The first is that I decided to become a running coach, mostly in order to create a service that I felt no one else was offering: support for slower runners and to create a space where they were supported and celebrated. The second was to start a little business on the back of this, and thus Run with the Slow Coach was born. It’s actually my second business, my first being a marketing and comms consultancy that keeps me busy full time. But Slow Coach is a passion project and one that has received overwhelming community support. My first post received an incredible number of responses and over 200 sign ups. And it has seeded an new set of ideas and opened my world to an amazing group of women who have responded to my concept and come to my training groups and been so generous with their responses.
So as I look back on the strange and shitty year just past, and contemplate the new one, I can’t help thinking that running was in many ways a bit of a saving grace for me. And I really hope that if you are having a hard time (and even if you’re not!), that running can be yours as well. It might feel like we’re struggling under a blanket of uncertainty and pressure and that we are perpetually running behind, but as it turns out, we can do hard things, and as 2021 looms we can all make a run for it.