Making habits, breaking habits: on the run

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Some are born fit, some achieve fitness, and some have fitness thrust upon ‘em. I think I fell into the lattermost category when I agreed to take up running for a week for the sake of this column. Exercise has never been a key part of my routine, largely because I don’t have a routine, and I rarely exercise. I was almost looking forward to this challenge, as I had started running several times a week over the Easter break and had quickly fallen out of the habit when exam season began, so it would be an excuse to get outside each day.

Running, judging from the Facebook and Instagram posts I am daily bombarded with, seems to be a way of life. I have never been one to own beautiful, painfully expensive fluorescent trainers, I would rather buy 18 9” Sultan’s pizzas than spend 60 quid on Nike lux hypercool epic slimming etc etc leggings, and I’m suspicious of anyone who willingly consumes flax seed, kale and wheatgerm smoothies over a chocolate milkshake. It seemed already that the running life was not for me, as I made do with a pair of fraying Primark leggings and watched my long-neglected smoothie blender gather dust in the kitchen.

My usual running route is 5km, and I was apprehensive about having to attempt it more than my usual half-hearted twice a week. Day one was manageable, but running with friends made me aware of how terrible I really was at running as I crawled along at a snail’s pace, trying to avoid small animals and children which may fly into orbit around my vast derriere. I paused to catch my breath several times throughout the run, and was struck by the alarming shade of magenta I had turned as I wheezed and spluttered on the edge of the tow path, resembling one of those shiny plastic dog toys shaped like pigs, my breath squeaking in a similar manner. I was adamant that it could only get easier and vowed to run as many times as possible over the course of the week.

The second day was hot, and I attempted a shorter campus run which I thought would be more manageable. By the time I reached Infolab I had lost the will to continue and decided to skip out the South West side of campus, which I’m pretty sure is a mythical construct anyway. While I was certain that by the third consecutive day of running I would have woken up as Paula Radcliffe, after an unproductive day of revision I struggled to find any motivation to leave the house at all. I persevered, however, and managed to run for a full two minutes. From the Take Away to my flat. With my boyfriend in tow carrying 3 boxes of pizza. I discovered that this is known as a ‘cheat day’. I find the notion of trying to instil a sense of guilt into people for eating unhealthily for a day frankly appalling. People should feed themselves with what they like, and aim for moderation, not deprivation. At least, that’s what I told myself as I worked my way through one and a half pizzas, after cheesecake for breakfast and chocolate soufflé for lunch. I ate my salad in moderation.

I managed nearly 6 km the following day and almost, (almost) enjoyed the experience, distracting myself from the searing pain in my lungs by planning exam answers in my head. Whilst researching what constituted a cheat day (apparently my every day diet), I also read up on the all important ‘rest day’, for which I am a strong advocate. I was alarmed, however, that one Sports Nutritionist equated ‘easy training’ with rest days, and counted a 35 minute easy run in this category. For me, my 35 minute runs were more intense than any exercise I had done in several years. I decided to ignore the standard set by elite endurance runners, as I would clearly never become one of those, and took a night off from running to give my brain a work out in the form of intense last-minute revision before my morning exam. My rest day turned into a rest 48 hours, which was much needed after an exam and 6 hour rehearsal. My final two excursions along the canal were noticeably easier, even when running in the rain, and I found that taking a couple of days off was not detrimental but instead acted as an incentive to pick up my habit again.

I will never be a true runner. I will never classify a 35 minute run as an easy work out. I will probably never be able to jog further than my front door without turning puce. But I will try and run more than once a week as I found my concentration improved, my fitness got marginally better, and I look very fetching in purple trainers.

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