Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finding My Feet

It's taken years for me to become a runner. 38 of them to be precise. Running is one of those things that I always wanted to get into, but never seemed to, well, get into. In my twenties I couldn't manage much more than a block, thanks to my 20-a-day Marlboro Lights habit. In my early thirties, a brief flirtation with jogging around the park came to an abrupt halt when a knee injury made any further attempts agonizing. So that was it. No more running for me.

But then something happened. Well, actually two somethings happened. A girl and then 2 years later a boy. My babies. Like most women, my life changed completely when I had children. Everything suddenly revolved around these two small humans who called me mum. Becoming a mother was in turns the most wonderful and amazing thing that has ever happened to me and the most overwhelming, bewildering and downright exhausting experience I have ever had. Motherhood consumed my mind and my body. It changed me and somewhere along the way, although I gained the most precious gifts I could ever wish for I lost a big part of my identity. Needless to say, I also lost my waistline, my stomach muscles and the ability to say no to a slice of cake.

When my second child was 7 months old, I went to a christmas party and was asked twice within the space of about 20 minutes if I was pregnant again. Funnily enough, I didn't particularly enjoy the party. On the way home, I decided I needed to do something and the next day I started saying no to the cake. That week I started running.

At the time, we were living in Dubai in the UAE. It has to be said that running in the heat of the Middle Eastern climate is akin to running through treacle. I started off, therefore, slowly. I got very pink and I tried not to fall over from heat exhaustion. I would get up at 6am, quickly breastfeed my son, and be out of the house by 6.10am just to beat the heat of the rising sun. I dutifully followed a beginner's walk/run program , never pushing too hard too soon, mindful of my old, nagging knee injury. Before long I was able to run for around 30 minutes without stopping. And then the 6 am temperature started to hit 40 degrees centigrade, running outside became impossible and we were on the move again. This time to New York, where we relocated to in August of last year.

Moving your family and possessions to a new country is pretty stressful. Doing it twice within the space of a year with two very young kids in tow made it even more challenging. Living out of suitcases for the first 3 months of living in New York just added a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Not surprisingly, the running kind of tapered off. And then stopped. Completely.

But we finally started to get settled. We found an apartment, some friends and I developed a new found love of pancakes. And ice cream. And.... you guessed it, in times of stress I turned to my old friend chocolate. By the end of the year, I'd piled a load of weight back on and was looking to make a change.

So rekindling my running routine was, at this point, motivated completely by vanity. By wanting to loose weight and get in shape. I'm lucky to live less than a block away from the beautiful Prospect Park in Brooklyn, one of the best places to run in New York City. So I invested in some cold weather running gear and a new pair of trainers and set my alarm clock to EARLY. The first time I ran in the park, I managed 10 minutes before my knee started aching. So I stopped. The next time I managed 15, and then 20 and so on, until I was managing a full loop of the park. In contrast to the heat of Dubai, my runs now took place in the winter wonderland and sub zero temperatures of the park, but strangely, that's what started to hook me. I'd be out there at 7am, pounding the pavement in the freezing cold, getting nowhere fast. But however slow I was I'd think 'I'm here. I'm doing this. I haven't given up'. The quiet and the beauty of the park gave me time to clear my head, to complete a thought and then another, the rhythm of my breathing became almost meditative. My thinking was this: if I can fall in love with running during one of the longest coldest winters I've ever experienced, then maybe I have a chance of making this a habit for life.

This precious, solitary time, this time away from all things mum, had added benefits. I started to get stronger and faster. I started to lose weight. This had a domino effect on my eating habits. I didn't want to eat a load of crap anymore. I wanted to eat good food that would fuel my runs rather than negate any good they had done my body. I started to feel comfortable in my skin.

Although, moving to New York was a really positive thing for our family, it also meant that I was unable to work as my visa status didn't allow it. So, for the time being I was a fully fledged stay at home mum, which frankly I had been since my youngest was born. Whilst I know how lucky I am to be able to stay at home with my kids, I was missing work. I missed the autonomy it afforded me, the opportunity to connect with other adults in a realm outside of child-rearing, and the ability to focus my mind on something other than the washing and what we were having for tea. So, only two weeks in to my new running routine, I decided that while I was unable to work, I needed a project outside of my family life, something that I could focus on and that would provide me with tangible goals and achievements. And that's when I realised that running could be just that project. That if I got serious about running, I could challenge not only my body but all my preconceptions about myself. That I could push myself to a point where I could achieve things I never thought possible.

I've never really been the sporty one. I've never been particularly fit, and I've battled with my weight for years. I suddenly realised that I had the opportunity to go for it. To see where running could take me and how far I could take it. I also realised that by embracing running, by making it part of my life, it had the potential to influence and inspire the most important people in my life. My kids. If their mummy's running was 'normal' to them, then maybe I could bring them up in an environment where exercising, challenging yourself and looking after yourself was 'normal' too. Maybe, I could point my kids in the direction of a healthy and happy lifestyle, just by going out and getting one for myself. And that got me excited. So much so, that I dived straight in, and before long I'd signed up for my first race, then another, and then, well......9 of them.

But that's another story.


The Grazing Cow said...

Fantastic. Love it. God, it could have been me writing it...... apart from the successful running bit. I started running about a year ago but never seem to push myself enough to get beyond the 'exercise phase'. Been exercising and running properly since the middle of March but just convinced I am not a good runner. HOWEVER, now I have read this, I'm going to try harder. Loved the beginners guide. I think I might be at week 5. I've got a Zumba lesson tomorrow so wont managed a run.... but on Friday, I'm going to give it a go and see what week I am up to on the schedule. Keep writing. I'll be thinking of your enthusiasm and drive next time I run. Karen xx

Smudge said...

I have always I thought I was really bad at running because I can only do it for about 10mins before I need to stop/lie down/pass out, so it is good to hear that this is usual and that it is possible to build up from this level and become quite an accomplished runner!
I'm not sure I have as much natural enthusiasm for it as you do but your story is so motivating that I am going to give it another go this weekend!
Great blog! Looking forward to hearing more about your journey and how you get on in your next race!
love you xx

Vic said...

We are all such cliches really as 40 fast approaches and the baby making is over- we all decide to say no to cake ( although I am still in the more thinking about it stages but I allow myself this as number 2 is still less than a year old).. Not sure that I can be swung over to the running but maybe I can swim my way there with a bit of pilates too.. By 40 I plan to be a toned, 10 stone (still need a bit of flesh to pad out the face and ass at that age) size 10 in Louboutins... Go girl, I shall keep reading....... Xxx

loganchelsea said...

Thank you for sharing! I have been inspired! Oh so, looking forward to more of your posts!!!

Laura said...

Hey!! That was my Christmas party you didn't really enjoy ;-(( Only kidding. I apologise again for Sonali's lack of tact.

LOVE your blogs! Don't know how you find the time with two little ones in tow.

We miss you all!! But very happy to see you enjoying life in NY.

Laura xxx

Gherkin said...

Great inspiring post!