I have started running.
Be calm, this is not a sign of impending doom, the moon has not turned to blood and to the best of my knowledge no two-headed cows have been born the past week. Stock markets won’t dip and no-one will run into the streets rending the clothes from their bodies while shouting their protestations to the heavens but for me it’s a pretty big deal. I don’t really do physical exercise. I’m a pasty little English nerd not so much picked last for school football teams but the subject of arguments over who had to be saddled with me. I’m the last person you would expect to voluntarily sweat in the name of trying to be healthy and I have always been particularly adverse to running. I have some pretty solid reasons I feel (it’s undignified, I’d look stupid, don’t have the energy, in that order) but they all seem to cower before the main argument for exercise. The ever-growing and unavoidable fear of getting old.
Now that’s a perfectly legitimate fear seeing as if you stay alive it is absolutely going to happen but I should qualify it by saying I’m not afraid that I’ll wake up tomorrow with a beard down to my knees, liver spots and type one diabetes. I’m afraid of the slow march of time and not being aware of it.
It all started with a comment from my older brother at Christmas. He said that last year was the first year he realised he isn’t going to be young forever and that he can’t keep eating whatever and not looking after himself. My brother got married recently and as I stated in my (frankly masterful) best man’s speech I’ve never stopped looking up to him. So it came as a blow that his admission made him slightly more mortal in my eyes. And the snowball starts. A few grey hairs are found in eyebrows, you start to suspect your neck is looking a little pudgy, you spend a while in front of the mirror before your shower wondering if you have tits. The next thing you know you’re standing bewildered in sporting goods stores and downloading fitness apps. What happened? This is not my beautiful wife etc…
I’m the kind of person who needs to give himself constant mental kicks in the arse to get stuff done. So when it dawned on me that there’s only one sure-fire way to get rid of my burgeoning belly and that everyone has to exercise eventually, I made sure I had the things I needed in place to guilt me into doing it. The best way to make people do something these days is to tell them they can do it from their phone. So I downloaded an app I researched that didn’t sound too strenuous and is good for pasty sacks of meat who haven’t even contemplated exercise before. There are a bunch of these things around these days, they’re called ‘Couch to 5k’ systems. They’re supposed to get you from nothing to running 5k in 9 weeks. You do half an hour workouts three nights a week and boom! Athlete. I was sceptical at best but I’m always up for doing something difficult in a deceptively easy fashion.
The app tells you when to run and when to walk and even when you’re halfway through. The idea is to gradually increase the amount of time you run compared to the amount you walk so that eventually you’re running solidly. Only having to run 45 seconds or so was an attractive prospect and so was having tangible goals to work towards and tick off. Certainly better than aimlessly running and then getting bored as soon as you start to get a little achey.
I fiddled with the app as I walked over to the concrete ‘park’ opposite my building, feeling kind of self-conscious in obviously brand new trainers and shorts. I suspected some inordinately fit and healthy individual would somehow blow my cover and I would get kicked out of the park by a braying crowd for not being a real fitness kind of guy. Thankfully it was mainly old people doing tai chi so not much of a concern there. I was given the choice of either ‘Jim’ or ‘Alison’ talking to me as I exercised and opted for Alison and her vaguely antipodean, vaguely condescending tones. I put some music on and pressed the GO button. ‘Five minute wohm ahhp’ said Alison. Er… alright then. I guess I’ll just stretch or… walk around in a circle? Already this was looking like a bad idea.
Five minutes of awkwardly standing around and lunging or whatever in a bid to at least give the illusion I knew what I was doing ended abruptly with a DING and Alison instructing me to ‘RAHN!’ which I took to mean ‘run’. She sounded a bit too excited by the prospect for my liking but off I went. I barely had time to think ‘this is alright really’ before DING ‘Wawk’ which I took to mean ‘walk’. I noticed the walking segments were insultingly longer than the running but I am assured that week 4 or 5 will erase any fear I have that the app is going easy on me.
The whole first night process went something like ‘feeling good, feeling shitty, feeling better, feeling fuck you Alison!’ In 30 degree heat at 8pm after work it didn’t take me long to start sweating in places I wasn’t aware I had places. All the same I was surprised to hear the DING for the halfway mark and Alison’s reassuring ‘Lahst rahn!’ comment was much appreciated with wobbly knees and my tongue hanging out like a St Bernard. It got easier. I’ve just come back from my third workout and so have completed my first week. The app tells me I ought to feel proud about this.
I do already feel the benefit. This third time didn’t feel like much of a chore at all and it seemed to zip by compared to the first and second. Here is what I looked like before my second run:
And here I am after:
Note how I have cycled through about 20 shades of red and that the camera phone is clearly not half as steady. I didn’t take any pictures today because there was little difference between the before and after and that’s a pleasant surprise. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to turn into that guy. I won’t be filling up this blog with mentions of endorphins and electrolytes or what-have-you. The ultimate goal is not to get fit. It’s to lose some squidge whilst avoiding becoming a douchebag.
I’ll check back in at the end of each week and you can slowly chart my descent into abject misery as I highly doubt I will be so positive after a few more weeks. Week 6 or 7 might just be a string of expletives and jumbles of letters where I have mashed my sweaty forehead into the keyboard.
I’ll stick with it though, mark my words. Mainly because I’ve broadcast it now and hundreds of people will be able to call me on my bullshit if I give up. Also Alison would be really disappointed in me if I did that.
I’m David Hetherington and no, really, I am. I haven’t been replaced with a pod person.
(Music for the first run: Justice’s Cross album)