The Story of an Unlikely Runner: The Contrast

THE CONTRAST

I’ve often thought that my life feels to have been a book filled with many (too many) juxtaposed chapters, or a play whose creator couldn’t quite decide on the lead role, so threw in various options just to cover all bases and keep the audience on their toes. I’ve played a different character in each one: no two parts have been the same. Who knows how many more there will be.

I’ve lived and breathed each one.

I know how it feels to be unfit – to feel trapped in a not-fit-for-purpose, defunct body which doesn’t work or look like it ‘should’; I know how it feels to be ashamed of my size and shape, even (and especially) in the ‘prime’ of my youth (no, they really weren’t the Wonder Years); of being unable to jog on a treadmill for ten minutes without feeling like my lungs will burst or my legs collapse beneath me.

I know how it feels to be called FAT – for peers (and partners) to mock and make comments about my appearance (‘Honey Monster’ was one such stinging jibe. I’ve not touched a Sugar Puff since…), and to wish the ground would silently open up and swallow me whole.

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Aged 16 actually squatting in an attempt to literally shrink. You see, it wasn’t just a metaphor.

I know how it feels to be desperate for approval – at any price: to be in a cruel, bullying relationship where an already fragile sense of self-worth was even further trampled on and eroded, and yet to still feel as though I should be grateful enough to settle for even that.

I know how it feels to want to shrink – to simply be smaller, neater…

…to be invisible.

I know how hard it feels to begin to run and to push through the mental and physical blocks which tell you “You can’t do this – you’re making a complete fool of yourself!“: to repeatedly come second-to-last in cross country at school, to be jeered – laughed at.

I know how it feels to hate putting those damn trainers on – especially in the early days when jog/walking was so ridiculously hard and monotonous that I loathed every miserable step.

In fact, I know how it feels to pray every single night to be someone else – anyone else – other than my own pitiful self.

BUT… I now know how it feels to have run over 50 half marathons, 7 full marathons and probably well over 500 races over all distances and terrains. I have an ever-expanding chapter of amazing running adventures: they are some of the most incredible experiences and memories of my life.

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I’ve run, trained and raced on-road, off-road; flat and fast; hilly and muddy; short and sharp, long and arduous; right on our doorstep, in random far-flung never-heard-of-before places (Garstang…who knew; South Africa – slightly more exotic.), high-profile vs obscure events; amidst crowds of thousands and alongside a small handful of randoms. Hell, I’ve even raced where there was no way-marked, marshalled route (we were simply handed a map and told “Follow this, make sure you stop at all the checkpoints, and we’ll see you in 17 miles” – that was a tough one). I’ve raced in city centres (many), up and down the contours of countless hillsides, across fields – even over sand.

I’ve seen things I have never seen before, and will never see again.

I know how it feels to have taken my running fitness to a level I never believed possible.

I know how it feels to have run a marathon in 4h25 and also in 3h16; a half marathon in 2h25 and also in 90 minutes.

I know how it feels to have won countless prizes in my age category, to have had my name and mug shot in the local paper for my own mini-victory, small-fry race results… I even know what it feels like to win a race, having only last year experienced being first lady across the finishing line, and a couple of second and third place positions. Me! First female in a race! At 37 years old. If I were telling my teenage self that this would occur in her future, she would quite understandably laugh me out of town (as opposed to run me out of town: she couldn’t have done that.)

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I know how it feels to have a body my 17 year old self used to pray for (let’s keep it real – she would have been easily pleased); to look better in jeans now than I did as a teenager (without an elasticated waist); I know how it feels to be so proud of my achievements that I can look my daughter in the eye and know that she sees a Mum who has some degree of self-worth.

My hope is that she sees what I never did – what is possible, instead of what is pitiful.

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So, it’s time to unveil the next character in the stage play of my life, which some would describe as a tragicomedy, or – even more aptly – a farce.

Enter Stage Left… Oh no. Anything but the pantomime horse. (Give me the front end, at least).

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