Running has not only become a part of my routine; it is now one of my top survival methods when single mum life is particularly tough. I rely on the endorphin hit that 30 minutes of running outdoors gives to lift my mood and make me a slightly kinder, more patient mother.
As Paula Radcliffe told me, “take that time for yourself to go out running and not feel guilty about it. If you’ve got the time to go and exercise you will feel better for it, you’ll feel healthier and you’ll be able to give a bit more energy to being a mum. You’ll maybe be a bit more of an active or pleasant mum to be around, so don’t feel guilty about it.”
It turns out that you can find 30 minutes to go for a run, when your mind afterwards is that bit more focused, the day that follows is that bit more productive.
And along with my (surely imminent) parenting medal is an actual, real life medal, because I completed my 10K. I will, henceforth, describe myself as a ‘runner’, and feel qualified to do so.
The morning of the race I was awoken (from an anxiety dream about missing the race) with a punch to the face. My three-year-old son Jack had climbed into bed with me during the night and his none-too-subtle method of checking I was still alongside him wasn’t the best start to the day. Although, the wake-up call did ensure that I didn’t, in fact, miss the race.
Despite less-than-ideal conditions, I felt positive as I stood poised at the start line alongside a large group of (much more pro-looking) runners.
Here are a few of my tips for race day:
1. Don’t go out too fast. The competitive runners will sprint off into the distance and you will feel the urge to follow. Resist it and try to stick to your usual pace, or you’ll struggle for the rest of the run.
2. Try not to be disheartened by any pensioners sprinting past you. (They’re probably former Olympians, right?)
3. If you’re running in a race without pacemakers or markers, just try to check in with yourself and run at your own pace, rather than latching on to a fellow runner and matching them.
4. If you’re running in a race that allows headphones, ensure your Bluetooth is properly activated before starting your incredibly loud, incredibly offensive rap song. (Apologies to my fellow runners.)
5. If you need to tie your lace, stop for water, blow your nose, or similar, just do it. You’ll waste more time trying not to trip, thinking about how dry your throat is or sniffing than the few seconds you’ll lose making sure you can regain focus.
My last mile was really, really hard. One of the fields was essentially a bog, so I had wet feet, a runny nose, and I’d run faster than I should have in sections to make up for time lost in the aforementioned bog, so I was struggling. But, as I approached the final bend and the last 30 metres, Jack was on the sidelines with my mum, arm outstretched for a high five, and I found a last little burst of energy to get over the line.
As I crossed the finish line, I felt relief, followed by euphoria. I had not only survived a 10k run, I’d come in under my hour target to finish in 55 minutes. From barely being able to run for a bus (granted, with a pushchair) to running non-stop for an hour in just a few months of training, running had gone from being nothing short of torturous to a guaranteed pick-me-up and a welcome slice of me-time, a window of calm in my busy, chaotic life.
So, will I be hanging up my running shoes? In the short term, yes (to dry out from that bog). But as soon as they’re dry, I’ll be back out there pounding the pavements. Just try and stop me. Next stop, London 2020*.
*No, not the London Marathon, I meant the January sales. I’m not completely mad.
Rebecca has been writing about her fitness journey for the Evening Standard. Follow her progress here.
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