As a child I didn’t go much on running unless it was to catch the ice-cream van or bagsy the park swings. At secondary school I loathed it. Cross country was my worst nightmare made only slightly more bearable by the illicit cigarette break halfway round.
I was always ashamed of my stout body. Why wasn’t I born lithe, long limbed and willowy like Texan model Jerry Hall? I spent years running a critical eye over my frame, comparing it to others (always thinner) and not giving enough thought to what it could do. Running seemed hideous. Impossible.
Things changed when, a bit older and wiser, I decided to give it a bash. I was quite taken by an activity that positively promoted carb-loading as part and parcel of a training programme. I excelled at carb-loading already: spuds, pasta pesto, cake and toast were diet staples. The running world whispered to me: ‘If you run, you can eat all the carbs all the time and not feel guilty. Yes, Emma. You’re the carb queen. Come join us – we’re here for you with all the cake.’
I took my muffin top into this brave new world and set myself a half-marathon race as a goal. I didn’t own any Lycra or technically advanced footwear so I dug around in my wardrobe and identified suitable togs for my first outing.
Wearing jogging bottoms with a saggy crotch and hole-ridden trainers that doubled up as slippers, I shambled around the Exeter canal path. Puce in the face, ragged breaths, lungs on fire and constantly hoiking up my baggy joggers to prevent passers-by getting an eyeful of builder’s bottom, I wondered WTAF I was doing.
I lasted 12 minutes and staggered home to an eclair and a fresh copy of Runner’s World. Leafing through this athletic bible, I realised a wardrobe audit and training plan would be in order to get me over that half marathon finish line.
Clad in new clobber and with a plan in mind, out I went. I added five minutes onto each run every week and felt a thrill of achievement when I reached milestones: first three-mile run, 10k, seven-mile, 10-mile.
I discovered I could run, actually run and enjoy it. My body was capable, resilient and it was propelling me into unchartered territory. I grew to like my body. I made friends with it. I started to see what it could do, not just what it looked like.
I found new trails, hugged myself when other runners said hello and quietly cursed those who didn’t (what’s wrong with you, you non hello-ers? Be nice! Say hi!)
On the approach to the half marathon finish line, I choked up and wailed. I was elated, exhausted and goddamn proud of my body. I didn’t mean to cry: I was trying to arrange my mouth into a wide beam for the bank of cameras but the physical effort and utter lack of resources meant my fizzog could only muster some shattered sobs.
Aged 40 I’m now running marathons and still eating carbs. Wanging on about my lack of thigh gap or less-than-flat tummy? Not so much.
The next time you stare disapprovingly at your form, take a minute to see all the marvellous things it does for you. OK, mine may not look like the one Jerry Hall has, but it’s still performing millions of vital little jobs in much the same way has hers does.
Look at the folds of your skin, the colour of your eyes, your smile. Marvel at the functions and mechanisms within you that allow you to breathe, think, move, laugh, cry, dance, run. Know that anything is possible.