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Running for myself

When Harriet Rouse let go of her school-related exercise trauma, she realised she could enjoy running - at her own pace and with her own playlist.

My name is Harriet, and I hate exercise. Well, that’s what I would have said six months ago, but six months ago, I started doing something very strange: I started training because I wanted to. Not because it was a social thing or because I had to, but from actual choice. And since I’ve been seeing…. Let’s call her Sarah twice a week (in fact, her name is indeed Sarah), I can feel something starting to shift. It’s not weight. That would involve changes in the kitchen and gym (one thing at a time, eh?). It’s my issues. Exercise-related issues have kept me fundamentally a bit weak for all these years.

I didn’t go for the lockdown trend of HIITS with the family; I opted for the others… getting a dog, putting on a stone, drinking each night to toast another day of home-schooling survived! My focus went away, and I let the fitness rot set in. I’ve never been a fan of exercise. I am not fast, accurate or good at team-related sports (pub quizzes, yes, but there isn’t an option for that on my Garmin). Years of school-related exercise trauma (the athletics knickers! Not even making a house B-team!) ingrained a wrong message that exercising HAD is a competitive thing. It’s taken me way too long to realise that you can do it for yourself.

My Grannie turned 102 this summer. The thought that with a whole side of luck, judgement, and perhaps diet, I have the gene pool to take me to 100+ is a little intimidating. And with the realisation that for twenty years at least, my Grannie has been reliant on a walker to get her around her flat, this year, I realised something had to change, and I needed to get stronger. See, I want to be like my late Dad, who eschewed the use of a stick (even when he needed one), holding it parallel to the ground and saying he wouldn’t use one as that’s what old people did (he was 85). Aside from being stubborn (I fear, a family trait), my Dad was, until he hit eighty incredibly fit. County-level for squash, running twice weekly. And so I decided it was time to get stronger and fitter, and not care how fast or strong I got because it was all about me.

Alongside the strength work, which is ongoing, progressive, and always has somewhere to go, I’ve started (with guidance) running again -plodding out along the lanes twice weekly and finding what I can only really describe as some sort of mojo again.

Having grown up and spent the first thirty-five years of my life in greater London, headphones were never an option. Too many dangers lurking, and I ran with my thoughts, and my keys clutched in my fist as a very predictable and frankly rubbish weapon should I need it (I never did).

I have run sporadically over the years in an all-or-nothing sort of way, always training for something specific and then stopping. There has been a marathon (a very slow one 20+ years ago) and a few 10Ks. But this time, it’s different. I think I might be in it for the long term.

Having grown up and spent the first thirty-five years of my life in greater London, headphones were never an option. Too many dangers lurking, and I ran with my thoughts, and my keys clutched in my fist as a very predictable and frankly rubbish weapon should I need it (I never did). In Jersey, I run with my headphones. It’s been a revelation. Nothing is better than compiling a playlist to accompany a run that no one else will hear! It matters not that I choose late ‘90s and early ‘00s tracks that get me running faster and even singing along. It’s just me, the road, and my ‘90s memories plodding along. No teens to judge my music taste – perfect.

The truth is, the last time that I plodded this regularly was in 2007. It was essentially my escape from a six-month-old. Bath done, I’d hand her to my husband as he literally got through the door and wave as I said, ‘byeeeeeee, I’m off to run for training….’. I don’t think it was for fitness then, but it was for the thirty to forty minutes of solitude and ‘me’ time. It’s something we are quick to dismiss, but half an hour or more, just not having anything to do except jog (or walk) and be, is quite important. And until recently, I’d forgotten the joy of it.

I’m all for doing whatever works for you in terms of exercise. Whether that’s a class, a run, a gym session or a swim. But there is something about being alone, with no expectation of speed, and allocating time that has been a game changer for my sense of self and general well-being.

I do not pretend to be coming up with radical insight. Mindfulness and running, well, duh! Everyone knows about that! But knowing about it and partaking are pretty different things. And I find myself showing up for no reason other than to show up and take that time for me and my physical and mental health.

I think all I’m saying is that whilst doing things with people is great, never underestimate the power and importance of making time just for yourself. It isn’t selfish; it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go or whether a run is more of a walk. Being alone, with your thoughts, and with nothing more to do than taking one more step and one more breath is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself. It needn’t be long, and there needn’t be a distance to cover, but just going and putting that time in for yourself with (optional) guilty pleasure playlists that make you smile is something to relish. I’m just annoyed it’s taken me so long to make it a habit rather than a snatched moment once a year. And having signed up for a half marathon in April, this habit will have to stay the distance.

Now, where’s that playlist…


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