Tucked away in a cobwebby corner of the garage, sits a tattered cardboard box packed with photo albums with pages full of running certificates and newspaper clippings. The yellowed clippings and faded certificates no longer decorate the walls of my home. Instead, they have become artefacts in my museum of memories. Nothing has been added to the box for many years, but the memories contained within, are Olympic in size.
I wish I could thank the young man who introduced me to running all those years ago, but he doesn’t know of our connection. I spotted him as I was returning home from a family trip. I was a young Mum with a nine-month old baby, a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler and living in an abusive marriage. From the comfort of my car, I recall thinking, ‘this man looks so free’. Through my eyes, he glided effortlessly along the pavement, looking as though he hadn’t a care in the world. And I desperately wanted some that. I took my first running steps that afternoon.
I’d be stretching it a bit calling it a ‘run’. It is best be described as, a very short happening. Not knowing much about the sport of running, I donned a pair of old sand-shoes and sprinted out the door. I hurtled past 3-4 neighbouring houses, before collapsing in a breathless heap onto the steps of our local dairy. My ego took a wee bit of a battering, but in that short space of time, I knew running was for me. And forty years later, I still to run.
When I entered the running scene, marathon running was booming, especially for women. New Zealander, Allison Roe, was our local hero. Her Meryl Streep looks, and wins in the Boston and New York City marathons in 1981, roused the hopes and dreams in all of us. The running club scene was booming. There was always someone with a new training idea. We did sausage-training sessions, backward running, up-hill bounding, downhill sprints, fartlek training and endless numbers of repetitions.
I was an average runner. Not quite fast enough to represent at national level but fast enough to pick up a few prizes at club and community events. On a personal level my greatest satisfaction was breaking the 3hr barrier for the marathon distance. Distance running was my favourite – from the 5km distance through to the marathon – I tried them all and loved every single moment of it. The friendships, the triumphs and failures, of my club and competitive days, remain a precious moment in time.
Running sparked an interest in the fitness industry which, in the 1990s, was still young and slowly maturing. We were right on the cusp of the fitness boom. I completed a Certificate in Sport, Health and Fitness and became an aerobics and gym instructor. I had a special interest, and still do, in encouraging women to move to feel better. Over the years I’ve dabbled in triathlons, mountain-biking and swimming. I am even a joint holder of a tennis cup, but nothing has compared to the enjoyment I get from lacing my running shoes and heading out the door for a run.
Why do I love running? Because it calms my yearning, quietens my spirit, and halts my impetuosity. It gives me moments of clarity otherwise unreachable in my daily life. Running has accompanied me through the trials and tribulations of parenting, soothed the angst of broken marriages, and, given me profound moments of idea, creativity and insight. No problem seems as bad at the end of a run, as it did in the beginning.
When life gets busy, whether it be with family or work, exercise is often the first thing people, especially women, put aside. It seems unimportant compared to the needs of kids, job, friends, family. But when life gets crazy, that’s when it’s even more important to make sure you don’t put your workout or fitness routine aside. I explain to people my exercise, is just one-hour out of a twenty-four-hour day, that is solely mine – time to be alone by myself, away from the busyness of life the other twenty-three hours demand. I guard this one hour of solitude almost ferociously.
Oh yes, the lovely lonesomeness of solitude. Over the years I have run with many people. Running groups, running partners and running husbands. But it is the solitude of running on my own I enjoy the most. No one to interrupt my thoughts. No one needing anything. Free from the influences of living in a connected society. Free to be me. Oh yes, solitude is indeed a sweet gift.
‘A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free,’ said German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
These days the term ‘plodding’ best describes my running action. But when I’m out in the fresh air, running alone, along my favourite trails, I am the Olympic champion of plodding. Anything and everything is possible. I feel like that young man looked all those years ago – free and alive.