Lycra and me - a late-flowering love affair

To teach us how to cartwheel, my PE teacher used to line a selection of pupils up in ability order, rather like the evolutionary chart of progress from knuckle-grazing ape to statuesque homo sapiens. A girl called Georgia was invited to perform the ultimate, immaculate, fully evolved cartwheel.

The primate-style pre-cartwheel stage? Mm-hmm, that was me.

It makes me sound like I haven’t quite mastered walking upright. I should point out that I’m a reasonably capable human being, and not desperately unfit, but neither am I naturally gifted or overly interested in sport. 

But a strange and wonderful thing has happened.

I have for a long time had the head knowledge that fitness is a demanding but worthy goal. But my experience has finally - slightly red in the face and panting - caught up with the theory.

It’s been an interesting journey. The world has always seemed quite beautiful and inviting to me; I’ve walked far and wide exploring it, but at a comfortable pace, interspersed with regular breaks for cake and coffee and a sit-down somewhere nice. 

Sport, on the other hand, has always seemed other and alien. A sceptical relationship with the leotard, thanks in part to a number of Victoria Wood sketches, has prejudiced me against all stretchy gym wear.

A few years ago my car became quite unreliable, and reluctant to give it the attention it seemed to crave, I left it on the drive and cycled to work. I was encouraged in this by the fact that I live in a city that is constantly gridlocked with traffic; when this improves slightly, the council quickly put new plans in place to close a strategic combination of major routes in order to maintain high levels of disruption. 

My city is also home to the most jaw-dropping beauty, and my bike ride to work took me along a riverbank lined with wildflower meadows and medieval university buildings. So I became a cyclist, lost my parking space at work and fell in love with the freedom and fitness my bike brought me. 

But I retained a deep suspicion of running. Occasional fits of enthusiasm would overcome me and I would put my trainers on, launch off and stop soon after, out of breath and bored. 

I live on a street that circles a central green. I once set off from my front door for a run, got halfway round the green, saw a neighbour, lost confidence in my mission, and jogged nonchalantly back to my front door.

A few years later, I chose a new word for the year, as part of oneword365.com’s genius encouragement to ditch a list of new year’s resolutions and focus simply on one word for the year that sums up how you want to live.

The word I chose was ‘run’. 

This initially applied to attitude more than practice, and was defining as I made the decision to leave my job and set up a new business - Nightingale Ink, as a purveyor of words that sing to anyone needing some. The impetus, determination and effort captured in the word ‘run’ came into their own as I launched off into the unknown.

But I also started running for real. In the dark at the start. I would measure out sections of the road by lamp-posts and alternate running and walking between each section. There was no love lost between running and me, but I stuck at it. 

Then I agreed to take part in a triathlon for Viva, the charity I was about to leave, which holds a very dear place in my heart. I might hate running, but if running could help generate funds for work with vulnerable children that is thrilling in its courage and effectiveness, I could run.*

The triathlon is days away and I am now training regularly. I have just come back from a run with a smile on my face, my heart rate raised but my colour normal. It was on this last run that I realised for the first time what it means to hit your stride. Rhythm and momentum, and a new kind of comfortable. 

This experience has led me to think about the number of things I discount because I don’t think I’m good at them. Often we focus on the activities we’re naturally talented at, that come easily and bring some level of success.

But I’ve learned that my life’s trajectory is not set. I’m not a finished piece.

I knew that other people could, but now I know that I too can change, learn new things, take on unexpected challenges. I don’t need to focus only on what I know, what people associate with me, what I have allowed to define me. 

I can break the mould and change the script. 

It’s a wonderful irony that it took running to teach me that. 

Who knows, maybe I’ll dust down the leotard. Never say never. 

 

 

*If you would like to sponsor me, go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/VivaTrio. Any donations will help release children from situations of poverty and abuse and will be enormously, hugely appreciated.

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