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Doing the n00b shuffle

So everyone, let’s do the n00b shuffle! C’mon, you know the words! Oh, you don’t? Well, I don’t either, actually, I was just bluffing in the hope that I could follow along and silently open and close my mouth in time with the music until I learnt the words enough to sing along.

My friends, I’m trying to learn how to run. I would dearly love to casually mention “Oh, [by the way] [incidentally] [since you asked] I’ve taken up running. Yeah, love it. So calming.” That’s not happened, as such. Maybe it will eventually, but right now, I’m all over the place like a mad dog’s breakfast. For the past few months (alright, nearly a year), there’s been a little nagging voice at the back of my thoughts reminding me that the yoga is excellent, but I really need to be doing something a little more aerobic to balance it out. I have no idea where this impulse comes from. I have never, never been an athletic person. I loathed (loathed) PE in high school, and I still have some fairly strong opinions on the subject if you have the time. My recreational pursuits are much more likely to be of the sedentary cerebral variety than the active: music, reading, writing, knitting. Well, that’s been the case up to now, anyway. Yoga crept up on me: I always kind of liked it, but I didn’t realise how much it would get under my skin and become part of my life. Now I love it, and if I have to miss a couple of days’ practice, for whatever reason, I really notice it and I miss it like crazy. But the running thing? I don’t really understand: one day I’m sitting there, mulling over which of my many varied interests I would like to pursue in my idle hours, and something whispers “You know what would be fun? A run.” I dismissed it as a deranged synapse.

Then, well, I found I was thinking about it more and more: I’d see people out running and I’d glaze over a bit, imagining how refreshed and active they must feel (anybody experienced with running may now bark with ironic laughter right now). As I fired up my RSS feeds one day, I was mulling over how long I had been thinking about running, and the Yarn Harlot’s post about taking up that noble sport popped up in my feed reader. Well well well: I am not a religious girlie, but synchronicity like that? It’d be stupid to ignore. So I popped out and bought myself a set of not-serious running shoes.

Discoveries on running:

(a) Everyone can see you. Unlike yoga, which I undertake in the soothing comfort of my own home, with only the early rising puppy to observe and judge. All my coworkers got to see me in tracksuit pants and a somewhat sad-looking Cure concert t-shirt as I bumbled out for my first “run”.

(b) Running is not like walking-only-quicker. Walking, I can do. I got that bit down pat. And I honestly thought “yeah, running: it’s just like fast walking; I used to run around as a kid, so why couldn’t I do it now?”. Jesus, if you haven’t run for a while, give it a go. It’s a jolting, shocking, bouncing, gasping experience which is largely (but not entirely) unpleasant and public. Compared to walking, there’s a whole new set of biological mechanisms in place: I am certain there are muscles dedicated entirely to bunching my arms up and bobbing them about like a tyrranosaurus rex with confidence problems while running.

(c) Running makes your knees and ankles ache in a way that you honestly will not have anticipated. You will hobble about in the subsequent days as though you have bound feet. You will be unable to satisfactorily decide if it’s just sore, underused muscles or some sort of injury.

After a ludicrously abortive attempt in which my pants fell down (I am so awesome) mid-jog, I decided to take a few steps back and admit that I’m starting from the n00b starting block. Honestly, I haven’t run (except, you know, a few steps to catch a blowing-away plastic bag or something) in years, so I have to relearn which muscles to use and how. I’m flying the beginners’ flag. At first I felt really resentful about this, about having to start in the slow lane: I’m young and (mostly) healthy, why can’t I gracefully bound along the footpaths on well-muscled, controlled legs? In the end, though, I just had to accept that the pain in my knees and ankles wasn’t going to be shouted away, and I decided that the maturity it took for me to decide to start slow was enough for me to feel smug about for the time being. A fortnight of just walking every couple of days was enough to get the ball rolling, and then I started introducing little running bursts, as per the Couch to 5K program. It’s not going great: I managed to horrify my body by trying to run more than twice in a five-day period and it did the physiological equivalent of collapsing onto the pouffe and calling for smelling salts. I’m back to walking. I’m on enforced rest days between walks. I’m stretching and resting my joints in between times. It’s been a ridiculously slow process.

But here’s the big surprise: on the days I’m permitting myself a walk, I’m chomping at the bit for it. I still get a bit self-conscious about putting on exercise clothes and heading out, but once I get past that, I feel really good. I can’t believe the difference it makes to my day to get out mid-afternoon and go for a half-hour, energetic walk. I come back to my chair and I feel animated and alert — and this lasts through the evening. I feel clean and fresh and wonderful and as wholesome as a milkmaid’s plaits. Of course, I crash into bed about an hour earlier than I otherwise might, but it feels so damn good I don’t care. When my legs are stronger, I’ll start introducing little bursts of running into these walks, and maybe, in about fifteen years, if I’m very careful, I will be able to manage a geriatric jog around the block. Maybe.

In the meantime, it’s a slow, careful walk: the n00b shuffle.

(PS: My God, I’m glad I decided to try this while I’m still bendy and stubborn. I can’t imagine how much harder it is to commnit to this stuff if you’ve got kids and commitments and ageing knees already.)

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