Run, Steph, run! My journey to running
A lot of my friends know me as a ‘runner’. That is, I go running regularly and actually enjoy it. And it’s true - I really love running. A lot of these same people can’t fathom how one could possibly enjoy heaving and sweating away, one foot after another plodding away on the footpath. And so on that note, I have a confession to make:
I wasn’t always a runner.
In my family, when I was younger, I was the dancer and my sister was the runner. There was a clear division of responsibilities and expertise when it came to chosen forms of exercise. My young brain couldn’t compute that it was possible to be both dancer and runner. I was stuck in this thought pattern that never the twain shall meet.
Until one day in 2005. In fact it was a Tuesday. The 1st of November. “How on earth do you remember that?!” I hear you exclaim. One reason is that it was Melbourne Cup day (a major horse racing event in Australia for those of you not acquainted - let’s open that can of worms another time) and the other reason was that after the race my mum returned home with the news that my great, great uncle (yes, two greats, my grandmother’s uncle) had died. His was the first death of a family member that I was old enough to comprehend.
Makybe Diva won the Cup.
Then I went to my room, put on an old tshirt and shorts, picked up my discman (yes, I’m that old) and told Mum “I’m going for a run.”
With System Of A Down pumping through my headphones I made it down the hill and barely a few hundred metres along the Esplanade before I had to take a breather. Who knows how long I ran for, or how far, but running was a way to process the first pang of grief I had ever suffered. I was upset, crying as I ran, angry at the world and taking it out on the pavement. By the time I got home, exhausted, red, puffing and very sweaty, I had processed some of my grief, my tired body left without the energy to be angry anymore, and ready to be with my family.
That first run was a tough slog, but I can still remember it clearly. The feeling afterwards of being a good kind of tired but also having had time to think and take out my frustration was so satisfying. From that point I decided to be a runner and set my sights on (what I believed at the time) to be the pinnacle of fun runs: the MiniMos Marathon (subsequently renamed to just the ‘MiniMos’ because it’s really just a 10km run that feels like a marathon).
My dad (the one I got the running genes from) had run in the MiniMos every year I could remember since I was little. He’d don his ‘Bay to Breakers’ tshirt and fluoro sweat band and run through the streets of Mosman - and by through the streets I mean up and down the hills of Mosman - every year on a morning in June. So I decided that I would try my luck.
I went running a couple of times a week, using my iPod clock to roughly time myself. Dad took me for a couple of runs along parts of the route so he could pass on his tips on different tricky parts of the run. (Famously at the 9km mark there’s a hill that seems to go forever!) My goal was to complete the 10km in under an hour and if I recall correctly I think I made it with about 30 seconds to spare! I was totally stoked and for a few years that was the race I did once a year, with 10km being the furthest distance I’d ever run, and would ever plan to run.
For a few years I took a hiatus from running, not intentionally, but I just didn’t run for a while. Once I got back into it I felt more like myself than I had in a while. Coinciding with this was a breakup and then an impending move to Canberra. Before I left, a trainer and amazing runner (Gary Mullins) planted the seed in my head that I should tackle a half marathon - 21.1km!
Was he crazy?! That’s more than DOUBLE the distance I’d ever run in one go! But being the stubborn person I am, I decided to give it a try. My 10km pace had improved since my first MiniMos to around 5:00/km so I set myself the goal of finishing my first half marathon in under 2 hours. On my brother’s advice my longest training run had been 15km since he said the excitement gets you through the last six. With a good friend by my side, we both crossed the line with just over a minute to spare. I couldn’t believe I’d done it! The run wasn’t quick, it wasn’t pretty, but I’d done it! My knees ached and ached for days afterwards, but having accomplished the 21.1km, the MiniMos seemed like a walk in the park. It’s all relative.
Races and fun runs aside, I run because I love it. I didn’t always love it. Running is hard, it’s a slog, it’s a battle between your muscles and your lungs and your heart and your head. Running is my meditation, a time when I can have time to myself to think about whatever. Some of my best ideas for architectural designs for uni have come to me while I’m running. My mental health suffers when I don’t run, and lately I have been incredibly down because I haven’t been able to run due to a dodgy back/pelvis/hip combination. Thankfully physio #4 seems to have done the trick! Fingers crossed I can train for the Blackmores Half Marathon this year (you get to run over the Sydney Harbour Bridge! If 21.1km sounds too far they have other events with shorter distances so I highly recommend if you need something to work towards).
The joy and beauty of running is that anyone can do it and you can do it anywhere. Running has kept me healthy and relatively fit on long stints overseas, it’s enabled me to see different parts of cities and towns I’ve visited all around the world - one highlight was my morning stop by the giraffes at Regent's Park in London when I was there for a couple of weeks in 2016.
I'm not the fastest nor the best runner, and I've spent a lot of time comparing myself to others running faster than me. But I've finally learnt not to do that so much and just enjoy myself.
So if you've been thinking about it, or you haven't been for a run in a while, go put on those shoes and get out there! Getting started can be the hardest part, but once you start I promise soon you'll be fit enough to enjoy running like the rest of us crazies!