I was never particularly good at football, although I could read the game well and was able to picture what was required I would tend to overthink and my feet would not always be in sync with my brain. I don’t think this was any abnormal mental issue but like most of the rest of us, we were not born to be footballers. I did however have a good engine and enjoy running particularly long distance as it tests my resilience and stamina. Normally, when I get to around 2km my breathing goes into a regular sequence and I feel sublimely relaxed. Some of my best moments of thought occur when I am out in natures back yard.
I had tried to take it up it at times when I was overweight and depressed during my twenties but it never really worked. In most cases I would take on a health club or gym membership to find that it was only running I wanted to do, use the treadmill and then feel short changed at the end of the month when the subscription payment came out. I was quite insecure about how I looked and certainly never felt confident enough to join one of the pump up classes or felt comfortable to get a personal trainer. I actually felt quite ashamed that if I had to go to a personal trainer then that would mean I cannot help myself so would talk myself out of it.
I think that in some health clubs the personal trainers are on a commission or bonus structure because there was a particular incident when I was in the middle of 5k run with a 6inch incline which for me as an 18 stone heavily drinking and smoking male was painful. A young lad came onto the treadmill next to me and I could see him in the corner of my eye as I tried to focus on the cookery program on the big screen. He noticed I had my headphones in so he started to wave at me. I reduced the speed and removed my nearest earphone and he began to ask me if I wanted to participate in personal training. I felt his timing was appalling as there was absolutely no way I could converse as I was breathing at a rate of 2 – 3 breaths a second. There was a graph on the treadmill which stated what your heart beats per minute should be for your equivalent age and I was pretty much of the scale with somewhere around 180 bpm.
The readings on the treadmill were causing me even more anxiety as I kept thinking I am going to have a heart attack and collapse on the machine and everyone will be looking at me. I waved him away and said ‘just go, just go’… and he looked back at me strangely and said “OK sir”. I cant stop laughing even now when I think about it because what I wanted to say was I was not interested but I was panting so bad that I had to think of the most minimal words that would make him leave me alone and conserve as much air in my lungs as I could.
I am happy that since I have returned to Oxfordshire this year I have been able to enjoy the rural countryside in it’s true colour. It really is middle earth and I am so grateful to be in the Otmoor area which inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R Tolkien amongst others. The running rituals I now practice are daily and tend to vary from 5 to 10k. I don’t set a distance but run as far as I can knowing that I will have to make my way back at some point. I think the biggest difference is on a treadmill you can pretty much press stop and then hit the Jacuzzi or something. My longest runs have occurred in some of my darkest days and after the trauma of being placed in a mental hospital I remember a week or so later when I ran 20 miles just because I felt so grateful that God had answered my prayers and that I had been released after being wrongly sectioned.
Nature has a very therapeutic quality because once I stripped away all the technology, buildings, busy-ness (business?), there is a feeling of oneness and a deeply spiritual appreciation tends to overcome me. I don’t count the distance anymore but I love the fact that I can run down the same country lane each day and the scene never changes… only the smallest details like animals, clouds or the rare person cycling or jogging.
I really hope that I can maintain my new found fitness as I feel for the first time when I look in the mirror that is a reflection of how I feel. Regular exercise beats any medicinal cure hands down.