Lynette Fay: Like most women, I have a love-hate relationship with physical activity
I looked around and saw a group of about 40, mostly women, of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. Everyone had a reason for being there and, as I learned, most were just as frightened as I was
SURPRISING ourselves is always very satisfying. Last Sunday I eagerly went out with a group of friends for a run. They had set themselves the goal of running eight to nine miles. I have neglected running for the past few months but somehow, last Sunday, I managed nine miles. Nine very slow miles.
The fact that I’m out running at all is a surprise to me. When I was at school, I had avoiding PE classes down to a fine art. The thought of netball practice made me break out in a cold sweat. I tried camogie training once, but recognised that my strengths lay elsewhere.
Body consciousness has a big role to play in this. Physical and hormonal changes in our bodies take a lot of getting used to. Some of us never accept our physical shape, some of us do and some of us work very hard to maintain a particular shape.
I’d say I’m like most women. I have a love-hate relationship with physical activity. When I was a teenager and when at university, I went everywhere on my trusty bike.
I have always liked walking but, like everyone, I probably convinced myself that I was doing more than I really was.
I tried hot yoga too. For about five years, it was my exercise of choice. Ninety minutes of sweaty yoga is more difficult than you might think. When in the zone, I loved it.
Running, however, was a different story. One of my best friends got into running when she lived in London. I just couldn’t understand what would possess her to get up on a Saturday morning to run 10 or 11 miles. Around 10 years ago, a group of us entered the relay in the Belfast marathon. I had big ambitions to train for this. I never did. I wasn’t interested, and muddled my way through the last leg and almost combusted at the finish line. I was the weakest link in our team, and I know that I disappointed the girls.
For some strange reason, my attitude towards running changed in January 2016. A good friend was training for her first half marathon and I could see the difference that running had made to her demeanour, her shape and, more importantly, to her confidence. She was luminous since joining the Couch to 5k Jog Belfast programme.
I bit the bullet, signed up and found myself at the Ozone on a rainy Wednesday night. We trained twice a week for 10 weeks, and the ambition was to complete a 5k Park Run on a Saturday morning in March.
At that point, I was extremely unfit. I couldn’t imagine walking 5k never mind running it, and couldn’t work out how this could be achieved in such a short period of time.
The first night was incredibly intimidating. I almost went home, but something prompted me to get out of the car, check my name off the list and go for it.
I looked around and saw a group of about 40, mostly women, of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. Everyone had a reason for being there and, as I learned, most were just as frightened as I was.
Our coach told us two things that have stayed with me. Firstly, running is not about speed: if you’re running at a pace that doesn’t allow you to talk, you’re going too fast. Secondly, you’re training your body to use a different muscles as you run.
Ten weeks later, I ran 5k without stopping, a feat that had been unimaginable to me on that cold January evening. Little by little, we did it, and it was an emotional day for all.
I now sign up regularly for 10k races. I even run on my own, of my own volition. It’s the best medicine to clear the head. I also love social runs and volunteer to get up at 7.30am at the weekend to go running.
The last time I took part in the relay race of the Belfast Marathon it took what seemed an eternity to complete those 6.2 miles of the first leg. Sydenham bypass seemed to go on forever.
I did it last year in under an hour and celebrated with my fellow Ormeau Runners. Good luck to everyone running on Monday. If you’re looking on at the runners on Monday, thinking that you could never do that. Find a couch to 5k programme near you and try it. I’ll see you at the start line next year.