Despite loving running enough to blog about it (not to mention the small matter of signing up for three half marathons) I wasn’t even remotely sporty at school. In fact, I hated it to the point where, in some desperation, I remember my best friend and me coming over all Lord of the Flies (apart from the murdering) and performing a primitive rain dance in the school grounds before one hockey lesson. FYI – it didn’t work.
The reasons for my hatred were manifold, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since discovering my dormant sporty side more than a decade later.
The main one is that I don’t think the school system as it was (or, I suspect, as it still is) is even remotely encouraging to the 99%. That is, not the five girls in the class with legs up to their armpits, who came out of the womb clutching a hockey stick and promptly took a swipe at the midwife’s ankle bone – but the rest of us. The ones who are never going to be Olympic hopefuls, who are unlikely to give up a Saturday shopping trip to get rained on in a field somewhere, but who might just – whisper it – get something out of a games class too.
I’ve loved running for myself and by myself for over a year now because I’ve realised I don’t need to be the best, or the fastest, or have the best form to achieve miracles. I can push myself to beat my own records week in, week out. I can go faster and further than I ever believed I could – even if that’s not exactly making Paula Radcliffe quake in her Nikes. In fact, I still get the same medals as the sporty girls, albeit about an hour later and with a lot more sweat involved.
The more I think about it, the more annoyed I get about the wasted years when I could have been running, dancing, loving the feeling of moving, cultivating a healthy relationship with my body, worrying less about dieting and the shape of my thighs and just feeling comfortable in my own skin. Or as comfortable as a teenager in an all girls’ school ever can.
I was reminded of how fragile my sporting ego once was today, at a badly run PR event. It was supposed to be taster sessions of various sports, which would have been fine – better than fine in fact, I think I would have enjoyed it – if they’d pre-warned me. As it was, with no warning, I was meant to take part in a HIIT class with three seriously sporty types (including one immensely Regina George TV presenter, who was pretty amazed to hear I hadn’t heard of her before) and not wearing the correct clothes. Oh and be photographed. And go on to another meeting I had lined up with my make up down my face and sweaty hair. No thanks.
I was furious, not just because I’d gotten up at 5am to be there, and because of the disorganisation (I am super anal, so I have minimal tolerance for shoddy event planning) but because of the feelings it provoked. I suddenly felt like I was 12 again, self-conscious about my weight, my inability to score in netball or look good in a gumshield. I felt friendless, on the sidelines, off the team. Feeble.
I know it’s on me, rather than them, that I felt that way – which just made me angry with myself. I didn’t want them to think I’d pulled out because I wasn’t capable and I couldn’t hold my own, because actually I know I can last well in a fast class. I can lift weights, perform reps, run for miles and still have enough energy to dance around my kitchen afterwards. But not without warning and a proper sports bra.
Luckily, since I started running I’ve met enough amazing men and women who are supportive of me, and even impressed by my efforts. And running has given me such swathes of confidence that even if I was in it alone, I’m not going to let the Mean Girls stop me plodding.
PS On the way back from London, pride dented, I read a perfectly-timed article in Runner’s World by the wonderful Lisa Jackson who has run 100 marathons and is a self-professed slow runner. And she doesn’t care. I love her.