For as long as I can remember there was always something to dread. Something to angst about while staring at the ceiling late at night, something that made me wake up with fear and loathing piled in my gut like bricks. Something that I had to deal with that I really didn’t want to deal with. Like swimming lessons, family dramas, piano recitals, exams or unemployment. I grew so accustomed to having something to freak out about that I’d freak out if the freakiness ever subsided.
The last thing that gave me that dreadful feeling was my weekend job at Geriatric Rescue, where I’d fret about upcoming shifts for days in advance. But I quit that job and with all that cheery getting married palaver, I was sleeping like a baby!
The lack of dread and about-to-shit-my-pants feeling was deeply unsettling. I kept waiting for a bus to mow me down. I don’t know if it’s Catholic guilt, inherited martyrdom or some masochistic streak, but if you’re not suffering on some level, how are you supposed to know that you’re alive?
So that’s why I took up running. Ooh I hate running. It doesn’t help when your earliest memories of running are being chased around a field by giant birds with spurs on their feet while your mother watched and laughed. And then there’s the bitter sting of high school PE classes, where I was unable to trot more than fifty metres without coughing up a lung and my face going violently beetroot. By far the slowest in my class, I was always picked last for teams. One by one my chosen classmates would line up behind their Captains, til only I remained in all my red-haired red-cheeked crapness.
CAPTAIN A: Ummmm. I pick that tree.
CAPTAIN B: I pick that stray cat over there.
CAPTAIN A: I pick that abandoned chip packet.
CAPTAIN B: Dammit! ALRIGHT then, I pick Shauna!
I have an Internet Friend named Julia, a lovely American who has lived in Italy for over twenty years. She is not only a keen runner but holds running clinics all over the country to encourage women into the sport. Sensing I needed a challenge, she offered her training expertise in a virtual capacity.
I told her that I can’t run, not even the birds with the spurs could get me moving. But she insisted anyone could learn to run. Well, that is fair enough for her to say; she who did a marathon in Thailand in stinking summer humidity… Just For Fun. But she was persistent, and I recognised the familiar I don’t wanna! terror in my stomach, so I knew it was something I had to do!
Firstly we had to pick a goal. Apparently, it’s not enough to potter around the park; you need to train for a specific race otherwise you’ll be tempted to skip sessions and sit on your arse watching the Men And Motors channel. So I picked the Race for Life 5k.
This wildly popular charity event is for women only, so I figured I could lose myself in the crowd and hopefully not come last. Plus I could be motivated by guilt! If people sponsored me, I’d be forced to stick with it.
Gareth volunteered to train with me. He said he wanted to be supportive, but I secretly sulked. Not only was he already humiliatingly fitter than me, his presence meant I would actually have to do some running. I couldn’t just sit under a tree for half an hour, splash my face with water then go home and announce, “Dude! Tough workout!”.
So by the time we finally started I felt ready to throw up from fear. Ooh, how I hated it. Every single step. Within thirty seconds I knew the vacancy of Dreadworthy Thing In My Life had been filled. I thought I’d built up a reasonable level of fitness with all my half-assed classes and weight training, but running was something else altogether. There was no instructor to tell me what to do. There was no machine to slump on when I got tired. There was no stack of Reebok steps to hide behind if it all became too much. It was just me, my body and the open road. This was tough!
When you’ve avoided running your whole life, it feels quite bizarre to rearrange your body in a running-type configuration. Julia’s instructions were customised for the absolute beginner, so I alternated walking with one-minute bursts of running. Or rather, one-minute bursts of slightly swifter shuffling. My lungs! My poor lungs! Where had all the air gone? Why was my face on fire? I had never felt so utterly inept in my life. I was so embarrassed that I looked at the ground the whole time, hopefully rendering me invisible to Real Runners who’d scream, “Begone, amateur!”. How was I ever going to last five kilometres?
Gareth on the other hand loped along effortlessly, throwing punches in the air a la Rocky while singing, Shauna’s training! Getting strong now! Won’t be long now!. When we finally finished my face was so red it melded seamlessly with my hair and eyebrows and I became one great shiny blob of unfitness. Gareth hadn’t even broken a sweat. The bastard.
That was ten weeks ago. What we need here is a Rocky-esque montage of my amazing progress since. We wouldn’t even need to make it in slow motion, because my motion is slow enough already. Cue soft focus and stirring orchestration! Imagine if you will:
— Pathetic pre-run arguments that all go:
SHAUNA: I can’t believe you’re making me do this AGAIN!
GARETH: I’m making you do it?
S: Yes you!
G: You’ll be fine!
S: But we only did this two days ago! Shouldn’t that be enough? Until the end of time?
— A dramatic collapse on the grass at the end of Week Three Session Two followed by a dramatic declaration, I will never walk again!
— Shauna’s attempts to hurl abuse are continually thwarted by lack of fitness: “I puff puff hate THIS and I puff puff hate YOU!
— The ongoing saga of The Reddest Face in the World:
CONCERNED FATHER-IN-LAW: So you got a wee bit sunburned today?
TOP ATHLETE SHAUNA: Nooo, I am still recovering from my run three hours ago.
— The Hill Sprints of Week Five: Gareth racing up stairs and jumping around pumping a triumphant fist in the air a la Rocky; Shauna arriving some two minutes later.
— Great moments of fatigue and delirium, when Shauna is so slow that Gareth must literally run on the spot to match her pace:
S: My body won’t work! I can’t run anymore!
G: But running means you need to lift your feet off the ground!”
— Revenge of The Vegetable Chilli: In which Shauna farts uncontrollably when running up hills.
— Tears and icepacks as our athlete is sidelined by injury. Experts recommend increasing your mileage by no more than 10% per week, but some bright spark wrote down Julia’s instructions incorrectly and accidentally increased it by 25%! OWW OWW OWW. I was never good with numbers.
— The touching finale. Once again collapsed on the grass after a gruelling run, the athlete experiences her first endorphin rush:
G: You look as though you enjoyed that.
S: No I didn’t.
G: You did so.
S: Perhaps, briefly. On some level.
After ten weeks, running is still serving me well as That Thing What I Hate To Do. I commence bitching and moaning before each session and do not let up until we’re finished. Then I feel all smug and virtuous for about 24 hours, before starting to fret about the next run. Each step I take is still a constant battle between my increasingly adventurous body and my lazy, sabotaging brain. There are those brief, thrilling moments when my legs and arms move like liquid and my mind just floats above. Mostly there’s sweat and crankiness and small yappy dogs getting under my feet. But it’s actually bloody brilliant to feel The Dread again. I feel so alive!
Sunday is the big day. I am trying to remember to breathe. I know I have improved out of sight, but I still think all those leathery old grandmas will breeze past me, so much fitter despite the fact they live on tins of cat food. But it’s all for a good cause, and I’ve not yet reached my sponsorship target! If you’d like to make a donation please visit my Race for Life page! All proceeds go to Cancer Research UK. The more money you give the guiltier I’ll feel. And if you’re in Edinburgh on Sunday and happen to be near Holyrood Park, just look for the ultra-slow chick with the tortured expression. My red face will probably be visible from space.