Chariots of Fire

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.


About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for December 2022.

19 thoughts on “Chariots of Fire

  1. Go Shauna go – you’ll learn to love it – learn to miss it even – to vibrate strangely if you don’t get it – you’ll plug away for a year thinking this is crap and wake up one day and whip out 5kms in about 22 minutes and think. Fuck, 22 minutes, that wasn’t much of a work out maybe I should run back. Trust me – I’ve been in that boat and it takes about a year until running becomes about as much effort as walking …

  2. I also have a problem with the exercise-induced redness. Words cannot express how much I hate it. Must be a Scottish thing…are you Scottish by way of Aus?

  3. Go Shauna! You have much more endurance than me. Everytime I psyche myself up to actually do some excercise it rains or is too hot or I don’t have enough money to go to the gym! I have recently taken up bike riding though. It gets you fit and you can do while sitting down. A win-win situation!

  4. I once made the mistake of crooning in admiration at my marathon-running boyfriend and sighing that I REALLY needed to get fit, too. To which he replied “We Can Rebuild Her” (refer “The Bionic Man” for those kiddies born after 1975) and promptly began a torture and pain program that had me running 15k in less than 3 months. Major advantages were that I was able to inhale massive quantities of food and drink and still remain sylph/goddesslike in appearance. And yes, I would miss it if I didn’t get it. It also stopped me from suiciding when The Running Bastard decided that permanently decamping to another continent would do our relation a world of good.

    Running is great. Don’t give in to excuses, set yourself goals, get into a routine, and don’t ever stop.

    Unfortunately, I can’t do any running at the moment as I don’t fit in my sports gear anymore….

  5. Good for you!!! I can’t believe how many bloggers are runners. I just came ‘out’ as a runner on my blog a week or so ago, and the runners came out of the woodwork !!!

    I’ll be thinking of you on Sunday. My first 5k was for St. Pat’s Day, and I worried for a week over what I would wear. You’d think I was going to the prom, all the outfits I bought. Turns out, it was 35 degrees, and people showed up with green wigs on and stupid green tights. Well, the morale of the story is, don’t worry about what you wear when you run, just run!

    Go Shauna!!!

  6. Go for it Shauny – you can do it! ;-P

    I’m a closet wannabe runner but Melbourne is just too cold at the mo’ to be too inspired by you. Back to the beer and chips for me.

    Congrats on making your fund raising goal too, I’m sure you can take the competition furder! (D-Gen Late Show anyone?)

  7. Ahhhh, with you on this. The coughing up of lungs, other people overtaking you (sometimes in court shoes and wheeling a trolley bag), the knowing you do NOT look cool in your running gear….and yet it is so fine. Best moment for me was doing my arthritic snail at about week 3 into my training and 2 wee thin skelfs of girls zooming past me. I panted, sweated and cursed their too thin hides. Round a few corners I find they had been going too fast and could not keep up this pace, so had started walking! I tried to keep the euphoria in check as very, very slowly I managed to catch up and, yes! overtake them. Oh yes, beat that, Paula Radcliffe, I think not.
    Incidentally, what you feel is not catholic guilt but the deep dark calvinism of the scottish soul, best expressed by my gran “if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it properly” – this applies to everything in life which one happens to mention to gran. Good luck!

  8. Sigh.

    History of being picked last? Check.
    Twenty years of running-avoidance? Check.
    Tendency to go red all over and stay that way ? Check.
    Tendency to be passed by snails? Check.

    But I can’t be as funny about it as you are. Keep feeling alive!

    I love your title by the way – on The Inaugural Run with the Boyfriend last week, I had to resist singing the theme tune as we made a dash for his house. And (name-drop alert) my great-grandfather, who ran with the Edinburgh Harriers, actually knew Eric Liddell. Or so I’m told. I don’t think I inherited any of Papa’s running genes, alas.

  9. Hi Shauna,

    I’m with you on the hating running so much so I have stopped, running shoes sit on the bedroom floor looking at me resentfully trying to make me feel guilty but they won’t succeed, just yet, I am stronger than them.

    At least Gareth hasn’t done what an ex boyfriend of mine would do on the few occasions I went running with him which was to run backwards taunting me to get me to run at full pace and still be faster than me… git!

    Good luck with the race for life it is a very good cause.

  10. Good luck Shauna. My girlfriend is running too, so I will keepy my eye out for you on Sunday.

    Unlike other commenters here, I *am* the marathon-running boyfriend … but I had absolutely nothing to do with my girlfriend’s running ambitions. She has, however, flatly refused to run with me. :-s

  11. Hooah!

    I used to get picked last all the time, too, and for good reason. Luckily the army sparked up my fitness enough that 5K actually sounds like a bit of a fun run by now but I know just where you’re coming from. Go shauny!

  12. i know that dread feeling only too well. except mine is usually vague and unspecific, as though i’m always on the edge of some unnameable catastrophe.

  13. Dreadworthy thing! Hilarious! I’m trying to make myself start to run (ha!) again. Like evrything else that’s remotely athletic, I’m crap at it, but I like to believe I could learn to be good sometime. That’s the only motivation I’ve got! My boyfriend, who never runs, signed up for a 5km race and did it without training. And without walking. Argh.

  14. god i hate running… luckily i have enough things in my life to keep me suffering so i dont need to partake in running very often.

  15. sweet merciful christ woman have you taken leave of your senses?


    Is my bias showing?

    I have bilateral legg calve perthes disease and sciatica, so I loathe and abhor all running jogging and generally concusive joint damage.

    Anyhow, if you have a fully functioning set of hips Shauna, use them to the full as no matter how slow you are, or think you are, you’ll be a LOT faster than old cripple-hips here

    all the best and no you can’t have any of my money.


    more info?

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