On the road to becoming a proper runner, a shuffle at a time


I AM not a runner. Not yet. Eight weeks into my training, I am still a shuffler. I shuffle along in my ancient exercise clothes, weaving my way slowly around the streets of East Wall in Dublin, dodging dog walkers and being sprinted past by proper runners who are wearing tight-fitting pants called “skins”. I think that maybe when I can fit into a pair of “skins” I might call myself a runner, but for now I shuffle. Therefore I am.

I did 25 minutes last night. My personal best. A 25-minute shuffle. I’ve been using an app called Couch to 10k because I need direction, an authoritative voice in my ear saying “start running” and “well done” and “cool down”. I love looking back through the app statistics, back to the early days of my training, and remembering how those one-minute shuffles once felt like a challenge. Monitoring my progress is hugely satisfying.

Then I look at tomorrow’s schedule and it says I have to shuffle for 28 minutes. Every increase scares me because even eight weeks into this experiment I have no confidence in my body. I’ve spent years being someone who “doesn’t do exercise”. That image of myself as a naturally sedentary/lazy/ sloth-like being isn’t going to change overnight. When I explain this to a colleague who runs, she says, “That was the old Róisín, this is the new one.” Trouble is, I don’t quite trust her yet.

Luckily, I have a cheerleader on my side. “Twenty five minutes. That’s great!” my sister R phones to say. R is my training mentor. R, who has never run a race in her life but has decided this year, out of the blue, to (a) run a marathon and (b) learn to play the piano. She’s dragging me along with her. For the running bit anyway. She has me on this radical and, to my mind, inhumane food regime called “Eating Three Meals a Day”.

The first week was torture, so I barricaded myself in the bedroom every night. “I can’t do this,” I texted her. “Is Féidir Leat,” she replied. Her other advice was “Clean the toilet!” Still, I suppose it’s better than having no mentor at all.

For all the talk of solidarity with other runners, this feels like a deeply solitary journey. The biggest battles are in my head. Four times a week I can just about get myself out the door by pretending to my brain that I am only going for a walk. I never think I will be able to complete my mission and then I do.

Every single time it feels like a miracle. I am learning about the kind of, and I use this word very loosely, athlete I am. I move around the warren of roads, Moy Elta, Forth, Strangford Road East, because I don’t want to go too far away from my house. And I run most comfortably in the dark because then nobody can see me. And I don’t want to go running with anybody else because I would feel too much like I was on display.

Most of all, I find this running business dull, dull, dull. I would not be able to get through it without appropriate listening material. I started with New Yorker fiction podcasts, then I moved on to Radio 4’s Front Row arts programme. Last night, I listened to a podcast of This American Life for the first time. It contained a riveting, if disturbing, story about a man who was abused as a child and who as an adult plots to kill his abuser but ends up confronting him in a less violent way. The story distracted me from the fact I was running. It got me to 25 minutes. At this stage, distraction is crucial. I may be moving my body, but this way I can pretend that what I am really doing is broadening my mind.

This is only the beginning. I just signed up for The Great Limerick Run. It’s happening on Sunday, May 6th. I can only hope that by then I will have become a person who enjoys running with other people, in daylight, possibly wearing skins, far away from home.

Róisín Ingle’s next instalment will appear on April 3rd.