Weight-loss diary: It’s time to face my nemesis – running

I have spent months telling myself I don’t have a body built for running. No more

Rachel Flaherty: “I’ve often wondered if am I the only person in Ireland not to have run a 5km race?”

Rachel Flaherty: “I’ve often wondered if am I the only person in Ireland not to have run a 5km race?”

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I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to face my nemesis – running.

The exercise I have yearned to be good at for many years, envied and admired those who are while simultaneously dodging doing anything by convincing myself maybe running wasn’t for me.

“I don’t have a body built for running,” I’ve told myself many times, among my myriad of excuses for not starting training. In my mind, the ideal body for running is that of Sonia O’Sullivan, but I know deep down I do not need the athleticism of a former Olympian and world champion to run a few kilometres.

I’ve often wondered if am I the only person in Ireland not to have run a 5km race? It feels like I am and ridiculous I haven’t even tried. The longer I have put off running, the bigger the obstacles to begin have become.

Since I’ve started this column, I’ve jumped off 14m-high trees, walked on a wobbly thin wire between platforms on a windy day convinced I was going to fall, clung onto the top of indoor climbing walls as my arms ached, and thought about tackling the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, next in order to avoid going running for one more week.

Whatever exercise class I tried in recent months, I always chose another option when the running section came up. Each time I did that, I killed a bit of my confidence and I became more self-conscious about trying it all.

When I was at my biggest weight last year, 5st 6lb (36kg) overweight, on one of my “good days” I set off for a run. It was terrible. Everything jiggled, my clothes felt uncomfortable, and putting one foot in front of the other became an insurmountable task in my mind. Within a few minutes I was out of breath, red-faced, my heart was racing and I felt utterly defeated. I stared down at the ground and stopped, afraid to look up at whoever might have seen what I considered at the time my pathetic attempt. I gave up. Looking back, I could easily have kept running or appreciated that the small bit I did was better than what I done in previous months, which was nothing, but my mindset was all wrong.

I wanted to run. I’ve always hugely admired and respected people out running for the enjoyment, for 5km runs, 10km, marathons and endurances races – all of them – whether they leaped along effortlessly or appeared to struggle and kept going, I always noticed they were so much happier when they’d finished. The “runner’s high”, I was told. I wanted to experience that.

Elephant-like thuds

Recently, as part of an exercise class, the group was sent on a 400m run. Normally, I would have found a way to do a different type of cardio but on this day, I found myself making my way up the road muttering “I can’t run” to myself but reluctantly shuffled along anyway. A man in the class, who normally bounded out in front like a gazelle, started chatting to me as I embraced more elephant-like thuds with each slow step. “Oh no, don’t talk to me, I may actually die trying to run while taking a breath to talk at the same time,” I thought in my head as I tried to chat back. But the distraction worked and to my own surprise I was soon back at the finish point. “You can run perfectly fine, you just don’t want to run,” he said. Oh, he had heard my muttering and made a good point. I was convinced I’d always wanted to run, but I was missing that something special that runners had, so I couldn’t run. But the truth was I wouldn’t run because I was likely to be slow and not that good at it when I started, and I didn’t want to face that.

I could run and I would, although I still continued to find excuses for many weeks to delay doing it.

I’ve have used every excuse possible to put off running from: Met Éireann has issued a weather warning for rain, which was for Munster and I live in Dublin, but you can never be too careful; to telling myself that even though I’d lost a good amount of weight I was still too heavy to run yet. Other excuses included my runners being too old; I must find the right programme first or I’ll get injured; I’m too hungry so I won’t have energy to run; I’m too full after eating. Then, one day, I found myself in the shop looking at 2019 diaries and realised months had passed and there was never going to be a perfect time. It was time to just do it.

Music ready, fitness tracker ready, favourite runners ready, and off I went. It was slow, uncomfortable and tortuous. Where had these hills appeared from? Okay, inclines would be a better description, but I’d walked this route many times thinking the ground was completely flat. The temptation was there to stop, but I wasn’t letting that happen this time. My goal was to reach 1km and I could figure out a programme to follow later. Running that distance, no matter how slow, would be more than I’d done in some time.

Heart didn’t explode

My main priority was getting the idea that “I can’t run” out of my mind. I checked my fitness watch a lot and my heart didn’t explode, which was encouraging. It seemed to take forever to get to that 1km. I was close to reaching the 1km and stopping when a little golden retriever puppy escaped their owner and jumped up to give me a big lick on my hand. The lively dog was so energetic and encouraging I decided to keep going. I relaxed my breathing and picked a point ahead to run to. It was a sense of achievement when I reached it. I’d run 2km, more than I expected, and didn’t keel over.

A few days later, I was eager to get out again so this wouldn’t be a one-off attempt. It was raining and windy, I was tired after finishing work, a bit hungry and my favourite runners were missing – the excuses were jumping at me but I was determined.

I was so eager to get outside before I changed my mind I realised too late I’d forgotten my headphones, a disaster, I thought, as I’d relied on being distracted to get running so far. I knew if I went back inside I would not come out so I kept going. I couldn’t check my watch this time because the rain was slapping me in the face and wind pushing me back. It was uncomfortable, but after about 15 minutes I started to feel better. I was coping without music and not looking at my watch every minute to see how far I’d gone made it a bit easier. I started to lighten my step and stop looking at the ground as I ran.

I looked a pitiful sight soaking wet but I was excited – I was beginning to believe I could run, and run much farther than I had originally thought, albeit slowly. I started to feel stronger and my breathing steadied. When I finished and checked for the first time how far I’d gone without stopping, 3.5km, I was happy. Four days ago, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to 0.5km. I began to wonder what more my body could achieve if I get my mindset right. I’d know I’ve a long way to go but I’m looking forward to doing it. Any effort is better than none.

Now I need to find a 5km to sign up to and get out of my comfort zone even further.

Rachel Flaherty is writing a regular column about getting fitter and healthier.
Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelfl or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com

Part 1: I lost three stone and I'm stronger now
Part 2: I’m stuck in the weight loss plateau
Part 3: A friend called my fitness holiday a fat camp
Part 4: My plan is driving me up the walls
Part 5: It is slow and fluctuates but it has stayed off
Part 6: Why are we doing this? This is terrifying
Part 7: I want to form new habits
Part 8: I gained 4lb. My fear of failure returned
Part 9: It’s time to face my nemesis – running

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