16th March 2016
What happens when you abruptly stop running?
Not the sort of stop running, when you’re puffing like you’re auditioning for a part as a very raspy engine on Thomas the Tank Engine. Or giving a raspberry a good run for its money on who’s the darkest shade of red. But the “you can’t run anymore because you’ve damaged something and any more running will make it worse”.
Anyone who likes running would be a bit miffed at this abrupt turn of events. Because they know that running is more than just the physical process of either darting gazelle-like along paths and trails, or in my case, plodding valiantly over pavements determined to get to the next round kilometre, so it doesn’t freak out the OCD corner of your mind which will choke forever more over the Strava record of that run if you only reach x.98km.
Running is me-time, when you get to listen to a playlist of tunes you like, not your 5 year olds favourite nursery rhyme on constant repeat, or as in our house, your 13 year old putting you straight about all the things you’ve not understood all this time, with his firm convictions about everything in the world. I don’t listen to music, but instead the ripple of the river and the rustle in the trees and all the dogs behind fences carrying on because they can hear a jogger they want to lick/bite. And in setting goals, it brings a shape to your day, and a purpose to your week. It fills your body with endorphins, so that you get a happy fix without the need to resort to drugs. And if you run a really really long way, really really often and ignore your body’s call for quick carb fixes (aka sugar) and instead give it complex carbs and protein, you can lose weight. My body and I are pretty expert on the simple carb reloading, though, so weight loss hasn’t taxed us too much.
Running is something that is yours. It takes the shape of what you want it to be. And it seeps into corners of your life that are willing to be seeped into.
On coming to Australia, running oozed into the corners of my life that had once been my career. My days had been consumed with deep problems for which I was finding solutions, fixing processes, empowering people, making the organisation work better and a better place to work. I was challenged intellectually, if not physically, and I found a sense of fulfilment. I achieved things.
And whilst I had work in Whyalla, it wasn’t work that made my soul sing, like it had before. So I challenged myself physically. I ran. I achieved things. I ran a very long way.
And despite running being a solitary process, I found connection. First an ethereal network of online female running buddies, challenging themselves remotely to kick their own goals, beyond the gaze of “real runners” who might condescend at our ambitions to reach 10, 20 or more kms. I’d sneak into the early morning or late afternoon gloom and report into our secret chatroom about my mini conquests: a couple of secs/km shaved off my run, or hitting that next km marker that had seemed so elusive. Disillusionment or woes at family commitments hindering progress. All gently supported by a group of women who knew exactly how I felt, because they were going through it too. They were there, just in their part of our cybercity.
And through them, my Operation Move secret society, support built confidence. And confidence meant that I could step out of the shadows. I spoke my big hairy audacious goal. Said it out loud. Zoey wrote my plan. And I ran in daylight. And people saw. And I stopped fearing that people would see. Or maybe I just stopped noticing that they might notice. Because I was working towards my big hairy audacious goal. And suddenly I was talking about it. And not just in secret Facebook groups. Out loud. At the office. And quite by chance, or so it seemed, new connections grew. Female running buddies in actual real life. The sort that plan routes, share their potatoes and put band-aids on your knee when you trip over – erm, nothing. They meet you at silly o’clock and want to run intervals even when you don’t, so you do it anyway. You drink wine together, you commisserate and you celebrate together. They are your friends.
And suddenly, on Monday night, the realisation that the little lifeline that running has become through the turmoil of moving across continents, dealing with new cultures, watching your babies suddenly transform before your eyes into university and high school students, isn’t there anymore. It’s gone. And the thing that’s gone isn’t running. It isn’t a goal. It’s a coping mechanism. And all you really want is a hug from your bestie, but she’s in Whyalla and that’s a fucking long way away. And what is there now?
That’s when you have a little melt down. You stop running. Stop. Running. Away.
Thankfully, through this, there is one thing that remains a constant. And despite much provocation over the last 10 years, he hasn’t run away.
Maybe it was time to stop and draw breath. Stop running. To take stock. Recognise that the last few months have been another enormous upheaval. Acknowledge that there are things – well, people in all honesty, that I miss massively. And it will take time to rebuild.
So the tears are wiped away, the goal posts have moved, but new possibilities are waiting to be grabbed somewhere over on the horizon.
And I need to write a couple of letters or make a couple of calls. Because, whilst friends might not be quite so close at hand, that’s no reason those connections shouldn’t keep running through life.