No one who knows me would ever describe me as “athletic”, even I don’t. Sometimes people audible chuckle if I tell them I’m actually pretty good at tennis or cricket and was a sporty kid. For some reason, I project the air of a lifelong couch potato. It may be because I do indeed watch a lot of television, I love a good book, and the cinema is my ultimate happy place. But I also enjoy a good workout. Nothing makes me feel better than a sweaty hour on the rowing machine, or a rounders game in the park. I’m the weirdo who loves office teambuilding rounders matches and voluntarily signs up for cricket tournaments. However, I’ve always detested running. It has always haunted me. Despite all my activity, I seem to be perpetually unfit., a lack of endurance and shortness of breath that meant I couldn’t run for even 30 seconds without wanting to throw up. I would stroll around cross country courses, resolutely refusing to participate, and not be even halfway around the field for the 400 meters when the rest of my PE class were heading back to the showers.
However, I’ve always harboured a not-so-secret desire to do a triathlon. I had an extreme addiction to the 2004 Athens Olympics, making up for my lack of knowledge with great enthusiasm for anyone in a team GB kit. Of all my newly-discovered sports, triathlon fascinated me the most. I loved swimming, I loved cycling, and here were what seemed to me, Herculian athletes doing them together, then going for a run. Those people are mad, I thought, I have to do that. And so began a decade and a half of triathlon practice. I’d swim, I’d cycle, I’d go to the gym and row for hours. But I would not run. I knew I couldn’t, so I didn’t. Every few years, I’d be inspired by a race on tv or the story of someone who knows someone who has done one, and rush out and buy new shoes and a fancy running top to head out on my mission to be a runner.
15 years later, despite many attempts, I still wouldn’t even run for a bus. No, seriously, I’d just let a bus sail past me and accept my fate, even it meant a 45-minute walk to work. In the summer of 2016, I signed up for my dream event- the Castle Howard triathlon. I embarked on a serious regime of 6 am spin classes and long weekend swims. For one week, I ran around the block every evening, a couch to 5k app in my newly-purchased running belt. I was embarrassed, sometimes feigning injury when another runner came near. And then, that September I found out I was pregnant. Morning sickness hit me like a tsunami, and I spent 35 weeks unable to eat, barely able to leave the house, losing 20 pounds by Christmas. For almost nine months, I was sluggish and sedentary and itching to move. But even after the birth, the guilt of leaving my daughter at home to do something as selfish as going for a swim or finding the energy to exercise after yet another sleepless night felt impossible. As my daughter turned two and my 30th birthday approached, I decided it was time to take decisive action. After intense Googling of “help me run” and “teach me to not die when I jog”, I found This Mum Runs. Handing over money is an excellent motivator so I immediately paid up and waited for the course to start. With every day that passed, I got more anxious and debated faking an injury or claiming to have left the country. Instead, I told everyone I knew I was doing it and resolved to write about my experience to hold myself accountable. The only thing more powerful than my hatred of running was my fear of embarrassment, and having to report back that I’d chickened out was definitely going to be embarrassing.
What is TMR?
This Mum Runs was a “happy accident”, the result of Bristol mum Mel Bound putting a request for a running buddy on Facebook. 75 other mums, all short of time to themselves, time to relax, or time to exercise, all met up in cold November. And they went for a run. Every mother has the same story- as wonderful as your children are, they very quickly take over your life. While being a mum is a great identity to have, everyone needs variety in their lives, they need other outlets that provide them with a sense of joy and achievement.
Since then, This Mum Runs has expanded across the country, with organised runs in London, Bath, Cardiff and Salisbury, and they’re continuously growing. They host two weekly social runs, free for anyone able to run at least 30 minutes. And for those that can’t, they offer courses- Run30, Run60, and RunStrong. Held at local parks, mums are given the chance to run somewhere safe and convenient. The idea is to start slow, literally one minute at a time, and gradually increase to a whole 30 minutes, over 8 weeks of classes. It’s also advised to do an extra two runs during the week. The Run Angels who lead the course create a WhatsApp group for participants so you can arrange to meet up and keep each other company on these runs. Perfect for me, as without the pressure of letting someone else down, I would never leave the house.
The day comes, and it’s raining. Rain is an excellent excuse not to leave the house, so I’m pretty confident I can bail. Friends in the office ridicule me, “it’s just some rain, you wimp!”. My anxiety builds all day. The class is 7.30, and by 4, I decide if I’m going to do this, I need something warmer than my old gym vests and head to the nearest sports shop. I nearly faint at the astronomical cost of one sweatshirt and one very thin waterproof jacket. I get home and put them on straight away so I can’t change my mind and take them back.
I leave the house excessively early, my anxiety spilling into my usual fear of being late. This turns out to be a good idea as there is a football match on and the roads are jammed. I begin to worry that I won’t ever find where I’m supposed to be among the crowds, but I easily spot the group of mums, in their navy blue sweatshirts, and shyly join them, but they are mostly smiling, many are laughing, and I begin to relax. Until our run leader, the wonderful Hannah, informs us we need to warm up on the corner, which is in prime view of all the footie supporters, making their way to the stadium for a match. “I’ve made a terrible mistake,” I thought, slowly dying embarrassment that I’m lunging and swinging my arms in front of the swaths of Bristol City fans. Some smart soul points out that it’s too dark for us to be identified, and we ease into conversations about how none of us are runners, and what were we thinking?!
We take off running, heading towards the main road. I thought we’d be hidden in the park and am not prepared for the idea that other people can see me. Children are a great conversation gateway, and once the chatting about our kids’ ages and our lack of sleep picks up, I soon forget we’re running at all. The pace is slow, but I still count down for the minutes that we can walk in between. As we run along the harbour, I realise that this is why people run and before I know it, we’re done. One minute of running, one minute of walking has flown by, and I’m still alive!
Despite successfully completing my two mandated “homework” runs in the week, I’m still apprehensive at increasing to two minutes of running. It rains heavily all day, and I begin my debate about whether or not I want to go out. Everyone tells me I have to, it’s just a bit of rain, and the fear of them laughing at me in the morning if I tell them I didn’t go is enough to get me to go. Fortunately, the rain has eased.
We warm up on the street corner again, fortunately sans football crowd and I’m surprised how hot and sweaty I am already. Does not bode well for the actual run.
I’m anxious as we walk to our starting point, certain I’m going to keel over after a minute and a half, and never be allowed back. The first minute almost felt easy, and so did the second, much to my surprise. I was almost happy settling into the back of the group without any pressure to keep up with those steaming on ahead. By the fourth set, two minutes was getting harder but the continued chatting was a needed distraction, and soon enough, we were done.
Another Tuesday, another day of torrential rain. It’s been raining all week so after last week’s run, I decide to buy a rainjacket. I found a Fluro orange one on eBay for all of £5, which even has a teeny tiny pocket, which I have come to realise is a unicorn amongst women’s fitness clothing. I also borrow a bumbag from a friend, as my keys kept falling out of my belt on my homework runs and my phone is already quite smashed enough.
Once again, we’re lucky and the rain stops before we even start warming up, although the others laugh off my groaning and remind me rain is actually quite nice and cooling. I am yet to be convinced. (Spoiler, I’m never convinced.)
If I thought two minutes was a leap, three came as even more of a shock. I managed my two homework runs, having got into a seeming habit of doing nothing and panicking on Friday night, legging it out at 9 pm, and then doing a Sunday morning with other members of the group, leaving before the rest of the house is even awake.
I’m still filled with dread that I’m going to fail, collapse in the road and have the other runners annoyed that I’ve spoiled their lovely evening but this week seems easier than the previous one. I’m almost annoyed when we stop for a photo down at the harbour, I feel I’ve got momentum to keep going!
Surprise, surprise, it’s raining again. Torrential storms all day. It’s dark, it’s cold, and I dread this evening’s run all day. I am deeply regretting signing up for this during an English spring, and my rain jacket seems like an increasingly wise investment. Someone at work tells me that a baseball cap is the best way to keep the rain from your face so I dig one out from the suitcase of holiday clothes in the garage. It’s horribly grubby and doesn’t improve with two turns in the washing machine. When I arrive at the park, the rain has eased and I feel a bit foolish. Hats do not suit me, not one bit. I have read a lot from women saying how running has made them not care how they look- they enjoy spending an hour in gym gear, sweaty, redfaced, hair in a messy ponytail flailing in the wind. I am not that girl. I hate to stand out, and a large part of fitting in is looking like you belong, so I always worry that my ill-advised fringe is sticking to my forehead and my top is revealing any part of my mum tum. So the hat stayed in the car.
By the time the class has come around, I’ve actually started looking forward to my homework runs. Every single time I run, it’s further than I’ve ever run before. It’s not in the homework yet, but I actually ran for ten continuous minutes because I just didn’t want to stop. I’m excited by the challenge of the new class and seeing all the women from the group.
Still riding high on my ten-minute accomplishment, I find this run almost easy, and definitely the most enjoyable so far. I’m able to keep up with the middle of the group, hold a chat, and not feel close to death.
I’ve spent the whole weekend in bed with a stomach bug, and for the first time, I seriously contemplate not going, and not in my abstract anxiety way, in a, “no seriously, I may die”, kind of way. By Tuesday, I’ve stopped vomiting and dragged myself to work. I figure if I can make it through that, I can make it through a run.
Yet again it’s chilly and wet, and this weather has become a long-running joke in the office. It’s Tuesday, it’s raining, Kim’s running. I’ve taken to wearing about four layers and cruising by the meeting place and checking out what everyone else is wearing and removing or adding layers accordingly. By and large, everyone appears much braver than I am, seemingly comfortable with the cold and willing to wear just a t-shirt while I shiver waiting to warm up.
Week five feels harder than any of the previous weeks. I assume it’s fatigue from sickness and the effects of not managing the two homework runs for the first time. This makes me appreciate how important the extra practice is. I am out of breath even as we start, just walking up the small incline makes me feel a bit winded. I hang at the back, fearful that I’m slowing everyone down, but knowing that the group I’m with are so nice they wouldn’t actually think that at all. I check my watch every ten seconds, eager to stop and walk. I dread every whistle telling us to start running again and truly feel a bit miserable. For the first time I don’t feel that exhilaration from feeling better than the previous week, I just want it over with.
In the week, I hear from others in the group, that this run will be 20 minutes and I dread it all week. Having only just managed ten minutes, doubling up seems a ridiculous ambition. It seems that everyone else feels the same way, and we look at each other incredulously when the Run Angel reveals, yet, we are indeed running for 20 minutes.
Warming up, we all ask each other if we did the homework, are we going to be okay?! We take our usual route around Bristol Harbour, and it’s quietly reassuring to jog pass the places you used to have to stop and walk. By now, we all know each other pretty well so we can keep up conversations about what we did during the week and how work is going and it feels like a proper group of friends, everyone encouraging each other, telling the collective that we can do it, keep going.
And we do. It’s hard, it hurts, I’m exhuasted. But we do it.
No one can believe we’re at the penultimate week already. Running 22 minutes during the week was a real struggle, and the second homework run was cut short with a sulk- I’d gotten to about 5 minutes and just wasn’t feeling it. I vowed to try again later in the week, but could never bring myself to do it. Definitely feeling fatigued, my body hasn’t done this much exercise since before I was pregnant, and even then, I think three runs a week would be hard. But with the end in sight, I’m feeling almost glad to get it out of the way.
We run for 28 minutes, and to my surprise, I’m able to almost keep up with the women at the front, slower definitely, but almost. The policy is to loop if you get too far ahead, that is, turn around and run to the back of the group. Having never been even close to the front, I hadn’t experienced this before. We loop back… and realise we can’t see anyone from the group. We run back along our route, passing plenty of other runners, but noone we’re supposed to. We keep running, heading towards the agreed finishing point, and spot the group approach. Between the three of us, we had agreed to keep going and make it to 30 minutes, but by 26, I deeply regret it and desperately want to stop. When we finally catch up, we discover we’ve lost someone. Each half of the group echos “I thought she was with you!” and we stop to look around for our stray. I am grateful for the excuse to stop, but upon realising that I’d already done 29 minutes, I’m a little annoyed not to make the full 30. Our lost lady is spotted in the distance and it feels reassuring to be part of a group like this. We all walk back to the park, lamenting that the course is nearly over.
And here it is already. The final week. One homework run was a Sunday morning, led by TMR run angels, with a large group of other TMR runners. There are three available distances- 30 minutes, 45 minutes and 60 minutes. Even the 30-minute group seemed ambitious, but the weather is surprisingly nice for April, and it seemed like good motivation. We run alongside the river Avon for 15 minutes, at a pace I am pretty sure will kill me any second. Despite the front runners looping back, and the run angel checking I was okay, I was still a long way back even though I was totally at my limit. I blame the 8 am start and lack of breakfast. Fortunately, we stop underneath the Clifton suspension bridge for a photograph and I get a few minutes to recover. I find it hard to hold a conversation, concentrating hard on not falling over the rocky path. 15 minutes later I’m back at the park, just about alive. I celebrate by buying pastries from the bakery and realise that should have been my strategy all along.
The final run takes us up towards Ashton Court. I follow a lot of local runners on Instagram, and after the harbour, this is one of the most photographed routes. I feel like a real runner! The slower pace is much more comfortable, and I’m glad to be able to chat again.
We huff about running up the hills and wade through slightly tall grass, a stark contrast to our pounding along the cobbled harbour, but for the first time the weather is almost okay and knowing the end is in sight is pretty special. 30 minutes fly by and before I know it we’re back at the park, and both the run and our course are over.
We head to the pub to celebrate, and for the first time in my adult life, I receive a certificate I didn’t have to pay nine grand for.
What did I learn?
I learned that I can always do more than I think I can, and with some pushing and encouragement I can go further week after week. I learned that one big reason that people participate in sports, running in particular, is that adult life doesn’t dole out certificates like they do when you’re a kid, but completing a course or running a race, it gets you a medal and cheers from the crowd that grown-ups need once in a while.
Well, after Run30, TMR also offers a Run60, which focuses on intervals and hill sprints to increase speed and stamina and help you work up to continuous 60 minutes of running. Once I finished Run30, I did resolutely decide that none of that sounded in the slightest bit appealing, but nevertheless, eight weeks later, I completed that one too. I’m still running, two, sometimes three times a week, and feeling more confident about completing the triathlon than I thought I ever would.
Interested in TMR?
Check out This Mum Runs online, for a list of courses, and to find one near you.