Off we go. I start off jogging fairly slowly. I want to be able to keep this up for the whole course.
I have never been much of a runner. When I was little, I had tons of energy but mostly came last in races at school. Lack of a competitive instinct, I suppose - also I was extremely uncoordinated, and I've been told that I "ran funny" back then, with an awkward gait. Maybe I still do.
Two minutes into the course, doing fine, I speed up a bit. At this point, the major problem is boredom. I can't read while running: often I start counting steps in my head just to keep myself focused. I look at myself in the mirror and am discouraged, as usual, by the sheer inelegance of my appearance. My legs in particular look thick and clumsy, and I really need to try to find a sports bra with more restraint... and even my face seems to have gone formless and vacant. I'm breathing through my mouth, which doesn't help the general air of an idiot in search of a village. I cross my arms on my chest for a moment to try to calm the (ummm...) bouncing, and am struck by how weirdly tiny my hands are. I shake my head and concentrate on the figures on the readout. 20 percent complete...I've just been reading "Nature Via Nurture" by Matt Ridley, which suggests (among other insights) that innate talents become more pronounced as children grow up, because we're programmed to like doing the things in which we have a small edge over others. Conversely, we don't enjoy the things we're less good at. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but it makes sense to me. My best friend at primary school was the fastest runner in the class, and although I admired her athletic prowess, I certainly didn't think of emulating it. No, I was the girl with the book. And I still am.
Five minutes in, and I've gone rather red in the face. I'm beginning to give myself the mental pep talk which I need to keep going to the end. Not really feeling the need to stop - it's just difficult to throw off years of being a complete wuss and giving up at the first signs of fatigue. Only seven minutes to go! You can run for seven minutes. You ran for much longer than that on Friday. Look, 20 seconds, 15, 10, 5... now it's only six minutes. Halfway there. You're on your third lap. You can do it.
From being rubbish at running, I rapidly became convinced that I was Just Not Sporty. I hated hockey. I hated cross-country running or anything that got you cold and muddy. One of my abiding memories is a gym teacher telling me, not particularly unkindly, that nobody had ever taken as long to do a particular cross-country route. I suppose she was trying to spur me on to greater effort, but it didn't work.
"The distance to the ropes seemed several hundred shiny yards. Nan's legs, in the floppy divided skirts they wore for Gym, had gone mauve and wide, and her arms felt like weak pink puddings. When she reached the rope, the knot on the end of it seemed to hang rather higher than her head. And she was supposed to stand on that knot somehow." Witch Week, Diana Wynne Jones. This captures exactly how I used to feel about climbing ropes. How do we encourage the children who don't find that sport comes naturally to feel better about doing it? Physical Education was almost entirely humiliating to me, and I would guess that teaching me was not a lot of fun either.
Strange, but true: it wasn't the cold and the mud that put me off outdoor sports, although that's what I thought at the time. I think it was the compulsory aspect. Later, at college, I was on a women's football team and got cold, muddy, wet, and bruised, and enjoyed it enormously. (A great many people did tell me that I don't look the type. I found that rather satisfying.) Another key aspect, I think, was the chance to start again, among people who didn't know I had a reputation for being hopelessly unsporty.
Eight minutes in. "Mauve" would certainly be a good description of my face now, and my forearms are rather pink too. I go red all over when I exercise, which is supposed to be a sign of a good circulation, although it doesn't look good! I'm extremely warm, and my feet don't exactly hurt but I can tell that they will before the end of the run. Nine minutes. I'm alternating between glancing at the mirror and at the time readout, which seems to be moving frustratingly slowly. My face is shiny with sweat, and my mouth is lipstick-red (an effect which seems to persist some time after the rest of me has returned to its normal paleness). I barely have any concentration to spare for abstract thought anymore. Eighty percent complete. I realise that I'm chanting "you can DO it! you can DO it!" under my breath, which is slightly less embarassing than the other day, when I found myself silently chanting "YOU'RE gonna BE a SUPERheroINE" in rhythm with my steps. I had just been reading a graphic novel, but I don't think that's any excuse. Ten minutes. I try to kid myself that because the readout now starts with 1, I only have one minute to go, rather than nearly two. But the seconds are ticking down. Now there really is only one minute to go. Come on, woman, you can run for one paltry minute more. Forty seconds. You want this, you want this. Thirty. Ten more seconds and you can start counting down. I look away at this point, and start counting for real at seventeen seconds. They tick by. Five, four, two, one... COURSE COMPLETE. BEGIN COOLDOWN.
As I slow the belt down and begin the five-minute walk, I'm pink, my face is wet, my feet ache a bit and my calf muscles feel strangely rigid, as if they were made of hard rubber. But I feel very happy indeed.
Footnote: I started writing this on Monday. Since then I've done two more runs. Yesterday's was sixteen minutes long, plus five minutes' cooldown. Unfortunately, this is still less than two kilometers at the speed I run, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere. I intend to train for endurance rather than speed, and to keep upping the time by small increments.
Next week will probably be Food Week.