12 Jul

The Life Of A Real-World Runner

contributor Christine Appel tells us how her running career almost never started…

I have a love-hate relationship with running. There, I said it. Most people assume that since I write for a running magazine, I was born wearing a Garmin. Naturally, I also wake at stupid o’clock every morning for quick 10-miles and spend my days weighing carbs and leafing through catalogues seeking out rare shades of high-viz kit. Not really.

In truth, I came into running late in life. As a child and teenager back in Canada, I did everything I could to avoid running. (That’s the ‘hate’ part). Sudden illness, hamster ate my trainers, grandmother’s funeral (again). You name it, I tried it. I loved other sports – basketball, volleyball, cycling, track and field. But distance running just left me cold. And out of breath.

I’m not quite sure what made it so hard for me to find my feet, but I’m fairly certain it was related to the fact that running was also used by my teachers as a punishment. I grew up with no real positive associations with the sport; it was simply another form of threat, as much as the hallowed, yet possibly fictional, strap hanging on the back of the Principal’s door. (Did it really exist? No-one knew for sure – but 10 more laps of the track certainly did).

Once out of school, I entered the traditional ‘you’ve-ruined-my-life-forever’ world of the teenage girl. Sport of any kind didn’t get a look in.  All the moping, door slamming and fawning over Duran Duran (anyone under 40: ask your parents) kept me far too busy.

Nothing really changed until my mid-20s, although there was, admittedly, less door-slamming. Getting older and contemplating marriage and children turned a light on in me. It was time to get fit and set myself up for the years ahead. I had a flexible work schedule, so I thought I’d give this running lark another go: I didn’t need a lot of kit, I could do it whenever I wanted, and it seemed to work for other people.

Little by little, I built up my mileage on the towpath. I didn’t run very far, or every day – but I soon came to enjoy my runs, and fairly quickly passed the stage where I still thought of running as punishment for sins unknown, but clearly gargantuan.

What I discovered about running – which I didn’t know, and couldn’t have known, when I was younger – was that it gave me two things: the fitness to take on whatever life threw at me and headspace. When I moved into an office job, my lunchtime runs gave me a break from the din of the open plan, peace from the pressures of deadlines, and time to think about life on my own terms. I work from home again now, but running still provides me with a break from the general crush, now made even more complicated by the demands of family life.

I can’t imagine life without running. (There’s the ‘love’ part – but hate does rear its ugly head from time to time). When I haven’t been able to run, whether through injury or just the wheels generally falling off life, I’m not myself.  My teachers might have done their best to crush my running soul when I was younger, but I’m glad they didn’t succeed. Running might not be for everyone – for more than 20 years I never thought it was for me – but I’m glad my older, wiser self gave it another chance. After all, when else would I get to listen to all those old Duran Duran tapes?