Photo: Sunrise over the lake at Bad Segeberg in Northern Germany. I did a wonderful early morning walk with my brother-in-law around the lake when we talked about many things, including his experiences as a runner. The picture reminds me of a wonderful summer, and very active holiday.

So this is the first post on either of my blogs (see also Psych Insight Music) since the end of July. That is because it has been the school holidays, and my attention has been more focussed on family affairs. It is also a good chance to take a break from writing and generally re-charge the batteries, although I do miss it very much. As always going back to school for my boys seems to involve some reflection of what they did during that time when our more habitual pace of life is disrupted. So it probably comes as no surprise to know that that is what I am doing here. However, never in a month of Sundays, even when school broke up on the 25th of July, would I have been expecting to write the sentence “I have taken up running”.

Before I go any further here here is some expectation management. By making this statement I would make clear that I have just completed the fourth week of the ‘Couch to 5k‘ programme, which goes as follows:

For your 3 runs in week 4, you will begin with a brisk 5-minute walk, then 3 minutes of running, 1-and-a-half minutes of walking, 5 minutes of running, 2-and-a-half minutes of walking, 3 minutes of running, 1-and-a-half minutes of walking and 5 minutes of running.

I am sure for many this does not sound very challenging, but for me it has been something of a revelation. This is because I have always thought of running as being something of a pursuit carried out by people who are slightly deranged. Why, I have often wondered as someone flies past me as I am walking along, would anyone put themselves through this discomfort… this apparent agony… this sweaty pursuit that looks anything but fun? Well I am, for the first time, beginning to get the answer to those questions… even after only four weeks. I should also say here that I am very grateful to my wife who did the Couch to 5k challenge a few years ago, and who has inspired me to attempt it now.

The revelations here are several-fold. First, and perhaps most surprising to me, is the fact that I seem to be taking every stage in my stride so far. So although there’s a 20 minute non-stop run looming on the horizon at the end of next week, I am not feeling as phased by it as I thought I would. Second, I am just starting to get glimpses of why this might be an enjoyable pursuit, with brief moments where my legs feel light and my body moving in harmony with the inevitable playlist that I have put together; I thought I would need this to make the whole experience bearable as possible.

Thirdly, it is beginning to feel like a natural progression for me since:

  • starting to lose weight at the beginning of 2013,
  • taking up walking at the beginning of 2014,
  • becoming part of the ‘Fitbit-generation’ at the beginning of 2015 (having just passed the 22 million steps mark since then)

There seems to be something of a sense of… well not quite eventuality, but I can see how it has happened. I guess what I am saying is that I feel a long way from the person who ran for the bus for ten seconds and then spent the next half an hour recovering pre-2013.

So what precipitated such a radical move on my part? Well a couple of things I think. The first may well have been further sub-conscious reflection on the death of my Mother thirty years ago, that I wrote about back in July. It has not really played on my mind, but it has struck me that if I died at the age she did then my boys would only be 16 and 14… something that I really do not want to happen. On top of that I recently had an abdominal ultrasound because I found some lumps which were giving me some pain (turned out they were harmless lipomas), but did reveal that my liver was a little fatty and meant that a more healthy lifestyle was recommended by my Doctor to stop it from getting any worse.

This was not only something I needed to hear, but provided me with some much needed motivation. Despite largely keeping up with my walking I had failed to find the right sort of balance, and my weight was creeping up incrementally; nowhere near the level that it was at at one time, but headed in the wrong direction all the same. This is where the balance focus of this blog comes in. If I look back pretty much over all my life there have been very few times where I seem to have been able to keep my weight constant. There seems to be something of a ‘all or nothing’ thing going on whereby I am trying to lose weight (sometimes succeeding), and if not then I am putting it on. There seems to be no answer to this for me, and while I seem to have hit a seam of losing weight and generally being more healthy at the moment, it does mean that I am constantly saying no to things.

A third aspect of considering my mortality involves the writer Douglas Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49, the same age that I began to lose weight in 2013. Like Adams I wanted to get fit, but by all accounts he threw himself into this pursuit with some vigour visiting the gym regularly, and I remember a radio report on his death suggesting that he may have tried too much too soon. As a result I have always been somewhat wary of pushing myself too hard, again trying to find that right balance between becoming fit and over doing it.

It is fair to say that events at the beginning of the school holidays affected the sort of balance that my life had dropped into and cried out for change. My response to this has surprised me, and in many ways it feels exciting to be exploring new experiences and new limits, yet with the caveat of not wanting to over do it… perhaps after nearly six years of this ‘body project’ I might finally find some sort of equilibrium at a healthy and sustainable level… I may even include the term ‘runner’ as part of my identity. It is perhaps a little too early for that yet though.

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