A guest post by Anna Mobbs
Black, narrow and muddy, the path ahead curves enticingly around the next tree. I can smell the elder trees, blackbird and thrush sing about their space, the drone of a high plane . A smile spreads from my heart to my face. I know that for the next 20 minutes there will be no people around me, I can enjoy the challenge of uneven ground as I quicken my pace and feel my thoughts drift like the seed husks floating through the air.
Since running longer distances I have felt the London I live in kaleidoscope. Places I rarely bother to go to have become minutes away. I have also felt my neighbourhood expand as I have explored the rivers near my home on foot. There have been moments of beauty and surprise (a naked runner! Only seen in fog or summer dawn)
3 years ago I tried running as the cheapest exercise available to get fit. I ran one mile and then my legs refused to go further.
I joined a running club which was aimed at people like me, the coach is an inspiring woman, for £1 every time you turned up she encouraged distance, then speed, and tricep dips and squats, and or sit ups. Sunday morning exercise in the snow, rain, sun or gloom she was there and the women who were also there run in solidarity with each other. I stopped.
A year later I started again, this time I was running at that group and joined a group at work. This exercise thing was good. I started running home with a colleague. The summer came, I nearly expired in the combination of pollution and heat. I stopped.
Then at the new year David Renton coaxed me out of my torpor and with another friend we ran around a bit of Bath. It was not that difficult. I ran again on my own and then the Hackney half marathon was announced and as it was running near my front door I thought why not?
Well I can tell you why not. Longer distance running at the pace I achieve means quite a long time with your own thoughts. As a full time public sector worker and mother of two you’d think a bit of time to think would be good, but actually I was having the same thoughts again and again … A bit like when I experience insomnia.
Then there have been the grumbling of my hips and knees, sometimes hurting so much I have not been able to sleep despite fatigue. Recently the heat has made running uncomfortable and some days I have set off thinking ‘it’s only 5 miles’ but after a couple I am longing for it all to be over.
I am going to do the inaugural Hackney half marathon on Sunday and I plan to run regularly afterwards because running is also rather wonderful. First I am truly amazed that if I ask my body to do something then my body says ‘yes’. I sometimes can’t remember the person who had to stop after a lap round the park. Experienced runners talk about running as something we are evolved to do. My ‘happy zone’ is between mile 5 and mile 9 at the moment. Who is that person who knows that about herself?
It’s not just distance though, I had the wonderful experience of being led on a run by a fell runner. He routinely competes in 20 mile hill races. He ‘slowed down’ for me for a 9 mile training run. I did the first 5k and then 10k the fastest I had ever managed. I did not expect to run like that and yet my body did it.
So much of our travelling in London is to get to places it’s easy to forget how to move. My running has been about covering ground. The absence of a destination with my increasing sense of strength and ability has been truly liberating, transformative even. It’s hard to explain. I have run myself out of my self imposed limits. Whether we can run, walk, wheel or dance, in moving we can enjoy our breath; enjoy life and live.