kids

'The thing I finally did for myself, 12 years after having a baby.'

Before I had kids, I used to run.

Not very long, not very fast, but on my lunch break, I would go to the gym and run on a treadmill while watching Dr Phil. I got to the point where I could run 5km, while making judgements about poorly educated Americans. On a good day, I would find my rhythm and get into a zone where running just felt completely natural and right.

I’ve never been an athlete, but during those lunch breaks, I felt like one. I liked that feeling.

Almost 12 years ago, I had my first baby. From then on, exercising alone felt like a self-indulgence. I spent all my time either working or doing things with the kids. I felt, if I was going to exercise, I should do it with them. I felt I should be playing tag in the park, not going to a gym and making it all about me.

Then my kids got older and I realised we weren’t playing much tag anymore. I was just sitting and watching them trying to kick a football.

I didn’t think I’d be capable of running anymore. I knew I felt puffed out when I rushed to the school gates to pick up the kids when I was running late (most days). But when a friend said she ran 5km with a free group called Parkrun every Saturday morning, I found myself saying I’d be there the following weekend.

To me, 5km was a magic distance. It was my old self, my pre-baby self, my fit self. I wanted to be able to run 5km again, but I didn’t really think I could.

Being massively disorganised, I only realised late on Friday that at some point I’d thrown out all my exercise gear. I turned up for the run on Saturday morning in my work pants, a woolly jacket and a pair of sparkly sneakers I’d bought from Kmart at 10.30pm the previous night.

But I was going to run. I’d be back home in time to take the kids to Saturday sport, but this was for me. My time.

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There was a pack of people running, around 300, and as we took off, I found my rhythm almost immediately. It all came back to me – how good it felt, how natural. I was moving at a reasonable pace. I was keeping up with the people around me. There were even some people behind me. Okay, some of them had dogs or small children with them, and a few looked like they might be pushing 70, but they were behind me. I wasn’t last. I was running, not walking.

Just as I started really feeling the strain and congratulating myself for almost reaching the end, I noticed some runners coming in the other direction. Yep, there was a halfway point where people turned around, and no, I wasn’t anywhere near it yet.

But I kept running. The people around me didn’t stop, so I couldn’t stop either, or it would have been too embarrassing. I was going to run all the way to the finish line if it killed me (Would it kill me? Was I going to have an actual heart attack? This is how you think in your forties.)

Yeah, the last 3.5km was really tough. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a mum, it’s how to keep pushing on when you feel like total crap.

I reached the finish line, still alive, and with just enough energy to post a Facebook status update telling everyone that I’d run 5km. (One of those really annoyingly self-satisfied status updates. Sorry.)

I felt worn out, but in a good way. I’d done something for me, and it wasn’t self-indulgent. I don’t know why I ever thought exercise was. Maybe that was just my excuse for not pushing myself to get out there.

I actually needed to have that time to myself, to be able to focus on my own running instead of having to think about the kids all the time. I felt calmer and more clear-headed afterwards. I’m always hearing people say that taking time out for yourself makes you a better parent, but it’s true. It really is.

I wish I’d started running on my own earlier.

Later that day I got sent my results. Apparently I’d come 186th, and 10th among women aged 45-49, which sounded particularly impressive, even though there may have only been 10 women aged 45-49 competing. I now have a PB that I can try to beat – and I will beat it, because I’m going back. Maybe even with exercise gear and proper shoes this time.

And no kids, till they’re old enough to run their own race. This is just for me.