real life

"The organisation that trained me for free, taught me to run and made me feel capable."

Image: Holly and her family at the finish line of her first half marathon.

I always wanted to be one of those people.

One of those people who, on a weekend away, would materialise in the kitchen in their trainers and say, “I’m just going for a run.” Off they’d trot, returning half an hour later all healthy-flushed and stretching in the doorway.

But I wasn’t one of those people.

I’m not a lithe-limbed, running type. I’m short, and a little dumpy, and there’s nothing about my physique that suggests speed. But last year I decided to run a half marathon. I decided I would go from never having run further than to the bus stop, to running 21.5km without stopping. And I was going to achieve this transformation in the space of about 12 weeks.

Clearly, I was having a midlife crisis.

"I always wanted to be one of those people - but I wasn't one of them."

My youngest (and last) child was turning one, and we'd all had a tough year. Baby Billy didn't like sleeping, had trouble holding food down and gaining weight, and we were spending most nights sleepless and vomit-splattered. I had returned to a job I'd been doing for a long time  and I was questioning my relevance, and my ability to get through the day without crying. I was (barely) functioning on a few hours sleep a day, and I was sad all the time.

I used to sneak out of the house before dawn to go to a spin class at our local gym. On maternity leave I learned pilates, something that I'd come to love. But in my new life there was no time for any of that.

Billy woke before dawn, and all hands on deck were needed to wrangle two kids through the morning pre-work ritual. Daytime was a rush of work, preschool, pick-up, evenings were a blur of dinner, bath, books, bed. And yes,  I could have exercised after 8pm when the kids were asleep. But after a day like that,  it was the last thing I wanted to do. Sorry, Michelle Bridges.

In my experience, if I'm feeling too tired and shitty to exercise, then I'll feel even more tired and shitty the next day. The inner voice goes, "I'm old, I'm lazy, I'm fat". "I'm old + I'm lazy + I'm fat = I'm useless."

A friend of mine was in exactly the same place after her second baby. And then, all of a sudden, she wasn't. Because she was training for a half-marathon, and every time I saw her, she looked stronger, healthier, happier. And she told me, "If I can do it, anyone can do it." And I chose to believe her.

Holly running for Team Mamamia at the City to Surf

Her secret was an organisation called Can Too. They raise money for Cure Cancer Australia, which specifically provides grants to young researchers using new techniques to search for cancer cures. You raise money for them, they will take a non-runner, like me, and train you, twice a week, until you can run 21.5km. Yes, without stopping.

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The first night I turned up for track training (the first time I'd set foot on an athletics track since school), I felt like the ultimate impostor. I was puffed after the first set, and was just waiting for my coach to tap me on the shoulder and suggest I do something else with my time, like pilates. But they never did. And every Saturday morning, on our group road run, I'd run a little bit further, ticking off the personal milestones of the furthest I'd ever been. First 4km, then 6, then 8, then 10... and so on, all the way to the magic 21.5km.

And yes, some mornings I cried a little bit as I slogged up a hill. But running with others was a revelation. Therapy, if you like, as you get to know people pretty quickly when you're running solidly with them for 2 hours, and trying to distract yourselves from another bloody hill.

I forged friendships that will stick with me for a long time, but I also fell for running.

Holly

Learning to run showed me that I can do things that I never thought I could. And along the way, I raised money to do something vaguely helpful in the honour of all of those people and I know (and you know) who have had their lives messed up by cancer.

Excuse me while I have an Oprah moment (my favourite kind), but carving those two periods of 'Me Time' out of my week, in non-negotiable, 'people-are-depending-on-me' windows, helped me claw back my confidence, my sense of self-worth and my fitness. I felt strong, and far from feeling more exhausted, far from adding another to-do in my already busy life, I felt energised. And happy. And useful.

And I ran that half marathon. Not fast. But I ran all of it, and I haven't stopped running since.

Now I am that person who annoys their friends and family by heading out for a run when you're on a weekend away. Sorry, everyone.

Small print: Now I'm training for another half marathon for Can Too, and if you would like to sponsor me and my old-lady knees, please click here.

Have you ever taken up running?

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