Why Walk When You Could Run?

I run.

Even though I run less, I run slower, and I run shorter distances than I used to this time a year ago, these days I like it even more.

This time last year, in my disordered lil head, running was all about pace, time, mileage, how far I could push myself and, effectively, how many calories I could burn. A run was not for fun. Exercise was not for enjoyment. When I was running, I wasn’t allowed to stop. I totally tuned out of my body and not in a good way. If there was pain, I ran through it. If I was tired, I ran through it. If my boyfriend slowed down, I ran past him. If we were away for the weekend, a run to ‘get to know the city’ was my perfect excuse to expend what I considered excess calories.

And my incessant need to wrack up the mileage wasn’t about fitness. It wasn't about training for anything. It certainly wasn't about health. It was punishment. It was like binge-eating, but I purged by pounding the pavements. My motivations were guilt shame and fear: one run and I could eat whatever I wanted. One run and I wouldn’t put on weight. One run stood between my new, little, toned, so-starved-of-carbs-my-body-couldn’t-produce-oestrogen body and my old body- the one that ate Nice n’ Spicy Nik Naks and enjoyed the cardinal sin of sitting. 

I hated running. I dreaded it. I would put it off until 9, 10, 11 o’clock at night before I finally gave in. I had a totally skewed perception, as I reckon we all do to a certain extent, of what exercise meant. To me, exercise meant you had to be in pain; panting, red-faced, an ambulatory human ball of sweat was the goal at the end of the workout. Stopping was not an option. Breaks were not allowed. If I had a pause in a run, to stretch or walk or, god forbid, breathe, the run wouldn’t have counted because I didn’t do it properly. I didn’t push myself enough.

So over the last year, I’ve had to try to seriously retrain my brain to reconnect what exercise is. Now I try to focus on exercise just being movement. Exercise is not synonymous with shin splints. Yoga is exercise. Stretching is exercise. Walking around the park at lunch time is exercise. Lugging a week’s worth of food shopping up the stairs to your flat is exercise. Dancing with your pals to Craig David at 4am, balancing a six-inch Meatball Marinara Subway in one hand and a vodka cranberry in the other is exercise.

And when I run, I try to remember that. All I’m here to do is move. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far I go, all that matters is that I’ve tied up the laces on my trainers and gone outside. So now I take breaks when I need them. I slow down. I stop. I wait. I walk. I eat a Jelly Baby for a power up. On a run with my pal Bex in Croatia, we stopped mid-run to dip our toes in the sea. When I would run in Madrid I would quite often stop running in a local park just to people watch. On a run this weekend with my boyfriend, he snapped this picture of me when I stopped to look at the view.

 Cait Meredith: the human ponytail.

Cait Meredith: the human ponytail.

This is not meant to be a piece like they run in every women’s magazine every week in every part of the Western world, where they claim that if you just find an exercise you enjoy, you’ll want to do it 24/7, will be fit as a fiddle and start wearing your Lycra under all your clothes, ready to jump to your new Jazzercise class at any time or start sleeping with pre-chalked palms you’re just so keen to get to your 6am bouldering session. I just wanted to have a chat about how I used to hate exercise and now I like it a bit more. And that doesn’t even mean to say I like it all the time. If I don’t want to exercise, I don’t. My boyfriend and I had planned to go swimming on Friday night, but we were both knackered from a full-on week that instead we had a nice meal together and then sat on the sofa watching Broad City and eating Maltesers. (And then we planned our joint 65th birthday party and filled in the paperwork to apply for our OAP bus pass.) I don’t have a 'glow'. I don’t have washboard abs or toned arms, but weirdly, I like exercise a lot more than when I spent 4 nights a week in the gym. Because, like the way that I’ve had to undo the dichotomy 'good' versus 'bad' food, I’ve also worked to undo the notion that our culture has so carefully cultivated (so it can sell us stuff like workout gear and protein shakes) that exercise always equals good and rest always equals bad. Exercising has just become another neutral activity I like doing because it feels nice. It's like writing this blog or baking brownies. It’s an effort, sure, it takes time and energy. It’s something I have to actively set aside space for but then so does writing this blog or baking brownies. 

It's also, of course, due to the fact that I've uncoupled the notions of exercise and weight loss. Exercise isn't solely for my body these days, now it's for my brain too. It's enjoyable. It's manageable. It's time that's just for me, whatever form that might take, and I do it in an act of care for myself, not in a fight against my body. So a swim in the slow lane, a combat class, my vain attempt to get from Platform 2 to Platform 3497 at Clapham Junction within 3 minutes with a weekend bag in tow, a 20 minute gentle jog, it's all exercise.

So why walk when you could run? Because you might just bloody feel like it.