I am not a natural athlete. Partaking in any exercise immediately produces a purple face with a bluey green moustached area above my upper lip. I sweat… a lot. I’m wheezy, asthmatic and sound like I’m eighty. And on top of this I run funny – the hands do a lot of flapping and I raise my knees unnecessarily high.
Due to embarrassment levels caused by this, I spent most of my teenage years avoiding getting myself in any kind of heightened state of physical activity. Oh don’t worry I looked like Roly from Grange Hill till I was 16 so no one wanted to get me into a heightened state of physical activity either. There followed in adult years a sporadic relationship with exercise, basically the odd boxercise class attendance if a friend or sister was going.
But after babies I felt a bit like my body didn’t fit me right. Like that cockroach alien in Men in Black 2 who wears a human. It sort of sat wrong on my frame. It wasn’t just that it was bigger than it used to be (though obviously it was, a bit) – it just didn’t really feel like it was connected to me. So I started one of those classes where you push your buggy round in a park. There are lots of them about, but quite a lot of them are literally just pushing a buggy round in a park. Personally if I’m paying for an exercise class then I want to do something that I can’t do myself. I want to have my non-existent will power reinforced by someone making me push myself so that I hurt a bit at the end.
So I did a Fit4Baby class with a superhuman called Penny. Who was in fact so nice and supportive that despite the fact that she; is about 6 foot tall, is super slim, is very blonde, is offensively tanned, doesn’t drink (enough), does not swear, was the mother of twins(!), has legs that finish somewhere around her armpits and was trying to make me exercise – I didn’t once feel it was necessary to punch her in the face. This is not a plug anymore as she has moved to New York for a couple of years – actually scratch that now I do want to punch her.
There were a couple of good things that came out of these classes. The first thing was that the dudes saw all of it. They still (and it has been a year and half since my last class) do ‘Penny exercises’ on the floor sometimes for no apparent reason and think that exercise is a normal part of life. The second thing is that for the first time in my life I started running. The asthma excuse had got me out of every single cross country run back in school and I am the kind of person that would mutter ‘freak’ when driving past joggers on a Sunday morning with a hangover but the amount of exercise you can do with a pram is fairly limited so running it was.
Then I did a Cancer Research 5k – which was the first time I have ever run without a buggy. By the way doing a Cancer Research run is genuinely as moving and enriching and soul sister loving an experience as you could ever possibly wish for, and I would recommend it whole heartedly. And now I run on my own once a week. I’m not fast, still sweaty and it’s not pretty. I’m not entirely sure what Nell McAndrew is famous for other than looking amazing at the end of a marathon but take a look at this and imagine the opposite. That is me.
It remains very difficult – my body spends at least the first third of every run laughing at me, cajoling me and then pleading with me to stop but when it finally gives up I can actually run a fair way now. And though it would be a stretch to say I enjoy it. I have now come to appreciate the rhythm of it and the space to think and I do enjoy the feeling (which is probably 90% smugness) afterwards.
The most important bit, is that all of me feels like me now and I enjoy feeling stronger. I’m not thin, there is still a layer of softness that covers most of me – there are no Madonna arms here, but there are muscles underneath and I know they are there and what they are able to do. Besides if I want a thigh gap (the fucking ridiculous concept which has obviously been invented purely to torment teenage girls) I just move my legs a little further apart.