by Claire Kelly
Having loathed school sports days, when I was regularly allocated the high jump and 800m events because I ‘had long legs but was too big to sprint’ (thanks, Miss Renfrew), I developed a healthy aversion to any activity undertaken at more than 2 miles an hour.
I went through early adulthood practising yoga (nice and slow), and little else to keep my joints oiled and healthy.
And then I hit my thirties. With two children under 4 years of age, and a mother succumbing rapidly to early onset dementia, I did a strange thing. It was a Saturday morning in spring, and as I stepped out of the front door for the daily dog walk, I began to trot, matching DF’s (‘Dog Face’) fluid canine pace. Not sure why. I was wearing cheap trainers (purely for show) and it was downhill as long as I turned right out of the front door. So perhaps it was just a case of canine camaraderie or natural momentum. Either way, we trotted along together for I’m not sure how long. All I know is that I came to when we found ourselves in the middle of a rugby field about a mile and a half away from home.
Maybe I’d been running on ‘autopilot’, but I wasn’t aware of my mind being anywhere other than on the feeling of fluid movement, air against the skin, and my heartbeat in my ears, perfectly mirroring the sound of my footfalls and DF’s rhythmic panting.
Jump forward (though not too quickly) two years and I had become a little addicted. I was running to and from work (6.5 miles each way), entering half marathons and raising money for my first charity-sponsored marathon. I had also graduated from the acrylic track suit bottoms and ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ T-shirt I had had since I was 14 to the full ‘go faster’ neon kit.
Who knew you could get clothing that ‘wicked’ away moisture and shoes designed specifically for ‘pronators’?! ‘Wicking’ and ‘pronating’ – a whole new world! While I’m sure I looked like an over-stuffed sausage on speed, I felt like Paula Radcliffe .
I also discovered ‘energy gels’ which kept your blood sugar levels high during longer runs. Essentially they tasted like (forgive me) fruit-flavoured snot, but they did the job when you began to ‘hit the wall’. I had a particular penchant for the ones that contained added caffeine, and was often seen bouncing along shouting ‘oggy, oggy, oggy!’ as my gel shot kicked in three miles from the finish line, to a chorus of ‘****!!!!!!!!** SHUT UP!!!’ from my fellow runners.
Close friends didn’t recognise the new ‘go-faster’ edition of me. Some asked ‘what are you running away from?’ Others simply assumed it was my poorly concealed competitive streak finally coming to the fore.
Meanwhile, I realised it was all about the journey: while running there was nothing but me, the space around me, and my body moving through it. I didn’t care about speed or distance – just those moments of total presence (maybe even ‘flow’) – just DF and I moving through space together.
When I finally got a charity place for the London marathon it was like all my boats had come in at once. And despite the sweat, toil, and not inconsiderable chafing, it was honestly one of the best days of my life. With hindsight, what really made the difference was having my name printed on my shirt. When else in your life will you ever have complete strangers cheering and clapping you, and calling you by name?! I felt like Madonna…. with vaselined armpits.
Even after the marathon, I continued my trotting routine with DF, and was happy to have the ongoing space, time, and canine camaraderie. I talked through my mother’s death with DF as we trotted along our usual route, my moving body acting as both a refuge and a radar from/for grief. And I felt physically and emotionally lighter with each run we did.
However, it was a dog that was my undoing. One beautiful June day, an excited Labrador and his not-very-sturdy owner catapulted towards us at high velocity, hitting me sideways at the knees, and knocking me to the floor with a sickening crunch. The injury sustained that day put an end to my running, and with it the sense of embodied presence I hadn’t really experienced even in my most profound moments of formal mindfulness practice.
But there is a happy ending. I have discovered treadmills! They don’t hurt my knees, and there’s a pleasant bounce to my pace that I had never experienced while running on tarmac.
Sadly, DF is no longer with us, but I have found an excellent new partner-in-lycra – my 16 year-old son, Oscar. While we don’t run on the same treadmill at the same time (that would be folly, and deeply weird), we do spur each other on. Oscar puts together pacey playlists for me to listen to when the going gets tough, and I push him out of bed so that he can get in the mileage he promised himself he’d do.
We ran for different reasons until the challenge we have both set ourselves: between now and September, we have pledged to run a combined 400km in support of the amazing work Mindfulness in Schools Project does, and specifically its Million Minds Matter Campaign.
We will be posting updates and photos (if Oscar ever lets me take his photo!), and invite you to join our team, ‘Running While Standing Still’ or simply donate on our Just Giving page.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to undertake a personal challenge to help raise funds for our A Million Minds Matter appeal, please take a look at our Fundraising Pack for ideas and visit the MiSP JustGiving page to start fundraising for us!