by Chivonne Preston
I am not a natural runner. My kindly-meant-but-honest children say I run more like a hippo than a cheetah and it is true, I do run heavily and reluctantly with a grim determination. But unlike a hippo, I don’t run to threaten a competitor or to protect my habitat…
I run to rebel.
I grew up as a mixed-race child of the eighties, in London, before the internet, before fitness trackers, when a home exercise bike was still a luxury and an item to own and admire, not sit on and ride. My parents worked many jobs to make ends meet and encouraged my brother and I in our schoolwork to access opportunities that they didn’t have. They were exhausted, and our point of daily communion was the television, at which I was often sat from 4pm until 9pm.
So I run to rebel against this. I am extremely proud of my roots, my parents and my family, but I now realise I run to denote that I am not where I came from, to differentiate myself from the previous generation, and to demonstrate I have achieved what my parents wanted for me – a life different to theirs.
I run to find mental space.
When I run, and I suppose precisely because it is difficult for me and I am not a natural at it, I have to concentrate. And what I know now, is that this attention provides me with mental space from everything else going on in my mind.
First, I focus on my breathing, as this is always the hard bit for me. When I started running I would huff and puff and get so breathless I would have to stop. Even now, having run for many years, I cannot comfortably run uphill, or maintain a conversation whilst running, and I admire the people who run in pairs chatting so easily. I concentrate on timing the rhythm of my breathing to fit with my steps, and I think very hard about whether I am pushing off on my toes, and relaxing my shoulders, and lifting my knees up, and pumping my arms, and pushing my glasses up when they slip down. I have to look where I am going too, and I concentrate on what is in front of me, circling pedestrians, checking roads for cars as I cross them, wondering if that dog on the long lead will wander across my path, around the muddy puddles, trying to find the flattest, easiest route avoiding the potholes and the trip hazards and the obstacles in my way, and trying to keep going.
So when I run, I am choosing to focus on the physical activity of running and noticing what that feels like, and what is around me, and what is present. I am not focussing on the kaleidoscope of other thoughts in my head that are so desperate for my attention and usually so alluring, although of course I know they are there as they keep trying to get my attention. I didn’t know it until recently, but it is a mindfulness practice, a meditation, and gives me a break from the other demanding and colourful ideas and distractions in my mind and allows me to be really be here, right now.
I run to think creatively.
And now that I find running (slowly) a bit easier, I (surprisingly) enjoy it and find that somehow I often have my most useful ideas when I am running. I don’t think this is a coincidence – I think that when I am not focussing on them, concepts rattle around in my head in a more abstract way, and this frees those creative thoughts were maybe there all along but somehow couldn’t break free from the swarm, or got held back within it. It turns out that psychologists already know about this and call it ‘flow state’. I can recommend this, as it is extremely satisfying when it happens.
I run to justify the cake and feel virtuous.
And yes, I run because I like to snack on cake, and crisps, and drink wine and beer and eat curries and cheesecake. And of course for all the endorphins that come from physical exercise plus the self-satisfaction that I did something that is harder for me than the other things I could do. Who doesn’t like to feel a little virtuous, sometimes?!
I run for myself.
But mostly I think running is the one thing I do that is entirely for myself. My life, like everyone else’s is crazy busy: three children, husband, house, dog, ageing parents, job that I love, friends I never see, extended family all over the country, laundry, cleaning, shopping, cooking, and there’s always more work I want to do and articles and books I wish I could read. Going for a 40 minute run three times a week seems selfish and indulgent and I try to temper this by going early in the morning or late in the evening or encouraging a child to come with me: ‘quality time’ I tell them, although I can’t actually speak to them when I’m running because I’m concentrating on breathing and moving at the same time, plus they are all much faster than me now so get frustrated with my plodding pace. Each time I run I must actively manage my guilt about all the other things I should be doing. And the guilt is very present.
But I must run because it helps me process my life. It helps me accept the whirlwind and the calm times and the storms when they come. It anchors me, even though I look like a hippo.
Chivonne is running a 15 mile off-road race for our A Million Minds Matter appeal on 7th July 2019. If you would like to sponsor her, please visit her JustGiving page here.
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 our JustGiving page to start fundraising for us!