There’s a photo of me, aged 4, running at the bottom of my Granny’s lane. I remember it being taken: my uncle had said, “Run for me, you’re the girl who loves to run.”
I duly did as he asked and the picture in black and white is truly a great one, despite being staged. It is the epitome of childhood careless freedom, me running in a sundress, the picture framed by huge trees and the hill climbing up behind me, my arms in mid swing and a genuine look of exhilaration on my face. I did win lots of sprints at primary school, and later in secondary school I took part in the mandatory cross country runs in PE which left us with mud-sodden clothes and trainers, and numb hands. I still don’t know why the cross country season was held at the coldest possible time of the year but cold and all, I always enjoyed the push up the first hill, the feeling of everyone falling back, dropping away, and just running on alone with determined abandon. I did compete at cross country but not with any remarkable results. Then I unintentionally steered away from running and got into netball until I finished school, and that was the end of my running for a long time.
Aside from one occasion in the midst of my teenage years when a distressing situation came up and I remember waking up uncharacteristically early one weekend morning and just thinking, I have to run.
And I ran up the road in the countryside on a beautiful May morning and it soothed and calmed me. That was a random moment, but I should have taken it with me as a way to empty my mind, get away from my thoughts or to push worry or stress out of my system.
I only took up running again aged 30 after my second baby. I joined a gym and ambled around it looking at the various machines, idly wondering about many of them. Then I saw the treadmill and thought, I can do that. Of course it wasn’t that easy. It was nigh on 14 years since I had run properly so the first few times were quite pitiful, slow and puffy, but it didn’t take that long to get back into my stride. Some people run to burn calories but that’s not my bag. I see the calorie counter on the treadmill, but the figures mean nothing to me. Mine wasn’t a weight issue; I wanted above all to be fit and to move, fast. I love the feeling of getting the blood pumping around my body, the feeling that I am, insha Allah, delivering oxygen to every cell.
If I am dedicated to anything on the running machine it has to be the time: I feel like I have failed if I don’t run for at least 30 minutes. About six months after my third baby was born last year, my first ‘post baby’ run was interspersed with me talking to myself, “If you can have a baby, you can run this 5K.” Actually, I do mutter to myself quite a bit when the going gets tough, get stuck in a running rut. It’s hard, it’s unglamorously sweaty and red-faced, but it feels so great when it’s done. In my present, very blessed but hectic world of small children and everything that goes with them I cherish my running and how it allows me to escape and achieve something in a tiny time frame. It pays out and stays with me in a way in which, let’s face it, housework never will.
My only gripe is that I wish I could run more every week – insha Allah, more time will come up. I see it as taking care of the body and mind that I’ve been given. It rejuvenates me and recharges my batteries. Mostly, I listen to podcasts while I am running – just being able to take the time to do that with no other pressing commitments or little voices drowning out the sound is a luxury. Also, running doesn’t demand any great expertise; you are, after all, just moving your legs so the opportunity to zone out and switch off is there. There is no need for any great concentration or co-ordination, you just keep going. Some people find increased motivation from being in exercise classes and the encouragement of a group to work together. I like the solitude of running alone.
My must-haves for a run
• A good pair of proper running trainers.
• Sweat bands for your head and wrists. This is a comfort issue: you need to wipe away that sweat.
• A squeezy sports water bottle that you can just suck from whilst running. An ordinary bottle is surprisingly difficult, verging on the hazardous, to drink from whilst on the move.
• A heart rate monitor. Ok, I hate to get all technical but these are great, although admittedly not necessarily a ‘must have.’ Depending on your gender, age and weight, you have a heart rate ‘zone’ within which it is best to stay for the optimum aerobic training. Basically, this ensures you are getting the most out of what you are doing. It’s also quite fascinating to get in touch with your heart this way!
• A podcast. I will admit that it can get boring while you are trying to notch up the kilometres and this can be demotivating so, if you have something interesting going on in your ears, from an audiobook to a lecture, so much the better.
When she isn’t baking up a storm and writing for the SISTERS Tastes section, Clara McQuaid is an avid runner and mother of three.