After years of running from running, here I am: a runner

An awful thing I’ve been doing lately is forcing myself to go for early morning runs. The idea is to get out of bed and on the pavement before I have the wherewithal to talk myself out of it. There is something to be said for exercise in the early hours of the morning. That something is this: it’s a terrible time and I hate it. If I wanted to feel near-death in the mornings, I would have kept drinking. At least on the mornings after a bender you’re regretting something fun.

There’s a certain camaraderie to everyone you see on the street at this time. Whether they be heading off on the morning commute, suffering through their own exercise regime, or simply disposing of a body in a swamp, we’re all equally miserable.

Can you learn to love a morning run?Credit:Marija Ercegovac/iStock

For most of my life I was vehemently opposed to running. Even in a flight or fight scenario, I would have selected the secret third option, die. My aversion to running is so ingrained in who I am, it was even mentioned by my father in his speech during my wedding. He has and forever will consider himself a soccer coach first and parent second.

There are various other factors that have solidified this opinion over the years, from the fact that my ankles were formed as a joke by God in a sort of charming cosmic “pobody’s nerfect” display, to the past experience when I was run down by police officers because it was deemed more likely I was fleeing a break-and-enter than it was that I would be going for a jog.

Why, then, would I choose to take up running? The answer is simple: I am a truly dull man. As a gift to my family, every so often I like to find a new hobby that will take me out of the house for extended periods of time.

So, can you learn to love a run? There must be some kind of exhilaration waiting on the other side. I’ve heard runners talk about a point of nirvana during the run where everything clicks into gear and they reach a beautiful mental state where they don’t even feel like they’re running. I’ve always found an easier way to achieve that high is to not start in the first place.

This time I have been practising a new technique, one that I am pretty sure no one has ever thought of before but could be a handy way to win a race: going slow and steady. This is a departure from all my previous attempts to learn to love pounding the pavement, a turn of phrase I find a little gross.

In those cases, I would prepare a collection of pump-up music, angry songs of hardship, as if my hamstrings were personally programming the playlist. On the advice of another runner, I decided this time to mellow out a little. The thinking was if you slow down and take your time, your run will not be as intense but it will last much longer and go much further, a terrific way to prolong your misery.

First, I tried running to Neil Diamond. He was the most relaxed person I could imagine. It felt bordering impossible to get incredibly pumped up listening to a man sing about crying into pretzels. Sweet Caroline, however, was more of a challenge. I defy you to not try and time your stomps to the “bah, bah, bahh”.

We had to go duller. I’ve put aside music in general and taken to listening to audiobooks as I run. There is nothing technically illegal about this but it feels deeply improper, like bringing a roast chook into a library. Yet, it gave me everything I needed. I could drift away into the world of a book instead of focusing on my disgusting, sweaty reality. I would not find myself wishing for a song to end so I could con myself into a little walking break. Instead, I would plod along in the knowledge that I had 20 hours of solemn narration to go. My plight became less the angry struggles of musicians and more the slow, plodding literary depression of a Russian provincial farmer.

I am distraught to report that it worked. Slowly but surely, my runs went from a passionate and enthusiastic three minutes to a patient hour and a half. Worst of all, I started to look forward to my runs so that I could pick up on the next part of my little stories. It sickens me to say this, but I made a healthy change and my life improved for the better. What kind of sick freak does that?

There is hope for me yet. I haven’t bought the little vest that lets you drink while you run. It still feels to me like the fitness equivalent of the hardhat with two cans of beer and a hose in each. But I know in my heart, I have changed. I am now a “runner”.

The other day I looked up the distance of the famous City2Surf without enthusiasm but instead resigned to the fact that I am the kind of person who does this kind of thing now. I used to be certain “fun run” was an oxymoron. Now I’m signing up to get a crummy little medal I can post to my Instagram feed at 7am on a Saturday.

It would not be unusual now to spot me on the road, toddling along for kilometre after kilometre. You might even think, seeing me pass, that this is a natural thing for me, that I have attained that runner’s nirvana. Let me be very clear: I still hate this. Every little bit of it is hell. But when you are going through hell, you must keep going.

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