Running is like a penny ‘orrible romance paperback

When first you meet, there is an instant dislike. The two of you disagree every step of the way. Running is painful and annoying, and just thinking of being in its company is exhausting. You dream up every possible reason to avoid having to have anything to do with it. You tell everyone how ridiculous it is, how it ages you, damages your knees and makes your boobs sag.

And yet, your meet-ups are unavoidable. You feel drawn, compelled, to put yourself in its path, and secretly you hope that running will look on you kindly … that you might become friends.

You start to glow after having spent time with running. You’re more energetic, your eyes sparkle and you smile a lot. People notice a change in you. You seem more cheerful, somehow, and … could it be that you have lost weight? You’re looking pretty good these days, especially in those jeans.

You smile nervously and you vehemently, if rather ineffectively, deny that you feel any attraction for running. You just hang out with running because you feel you have to – it’s so cheap, you know, and convenient. But, honestly, it’s no big deal, nothing you’re likely to spend much time doing.

And then, one day, running smiles at you. And you are giddy – yes, that silly word applies: you feel schoolgirl giddy and you begin to gush about how wonderful running is. You rabbit on about how nothing makes you feel as amazing as running does.

You begin to spend a fortune on clothes and shoes so you can look good for running. You even put on a bit of mascara before you go out to spend some time with running. You get to bed earlier so that you can feel good for running in the morning. You arrange your life around running – running prefers mornings, so you make yourself available in the morning, even though you’re not a morning person. Running demands your time on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and so you forego after-work drinks on a Friday and leave the party early on a Saturday – that is, if you even go to the party.

Nights are spent dreaming about running and you visualise how running will bring out the best in you – how you will please running so that running will please you. You finish one run and immediately start planning the next one. You just can’t get enough of running. Running makes your heart beat faster, your chest burn and your knees weak. Doubled over, sweaty and red-cheeked, with your hands on your knees, gasping for breath and fighting back nausea, you know you have never felt this good, and you need more.

While other people drag themselves through their Monday mornings, downing mugs of coffee to fight off feeling sluggish, tired and depressed, you smile for no reason. The memory of the weekend spent running has you feeling energised and upbeat, you can’t help but smile to yourself.

You suspect you might have become a bit of a bore. All you can talk about is running: about how wonderful running is, how good running makes you feel, how you wish you had met running a long time ago. People sip at their drinks, nod and gaze glassily over your shoulder, hoping to catch the eye of someone who will save them from being monopolised by this crazy person.

Then, as in all romances, you and running have a falling-out. Running hurts you in some way, either physically or mentally. You do something that running doesn’t like and it becomes churlish and strikes out. You grit your teeth against the pain of a knee injury, shin splints or plantar fasciitis. Or you’re simply exhausted from too much running. You can’t drag yourself out onto the road for even a short run and you hit the wall in a race, having to walk most of the way, clutching at a stitch in your side, hanging your head in shame. You don’t know what you’ve done wrong, how you’ve displeased running, but clearly it’s time for a break.

Your break from running is either a trial separation or it’s an all out ‘no more running, ever’ separation. You stop running. You can’t see the point in carrying on with this anymore. It’s so senseless, you decide. You can put that energy into something far more worthwhile, you say to yourself. You can keep fit, stay trim, eat what you want by doing lots of other things – there’s gym, which is warm and dry and air conditioned, and there’s cycling, which is quite fun, and swimming, or dancing or kettlebell or crossfit … all sorts of stuff.

You carry on life without running. You’re glad to have so much free time again. Gosh, that running business was time consuming. And so demanding! It’s great to be able to have a glass of wine with supper and not worry about how running will punish you the next morning. And you can sit in front of the TV until late at night, because you don’t have to be up so ridiculously early in the morning. Slowly you realise that you’re feeling a bit run-down and tired these days, and you’re a bit soft around the middle. And something is niggling at the back of your mind … your day is missing something.

And you know the truth: you love running. You need running. You need to get back to running.

So you lace up your shoes and nervously you head out the door. What if things don’t work out between the two of you?

You run a few paces, gingerly, and then a few more. Things aren’t the same. Running is new to you again; not as comfortable as it was before. You tell yourself this is too hard, you’re no good at this … what were you thinking?! You and running flirt a little with each other. It’s tentative. You’re testing each other out. You feel that familiar pounding in your chest, the shortness of breath … it hurts … but you know the pain will turn into pleasure if you just keep going. It’s going to take work to get back to your old relationship but you know this is where you want to be. The work will be worth it.

Before long, you and running are old pals again. Your relationship matures, and running will see you at your worst: first thing in the morning, without makeup and before you’ve had your coffee, and neither of you will mind. Running will see the lines on your face, your wobbly thighs and jiggly belly, and it won’t mind. It will see you frown and cry and gasp for breath, and it will stand patiently by as you vomit on the roadside. You and running understand each other. You know each other’s demands and shortcomings and you know you can work out your differences. You have learnt how to live with each other and you know you want to live with each other.

You’re partners for life now.

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