I’m famously not very good at sports, I enjoy watching it. I’m big into F1 and can work my way around Football and Rugby and during the Wimbledon season can become a pro at tennis knowledge. But when it comes to it, I’m not very good at the actual physicality of sport.
I grew up dancing, by my mid-teens I was dancing six days a week after school and at weekends, and I would openly say that most of GCSE revision took place in empty studios and changing rooms both at my former studio in Bishops Stortford and at my weekend competitions across the UK. One weekend in particular, in the middle of GCSE season I was just about to take the History of Medicine exam on the Monday. The Saturday before however instead of most of my friends who would be holed up in their bedroom mercilessly cramming the history of medicine, from the days of Aristotle and the balancing of the four humours, from Hippocrates to the modern-day NHS. I was at The All-England Dance Semi Finals; a competition that took two years of hard work and countless hours of literal blood, sweat and tears and limited qualifying competitions to attend and once there you were vying to be in the top three of the region, which gained you a place in the finals where the top dancers in the country would be competing. You could argue that I had spread myself too thinly, but to me it was natural.
But this day before one of the toughest most intense weeks of my exam period I was competing and whilst waiting for my results sat in costume revising chloroform and its effects in Victorian England alongside ‘the problems of Gin,’ and in fact it wasn’t just me, my friends and I would often sit together revising in costume in some dodgy canteen at a secondary school in parts of the country we had never heard of before. For us we would just turn up oblivious, do our thing and then get back to classes at the studio. We’d leave our parents to work out where in the country we were off to next and arrange hotel bookings if needed.
Put it this way dancing, competing and performing was so much a part of my life I’d often go to school on a Monday still with the remnants of hairspray in my hair and eyeliner on my face that no amount of showering and scrubbing would remove. It was practically now a built-in feature. School was my place to rest.
As I grew up, I reached an age where I could no longer compete and after that age, I noticed my once prized stamina was lost, I’d struggle to run for two minutes, where before I could do a full on two-and-a-half-minute minute solo and still have more in me to keep going long after I’d come off stage. But now, no matter how hard I tried, I’d be out of breath running for a bus at University.
Then the first lockdown came and went, and the second followed, and it was then in a deep pit of misery and anxiety, sick of the monotonous days that merged into sleepless nights, days spent in tracksuits and the inability to fit into my nice clothes for New Year’s Eve, which was meant to be spent (following strict lockdown guidelines) seeing out disastrous year of 2020 out in style. I decided I needed to find part of myself again and since everything was closed the one thing I could do was get that stamina back.
How could I do that? The only option that seemed somewhat practical was running.
This would be difficult in a few ways:
1. I decided this in January when I knew that getting that stamina back would mean running in the typical English winter weather.
2. I had recently had an operation on my ears and physical activity would make my inner ear flare up and would make me loose parts of my hearing for a couple of hours after.
3. Over my years of dancing, I’d managed to build up an injury in my left leg. At one point it was diagnosed as Shin Splits with Compartment Syndrome. As my dancing years were rounding up, I was no stranger to being strapped up with all sorts of tapes and gels to lower the pain and keep my leg supported. At one point my leg was so bad I went to Wimbledon, after a particularly painful physiotherapy session, with my left leg covered in strips of tape. Enough tape for people to look at me as if I was a player there to watch after having had to pull out due to injury.
These setbacks, I won’t lie I tried to use as leverage to get me out of this newfound challenge. However, I decided I could either get on with it and hopefully feel a bit better, get those endorphins going or sit in the house for another Groundhog Day and eventually not be able to fit into any of my clothes that previously fitted me pre-lockdown.
So, 2nd January 2021: I downloaded the Couch to 5K app by the BBC and took myself off to my local green and let Sarah Millican attempt to persuade me to run. I gotta tell you, as hard as the thought of getting out of bed was that morning when I came back from running my measly one-minute run 90 seconds walk seven times. I felt as if I was near professional and if I wasn’t that, I certainly felt better than I did before. That feeling didn’t last long though as by mid-afternoon my muscles seized up and I was struggling to walk up the stairs. Still not one to give up so easily I set out two more times that week to do the same.
Over the next six weeks I was gradually building up stamina and my running times were increasing.
Full disclosure though, as much as I tried; running three times a week was impossible. There weren’t enough hours in the day or daylight. So, it went down to two runs a week and then horrifically one run a week. (that’s university for you.)
I carried on running with the promise of spring on the horizon with longer drawn-out evenings and hopefully more frequent runs (and with less layers of clothing.)
That winter hard work paid off, now I can run for around 25 minutes, not as gracefully as perhaps I would like and I do spend a lot of time shuffling, but it’s not about being an Olympic hopeful for me. My aim is to be able to peacefully run a 5K with my Dad on our holiday in Salcombe, Devon this August. If I can do that, I’ll have reached my goal.