From Roamer to Runner

How I started running and why I recommend it (hint: it changes your life!)

Enjoying an early morning run next to the Berlin Wall, March 2017

First off, I know I know, talking about running is boring. Borrrrrrring. I know. It’s not an article on carb-loading and tips on how to avoid a stitch (for that, check out my article ‘Carb Loading and tips….’ Onlllllly joking. I know I know I know. This is an article about why I started running and how it totally transformed my life (nothing deep then), and why I think that exercising (it doesn’t have to be running) is essential – I just wish someone told that to me pre-2003, the me that I like to call a ‘directionless roaming monkey’.

Second err off, I don’t mean to come across as preachy (for preachy posts see my article ‘hey you get up offa that sofa and dance monkey dance’), but if it does then shurruppp about it.

And third off, let’s get going already, for there’s no time for procrastination (though it is my default setting). I am the master-procrastinator, in order to start writing this post it has taken coffees, a dog-walk, making a mammoth lunch for everyone, negotiating deals with the family, checking Facebook and Twitter 1000 times (hang on… 1001), you never know what life-changing things could happen every thirty seconds (nothing happened, well, maybe a fun gif on messenger, ohhhhh the hilarity), and now, AND NOW (yes I shouted) here we are (think of that as a dramatic whisper). Seriously, let’s, get, started, sheesh!

I had a lotta fun in my twenties, A LOT (stop shouting… sorry), I worked on Cruise ships, I saw the world AND I got paid for it, I was living the dream, I roamed around without a care and it was amazing, yet when I came back home after all that adventure, it suddenly seemed like I was facing a bitttt of a void.

My wife (fiancée at the time) and I went to watch the London marathon, we were in the crowd near the end, around four hours after the race began. The crowd was amazing, enthusiastic, happy, they were cheering everyone, shouting out their names, this was proper love. London was glorious in its sunshine, the people were being the best kind of human beings, the feeling was immense. All the runners had cause too, they were representing charities, their loved ones, people that had passed away, the emotion was flooding out of them. Some of the runners were crying, they were in agony trying to reach the end, some were being helped by fellow runners, and all the time the crowd cheered, all the time more runners came from round the bend after more than 25 miles, all the time everyone, both runners and spectators, felt proud to be there. We went home and agreed that we’d both start exercising and I pledged that next year maybe I’d do the marathon. It was that inspiring.

At work I worked on the second floor, so to go for a smoke (20-a-day) or the bathroom I would trudge down the windy stairs, and back up again, but on going back up I would always be out of breath. I was still in my twenties! I had a long wayyyyy to go.

At first I started running for 2 minutes at a time, before collapsing in a pathetic mess (I used to imagine that whoever saw me in the park just naturally assumed that I’d completed a 10k work-out). I’d stopped smoking, and reluctantly I stopped drinking too. Within weeks I’d stepped up the running to 5 minutes at a time. I kept doing it every second day, 5 minute runs, 5 minute runs, 5 minute runs. They then turned into 15 minute runs, and then, you guessed it!... 15 minute runs became 30 minutes, and finally I’d smashed my way up to an hour’s run. This was progress.

During this time of going from breathless waste-of-space to a slightly fitter version of me, other things started to happen too. I started to think. For the first time in my life instead of thinking about music, drinking, friends, and general frivolity (!), my mind started to suddenly work too. What was I doing with my life? What did I really want to do? Who was I? This was in 2003, for the first time ever I had time to think clearly. Stopping drinking was a great wake-up spell too, at parties everyone looked at me like I was a murderer when I ordered a coke, but this was another opportunity, I’d stop going to parties, what was I going for anyway? I swapped the late-night parties for early morning runs, and I wasn’t missing anything at all, I was only gaining.

By 2004 I’d proposed to my wife and got married, bought our first place together, started my own business employing two people, and most importantly we got a cat, called Colin, our first little kitten. All this I attribute to running, before I would never have made such bold decisions, but with running it gave me the confidence, the strength, the guts, I had time to think things through, to explore the whys and they why-the-frig-nots, and bammmmm, 2004 was a big year, but there was still the London marathon to go…

I had practised so much, yet nothing really prepares you for the first time you run 26 miles surrounded by screaming, cheering crowds, all the clichés become truths, pride IS forever, pain IS temporary, the training has brought you there, but nothing truly prepares for that last few miles, there is a wall, you hit it, it’s real! You need all your mental power, all your physical strength, you need everything you’ve got to pick yourself up and somehow slog forward until the very end. One foot in front of the other, that’s all you need to do, your body is saying no, but you ignore your body, it IS all in the mind. All your motivation magically makes sense; all those people that sponsored you for your charity that you are representing, all those people that the money is going to help, all the people that have supported you, encouraged you, your friends, your family, your colleagues, you think about them all. You try and hypnotise your mind to think about anything else but running, for me that first time I tried to list all of the Doctor Who stories in order, then I moved onto the track-listing order for every Prince album, it got me through!

At Mile 25 I turned the corner next Buckingham Palace and I was at the position where I was a spectator the year previously, where I’d stood and saw people do what I thought was the impossible, I had now done it, I had broken the ‘impossible’ barrier, it was only impossible in my head, the barrier’s that had been created in my youth, smashed down. I was now on the other side, from spectator to smasher, I crossed the finish line, and immediately burst into tears. I called my wife and told her I loved her, she was there to transport my stiff legs home, my saviour in so many ways, she supported me, motivated me, encouraged me and still does every day.

Phew! That was all more than a decade ago and I am still running today, more than ever in fact, I’ve added gym-time, swimming, and more to the roster. For me exercising is everything, it is part of the daily routine, I am certain it makes me a better person; mentally, physically, personally, and professionally. It just helps. And it’s the added-benefits that keep me pushing for more. I am in the travel business and I’m lucky enough to travel to a lot of different places, and yep, you’ve guessed it, one of the best ways of seeing any new place is to run through it! Early in the morning, during lunch, or early evening, it’s when any city or destination really sparkles, you see a side of it you can’t always see when you’re rushing robotically from just another conference room to an office.

In my forties now, with the running, I push myself harder, there’s always more to do, it is true that running is a drug. I’m always trying to smash my personal bests, it’s ridiculous but I am certain it is what keeps me a balanced guy. I can work out most challenges with a run, I feel better after a run, I really feel like I can conquer the world.

I set myself new targets always; I like writing and have begun writing books, again (you’ve guessed it) I go running to think about the characters, the plot lines, it truly helps the creative process, I even recall once running faster so that I could make it home quicker to get a great chapter finished, before I lost the momentum of the thoughts and ideas that I’d worked out during the run.

My advice for running and writing is the same; practice and persevere. For running I practised and practised and practised until it became comfortable, for writing I persevered until it began to make sense, until I could see the value of my scribblings.

Practice, practice, practice, persevere, persevere, and do it do it do it, now now now nowwwwwww. Have you started?

So, I think you get the gist of things! Running is good. It has changed my life, I am certain it’s made me a better person. I am addicted to running for sure, never more so than today, and I hope that I’ll always be a runner, it never ceases to open up doors. The added benefit I haven’t even focused on is the physicality of it all, I guess it was such a surprise that I enjoy the mental aspects of running more than the physical, but of course physically there is only benefit and upside too. I feel healthier, you have more energy, I am fitter than my younger self, and that’s why I won’t ever stop running, I am out-running my age, the more I run the younger I get, the more powerful the more alive, as I type I’m putting on my running shorts… hopefully I’ll see you out there too. 

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