Catriona Stewart: Running club has changed my whole attitude to health


LADIES might glow but let me tell you, I clearly ain't no lady. I am sweaty. Soaked, sodden, saturated. What a feeling.

Despite best efforts, lockdown had made everything more sedentary. No matter how enthusiastic or encouraging an online gym teacher, you just can't work up the same energy in your living room as you can in a gym.

I kept up my ballet classes during the pandemic's first two years but a jeté while trying to avoid knocking over a pot plant simply can't compete to one executed on a sprung floor in a dance studio.

From cycling back and forth to the office every day, I went to walking four paces from my desk to my fridge.

Parkrun was cancelled and, while running is one of these great things you can do at any time of the day anywhere, I am what you might politely call, extremely lazy. I would often lace up my trainers with the best of intentions and then jog as far as the nearest coffee shop.

Coffee, of course, means cake and so running rapidly developed a negative effect. I downloaded the Couch25k app - again. I completed it - again. I vowed, again, to keep running and I did not.

But then my friend Johnpaul intervened with what is quite possibly the most transformative thing anyone has ever done for me. He signed me up to his running club, Glasgow Frontrunners.

It turns out you do, truly, get by with a little help from your friends. And that lazy madams benefit from accountability.

Once I'd committed to showing up to running club three times a week, I had to go, and having company on runs made all the difference.

I have a weird relationship with running in that I know fine well that if I keep going, I will start to enjoy it. For the first mile or so, I hate it. I hate every step, I'm bored, the end is too far away. I want to quit and, on my own, always do.

Not surrounded by other runners though, especially not the ones in my extremely supportive and wildly encouraging running club. So I made it through the Couch25k training programme again, sweating merrily and even keeping pace with some of the more experienced runners.

We had a graduation ceremony, at which I cried because I am a soft touch, and then... the logical next step was the 10k. A 10k? I don't know myself any more. But still I signed up for the Loch Lomond 10k.

It wasn't my first. I calculate my first and only 10k to be roughly 17 years ago when I had the benefit of both the arrogance and energy of youth. A colleague had mentioned she was looking for a running buddy to keep her company during a 10k. Having never even run the length of myself, I signed right up then thought little more about it.

I mentioned it to my then-boyfriend’s mother and sister. They looked aghast. His mother asked when the race was. Six weeks away, I said.

“You’ll never do it,” she replied, repeating herself to make sure I got the message. I did not get the message. "Training" was a few bored laps around Drumpellier Country Park.

Inexplicably I ran that race in 63 minutes. I was so green I didn't even have proper trainers, just a pair of fancy gutties.

This time I had proper trainers and proper training but a much older body with all its associated creaks and groans.

I can see, finally, why people enjoy taking part in organised races. Everyone huddled at the start line, waiting for the off, generates such a feeling of anticipation. Anticipation and also an incredible attack of nerves. I had missed most of the 10k training programme thanks to a series of extravagant holidays.

What if I couldn't make it all the way round? I'm trying to think now of a rational reason for my nerves but I can't. I think the worst of it was worrying that it would be really, impossibly hard.

My club buddy gave me an encouraging pep talk. The sun came out. Everyone surged forward and... suddenly it was fine. We were off. I was instantly bored. Bored but then determined.

It's quite meditative, the running. One night at training I had been overcome by some weird burst of energy and shot off in a sprint. One of the fast lads had paced alongside me to keep me going, telling me just to concentrate on my feet and my arms and my legs and my feet and my arms, repeatedly.

It's soothing, in an otherwise baffling world, just to focus on your own body and it's rhythm. It's why I love ballet classes: you know exactly what's coming next, there is a structure to the thing. Running provides a similar meditation. Or it did, until about 7.5k when my hips seized up. I'd had a birthday a few days before the race and, let me tell you, there's nothing to add to the terror of your vanishing 30s like sudden onset hip pain.

For quite a section of the race I wanted to give up. My hips would not move and I was shuffling. I could see the finish line and I still did not think I would make it, the pain was otherworldly. I kept going though. I pulled out a sprint finish. I thought I might vomit. I made it! One hour and two minutes of running with the sweat pouring off.

On the last little length I was kept going by the thought that I would never have to do this again. Just over the finish line and I thought, "When can I do this again?"