It was highly regarded English poet, playwright, actor and writer William Shakespeare, who said “When words fail, music speaks.” And indeed it does.
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Running against myself
On January 25, six days before my 48th birthday, I ran in the TTIM 5K race around the Savannah. This in no way makes me special: I was one of a few thousand runners, of varying ages, sizes, and levels of fitness. Many of them got to the finish line before me; some of them did not.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t running against anyone there; I was running against myself. As a matter of fact, I was running against many versions of myself, at several stages in my life.
I was running against the four-yearold me, who sat in her little preschool in Belmont and listened to her teacher say, “After lunch we’re going to have a race. Whoever comes last will get licks.” Maybe she was joking, but fouryear- olds aren’t known for their sense of humour.
I walked home for lunch in tears. I was asthmatic, and by that age had been hospitalised twice. I was passable at hopscotch, crap at moral, couldn’t catch or throw. I didn’t scootch the other kids; the other kids scootched me. I knew my cut-tail was booked. My grandmother took me by the hand, walked me back to school, and ransomed me back from my teacher for the afternoon with a bag of homemade jub-jub.
I was running against my teenage self: Bookish, awkward, and 40 pounds overweight. I’d also developed painful scoliosis. At PE I gasped my way around the playground as my classmates lapped me. Nobody wanted me on their team, and justifiably so. I have hit a cricket ball only once in my life. I was caught out just five feet away, but knew so little about cricket that I gleefully began making runs, so happy to finally make contact with a ball.
I was running against myself in my 20s, when I’d lost all my extra weight everywhere except in my mind, where I was still fat, and every mirror was a liar. I was gauche, clumsy and leftfooted. I expect I will be fat in my mind for the rest of my days; when I’m dead I’ll argue with the undertaker that the coffin he’s trying to stuff me into is too narrow.
I was running against my current self, shocked to discover that I am middle- aged, and still a little unsure how that had happened. I felt silly, this old(ish) lady in tights, with all her paraphernalia— water pack, smart-phone arm-band, iTunes running tracks— playing she running with all these fit, healthy young women. Who’d never given birth, never gained and then lost 50 pounds, never overcome a childhood of wheezing.
How did I get there? A year ago a friend clued me in to a Couch to 5K app, one of those exercise programmes that promised to have any couch potato doing 5K runs in just eight weeks. At the time, my life was chaos. After 14 novels I was burned out, disenchanted with the romance genre and too tired to write anything else. I was struggling to balance work and family, and adjust to the switch from being employed and well-salaried to being freelance and ketching tail. I needed to escape.
And so I ran. The programme started off gently; on the first day I ran one minute and walked one minute, for about half a mile. I aced that. Running for 90 seconds: I aced that. This is easy, I thought. But upgrading to threeminute runs saw me doubled over, clutching my knees, gasping for breath. Then I started running for five minutes, then ten. Then 20. Each time I went out I “knew” I would fall short of my goal. I’d chicken out, run out of air, fail. To date, that hasn’t happened. I switched to the Nike Running app, a cool gadget that tracks your runs and generously awards trophies and incentives. It even saves a little animation of your run, superimposed on a detailed map.
I started to collect runs, running in different locations to make my history more varied. I lie in bed at night, gloating over the bright neon trails that represent each run. At gatherings, I corner people, whip out my phone, and bore them with my runs the way other women do with pictures of their kids. One of my most precious possessions is my 3.5K run in Hyde Park last summer.
Another is my shiny new finisher’s medal. It’s my second medal ever; in my final year at UWI I received my faculty’s gold medal for academics. I’m proud of that, too, but, truth be told, I never had to work for it. Back then, I was too lazy to study, too cocky to worry, but bright enough to pull it off.
I can honestly say I worked harder for that lightweight, gaudy runners’ token than I had for UWI’s weighty award. I am embarrassingly proud of it. As it was draped around my neck at the Savannah by a smiling woman, my children fell all over me, screaming and cheering. It dangles from my bedpost, waiting to be joined by the others I plan on adding this year.
TTIM says 300 people were faster than me, and I was faster than a few others. But I don’t care. It could have been ten people, it could have been a thousand.
Because for the first time in a very long time I was beating myself, rather than beating up on myself.