# Fitness
What I think about when I think about thinking about running
Slow and steady wins the race for Aoife Barry, who took up running 18 months ago. Here’s what she’s learned.

I STARTED RUNNING almost 18 months ago.

If you think my next sentence is going to be: ‘So now I’m training for my first half marathon, after doing six 10ks and a handful of 5ks’, well, my friend, you have more faith in me than I do.

I’ve racked up a grand total of two 5k races, and my usual runs are between 3k and 5k, depending on how I’m feeling and if I’m on a good running streak.

I’m aiming to get to 10k before the end of this year, which, if you read any running blog or chat to any runner, probably seems very conservative for someone who’s been running for this long.

But, as I’ve discovered, running really does show you who you are. And I’m still that scatter-brained person who juggles motivation and laziness on a daily basis. I hated PE and ducked out of it when I could, I rejected team sports after years attempting them as a youth, and I’m not really into sports as a whole, so I’m not the world’s most athletic person.

And yet, somehow I manage to drag myself out for a run.

As a novice lazy runner, these are the running truths as I now know them.

You don’t need as much gear as you think – but you need some nice gear

When I first started, I wore a pair of old but almost pristine (because of the aforementioned not-being-a-sporty-person thing) trainers, some old yoga pants and a Nike running top. Then I bought a proper sports bra, another top, and some proper running socks (a tip: TK Maxx is great for cheaper good gear), and I was laughing.

The usual advice is that you just need a pair of runners to get you out the door.

But I think that if you’re fairly lazy like me, you might also need a really nice set of flattering running gear to:

  • Make you want to show off your new gear
  • Distract from your red face
  • Make you more committed given that you’ve just parted with cold hard cash for this new ‘hobby’
  • Make you feel like you could pass for a runner if someone passed in the car and didn’t realise you were shuffling along slowly, breathing heavily and cursing yourself

Sometimes, you need to appeal to your own vanity to get motivated. And if that gets you through, I think it is absolutely fine. BUT if you are happiest running in a t-shirt and your brother’s tracksuit pants, I say: More power to you! There are no hard and fast rules in this game, just do what works best for you.

This just happens to be what helped motivate me. Mainly the ‘I’ve spent money and I can’t really waste it, can I?’ bit.

The Couch-to-5k plan works, but you’ll still love your couch


This is what got me running: a free Couch-to-5k app that transformed me from dragging my feet for one and a half minutes at a stretch (I thought I was going to pass out after each 90 second burst) to 20 minutes and then 30 minutes of jogging.

It was, frankly, a miracle worker.

I attempted it three times, so, like doing your driver’s test, there’s no shame in repeating yourself.

I still love my couch though, and when I get in from a run I inevitably flop down on its fake leather goodness after stretching, and before I throw myself into the shower.

You might lose weight, or you might not, and like, whatever

Running is for every size (I realise not everyone can run for a variety of reasons – please substitute this for whatever sport/activity you are into) as this cover of Women’s Running nicely shows:


However, the covers of most running mags feature lithe, toned people who probably aren’t like anyone you’ve ever met. Fair play to them and all that, but you don’t have to look like that when you run.

When you take part in your first race, and see people of all ages and shapes and sizes, you’ll realise that running isn’t about being skinny, it’s about being strong and fit. And generally, people can be strong and fit at different sizes and abilities.

I was seduced by the initial weight loss when I first began running, though things have stabilised now. And it’s been a really interesting exercise in body image to see how I’ve adapted to those changes. To others, they might not be noticeable, but I do believe most women in the Western world are pretty conditioned to pay attention to every pound they lose or gain. Even though I’m an average size, I’m certainly not immune to this scrutinising of my own body and weight, and most of the time it disgusts me that I buy into this policing of women’s bodies.

Running has helped shift my thinking to ‘what can my body DO’ rather than ‘what does my body look like?’ Again, I realise this may be particularly easy for me as I fit a ‘socially acceptable’ body image, and yet this is a ‘privilege’ I struggle with.

But by using my body to do something rather than be something, I’m slowly, ever so slowly, changing my way of thinking about myself. This might come through non-physical means for other people. What about you?

You are the same person whether you run or not – but you might find out new things about yourself


I’ve read a huge amount of stories about people whose lives were transformed by running. TRANSFORMED! They’ve become happier, more content, less anxious, less depressed.

Anything that promises a massive shift in who you are is something I give the side-eye to.

When I run, I face the worst sides of myself: the lazy side, the ‘I’m crap at everything’ side, the ‘the world is against me’ side, the ‘I’ll just give up now’ side, the ‘why is this so difficult’ side.

I have to battle to keep running and stay in the game. Most of the time, my legs are fine but it’s the mental battle that’s hardest. I sometimes loathe going for a run, loathe putting on my gear, loathe the actual running, get a pain in my head from wishing the run was over, and curse my over-pronating right foot that I suspect will land me in a physiotherapist’s soon.

But at the end of the run, I feel like a boss. A boss! I’m red-faced and sweaty. I’m still surprised every time I finish a run that little ol’ unathletic me has done something that once felt so huge that I swore I’d never do it. I get a rush of confidence and pride and my inner strength flexes its muscles.

Unfortunately, I have to re-learn this lesson – that I can do this – every time I run. But I feel like this mental battle is growing a mental muscle that benefits me, that helps me realise that things can be shit before before they get better; that you have to put in the graft to get results.

I tend to be motivated by fear a lot, but over the past year or so I’ve been able to face up to that fear a bit more, and be willing to fail. Perhaps for some people that comes through trying other things, or learning life lessons, but for me I attribute that in a large way to running.

I still can’t drive, though.

You will probably, against all odds, surprise yourself


I’m still the same person I was before I started running, but I’m more in touch now with how I think and what I’m capable of.

That doesn’t mean I am brilliant at changing things, but I am less afraid of things that I used to be terrified of. Maybe it’s just getting older, or maybe it’s  – as I said above – facing that little challenge a few times a week that has re-trained my thinking a little.

Don’t get me wrong: I go some weeks without so much as looking at my trainers. The habit of laziness isn’t long lost for me. And I have a fear that if I let it go too long, I’ll never run again. Or that I won’t make 10k, that I’ll always be slow and that I won’t improve at all. I’m mortified when I run with friends and I’m slower than them and we finish early because I ‘can’t go any further’.

When someone says ‘oh, you run?’ I always reply with the caveat ‘yeah-but-I’m-really-slow-and-only-a-beginner-and-sure-I’m-not-really-a-runner-at-all’.

I don’t have big muscles and I don’t run fast and I find races a bit scary and I love crisps and wine and my knees sometimes knock together when I run and I’m always afraid I will trip over something and break an arm.

But all I can do is try and improve myself.

I’ve surprised people who’ve known me a long time by doing this, and that’s been both strange and wonderful. It’s shown me how it’s easy to be seen in a certain light by people, and it’s nice to feel like you’re – sweatily, red-faced, reluctantly – blossoming in a new way.

One thing that has really surprised me is what running has added to my friendships – two of my best friends and I go running together, go on trips where we can factor in runs, and bond over this activity that none of us ever thought we’d bond over. Maybe we’re just getting old. Or maybe we’re just broadening our horizons a bit.

Either way, it’s probably the best bit of this whole running ‘adventure’.

Do you run? Or is there something else in your life like this? Let me know in the comments.

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