Running like a girl: how I won my own race
When Alexandra Heminsley first tried running, she could barely make it the to end of the road. Five years and five marathons later, the author of Running Like A Girl explains how running has transformed her relationship with her body, and helped her to find reserves of determination that her pre-running self could never have imagined.
Read the blog, and if you've taken up running or are thinking of it, do share your experiences. We have some copies of the book to give away, too - so if you'd like to read more, jog over to the Mumsnet Book Club.
Author, 'Running Like A Girl'
Posted on: Sat 01-Feb-14 09:54:53
(31 comments )
Oh ladies, I can’t lie. No matter how differently it ended up, it totally began with losing weight. I can pinpoint the moment: my sister’s wedding photos. It had been a joyful day, and I wouldn't have changed a second of it, but the ‘me’ in those pictures was not the ‘me’ that existed in my head. She was bigger. Something had to be done.
I had always dreamed of being a runner. But as strong as my desire to be ‘one of those’ women leaping through the park was, I was equally sure that I was ‘not a runner’. I was clumsy, curvy, the girl who’d make a joke during games at school to avoid being picked last for the team again. We were two separate breeds: sporty women and other women. I was the latter.
My conviction had been strengthened by my disastrous initial attempt at running earlier that summer. I had not reached the end of my road before stopping to lean against a lamppost, drenched in sweat, my chest heaving. The humiliation had been too great, the pain too intense, the thought of who might see me too all consuming. I wasn't a runner, and that made me sad.
But, as I said, that wasn't how it ended up. Yes, I lost weight. But it was the psychological weight I lost that was the heaviest. Because, as I got a little slimmer, I realised that running was giving me more confidence in my body than simply having less of it could ever do. Sure, I had not been obese before, and I'm still a size 10 only on a pretty good week, but since I discovered running I know myself so much more. And I know what I can do.
I had always dreamed of being a runner. But as strong as my desire to be ‘one of those' women leaping through the park was, I was equally sure that I was ‘not a runner'. I was clumsy, curvy, the girl who'd make a joke during games at school to avoid being picked last for the team again. We were two separate breeds: sporty women and other women. I was the latter.
My bum is no longer a source of shame, to be sighed at when I try on trousers with a face filled with regret – it’s a powerful muscle group that I have worked and worked at to get me up hills, round lakes and across shorelines. Skinny jeans could never make me happy the way that having the strength to run past the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn, surrounded by inspiring women did (as happened at the Nike Women’s Marathon 2 years ago). And slimmed down arms don’t look nearly as good in photos as picking up my baby niece or nephew and flying them around the room for hours on end feels.
The more miles I covered, the more pairs of trainers I wore smooth from tarmac, the more medals that hang in my bathroom, the more I appreciate that my body is mine, for me to use as I see fit. Of course it’s a delicious bonus that I can eat with gusto after a long run, but the real treat has been in feeling the gaze slowly shift.
What began as being about how I look is now about what I see.
Of course I still paint my nails before a big event and I can spend hours ogling new running tights online, but now I run not to impress more but to see more. I have taught myself the back roads of Brighton, my new home city, learning what the best time to see a murmuration over the pier is, which grand Regency Terraces I can peer into at dusk, and the names of the local dogs as they take a morning walk.
Each view across the South Downs, or London Parks or New York’s rivers I achieve because of running, I am thankful that this whole journey didn't end with what my body appeared to be to others.
Physical inactivity is currently a greater threat to health than smoking and obesity combined, and too many of us are fearful to get involved because of a cutting comment from a teenager on a park bench, an indiscreet glance from a flabby old man or a tactless sportswear sales assistant. I have encountered all of these and I know what one of those shards of self doubt feels like when you’re already dreading doing something.
But the glow of conquering these fleeting moments lasts so much longer. Running taught me this, and it is why every time I run, I feel I've won my own race.
By Alexandra Heminsley
"Sporty women and other women"
THIS is such a big part of the problem! What's the solution? Jessica Ennis will not inspire women to exercise if they see her as "sporty" and themselves as "other". My "unsporty" mate taking regular exercise might make me feel that it was within my reach though.
I have been through this. I'm still overweight but I've found my niche and i exercise regularly, and people are shocked that I'm fit when they join me. Why is everything about how you look and not what you do?
Brilliant blog - well done.
I really enjoyed your book, especially the part about the Nike Womens marathon.
I started running last year, aged 40, and its been amazing to feel the power of what my body (with its many imperfections) can do, and I've rather randomly met some excellent women along the way - the 61 year old triathlete with pink hair is a particular favourite.
I love "Running like a girl", brilliantly inspiring and totally practical. Thank you so much for the book and this blog post.
I loved the interview you did for marathon talk and can't wait to read the book.
Completely relate to your experience, I started out much the same. What I have gained from running is so much about mental wellbeing and a respect for what my body is capable of. Much less about my physical appearance.
I'm a cancer survivor and running has given me so much. I did struggle after my cancer surgery, accepting what had happened to me. Taking up running was a turning point for me. I would never have believed I could run, but I was inspired by the running threads on this board and I haven't looked back since.
I thought I couldnt run I've wanted to run for years but never had the courage afterall I couldnt run could I as I 'wasnt sporty'
Well ive just started a couch to 10k programme just finished week 3 and do you know what? I CAN run! I still eat too much of the wrong foods, I still have a massive flabby post baby (the youngest baby is 3) tummy) but I CAN RUN!
Great post, will definitely get hold of the book. I started running last year and cannot believe how much I've grown in confidence.
I did the couch to 5k and it has transformed my fitness and my attitude to my body. I'm proud of my body now, it's carried two healthy babies and will take me through my first half marathon later this year. It's fit, not skinny nor fat, just healthy.
I can really relate to the non-sporty childhood and adolesence. In fact, in my head, running is not a sport. It's just what I do. And to anyone thinking about it, the couch to 5 k is fantastic, when I began I really could barely run for 30 secs. Trying to work on my speed now and remembering that time when I could barely do anything! In fact, any advice on speeding up?
MNHQ - Any chance of getting Alexandra in for a webchat?
Ooh, a webchat would be good.
I did C25k last year and I'm doing my first half marathon in a few weeks. Next year I'm planning on doing a full marathon. 2 years ago if you'd told me that, I would have pissed myself laughing. I'm not 'sporty'- I think school left me with this impression because I was rubbish at team sports and the PE teachers so clearly favoured the girls that were sporty.
I have loads more confidence and energy now. I think more about how my diet and exercise regime will make me faster and stronger, rather than thinner.
I'm another one who came to running later in life, thanks to a C25K thread on mumsnet. Since then I've done half a dozen half marathons and a full one, take my trainers everywhere I go on holiday, and try to set aside a lunchtime once a week to go running in the park close to where I work.
Starting to run is the best change I have ever made.
Really enjoyed the book - just finished it. I've been running for two years now and mostly really enjoy it. However, I have so many runs when I really struggle and feel I've made no progress and tell myself I'm not really a runner. I really need some help and encouragement to believe in myself on those days. I'd never run before I turned forty and am now training for my second half marathon so I know I have come a long way really but some days I lose sight of all that. On the whole, I run for the good of my mind - so much cheaper than anti-depressants!
I started running aged 45 and am now totally hooked. Loved your book, it is very inspiring, funny and informative.
I've had your book on audible for a while now, and have listened to it a few times now while running - it's great inspiration to be listening to someone talking about their own journey with running when I'm working on mine. Thank you!
Similarly to other posters, I started running in the same year that my husband ran the marathon - and he was offended that he WASN'T my inspiration. Instead it was the old friend who'd done the couch 25K programme and who felt more like me. She had transformed herself and looked amazing, but wasn't running distances that were outrageous. Marathons seemed like a world away from my potential - but now, 18 months on and in my 41st year, I'm training for my first half-marathon ... wish me luck. Thanks again for the inspiration.
What an inspiring post. Seconding the request for a web chat.
Could some of you get over to the thread on pelvic floor and running. A physio has come on with some good advice but advising women not to run. Really should not be allowed to get away with that
I really enjoyed this blog.
I started running about 18 months ago but stopped after 6 months or so due to ill health. I've just started running again and am getting the bug all over again.
However much I don't want to go out and get started, the feeling of satisfaction and achievement when Ive arrived back home, dripping in sweat far outweighs the reluctance to get off the sofa and get running.
Yay for running!
I am new to running but so much of that rang true with me. I was as far from sporty as possible at school and it is great to have finally - 15 years after leaving school - found a way of exercising which helps me so much physically and mentally
It feels mad when I think it but I have run for 10 years now. My first run was a Race for Life and I couldn't BELIEVE I had run an entire 5k!
I plodded around a bit for a few years doing the odd half marathon but picked running back up again about two years ago. My aim for this year is just to do 5k every Saturday morning. If I do more; excellent, if not, who cares. This is going to be my Year of Consistency. I did two half marathons last year but veered between full training and doing nothing, and this year I want to concentrate on stabilising my running.
I loved Running Like A Girl - it was a nice change from the many running books which just assume you don't feel hideous in Lycra and are happy to spend hours doing knee lifts and hip flexor exercises. I read it on my Kindle in the bath after doing The Royal Parks Half!
Fab blog. I must get a copy of the book. I did couch25k last autumn but my running shoes haven't been out of the cupboard for the past month. Christmas, holidays and awful weather have made talking myself out of putting them on too easy. Next week I'm getting them out and getting back on it!
google. That's not what she's saying at all. She's simply pointing out the risks of running to those who already have pf problems. She's also providing lots of solutions.
I started running after DD was born in an attempt to lose some baby weight and slowly but surely, it's taking over my life!
The small pile of running clothes in the bottom of my wardrobe gets bigger and bigger with every run or trip to the sports shop and my 1 run a week is now anywhere between 3 and 7 runs a week!
It was parkrun that changed me from a dieting plodder to a runner. The sense of community there is amazing and I have so many friends now who I have met there and love bumping into every weekend. It's no longer a chore but a fun social event that I look forward to all week long. I encourage everyone to try it no matter how far they can (or can't!) run. The run/walkers at the back are cheered on just as enthusiastically as the 15 minute gazelles at the front so don't be scared of being the last and come and say 'Hi'
I'm going to start the c25k soon but the comment about exercise being good for the mind is so true. Having suffered postnatal depression, I've found that regular exercise and sensible sugar and alcohol intake have work better than other treatments I've had.
For anyone looking for inspiration to exercise, just remember that what you do must be something you enjoy, it's so different when your work out becomes a hobby.
Here's to fitness!
Fantastic blog Alexandra, it is very inspiring! Xx
We have excellent news - Alexandra has very kindly agree to come in for a webchat, hurrah!
The webchat will take place on Monday 24th Feb, 1 - 2 pm. We'll post a link to the webchat thread once it's up and running (pun intended)
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