The paunch of shame

I’m new to running. I’ve obviously run at times in my life – to catch a departing train, for instance, or escape a persistent wasp. Also, my tardiness has occasionally forced me into a frantic dash across campus to attend a meeting, where I’ve strived to achieve a fashionably late arrival, albeit as a sweaty, breathless, dishevelled, shambles of a man. But actual running, for fitness, on a regular basis, never.

I’ve been thinking about running for a couple of years now, but the idea has never advanced from the concept stage to actually pounding the local streets in hi-visibility running gear. I’ll be honest: the main reason is that I’m exceptionally lazy and my middle-aged knees are seriously bad. (When I walk up and down stairs it sounds like I’m being followed around by a Foley artist grinding up aggregate with a mortar and pestle.) But with nine months of lockdown and Christmas excess under my belt (or rather comfortably contained within elasticated trousers), I had to do something to arrest the decline.

So with some newly acquired running gear, the highly recommended Couch to 5k app downloaded onto my iPhone, and the gentle, encouraging, Geordie voice of Sarah Millican funnelled into my ears, I decided to dive straight in. With my sportswear, wireless headphones, greying beard, and jaw-length hair tied back into a man bun, I looked more like the ageing marquee signing of a League Two side rather than a runner. But I was serious. And I was ready.

The one thing I hadn’t realised with running is that it allows you time to think – and just be alone. Whenever I’ve run any distance in the past – usually because I’ve been late for something – the only thing I’ve been able to focus on is the intense burning in my lungs and my teeth literally itching in my gums. But this mellow introduction to running using the app has enabled me to just zone out, listen to some music, occasionally leap into deep, rain-filled ditches at the side of the road to avoid being mown down by reckless delivery van drivers, and simply think. (Mainly about what I would do if I found a body in the thick undergrowth while out for a run – but lots of other, less macabre, things too.)

After a dusting of snow overnight followed by temperatures that didn’t get much above freezing, today was my first big challenge. Shall I just get out there and run, or sit by the radiator and drink coffee? Thankfully my new Adidas light running jacket was delivered, which was just tight enough to accentuate my paunch and shame me into heading out into the cold. I was glad I did. Even with the sleet lashing against my face and my penis shrivelling into my body to seek warmth, I felt, dare I say it, positive that I was at least making the effort. And aside from the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack mid-run, what’s the worst that could happen? I can only get fitter and slimmer, right?

I’m three runs in now and it’s going fairly well. For a start, I’ve neither collapsed into a hedgerow, incoherent and delirious, nor vomited into one. That may change as the process shifts to running for longer and walking less, but I’ll stick with it for now. Probably.

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