Running came into my life, properly, in 2010. It was a shit year: all of a sudden I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend, my grandpa had died and I’d left Scotland and was back living at my parents; house and waitressing in a café. I would drive up the A1 to work every day and I remember crying so much I couldn’t see the road. It was the year I got so drunk I nearly knocked my front tooth out on a pavement, woke up with blood in my mouth.
When I was moping around, Mum would tell me to go for a run and I’d put my trainers on and plod off along the river and through the fields. I’d come home better – less tightly wound. The fields felt bigger when I ran, the past year less disastrous.
I’d entered the Great North Run on a total whim: Fabs, Davo, Katie and I, and Nick, one of Davo’s friends from uni. I had no clue what to expect but I had a training plan that I’d printed off the internet and would fit runs in around shifts at the cafe, plugging in my ipod and taking myself off along the back roads and the tracks around the village where I grew up.
Someone said I should join the local running club and on my first night I was so nervous I nearly turned the car around to go home. I was in the lowest group with a group of gossiping women who all flirted with John, the leader. We ran for an hour around my high school town, doing splits and encouraging each other up the hills. I didn’t say much but put my head down and it felt good.
Now I have run half marathons, trail runs, a marathon. I feel so strong when I run – like I can do anything. Sometimes I’m slow and I feel rubbish but at some point I’ll get into the swing of things and then it’ll be good.
When Al and I lived together and if I was fannying around deliberating whether to go out into the cold and when to put my put on my trainers, she would say to me “when have you ever regretted a run?” So we’d put our trainers on and go out into the night around Finsbury Park and Stamford Hill and Highbury, our breath like plumes in the cold and our footsteps loud on the slick pavements.
Some of my best memories are when I’ve been running: dawn and dusks over London’s skyline, along the summer canals green with weed with Ian, with the girls on Berneray being pushed against the wind.
I’ve run in Northumberland and London, Crete and Dundee, Glasgow, Manchester and Edinburgh, and the sparkling blue beads of the Hebrides. Like Sian said to me the other day, running is like a thread, a string, a spine that goes through everything.
But now, as I’ve been writing this, I remember that I used to run when I was younger. These memories dredge themselves up from somewhere: volunteering on the water stall on the Coastal Run, watching my mum in her forties crossing finish lines, the cross-country at school with the air like ice in my lungs, Al and I running around the airfield with Mum with the promise of chocolate milkshakes afterwards keeping us going. My heart like a huge drum – POUND POUND POUND – in my chest as I ran.
And then I stopped.
Hit puberty, got boobs, worried about how I looked, didn’t choose GCSE PE or was part of the sporty group of girls at high school. How many girls were the same, and how long does it take to come back?
Not much to say now, and maybe I’m overthinking it. Like tonight: it’s freezing in London at the moment, that kind that makes you catch at your breath when you step outside. It’s dark at half four, work isn’t that easy and I’m stressed about the wedding and money. Making lists of things that need done and trying to work out when I can sort them.
So I put on a hat and tie my laces and go up through London Fields, over Dalston and the back way to Green Lanes forgetting the things I need to forget, tracing more lines across this city of ours.
Thank you, Sian for asking me to write this, glad I did.