Of all the improbable developments: I have this month turned into a genuine gym bunny.
I have long harboured a very deeply buried ambition to be a good runner. I suspect this aspiration has its roots in the triumphant Primary Sports Day at which I sailed to victory in the 8-year-old’s sprint. What a sweet moment. I’ve never since done anything about it, however, as it’s always been thoroughly overwhelmed by my utter, utter loathing of running. And a sad thing it is to be so conflicted inside.
This January I not only renewed my gym membership but actually started going. I diligently shrugged off all their offers of fitness assessments and programmes – when I’m doing exercise, I’d far rather no one was watching – and made up a little routine of my own. Slowly does it, I thought. So I started by walking on the treadmill, then running, hard, for as long as I could stand, then walking again to push my lungs back down my throat, and finishing with a crashingly heavy jog of despair. The first time I managed eight minutes of running before I was almost whipped off the treadmill in a floppy heap. With steely determination I have forced myself to hard-run for a minute longer each time I go back. I’m now up to a – gasp! – twelve minute hard-run, a feat that has me sweating and wobbling all over the rowing machine afterwards, but still feeling strangely satisfied.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not nice. I find the whole process vaguely horrible, from the T-shirt-wetting splashiness of the water fountain, to the burly men grunting appreciatively in the weights corner, to the obstacle course of wobbly damp flesh in the changing rooms. And there’s certainly nothing vague about how much it horribly hurts. So, I’ve found diversionary tactics are the key. The first couple of times I had nothing at all to distract from the rising chest agony: I couldn’t read the TV subtitles without my glasses on, so just watched myself in the mirror, hazily interested in how red my face was getting (fire-engine red, should you want to know). Repeating the mantra ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’ only made me realise how fond I was of my weakness. No good. Then I started bringing my iPod, which aside from introducing the danger of being whipped at high speeds by the headphone cable worked better. As I reached the dizzy heights of ten and eleven minutes, though, the music lost my attention; worse, there are a couple of ex-favourite songs which now evoke a strange mixture of Antiques Roadshow and an ardent wish for death.
Today I found the ultimate solution, and dug out the last four chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I still had in my Audiobooks library. Twelve hard-run minutes flew by without a whimper – what’s a bit of chest pain compared to the final battle of Hogwarts? Not even running can shake my affection for Harry, so no bad associations are likely. I even kind of forgot I was in the gym for a moment, and came to with surprise as I tripped over the cycle machine, having finally lost all control over my limbs during the jog of despair.
The lesson here? The best way to exercise is to pretend you’re not doing it. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, y’know.