Today I did something I’ve never voluntarily done before — I went for a jog.
That might not sound like much of an achievement to you, but it was a big step for me. Besides running to catch the occasional train or bus, or having a little kick-about in the park, placing one foot after another in quick succession just isn’t something I do. It’s never been something I’ve wanted to do either. Until now.
No good reason
I remember being forced to jog round the school playing field in blue nylon shorts on cold November mornings. I remember the burning sensation in my chest, of feeling like I was inhaling hot ashes, the heavy legs, and simply not understanding why anyone would volunteer for such an experience.
It was enough to put me off for what I assumed would be the rest of my life; running seemed like a lot of hard work for no good reason and if my life was slightly shorter because of my reluctance to jiggle about in dayglo lycra three or four times a week so be it. Instead, I’d simply make the most of the time I saved by not by doing any exercise whilst my peers ran about in the pouring rain breathing in car fumes.
But back then I still had a modicum of fitness, and that slowly faded away as I aged. These days a long cycle ride feels rejuvenating. It make sense to me now. I feel dreadful if I go more than a day or two without some form of exercise. As a kid I had bags of untapped energy spilling out of me in every direction whether I exercised or not — well that’s how it feels now anyway.
The moment of truth
Yes, I think I had an epiphany. But it didn’t hit me all at once, it just slowly caught up with me (it was probably even more out of shape than I am). A series of unrelated, yet somehow interconnected events transpired to inspire me to shift back into gear.
In 2011 a long-standing hero of mine, Charlie Brooker, did something unspeakable. He started jogging. Just like many of his fans I felt shocked at first, then betrayed. If he could change his mind about fitness, what else might he be wrong about? What else am I wrong about? It shook my assumptions about who I was to my core.
But it’s healthy to have your views and opinions challenged. And this was the first step to a newer, better me.
About a year later I experienced what I thought might have been a serious health issue. High blood-pressure and heart-attacks run in my family, and one evening I thought I was going the same way too. Turns out it was nothing, but it served as an apt reminder that I needed to get off my arse.
I love it when a plan comes together
So I bought a new bike. I cycled to work and back everyday. Then I lost my job, but I still carried on cycling most of the time. But I realised that the few miles I tended to cover across the city in a week just weren’t enough to keep me fit. And because I run my own business I just don’t have the time to dedicate to the mileage I’d need to do to keep the pounds off.
Then I read a blog post about the four elements of physical energy. It made the startlingly obvious statement that having physical energy is the foundation of all other endeavours — whether we need emotional energy to repair a damaged relationship, or mental energy to solve a complex problem. And we boost our physical energy by eating well and exercising. For some reason (probably reluctance to accept the fact I needed to spend more time moving around) I’d never thought of it this way.
Starting my business has changed my life. It’s given me energy (what the above article calls ‘spiritual energy’) and direction, and helped me to focus on getting to where I want to be in life. But it is tiring: physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And sometimes I feel like I don’t have much left to give at the end of the week.
My reluctance to think about much outside of work probably held me back for a bit. But I came to understand that actually what I need to do is increase my capacity for energy — if I exercise more, my body becomes stronger, my heart and lungs become more efficient.
The knock-on effect is that I’ll feel more able to cope with emotional, physical or intellectual difficulty, and my business (which is after all, me) will benefit enormously.
And that was the kicker for me. I came to see exercise as an investment not just in myself, but also in my business, and in my son too, to whom I hope to hand down my business one day. Everybody wins.
Making a start is the hardest part
For several weeks I tried to compel myself to get out there and run. But never quite managed it. I managed to jog to the local shops once, but I was too easy on myself.
I work in the tech industry, so I knew there was a million or so apps out there that would track every conceivable metric I might want to measure. But I didn’t feel ready for that, I just needed something to lower me in gently without sending a tweet out every time I broke into a sweat.
I’d already heard of the commercial Couch to 5k app when I began doing research into getting into jogging. But then I came across the NHS version, which is free. And as a born and bred Norfolk chap, I firmly believe you can’t get better than free.
Technically, the app itself is a sack of crap — it crashed at least twice within the first few minutes of me booting it up. However, simply having a calm and reassuring voice egging you on is very helpful.
Besides finding motivation to get out there and get going, one of the other big problems I have with exercise is knowing whether I’m pushing too hard, or not hard enough and this app solves that problem nicely. You’re guided all the way, and start by warming up with a brisk walk. Then you’re instructed to jog for 60 seconds, then walk for 90 seconds, rinse, and repeat.
Fatty did a funny
The advantage of having my headphones in and sunglasses on is that it helps me block out the rest of the world. This makes it easier to suffer the indignity of feeling like I’m in public and stark-bollock naked because I’m the fat guy who’s trying to run.
Despite my early misgivings about running, I’m feeling very positive about it right now. If nothing else it’s a great way to escape the desk and get some air in the lungs, but I’m looking forward to rising to new challenges as my fitness improves. And I can see now how conquering physical challenges puts me in a better position to overcome emotional and intellectual challenges too.
Now all I have to do is stick with it, three times a week for nine weeks until it becomes a habit and I move one step closer to becoming the person I want to be. The person I could’ve quite happily punched unconscious just a few short years ago.
It’s always a good thing to have your opinions and perceptions challenged.