Sophie Scott might not look like a runner, but she’s more than happy to feel like one. And you could do too, she says, if you get Advent running.
Having fully incorporated the message from teachers that I was no good at sports, I was surprised to discover in my 20s that, actually, running was fun and a great way of getting fit. I was never fast, but I was motivated and I used to go running a lot.
This changed – due to time, jobs, a ruptured Achilles tendon and a baby – and suddenly the 20-something Sophie’s running habits seemed as distant to 40-something Sophie as her peroxided hair and her limitless capacity for drinking.
A few things happened to make me realise I needed to get fit again. My weight continually increased, my blood pressure crept up and when the lift broke at work the three-storey climb upstairs to my office seemed insurmountable. So I started doing more exercise and I worked up to running again, following the walk/run programmes which work so well.
Then, this time last year I saw an article about Advent running, where people commit to running every single day of Advent. There is a lower limit (at least one mile) but no upper limit. And I thought, well, why not? It was coming up to 10 years since I’d ruptured my Achilles tendon and I fancied celebrating that rotten anniversary with something more positive than drinking and crying.
“My clothes got looser, my blood pressure plummeted and my blood sugar levels are EXEMPLARY, motherfuckers.”
Now, I don’t look like a runner. I have had buses wait for me (on the assumption that I am running to catch a bus). I have been chased around by a man on a bicycle, solely so he could tell me how stupid I look when I run. Other men have been kind enough to be exceedingly precise in their delineation of what bits of me look like when I’m running.
My response is to get up very early in the morning, clap on headphones and ignore anyone shouting at me (not the cyclist – I pointed out he’d jumped the traffic lights just to come and tell me this, which struck me as almost self-defeating, and he cycled off screaming, “YOU’LL NEVER CATCH MEEEEEEE”).
I kept going. I made it through Advent and I ran on into the new year. And on. The beauty of simply having to run every day is that it takes all decisions away from you – the question isn’t, should I run or not? The question is, when during the day will I manage this?
I’ve even built it into my travel plans, which means I have had the chance to run in Amsterdam, Vancouver, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Disneyland Paris and Blackpool. And I Instagrammed all these with the #adventrunning hashtag, just in case I’d forgotten to tell anyone.
I haven’t managed the heroic dick-drawing feats of one American runner but I do log every run with a couple of apps because I am a scientist. I like numbers and it’s very satisfying when the mileage starts to add up. And when I didn’t feel like running and I’d dragged myself out for a painful mile in pouring rain, I’d go over to the Advent running Facebook group I’d joined, and TELL THEM. Without exception, some kind individual would ‘like’ it and I’d feel a bit delighted.
It got easier. I found I wasn’t dreading getting out of bed at 6am, but actually looking forward to starting the day with a run. I found I had much more energy and stamina over the whole day, though around 10.30pm I am prone to suddenly lying down on the ground and falling asleep. My clothes got looser, my blood pressure plummeted and my blood sugar levels are EXEMPLARY, motherfuckers.
At the end of the summer, I dragged my partner and my nine-year-old son out for a Colour Run at Night 5K run, where I found I was running past people much younger than me. I mean, they were walking but still! A win’s a win.
One day earlier this year, a young man stopped me when I was running. I thought, ‘Oh here we go, some more helpful commentary on my appearance is coming my way.’ But he said, “I just wanted to say that you’re doing really well, running every day.” Obviously, I ran away but it was so nice to find someone had noticed and had seen past the inherent hilarity of someone with knockers running.
Advent is now with us again; my Facebook feed is filling up with statements of intent, and this is making me really happy. But nowadays, I’m pretty much happy most of the time. If there were a drug – either medicinal OR recreational – which mimicked the effects of exercise, we’d all be on it. So my advice would be to give it a go. Even if it’s not running, try something that works for you and try doing it every day. I still don’t look like a runner, but at 49, I’m perfectly happy to settle for feeling like one.8516 Views
I am a cognitive neuroscientist at UCL, and I study brains, voices, speaking and laughing. In my spare time I try to turn theory into practice with science based stand up comedy. @sophiescott