I stumbled upon running in my mid-twenties, after taking a 10-year hiatus from healthy living. It was 2006, and at the time I didn’t really see anybody who looked like me – there were no other fat black dudes donning Lycra and race bibs and, at the time, I didn’t really question it. In the early stages, I saw an opportunity to surprise myself, prove others wrong and be the person I wanted to see.
After spending a day watching the London Marathon, what struck me was the emotion on show – people laughing, hugging and crying, people screaming and cheering for complete strangers. I felt inspired. I remember announcing to everybody that next year would be the year in which I would run my first marathon. Instead of encouragement and applause, my announcement was met with laughter and ridicule – the perfect cocktail to fuel my runs.
I remember my first run – I’d no idea what I was doing, but had a willingness to try. I remember being intimidated by the prospect of taking on the dreaded road, the same road I had walked down many times before. Yet for some reason, this was different. I settled my nerves by saying to myself, ‘Get to the bottom of the road’. I said it again, ‘That’s all you have to do, just get to the bottom of the road’. So that’s what I did.
At the time, I had no idea that these few words muttered under my breath would become a mantra, something I would repeat to myself over and over again, a shortcut used to fool and inspire myself and, as time passed, others as well.
I noticed that as I ran further, whether there was one road or 10 roads to go, my mental messaging was the same. This made the new, longer distances much easier to manage. When the roads became too long, I started to pick out lampposts, trees and cars, even people and pets, as markers. Anything to keep my legs ticking over when they wanted to stop.
I noticed a pattern developing. I smiled more on the inside and outside when I had a little game to play; I found that trying to get to traffic lights before they changed colour gave a once-pointless sprint some purpose. I also noticed that, early on, even though I couldn’t hold an uncomfortable pace for a long distance, I could hold on to it between two trees or two lampposts; all I had to do was relax, breathe and then find my rhythm.
First it was two trees, then three, then four and, finally, a whole street at pace. At the time, I was just having fun – I hadn’t yet realised that these games were actually intervals and these intervals were helping to make me fitter and stronger. They were building my engine – improving my cardio by making my lungs and heart work more efficiently.
As my cardio improved and my engine grew, I realised that what really kept me motivated was exploring. I really started to find my feet on the day I bought a small backpack, jumped on a train, got off a few stops early in an area I didn’t know, and ran to a friend’s place, where I was met with food and enjoyment. The purpose was just to discover an area that I wouldn’t see without running and to end the run on a high.
Imagine that – enjoying running! It was a far cry from what was deemed to be a punishment all those years ago. That enjoyment was key to me falling in love with this beautiful thing –running was now part of my life.
Cory is the founder of the Track Mafia running crew and a Nike Run Club Head Coach.
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