I have been running.
I‘ve started running many times over the last ten years, and it’s never really stuck. I’m not a natural runner: every time I start Couch to 5k, I end up falling over, or getting frustrated, or developing shin splints or plantar fasciitis because of my awkward gait.
If Michael Jackson is a lover not a fighter, then I’m a walker not a runner. I like to take my time and notice things along the way, rather than to fight against my own screaming body for thirty dreadful minutes. But needs must. I have to shed a little weight, and running is a short-cut that tides me over until I get the time to really, properly walk.
Because I am still in the first flush of passion for this new bout of running, I carried on last week despite the heat. I hate being hot, and in these conditions my mouth was drying out as soon as my trainers hit the path. I persevered, but as I pounded alongside the beach, I noticed that the tide was in. That’s no use to you, I told myself; you haven’t brought your cossie. But then I thought, what the hell. I decided to finish my run on a quiet bit of the beach and swim in my underwear.
I don’t think I could have got to the end of my run without the promise of that swim. But when I finally crunched down the shingle towards the sea, I found two teenage girls sitting there, concealed from view by the wild flowers that spring from the shingle in the summer. That’s the end of your swim, I thought. There’s no way I’m stripping down to my smalls in front of them.
But then I realised what a loss it would be if I didn’t; and how many other times in my life I’ve paused at the edge of the water and thought I’m not good enough. So I did it. I took off my sweaty running tights and t-shirt, and waded into the sea in my sports bra and wicking knickers. The girls didn’t even look up from their phones, and I swam in the cool, smooth water until I felt human again.
I’m forty this September, and I’ve lived all thirty-nine of my previous years believing that I’ve somehow failed to pull off being human. I’ve agonised over my inadequacy, my awkwardness, my inability to cope with the simplest situations. I’ve spent my whole life believing I’m a different species. I just don’t care anymore. I have no fucks left to give.
A couple of days later, I swam under the solstice sunset in even less clothing. The sea stayed luminous long after the sun dipped below the horizon, and I felt as though I’d unlocked a hidden level in this world, one that only comes when you truly jettison your terror of what other people will think. This coming year, I plan to keep tight hold of that key.
See you soon,