You Know You're Over 40 When…

Archive for the tag “running”

You Love Talking To Strangers

gardenfence

*American voiceover* Previously on You Know You’re Over 40 When…
In a desperate bid to lose weight and get fit, Andrea has taken up running.
Now read on…

Before I started the Couch To 5k program, I couldn’t run for a bus. Now, 10 weeks later, I can run for 30 minutes straight – and were it not June, I’d be claiming this as some sort of Christmas miracle. It certainly feels like a Derren Brown mind trick – if Derren Brown was a woman called Laura employed by the NHS to talk in my ear and tell me to run over a soundtrack of library music tracks that sound a bit like The Lightning Seeds/U2/Nik Kershaw.

My running route is usually laps of my local park. Because I tend to run in the same location at roughly the same times (weekday evenings around 8pm, since you ask), I do, of course, occasionally see the same people. A lot of these people are the brave souls who take part in the local boot camp fitness groups (there are often two groups in the park simultaneously, in fact, and I am already penning a ‘Dodgeball’-style comedy in my head about the rivalry between them, which will star Owen Wilson and Kristen Wiig as the two instructors). And some of these people are fellow runners. Normally people who can run far better than me, and by that I mean faster and without looking as if they’re about to die.

But there’s one chap who I see more often than others – he would appear to like running on weekday evenings around 8pm, too – and he doesn’t run much better than me. He is middle-aged, stern-faced and he never, ever seems to be enjoying his run.  He looks as if he’s running because someone put a gun to his back, or at least the medical equivalent of that metaphor, ie a doctor put a gun to his back.

I clearly feel an affinity with this fellow because if anyone saw me running they’d probably think that I, too, was doing it under duress (which is true, to a certain extent. I love my runs, but only in the sense of love meaning ‘simultaneously hate and find incredibly difficult’). Plus, I’ve noticed that he a) runs as slowly as humanly possible, like me and b) tends to look at the ground when he’s running, like me.  The latter is a habit I have to constantly haul myself up on – although I realise that no one’s ever shown me how exactly I should be running. Should I be throwing my head back, like the young Sebastian Coe or Ian Charleson playing Eric Liddell in ‘Chariots Of Fire’? Should I run barefoot, like Zola Budd? It’s a minefield. (Note to self: try running like you’re in a minefield.)

I’ve passed my reluctant running friend many times in the park (despite our affinity, one thing we don’t have in common is the direction in which we run). So many times, in fact, that it feels that we should now be reaching the point when we acknowledge each other. With a nod, perhaps, or a raise of the eyebrows. Or a rueful ‘Here we are again, eh?!’ smile. That sort of thing. Hopefully we would build up to “Hello”.

Now, if as a child you were lucky enough to be taken on country walks with your family, as I was, then you’ll no doubt remember the feeling of slight embarrassment when grown-up strangers said “Hello” to each other (coupled with possible confusion: after all, we were explicitly told not to talk to strangers). Like talking about our emotions or not talking about the weather, being friendly to perfect strangers (note to foreign readers: mumbling “Hello” is friendly for us) isn’t in our British genes. But there’s an unwritten rule that one does this when out for a walk in the country. And while I realise that ‘a local park’ isn’t ‘the country’, and ‘running’ isn’t the same as ‘walking’, there’s something about running in my local park which makes me want to do the same.

Of course, it’s not just the situation – it’s my age. Now I’m the grown-up, not the embarrassed kid; and more than that, now that I’m in my forties, something has unwittingly kicked in and I am just one curler away from being Les Dawson’s Cissie/Ada. In my 20s and 30s I was happy to people-watch; these days, I love to people-engage. At a bus stop. In a queue. Walking down the street. I am becoming that person, the Person Who Talks To Strangers Because She Can’t Help Herself, the person who would happily chat to a neighbour over the garden fence, if only she had a fence, or a garden. Whether it’s due to growing confidence, lessening self-interest or both (also known as ‘maturity’), I am more myself in strangers’ company than I ever used to be, and find other people more interesting than I find myself. I want to learn about others and hear their stories, whatever their age and background (indeed, the more different they seem from me, the better). I want to both ‘only connect’ and talk to them about ‘Only Connect’.

But back to my running friend.

I was doing my usual park circuit the other evening, eyes down and ears tuned into library music, when a woman running in the opposite direction stopped to talk to me. Well, to tell you that I was excited, dear reader, is an understatement. AT LAST! A FELLOW PARK RUNNER – A PERFECT STRANGER – HAS STOPPED TO TALK TO ME!

“Have you dropped a set of keys?” she asked – pointing out a set she’d just found on the ground. Quick check – no I hadn’t. A chat ensued, during which we decided it was best that she left said keys in the park café. Already thinking ahead, I said: “There’s another guy running around the park right now… I could ask him if they’re his.” While thinking to myself: “YES! YES! I’ve found the perfect way to acknowledge that middle-aged bloke who always runs when I do.”

“Great, thanks,” said the young woman. “Sorry to interrupt your run!” Yes, not only had a total stranger chatted to me, but she was genuinely NICE and FRIENDLY. And this, for me, is why we strangers should stop and talk to each other. Because each time it happens, it reaffirms your faith in humanity, makes the world a better place, and gives you a bit of a breather from a workout.

So I resumed my run around the park, and sure enough, fast (or rather, slowly) approaching me was my soon-to-be friend, the Middle-Aged Reluctant Runner.

Here was my chance.

“Excuse me,” I said. He didn’t stop.

“Excuse me, but have you dropped a set of keys? Only…”

“NO!” he barked, scowling and not missing a beat as he ran past. Slowly.

“Oh.”

Turns out that not everyone wants to talk to strangers. Not even when they’re over 40, too.

You Have To Work Your A*** Off To Lose Weight

Or to my American readers: You Have To Work Your A** Off To Lose Weight

Birthday-Cake--PigMe at my 30th birthday party (artist’s impression)

Now, first things first: I used to be a bit of a porker. And before you say “Don’t put yourself down, Andrea!”, trust me: there was a time when nobody could put me down. Because I was too heavy to lift up.

My first noticeable weight gain as an adult (as opposed to as a baby, when it’s positively encouraged) came when I was a student. Looking back, I don’t really know how this happened, because I was a vegetarian – and like all good vegetarian students in the ’90s, I consumed mostly lager, Hob Nobs and chips. But amazingly, put on weight I did (as Yoda might say, if Yoda ever became a porker) and this pattern continued gradually, continually, throughout my 20s.

In my mid-30s, it finally hit me what had happened, thanks largely to every woman’s friend: holiday bikini pictures. Fortunately, around the same time, I stumbled upon a book called ‘The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet’ (a sort of precursor to the Atkins Diet) and the shock that I wasn’t just fat but also, apparently, some sort of addict led me to shed two stone and three dress sizes, merely through changing how I ate. Well, not the way, so much – I still put food in my mouth, like some kind of crazy homo sapiens – but by the kind of things I ate and when I ate them. I was no longer eating in my sleep, for example, and this made a huge difference.

But since the age of 40 – ie for nearly two years now – the weight has crept back on. This is partly due to the cliché of being in a happy relationship – something which is very lovely, of course, except that this happy relationship has in turn led to me having one too many celebratory ‘fizz and chips’ nights. Frank and I would initially have these evening meals of Prosecco with fish and chips to celebrate special occasions; but then we’d start celebrating the end of the working week; and then the fact that it was a Tuesday; then we’d celebrate being alive etc etc. It was a slippery slope, largely due to the amount of mayonnaise.

In short, my inner glutton escaped, went on the run and was impossible to recapture, despite being fat and thus unable to go far. I couldn’t look at a cake without putting weight on. Mainly because after looking at the cake, I would eat it.  In fact, my desire to eat Evil Carbs started to feel like a Pavlovian reaction (fun fact: this phrase comes from an experiment in which a group of dogs were fed pavlovas!) and once again, I realised I needed to rein myself in. The final straw was the zip bursting on not one but two pairs of trousers, in some sort of comedy, Looney Tunes fashion. You can ignore the slowly growing muffin top; you can ignore the fact that jeans feel a little tighter. You can’t ignore the fact that your clothes are physically turning against you.

But hey – as I’d lost weight in my 30s as a result of simply changing my diet, I thought this was all I would have to do this time round, too. And apart from anything else, I’d seen Lorraine Kelly, Carol Vorderman and a whole host of other… well, female daytime TV presenters, mainly, slim down quite dramatically in their 40s and 50s. So obviously I thought: how hard can it be? The media is full of women d’un certain âge going from un certain weight to a much lower one. In fact, I’m sure that this was what subconsciously kept me going through my early 40s’ weight gain: the knowledge that when I decided to shift it, I would just have to change my diet again and soon enough I would be wiggling around London in a wiggle dress, solving highly complicated maths problems and winning Rear Of The Year.

But guess what? It’s not that simple. Especially the maths problems.

Because I tried, but the fat simply would not move. I’d eat only healthy carbs. I’d cut carbs altogether. Then I’d realise that was stupid, and eat healthy carbs again. I’d try truly drastic things like walking up the escalators on the Underground instead of letting them move me through the twin miracles of science and engineering. But none of it worked.

At first I wanted to blame Lorraine and Carol for making it look so easy. But then I realised I should blame cakes myself. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t blame cakes myself. Because the simple truth is: losing weight once you’re over 40 isn’t as easy as losing it when you’re d’un much younger âge. Instead of simply altering your diet it requires a change in physical habits. It requires something apparently known as ‘exercise’.

When this slowly dawned on me, I was initially filled with cakes horror. My relationship with exercise isn’t so much estranged as ‘Look, we never even had a relationship, exercise!’. But then I realised that this new need for physicality was actually as it should be. Because now, in my early 40s, I have occasional lower back pain. I have knees that can’t stay in one position for too long. I have a general lack of girlish sprightliness – as demonstrated all-too clearly on a recent country walk with my boyfriend, during which I tackled each stile with a slightly laboured 10-point turn.

Yes, there’s no denying it: in its reluctance to shift weight and its small aches and pains, my body has been telling me that drastic action isn’t just desirable now, it’s actually necessary. My body has been telling me that I finally have to, in the words of Reel 2 Real, both move it AND move it.

So I thought. I thought about how many hours a week I spend sitting in an office. I thought about how I want to form a new habit that I can make part of my life and do anywhere. I thought about how much I hate gyms. I thought: ‘What would Carol Vorderman do?’

And I decided to take up running.

Now, before you go saying: “BUT YOU CAN’T RUN AWAY FROM YOURSELF, ANDREA”, let me say: you’re right. I can’t run away from myself, mainly because I can only run for about 60 seconds at a time, and it’s not at a terrific pace when I do so.

But I can run away from the fat me. From the fat, future me with respiratory problems. It’s like Sliding Doors: if I go down one path in life, I will end up a hugely overweight middle-aged woman with severe health issues. If I go down the other, I’ll be Gwyneth Paltrow in a brown wig. See? Scary.

So now I’m running. I’ve started the Couch To 5K program – which will give me £5k if I get off the couch, or something – and already, I love it.

I love doing something completely different from my other activities, which are generally cerebral/computer-based/alcohol-related. I love knowing that I’m doing something nurturing for myself. I love running in my local park – which has views of London stretching from the Shard to the Millennium Dome, and which is full of other runners, children playing and dogs walking their owners. I love seeing the buds coming out on the trees and I love the long shadows those trees cast in the evening sun.

I also love the fact that one day, I’m going to be able to levitate.

That’s right. When you’re a really good runner, you start levitating. I know this because all the photographic evidence points to it:

woman_running_jogging

Woman-Running-on-Beach

running woman

Incredible, no? And yes, you might tell me that these snaps are merely the human equivalent of the famous Sallie Gardner At A Gallop photographs – which not only proved that horses have all four hooves off the ground when they gallop but also led to the development of motion pictures, most notably the motion picture Seabiscuit.

But I prefer to think that these women are so happy, so joyous and so bloody fit that they’re levitating.

And someday soon, cakes god willing, I will be too.

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