by Claire West

Softly, softly catchee monkey. The words echo round my head like a carousel. My feet pound the ground. Body straight, arms high and composed. Time is nearly up, two minutes left to run. My breathing is fast but stable, I feel slightly nauseous and I’m burning up. I don’t need to look in the mirror, I know what shade of red my face is – beetroot. There are shooting pains rising up my shins.

It’s been a good run beside the river. There has been plenty of distraction: the swan who sat on her nest made from twigs and discarded rubbish, protecting her seven eggs from the unwanted attention of a water rat; the golden sunshine lighting the waves as the moored boats jingled in the wind. All manner of runners pass me by. The seriously fit runners, the ladies running in the company of their friends and the club runners with matching luminous green vests. I have yet to work out the etiquette. Do I smile, do I nod in recognition? We are all at different stages of a journey. What kind of a journey, you may ask. Of knowing our limits, of determination, endurance and resilience.

It’s only been five weeks since I started running. I was a complete novice – something I had always wanted to do but had been lacking the motivation to start. I’m embarrassed of my body. An apron of fat spills over my practical neutral underwear. What if someone laughed at me? I could see a car full of boy racers pointing at my jiggling breasts and rotund belly. I also worried about the discomfort. Runners were sleek creatures, streamlined. Moving at pace towards their goal.I couldn’t bear the thought of being made aware of my excess flesh, as I imagined it jolting up and crashing back down.

“I have yet to work out the etiquette. Do I smile, do I nod in recognition? We are all at different stages of a journey – of knowing our limits, of determination, endurance and resilience.”

There was no particular reason for me to begin running when I did, but I got to the point where I thought, what have I got to lose? And the answer was: nothing. I have everything to gain. Confidence, self worth, a sense of achievement. The change in me has begun.

I’ve lost a little weight. I have less of a double chin and can see my jawline. I’ve watched two inspirational films this week. One about a swimmer who successfully swam in shark-infested waters. The other about a free solo climber for whom death was a very real possibility. My running pales into insignificance. I’m beginning to feel like a real runner. I now run in a vest, the hoodie I used to wear to disguise my large behind is long gone.

The brain is complex and powerful. Anything is possible when it works in harmony with the body. Already I’m amazed how my body has adapted to running. I couldn’t run for three minutes to begin with and now I’m pushing on through the eight minute mark. I will be running for thirty minutes at a time in the not-so-distant future. I’ll be fitter, and proud of my achievement.

Softly, softly catchee monkey.

Claire West

Claire lives in Rochester, Kent and is a mum to a 4-year-old. She works part time. She enjoys Zumba and swimming. She is also a member of a local mums creative writing group.

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