Yeah you read that right. I. Ran (if you can call it that). I woke up and watched the sun rise; and while London was still sleepily emerging into the daylight, I questioned what I was about to do over and over, before stepping out into the morning in a running top & jacket, running shoes, and a pair of old jogging bottoms that I’ve been wearing as pyjama bottoms.
I managed to talk myself out of going for a run yesterday morning, but after lectures yesterday it was all I wanted to do and my mind just wouldn’t let go this time, not while I knew my cardiologist had given me the go ahead to try (under the condition that if I didn’t tolerate whatever I tried, I told him and… Didn’t try it again). My heart hated the idea of going for a run before it even became a thing, and after FaceTiming my little brother and watching accomplished runners jogging through the park yesterday evening, I decided that I wanted to run in the dark – or at least a quieter time – perhaps sunrise (which apparently is now at 7:30am). I so badly wanted to run, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I didn’t have the energy to even walk too far (and then there was the 120bpm heart rate while I was laying on my bed, which was almost like the scrunched up face of a frowning toddler before the first scream of a tantrum), so I aborted that mission and went back to watching my way through every single episode of Modern Family in chronological order (I made some notes too, because y’know… Degree).
There was another huge factor holding me back though. Because… How do you teach your body to run?
I don’t remember learning to run the first time. I just… could. 12 year old me ran at least 3km a day and didn’t think anything of it – I don’t remember it ever being difficult until my health significantly hiccuped. I kind of didn’t know where to start; most couch to 5k running programmes say to run for 1 minute or walk for 5 minutes and then “gently jog” for 15 minutes… But I’m no couch potato. I am a human burrito – I spend most of my time laying on my bed wrapped in every single blanket I own. Every amount of effort was too much for my body, and I knew that as I looked through running programme after running programme. I decided I’d start by “running” for 20 seconds maximum (shorter if my body was outraged) and then walk for 2 minutes before repeating.
I was super self conscious about running then stopping all the time, because I didn’t want to look ridiculous. I eventually decided that slowing down would be far preferable to the complete humiliation of passing out in a public place, but this didn’t make it any easier to step out, and I still felt like a fraud dressing in clothes that made me look like I was good at this whole running thing.
Then I was all how fast do I try to go? I knew that in my mind I was still the teenaged girl who could outrun all but one of the boys, and who ran effortlessly to relieve all of life’s stress. Because of this I knew that, just like with my recent attempts to swim, I’d instinctively try to run at a pace that was familiar. The internet told me that I should run at a pace where I was still able to talk, and that if I was unable to talk then the intensity of the exercise was too much and I should slow my pace… According to the internet then, walking is too much for me some days.
I was lost in a dream before I even fell asleep yesterday (at 6:30pm, because yay for health hiccups – I’m joking. Obviously not yay). I woke with my head still stuck in that dream, and watched the sky change from black to pink within a space of fifteen minutes. I pulled on running clothes, still second guessing myself, but driven by something I could not contain.
I walked to the Limehouse end of Mile End Park (which wasn’t far), conscious that I would look stupid running and then walking on the path out in the open, and waiting for the guy running laps of the little green area to clear out of the way so I could have the little stretch of grass to humiliate myself in private. There was still time to back out (I should, at this point have backed out) and I wanted to bail, but I just couldn’t. And then suddenly I did it. I just bit the bullet. And I ran. For the first time in years. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and even though I only ran for 10 seconds and then walked for 2 minutes, it felt so great. I alternated between 10 and 20 second “runs” with 2 minute gaps in between (and believe me, it took my body two minutes to just about recover). I was so happy. I was actually running. I might actually be able to run again.
And then I got to the 7th little jog. And suddenly like I’d been hit by a train I felt as though I was going to pass out. Out of nowhere. I slowed to a walk and wandered for two minutes, and when it came to be time to run again I knew that the last thing I should do was demand more of my body. My vision kept going to black and the rest of the time my unfocussed vision had gaps in time where I just saw nothing and then zoned back into reality. I felt dizzy/lightheaded in a way I’ve never managed to remain conscious with before. I was so spaced out that when I tried to tell myself I’d been an idiot, the words were slurred. I felt like I was going to pass out. It was genuinely scary. I walked home somehow, my legs kept crumpling and folding beneath me but somehow I’d catch myself and zig-zag on. I was in a complete daze. It felt like being super, super drunk, but there was no alcohol involved. I messaged HK Uni Friend and my mum so that someone would know where I was, and somehow made it back to my room. I sat down, and I was stuck there for half an hour, after which point I still felt like I was on the verge of passing out, and couldn’t stand. My chest started to ache in a very familiar way and my heart rate refused to drop back down. I couldn’t focus my vision, I started to feel sick, I was so disorientated and I had a horrible foggy headache.
But it was worth it. So, so worth it.
I had a 9am lecture, and at 8:35 I still couldn’t stand. It didn’t stop me. I went to the lecture, and, still spaced out and dizzy beyond belief, I held my head up as my laptop ran out of battery, and passed out a couple of times throughout the two hours. Between lectures I turned to see Uni Babe in tears (she was having a very bad day), and did all I could think to do – wrapped my arms around her, pulled her against me, tucked her head under my chin and hugged her like she was my child or something, stroking her arm and attempting to say the right thing as she cried it all out, having apparently cried through half of the lecture while semi-conscious me sat next to her oblivious (for which I feel awful!).
Uni Babe came back to my flat with me between our next two lectures, because I felt so rubbish that I didn’t want to be alone and she was sensible enough to share that view. I made it back to my room, grabbed everything necessary to go and stay with Auntie Godmother & co. tonight (I messaged her yesterday and ended up being invited for dinner and to stay over), and then left my room to discover that in my complete daze I’d left my key card inside. I drifted into the wall multiple times as I walked down the corridor, and upon finally making it to reception was charged £5 to borrow a master key to go and unlock my room. Uni Babe was pretty horrified that I was charged, given the extortionate price I pay to live here! In a complete fog during which I ended up laying my head on the reception desk to try and stop myself passing out, we eventually made it back to uni… Only to find that I’d… Left my laptop charger at home, and therefore couldn’t make any notes during the next lecture.
It’s now past 2pm, and I still feel like I’m going to pass out. My vision is just screwy. I also feel like I’m going to throw up, and my pulse is very fast but so weak that I can only just feel it in my carotid artery (which probably explains the complete lack of control over my level of consciousness). Do I regret that feeble attempt to jog? In SO MANY WAYS yes. It made everything hit home. But also, I am so, so glad that I did it. Because it did what running used to do – I thought about all the stuff that I usually can’t bring myself to think about, and I ran through it. Running helped me deal with it and cope with the emotion it threw up, and such difficult things were so easily processed and dismissed. It was like magic. Genuinely. It made me feel so good. So, so good. I felt like someone had just wiped my entire mind clean of all the bad stuff and the worry and the stress. Also, I needed to get that urge to run out of my system, and I now feel so lousy that I’m hoping it will stay away for at least a few days.
The best moment of my year completely ruined my day (not going to lie, when I was running I forgot my heart was even a thing – my mum didn’t, she was all “Are you stupid? Normal people can do that, but they’re healthy and don’t have a heart condition! You should have taken it easy!” and she has a good point; however, I was doing so much less than the level of activity a healthy person would start at, and I thought I’d done enough to minimise the unpleasantness of the aftermath). But I cannot even explain to you how good it felt until it all went wrong. I was, for about 15 minutes, someone that I haven’t been for a very long time. I was me. And I was happy. Free of stress. Relaxed. I felt better about myself. I felt good, for no apparent reason. I felt ready to take on anything. Until my body threw everything it had at me.
The early morning hours belong to the runners and the early birds. And for a short while today, I was one of them.
For a much longer period of time, that meant, means, and will continue to mean the world.
For a currently unspecified period of time, I am paying the price for that awesomeness. But it’s a small price to pay.
No way but through.