My relationship with exercise

23 Jun 2017

Thoughts on and experience with exercise. NHS couch to 5k programme.

If you know me IRL, read this blog or have glanced at any of my social media for more than five seconds, you’ll probably be aware that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of exercise.

It sounds kinda dramatic, but I do genuinely think a lot of it stems from my year 5 PE teacher. I have no memory of hating exercise during the first few years of school. My step-dad still likes to tell the story of how I came home from my year 4 sports day and proudly declared that I’d come ‘fourth in skipping and last in running’. Lol at me. So, yeah, I was shit but still pretty enthusiastic.

And then we moved to a new area and I started a new school with my new PE teacher and it all went downhill. She was pretty cliché tbh; i.e. she was really supportive to anyone who was good at sport and borderline bullied the kids who weren’t. I spent the first few months of year 5 in a state of near-hysterical anxiety because I couldn’t do a forward roll. True story. My parents (both sets) used to help me practise on the living room rug in the hope I would improve enough that it would stop the cow going on about it in gym class. But I really was hopeless (I was never destined for a career as a gymnast) and I used to lie awake the night before a PE lesson feeling sick with nerves about how she would treat me.

Because I couldn’t do a fucking forward roll. I WAS NINE.

Eventually my step-dad had enough, rang the school and shouted at the headmaster. I like to think he pointed out that he couldn’t do a forward roll either, and it hadn’t prevented him from pursuing a successful career.

Forwardrollgate came to a close but it was the start of 4 years that firmly cemented a hatred of PE in me. The teacher never outright bullied me after that but there were subtle digs on a regular basis. Like, for example, the time she forced me to come last in cross country the ONE time I wasn’t actually doing too bad because she made me stop half way round so she could have a go at me for wearing navy joggers instead of black.

I know, I know, it will be listed as one of the major crimes of the 21st century. I’m so gangster.

After 4 years of this, I moved to upper school and away from the cow. But, really, it was too late. At upper school, I did the bare minimum of compulsory PE lessons up until I was 16 and stopped as soon as I hit sixth form. I also refused to participate in a sports day for the five years I was there. Still not entirely sure how I managed that. I did attempt a few times to do some kind of exercise outside of school. I was part of a dance class for a while, although that was more for fun more than anything, and there were various half-hearted attempts to go running. None of this was particularly successful in keeping me fit, and eventually I just stopped trying. Nowadays, my exercise consists of walking between home and the station and the station and the office; on the three days I go into London (if I’m not late or the weather’s not awful, in which case I end up on the tube). I’ll occasionally do a few mins on the exercise bike or a bit of yoga but that’s the general gist of it.

I can’t solely blame my school PE teacher for my relationship with exercise because a part of it is that it’s not something that particularly interests me either. I’m not even a little bit competitive and a lot of sport seems to be about winning whereas I’m more like, cool story bro, can I go read my book now? And there’s just the general fact that I’m a woman of a certain age and a lot of us seem to avoid doing exercise for fear of feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable or awkward cos, lol, sweat dribbling ain’t really that sexy. AND I’m asthmatic which just adds to the whole sorry affair.

BUT, I do often wish I could ask that teacher what her effing deal was. I feel that, as a PE teacher, it was her job to encourage all kids who came her way that the most important thing about exercising is that it keeps you healthy. That it’s good to live an active life. Anything else, playing sport competitively etc, is a personal preference/choice.

But all she taught me is that exercise is about winning, about what you wear and about being humiliated. And it has taken me a long, long time to begin to unlearn this.

One of my goals for 2017 was to move past my reluctance and start exercising regularly. When I set that goal, I was imagining I would go swimming more. The one type of sport that PE teacher didn’t ruin for me was swimming. I’ve always enjoyed being in the water; I find it quite soothing. But tbh, it’s not really worked out. My local leisure centre is disorganised and always heaving at the times I’m available to go. There were several occasions where I was kicked in various areas or I arrived and paid, only to find that there weren’t any lanes available despite what was advertised *insert eye roll emoji*. Could someone build me a private pool pretty please?

I would class running as my least favourite form of exercise; I have never, ever enjoyed the experience of running. EVER. So no one was more surprised than me when I suggested to G that we did the NHS Couch to 5k running programme. G has wanted to get back into running for a while (before an injury a few years back, he was a super keen runner. He enjoys it and everything. Weirdo.) so he was up for it. We live next door to the park so it’s probably the least-faff form of exercise available to us. And it’s free which is an added bonus.

As its name suggests, the programme is designed for people who do no exercise and it gradually trains you up so by the end of nine weeks, you can run 5k without stopping. We’re only on week two but, so far, it’s not been as entirely hideous as I imagined it would be. I haven't cried, had a tantrum or given up. Win. It’s challenging me, physically obviously, but also mentally; to change my perspective and attitude towards exercise. On our last run, I started to feel conscious of that fact that G is already faster than me but then I reminded myself that it doesn’t matter one little bit. He can run at his pace and I’ll run at mine. The whole point is just to do it; I don’t need to be competitive, there’s no PE teacher to humiliate me – just fellow runners who smile at me, and I can wear whatever flippin’ clothes I want.

Get this PE teacher, I’m wearing BRIGHT PINK TRAINERS AND JAZZY LEGGINGS. You can take those navy joggers and stuff them up your…