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Becoming Failing well Mindfulness

A failing well series #1: Running

What I have learnt from failing at running and getting better at it

I will start by telling the story of how I started running – a sport I detested with all my might, how I have come to see myself as an athlete, and how I have grown to enjoy and see running as a beautiful sport. I will start with a running story because Abi Booth’s running story was what inspired me to start this series.

The Fear

When it came to exercise, I was a scaredy-cat. I thought exercise was for a particular set of people – that some people came with an innate desire to want to stretch, while some were not.

I had this mindset in secondary school during Physical education (PE) classes. PE was compulsory, and it also served as a punishment for latecomers and delinquents. Instructors asked offenders to run around the school field many times — an activity that left one breathless and gasping for air. I knew many people who fainted on the playground, and I knew people who came out tops — this further implanted the idea in my mind that exercise was for a selected few. My school chose the ones who did well to represent the school, but I did not come close to coming first, and I did not even come last. I was part of those who stumbled on the way. I did not understand why they made you do PE in school. What was I going to do with it?

The beginning — A little story about my grandmother and how her death moved me to run

My grandmother’s illness started in 2015. I remember coming home from my final exams in school to meet her sick. I remember the scary feeling that things were not going to remain the same. Grandma was present, but oblivious to what was happening around her. She did not know when I came in until someone told her, ‘Look, mama, It’s Ify. She’s here.’ And she smiled. A smile she has always reserved for me, her first grandchild. I asked what was wrong, but she could not make a clear sentence. It did not make any sense to me how someone’s body could, all at once, start failing them. 

From there, it led to many trips to the hospital, to her not being able to make coherent sentences, and to us having to feed her. She stopped walking, and we got her a wheelchair.

I don’t know what happened to my grandmother, but I remember a strong woman who instilled values and discipline in her grandchildren. I remember a hardworking woman who started taking care of my siblings and me when my mother died in 2008. My grandmother resumed parenting again when she was supposed to be retiring, and this meant she started worrying over what we were going to eat, how we were going to go to school. It was hard work 201. She went from a hale and hearty person to an invalid. She could not walk to the toilet or bathe herself, and she could not feed herself. If the grandmother that I knew could see herself in that state, she would have thrown a fit.

The last time I saw my grandma was in December 2020, when I went to visit her in a hospital in Ogun state. She had become a complete ghost of herself. She had developed a brain stroke two nights before, and was plugged to a support machine when I visited, and she could not tell it was me. 

On March 2, on my way to the grocery store, I received an SMS from my little cousin that announced my grandmama’s death.

I had many questions – How could someone suffer this much for so long? What was the purpose of the human body? Where did things go wrong? Would I suddenly fall ill too?

How I started working out

“Our bodies were made to move.”

“Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were insufficiently active in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%). Approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity.”

WHO – Physical Inactivity: A Global Public Health Problem

I started exercising out of fear of what would happen to my body if it ever breaks down. I had a scare once when I tried reaching for something underneath a couch in my grandparents’ house, and I felt a cramp build up in my upper back. However, my grandmother’s death was what incited the fear in me and spurred me into action. 

The fact that I did not understand what happened to her made things worse. She did not live a sedentary lifestyle because she was the most hardworking person that I knew. She always had lots of stuff to do – If she was not going to the market, she was on the farm, and if you did not find her on the farm, she was attending her peer meeting. I have also wondered if she died as a result of extreme stress. Whatever it was, I decided to become more mindful of the things I did. I started meditating, and I started running.

An attempt at running: The first try, my next run, and the lessons

I did not make it up to 3 yards on my first run before I started panting.

There were days when I would get tired and could not make it to the distance that I wanted, and there were days when I would end up in my running gear without going for a run. I’d love to get to a point where I can comfortably run three times a week. The last time I ran was yesterday, and before that, was my run on Friday. However, I believe I am making good progress.

I love going on the guided runs on Nike Run Club (NRC) with Coach Bennett.

One thing I have learnt from running with Coach Bennett is understanding that it is okay to run at a feel-good pace. He says, ‘Every run has a purpose.’ It is better to run for a shorter distance than aim for a higher one and end up feeling disappointed. ‘End the run wanting to run more,’ he says. The first run is all about wanting to do the next run.’ It does not matter how many times you go on the first run or the next run as long as you run at a comfortable pace.

Another thing I have learnt from Coach B is that it is crucial to always listen to your body. Our bodies are always telling us something, and we have to pay attention to be able to hear it. Running is fun as long as we make it fun. If your body wants a 1-minute run, take it for a minute run. If it wants to rest, let it rest. I always run solo because it helps me focus on my training and what I want out of the run. I am not sure I can run with other people, but I am willing to give it a try. 

The road to orange level

As a new runner, I would recommend Nike Run Club, as it is what has helped to build my confidence and get comfortable running. I am not sure I would be writing this if I had not given NRC a try. 

When I run, I feel the need to move. Sometimes, I don’t understand if I am running from something or towards something, but I feel my adrenaline pumping and pushing my body forward, and this beautiful feeling is what inspires me to keep running – the knowledge that I can get my body to move. 

Every time I go for a run, I keep learning new things about this sport, and I am always amazed at the things my body can do. There is so much to learn about my body, and I am here for all of it. I am glad I took the initiative to start running, and I am also happy that I overcame my fear.

By Ifunanya Okolie

I am exploring how to become the best version of humanity.

4 replies on “A failing well series #1: Running”

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