Who would have thought that a PhD in political philosophy is physically intensive? It was in the beginning of the second year that I started feeling weird pains in my lower back. A new chair didn’t help, neither did anything else, and being in my late twenties I couldn’t keep complaining — after all, complaining is an entitlement bestowed upon you with middle-age. So I had to do something about it.
Until then running was something that masochistic people did. After all, who in their right mind would willingly exhaust themselves through running? For what? Political philosophers don’t need to be fit, they just need to be smart, read a lot and overcaffeinate themselves on a daily basis. My first run, verified all my worries. After 100m I couldn’t catch my breath. Why do that to myself?, I thought. Euphoria, supposed to be an aftereffect of running — the idea that running releases endorphins that make you feel happy and elevated, colloquially called “runner’s high” — was nowhere to be found. That was when I decided that running, or any other sort of exercise for that matter, was not for me. Being a rather bookish person all my life, I had developed a strong disdain towards physically-intensive tasks, that was at the time verified by my post-run misery.
I decided to limit myself to brief walks in the park. That should count towards something, I thought. But every time I went to the park for my walk, some middle-aged guy with ridiculously tight lycra pants runned past me, making me feel inadequate. How on earth can he do that and why can’t I, was the recurring thought.
So one day I returned home after my brief walk and did the only thing that I know how to do moderately well: I researched the hell out of how to start running without needing an oxygen mask after every run. One programme kept coming up over and over again: the NHS’s Couch-to-5k podcast series. The programme is addressed to complete novices — read: normal people who might be older or have extra weight — and it promised to take them from being absolute couch potatoes, to running non-stop for five kilometres.
The damn thing worked! The lady in the first podcast, called Laura, asked me to run for less than a minute at a time and gave me plenty of time to rest and recover. She was super supportive and seemed to understand how insecure and fragile I felt. I was never encouraged to push more. I was always urged to take it easy. In the meantime my stamina improved with every run. In the end, nine weeks later, I was able to run for a full half hour — a possibility that was beyond my grasp when I started the programme.
Now, a year later, I run for more than 10k with relative ease (I’m no Mo Farah but I don’t need hospitalisation after my runs). What is most surprising is that I am now hooked up on running and I feel horrible if a few days go by without running. And I kid you not: running is addictive and it really does give you a high. Not every time, but enough to make you want to run again. After each run I feel like I’m the king of the world. It’s like a veil of fogginess is lifted and I can see the world as it is. Those couple of hours of post-run clarity are the most productive hours of my week.
I really urge you to try the couch-to-5k plan. If not for your health, then for the sense of achievement that every small milestone gives you; and running gives you a lot of those. For instance, when I first run for 60 seconds I felt that I was performing at the maximum of my physical abilities. I could not run for another second. On my next run I realised that I got to the same point at 90 seconds. And then at 120 seconds. Watching this magic machine that is our body in action, is one of the wonders of nature that everyone needs to witness. Plus you get sexier. And running doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, fat or skinny, gay or straight. Just run.
And please, no excuses. If you have time for a coffee break, you have time for a twenty-minute exercise. And there are no costs involved. Download the couch-to-5k podcasts (freely available via NHS), wear your shorts, the trainers you have at home and get out of the house. You have absolutely nothing to lose. Only some weight.