At first, I could do 10 minutes and I felt awful.
My shoes hurt, and I went to a shop to get new ones. I explained my needs – something comfortable that didn’t make me look ridiculous. The man in the shop was reflective. My current shoes weren’t really designed for running, more fashion, did I know? Nope. No wonder they weren’t comfortable. So where was I running? In the gym, I explained, for 10 minutes – I couldn’t manage any more. I can never quite get the grip of the treadmill.
‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘Where do you live?’
I told him. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you make it down the avenue just opposite and then run back. That’s about two kilometres. It’s much easier outside. When you can manage that, let me know.’
At first, I was slow and horribly breathless. I would pause at the end of the avenue before running back. I went out at night, wearing dark clothes and brimming with embarrassment at how useless I was.
I kept doing it. A few weeks later, I could get there and back – not fast, but without stopping. I told the man in the shop.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Now you’re ready for a “park run”.’
These are 5K runs that happen in parks all over the country on Saturday mornings. They’re free – you register online and bring your barcode with you, which means you get a time on the website later that day.
The folk at the front are fast and wearing running club T-shirts. The folk at the back are friendly, smiling and some of them alternately walk and jog. I did too, at first –then I could manage to jog all the way. The next time I passed my shoe shop I gave the good news, and I was told definitely: now you need to plan a 10K.
Running is fabulous because it is so time-efficient. You can leave your door, have half an hour of music, thinking, fresh air and sweat, then return to your shower and your day.
You will feel wonderful, your thighs aching slightly, your cheeks pink and glowing, and your self-esteem dragged up a notch.
You don’t need a gym. You only need comfortable shoes. Phone apps make it easy to track and enjoy your progress.
The sedentary nature of general practice can make us forget the thrill of physical exhilaration. I did my first 10K three years ago and have done every year since, getting a little bit faster each time.
In the grand scheme of things I am still slow, and not particularly athletic. In terms of my own achievements, I have surpassed what I thought I could manage and the feeling of fitness, the ability to think for a while and sleep better is ample reward.
What has it taught me? First, that it’s easy to forget the pleasure of simple physical activity and the profound effects it can have on our health.
Second, that attending and paying a fortune for a gym membership wasn’t as good for me as using the straightforward resources I had at my disposal already.
And lastly, that a bit of kindness, thoughtfulness and continuity of care was capable of providing long-lasting and highly effective lifestyle changes – for which I’ll always be grateful to the man in the shoe shop.
Dr Margaret McCartney is a GP in Glasgow