Like so many others, Mad Chapman has tried to become ‘a runner’ many times over many years, getting as far as completing a marathon in 2018. But the bursts of inspiration never stuck around for long – until now.
I don’t really like to say that I have run a marathon because I didn’t technically run all of it. It was the 2018 Wellington marathon and, after some sort of cyclone had passed through overnight, the 5am start line at the stadium sported fewer than 300 hardcore runners as well as me – in a brand new pair of trendy, ultra-light running shoes which felt more like well-padded socks – and my sister.
We set off in the darkness and rain and within 500 metres my sister and I were running alone, well behind the pack. We managed to run half of the marathon without drama, only stopping to walk a bit at the 26km mark. We’d turned around near the airport to run back to the stadium and were hit with torrential rain and gale force winds for the remaining 16km.
We were so slow trudging the last quarter of the race that we weren’t able to have drink breaks because the last aid stations had packed up and gone home before we got to them. My brother-in-law begged the finish line announcer to hang around until we finished and he did. We stumbled over the line completely soaked through, in tears and physically broken (I also had my period). My sister placed second to last and I placed dead last.
And that is a pretty good summation of my past relationship with running.
After the cursed winter Wellington marathon, I stuck with it for the rest of the year and ran (read: ran and walked) two half marathons, but never experienced that elusive “runner’s high” I’d always heard about. I picked it up again last year, buying a new pair of grunty leather shoes that I felt matched my approach to the exercise. Within 10 minutes of starting my feet were aching and I had to stop.
For a while, I thought that maybe the pain was to be expected. I’d listened to famed ultra-marathoner David Goggins talk about how you’re not supposed to enjoy this kind of exercise, all the while unaware that there were people out there who also weren’t natural runners and yet who enjoyed it all the same. People who just went out for a run and listened to their body and returned home feeling better than when they left. Why couldn’t I be one of those people?
That would have been the end of my latest attempt at running except I said I would write this piece and try some new Puma Nitro running shoes. When they arrived, looking like a genuine cross between my featherweights of 2018 and my grunty rocks of 2022, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never worn shoes like this before. On the insoles was printed the word RUN in big letters, a reminder of their purpose should I conveniently forgot what I was supposed to be doing. I put them on and went for a test walk. They were… so soft. I walked again the next day and during it, I ran a bit. Not quite a misguided marathon but enough to feel like I was running. The shoes stayed soft.
The softness wasn’t the only thing I noticed – as I was quickly learning, it turns out your feet give a lot more feedback about the shoes they’re wearing than “they fit” or “they look nice”. As I age and change shape, so too should my consideration of what is best for my body while running. Cushioning, contours, weight and grips all make a difference, especially when you’re not running on a perfectly flat track. Thanks to my home location, within a kilometre radius of my house I was able to run over concrete, grass, gravel, wood (love a little bridge over a stream) and rocks. Much of the time the surface was wet and would have been dangerous in a lot of shoes, but my ankles remained intact. Being able to go beyond the road made a fitness activity more like a mini adventure.
I am still not a good runner and, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t really run much at all yet. Every day I put those shoes on and I leave the house with no real plan, just to go. Most of the time that means walking first then running a bit then walking again. The running part grows each time and eventually (I hope) will be the whole thing. But I’m in no rush to punish myself (or my feet) in the process. My belief that exercise must be punishment has finally, after two decades, begun to wane. Against what every preconception and prior experience had taught me, I really do love my runs, even when I do stop to walk.
On January 4 I downloaded an app that tracks my movements as though I’m on a fantasy adventure. My arbitrary total journey distance is 2,866km. There’s no health tracking or calorie stats or pace markers. It literally just tells you how far on your journey you are and how far you have to go. In the first week I covered 33km in my pink shoes and am currently scheduled to arrive at my destination on April 10, 2024.
I like it because there’s no deadline and no time limit. I have hope in this latest attempt of mine because now when I run, I do it in order to feel good. Despite a lifetime of thinking otherwise, I’ve finally figured out that learning to run isn’t a race.
Feeling inspired to get out your running shoes? Download Strava and take part in the Puma 2k running challenge to go in the draw for heaps of cool Puma prizes.