Chania sat down quietly, a slim woman with light hair. When she started speaking, her words came out in a torrent. I barely asked any questions. Each memory prompted another and her story tumbled out in a great, overwhelming rush. There was so much to say.
I started running five years ago in my early forties. In hindsight, I probably should have started in my twenties. I started because I have two children and they are both very active. My eldest, Harry has Down’s Syndrome.
Down’s Syndrome means that Harry has an additional chromosome to us, and severe learning difficulties. He goes to a special school and has very limited understanding in terms of his academic ability. He probably functions at the age of an eight-year-old. He’s very vocal but you have to get to know him to understand what he’s trying to say.
We’re trying to encourage Harry to play sport as much as possible. People with Down’s Syndrome who are less active tend to put on weight. We’re trying to keep him active for as long as we can, so he plays football and goes swimming. He’s done a couple of swimming galas, which is a new thing for him this year, and he’s started gymnastics, which he loves.
We’ve also done parkrun with him, but bless him, he just runs at full speed for about fifty yards and then stops. We’ve tried to tell him to slow down but that doesn’t work. What we do now is tell him to run to a landmark and we run to that with him. Then we do a high five. We give him a little bit of time to recover and one of us will go up the road. Then we say “run to Dad” and we carry on like that. Run a bit and walk a bit. It’s better than him going full whack and then trying to get him to move.
Harry is 17. He’s a runner. He’s unpredictable and sometimes tries to escape. If you leave him alone he will make a break for it. He has no road sense, no safety awareness so you have to be on him all the time. If you’re on holiday, you can’t take your eyes off him. As he got older, I was getting absolutely knackered running after him, so I thought I had to get fit. That was my motivation to start with. It made keeping up with him much easier.
As the running got easier and I got more into it, I realised that running gave me time out from not just him but home life. I’ve got two teenagers now, which was a stupid idea! They come with all the grumpiness and the mood swings you would expect. Running is a bit of a break from that. It obviously makes you feel better. You feel good about yourself and get the physical benefits, and it helps with mental health.
I tend to run on my own. That gives me time out. I love running to the middle of nowhere by myself. We live in a beautiful area so it’s very easy to just run down to the lake. I don’t even take the car. I like to have complete freedom.
Running is an escape. It’s time out and it’s freedom. I get to decide where I want to go and how far I want to run. At home because of my eldest son, I don’t have the freedom to make choices for myself. Running lets me decide what I want to do. It gives me back some control in my life.
The only thing is, because I started running in my forties, I’ve had niggles and pains and injuries which is a bit annoying. So it hasn’t been a smooth five years.
The times when I can’t run doesn’t affect me very well and the school holidays are a bit of a struggle. My husband works in London, so he leaves at the crack of dawn and gets home late so my opportunities to run are limited. If I wanted to run in the morning, I would have to be out of the door by five and I’m not going to do that.
When both children are at home, it’s also hard for me to get out. One problem is that they clash. Leaving them on their own is a bit dangerous. You don’t quite know what is going to happen.
I think they’re just typical teenagers. Harry can be a bit loud and do silly things but I don’t care what people think of him. He is who he is and that’s it. My 15-year-old though gets annoyed. She finds her brother embarrassing. I think there’s an understanding in there somewhere, but she’s not very patient. She gets very cross with Harry and doesn’t give him the time he needs.
Harry needs time to process things and think them through. Georgia just wants things to happen at once and it doesn’t. So she gets cross. That just makes it worse. If that happens when I’m not there then Harry would want to come and find me. His first instinct is to come out the front door and find mum. When he does that, we have a bigger problem on our hands.
I have only left my children once during the school holidays and that was last Easter. I went away to see a friend. I had three nights on my own. Can you imagine?! It was amazing. I came back and Georgia was the nicest child. Harry was away with a charity for the day and we had to do boring things like uniform shopping but she was the nicest child ever. I think she missed me. So my plan is to go away for four nights every school holiday.
Harry, my eldest, is a slow eater. That’s quite good sometimes. One morning, when he was eating breakfast, he had the telly on, watching whatever his favourite film is. I knew he was going to be sat there for a good thirty minutes to an hour. Georgia had her phone out and headphones on; typical teenager, not really paying attention to the world around her. I thought I could risk going out for a run. Nobody was going to move.
When I left the house, I locked them in. Harry doesn’t escape as much as he used to but it’s still a possibility. I gave Georgia the spare key in case they needed to get out of the house for any reason. Even though they clash, Georgia is quite sensible. She can cope with that if necessary. I managed a quick 5km and it was the best thing ever. It was a light at the end of the tunnel. But I can only do that in certain situations. I can’t just do it at any old time.
There is a local charity that runs play and leisure schemes for disabled kids. Harry goes there during the school holidays for one day a week. I try and do something with Georgia that day because she has missed out a lot over the years. But she’s getting to that age now where she doesn’t want to do things with her mum. Mum is embarrassing and boring, or whatever. Sometimes I’m able to fit in a run then, but it’s a bit hit and miss.
When I get to the end of the holidays, I’m desperate to get out the house and run. The summer holidays are six weeks long so that’s quite a torture. I feel like I get my fitness up to a really good point and then it plummets because I can’t leave the kids alone, which is rather frustrating. It’s not like I have to start again but you don’t get that chance to build on the fitness because it drops. I find that quite tricky.
Where do I like to run? I like to run as far as I can. A long, long way from my children. I’m joking. I’m not completely joking. Actually the distance varies. I’ve done a couple of half marathons over the last few years but I have issues with my lower spine and my hips that I didn’t realise were there before I started running. So I am a bit careful and I have to strength strain otherwise my body starts to go wrong.
I run about 20km a week, which is not that much. The year before last, I set myself a challenge to run 1,000km in one year. It was quite tricky. I had to fit my running in during term time and Monday to Friday. But I did it. I raised a lot of money for charity and I completed the challenge, so I was quite chuffed.
On average, I did about 40km a week whenever I could. I think I suffered for it. At the end of the year, I had a lot of problems with my hips, so I haven’t done those distances again. I would love to but I don’t think that my left hip could cope. I just have to accept it. At the moment, I’m running up to about 10km. I’ve gone up to 14km but then regretted it afterwards, which is rather a shame. Now the weather is getting nicer, it would be nice to run a lot more. But there you go.
I love heading out the door. If I plan a long run, I can get anxious before I go out the house. I don’t know why. I tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I go slowly and that it doesn’t matter if I have to walk. Just thinking about the run causes anxiety. I guess I’m a bit like that. But once I’m off down the road all those feelings disappear and I love it. I just love being out. Big skies and stuff like that. I would do it every day if I could.
It’s the freedom. Running makes you feel more confident and happy about your body and how you look. Weight is not an issue for me. It’s just that when you come home you feel so much better for doing it.
I have no interest in medals or races. A lot of my friends who are in running clubs tell me about the events that they’re running but I don’t really care. I just want to run where I want to run.
One thing I’m not very good at is finding new routes. I tend to stick to the routes I know, which is fine because I love them. I’m not very adventurous. In my mind, I’m a female on my own so I have to be a little bit sensible.
Do you know the Shipwright’s way? It runs from the Alice Holt Forest all the way to Petersfield. I’ve cycled it a couple of times and one of these days I’ll get to run it. Some of it is quite isolated. There’s one area that is made up of very dense woods. It’s completely quiet, and you can’t hear anything. Because it’s quite thick, there is no noise from any traffic. There’s nothing. It’s silent. I love that, but part of me also thinks that if I see anyone, I will be completely terrified. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat really.
I didn’t do much sport before I started running. At school, I was rubbish at netball and hockey. The only thing I was relatively good at was cross-country running but that was at junior school. When I moved school it died a death. After school, exercise came in fits and starts. I joined a couple of gyms but it was only when I started running that I realised that I could push myself harder. I was a bit of a wuss really. I would do ten minutes of walking on the treadmill and not try anything energetic. After I started running I realised that I could do more than that.
Anyway, I must move. What’s the time? I need to get home for the school bus.
© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019