The running man

No, this isn’t a post about the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film of the same name – although that was a fun and vastly underrated movie which was a prescient combination of Total Wipeout and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (It was also based on a book written by no less a scribe than Stephen King, operating under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.) This is about me, my diabetes and something I thought I would never do: taking up running.

As a type 2 diabetic (I was diagnosed 16 months ago) the battle to keep my blood sugar levels down is now an ongoing part of my life. Diabetes is irreversible – once you’ve got it, you’ve got it – and careful control is required to prevent causing permanent damage to my body. (Although a recent Newcastle University study suggested it may be possible to reverse type 2 diabetes in newly diagnosed patients via an extreme eight-week low-calorie diet.)

Being mindful of what I eat is an essential part of maintaining my health, as is regular exercise. Having just been through a spell where my sugar levels had crept up due to a combination of bad eating and a lack of physical activity – the result of which had been the return of tell-tale symptoms such as constant thirst and mid-afternoon fatigue – I decided it was time for radical (for me) rather than gentle action and break out the running shoes.

I know it seems obvious that I should want to do the right things to prolong my existence on this mortal coil, but you have to understand that consistent motivation isn’t always the easiest thing to maintain. Think of weight loss as an example. Going on a diet to shed a few pounds for the beach is one thing. But what if you were told that in order to prevent health issues you had to stay on a diet for the rest of your life? Not such an easy prospect, is it? Without a fixed end-point, it is in the nature of human beings to eventually lapse into behaviours that run counter to good sense, even when we know what we are doing is wrong.

Getting started

The decision to start running was a big thing for me. Although I have done a lot of exercise and sports in the past, I have never been a runner. In fact, I would go so far as to say I have always despised running with the kind of hatred normal people only reserve for that bastard who steals the last available space from under your nose in the car park on the last shopping day before Christmas. Even at my fittest – and since the boys were born I have been a long way from my peak – the most I could ever bring myself to do was 15 minutes on a treadmill.

I cannot emphasise this enough: I am to running what elephants are to ballet, or the News of the World was to ethical journalism. I weigh not far short of 17 stone (that’s 108kg to you metric folk). I am asthmatic. I have a dodgy knee. And, fundamentally, I am lazy and unfit. It’s not a good starting point, really.

But running is the easiest form of exercise I can do without joining a gym or getting caught under the kids’ feet at home. So the trainers went on, and I downloaded an app for my iPhone which lays out a nine-week plan to move you from couch potato to running 5km.

At this point, I should point out that when I say ‘run’ I actually mean ‘shuffle slowly’. In fact, I am quite possibly the only person alive who runs slower than they walk. (Actually that’s not true, but there’s not much in it.) My programme involves ‘running’ – to begin with, alternating short running and walking intervals – three times a week, with a playlist of carefully selected tunes on random rotation while a soothing female voice occasionally interrupts to whisper sweet nothings at me.

(As an aside, one of the recommended running playlists I looked at included Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars alongside the predictable array of bouncy up-tempo numbers. I found this to be stretching credibility somewhat. However, I wasn’t able to find a more accurately named track such as Chasing Parked Cars or Being Overtaken by Snails – although my ironic side did flirt with U2’s Running to Stand Still and Adele’s Chasing Pavements. I like to be factually accurate.)

Making progress

Anyhow, I am now two-thirds of the way through week three, and I have been surprised at how much I am enjoying being a (sort of) running man. Admittedly I could barely walk for four days after my very first session, having strained a load of muscles whose existence I had been previously unaware of. But things did improve rapidly, and I have surprised myself at my ability to stick to the programme. If I had just gone out running on my own, I suspect I would have given up at the first sign of fatigue – 90 seconds, tops – and promptly diverted via Costa for a restorative coffee. But with a strict itinerary to follow, I have just knuckled down and got on with it, and although every outing has been a struggle, I have bounced out of the house without a second thought and seen each run through to the end.

Of course, my motivation has been boosted by indulging in a little retail therapy: some smart new air-cushioned running shoes and one of those breathable shirts. Of course, they don’t make me any faster or better. But at least I look the part now – even if the part is just that of some fat bloke in shiny new kit doing a passable impersonation of a slow-moving four-limbed beetroot.

I have surprised myself at my persistence, and I am genuinely quite pleased. And although I am still a long way from being fit, I have noticed a marked improvement in my aerobic capacity in less than three weeks. I have lost a couple of pounds – nothing dramatic, but a step in the right direction. And, most importantly, my blood sugar level is the lowest it has been since before Christmas and my symptoms have abated. As a result, I’m actually feeling quite good. I won’t be running the London marathon any time soon (for which read ‘never’) but I would like to think I could be fit enough to do a 5km fun run – albeit slowly enough to be overtaken by people dressed as Viking boats or mobile phones – in the autumn.

Anyway, such fanciful ideas are a long way in the future. For now, I am not so much ‘slouching towards Thatcham’ as ‘shuffling around Thatcham’. Whisper it quietly, but I’m quite enjoying it.