Running High

Hopelessly unathletic all her life, Christine Pemberton started to run at age 60. Listen to her inspiring story

Christine Pemberton Updated: Jan 8, 2019 12:03:14 IST
Running High

'YOU ARE COMPLETELY obsessed. Running has taken over your life.' That's my husband talking. Every word was meant.'You're becoming boring, like Christine and her running.' This was overheard at a party. Said in jest, but, all the same, it made me think. Running, boring and me obsessed?

Starting to run at 60 has certainly turned my life upside down. What I never expected, though, was that it would impact people around me. Perhaps it's all those early mornings that start curtailing your social life-the need to eat early, turn in early, decline that glass of wine. Sure, all of this is 'boring', but, you know what, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I made a bucket list thinking, 'Oh my God, how can I be turning 60?' I've managed to tick off a few things already. Drive a Land Rover alone through the African bush. Tick. Be in a Bollywood movie. Tick. (Just a blink- and-you-miss extra in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, but a tick all the same). And then there was 'start running'.

Averse to sports at school, always the last girl to be picked, with great reluctance, for any team, most track and field events metaphorically passed me by. There was a spot of slow jogging for a few weeks in my 30s, when it was fashionable. But that was it. Then came middle-age, aching knees and one double-knee arthroscopy in my 40s, followed by a second double-knee arthroscopy in my 50s, and that was, pretty much, that. Clearly running was not meant to be. Until I heard about a running programme in Delhi, where I live. It targeted women who had never run before, with the aim of getting these non-runners fit enough to run six kilometres in 10 weeks. 'Well, well, well and on to the bucket list you go,' I thought.

Embarrassingly slow and unfit at the outset, unable to run even 100 metres without stopping to gasp for breath, gradually it all started to come together. Despite the painful slowness and my constant out-of-breath state, what emerged from the early morning runs was a definite sense of exhilaration and happiness. At the end of a run, however short, I felt better, happier, energized. I'd started running because, at my age, I felt I needed to be active, and here I was bursting with energy, hanging out with a great group of girls (some of them still at school) and getting stronger by the week.

MY GROUND ZERO-the day I discovered I couldn't even run 100 metres-was not quite two and a half years ago, and in February this year I ran my second full marathon and won a gold medal in my category. There was also the silver in my first full marathon and my first half marathon. It's been a journey of nothing but fun.

Nah, you're right. I lie.There have been moments of aches and pains, tripping and falling down on uneven paving stones, and obviously a few blisters, but these are nothing compared to the thrill of taking part in your first ever race, at 60. The aches and occasional twinges are nothing compared to the energizing rush you get at the end of a run.  

In the early days, there were also many moments of self-doubt. Not at my ability to put one foot in front of the other, but rather moments when I questioned the wisdom of starting to run this late in life. No names, no pack drill, but when enough people tell you that you're 'ridiculous for running at your age', well, you begin to wonder. Is it 'ridiculous' to start running as a senior citizen? Am I indeed being an old fool? Am I making a spectacle of myself?

Those moments of self-doubt were far worse than the occasional aches and blisters, but since the joy of running quickly outweighed the nasty comments, that was that.

I run. And I'm hooked.

I moved permanently to India 11 years ago, after a lifetime of postings around the world with my Indian husband Himmat Kalsia. Born and raised in the UK, this was going to be 'different'-retirement and moving to live in our forever home. Combined with the children leaving to go to university, my usual anchor points were missing-no school-gate Mummy mafia. No office functions.

That Delhi was to be home took a while to sink in. Actually, it took forever. No more packing up every five or six years and moving on. The last couple of years, ever since I started running, have definitely helped in the process. I have got to know my neighbourhood in painstaking (and sometimes painful) detail through running its length and breadth. I can tell you exactly where that uneven flagstone is that did me in a few months ago.

Running makes you get out and go. One of the biggest advantages of working from home as I do, as a freelance writer and photographer, is that my time is my own. So, I can head out to run whenever I want and/or whenever the weather permits.  

RUNNING LETS YOU discover new parts of a city you thought you knew well, makes you see it at different times and through a different optic. Cities can be big impersonal places during the day. But in the early mornings? Ah, then they are different beings.

Early morning runs are peopled by like-minded runners and cyclists and guarded over by policemen happy to chat. The roads have less traffic-what joy!-and you have the time to stop and gaze at the monuments and landmarks you otherwise rush past during the day. You can soak in the beauty of the park, watch life on the river. Yes, running makes you connect with your city in new ways.

Of course, when you travel, there is a whole new canvas to discover. Running clothes are a staple of all my packing lists, and every city has a park, a river, a historic quarter that is just waiting to be run through and explored. You really do see a city differently on foot. And when it's early morning, so much the better-you see a relaxed city, waking up, and with time to smile.

WHICH LEADS ME to runners, who are, unquestionably, the nicest people in the world. Everyone smiles or waves, other runners shout out'good job, keep it up', as you trot past. If you stop because of a cramp or an ache, a fellow runner will stop, too, and check if you're OK. Amateur runners are all out there running for love, not for money or glory. So, races are fun events, where strangers chat as they run together, where everyone cheers everyone else. It must be all those endorphins rushing through your veins. In the few races I've run, everyone is just so darn nice and encouraging.

Conclusion? 'Start running' was, without doubt, the best thing to add to my bucket list, and if you haven't yet done so, please, do it right now.

Start running.

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