I am the first to admit that at school I was a bit of an oddity. I wasn't sure quite where I fitted - on the one hand I was all black nail varnish, tassled skirts and bootleg Nirvana cassettes. On the other I had a secret crush on Mark Owen and knew all the words to Don't Love Me for Fun by Boyzone. Probably for that very reason I was never really one for team sports - I just didn't feel a true affinity to any one team, to any one group. And of course as an angst ridden teenager, there was the ever present worry that Kurt Cobain wouldn't approve of a sport as bourgeoise as netball, or that the placid Mark Owen wouldn't love me if I got aggressive on the hockey field. But running was different - I could run for myself, on my own, to whatever soundtrack I damn well wanted. I soon ascertained (after a disastrous turn at the 100m one school sports day when, in my eagerness, I set off way too fast, face planted on the track, caused the entire race to be restarted and then placed a comfortable last) that I was built for endurance and distance, rather than speed or a quick getaway. And whilst I never competed for my County, or even for my school, I was always the happiest when PE sessions focussed on cross country or the 800m rather than the team sports my cohorts so enjoyed.
Onto my early 20s and my first taste of genuine independence when I moved out of home and got my first proper job. In London. With a proper (read above minimum wage) salary. I continued to enjoy running, but it started to come with added benefits. As my confidence grew, and I became more socially able - more comfortable to put myself out there and carve an identity for myself, I started to enjoy the feeling of being part of a team. I still often ran on my own, but now I was happier to be a more social participant too. I ran as part of our work's team in a couple of corporate challenges. I took part in the Hyde Park Summer Series. It was evolving, this past time of mine, and so was I. As I worked through the first half of that formative decade, during which time I bought my first house, and then my second, got married and enjoyed the perks of being young and in London, I saw that running needn't just sit alongside all of that, but that it could actually be a catalyst to some of the fun times too.
Things changed again in my late 20s. Personally I was in a rocky place and as marriage no.1 hit the skids, my attitude to running morphed again. I became wary of people, and as a result I lost any inclination I once had to throw myself in to group based scenarios of any kind. A cliche it may be, but in times of personal stress and change you truly find out who your friends are. Some surprise you with their unfaltering loyalty and willingness to help, listen and drink wine in to the wee small hours. Others shock you with their misguided judgement and ability to abandon you because the friendship is no longer easy or convenient. So once again, running became a solitary past time. I ran for miles, cross country, in the gym - it didn't really matter. The soundtrack was loud and often angry. There were no post run drinks in the pub - instead, the deafening silences I returned to meant that every evening I ran for a little bit longer and a little bit further. Hell, I might have been going through the mill emotionally, but I was the fittest I have ever been.
But then it was once again all change as I hit the big 3-0. So far, this decade has seen a new marriage, two kids, a relocation and a generally sunnier outlook. I've grown up. I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to be less than bothered about how others might perceive my choices (not even Mark Owen or Kurt Cobain, God rest his soul). Once again I feel able to put myself out there (having kids does that to you - if you're not willing to hold a stranger's hand and dance around a cold sports hall pretending to be a train on a cold Monday morning it's going to be a lonely, lonely place) and carve a niche for myself in this new chapter of my life. So, whilst I took a short hiatus from running through one wedding, two pregnancies and two house moves, I'm ready to welcome back an old friend. Like any girl worth her salt, I've bought some new shoes for the occasion, and I can't wait to get back in to my stride again.