From 1981 to maybe 1983, at around 10am every morning, as students at Risdon Park High School (now demolished), we had to go out onto the oval in our (somewhat inappropriately named for this moment) ‘care group’ and spend what seemed like one hour but I think was fifteen minutes doing DPA. Daily Physical Activity. I cannot describe to you how excruciating each of those single minutes was for me as an entirely uncoordinated teenager with a dreadful fringe perm (why was I only allowed to get my fringe permed? That makes no sense to me) and in increasing understanding about how my hips did not conform to the Dolly standard. All of the activities were dreadful, but the most dreadful of all was the ten-minute run an activity whereby you ran in a square marked out by cones (or, more often, rubbish bins dragged across the oval by year eleven boys) for a total of ten minutes.
‘Stop being a dickhead,’ my dad said to me one day after school. In that first year at high school, he was at the same school I was and he had noticed my many and varied attempts to get out of the dreaded DPA. ‘It’s good for you to do things you’re bad at. Helps you understand that’s how some people are feeling in maths.’ Why he chose maths as an example I will never know, because I think it’s safe to say I rarely turned in a stunning performance there either.
Anyhoo, for many and varied reasons (including avoiding my master’s thesis) I did begin exercising in my adult life and I’ve maintained a surprisingly consistent gym attendance record for many years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to running. No idea why, can’t even begin to speculate. But drawn I have been. Except not really able to follow through and for about three years now, I’ve had the Cto5 app on my phone. For a while I diligently follow the programme, three minutes running, five minutes walking, five minutes running, three minutes walking … I get my playlist increasingly hardcore (Rawhide!). I keep getting to the point where she chirpily says, ‘Congratulations! You are halfway through the programme! People who make it halfway complete the programme!’ And then I stop.
I haven’t really been at the gym for the last few weeks because I’ve been a bit consumed by my show and also I’ve been drinking too much so I’ve been pretty sluggish, and also I have had terrible insomnia. But it was time to get back into it this week, so after catching up on Barnaby Joyce’s latest dickheadery, I went down to the gym. I didn’t have a plan of what I was going to do, so I got on the treadmill for a warmup then thought, ‘Well, I’ll do Week 6 Day 1 on the C25 app again,’ and I did the warm up, then I did the first five minutes running block. At about one minute in, I thought, ‘Fuck this shit, I’ll do the five then I’ll go and do a few leg curls or whatever, I’ll start back properly tomorrow.’ But then when I’d finished those five minutes and she said, ‘Start walking,’ I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just run these three minutes, then at least that’s eight minutes and that’s not too bad,’ and then at the end of those three minutes I thought, ‘If I do another 200 metres that’s two kilometres,’ and the next thing I knew I HAD RUN THE FULL FIVE KILOMETRES. WITHOUT STOPPING.
Now, in truth, five kilometres is not a very long run for runners, but for people such as myself who fall off stationary bikes and punch themselves in the face at pilates, this is something of an achievement. When I looked around the gym there was no one there I knew well enough to say, ‘Look! I just ran five ks.’ So now I have had a shower, a cup of coffee and the last of the Florentines and I am still filled with the endorphins and I have to tell someone so I am telling you.
And people this is why those ‘letters to my teenage self’ make no sense to me. There is absolutely no point telling the 12-year-old me, ‘One day, you will be so very grateful to be alive that you will WANT to run five kilometres.’ She doesn’t need that shit filling her mind. She’s too busy just making it through to recess, she doesn’t need to try and understand how she is going to get to be forty-nine and wanting to run.