9 September is National Fitness Day. If I were to write a novel about my relationship with fitness, I would have a character that skipped happily through cornfields; another full of disdain and dismissive haughtiness; a character riddled with guilt who showered themselves in 'shoulds' and a protagonist who went on a journey, learnt a lot and ended the story, leaving the reader with a feeling of hope.
I had one of those much eulogised pre-1990's childhoods, talked about as eyes mist, in which the summers were hot, the winters were cold and we played out all day long. In my teens I liked running, swimming, I learnt to ride a horse and play badminton. In my early twenties I still ran and I danced. Danced like an on fire demon, to a standard that saw me being offered a paid dancing job. I didn't take it, but many years later, still dine out on the compliment.
As my twenties progressed I went in phases. Phases are what I associate with children flitting from the violin to football, gymnastic to choir but that was me, dipping in and out of expensive gyms that I rarely attended and the odd game of badminton with my friend Jess, that were usually followed by a big bowl of chilli and a few beers back at hers.
Then I had children, two in fairly quick succession and I was too busy, too tired and just too unfit to get fit. In waltzed the 'shoulds' and the guilt, but a glass of wine and a lump of cheese did wonders to assuage it and so I parked it and started getting in the car to go short distances because I didn't have the time to walk and bought clothes in shops that seemed less austere, more devil may care, in their size labelling.
My Dad ran marathons throughout my childhood. Seeing him finish the Berlin marathon was spine-tingling. I'd watched my Mum play squash; my aunt played County hockey; my grandparents and great aunt and uncle all danced. I didn't lack inspiration, just motivation.
Then a few years ago I moved to South Wales. The children were in nursery and school, my family and close friends were four hours plus away in such far flung places as Nottingham, Cambridge and Brighton and I had never felt so alone. With hours on my hands and no one to spend them with, I searched for an activity where being alone wouldn't garner pity or confusion and in my grumpy, sulky state, I joined a gym.
I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Gyms in the past had been about sitting in a sauna before pruning and realising I could lie in a hot bath at home to the same effect and save myself oodles of cash. The weights area appeared very intimidating and there seemed to be ripped blokes clanging dumbbells and standing in groups watching each other like big cats stalking prey, checking for weakness, ready to pounce or at least take the proverbial.
So I walked. I set the treadmill away and I walked uphill for hours every week. I got faster and raised the incline but still I walked. Then one Friday night, I was literally the last woman walking, being Friday night most folk were out, but as previously stated, at the time, I had few options in that area. The manager of the gym offered to show me the TRX. This contraption lurked at the far end of the room and looked as though it had its origins in torture devices I had seen at the Tower of London. But shown it, tangled in it and use it I did. I had weights explained to me, kettle bells and medicine balls and within weeks, I stepped on that treadmill and I ran. I ran and I sweated and I huffed and I puffed but I didn't stop. I kept on running. I swung my kettle bell and balanced on a medicine ball and held the plank for a minute or more and I fell in love with it. All of it.
There is an element of vanity to all this. I like it that my winter coat is a size ten from Topshop and rightly or wrongly, undeniably shopping for clothes is easier when you're smaller. But this is a minor consideration when I think about my children. It is they who have sustained my motivation. At a time when there are alarming rises in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes it terrifies me that either I won't be around to see my children grow or worse still that inactivity and poor health will limit their lives.
I look at my children now and am so pleased and proud that they are both incredibly active. They run, they skateboard, ride their bikes, play football and swim. I want them to see that for both adults and children, being active has many positive effects on mental and physical well-being and that it can be part of their life, always.
I am the last person to preach or to judge. I am approaching forty and have wobbly bits and still eat cheese, crisps, mashed potato, crispy crackling and chicken skin and I drink wine. I am not a taut, toned gym-bunny. But I also know that consuming all of these goodies and sitting on my backside will very likely limit the life I live, not just the length of it. So I move it, off the settee and down to the skate park with my children, all over the Brecon Beacons on walks and at the gym.
The motivation I needed was a determination to do what I could to keep my own children motivated to be fit and active and healthy and to keep myself in that way, to hopefully be there for as many of their milestones, achievements and adventures that spread ahead of them. There are so many unknowns and a brain-jangling array of variables that can happen to us, if you really sit and ponder. But I'm trying to control what I can, to live the life that I want, for myself and above all, my children.