Alexandra Heminsley: The writer explains how running (in all weathers) has changed her life


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The Independent Culture

Running has brought me closer to my father I'm quite a girly girl, I have a sister and my mum's a dancer, so we'd all sit and talk about nail polish for hours. I didn't really have an adult-friendly relationship with my father and my brother; we didn't have anything in common. Then this huge common ground opened up with my running, as my dad ran several marathons in his younger years. He gave me such a consistent message throughout, always telling me I could do it, and changing my perception of myself.

On my first run I couldn't even make it to the end of my road It was the week before my sister's wedding so I thought I'd get really fit. The only problem was that I couldn't run for more than two minutes without needing to stop. When I finished, I looked at my route and I'd only done a mile. I woke up the next day and thought, "Wow, I must have lost two pounds and be seriously slim now." Too soon did I realise that every part of me hurt, even in bits where I didn't know there was muscle that could feel pain.

The London Marathon in 2013 was the best I've experienced My book, Running Like a Girl, had just come out in its original edition and all my friends and family were there for support. It was a beautiful day after a long winter and it was a week or two after the Boston bombings. It was incredibly emotional with the minute's silence at the start, as there was such a sense of community, of people who cared about each other.

Paula Radcliffe is an inspiration She is an example as both a sportswoman and as a woman. It's hard to even understand all that she's achieved. She's also incredibly kind – she's part of this foundation that helped fund Mo Farah as a young athlete – and she has an honourable moral stance on things such as drug-testing; she's inspiring on every level.

The humiliation of not fulfilling your obligations is a powerful motivator I was one of those "have a go hero" lunatics who got a place at the London Marathon having failed to even run more than five consecutive miles, so I had this massive goal before I had really started. I committed to run for the charity Sense, which I really cared about and the combination of duty and obligation to a charity that was doing good work kept me motivated and focused to achieve my goal. There was no way I'd say I was going to do something for six months and then just not do it.

My body is a tool, not an ornament It's not a tool just for usefulness either; such as getting up the escalator stairs the fastest while people huff and puff behind me. It's also a tool for fun; I like being able to get somewhere faster, stay late at parties and even have better sex. Running your way towards a bikini body means you are doing it for someone else, and if I did that, I would just find myself lying flat on a sunbed with my tummy tucked in, thinking, "Did I do enough running?" That will make you go for three runs and feel wretched about yourself. But if you go running for something fun, you can run till you can't.

The worst part of training in January is not the weather That's actually quite nice: there is nothing else in the world that makes you feel as warm and snuggly as you do after a run. The worst part is the crowd. You feel you are fighting for space on the pavement. It's great running during the Christmas period, thinking to yourself, "Ha ha, it's just me out here," but in January, you cross at the traffic lights and there are just so many of you – which isn't so bad, I guess.

Alexandra Heminsley, 37, is an author, broadcaster and freelance journalist. Her critically acclaimed book 'Running Like a Girl' is out now in paperback