If you ever clap eyes on my voluptuous, 70kg body it is understandably hard to believe that I can and do run three to four times a week at distances of 8 to 12 kilometres.
I've been running since a New Year's Resolution made at the end of 2000 and am proud to say that I've stuck to it since then. It started with an arthritic stagger around the local school oval. I barely made three laps (400m each) before limping home red faced and exhausted. A couple of days later, I was there again - earlier in the morning this time, to avoid the amused glances of teenage boys practising their goal kicking and curious dog walkers.
Eventually, three laps became four laps (2km), which became eight laps, then sixteen laps. Then I hopped into the magna and measured out a road course of 6km - up to Kmart, along Glynburn Road, down Magill Road, up Portrush and through Coorara to home. 6AM starts, four mornings a week, the colder the better. Decent running shoes, proper sports bras and an old polarfleece to wrap around my waist.
Six kms then became seven, eight, ten, twelve. This allowed me to see more of my neighbourhood and smell whether Robern Menz were making Crown Mints or Fruchocs on the days I swept past.
My mate Jill encouraged me to sign up with her for our first City-to-Bay 12km fun run. Shuffling along in the bright sunshine with thousands of other sweating, heaving bodies beside me was bizarre but fun, with the slappin' and thuddin' sound of many pairs of sneakers on the bitumen reminding me of a portable percussion section. My race time was one hour 4 minutes and left me bitterly disappointed and keen to get it under an hour. The following year I did it in 58 minutes and loved every moment of passing the manly men who rushed past me in their excitement in the early segments of the event. The fatchick was full of surprises.....
The farthest event I completed was a half marathon, or 22 kilometres. I'd run as far as 24km in my own training sessions which now required me to get out of bed at 5am in order to do a run, get ready for work, take Sapphire to childcare and be at my desk in fully stressed-out ambitious-arsewipe mode at 7:30am. Two of my toenails went black and fell off due to the constant banging up against the top of shoes and the blisters on my soles and heels turned into living Sara Lee advertisements: layer-upon-layer-upon-layer until they were leathery callouses. Such a lovely time to possess feet like Gordon Ramsay's face in an era of strappy sandals and painted nails.
The half marathon event was held as part of the Adelaide marathon but we halvers were definitely the poor cousins. Even our bibs were a different colour and we started from a lowly Bowls Club in Lockleys and not on the gracious green lawns of the Torrens River. I'd had an argument with Love Chunks the night before (over my workaholic habits, but more on that another time), and hadn't eaten dinner or slept at all well. He said he wasn't going to bother coming to see me finish; he'd had enough of my crankiness, stubborness and illnesses from overwork.A 6am breakfast wasn't an option before such a long run either, so I was depressed, light-headed and leaden tired as I waited, shivering and nervous, with the other runners for the race to start. When the chubby guy with the clipboard finally said 'On your marks, get set, go!' somehow, my brain, lungs and legs slipped into their familiar rhythm and calmed me down. My wristwatch timed each kilometre, so I was in no danger of rushing early and crashing out.
At the 10km point just past the Brewery, I heard Sapphire's voice calling out, "Go Mum, Go!" Love Chunks ran alongside me, patted me on the back and whispered, "I'm so proud of you, we wouldn't have missed this for anything," and quickly clicked the digital camera before he nearly smacked into a footbridge. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes and the oldest cliche in moviedom came true for me - I ran faster.
Too fast, in fact. I had to stop across the way from the Red Ochre restaurant and throw up. My legs were quivering and my empty gut was aching from the strain. My vision was blurry and I wondered if it was safest to just give up and go home. An old bloke jogged by, saying, "Come on love, you're nearly there, run with me," and I did for a while. At the Convention Centre, Love Chunks and Sapphire were at the finishing line across the river. "GO KATH!" my bestest mate Jill called out across the water. "You've nearly finished."
"No.....I......haven't....." I gasped back. "I've got ............six more kilometres to get to the....... zoo, Hackney Bridge and back yet....." They were the worst. My body hurt so much I cried out loud and the tiny rises were like the sides of a never-ending mountain. The grounds and ovals of Adelaide university seemed pitilessly huge and the stench of dung from the zoo stung my nostrils, throat and lungs.
I did it though. One hour, fifty eight minutes. A piss-poor time - twelve minutes more than I'd done in training - but pretty bloody good for my first half marathon on no food and no sleep.
Since that event and our adoption of Milly four years ago, I've stuck to sedate, softer laps on the school oval. That was until earlier this year, when Milly was diagnosed with chronic arthritis and was forbidden to run again.
Now it's the treadmill, and Milly's puzzlement and disappointment has been replaced with utter joy twice a day when we walk to and from school to drop off or pick up Sapphire. She receives her lion's share of pats and attention from parents and kids along the way and there is sometimes a queue of adoring fans waiting to ruffle her ears before they leave the grounds.
In the glamour of our shed, I strap on my iPod-bumbag and run to nowhere. Love Chunks reckons that occasionally he hears me try to sing a few notes out loud, and these only serve to prove to him that I'm really truly running my guts out and not just sitting there reading a magazine. (He also reckons I should stop singing because it traumatises Skipper, our pet rabbit).
Most importantly though, running makes me feel good. I feel strong and fit and have occasionally shocked people who initially see my tubby self and then witness my physical stamina. It allows me to run after Sapphire when she rides her scooter to the park and sometimes even overtake her. I can kick arse at karate and even do as many situps as Damien 'Duracell Bunny' Sensei. It gives me some valuable thinking time and my best ideas have come during a sweat soaked session on my own. Just being witness to the pounding of my heart, the strength of my lungs and the willingness of my legs gives me a feeling that's as close to spiritual as a dag like me is ever going to get.
Now if only I could do something about the spitfire farting...!