Am I a runner? Or am I beginner? Or am I a beginner runner? None of that matters really because I pitch up and I move. I may move slowly, but I move.

I enrolled in the Spartans beginners running program in September 2016. So pretty much where you are all now. I had been urged and nudge and gently motivated by my parents – who let me say are slim, trim and athletic. And they run! I committed to the program mentally and to them as well and now I had to follow through.

I arrived on the first night, nervous, grossly over-weight and quietly confident. I mean, how “bad” can it be. We only had to run for two minutes. Well, it was bad and it was hard and I think I overheated out of the top of my head. I was uncomfortable and self-conscious but I went back for the next session, and the next and the next. As the weeks passed, it didn’t necessarily get any easier but I was capable of doing more. I was capable of pushing myself and setting goals. I felt accountable to the club, to the amazing group of leaders who had sacrificed their own club runs and weekend races to see a group of shufflers cross the finish line. I felt accountable to my parents. More than this, I felt accountable to myself.

For me, joining was a big logistical commitment. As a working mum of 5 children, a lot of planning goes in to me being able to make it to each club run / walk/run session. There were times when it was so easy to rather just stay at home instead of going back to the club. But it soon became routine and soon after that Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were my time. I started feeling less guilty about leaving the younger kids and not being there for bed time. I started feeling empowered at doing something for myself for a change. So the commitment turned into necessity. I needed to do this and follow through. For my own good, for the good of my family and oddly enough, for the good of my relationship.

I have the most wonderful, supportive, loving and patient husband. He has had to live with a miserably overweight wife over the past 5 years as my weight fluctuated and then just went on a complete rise altogether. Knocking my self-confidence, inner happiness and ultimately our relationship. I was also very lucky to have my dad at my side at every beginners training session. This was a big sacrifice on his part as well. He is a seasoned ultra-runner and does not shuffle or walk. He knows how to breath and run. He knows how to pace himself. He doesn’t need to remind himself to drop his shoulders and run upright. He knows his stuff. So for me, I absolutely had to do this.

I still longed for Roger to blow the whistle for the timed walk, but slowly managed to actually run through the whistle and challenged myself so see if I could make it all the way to the next one.

The day arrived of our graduation race and I was an absolute wreck. I cried at the start line because I was so scared of not finishing. Petrified of letting people down and being humiliated. I did not love the graduation race. I was an absolute brat, to say the least and at about 8km I was quite happy to curl up in a ball and lie in the bush in Mitchells Plain and wait until everything was quiet so I could creep to my car. BUT, as we turned a corner towards the finishing area there was a group of Spartans supporters, people I had never met before, they were cheering me on and urging me forward. And forward I went. It was awful. I got near a marching band and I thought that was the finish line, only to be told that I still had to run the entire school field and then some! So onward we shuffled. Uncomfortable in my clothing, self-conscious, windswept, irritable and thirsty! And suddenly there was the finish line. Eventually! About 200m before the finish, the Spartans gazebo was full to brimming with supporters shouting for the “Spartans in the Making”. I cried again!

I had just completed my first 10km race. I did not break any records, but I finished. And I forgot very quickly that I was uncomfortable, tired, windswept, thirsty and irritable. I ran 10km. Who would have thought!And I was hooked! What was the point of me doing the beginners course, if I then bid farewell to all these fine people. What was the goal, if I just packed it in. So, I arrived the following Tuesday at the club and I ran. I ran slowly with a group of people I had never met. I tried to slot in where I thought I would fit and I pushed. Then again on the Thursday and the Saturday and then the next week and the next week.

Through this, I have met some amazing people. People l can call my friends. People I would never have met or socialised with ever in my life, had I not joined the beginners course. Through this, I have lost 28kg (and counting). Through this, I have 37 medals for my children to play with. Through this, my self-confidence is creeping back. Through this, I have grown.

In May, I ran my first half marathon, with the guidance of 3 AMAZING Spartans runners who stayed with me, at MY pace the whole way along with the support of friends who were unable to run on the day, but were there. Since then, I have run another 2 half marathons and then amazingly I completed the John Koerasie 30km race, within the cut off time. With each run, I learn more about myself. I see more of Cape Town than I would in my car. I challenge myself more. I have exceeded my own expectations and I am sure the expectations of some others as well.

I cannot say that I love running. I cannot say that I live for running. But I can say that as running gets easier for me, I am “loving it and living it” more and more. There is a common thread here. Commit, follow through and do it for yourself.

I am a slow runner. There are runners faster than me, who I am intimidated by, but I have learned that this is my race and not theirs. With each race my times are improving and there will be a time when I am faster than others. There will be a time when I can sacrifice my club run to commit to a beginner who has to shuffle through the 2 minute run, begging for the whistle to blow.

There is a bigger picture here and you are the artist. Pitch up and finish, you will be amazed.

Paula