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By Erin O’Loughlin

The truth is, I don’t run every day. In fact I haven’t run in a while. But I’m a runner. I’m holding on to that. And sure, I may not have been running in a while, but this body of mine, this overweight, F-cup body of mine, ran 10k last year in one minute over the hour. When I want it to, this body of mine can move.

It moves with a pleasing wobble of nearly middle-aged stomach fat. It moves with high arches that need the kind of supportive sneakers your granny might like. It moves in a smooth bouncing motion, bolted into a sports bra that is a work of engineering genius—more rivets than the Brooklyn bridge—that stops me from blacking my own eyes as I run.

And sure sometimes I feel like a walrus squeezed into lycra, waiting for a clasp or a tie to ping open under pressure. Or like a fraudster, cutting across every corner I can, in an attempt to shave even 10cm off the path around the park.

But also, I feel like a fitness freak, with my fancy running pants I bought on sale from H&M (but don’t tell anyone). Like a pro, in my very hilarious t-shirt that says “See Erin run. Run Erin, run” that my kids gave me. Or like an asthmatic, who’s successfully battling a lifelong disease, who sounds like Darth Vader.

But it doesn’t matter what I look or sound like. There are all sorts out here, and we are all doing it. The woman with the boobs flying left and right as she comes towards me. And that older man going a bit blue around the lips? He knows his run is more of a shuffle than it is Chariots of Fire. But they are out here at 7am on frosty mornings, moving their bodies through the park, valiantly trying to transform themselves.

I try not to look at them, because I know that inside their heads, they probably think everyone is staring at them. But I really want to shout out to them, tell them “Good on you for getting out here. You’re one of us now! See Mr. Rock Hard Abs over there? That could be you one day.” I want to encourage them, because I know how easy it is to give up, how many times most of us will give up and try again, and that not everyone will make it into my secret runner’s club.

Most people don’t even know they’re part of my club, but they are. The VIP members are the ones I see every day. There’s Mr. Rock Hard Abs, Miss Pink Sweatpants with Miss Skinny Bitch, Mr. Hurdle (who jumps over the bike barriers on the downhill stretches), Hot Dad and the Soccer Mums, and two old guys with big moustaches that I think of as Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum. Perhaps they know about the club too, and as I jog past they are thinking—“There goes Miss Jiggly Bits. Good to see she’s got a better sports bra at last.”

And the truth is, there always comes a moment when I want to stop. When I think—“No one’s making you do this. You’re a grown up, you can go straight home and eat chocolate if you want to.” As my will wanes, I start to bargain with myself—you can take a break if the traffic lights are red. If you go as far as the lake, you’re allowed to cut across the bridge. You may as well do the whole lake now you’re here, but you can walk part of the way back if you need to. As the negotiation starts to get weaker than a government summit on climate change, I try to dig a little deeper into those depths of the human spirit I’ve heard about. I imagine I’m powered by colored smoke, like some Adidas advertisement that’s trying to visualise what speed feels like. The smoke streams out behind me and pushes me forward, leaving long trails of colored mist in the air. And each plume is a different stress that I’m releasing from my shoulders, leaving me lighter, less tense, able to go the distance.

Blue smoke for my homesickness, billowing away in this pretty inner-city park, full of fluffy squirrels and robin redbreasts and other European clichés. Yellow, for the kids who need, need, need, no matter how much I give them, streaming away in a cloud of “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” A trail of green joins them with a propulsive push, launching me away from the job I’ve lost interest in, the boss with anxiety issues.

And on and on, one colour, one footstep at a time. Each trail intertwines with the others and I start to run out of colours, until I am down to the muddiest and ugliest of greys and browns, and I am a one-woman smog machine moving through the city. But around then, I start to run out of problems too, and I round the top of the lake, and slowly swing into the return leg. Now I’m halfway through and I can risk picking up speed, push myself a little harder, and pretend I’m a muscled anatomical wonder, like the female character in a computer game, but wearing more clothes.

Because this is why I run. Not to lose that 2-kid jiggle or find a bikini body hidden under all these gin and tonics. Definitely not for some natural high, cause I’m still not sure if that’s just hippy bullshit some fitness guru made up so the rest of us feel like we’re not doing it right. I run because it makes me feel strong, in that secret “When I grow up I’m going to be an assassin or a ninja” kind of way. Because at 37, my body can still surprise me. Like that first time a teenage girl discovers how to orgasm, or the moment when a mother-to-be realizes that this baby has to come out one way or another. It amazes me that my body knows how to do this. That all this revelatory power was tucked up inside these tissues and sinews, just waiting for the rest of me to realise it.

And so I run. Like a muscle, like a machine, like a pumping heart. Like a person who wishes they could just keep running forever, feeling free and wild and powerful—but who knows that the moment Mr. Rock Hard Abs turns the corner, she’s going to slow down and walk for a bit.

Erin O’Loughlin is a writer, translator and self-confessed foodie.  Originally from Australia, she has lived all over the world including Japan, South Africa and Italy.  Her work has been published by Leopardskin & Limes, Brilliant Flash Fiction and FTB Press. She lives in Berlin, Germany.