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Emma Espiner: Why I’m giving up running

This year I'm giving up running. Yes, I am aiming high with my New Year's resolution for 2018 but I am committed. I won't look back. I can do this.

I pretended to enjoy running for about three years. This culminated in running the Auckland half marathon in 2016. I understand if you judge me for taking this pretence to such ridiculous lengths, but the belief I would eventually come to love running was firmly held. I thought if I just did it enough times, like Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours’ prescription, I would not only become good at it — I would love doing it too.

I didn’t. I never got past the looming dread of having to ‘go for a run’, the painful first five minutes where your lungs feel like they’re going to burst like a baby AlienTM coming out of your chest, and I achieved the much-lauded ‘runner’s high’ only two or three times and only at the expense of at least an hour’s painful slog. I never got good enough at running to do what some of my friends can do — to work through problems in their head and mull things over while pounding the pavement. My entire mental capacity when I was running went into not giving up and calling an Uber.

Why did I persist so long? Because of Haruki Murakami and Lululemon.

There have been entire forests sacrificed for the written praise of the act of running. My favourite was Haruki Murakami's What I talk about when I talk about running. He runs 10km each day, slowly. And he gets up at 4am to write for five or six hours. Such inspiration! I developed a vision of myself as a writer/runner like Murakami, rising daily at 4am to commence a productive day of quiet contemplation and general brilliance, gliding happily along the streets of Auckland in the evening, returning home refreshed and inspired. Maybe I would get into jazz.

Unfortunately, I am not an internationally-renowned author of (I assume) extreme wealth, able to eschew the inconvenience of a salaried job, nor am I temperamentally disposed to rising at 4am.

My ambition of being the Māori Murakami thus dashed, I began to have doubts about whether running was for me. Enter: advertising.

I know for a fact that none of the locals were impressed by my designer athleisurewear because I'm related to a large proportion of them and they told me.

Because running looks SO GOOD in the ads. Flying home from our summer holiday, the Air New Zealand Kia Ora magazine almost tempted me away from my resolution because of the hypnotic perfection of the flat lay dedicated to running on the front cover. It's embarrassingly shallow to admit but I persisted with running for so long because of all the cool kit you can get. The latest Nike gear, miscellaneous Lululemon products and nifty branded gym bags!

But even the opportunity to indulge in some intoxicating consumerism in pursuit of something 'healthy' eventually lost its ability to push me beyond my complete and utter incompatibility with running. I can tell you the exact moment I decided to give running away. It was when my holiday exercise dream fell well short of expectations.

In the frantic wind-down to Christmas — where one shrieks insincerely at one's acquaintances to "Catch up in the New Year!!!!", while glaring at your colleague who 'did all their shopping months ago’ — I dreamed of running along Pohara Beach, possibly barefoot, definitely at one with nature and with the sort of limitless lung capacity that allows total sublime enjoyment of running.

But, of course, running on sand sucks, my lung capacity and overall cardiovascular fitness was unchanged from its state in the North Island and, in Takaka, my Lululemon kit looks a lot more out of place than it does in Auckland. I know for a fact that none of the locals were impressed by my designer athleisurewear because I'm related to a large proportion of them and they told me. I reinforced my 'townie' shortcomings by not bringing anything warm to wear in the evening, resulting in a whip-around amongst the whānau for a spare Swandri oilskin.

Having been thus relieved of the last vestiges of my desire to run I decided to just let it go. I went for some long walks instead and, by virtue of having also forgotten to pack my headphones, found that walking in silence is actually a bloody good way to work through ideas and think about stuff.

So I did. I took my idea through its paces, mulling it over as I strode along, and it stuck. I’m left with a New Year’s resolution I can promise to keep.

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