29 kilometres, 29 years
The inaugural birthday run
There’s so much pressure to do something fun on your birthday, something special, something worthy of a birthday. So when people asked me what I was going to do on my birthday — which is today — I felt like a lemon for not having a good plan.
I crushed it last year. Back then, I was living in London and all my friends were working while I, a freelancer, had done the smart thing and taken a day off. Only it wasn’t so smart because, as mentioned, everyone was working. So I took myself out for the perfect day: an early morning, pre-work, fancy coffee with one of my favourite Toms (on the left), followed by reading The Rosie Project outside Hackney Picturehouse while waiting for the lunchtime showing of Dear White People, which I watched alone (this is a good thing). Then I met another of my favourite Toms at Westfield Stratford to eat pizza at Franco Manca, followed by smoking dodgy tea leaf cigarillos that Tom had bought from some shady guy at a market and drinking whisky on Tom’s balcony. I also hosted a house party where the questionable photo to the left was taken.
So the bar was pretty high and the circumstances for this year even harder. For one, I live in Gothenburg now and many of my dearest friends are in England. Not only that, but the friends I do have in Gothenburg are either working or have retreated to a summer house; Swedes really do summer — there’s no staycationing here. I felt like a bit of a Billy no mates. To top it off, my relaxing day off was hijacked by some urgent freelance work and a job interview, leaving just a few hours to squeeze in something suitably birthday-esque.
I’ve been running a lot lately — partly because that’s something I do nowadays, but also because I’m training for a big race later this year — and while I was out on yesterday’s nine-miler, I finally had an idea: I could do a special run for my birthday — one kilometre for every year I’ve been alive, a 29-kilometre jaunt through the forest. A way to mark the day and celebrate the years I’ve been given.
When midday rolled around, I strapped on my bag (jacket, book, headphones, water) and stepped out the door to the sun attempting to shine, which was about as good a weather scenario as I could hope for. I headed to my usual running haunt, Skatås, but this time went deeper into the forest, running around the Delsjön lakes that are usually too far away for a casual midweek run. I saw some horses by the side of the road in Mölndal, where I also discovered a special Mölndal Snapchat filter, and achieved definite moments of the infamous ‘runner’s high.’ At home, surrounded by my laptop and books and magazines and Netflix, it’s so hard to focus on one thing and feel relaxed. But when I’m running, like today, it’s the only place I want to be.
It’s funny how running has crept into my life — from being a thing I was trying out back in 2010, to a thing I had to do in order to train for a marathon in 2013, to being a thing I now can’t cope without. The past few months have been trying. I’ve experienced the lowest, darkest moments of my life where I’ve wondered if things will ever improve. And on those days, I can’t always bring myself to get out for a run. But when I manage to clamber out of the pit enough to pull on my trainers, I reap the benefits.
There’s not always a tangible high or something magical happening but running levels me out. It brings me closer to my true self. It offers time to think, to focus, dedicated time to listen to new albums or podcasts or nothing at all. It gets me outdoors when I can easily spend a day without leaving my apartment or seeing another human being. It keeps me healthy — not just physically, but mentally.
So today I want to say thank you. For the 29 years I’ve been gifted on earth, more than so many people get. For the healthy body I’m in, when so many people are struggling in bodies that don’t do what they want them to do. For the birthday greeting from Tinder. And for running, for helping me stay alive.
P.S. 30 km, same time next year. Join me?