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Helen Harper


At school, I was never the person who enjoyed PE. I’d do just about anything to get out of it, from ‘forgetting’ my kit to having my period six weeks in a row. Sport and me just didn’t mix. I was chubby and lazy and, quite frankly, I’d rather have curled up with a book and exercised my mind instead.

This sad state of affairs continued for a long time. I attended Stirling Uni in Scotland, which actually had a very strong sports department. One week, on a whim, I started going to circuit training before I hit the pub. I was pretty slim at that point but I still couldn’t even do sit ups. I quickly gave up. When I got older, with a decent teaching job, I tried to take my health more seriously and got a gym membership. I would faithfully attend aerobics lessons and attempt the treadmill. I found it all excruciatingly boring and I’d celebrate at the end of each session by buying myself a vast pack of salt and vinegar Kettle chips and chocolate. Needless to say, I only put on weight.

Not long after I moved to Malaysia, however, I came across bootcamp. A local company was offering a week of free sessions. It was at a ridiculous hour – 5.45am – 6.45am – but it meant I could still get into work with plenty of time to spare. I went along and hated it. For some unfathomable reason that I’m still not sure about, I bought a follow up month. I still hated it. And yet I still kept on going. After a long painful year, I realised I actually enjoyed it. Even getting up at stupid o’clock was becoming fun. I can’t say for sure when the change happened, but happen it did. I made lots of friends and, when the company began running obstacle races, I started taking part. Who knew that exercise could be fun??? In fact, I kept bootcamp up for four years, quitting only when the recurring back problems it gave me forced me out.

I’m not particularly fit at the moment. I still go to the gym and I still enjoy it but I’ve had a lot of time off exercise this year for all sorts of dull and uninspiring reasons. I’m still a big fan of those obstacle races though. This is why last night I found myself at Bloodrunner, a nearby 10km run with obstacles thrown in. And werewolves. (Yes. Volunteers were dressed in werewolf outfits. For a UF writer, it was somewhat bizarre.) It was nice that it ran at night though – it’s seriously hot in KL and that sun does my poor Scottish skin no favours at all.

I didn’t manage the course very quickly. In fact, my companion, whose legs are longer than a damn giraffe’s, had to wait a ridiculous time for me to meet him at the end. In my defence, I was held up on a narrow single file trail for quite some time. I’d still have finished long after him without it though. I complained a lot in my head. My legs were really sore. At the end, there was the almost inevitable run in with an ex-student who’d just finished too and looked as fresh as a daisy – while I was on the verge of collapse.

But today I feel good. I’m justified in lazing around all weekend. I’m tempted to go searching for the dates of this year’s Zombie Run. It’s almost like research with fitness thrown in at the same time.

My teenage self would be horrified at all this. But there’s a quote I used for the opening of Bloodlust (and back when Amazon used to include what readers had highlighted on author’s book pages, it was the part most often noted) from Jim Rohn: You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.

Now, where are those salt and vinegar crisps?

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