Toddlers don’t keep you fit, running does, but toddlers are more fun

Like most people who run, I hated it before and I hate it more now. Finding a path not blocked by other people is harder since everyone is out and about and I’m reduced to tracing futile circles near a deserted rugby pitch, because if I run on a path, I now feel like I’m crop-dusting other people with every breath.

I keep doing it because I need all the help I can get. One bewildering bit of false advertising we hear about having a toddler is, ‘It’ll keep you fit!’ Even I say it, in those horrible moments of forced jollity that fatherhood has provoked in me. It’s one of those extremely dad things I say to strangers, like joking that the wine I’ve just plopped on the conveyor belt is for my son, rendering the helpless cashier incontinent with mirth.

‘He’ll keep me fit at least!’ I’ll say to Adi, the shopkeeper, as I wrestle a jumbo bag of crisps away from his tiny hands (my son’s, not Adi’s). At this, Adi will laugh, surprised and delighted that his humble place of work has, for a few short seconds, become a front row seat at the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘Ha, ha, ha, yes,’ he’ll say, clutching his stomach and wondering what he did to deserve this hot blast of audacious new material from professional broadsheet humorist Séamas O’Reilly.

Worse than the damage it’s doing to my reputation as Hackney’s fizziest wit, it’s entirely untrue. Following a toddler around doesn’t keep you fit at all. I’m sure walking at glacial pace behind a small, difficult child is better than lying flat on my back and eating Jaffa Cakes, but it’s not exactly keeping me in shape.

Six months ago, I became fit for the first time in my adult life, having been paid to do so by the Observer. For seven agonising weeks I cut my diet, trained three times a week and shed 12kg of flab, which culminated in having hi-res topless shots of myself being printed in this very magazine. Suddenly, the world could see my jaunty little man boobs at their most taut and preened. At least a thousand of those people were shown them by me after I’d produced my phone and flicked between ‘fat me’ and ‘toned me’ in a casual, humble kind of way that was probably very charming.

But what then? How was I to maintain this fitness without the motivation provided by the threat of another newspaper spread of my reincarnated flab? I suggested to my editors that they commit to printing a full page picture of my body every six months or so ‘to keep me interested’, but they stopped answering my emails, and in the end I found that running was the one thing I could stand doing. Even though I can’t really stand it at all.

So I run, alone, on a deserted and uneven patch of ground beside a rugby pitch. It’s painful, tedious and tiring, but in the end it has rewards. Not least in challenging me to write about a boring experience in a way that isn’t boring itself. Perhaps fatherhood has trained me for fitness after all.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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