For many years running used to be my stress-busting activity. Rain or shine, if I needed some headspace, exercise, to increase my energy levels or just needed some fresh air, I’d put on my running kit and head out for anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. (Longer when I was marathon training.)
Running on a warm sunny day was lovely – all you needed was shorts and a T-shirt and off you went. It was hard not to have a smile on your face when you got to Windsor Great park with it’s wide open spaces, ancient trees and occasional deer with life-threatening (to me, not to the them) antlers. I always had that ‘good to be alive’ feeling when I looked down the long walk at the Castle. However static the scenery is, with it’s two parallel lines of trees and 3 mile long straight road running from the Copper Horse to the Castle gates, that view never fails to enchant me.
And running in the rain was even better. (Yes, really!) With the right kit - running tights, a good lightweight waterproof jacket and a baseball cap to keep the rain out of my eyes, I felt like it was me against the elements, and I was winning! And the warm bath and hot coffee afterwards (and possibly accompanying cake too) felt like well deserved rewards.
There were times after I raced or when I’d had a really good training session when I felt like my body would burst there were so many endorphins rushing around in me. I remember after one event wishing that I could bottle the feeling and sell it, because everyone should have a chance to feel that good!
But then my back decided that impact sports were not for me. After two back operations and stern warnings from my back surgeon and chiropractor, and, eventually, from listening to my body, I now know that however alive I felt with my running, it was actually slowly killing my discs.
As you can imagine, this was quite a message to digest. I was not only losing a form of exercise, I was losing my number one stress busting activity, as well as a chance to socialise with others during training and racing. Where was I going to get my endorphins from….?
Well, sometimes the solutions come in the strangest of packages. I had plenty of time to think about the changes I was going to have to make in my life during the months following my second operation, spinal fusion surgery. I decided I needed an activity that had all the flexibility of running – can do it anytime, anywhere; gave me social contact and was fun, helped me to relax and ‘de-stress’, and that released endorphins. Singing fitted the bill perfectly!
The only problem with this solution was that, um, I couldn’t sing. I think once upon a time I could – I was in the school choir at primary school and even appeared on Songs of Praise! but somewhere between the ages of 9 and adulthood I’d decided I was tone deaf and sang flat.
Not letting a small detail like this put me off, I decided to put the theory that anyone can be taught how to sing to the test. I’d heard it on radio 4, so it must be true. I had one singing lesson which was enough to tell me that indeed I wasn’t tone deaf, and that if I actually opened my mouth and breathed properly when I sang – i.e. I did actually sing as opposed to mumble to the music – I stood a reasonable chance of hitting the right note.
Admittedly one signing lesson does not maketh the maestro, but I decided that whilst solo singing lessons might make me a better singer, they didn’t tick the sociable requirement I was looking for. So, after some searching around for options, I was delighted to discover that there was a ‘Sing Out’ group just a few minutes walk up the road from me that meets every Friday evening for an hour. No auditions. No membership. No requirement to be able to sing. (I did check that last bit out with the organiser. When he asked if I sang in the shower, I replied that no I didn’t but I did sing in the car. He said that was perfect and I’d fit in fine.)
So, for the last four months I have trotted up the road at the point on a Friday afternoon when it really isn’t safe for my brain to attempt to do any more work that people might pay for, walked into a room full of friendly faces, loosened off my ‘Friday night shoulders’ in the warm up exercise and sung my heart out to all sorts of tunes – some familiar, some not.
After a couple of weeks I discovered that I was a soprano – which was a shock to me, given that I’d spent most of my life trying to sing along to male singers in bands like The Who and the Clash! And equally important I’d worked out who else in the group was also a soprano and therefore who I needed to stand next to in order to increase my chances of hitting the right notes.
So, in terms of the boxes:
social contact – tick
fun – tick
endorphins – tick
anytime, anywhere – tick. As will be demonstrated this coming Saturday, 5th May, in King Edward Court in Windsor (at the entrance to Waitrose) when the Windsor Sing Out group will be performing as part of a fundraising event for Help the Heroes. My first live performance!!
Click here if you’d like to hear a short clip of the Sing Out group singing.