New Year 2018 – Thinking of Running?…. JUST DO IT!
As the New Year resolution promises begin to fade just days into 2018, I urge you to just get out there and start! This time 2 years ago, approaching the age of 48, I was thinking about starting to run…. I had tried to run about 3 years previously and it didn’t end well (more of that another time)! So how did I go from non-runner and not particularly fit to a regular runner and feeling FANTASTIC! And more importantly why?…
I am a great procrastinator and a perfectionist – a combination that allows endless excuses to put things off til later…. Many years ago, I did my degree in exercise science but before you start thinking, oh well, she’ll be super fit then, that’s not (and never has been) the case. I was quite overweight in my mid-late 20’s. I hid it well in my 30’s. I’ve done a bit of this, and a bit of that to keep fit(ish) but just like doctors who smoke or cobblers who don’t mend their own shoes, we don’t always do what we know we should. Knowledge is only power if it is acted upon.
I bought running trainers in August 2015 in a sale and they were in the bottom of my wardrobe – unused. Christmas 2015 my brother (serial marathon runner and owner of this website) gave me Paula Radcliffe’s book – How to Run. I continued my mumbling about giving it a go in 2016 – and on the shelf the book went.
From my resolution on New Year’s Day 2016 – to become a runner – it took me until 18 April 2016 to actually make a start on getting fitter. This was my Strava Log:
“Evening walk/run – a start!” – Distance – 4.2km, Moving Time – 29:53, Pace 7:03/km
That date is imprinted in my memory and in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what made me get up that morning with a determination to start and then stick with it. With hindsight, I suppose there’s probably an element of mid-life crisis about it – and it’s certainly cheaper than buying a sports car!
Most of us know that exercise is good for us. Doing it is another matter. It’s fair to say that it is scientifically proven to have a positive impact in many areas including and not limited to reducing stress, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, anxiety & depression, cancer to list a few as well as the growing evidence of its beneficial effect on brain aging and dementia. This time of year, we’re inundated with articles on getting fit (no apologies for this one)! If I had the magic key that unlocked what makes some people act on that information to not only start exercising but also keep going, well, I wouldn’t be playing the Euro Millions anymore.
SO WHY RUN?
There’s no cheating with running – you’re either running, or you’re not! There is something very primal about being able to run and my feeling in April 2016 was that it was now or never. The truth is, it’s never too late! I cannot tell you how SATISFYING it feels just to know that if for any reason I needed to, I could run 10k – that’s over 6 miles by the way – no problem. Two years’ ago, I never could have imagined that. And what’s more, it’s great for releasing endorphins, those chemicals your body produces that reduce the perception of pain and trigger the feel-good happy feelings! At the age of 48, I realised I could no longer blag my fitness levels – if I wanted to ski well for a week without injury, I needed to be fitter. Not to mention what I would describe as a hormonally challenging phase in life, running transforms my mood and, thanks to my degree, I know that it keeps my bones strong and helps protect me against osteoporosis. I can also report that I have previously had 3 separate acute and very painful episodes with my back, one of which ended with me shuffling into A & E. It’s only since running that I realise that this was totally down to my lack of fitness, in particular my core strength.
Below are some of the positive rewards that have come with running and getting fitter:
1. Feeling fit and strong in body and mind
2. Centimetre loss in first 6 months (with no dietary changes)
Waist 72 cm – 66 cm
Hips 86 cm – 78 cm
Thigh 57 cm – 53 cm
3. Weight loss from 9 st 13 lbs to 9 stone
(best recent 8 st 12 lb – significant and noticeable at 5 ft 4 in height)
4. Improved mood and greater energy levels
5. No more problems with my back – I mean NONE!
6. Better sleep pattern
7. Improved motivation
8. Fewer colds and a better immune system (less cold sores!)
These are benefits you’ve probably heard people talk about – BLAH BLAH BLAH, but let me tell you, they are worth it and they ARE REAL.
IT’S NOT ALL ROSES
I’m not going to lie, taking on running wasn’t easy. Like most things that are worth having. There are great days yes, but there are also average days and downright bad days! There is self-doubt and pain. A lot of pain at the beginning – in particular for me, a sciatic-type pain down the back of my right leg which could stop me in my tracks after just a kilometre. It had me doubting, thinking – no I can’t, it’s just too painful, I’ve got a bad back, it’s causing this pain. Actually, it turned out that I just needed to stretch a lot more; it was a tight piriformis muscle (deep in the backside) which many runners will be familiar with, but learning to understand your body, getting proper advice, pushing through some discomfort and perseverance all paid off and was it worth it? Absolutely!
I also took some advice from my brother who suggested I enter a race. I really resisted that at the beginning. “No, I don’t want to do that” I kept saying to myself….. but eventually I relented, and I am SO GLAD that I did! It gives you a goal, a reason to keep going when you’re tired and can’t be bothered, a reason to go out when it’s wet and cold (ironically now one of my favourite times to run – the coolness and smell in the air, the battle against the forces of nature). It’s all about building up a routine – making it a habit – it just takes a bit of time and then you’ll surprise yourself. You’ll want to go out and run! You’ll pack your trainers into your suitcase when you go on holiday!
MY FIRST RACE
Amsterdam October 2016 was a family affair! My brother lined up for the marathon, with me and my sister-in-law for the 8k. It was 6 months since I’d started running and I think I’d run the full 8k just twice before the race, but I knew I could do it. The nerves on the morning were incredible – the fear of the unknown, the adrenalin, the crowds and the camaraderie, the frequent trips to the loo, but that 8k was amazing, my heart pounding from beginning to end and finishing in the Olympic Stadium to the roar of the crowd, music, tannoy, medal – wow, what a feeling! My official time was 41:44 and I felt on top of the world! I promised my brother I would write about my experience for his blog – did I mention I was a procrastinator?
SETTING MORE GOALS
Well, fast forward another year or so, and I’m still a procrastinator – but just not about running. I completed a hot & hilly Edinburgh 10k in May 17 (57:29) and an equally hot, but slightly less hilly Harrogate 10k in July 17 (53:51).
In October 2017, I was lining up again for the 8k in Amsterdam! At the start line, this time knowing what to expect was an advantage. I’d also done some interval training to develop my speed and got myself in the front starting pen. Controlling the nerves and adrenalin is a skill to master! Last year my plan was just to finish, but this year I wanted more! I told everyone I wanted to beat last years’ time of 41:44 but in truth, I wanted a sub-40 minute 8k. This would mean running at a pace of less than a 5.00 min/km. I had never done this before in training, not even for a 5km run so frankly it was a big ask! Even on adrenalin! I also wanted to enjoy the course, take it all in and be aware of my surroundings. Last year had been a blur!
This year I had a running watch to keep me on track – a Garmin 630, a great piece of kit. I watched it beep as the first 5km flashed on screen 4:56, 4:54, 4:58, 4:58, 5:00, then BAM! A huge great debilitating stitch-like pain in the middle of my chest, right in the centre of my ribs. I needed to stop. I can’t stop! I was doing so well. My brother had warned me about this!….. People who start the race too quickly and blow up half way round! Oh no! How can this be happening?! The intensity of the pain took my breath away and made me crouch over to run. I desperately wanted to stop. I knew it was muscular, in hindsight my diaphragm cramping I think. I had made the rookie error of wearing my chest strap heart rate monitor (not advisable during a race) and it was restricting my breathing just when I needed it most! I slowed up and kilometre 6 came in at 5:18. I was disappointed. I felt my goal slipping away. I stopped looking at my watch and just concentrated on running, on keeping going, on breathing deeply. The thought of my other half and family watching me crawl in to the stadium or even worse, not making it at all, was too much. I slowed up for what seemed liked forever. But I must have speeded up again because I entered the Olympic stadium, rounded the track and could not believe what the clock said as I looked up on the home straight – 39:30, 31, 32, 33, 34….. As I crossed the finish line, the clock time recorded 39:45!! I had made my original goal with 15 seconds to spare – that’s quite a lot in runners’ terms! I actually cried! The feeling of achievement was enormous, and it still brings tears to my eyes!
Well, 2017 was just about running. 2018 is going to be about strength and technique – getting better. As I approach my 50th birthday very soon, I am looking to push to a 10 miler and a half marathon. I have also joined the gym to do some cross-training to help build on my strength and to minimise the possibility of injury. There’s something about challenging yourself and awakening the competitor within. I want to do more races and I want to do well. Age just isn’t a barrier – it’s how much you want it. A quitter never wins and a winner never quits!
OVER TO YOU
If you’re younger than me, don’t leave it till middle age…just get out there and you’ll reap the rewards. And if you’re older than me, it’s never too late! Remember, start slowly and build up – you’ll be amazed at how your body responds and what a positive impact it will have on your life!
If you’re already a runner – fantastic! Good on you – keep pushing those goals. And if you know someone thinking about running, keep badgering and encouraging them to take on the challenge.
1. Build up slowly. Start with a run/walk programme to allow joints and ligaments time to adapt.
2. Stretch, stretch, stretch! This is so important after any workout – and can be easily overlooked with time constraints but even just a few minutes of stretching will pay you back in dividends.
3. Just keep going, even after a bad run – the next one will be better. You need to form the habit of running.
4. Go to other races as a spectator and cheer on the runners – it is SO motivating!
5. Watch some of the Super-Agers in the world – such as Irene Obera – so inspiring – age is no barrier!
6. Set goals with someone – be it entering a race, or giving yourself a distance to attain. These keep you motivated and I can’t stress enough how amazing it feels to achieve them.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and as that great Nike strapline says, “JUST DO IT”!!