My running journey
I used to absolutely detest running; how could it be fun being out of breath, sweaty and tired? I didn’t just love to hate it, I hated it. Yet, this weekend, I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon in London on behalf of Asthma UK. So, I thought I would write a quick post about my running journey to date. My key message is, trust me, anyone can do it. And, it’s even possible to derive some enjoyment from it.
The beginnings of exercise
My first attempt at exercise was the (perhaps) once-a-week 10 minute run around the block after college. I don’t know how I ever justified that this was a good workout but as I was so unfit, it did feel like an extreme exertion of energy. In my first year at university, I continued my once-a-week exercise routine but, this time, at the gym. As my dislike for cardio had not shifted, I spent time honing my weight training techniques and began to visit the gym more and more. I had got the exercise bug. By my final year, I was going to the gym five times a week without fail throwing around weights; I wish women would get over the idea that they’ll end up a spitting-image of the Michelin man if they do this. Exercise is now such a massive part of my life, I always wonder how different my life and headspace would be if I hadn’t joined the gym at university.
However, while I loved the gym, cardio equipment was as off-putting as running tomorrow’s half marathon in the rain. I would be proud if I completed 10 minutes on the cross-trainer and 10 minutes on the step-machine. God forbid, the day I also ran five minutes on the treadmill. I honestly found cardio so hard mentally. When I moved to London, I realised that is was cardio equipment that I begrudged the most. The thought of panting heavily, with my legs hurting (hello shin splints), all while staring at a blank wall, was enough to put me off before I even began. I decided to join a gym that I could run to, in an effort to ‘guarantee’ my cardio element of each workout and get some more enjoyment out of running (a changing environment and dodging traffic is more exciting than a gym mirror). It’s also great if you have limited time in your day. Now I live in London, I also walk a crazy amount, which is good low impact cardio. Check out my blog post on top five London walking routes for inspiration.
An opportunity came up at work to sign-up to the Cancer Research UK London Winter Run; 10km through key London landmarks. I knew this was exactly what I needed to spur me on to run greater distances (it’s only 1.5km to and from my gym). Having a date in the diary and something tangible to work towards is a great way to kick-start a running journey. I have countless friends who have used the Couch to 5k app – if you are committed, it will work. That’s the one thing no app, tracker, race, good weather or new trainers will give you. Dedication. You do have to want to get fitter and increase your mileage. In saying this, I hadn’t appreciated how being a frequent gymmer had given me a massive head start in terms of a more than basic level of fitness. So, don’t let people knock your decision of hitting the weights. The problem with running is that the fitter you are, the easier it becomes, so it’s a massive positive cycle. It is much harder if you’re at the starting point of that cycle, although that makes the end result even more impressive.
I think the first race you ever do is the best; I smashed the 10km in 47:42 and enjoyed the entire thing. So, I decided I would sign-up to the Vitality London 10,000, as I knew I needed something to make me accountable and keep up the running. Yet, this race on the second bank holiday in May, was so tough! I naively thought I’d be able to wipe off a minute or two and it ended up being a mere 17 seconds! I was already near my peak fitness the first time round, which I hadn’t appreciated. I learnt from that race that you’re meant to enjoy the experience as well as aim for a PB (rather than shouting at my sister at the 9km mark “I’m doing crap!”). I’d had some trouble with my leg (ITB pain) in training but, luckily, it didn’t play up on race day. Although, overshooting the water station in the baking sunshine, missing a lamppost head butt by 1cm, and letting my work colleague leave me behind at the 6km mark was less remarkable.
Despite this, I loved having two medals to my name and the sense of progress I had made in my running journey. In this frame of mind, I decided to sign up to the Royal Parks Half Marathon on behalf of Asthma UK. I can’t believe that this time last year I could barely run for longer than 15 minutes and tomorrow I’m running 21km. Unfortunately though, with longer distances you get plagued by injury. It seems the healthier you try to be, the more your body punishes you for it. I built up my distance, as recommended, yet my ITB pain came back with a vengeance just two weeks ago. I understand why many people can’t even contemplate running due to various ailments. I’ve spoken to runners who are well-versed in half marathons (and marathons, the crazy people), and I’m yet to meet someone who’s never had an injury, especially close to race day. From this, I’d really recommend people to focus on shorter distances; I’m going to do so after tomorrow as, unsurprisingly, I do quite value my hips and knees. Although, I also acknowledge how addictive running can be and that people choose to run through pain. It certainly keeps physios in their job.
On that note, I am remaining positive for tomorrow’s run! I couldn’t be happier to have raised nearly £500.00 for Asthma UK as a result of the support of all my family, friends and work colleagues!