I’ll let you in to a secret about running…..there is no secret. No-one is better, or mentally stronger, or has a magic ingredient that you couldn’t possibly hope to have. They’ve just trained themselves to do it. (But there are a few things that you can do to make it easier).
I’ve been asked by lots of people recently to write a blog post about running, specifically whether I’m a life long runner, or whether running is a recent thing for me, plus how to go about getting fit in “middle age”. So here it is.
Now I can’t pretend that I’m a serious runner in the club sense of the word, or that I’m ever even remotely interested in my times, unless I’m racing. And compared to lots of people I haven’t run that much at all – 5 half marathons and one marathon, with my second planned for Sunday.
But running is as big a part of my life as it can be, next to being a wife, Mum, sister, daughter (in no particular order), friend, running a home and working. In fact sometimes it bumps one or two others off the top of the list – particularly running the home. The dust will always be there for a rainy day.
So this is my story…..
I ran on and off sporadically for many years. Occasionally I would go before school in the morning, then I ran fairly consistently at University and at Law School, plus when I trained in London – although the taxi fumes used to make me wheeze a bit after running around Green Park at lunchtime. Then when I was 25 I moved to Birmingham and I think that work got in the way, so I pretty much stopped my sporadic running.
After I came out of the fog of having had our first two, so when I was about 32 or 33, I remember going to see an osteopath because my back was bad and I was horrified to hear that my muscles were like jelly and that my tone was poor. I was slim and I had time on my side but my muscles were rubbish. I was indignant. So indignant!
So I started doing some exercise again – mainly dancing and pilates. Then, having decided that I would never be a runner, I progressed to power walking in the early mornings with our son in a pushchair, and then at work at lunchtime. I also cycled to and from work.
I never really thought that I would get into running properly (and I know it’s not for everyone). I’d always found more than half an hour – well even up to half an hour – pretty miserable. I remember reading an article about a girl who started running with her Dad to get fit and after a few weeks she realised that she really started to look forward to her running sessions. I thought that she was bonkers. Totally mad. How could anyone look forward to THAT?
Then just before I got pregnant with our third (so when I was about 37) I started running again with a girl who lived locally. I can’t even remember what prompted it now but I do remember our first run. She was good. I was not. After our first run, which was about 4/5 miles in total, I was puce and shaking. Seriously, I think that my body was in shock. Shortly afterwards I was pleased to find out that I was pregnant and that I couldn’t run any more! (Arguably it’s a slightly drastic approach but it bought me a good few years!)
After number 3, I spent three or four mornings a week swimming, with Matilda sitting in her car seat on the side of the pool. And then one day I noticed that I had arm muscles. That was quite a nice feeling. And that all coincided with meeting new people who I really liked and they ran so I joined them in it. By this stage I was probably 39 or 40. I felt self conscious in a group though – I was the weakest link and occasionally I dropped out but I got to like the chatting, the freedom and the brain space that it gave me. Oh and I discovered that I liked running in the dark. You can’t see the hills in the dark or the road stretching out into the distance. See, I still had a slight aversion to it even then.
Five years ago my usual running buddy was away over the summer and another friend said that she was training for the Birmingham half marathon. I was happy to go out and train with her but never did I imagine, for one minute, that someone like me would run it. I just didn’t think that I was good enough, or fast enough….or anything “enough” really. And then having done the training I thought that I may as well run the race. So I did and it was fabulous. I loved the whole thing and still couldn’t believe that someone like me could do something like THAT.
And then as I’ve got older, I’ve done more running and I love it. I love being out in the fresh air, the brain space that I get and I love chatting to my friends, I honestly think that the older you get, the more stamina you get. And if you’ve had babies – well nothing compares to the slog of giving birth!
So that’s where I am with it now. I run probably five times a week and I can tell within a few steps whether I’m going to find it an easy run or a hard run. I often get hot and sweaty, or freezing cold and wet in the rain. I’ve run in snow, hail, wind and heat. And still I love it. Well sometimes I hate it but never if I’m with my friends and if I’m on my own and hate it well, I just go home.
HOW DO YOU START RUNNING?
I remember my friend and I listening with interest when Paul Radcliffe was being interviewed on the radio. We listened with baited breath as to how she answered the questions “How do you start running?” What would she answer? What was the magic formula? How do you do this weird and wonderful thing that so many people do for hours on end?
“you just put your trainers on and you go out of the door and start running”. WHAT? Was that it? Was that all that she could offer us? In one sense she’s right but I think that I may be able to offer a bit more insight. So this is what I would suggest:
Apps for beginners…
I know of two people close to me who have found apps really useful. I’ve witnessed my husband literally going from not being able to run for more than a minute and a half at the start of May, to doing 8km now without any problem. The great thing is that the Apps take the mystery out of running and the worry of whether you’re going too slow or too fast and running for too short a distance or too long a distance. Follow them and your body will adapt so that you can make the distance. There are apps to follow for lots of distances so once you’ve finished the first one, you can always go on to the next one.
For those who want to increase their distance/pace…mix it up!
If you have been running for a while and you’ve reached the half an hour mark but want to break through that, I think that a slightly different approach helps.
Rather than slogging around the same route three times a week and hoping that it gets easier (often it doesn’t) mix it up a little. Maybe try doing one “long” run at a slower pace than you would normally run. If you go with a friend and can maintain a chat, even a slightly panting one, that’s a good sign.
The aim of this run is to increase your stamina. So maybe rather than thinking about the distance you want to cover during this run, think of the time that you want to be on your feet. Maybe aim for an extra ten or fifteen minutes. In training for this marathon, on our long runs my friend and I regularly stop – sometimes for a good fifteen minutes at Costa for a cherry bakewell, some ice cold water and a loo trip. Does it matter? Maybe, who knows? But it makes those three to four hours much more bearable and it gets the miles in the legs, which is the aim of the long run.
Alongside that do a hill session each week. This could be shorter – so perhaps about 20 minutes or so. Either choose a route with a few hills and work your way up those, or choose one hill and run to the top, walk down and run up again. The aim of this run is to increase your fitness. You will get out of breath and it might not be comfortable – but it will definitely help.
And then if you can work in a speed session, this will help too. My husband is currently following an app to increase his speed. Essentially you run at your normal pace for a few minutes and then do a couple of minutes at an increased pace – not a sprint pace as you need to do it five or six times and not collapse in a heap after the first round. But just a bit faster, to the point that you probably couldn’t hold a conversation with a friend.
Once you have worked on your stamina, your fitness and your pace, you will find that you can run for longer. It’s a bit like making a cake really – lots of different ingredients need to come together for it to be a good one!
Join a running Club
I’ve never really felt that running clubs are for me. It’s more the rigidity of the timing of the sessions that puts me off – it’s another thing to factor into a timetable that’s already busy but I know many who love their running clubs and for sure, they will get you on the straight and narrow. But personally I prefer to be a bit wiggly!
There are some fab books out there to read. One of my favourites is “Running Like a Girl” by Alexandra Heminsley. I would encourage any female runners out there to read this. Before any race I dip back into it and take a look at my favourite paragraphs. This is one of them:
“What I didn’t know on those very early first runs – the ones where even my face seemed to hurt when I got home – was that I wasn’t lily-livered or week-willed. Nor was I biomechanically unable to run. I was in fact “going lactic”. I had no idea that for at regular pace it takes about ten minutes for the body to start taking on oxygen as fast as it needs it, for one’s breathing to regular or for one’s body to be properly warmed up. In fact I had not idea what pace I should be going at all. My goal was simply not to die before the end. For weeks I suspected I was only able to run for ten minutes…….I want to weep when I think of the number of women who head round the block, only to return twelve minutes later, broken and tearful…..if only someone had told me sooner.”
And it’s so true. Mile 2 of a run can honestly feel as bad as mile 20. Or put another way, you don’t necessarily feel any worse at mile 20, than you do at mile 2.
Running Like a Girl (£5.94) Amazon
One of my other favourite books “Don’t stop me now” is by Vassos Alexander. Entitled “26.2 tales of a runner’s obsession”, he charts his running escapades and intersperses it with accounts of how others first started running, from Paula Radcliffe to Steve Cram the Brownlees and Nell McAndrew. If like me you people really interest you, this is a great read and easy to pick up and put down.
Don’t stop me now (£6.96)
Take the pressure off..
But most of all remember, this is meant to be fun! Few of us are going to win any serious medals so see it as an opportunity to do something for yourself, to get out, to see your friends and to enjoy being outside and watching the seasons change. Life is made up of so many things that we have to do and this isn’t one of them. So if it’s not for you, don’t do it. There are plenty of other things out there to do instead.
I should just add that of course this is only my view and everyone will have a different view and a different approach. Plus I haven’t covered stretching, foam rolling and all the other bits and bobs – they may be for another post. As to running in middle age – well so long as you’ve not already caused yourself a nasty injury through something else, there’s no reason why you can’t be as good as the next person. Running is one of those things that we can actually get better with as we age. And as awful as the idea sounds, entering a race really gives you the feeling of what it’s all about – the training, the preparation, the crowd, the feeling afterwards – it’s nerve wracking but exciting.
Oh and if any of you ever fancy a run, you know where to find me. I’m always up for a run (and a cherry bakewell en route.)