Sunday, 23 June 2013

Tips for getting started with running

Don't get me wrong, I still very much consider myself a 'beginner' runner. But I've gone from being unable to run for three minutes without being absolutely shattered to running about 10 miles a week in 3 months. On Monday I ran my first ever full 5k - 38.30 (Watch out Paula Radcliffe) but if you consider that 3 months ago I could not run FIVE CENTIMETRES LET ALONE FIVE KILOMETRES I think that's pretty amazing. I feel fitter now than I ever have before in my life which is why it's a bit frustrating I've not lost any weight BUT THAT'S FOR ANOTHER POST.

I tried and failed to start couch 2 5k about four times before my final successful attempt, so I thought I would list some reasons why I think this time it actually worked. Ironically I write this blog whilst I am sat in bed unable to walk due to the worst post-exercise muscle pain I've ever had in my life, BUT THAT WAS FROM A DIFFERENT TYPE OF EXERCISE so it's totally fine.

I will intersperse my valuable advice with motivational phrases from Pinterest to keep things 'visual'.

1. Get equipped with the knowledge/apps/gear.
All you need to start couch 2 5k is a pair of trainers. I refuse to believe you don't already have any but if not, head down to Sports Direct with £15 in hand. DONE.
Don't worry about wearing fancy running gear, just something that makes you feel comfortable. Leggings and a baggy t-shirt is fine. I know for some people having super-cool fitness clothes motivates them and if so THAT'S FINE, but don't fall into the trap of spending £250 in Niketown so you can just hang up your new gear in the wardrobe to stare at forlornly as you eat nachos.
Obviously before you can start couch to 5k you need to have seen the actual plan. You can find that here.
In theory this should be enough to get you out of the door, but I've tried with just the plan before and failed. On the NHS website you can also download some podcasts which will tell you when to stop/start and make it a bit easier, but the music is crap so I wouldn't recommend it.
The number one thing that has helped me finish couch to 5k this time is the fantastic Get Running app. This app lets you play your own music - Eye of the Tiger strongly recommended - and a lovely friendly sounding lady will just talk over the top to tell you when to stop or start or occasionally congratulate you on "doing great"! The way it tracks your progress along the program is motivating and visually appealing. I would urge you to shell out the very small cost as this app is responsible for changing my life.

2. Run outside. 

I know this is super personal and I read plenty of blogs with loads of amazing runners who only run on the treadmill. But I tried the couch to 5k on the treadmill, and you know what? It's annoying and boring. Changing the speed setting every minute means you can never really lose yourself in the moment, which is the joy of running. Running different places keeps it interesting and keeps you alert. I'm lucky enough to have had the opportunity to run right by London landmarks, to run within the inner depths of the Square Mile, to have run in some of London's most beautiful parks, but also to have run along by the sea of the beautiful Kent coastline. So why when you could be getting out and seeing the world are you going to the gym and staring at MTV Base?

3. Fit running around your life. Don't fit your life around running.

For the couch to 5k you should be running three times a week. At the beginning of each week stop and evaluate the plans for the oncoming week. When are you most likely to run?
I always run at least once at weekends as for me it's the best time, as someone who works full time and also has a lot of other commitments.
I never run in the early morning as I already get up at 5.45am for work as it stands (!!!).
I tried running in late evenings (8.30/9pm) but I found out that these would always be bad runs as they were too soon after my last meals.
I learnt from my mistakes and now I try to run at weekends and early evenings before dinner. Although 3 times a week is my goal, if something comes up, I'm not going to turn it down so I can go running! Running is my new lifestyle, it's not just a nine-week fad.
It doesn't matter if running couch to 5k doesn't take you exactly 9 weeks. It took me about 14 weeks all in all and I still reached my goal. Running shouldn't be something you dread or something you feel like you HAVE to do. Your run should be something you are excited about and something you feel good about once you have completed.

4. Learn from your mistakes.

You will have bad runs and things will go wrong and some you won't be able to complete. This is life. Each time it happens you have to think carefully about why today you have chest pain or why today you might be too exhausted to try and avoid it happening again.

  • How long ago did you last eat? What have you eaten today? 
  • How long has it been since your last run? 
  • What have you been doing today that is different from a typical day?
  • Etc.

5. Don't make running about losing weight. Make it about you.

I have many more things to say about the fact that my fitness has dramatically improved recently to the point where I can run for 40 minutes without stopping and yet I have not lost any weight, but I will muse on that another day. However, running should not be about losing weight. Maybe when I started it was, but over time I have come to love running for what it is.
Running is a zero-cost way of getting properly fit. Maybe in the future (or the winter!) I will change my mind, but at the moment I can't see the need to ever waste money on a gym membership again.
When running you can lose yourself and find it all at the same time. It's the perfect time to think and be alone. Do you crave rest and solitud
e? Start running.
Most importantly, I have proved to myself that if I tried hard enough I really could do anything. This applies to fitness but also to everything in my life. I feel like completing couch to 5k has granted me an epiphany on my approach to the world which maybe every early twentysomething could do with. If you try hard enough and stay the course you really can complete the goals which only a few short months ago seemed totally impossible.
My race is in 4 weeks. Originally I said I had no goal but my new goal is sub-35. I have a long way to get to before then, but fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

What I have learnt from my horrific run

So on Saturday I had a whole day to myself. This almost NEVER happens so I thought I'd use it really productively by going for a run somewhere EXCITING. I picked Hampstead Heath.

I have never had a bad run until this run. However, this run was bloody horrific. I will show you the list of everything I learnt from it.

  • Don't ever go somewhere for a run that you have to undergo a horrendously complex Overground journey to get to. Not only by the time you get there are are you already "If I had done this near home I'd have been back on the sofa by now", you also have the HORRIFIC journey back afterwards.
  • Do not go out for a run with an empty stomach particularly if you have said horrendous Overground journey before you can even start exercising.
  • Do not go out for a run without a bottle of water if you are going to be out of the house for about 3 hours.
  • Do not go out for a run on an incredibly steep grass hill when you have only ever run before on nice city pavements and seaside promenandes.
  • Do not go out for a run in the midday blazing sunshine without suncream on and without water. 
  • Do not assume that you have a good enough sense of direction to be able to find your way back to your starting point when you have never actually been to that place before. You will end up lost in Highgate. 

Yes, it was absolutely horrific. After all the hills, the raging sunburn, the hunger, the thirst, the lightheadedness and the fact it was becoming rapidly clear that I WASN'T actually just by the Overground station and I MIGHT actually be lost in North London, I gave up almost without thinking about it, just stopped moving. God it was horrific. This is the first run I didn't complete and as I sadly found out when I checked my phone, I only even had 3 minutes left which I definitely could have done physically but I don't regret not finishing. The right person knows when to stop right? Right.

 I then checked my iPhone and found out that I was in HIGHGATE!!! It took me nearly an hour to find my way back, and I was already shattered. I didn't have any money on me to buy myself water or something to eat or even god forbid a taxi back to the station so I was SCREWED.  All I can say is THANK GOD that smartphones have compasses, and THANK GOD it was the middle of a summers day. If I'd have been out on a winters' evening rocking a Nokia 3410 I'd probably have been mugged and also possibly still be wandering around Hampstead unable to find my way back now. 

Oh well, I've got to pick up and try again - she says, not having been for a single run since this harrowing experience. Tonight I will definitely be getting my trainers on and heading off for a nice jog on flat land in circles around my neighbourhood though... and at least I have learnt my lessons. :(

On the bright side, I took some nice photos:

Not so pretty when you are lost in North London's largest patch of grass.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Running goals etc

It's been a few days since my last blog and I'm still obsessed with running and it still comprises about 85% of what I talk about. I've spent almost the entire weekend shoving Map My Run in my parents' face; "LOOK HOW FAR I WENT MUM!!! Could you even WALK that far?" (She could, she's in good shape, but I'm smug). To my sister: "I know you're REVISING for A-LEVELS but, SERIOUSLY, I just ran FOUR POINT SIX KILOMETRES?!" Etc, etc.

I am now beginning to get this image of myself in my head as someone that could happily knock out an ultramarathon next weekend if need be, which isn't very good for my mental health as every time I am out running again I am like...."Oh. 25 minutes. Definitely enough. How depressing". But, anyway.

My addiction to running is mainly borne from my addiction to
A) Statistics
B) Pride
C) Vanity
D) Smugness
E) The 'MapMyRun' iPhone app
F) My excellent Fitness playlist
G) Breaking records
H) My lifelong Type A personality

rather than any particular enjoyment of running itself, much as I don't hate it. This means we must continue to move swiftly onwards so I don't get bored, and I have set a few GOALS for myself.

  1. By the end of June I must finish couch to 5k. Assuming I am not in some accident I should manage to achieve this pretty easily as I am only 8 runs away from this elusive target.
  2. On the 21st July I am running the Race for Life. No, seriously! This will, of course, be my first ever race. I'm hoping to raise a few quid for charity in the meantime as well. I don't have any time target as it's my first race ever and I don't want to put myself under unnecessary pressure - I also might be running it with other people who have both more and less experience than me so it's probably not going to be a true reflection of the time I am capable of (making excuses already?). But I want to run it all and not stop to walk even once - that's the goal. This is already booked and signed up for so BETTER ACTUALLY BOTHER TO COMPLETE couch to 5k LOL.
  3. In the meantime  as soon as I have graduated couch to 5k I am jumping straight on to Bridge to 10k. 
  4. .....With the idea of running a 10k in the autumn. I know, that's crazy. But why not? I want to get my 5k race over and done with first before I book anything especially because I'd have to make sure I had room in my hectic diary (it's so difficult being me). But you know, loads of people run 5ks. Not so many people run 10ks. It's an achievement, yes?

When I first wrote about my public transport fantasies of marathons on this blog, it was obviously a fantasy, but a fantasy in the same way as when I was 9 I used to daydream about being picked to play Hermione in the Harry Potter films, but then in the end I didn't even bother to audition. That kind of fantasy.
I wouldn't yet say a marathon is my 'goal' like running the Race for Life is my concrete 'goal'. But the marathon is beginning to become a bit more of a 'dream' than a 'fantasy' (I am making literally no sense). I honestly am beginning to think that if I tried hard enough I could actually do it. Just IMAGINE the blog post I would write. You would all love it.