Running is a bit like cooking. You either love it or hate it. You may do it just because you feel you have to. But I think a lot of people secretly (or not so secretly) want to be good at it. Or at least to be able to do it with relative ease.
I’m not a natural runner. It feels like a chore. It’s really tough on my body. And it’s boring as hell. Some people actually enjoy running, to the point that it helps them to de-stress and ‘unwind’ or set themselves up for the day ahead. Kind of like those people who can muster up the energy to make a gourmet meal after a long day at work because they find it ‘relaxing’.
Last year I spent a small fortune on kitting myself out with the right running gear for all weather conditions. I even got myself a running backpack from Lululemon. I also signed up to Parkrun with all the right intentions and my barcodes printed. In that time I ran a total of four times (outdoors); twice with a Sweaty Betty class and twice on my own. Each of the solo runs lasted about 10 minutes. I was winded and my shins hurt – I’ve tried 3 types of trainers as well as special insoles for my flat feet with not much luck. My endurance indoors on a treadmill has improved, but my legs just can’t cope with hard London surfaces. Still, I wanted to be able to do it even though my body (or rather, mind) said No.
Around mid-November an email landed in my work inbox. A recent project inspired colleagues to bounce around the idea of a team to take part in an Advent Running challenge starting 1st December. The official campaign (worldwide) is 30 minutes a day every day until Christmas Day. The work challenge was a minimum of 15 minutes a day until 24th December. So the hard part for the majority was the consistency rather than the time itself. For me it was both! Half the group dropped out (or didn’t even start) in the first week. It was a mental as well as a physical challenge. I was fed up with being a crap runner. I finish my Level 3 PT training in March just before my 30th birthday. How was I going to motivate others when I couldn’t even motivate myself?
Other reasons included:
- To balance out some of the seasonal excess. In the form of multiple Christmas parties, one Engagement, end of year dinner catch-ups with friends and a big New Years Eve event
- To feel less miserable during the winter season and counteract the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D). Ok it has been a very mild December but it’s still dark. I didn’t have a Boxing Day holiday somewhere sunny to look forward to this year (Colombia 2014/ Brazil 2012/ Tanzania 2011)
- To counteract the effects of a slowing metabolism. Since I stopped dancing as frequently (too many late nights, 4-5 times a week) my metabolism has slowed down significantly. Approaching your 30s and working a predominantly desk job doesn’t help matters either. Gaining over half a stone, feeling sluggish and low on energy rather than at your best is not great!
- To get healthier. This sounds really generic but when you’ve been exposed to a lot of family health problems, the importance of looking after yourself really hits home and is continually reinforced every time you have to go and visit at the hospital
- To help the body to burn fat more efficiently and compliment strength and resistance training (as opposed to losing weight). I’m currently around 25%, which is right at the top end of ‘Average’ for my 25-29yo female age bracket. The goal is 20% (#strongnotskinny)
- Lastly, the sense of accomplishment if/when I made it to the end.
In the end, not a single day was missed because I knew once I stopped that would be it. Here are some of the highlights, and my awards for:
- Most fun run – Tourist at Home (Day 4). Lunchtime run with a colleague taking in Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace – with a visit to Queen Victoria to show her our kicks, a run down The Mall and around St. James’s Park
- Most boring run – Running aimlessly with no music. Torture (Day 6). Because I put my earphones in the washing machine with a run top. Fail.
<This blank space represents the boredom>
- Worst run – Caught in a downpour on my way to work (Day 8). I was also wearing compression leggings. Those were an absolute b*tch to peel off!
- Most failed artwork (Day 10). This was supposed to be a flag…Turns out you have to run in straight lines through people on the same side of the road to get a cleaner piece of art. My 3 year old self would have been proud though!
- Longest run – Beautiful evening along the River Thames (Day 11). I was in need of some serious motivation that Friday evening after work so decided to join a work colleague on a slightly longer run. The initial plan was to turn back early, but in typical me fashion I thought ‘f*** it’. Not sure I could have done this on my own but was seriously impressed with my stats attempting to keep up. A definite high point. I then followed a whole dinner with a whole pizza afterwards.
- PB on treadmill – VO2 Max Fitness Testing (Day 12). A ‘Well above average’ reading on this chart with my fastest 2.6km in 12 minutes sprint. Not bad for a short-legged non-runner!
- Most creative run – Not giving up on being a run artist that easily (Day 21). The Strava app refused to pick it up, as did MapMyRun…so I ended up running the route twice with no joy. The next morning my FitBit Surge watch GPS synced up with Strava and lo and behold. Check out his tail! Happy days.
- First 5km Parkrun – 9am Christmas Day (Day 25 of 25). What better way to mark my first Parkrun and final day of Advent Running than on Christmas morning? I came in at 26.51min in position 41 out of 52 runners and honestly nearly threw up during the last 200m. It was a humbling experience to be lapped by men over the age of 60 too. But as the lovely Adventers on Facebook reassured me, they have had more time to practice!
There are some cons.
- There are no shortcuts. It’s hard. And you will struggle…but you will also get better, even if your mind still continues to fight it
- Road running can be really tough on your legs. If you’re not lucky enough to live near country lanes or parks with dirt paths then your knees and shins may suffer. And then there are the annoying traffic lights and pedestrians
- It takes some organisation. If you’re running to/from work then it can be a pain to plan all the things you need a day in advance so that you’re not carrying extra weight in a backpack
- You can’t stop eating! You may overestimate the amount of calories you’re burning on your runs and/or use this as an excuse to eat more. I had 2 full dinners at least twice. If weight loss is a goal then you’ll probably need to be a bit more conscious here
- There IS actually such a thing as too much exercise
- Listen to your body. Injuries due to overtraining are problem if you’re already quite active. Being forced to do NOTHING for weeks/months is really really frustrating, especially if you find it hard to sit still
- Increased metabolic activity will up the levels of damaging free radicals in your body, which can have an ageing effect on your skin. Running outdoors in built-up and polluted (city) environments on a daily basis contributes to this.
- Mix up your running routine. Alternate indoor treadmill days with outdoor days to limit the impact on your legs and joints
- Download an episode of something you want to watch on your phone/tablet if the idea of the treadmill bores you. Your legs will thank you
- Do intervals, e.g. walk (30secs), jog (2min), sprint (30secs). Repeat X no. of times, gradually increasing your ‘jog’ time. This is also a great fat burner! ‘Couch to 5km’ via the NHS website is also fantastic as it breaks down realistic training schedule for newbie runners – personally I was too impatient to stick to this, but I’ve heard lots of great reviews
- Plan a great soundtrack or download a podcast or audiobook
- Try the Zombie app. I have heard it’s great but honestly, if you’re road running in a big city like London then you’ll probably end up running into traffic or people!
- Incorporate running into your daily routine to save time. If you have showers at work then consider running to work or getting off the tube/bus a few stops early. Or do this on your way home. Run to the shops with an empty backpack and walk or take transport home with groceries. You’ll also save money!
- Run with another person or a group of others. This isn’t for everyone but personally I forget that I’m running when I spend the first part of a run chatting to somebody. Other people can also help to push you that little bit further. You may think you’ll be too slow and hold up the group but honestly people are usually really understanding and supportive (the ones that aren’t usually run alone!).
- Change your outdoor routes. Create some map art to keep you distracted from the act of actually running (see above). Get to know your area or city. I have definitely discovered a couple of new shortcuts and can now better navigate Central London on foot because of the Advent Run challenge
- Get involved with a community of other runners. Through Advent Running I found the incredibly inspiring Facebook group of over 2000 other runners worldwide (you need to request to join). Not only is it entertaining to see what others get up to, but you stop making excuses when you read some of the stories and see what lengths individuals go to in order fit a run into their busy lives and commitments. After working night shifts, forgetting to pick up kids, heading out at 11pm in the cold and rain… It’s also a great place to share your personal achievements and have people cheer you on. Thinking up fun posts to share also helps to keep your runs interesting!
- Take on a challenge or set a goal, e.g. Advent Running as previously mentioned, as part of a detox January because your next payday is ages away, a 5km Parkrun, a 10km for charity (at home or abroad), the London marathon, Tough Mudder
- Get a foam roller and/or massage stick. You’ll save money on massages while helping to improve your performance. Look up YouTube videos for some good tutorials on ‘myofascial release with a foam roller’ or try and find a class locally
- See a physio who is ideally a runner himself/herself if you have problematic shins
- Load up on foods rich in antioxidants to help fight against the effects of free radicals
- Don’t eat 2 dinners! If your goal is weight loss, then you really do need to keep these additional calories at bay. Rehydrate, eat a banana or a handful of nuts or other healthy snack if you’re still hungry after your meal, then decide if you really need to eat that pizza
- Invest in an activity tracker. If you like stats and find tracking your own progress motivating.
Next week: FitBit Surge review