Growing up, I was terrible at sport. I avoided P.E. wherever possible. The only exercise that I enjoyed to any extent was karate.
When I was 15, our karate instructor sent us outside to run around the massive field in front of the sports hall. I was one of the oldest and most senior students in my class, and yet I have a very clear memory of my lovely boyfriend at the time running along faithfully next to me as all the 7 and 8 year olds flew past us laughing.
I don’t like running.
So how on earth did I end up running a marathon??
I guess there were a few key events that led up to it. When I first started going to the gym years ago (at my induction I told the gym instructor he would never see me do more than walk on the treadmill), I regularly met another newbie on the treadmill. After a few months I was starting to consider running 5k…. she had signed up to a marathon. It seemed utterly inconceivable to me that someone with our level of fitness would do such a thing. But she did do it, and she finished it, and I was filled with awe.
Another thing that got me thinking about it was when I was watching TOWIE (yes, I used to!) and Arg completed a marathon. If HE could get up and run a marathon after downing a mammoth full English… surely I could??
By the time a new half marathon started in Reigate in 2014, I had run a few 10ks and had said a few times that I might consider doing a half. I mean… I didn’t really mean it. I just said it. But when one is happening right on your front door step you don’t have many ways of escaping it!! So I ran it, and surprised myself. I said I would never do another. I’ve now done 5.
At this point, I had been setting myself one major challenge a year for about 10 years. Karate gradings, sky dives, skating marathons, starting roller derby, starting pole fitness… you get the picture. So the escape routes on the path to doing a marathon were getting fewer.
And then a friend of mine, Lorna, became ill… again. Terminally ill. A friend of hers had started a charity to support people suffering with secondary breast cancer, and Lorna was very involved with it. I told her that if I ever did a marathon, I would raise money for Second Hope. When Lorna left us, it seemed a fitting tribute to a wonderful woman… and so I signed up and ran.
I have to make it clear – I really didn’t want to! I am, and always will be an unwilling runner. But I found some ways to make the training easier, and made plenty of mistakes others can learn from, so I thought I would share them in case they are of use to anyone else. If you are a sporty type or experienced runner, there is unlikely to be anything of interest here for you, but feel free to stick around and laugh at my efforts. These tips are definitely targeting people that are new to running.
The single biggest obstacle for a runner is mind-set. The head generally gives up before the legs.
- Find a training buddy. I had two. We didn’t train much together in the end… because of availability to start with, and then because of the widening gap in our pace. But it is always good to have people to discuss ideas and share problems with. If you can’t find a willing buddy, there are running clubs springing up everywhere, which allow you to train with people at your own level and also get advice from more experienced runners.
- Smile at people when you run. Yep, you might get known as the local nutter, but it will brighten your mood… and it might even brighten theirs.
- Don’t rate yourself against other people’s progress, rate yourself against your own. Everyone is different and will have different running abilities. Accept it. Move on.
- Take away something positive from each run. Did you have to walk 4 times? Was your pace slower than usual? Acknowledge it. Then think of something positive about the run. Did you run further than usual? Quicker? Feel better afterwards?
- Don’t listen to your negative thoughts before a run. Tired? Sore? Put your trainers on and run. Chances are you will manage to do what you have planned, or at least more than you would have done sitting at home. If, once you are out, you really aren’t feeling it… give yourself a break and head home.
- Use the run time to plan or think creatively. Think about what goals you have in your day to day life and start thinking of ways to make them happen. When did I write this blog? In my head, on my first 17 mile run.
- When your motivation wanes and things aren’t going to plan, try and fix it yourself. Assess what is going wrong, and plan small goals to start fixing the problem. Low energy levels? Start playing with your diet. Pace slowing? Plan interval runs. If you constantly moan at others and start relying on them to pull you out of a negative hole, you lower their morale too. Having been that person on more than one occasion, I can assure you that when you expect your positive energy to come from others… YOU SUCK.
- Plan something amazing as a reward after you finish your big race. A spa the day after is fab 🙂
Practical Considerations for Running
- Wear comfortable shoes. They should be one or two sizes too big to allow for the fact that your feet swell during running, and on longer runs the arch of the foot can flatten.
- Make time to train. Write or download a plan before you start training, assess how many times a week you need to train, and for what length of time. Make sure that you can commit to 95% of the plan. Trying to force your body to reach it’s end goal with only part of the training completed can be terribly demoralising, and could cause injury.
- Invest in a running tracker – whether it be a watch or an app on your phone. I personally use Jabra which I love.
- Use a good playlist. Music can make or break a run. Play around with a few until you find one that works for you. Usually I LOVE rock and punk rock. My running play list? Cheesy pop all the way.
- Sign up for public races. Park Runs (free – 5k), 10k, half marathon – they are all great practice. You will improve your pace just being there. And you will learn what to expect on the day of your big run.
Physical Considerations for Running
- Stretch. After every run. Running can take quite a toll on the body… especially if you are new to it. Help your body recover. Have a read through my free stretching guide here: Runners Stretching Guide
- Stretch again.
- Invest in a foam roller. An absolute must. It is a poor man’s massage, and it can be fairly unpleasant, but it will help your muscles to recover quicker. If you can afford it, go to a massage therapist too… you won’t regret it.
- Have a hot bath after your long runs to relax your muscles, preferably with Epsom salts.
- If you are really experiencing a lot of muscle pain, you might want to try a cold bath directly after running. No, it wasn’t one of my favourite ideas either. Ice packs on sore muscles can also reduce pain and swelling.
- Runners belly…. it’s an actual thing! Once I mentioned it to some of my running friends, it turned out they had the same problem. Let’s just say running can increase your need for the loo. If you suffer with runner’s belly, start paying attention to what foods your tum is sensitive to, and try cutting them out of your diet before a run. Failing that, take an Imodium before your long runs. Top tip!!
- Be aware of your posture when running. The impact, tiredness and gravity tend to make people hunch over at the shoulders and hinge forward at the hip. This can cause back pain and tight hip flexors. Try to keep your chest up and your hips forward.
I hope these tips help to make your running journey easier – good luck with your training!
Big thanks to this lot for helping make my marathon happen…
My ever supportive, long suffering hubbie
Amy & Claire, my training buddies
All my lovely friends and family
Everyone who donated to Second Hope