Guest Post -Girl Running Slowly: Finding my Feet After a Decade

My friend Maria started her wonderful “mysomethingnewblog” in February this year. It basically charts her attempts to try something new every day, and has led her on a brilliant journey of new foods, new activities and new friends. She has also gone on to inspire others to do the same, setting monthly challenges with themes such as culture, creativity and (wait for it…) fitness.

As part of this, she decided to try and pick up running again, and do some “new things” along the way. Here’s how she got on:

“I have wanted to get back into running for years but the barriers seemed overwhelming. I ran on a small scale for a couple of years and did a Race for Life 5k in 2003 but got out of the habit after moving house and away from my jogging buddy. Other than another half-hearted Race for Life in 2010, I haven’t really done any running since.

Suddenly the planets aligned and I found I’d signed up to do the British Heart Foundation MyMarathon – 26.2 miles of running during September at a pace of your choice. What had been stopping me, and what changed?

The Barriers

  • No trainers. I’d bought my existing pair in a rush, and – guess what – they were a rubbish fit. It’s amazing how something like this can put you off. Since over time I’ve developed a couple of niggly pains which I did not want to make worse, I knew I ought to get my gait analysed and choose some trainers properly to avoid falling at the first hurdle.
  • No running partner. I’m not very self-motivated or independent so I’d come to believe this was the only way I’d stick at it.
  • Weight. It’s horrible making yourself exercise in public when you know you need to be two-thirds the size you are. I have also never, ever lost weight through exercise but I always put weight on if I stop, so I was going to have to deal with this issue every time I went out, possibly FOREVER as I love food.
  • Fear of starting something and failing to stick at it – again. This is not a good time in my life to add to a catalogue of failures.

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New Trainers! 

The Perfect Conditions

  • A staycation – time to get organised and get started.
  • The weather and the season. I love the summer but autumn and spring give the opportunity to run in the dark, while it’s not too hot or cold or icy.
  • A decision to treat running as a hobby. No targets, no pressure, no over-thinking, no weight-loss targets – just see what happens and enjoy it for its own sake.
  • Enthusiasm of others, including my amazing host blogger and three separate recommendations for the gait analysis service at Advance Performance.
  • Getting used to going it alone – after the end of a very long relationship, this has been a recurrent theme this year, so if my choice from now on is either do things on my own or don’t do them, I’d better get on with it!
  • The pub. I’ve signed up for a few things this year after going to the pub. Beer brews bravery.

The Method

I vaguely started with the NHS Couch to 5k plan, planning to fast-forward it once I’d got to grips with things, to ensure I got my miles in during the month. I walk A LOT and was confident that I was fitter than I looked and felt, so as long as I was careful about stretching and injury, it seemed possible. I remember when I first began running, I could barely do 20 seconds straight but I never seem to have gone back to that point, even with the run-free years in between and even though I was thinner then. It’s as if your lungs and your subconscious remember how to handle it.

The staycation allowed me to spend ages initially walking miles away from my house to run on a secluded riverbank. I could glow like a giant lobster, experiment with technology and adjust my clothing with only the herons and cows for company. In reality I crossed paths with lots of cyclists and walkers but there’s an automatic bond with anyone out enjoying the countryside – for whatever reason, you want to do your thing in that spot and you have that in common with these strangers, so somehow it doesn’t matter that you are pretending (for now) to be an actual runner.

Another reason to try something like this during time off is that you can adjust your plans more easily. Tell yourself you’re going to run three times this week when there are only three time slots when you COULD run makes your plans very vulnerable at a time when you don’t really know how you’re going to get on. If, like me, you’re prone to giving up on things in a strop, this could be fatal! With a week off, the only firm plan I had to make was the trainer purchasing – beyond that, I just knew that by the end of the week I would have taken some sort of leap forward in my quest.

The Starting Blocks

I felt ill and made of lead during my first run but this turned out to be the dreaded PMS – annoying but it feel good to have got it out of the way at this end of the month rather than having a spanner thrown into the works at the end. My second run was much better and I did a couple of extra minutes with no ill effects. I liked the very subtle shift into being someone who had run a couple of times that week rather than someone who hadn’t run for years.

Apart from my setback (more below), each run was better, longer, faster – I had forgotten how quickly you improve when you start out, and it’s very gratifying.

The Setback

Sadly, after a bit more progress, I had to accept that my shins were increasingly giving me grief, and I stopped for a week. It was a big setback in my mileage but I spent the time researching what I assumed was shin splints, getting my foam roller out, stretching, massaging, resting, and determined not to be gutted. On starting again, I was pleased that one leg seemed MUCH better, but the other was excruciating. I got the ice pack out this time, and the next day spent a very long time massaging my inner right calf, followed by practically a whole day resting in bed with some weird lurgy…and finally on 18 September managed 1.5 miles (in bits) with much less pain, much more enjoyment and actually not that much sweat. Hurrah! It seems very odd that you continue to get fitter while you’re having a break – how does that work? Partly psychological, maybe.

Failure or Success?

I failed to do a marathon in September, but I did half a marathon by 2 October. All of my runs were run/walk combos, and I stubbornly stuck to my initial pledge to only count the running segments, otherwise I would have easily completed it in the time. I walked many marathons during the month so no way can I ask people to sponsor me to walk.

New routes!

But so many little successes! I:

  • Raised some money for BHF. I wonder what the percentage of charitable funds raised comes from unsuccessful ventures? Keep sponsoring your unrealistic pals, people – medical research depends on it!
  • Didn’t give up, even once it was blindingly obvious I was going to fail. I’m very good at giving up. This is why sponsorship helps; I hate letting others down.
  • Got over some of my hang-ups.
  • Rediscovered my enjoyment of running. I’ve enjoyed every single run.
  • Learnt to enjoy running on my own – and got closer to being able to run with other people again.
  • Ran up the hill that is Ely. I don’t think I’ve ever run up a proper hill before.

New Things

My own blog is about my project to do something new each day in 2016 and while running is not new, I’ve discovered that any hobby generates a steady stream of opportunities to try new things, whether tiny or life-changing! (I declare both types to be important in life.)

This month I’ve:

  • Tried running apps – brilliant motivation for that extra award, burst of speed or minute on the clock; annoying when they just stop counting your mileage for no reason
  • Had my gait analysed and had my first go on a running machine
  • Run in new places
  • Got addicted to foam-rolling
  • Used an ice pack
  • Signed up for a new 5k.

Parting Thoughts 

I’m a runner – might never be a very good one, but I am one, and my message to anyone who used to run is that you are still a runner. I’m so happy to have started again and that I’m doing it in my own random way, and that a month has made so much difference to my attitude.

If you’ve always thought of yourself as not being a runner, ask yourself why you think that. Is it worth giving it another go? If you find it boring then what makes it boring to you and how can you change that? I’m lucky – I love being outdoors and walking and I’m happy in most weathers, so running just adds interest to this. I reckon I’d be bored out of my mind on a running machine and I wouldn’t look forward to it but I daresay I could find ways of improving that. And if running just feels wrong, why is that? Are you trying to go to fast? Do you need to try running in the middle of nowhere until you find your feet? And if you think you need company, have more faith in yourself – if I can go it alone, anyone can.

Good luck!”

 

What I wish I knew when I started running

So this weekend I went to Germany for 24 hours to surprise one of my best friends for her Hen Party. It was an insane whistle-stop tour taking in Frankfurt, Viernheim and Mainz, and for anyone who knows me, this is a big deal, because I hate to fly. I mean REALLY hate to fly. And I hate to fly with a certain Irish airline most of all. I’m only a little bit ashamed to admit that there were tears during take off on the way out. They may have been exacerbated by the glass of champagne I had at the airport to “calm my nerves”.

Now I’m sure you’re all wondering “what’s this got to do with running? Are you going all travel blog on me?” No, wait – hear me out. It was the Mainz marathon this weekend…..

But that’s got nothing to do with it either. That was just a coincidence. Are you crazy? I don’t do marathons (yet).

No, the inspiration for this blog post comes from a fellow-passenger on the flight home, aka THE WORLD’S MOST CHATTY SLASH SOCIALLY INEPT MAN.

Bless his heart. There’s a possibility he was trying to distract me from my fear of flying, but after he told me how he’d “graffiti-ed the toilet” when he took a mid-flight comfort break (better core strength might have prevented that), I think he was just severely lacking in “social barriers”.

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Core strength is a runner’s friend

I mean at one point I turned my back to him and held my magazine right up to my face and he still kept on chatting. And I take after my dad – I’ll generally chat to everyone rather than offend them in any way, but I was seriously at the end of my tether when he asked me how I had found the pound versus the euro and then proceeded to complain about his onset of manboobs (his words, not mine).

And here’s the point of this blog post – we somehow got on to he subject of running and he started to ask my advice, which made me think I should share the three things I wish I’d known when I started running.

1. Breathing is EVERYTHING

When I first started running my breathing was all over the place. I would do anything just to get breath into my lungs, taking great erratic gulps until I got a stitch in my stomach that felt like it would split me in half and force me to stop. Then I got my hands on The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, and it changed everything. Even though the book was published in 1999, everything it says (with the exception of tape players – keep up kids – and the lack of fitness/tracking gadgets) is still completely relevant.

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Awesome shorts optional

The section on “rhythmic breathing” is what did it for me. This is where you coordinate your breathing with your stride in a 3:2 ratio (or 2:1 for faster runs), so this means you inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2. The thinking behind this is that you hit the ground with the greatest force at the beginning of the exhalation, so by making sure this happens on alternate legs each time means the stress on your body is spread out, rather than only happening on one side, which is what is going to give you a stitch. It takes a little while to get used to it but I guarantee that in a couple of weeks it’ll be second nature, and you’ll never look back. Plus I know from my own experience that during long races, when I start “hitting the wall”, I simply forget about the pain I’m feeling and focus on my breathing. That soon gets me back on track.

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Order this immediately

2. Get Your Gait Analysed

This is one of the things “socially awkward man” asked me on the plane. Is getting your “feet looked at” worth it? My answer to this is always YES. For a long time I wore Asics as they had always been my preferred trainers mainly due to my liking the way they looked (vacuous, moi?). However they tend to be pretty narrow in the mid-section, and I found that on longer runs my feet were obviously swelling and had no room to fully expand. Then after I did my IT band in (more on that another time), I was advised to get my gait analysed. This involves running on a treadmill and watching the footage back in slow motion to see how you land on your foot, and whether you’re a neutral runner of whether you under or over-pronate and therefore need trainers that will correct this.

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Not my legs. Someone else’s legs

If I’m honest I thought it was just a way for shops to sell you the most expensive pair of trainers on the shelf, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go, and I’ve been a Brooks Adrenaline GTS girl ever since. And guess what? No more IT band issues (and they helpfully look AWESOME too). Plus you’re spoilt for choice in Cambridge with Hobbs Sports, Up & Running and Advance Performance all offering Gait Analysis (although when you go you should be intending to buy your trainers from them rather than just exploiting their service)! Just be prepared for the fact that you may catch a glimpse of your bum in slow motion. Rarely flattering.

3. Make the Foam Roller Your Best Friend

Ever since I did my IT band in, I’ve foam rolled it regularly to prevent it from getting too tight. However, I neglected the rest of my legs and when I strained a tendon and ligament in my foot after the Cambridge Half Marathon, my screamingly tight calves suggested that I needed to step up my foam rolling game, sharpish. So now I foam roll all of the muscles in each leg for 10-15 minutes every day, usually whilst watching cat videos on my tablet (don’t judge me).

Foam rolling is much like a sports massage, and every time you hit a sore spot you just have to toughen up and keep your weight on it for 30-60 seconds until you feel it easing up. There are loads of online tutorials for foam rolling specific muscles, and it’s a fairly inexpensive bit of kit, but trust me – it’s one of the best habits you could possibly get in to. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Awesome leggings optional

So there you go – my list of must-dos for those new to running. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time but hopefully with this blog post I can stop one or two other newbies from making the same ones.