The alarm goes off at twenty to nine. I loll with my finger on my phone’s snooze button and seriously debate staying in bed forever. I think about breakfast – food being my usual incentive to make the epic journey downstairs – and realise, with some distress, that if I choose to run I won’t get to eat for at least half an hour from now; better make it a quick one.
I started giving running a fair shot in my final year of university. Before then, there had been a couple of summers where I’d begun a new fitness regime and begun jogging pretty consistently, by which I mean I went twice and then decided the effort probably outweighed the gain (maybe I didn’t want to be a size 10 that badly).
This time around, the motivation was entirely different. In the depths of dissertation despair, I needed something to keep me sane. It started as much the same story; determination quickly turns into a reality check and motivation makes way for self-doubt, disappointment and, crucially, deterrence.
There were times that I didn’t enjoy it, but I’d found a way to keep at it, and it was simply this – I made a commitment, at the beginning, to go out every day, 6 days a week. I had a route which I suspect was less than a kilometre, and it would take me about 12 minutes. Sometimes I walked. But every day, 6 days a week, I finished it. And, every day, I felt good about that.
It’s 3k to the beach and, this whole time I’ve been running towards it, I’ve been trying to distract myself from the fact that it’s also 3k to get back. I’m doing well, twenty minutes in; my feet aren’t feeling heavy yet. I wonder if I look like a runner, or if the people passing me in their cars or walking on the pavement are thinking “she’s obviously just starting out.” Having people around helps me keep a stern face; I will keep going, I won’t let them see me walk. The early evening air is cool and, veering away from the main road, I come to my favourite view of all; a long, straight path which unravels to the top of seafront, the sun low in the sky. I switch my iPod to a gradually building ballad and I know – I can feel – I’m going to make it.
I run first and foremost for the peace of mind.
It’s my time to think, or to not think – to escape or to hammer out on the pavement whatever problem I can’t find an answer to. A lot of my best thinking is done after a run.
I run for my former fat kid self, who took 17 seconds to complete the 100 meters in school, and never finished the 1500m track.
And I keep going because it’s changed me in little ways for the better. I’m fitter, more focused, more disciplined and I’m happier when it’s a regular part of my life.
So how do I know you can run? It doesn’t suit everyone and it hasn’t made an athlete out of me.
But if you want to run, and you’re without the injuries or weaknesses that prevent a lot of people from getting comfortable with the sport, you just have to stick at it and you will see improvements. They start small, like completing your 1k without stopping, but eventually stretch to your fitness, speed, stamina, shape, attitude and self-esteem.
I’m not an expert, but I got from 0-10k in under a year and continue to set new goals.
So here’s what I’ve learned, if you’re thinking of starting:
1. Do it for you. Don’t compare and don’t compete with anyone but yourself. If you don’t feel like pushing yourself, you don’t have to – it’s only you that will know (and often that will spur you on to do better next time). My 10k was just as important to me as my friend’s first marathon was to him; set your own goals (however small) and give yourself credit for achieving them.
2. Get the right shoes and look after your knees and back. It’s worth researching some muscle building exercises and stretches which will help prevent injury or strain.
3. Enjoy it. Make playlists, download apps, run to a great view, join a group, buy some overpriced branded gear if it makes you excited to put it on – something needs to inspire you to get out there. It’s more likely, then, to become part of a routine.
4. Don’t over do it. Consult training guides for how often you should run and how quickly you should build up your pace and distance. Days off are really important; adjusting your diet to compensate is really important. Consider alternating exercise to break things up.
5. Share in it. I thought running was SO exclusive. It isn’t, it’s a great and friendly community. Every Saturday morning I take part in a 5k race with anywhere up to about 150 other people and I always get lapped by the semi-pros that finish in half my time, but you know what? They wait at the finish line to clap everyone else through.
Running is a great way to meet people, test your limits and explore your surroundings. Having just moved to a new city, it’s been a brilliant way for me to get to know my way around and uncover some hidden gems of places I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. To this day, nothing keeps me more motivated than the promise of a good view.
By the way, sometimes I still want to quit ten minutes in. Sometimes, running up a hill which I’ve done in one before, it’s all I can do not to walk (or crawl). Quite often, I’m a little too slack and say things to myself like ‘hey, at least I’m out – something is better than nothing, right?’ Which it is. But better than that is pushing yourself and realising that actually, you can do it. Even if you are lapped, or you get a stitch for no reason, or you’re way behind someone who says they’ve never really run before; even if it’s not your personal best, you did it. You might swear it’ll be your last but the chances are that feeling will get you running again.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.
Explore more on this subject:
- NHS: Knee exercises
- Runner’s World: Women’s Diet
- Video interview: Alexandra Heminsley, author of ‘Running Like a Girl’
- The Guardian Blog: Running tips for beginners: How to start from scratch
- Guardian interactive: How do you rank as a runner?
- For free Saturday morning 5k races: ParkRun