No More Excuses! Start Running.

So it’s the second week of the year, and your new year’s resolution to take up running hasn’t quite turned you into the gazelle that you’d envisaged. In fact, you might have been a bit rash in deciding that you could become a runner after all. True, it seems that everyone else on the entire planet is either trail running, parkrunning, or embarking on a marathon training plan (or all three), but clearly they haven’t struggled the way you have. Clearly they haven’t got the excuses for staying sedentary that you have. WRONG! If you are using any, or all of the excuses below, to stall your running journey, you’re deceiving yourself. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. If you are physically healthy, you can run.

EXCUSE #1: I’ve tried running but it’s hard.

No shit Sherlock. If running was effortless, we’d never walk anywhere, we’d run. It’s precisely because it’s challenging, and physically and mentally demanding, that it’s rewarding. The truth is, that even after running becomes a well-established habit, it can feel hard some days (at times, every day). It’s also true however, that running isn’t half as hard as your brain will tell you it is. There’s nothing your mind will like better than to try and sabotage your early running efforts with an internal dialogue that stalks your every step with phrases like: Stop, it’s too hard, stop, this is crazy, it hurts, it must be bad for you, stop for goodness sake, stop, you mother is right, this is bad for your knees, stop for the love of all things sedentary STOP!

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Remedies: Run with others. Running at a pace that allows you to chat with another runner is not only distracting from any pain but it also drowns out negative thoughts. If you don’t know anyone you can run with, get on Facebook, reach out to other beginners, join a running/coaching group, or form your own. Facebook is teeming with running forums. If you’re not ready to go public with your new activity, then follow a 0-5km (also called couch to 5km) program.Buy an app, listen to the instructions as you run-walk. As long as you stay committed to the 8, 10 or 16-week program, you’ll make progress. The trick is, for those challenging running stints, with no one to talk to, you need to talk to yourself. Try overwrite your negative inner voice with positive mantras such as I am strong, or I love running. The mantra doesn’t need to be true to be useful. Honestly, I ran Melbourne Marathon last year in a state of dehydration and nausea, and the only thing that kept me from completely freaking out was talking to myself, repeating such phrases over and over, to the beat of each footstep. Yet, six years ago, I struggled to talk myself into running 200m. Running, you will discover, really is a mental game, and nowhere is that more apparent than when you start out.

EXCUSE #2: I’m too slow

Granted I’ve never heard a man express fears that they can’t join a running group or a parkrun because of fear of being too slow to keep up but it is a comment I’ve heard from women. The answer to this fear is – it doesn’t matter if you’re slow. If you’re starting out, you should be running slowly, at a pace that allows you to speak full sentences as you run. Speed is irrelevant when you start. In fact, speed can be counterproductive because if you put your body under too much duress too soon, you are likely to get injured. You need to build up both pace and distance over a period of months to allow your muscles, ligaments, and tendons adjust to their new training loads. So, run slow. Running is running.

EXCUSE #3: I don’t have a runner’s body

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Please go to your nearest parkrun and have a look at the diverse shapes, sizes, and running forms on display. The only thing you have to know about a runner’s body is that it runs. End of. 

EXCUSE #4: I’m too old.

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I always thought it a bit comical that when I started running in Malaysia at the ripe old age of 40, I automatically slotted into the Veteran category at races. My father thought I was crazy to start running ‘at my age’. Since moving to Perth and joining Masters Athletics Western Australia, I’ve discovered that being in one’s mid-forties is still fairly young in runners’ years. I’m frequently inspired by septuagenarian marathon runners, women in their mid-fifties who make me look slow as a snail, and former state champions who, though not as nimble as in their prime, keep moving forward one step at a time. If you’re healthy, age is no barrier, and honestly running can often feel like giving the onset of menopause and the encroachment of age the proverbial finger. Age (or death) will get you eventually but that’s no reason to give into it prematurely. 

So, don’t lose heart, if the shine is going off your new year’s good intentions. Stick with it. Join a group or buy an app. Get a coach if you need one. Start walk-running at your local parkrun. Do whatever you need to do to get you started. You deserve it.

Patience, Progression, Perseverance. Essentials for the Beginner.

‘I’ve always wanted to run but it feels so hard and I’ve never managed to get that runners high you hear about,’ a new acquaintance lamented to me recently.

Firstly I was amazed by the lady’s desire to run. As passionate as I am about running, up until six years ago I had never had the remotest urge to do so. FOMO was my reason to start; desire didn’t come into it. And wanting to run, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The truth is that there is a lot of groundwork to be done in the first few weeks and months of running. Everyone, even those who consider themselves fit and active, find running difficult to begin with. The trick, my friends, is to remember the 3Ps: Patience, Progressions & Perseverance. Keep these in mind, especially when you’re struggling, and you will optimise your chance of acquiring a fourth P – passion! – just as I did. (The ingredients needed for a runner’s high – the fifth and sixth Ps – pace and performance  – will surely follow).

P1 PATIENCE

Unless you are five years old or unusually genetically gifted, you are not going to get up one morning, lace up your shoes, and run 5km in 25 mins. If somehow you do, it’s safe to say that you won’t be able to lace up your shoes again for a while because along with other parts of you, your hamstrings will be so tight and sore that you won’t be able to reach your feet. The reason that it takes time to build up a running habit, is that the body, or at least the parts of the body that are engaged in running, are not instant gratification machines. Your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal need time to adjust to a new level of activity and loading, and if you don’t respect the time required for your lungs, muscles and connective tissues to adapt, they will penalise you with discomfort and injury. And like my new acquaintance, you might at this point give up on the whole running idea altogether – sore and defeated.

The great news is that you will probably feel a bit fitter after only a few runs but remember that your ligaments and tendons take as long as four weeks to adapt to the new loads you’re imposing on them. Do not look at people who can run 10km in 45 mins and think resentfully that you’re just as lean and fit from your gym workouts as they are, so why can’t you run like they do? Don’t look at them and think that because you’re not as lean and fit as them that you never will be able to run as they do. Running has its own set of unique physical requirements so be patient, keep your eyes on the long game, and consider those early weeks and months of doing short, easy runs (or walk-runs) as an investment in your long term goal – whether that be to run 5km continuously in 35 mins or complete a half marathon before you turn 50. Remember you want to get into running for the longterm which ironically demands that you should not be in a big hurry to speed up – to start with at least.

P2 PROGRESSION

The main injury-prevention tool for new runners is to progress slowly. A couch to 5km program is ideal as it combines walking and running, with the walking intervals shortening and the running intervals lengthening, as the weeks progress. Within 10-12 weeks of thrice-weekly sessions, most people can manage a 5km at a slow pace. Remember to look at your total number of kilometres in a week and resist the urge to get carried away when you’re feeling good – it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid ramping up weekly mileage by more than 10% at a time. Slow progress is key. Train yourself to achieve a base mileage that is comfortably challenging over a period of months before you even consider starting any kind of speed workouts or races.

P3 PERSEVERENCE

In the early days of running, before you’ve trained that little nagging voice in your brain to shut-up and stop telling you that you need to quit, that you’ll never be able to run far, perseverance is key. It will be hard. Accept that and keep trying. You might look at other runners, who make it look easy. But you can’t hear what’s going on in their heads no more than they can hear what’s in yours. The brain is one of running’s greatest tools – and beneficiaries – so train it in tandem with your lungs and legs. Run with a friend if you can; conversation is a great distraction from discomfort. Like and read running pages on Facebook and Instagram to keep you motivated. Remember that everyone, even Mo Farah, has bad days. The important thing is not to give up when the going gets tough. Persevere!

I explained the 3Ps to my new acquaintance, hoping to encourage her to give running another go. I invited her to come along to my next coaching class for free. She said that she would, but in the end she messaged me to say that her foot was injured but she’d try again the following week. I really hope she does. The 3Ps are essential components of a beginner runner’s tool kit but of course to use them you first have to (be well enough to) show up.

This article first appeared on JustRunlah.com.

Nail your first race

Since August I’ve had the privilege of coaching a group of new runners once a week. We’re all 40-50ish. Not that this matters but I think it is important. It’s important because I firmly believe that it’s never too late to start something new, especially if it brings you joy, friendship, and better physical and mental health.

While there are days when I can’t remember what I had for dinner the previous evening, I never have trouble remembering my first race. It also helps to have a timeline post on Facebook to jog the memory.

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The point is, that one’s first race, no matter how long, or where, is special. And for two members of my Monday morning running group, this Sunday shall be seared on their brains, and shared to friends worldwide on Facebook, as they are heading to a start line for the first time to run an 8km race. So ladies, here are a few words of wisdom, which I will try to heed myself, as they are probably valid for every race whether it’s your first or your 110th:

  • decide on your racing outfit the night before and lay it out ready for your early start. Do not decide to debut your new shiny runners or pushup sports bra. Only wear gear that has been tried and tested several times.
  • don’t worry if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep before the race – adrenaline will more than make up for it.
  • get to the race location with plenty of time to spare especially as you may have to wait in line to collect your bib.
  • also allow time for a loo visit. Some of the nicest chats with strangers I’ve ever had sober have been at race start lines and in queues for portaloos.
  • listen to the race director’s instructions before the race.
  • it’s a small race, but since it’s your first, keep to the back at the start line so you don’t get trampled over by the herd of PB-chasers.
  • no matter what pace you do, it will be a PB, so don’t worry about your speed.
  • don’t go out too fast as you will certainly regret it. If anything err on the side of caution and take it easy for the first couple of kilometers, letting your nerves settle down, finding your rhythm. You’ll enjoy sailing past the runners who ran out too fast.
  • don’t worry about people running past you. Run your own race and enjoy it. A race doesn’t have to be serious business. Smile, even if inside you’re crying. It will look better on the photographs. If you don’t take off too fast, you’ll most likely feel and look great!
  • chin up, eyes forward, take it all in – the other runners, the scenery, the sound of your breath – you are racing and you are amazing.
  • if you do start to struggle with the little demon voice that says you can’t do it, banish it by counting 1-2-3-4 with the beat of your cadence, or use a mantra such as I-love-to-run. This may feel strictly true at kilometre 7 but the little demon voice in your head doesn’t need to know that.
  • use the water stations even if it’s only to swish some fluid around your dry mouth.
  • try to finish strong, sprinting across the finish line but if you feel like wretching, that’s ok too. Be sure to smile, even while wretching (!), in case your coach has recovered from her own race in time to grab an iPhone and aim it at you.
  • enjoy the euphoria of finishing while walking and stretching for a few minutes after you finish.
  • did I mention that you are to enjoy yourself? Joy is the true essence of nailing it.

And I dear runners, will do my best to practice what I preach!