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.

Beginners’ guide to parkrun: five top tips to get you started.

What if I told you that there exists the perfect community-based antidote to our fast-paced, achievement-oriented, internet-soaked, terrorist-fearing, climate-changing, politically precarious modern world? And it’s free. And there’s no catch or downside. Unless you count running as a downside; in which case you might have landed on the wrong blog. Or you’re one of my rare, lovely friends whom I have yet to convert. Yet.

parkrun is the name given to a collection of five-kilometre running events that take place every Saturday morning in fourteen countries across five continents. Each parkrun territory has its own sponsors. Because of the sponsorship all are free to take part in. (Wikipedia)

Today marks the 12th birthday of parkrun, which started with 13 people in a park in the UK and has since grown into a global phenomenen involving almost 1000 events and counting. How can I be part of this deceptively simple concept that brings so much joy and goodwill (and better health) to communities in 14 countries I hear you ask. Well if you check the parkrun website for your country and discover an event in your local area, you are not only exceptionally fortunate but also only a few steps from actually becoming a parkrunner

Here’s how to get started:

 1. Register and print your barcode. #DFYB

Online registration is easy and fast, after which you will need to print, then cut out a credit card-sized slip of paper containing your unique parkrun number and barcode. This barcode is the key to a new world of recorded times, which ultimately accumulate into free milestone t-shirts, and global parkrun tourism opportunities. When paired with the finisher token you receive crossing the finish line, and scanned by a volunteer, your barcode opens the door to a whole world of personal bests, milestones, progress, and borderless parkrun tourism. No barcode, no time. And please don’t offer the barcode scanner your smartphone to scan the screen. It doesn’t work. Ever.

 

Keep your barcode somewhere secure (and dry) so you don’t lose it during the run. As you can see I wore mine out and instead of cutting a new one from my printed sheet, I ordered a laminated barcode disk that attaches to my shoe (shown here with a finisher token). Barcode bracelets are also popular.

2. Show Up Early

img_4528Every parkrun event website contains comprehensive information on directions, parking, the course, and toilet facilities. Study it in advance. It’s a good idea to show up early, though not too early unless you’re happy to help the Run Director and other volunteers set up. img_8523All parkruns plant a flag to mark the gathering point for runners.  Getting there 15 minutes before start time allows for a little chat and the pre-run briefing from the Run Director during which he/she will explan the course (which you’ll already have scoped out online anyway, right?) and ask for first timers and visitors from other parkrun events to raise their hands. Raise that hand high with pride and bask in the ensuing grunts of approval/applause as you’re only a first timer once.

3. Bring a friend/child/dog..

If you are daunted by showing up alone, bring a friend, a child or even a dog. I opted for a child during my first few parkruns as I had no friends (who ran), nor a dog. Thinking that parkrun was some sort of race (see below), I was glad to have a slower runner in my care, providing an excuse for not having to run until I heaved. The daughter who fell and grazed her thigh during her first parkrun, recently celebrated my 50th (parkrun, not birthday) by gliding gazelle-like past me at the 300m mark with a ‘Hi mum’ and staying ahead of me for the entire course. This is the price to pay for spending time with her every Saturday morning. It’s more than worth it.

If you’re taking a child in a stroller, please check that your parkrun event is stroller-friendly. Most are but if there’s a beach-stretch as there is at my local parkrun, it may not be ideal. Unless you’re seeking a special Saturday-morning challenge. If you’re taking a child aged 11 or below, you need to accompany them on the course for their own safety.

parkrun is for the whole family, for people of all ages, and running abilities. Don’t worry about being the slowest. You most likely won’t be. And even if you are, you’re still a hell of a lot faster than the folks lounging around at home, scrolling through Facebook.

parkrun is such a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part. (parkrun.com)

4. It’s not a race

‘It’s a run not a race’ is a parkrun mantra. Some runners use it as a time trial and a test of overall progress in increOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAasing speed and fitness. For others it’s a trial to cover 5km at all. It doesn’t matter which category, or the many in-between, that you fall into; it’s all about having fun. And for some people, pushing through the pain barrier is fun. There is some emphasis on personal bests when the results are posted online (and issued via email) but ultimately parkrun is what you want it to be. I go every week on a course that varies depending on the wind and the tide so that even when I run my hardest, I don’t improve on the PB I set nine months ago. And I really don’t mind. What matters most is that I meet up with some great people (and meet new ones) every Saturday morning and enjoy good company and being active. It’s now a bonus if I can keep up with my children.

5. Volunteer

Without volunteers, there would be no parkrun. Donning a parkrun volunteer vest is the best way to make friends and there are numerous roles available so check out the online roster to see where you think you’d like to offer your services. It’s recommended that everyone volunteer at least three times a year and 25 volunteer commitments are rewarded with a free purple 25 t-shirt. The best volunteers cheer, applaud, and high five which you’ll discover during your first run is something much-appreciated.

If there isn’t a parkrun near you, you might consider getting a group of enthusiasts together and setting one up. I have friends in both Malaysia and Norway currently trying to get parkruns up and going. As for my non-running friends? I’m still working on them.