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.

 

Taper Madness

We’ve moved out of our house, the kids are on school holidays, the weather is cold, frequently wet and windy, and apparently my training is done. I won’t go on about the ridiculous position of being a tenant in Australia whereby one is expected to improve a property and return it cleaner than when it was received. No I’ve left those rants ringing in the ears of every person unfortunate enough to meet me last week. Now it’s time to look forward (to the next time I have to move out of a WA house, not!), but also to more pleasurable things. First though I have to do my marathon – this weekend!

I’m torn between being grateful that I completed a marathon training program without getting injured (the niggle in my left quad does not indicate an injury, no it does not) and wondering if perhaps I didn’t train hard enough. Or maybe the latter thought is tapering crazy thinking. To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect on Sunday. And that I think has got to be the one of the best things – besides fitting into skinny jeans a size smaller than last year – about this experience at this point. I have never done a marathon before so the only thing to do, having done the training apparently, is to get philosophical.

If it was easy to run a marathon, everyone would do one, wouldn’t they? Okay, I can think of a few of you who wouldn’t but you know what I mean. It is designed to be hard. I read somewhere that only 20% of marathoners run 42.2km in under 4 hours and that statistic does not take advanced age into consideration. So a sub-4 hour marathon is a big deal. And there is a big chance that I won’t achieve that, as much as I’d like to. And you know what? That’s going to be fine. More than fine.

I hope I can make this run a celebration of good health, of freedom, of friendships – there will be many familiar faces both on and around the course – and of simply being. Running 42.2km is a silly think to do really. And I know for a fact that there will be a number of hours this Sunday when I will wonder why the hell I have chosen to do it. I oscillate between calm acceptance of what will be will be and oh my gawd this is going to be wretched and I’ll be lucky to finish.

Finishing will do though. I still remember finishing my first half marathon in 2012, crying with joy as I crossed the line in 1:59, the lady presenting me with my medal trying to console me, telling me not to be sad, that I’d win the race next year. I fully expect to bawl my eyes out on Sunday too. I just hope it’s not until after I’ve finished!

We are currently living in temporary accommodation in a building inhabited mostly by octogenarians. The decor has a certain 19th century vibe to it but hidden amongst the trinkets was this little gem of wisdom. Words to abide by even when running a race:)

 

Moving & marathoning

Several of the thousands of people I’ve informed about my upcoming marathon aspirations have wondered why, if I’m only going to do one, I haven’t opted for an iconic event such as the Melbourne or London Marathons. I want to play it safe, I’ve said. I want to keep the stakes (and costs) as low as possible lest I don’t make it to the start line due to illness or injury. And I want to sleep in my own bed, eat in my own kitchen, minimise the variables (and stress) as best I can if I make it to race day intact. Best laid plans, as they say.

Just over three weeks to race day and one thing I know for certain. I will not be sleeping in my own bed the night before. My bed, and the rest of our furniture, will be in storage in Welshpool and our family of five will be living out of a couple of Samsonites and a few cardboard boxes. Our landlord is not renewing our lease and thanks to a shortage of decent properties in the rental market and the glacial pace of productivity of those tasked to ‘help’ us relocate, we have not secured a new lease before the expiry of the old. Hence the storage and the suitcases, and as yet booked temporary accommodation. In two weeks time the packers will be let loose with their rolls of brown tape and cardboard boxes, while I double and triple check that all my race gear (and the three kids) stay out of their reach. So it seems that I will end up having to plan marathon day accommodation and travel, and make a race weekend packing list after all. It will be like having the excitement of an out-of-town race experience without actually leaving town. Best laid plans indeed.

Marathon Training – Day 1

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Swanbourne Beach

I’m pretty sure that I’ve told ever single person I’ve met in the past two months that I’m running a marathon in June. Yet, until today, I hadn’t technically started training for the event. (I won’t call it a race as my stomach churns at the mention of the word.) I’ve been plodding along doing my usual 45-50km per week – a tempoish (5km) parkrun, a slowish long run, various 8-12km runs in between, and the odd, very odd, interval session. And it’s been nice, not following a training plan.

But now, sixteen weeks to M-Day (June 12), and it’s time to dust off (or open the app) containing my chosen training plan and get down to serious business. I’ve opted for a Training Peaks plan with a goal time of 4 hours (more about that in future posts). I used similar plans for two half marathons last year and the combination of speed work and long runs worked well. And I took six minutes off my half marathon time.

training plan day 1

My plan designates Mondays as rest days (assuming Sundays are long run days), so I’ve started my marathon training today by having a rest from running. After the WAMC Point Walter 16km Race yesterday – I’m ok with referring to events as races after the fact by the way – a rest day was in order.  A walk on Swanbourne beach to stretch out my calves, hamstrings and hip flexors, pretending not to see the naked man letting it all hang out as he walked towards me, was as active as I got today. It was very windy but I guess nudists don’t feel the sea chill like the rest of us, though parts of their anatomy must. It could have been worse I guess. He could have been running. Come to think of it, the naked rambler is probably the only person in Western Australia whom I haven’t managed to tell in passing that I’ve registered for Perth marathon. These things happen when you don’t make eye contact.

 

GRIT Plyo & CXWorx

DOMS_CartoonHave you ever noticed how you come across something for the first time and then within days the same thing crops up in several Facebook/Instagram posts? Is it that you never noticed it before and now do, or is it something newish that is gaining traction, possibly as a direct result of new year’s resolutions? Who knows? So it was for me this week with the term DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness). Never heard of it a week ago. Now it’s everywhere- including in my lower back, butt, thighs and shoulders. Oh yes, not only have I learned a new acronym, and noticed several social media posts from people complaining about it, but I’m living it. In fact, I would say that yesterday, I was hobbling it. Now I have had this before. I just didn’t know it had its own dinky name.

This week’s affliction is a result of back-to-back Grit Plyo and CXWorx sessions (30 mins each) after a two week break. I love these classes but unfortunately there are very few of them on offer so generally I do them twice a month – yes they run weekly but I don’t always make them. I have on occasion run 10km before GRIT though not recently. And I’ve never felt stiff or sore afterwards. I haven’t looked like the people in the videos either mind you. However, this week marked a new version of both classes so I guess that change-up/out was enough to leave me two and three days later with DOMS or as I think of it ‘feeling like an 80-year-old’. Actually, I really hope I feel fitter than I have the past few days if I make it to 80!

DOMS aside, if you’re new year’s resolution is to go to the gym more – or at all – I think GRIT and CXWorx are the perfect compliment to running. H.I.I.T plyometric routines in the former boost athletic performance, and core strengthening is the main focus of the latter. Both really give the whole body a good old work out (so my good old body has been telling me for three days) but are only 30 mins each.

I’m hoping that by tomorrow I’ll feel supple and energetic enough to do parkrun. And then next week, to go to the gym again. It’s got to be easier second time around, right?

 

Running Ambitions for 2016

In 2015, I sucked. As a blogger, I sucked. Fifteen posts. Hardly enough to to qualify as a blogger. AMBITION #1. Write weekly. Not because the running world needs me to, but because when I’m not being creative, I’m miserable. Except when running, but given that it’s physiologically impossible to run constantly, a blog post or so every week about running, seems like a more viable recipe for joy.

2015Review

In 2015, I had a fantastic running year, with many great races, most of which surpassed my expectations in terms of experience and results. I also avoided injury despite running 2355km, and achieving personal best times in 10km and 21.1km races. As my love affair with running has deepened (one November blip in the romance aside), so has my desire to spread that love. I want everyone in the entire universe (with functioning legs) to experience the joys of running. I want everyone to speak the language of pace, Strava, and blackened toe nails. Running is a journey that nurtures both my brain and my ageing body; it has also introduced me to many fantastic people who are equally in the thrall of placing one foot in front of the other for swathes of time every week. Running makes me feel alive, and powerful in the face of my inevitable mortality. In September, I qualified as an Accredited Athletics Coach Level 1. Basically, this means that I can coach kids at Little Athletics. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to coach adults who want to take up running, resume running, or attain a particular running goal.  AMBITION#2 Qualify as a Recreational Running Coach Level 2.

Then there’s the biggie. I have never had any desire to run a marathon. I’ve found each of my eleven half marathons challenging enough. I’ve been of the opinion, since starting running four years ago, that training for a 42.195km race would be too arduous, too time consuming, too likely to leave me injured and unable to run at all. It would also place too much pressure to succeed at one event. Basically, I haven’t wanted to take the risk. But now, suddenly, I do. I absolutely do want to take the risk of training for and running for my first (possibly only) marathon in 2016, aged 45. Of course, I do. Having warded off injury for 18 months, why not antagonise the Gods of tendons, muscles and ligaments? Why be grateful when you can say I want to do even more?! I happened to be out running by the sea,  feeling strong and happy, when this new resolve to test my body to its limits hit me. Unlike many of the ideas I’ve had while pounding the pavement, this one didn’t lose its lustre once I’d showered. In fact, several weeks on, and I’m pretty excited about the idea – which of course makes sense as I haven’t actually started training, and my targeted event – Perth Marathon – is over five months away. Loadsa time yet to get real. And scared. AMBITION #3 Train for Perth Marathon 2016 (see what I did there? Train, not run? I’m not even assuming I’ll make it to the start line. Best keep expectations low!) Of course, this means that for another year, there isn’t a hope in hell of being able to have a professional pedicure but big ambitions require tough choices – and having ten healthy toe nails simultaneously is an ambition too far.

IMG_2838Finally, I’ve become a parkrun enthusiast. I’ve met so many great people at parkrun, and I once again feel that I’ve found my tribe (having tearfully bid farewell to the previous one in KL in 2014). I’ve run in five different parkrun locations, including my home town Kilkenny, Ireland, and I’ve brought my three children into the parkrun family both as runners and volunteers. AMBITION#4 Run my 50th parkrun in 2016 (only 28x5km more to go!) and earn my volunteer shirt (16 more vollie stints to go). All this is a tad over-ambitious, more so even that the marathon, but hey if you don’t set goals, you can’t hope to attain them, so let’s see how this goes.

So, there it is. Running ambitions for 2016, above and beyond staying healthy and injury-free, something one should never take for granted, at any age. Ultimately, it won’t matter if I achieve any of these lofty ambitions. The true achievement will be in trying. How about you? Ready for 2016?

Faking it

Two weeks after my falling out with running, two weeks of assuming that any morning now, I’d wake up and have a desperate urge to run, and I’m in danger of becoming a non-runner. After pushing myself to do two short runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekend is sliding by in a very stationary manner. I’m down to 25% of my normal mileage. I’m still wearing running clothes mind you – it turns out that some habits are harder than others to drop. I’m still clicking ‘Going’ on future running events on Facebook too, another habit. But really at the moment I ain’t going anywhere unless it’s in a car or via Netflix.

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I do still want to be a runner, and to some extent recognise that a few weeks’ rest, can’t be a bad thing. However, there is a danger that when I finally snap out of this fug, I discover that my fitness has taken a nose-dive, and end up totally frustrated. Well that IS what’s going to happen if I don’t get out there. So I have a choice: let this passion of mine that has served me so well for the past three and a half years slide into muffin-top, saddle-bag-sporting oblivion, or fake the love until it blossoms again for real.

And I think faking it in new environments, without a training plan, while reminding myself that I’m very lucky not to be injured, is the way back to joy. So, much like someone who hasn’t developed a gym habit but has paid up their membership and really does want to get in shape, I’m going to have to push myself to pound the trail, beach or pavement but without any target pace/distance/performance expectation. I probably should say without a Garmin watch too but come on, who am I kidding?! If it ain’t on Strava, it doesn’t count. Right?

So in the coming week, I am making a promise to myself to ignore the loud voice that urges me back to my computer and the post-breakfast kitchen mess (in that order unfortunately), and directing my car towards Bold Park, Kings Park, or some other goddamn park, or beach, or river path. I’m going to fake it until I make it back to pure running joy.

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My 80/20 Update

I’ve been trying to implement the strategy advocated by Matt Fitzgerald in his book 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. This week, I haven’t run any session, other than my interval session, faster than 5:50min/km which hasn’t been easy, especially when it means allowing lots of other runners to sail past. Yes, running slow means leaving your ego at home. To be honest, it’s been hard to shake the suspicion that all this slow running business is in fact making me, well, slower.

However, today I got a little boost and possibly an indicator that this 80/20 thing may be working, even though it is still early days. I took 40s off my 5km time at Bibra Lake parkrun this morning while feeling much more comfortable than on previous attempts (despite the ill-advised breakfast I’d had before heading out the door). I took it easier than usual at the start of the run – getting caught in a crowd kinda helps with that – and had enough strength in my legs to pass all the other women bar the one, a teenager whom I never even saw. She whizzed around in a ‘slow for her’ 21 mins. I’d like to come back as her in my next life.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with the 80/20 system; it still feels counter-intuitive most days, but it makes sense when you read the science behind it. I haven’t finished the book yet, but will post the salient nuggets of information, once I have.

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Not bad for an old bird.

Happy New Year

IMG_0838I spent 279 hours running in 2014. That is 279 hours of free therapy, meditation and physical exercise combined with friendship, competition, toe-nail loss, and some sunburn on the bits I couldn’t reach. Even counting the miserable hour limping to the finish of Borneo International Marathon, and the few training runs that were frustrating and painful, I don’t regret a single moment of the 2250km I covered. I ran in the dark in Malaysian smog with inspirational, supportive women, and interrupted Catherine Ndereba, the Marathon Queen’s dinner. She was eating pasta in case you wondered. I got injured (ITBS) because of my weak butt, sought treatment from physiotherapists on three continents, and became reasonably accomplished at the single leg squat. I ran 10km in 48 mins, discovered a love of running skirts, and completed the Angkor Wat Half Marathon without stopping to use the bathroom. I know, I was quite the overachiever in 2014! I reluctantly left the friendliest running community in the world to move to Australia where no one knew that I’d appeared in Expatriate Lifestyle Malaysia, not once, but twice. In running gear of course, before anyone thinks I got photographed at some glamorous social event. I completed the running leg of two Half Ironman’s in furnace-like conditions and came to the same conclusion each time – ice cubes stashed in one’s bra are essential for hydration, triathletes are awesome and crazy, and I secretly wish I was one. With that in mind, I bought a racing bike but haven’t saddled up since I test drove it outside the shop in May. If I was going to mention goals for 2015, I might segue off there but I won’t as swimming is a major challenge, and these days I spend a disproportionate amount of time running by the beach, watching out for sharks in the sea. I have been in the water precisely once. Speaking of wildlife, I discovered the Australian magpies can be not only unfriendly but violently confrontational. Thankfully, Australian people are far more welcoming and better behaved. A lot of them run but it seems that even more of them cycle; swarms of lycra-clad pedal-pushers appear on the roads every Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve heard rumours that the real die-hards are out on weekdays too. I discovered parkrun which is a fabulous community of runners who gather every Saturday morning to run 5km with barcodes in their pockets. It’s organised by volunteers, one of whom is always a photographer, which is a massive relief because having grown used to the paparazzi at races in KL, I was getting seriously worried that I’d never ever be tagged in a running photo again! Finally, if there is a singular running achievement worthy of mention, it must be the fact that I did not fall flat on my face, wrists, elbows or knees once in 2014. That’s an improvement of 300% over 2013. You can’t ask for better than that.

So cheers runners – and walkers who don’t yet know they are runners – thank you for accompanying me on some of my kilometres this year, either in person or via the power of the Internet. Here’s to moving forward, and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

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