More thoughts on running for beginners

This morning I went for my first run since the Big Run. It was the next stage of the Couch-2-5k programme, which means I go back to interval for a couple of runs before attempting a 25 minute run by the end of the week. It was actually much harder in its own way – running and stopping sort of seems to shock your body – but I did it and set a small distance record for myself by about a fifth of a mile. Baby steps.

While I was running I was actually thinking about this post, and how most blogs on running I come across are people who have left this stage far behind and talk about things like which super running trainers to invest in next, or what their personal trainer told them about their running form. Which is really good stuff if you’re at intermediate level (whatever that is) or beyond, but when you’re just still having to talk yourself into putting one foot in front of the other it’s a bit too much to take in.

Every obstacle you put in your way to prevent you running will be heavy on your heart – they will all stand for more than the good reasons you give yourself, because they’re easier to give in to. So I thought I’ll share what’s helped me make it a bit easier and a bit more fun.


All you need is a pair of decent, comfortable, well-fitting trainers, preferably designed for running, and, if you’re a woman, a good sports bra. The latter is as indispensable as the former; even if you’re not in danger of taking your own eyes out with your giant frontage, it’s still uncomfortable having it jiggle up front, and too much flinging around will cause sagging. Which while hardly life threatening isn’t very comfortable.

However, if you want to go the extra mile and splash out a little on stuff you want, I do recommend a little bit of a running gear. Nothing major or scary. My only piece is a pair of knee-length cycling-short type running pants, which have a little skirt built in over the top so that I don’t feel self-conscious about my rear hanging out. The synthetic material is light and, crucially, stays that way when you start getting sweaty. Although I was wearing cotton sweats when I did the longer run, the material felt bulky, obstructive and hot flapping around my heels after a few minutes.

An iPod or similar is also really useful, and I do enjoy using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone to record my runs and help me view my progress visually. I use a belt from a Wii Zumba game to tie my iPhone to myself for my runs! So some sort of zipped pocket, belt or arm band is helpful there.

I do find carrying water is the biggest hassle. I don’t drink for an hour before I run because otherwise I have to abort my runs to find a loo (the beauty of a weak pelvic floor after childbirth, even thousands of Kegels later). So I do need to sip as I’m running and rehydrate after. I managed one run with a bottle slung into that velcro Wii belt, but it was very uncomfortable. To that end I’ve ordered some Swiggies, and will comment on those when they arrive.

That’s really it. I’m thinking about buying a running top for summer; might reward myself with one if I’m still running in a month’s time.

Oh, hang on, one more thing! Sun cream. I keep forgetting to apply it and am nursing a slight tanned-but-threatening-to-go-red patch on my chest. Ugly and unsafe; don’t do as I do, kids.


We’ve already talked about the bra. Now what about the emotional support? It might surprise you that you need it, but it does come in awfully helpful.

I don’t have a running partner because I find myself getting competitive and dispirited if I can’t keep up. But I do have several friends who are also running. Exchanging ‘go you!’ comments with great people like Cate, Helen, Martin, Amber and in particular Anne-Marie and Keris  on Twitter has been a really good way to keep me putting one foot in front of the other. Just today when it was getting tough on the last stretch I pictured Anne-Marie with pom poms cheering me along, because that’s what she says in her tweets!

The comments that I get on this blog are also great motivators. At first, I admit, I was a little gutted I wasn’t losing weight (mainly cos I’m an eater – ah, well, what can you do?!). But then I realised I started to get up and move because it was good for me, not because of any particular weight loss target. I started to realise my goals were adding something to myself – strength, speed, fitness – not taking something away. And having friends support me by tweeting along was also adding something to the mix: a social, friendly element. Plus it’s stick as well as carrot, since you don’t want to go letting your friends down.

Some of us started to run at the same time as each other but not with each other, so there’s also no element of competition. I’m doing the C25K, but Anne-Marie and Keris are doing the excellent-sounding Up and Running e-course; we’re at different weeks and running in different ways. And although we’ve exchanged comments on the way we’re each running because I’m curious about the difference in the programmes, we haven’t tried to meet the same targets. In fact, I haven’t ever tweeted my distance or speed records, because they’re for me only.

And that brings me onto:


Remember, you’re only in competition with yourself.

That really bears repeating many, many times. To that end, don’t check out all the other runners, unless it’s in a ‘hey, look at us being healthy at 6am on Tuesday!‘ kind of way. You will probably get lapped by people considerably older and bigger than you (I am all the time), but that’s okay. You’re not trying to keep pace with them. You’re not running against them.

You are only in competition with yourself.

And while distractions like music and timing cues can help, I think it really helps if you don’t have too many. Although I like to hear my split-speed and get told the time every five minutes on RunKeeper, I don’t have my phone where I can see the timer. Because if I know there’s only half a minute to go, I’ll slow down, or every second will seem far too l…o…n…g…. So I try not to calculate how long I’ve got left, and every so often I rearrange the songs on my playlist so that I don’t think “oh, last time at this point there was about a minute to go”. I also vary my route around the park for the same reason.

Before I’ve achieved a certain milestone, I have a mantra in my head of “you can do this… you’ve given birth to a child… this is going to be totally easy!”. And after I’ve done something I’m proud of, then it’s “you can do this… you’ve run for 20 minutes!”. My goals are about what I can do, not what I can’t, or what I want to do in the distant future, or what my friends can do.

Because I am only in competition with myself. 

There will come a time when I can run and race and beat someone. But right now, I’m at the starting line, and that’s okay. Everyone has to pass this way at some point.

Which leads me to my final point. Every time I say ‘run’, I mean ‘jog’. My pace is barely faster than a brisk walk, but it’s what I can manage. I’d rather put in less power and find I have more to spend and can do some extra at the end than put in too much and find I’ve got nothing left in the tank and have to stop early. I can improve speed later; now is about just getting the stamina, the distance, up to a certain level. Maybe that was why I couldn’t finish week one’s runs the first time I tried, and had to stop early twice or maybe I just needed a pre-week one exercise to get me into it. But I kept doing it, and once I got to week three, I found I didn’t need to repeat a week again. Although now I’m on week six, I might have a few repeats before I get to week nine – who knows? Now I’ve proved to myself that by repeating it I can get better, I’m less likely to give up.

I hope that helped. It actually helped me get my head together and remind myself why I’m still doing this, and why I want to keep going.

If you’re strapping on your trainers this weekend, whether for the first time in forever or as part of a regular training programme, good luck to you, and enjoy the dry weather while it lasts!

Why (almost) anyone can run

I did something almost unthinkable today. I woke up at 5:50am, and by 6:30am I had shuffled out of the door, still bleary, powered by a banana, while even my infant child still slept soundly. And I did a five minute warm-up, then jogged for twenty minutes without stopping.

There are so many inspirational posts about marathon runners and this that and the other about, that that probably doesn’t sound very impressive. I mean, I was jogging, not running, and it was only twenty minutes, not five hours. But I’m not here to impress fit people. I’m here to tell myself, primarily, but then people like me, that this is something almost anyone can do.

Here are all the reasons why I thought I couldn’t ever do this:

I’ve been overweight since I was 9. Seriously, as a teenager (like 16 stone at 14 years old seriously) then less so. For a brief period in my late twenties I was within a half stone of a healthy weight for my height, and now I’m rather more and a size 14-16.

I’ve never enjoyed exercise. I quite like swimming, but it can be a bit of a hassle, and I’m not terribly good at it. School PE lessons were a nightmare and I spent a lot of time getting out of them with spurious injuries. Also:

I hate being coached, and I thought people should have ‘running buddies’. I don’t find it motivating. I also realised I don’t like training with other people because I can get discouraged if they do better than me and resentment is not a good motivator. More about this later.

I’ve had a slipped disc, and spinal surgery to correct it. Also, I have really awkward feet, with inherited b-words. (You know what I mean. The bumpy bone thing. I don’t like to say the word. It’s ugly.) So I could use all sorts of physical excuses not to try.

I had a baby last year. I was never fit before and then I shared my body with another human being. And as if that wasn’t enough, I then shoved that human being through a rather delicate anatomical area! And although she’s slept through the night from three months – thank God! – she doesn’t always sleep peacefully and she’s a thoroughly energetic and exhausting individual. So I spend most of my time being Extremely. Freaking. Tired.

And yet… there I was, pounding the pavements and pathways of London at arse o’clock. I punched the sky at the end, Judd Nelson style. And a man walking his dog saw me. And I didn’t care.

I could put it down to a lot of things, like doing it ‘for Ramona’ or ‘to lose weight’ but in the end I think the reason that this attempt to do something and stick to it, for two months so far, is currently working is because I’m not actually doing it for anyone else. Or for any other reason than just because it’s good for me, and I want to push myself.

I’ve always been perfectly motivated at work, not so motivated to do things for myself. Some of it is pure idleness, some of it a lack of self-confidence. The shuffling, weird fat kid who liked the odd music and books and had a small band of equally odd-bod friends is still with me in some ways (actually the friends are still with me too, which should tell you something about the loyalty of freaks and geeks). But now I see more and more good in her.

I find myself being able to accept a compliment with a simple ‘thank you’. I still qualify some of my statements – “I ran! But I was slow…” – but I’m consciously trying to do that less. Even though my tummy is bigger than ever post-baby and I needed to go up a size in swimwear, I have bought only two-piece bathing stuff for my holiday – I only managed to wear those for the first time at my thinnest but I refuse to go backwards in confidence. I feel the pressure to be a good role model for Ramona by at the very least convincingly faking happiness in my own skin, and you know, as a wise woman once said, if you keep pretending eventually you find that it’s real.

I’ve finally begun the process of accepting that the only person I need to be in competition with is myself. When I started running two months ago I couldn’t complete the exercise (which involved eight one-minute intervals). I couldn’t complete it the first two times. I had to do week one of the programme for two and a half weeks. And there were times when I followed people calling a four mile run ‘easy’ or transforming themselves in just a month of exercise and I wanted to quit and cried. But I kept putting myself through it, until I could achieve something I was proud of.

Today was that day. Now comes the hardest bit – pushing on to the next stage. There’s a balance between celebrating each achievement and getting complacent, between setting the next goal and never accepting a stage as good enough (for now). I didn’t dare to think about a 5k in real terms before now, but I sort of am now.

I don’t want to give up this time. I hope blogging about it will be another reason to have to continue, so I don’t have to write a sheepish “remember that? Yeah, then I quit” post.

And if you’re like me, now you know. If I can do it, anyone can. Well, okay, there are probably some people who have a killer excuse, like a particular disability (although I do know two runners with arthritic / orthopaedic conditions. Ask a doctor, it might not be impossible!) or they work three jobs and have fourteen kids. But most of us are just stopped by our own mental demons.

If I can help you out of the door, to puff alongside me in spirit, and go all red-faced and sweaty but accomplished, then so much the better for us both.