Just start

A friend has asked me how to go about starting to run, so I thought I’d jot down what worked, and continues to work (because let’s face it, it’s a bit of a love/hate thing, running) for me:

  1.  Just start. Fine, do some research, ask for advice, create a plan (the C25K app is supposed to be very good)…but then just get moving!
  2. Accept that, as with all things, progress a) is very rarely linear and b) takes time. Don’t expect to hit your target in the first week: maybe start with 500 metres. Do this as many times as you need to before increasing to 750 metres, then 1k and so on. You don’t need a fancy watch to measure your distance. If needs be, run from lamppost A to lamppost D, and then to lamppost E then F then G.
  3. Whenever my running feels faster or ‘easier’ (if it ever does, because we just push harder don’t we?) it’s generally been due to adding in strength training and/or HIIT sessions (see 5, below).
  4. Every Sunday night, get your eyes on your calendar and look at the week ahead. Diarise your running/exercise like you would anything else (remember to include rest days. See 6, below).
  5. Instead of x number of sessions per week, I prefer to aim for 20 sessions per month (running, weight training, HIIT). This approach provides in-built flexibility which in turn takes the pressure off, especially if you have a tendency towards perfectionism. If I’ve got a particularly long run planned, or a heavy legs day, or work is full-on, or I’m not feeling great I’ll maybe take 3 or 4 rest days (perhaps one before and three after) leading to fewer sessions that week, but I still have the opportunity to hit my goal for the month. It’s a very liberating approach.
  6. Rest days are vital for physical recovery and motivation maintenance. Schedule them in. It’s fine to shift your exercise week around if something unplanned crops up (work, illness, poorly kids etc), but be sure not to skip rest days, even if you don’t feel you need them.
  7. Organise some top tunes into a playlist or two, and find that one song that gets your blood pumping and your energy soaring: include it in all your playlists, more than once. For me it’s Eminem’s Lose Yourself. It has featured on pretty much all of my runs, and he seems to know when I need him most, eg the final straight of the Southampton half marathon in 2017: he got my head up, my pace up and helped me sprint finish over the line.
  8. Run your way. I sporadically, half-heartedly join organised runs with my local community group. But it never lasts. It’s no reflection on them: they’re a very supportive, friendly bunch. But ultimately I’m a solo runner: I enjoy getting lost in my thoughts, or lost in lyrics, or even just lost (adds to the drama and excitement). Running and chatting isn’t really my thing (for a start I never used to be physically able to run AND talk. Now I can quite easily, but prefer not to. I do run with my 13-year-old son, and I’ve found that bone-conducting headphones offer a perfect balance between listening to music and not ignoring my boy (who also wears headphones).
  9. Get yourself a Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Someone who inspires the pants off you, who you can bring to mind when you’re struggling. Sir Ranulph:
    • Ran 7 marathons. In 7 days. On 7 different continents (anyone for jet lag?). Including one in Singapore (where we lived for a year: so hot + so humid = just, how?) Aged 63. Four months after a heart attack. And a double heart bypass. His last of the seven was in New York. He completed it in 5h 25m.
    • Ran “the toughest footrace on earth”, the Marathon de Sables, Aged 71. One hundred and fifty nine miles. Over 6 days. In the desert. With temperatures over 50C. Whilst carrying a backpack containing his kit.
    • Climbed the north face of the Eiger. Aged 63. And Everest. Aged 65.
    • So yeah, when I’m struggling with my 10k, I think about SRF and I quite literally jog on*.
  10. Once you find your feet, mix things up. Hill sprints, Fartlek intervals, runs for pace, low heart rate runs, runs by the sea, Park Run, run in every country you visit, run home from work, run to the pub, run for charity…oh, and ENJOY!

*Despite an hour of faffing about, trying to unbullet this line, and force it to sit under point 9, and a further half an hour live chatting to support, it seems this is not possible. So, as much as it pains me to hit publish as is, that’s what I’m going to do. I am a recovering perfectionist after all, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise (again, the growth is in the struggle…). The patient support chap said he’ll pass my feedback onto the developers.

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