Running. The ‘Marmite‘ of the cardiovascular exercise world. In the short time that I have been ‘running’ (mostly jogging but let’s not split hairs), it has become apparent that a person will either love or loathe it. The same deduction is true of my own relationship with running; a love/hate affair, once forced and now habitual. Side note, I absolutely abhor Marmite.
I have very vivid memories (nightmares) of athletics and sports days at school. Some of my readers would be surprised to learn that I was definitely NOT the most athletic of youths, close friends and family can attest to this. My goal in life as a teenage girl was to get out of as many Physical Education lessons as possible – an exercise in itself – and ensure that I was booked off ill whenever a sports day presented itself. On the odd occasion that my truancy skills were not up to par, being forced to run across a school field under a South African sun was my idea of hell on earth.
It is common human nature to excel at the activities we enjoy. It is also human nature to avoid the activities we aren’t as good at. The reason I avoided sport was not because I disliked being physically active but because I wasn’t very good at it. I wasn’t a fast runner; I didn’t have any sporting skill and my hand / eye coordination was akin to the infamous Cher (Clueless) though my excuses were not nearly as effective.
Learning to walk before I could run…
In August 2019, I weighed 133.7 kilograms – 21+ stone. My weight loss journey was a long and very complex one that involved a lot of focus on both my diet (not actual diet but rather the food I ate) and a need to get active. Being as large as I was, it was clear to me that running was probably not an early option – I was very unfit; still in a lot of pain (owing to the post thrombotic syndrome that I have) and not remotely interested in barrelling down the road.
So I walked.
I walked every single day. At first, the walks were only about an hour long and I would do as much or as little as I could in that time. Over time, these walks grew longer and instead of counting minutes / hours, I began walking for distance. I was walking between 5 and 10 kms every single day with maybe 1 rest day in a week where I didn’t walk at all. Walking 10kms takes time and I soon realised that it would be far quicker if I could run but who was I kidding? I wasn’t a runner. I couldn’t run for longer than 1-2 minutes without feeling like I was going to throw up or stop breathing.
So I jogged.
Let’s not get excited. I would walk for 5 minutes and jog for 1 minute (optimistic). I attempted to follow the Couch to 5k program but soon found myself straying from the intended time frames; I felt like I just couldn’t do what the NHS expected of me. I followed my own structure and attempted to ‘jog’ 3 times per week, walking on the days in between. Every time I jogged, I attempted to jog just a small distance further – and, every time I jogged, my chest burned and my legs ached. I couldn’t breathe and I recall one occasion that I had to call my other half to come and fetch me where I stood because I just could not do it anymore. I questioned not only my ability to run but also my sanity. Running was just not for me, I was not a runner.
A turning point.
It is in these moments that we often learn just how strong and how marvellous the human body paired with determination can be. Perhaps my body wasn’t conditioned in a way that would allow me to run as I had hoped and perhaps past experiences – those school athletics days – influenced the underestimation of myself. Whatever it was, it clearly was in my head because a switch flipped and I went from not being able to jog for longer than a minute to one day jogging for 10 minutes. I remember calling my brother and being so excited that I ‘ran’ without stopping for longer than 5 minutes and this was an achievement.
How did it happen? Persistence.
Those days that I felt like I just couldn’t jog, I jogged anyway. I had to learn very quickly that jogging / running is an exercise that can be very slow in progression. I didn’t see changes in my time of minutes, I saw improvement of seconds and I needed to make sure that I recognised and acknowledged those improvements no matter how slight they were.
And then, I ran.
I started off small: indoors, treadmill running. My hope was to run for 30 minutes, 3 days per week, no matter the distance / pace. I wanted to prove to myself that I could run and was not destined to jog forever. Thanks to my Apple Watch and tracking, I can reflect back to February of this year when I was making use of the treadmill in the gym – the walking to jogging to running progression was 7 months in the making, this did NOT happen overnight. By February 2020, I was able to run approx. 4km in 30 minutes (treadmill) and had aspirations of one day being able to complete a 5km run in 30 minutes but as I wasn’t tracking this as a goal, it was a thought that stayed in the back of my mind as and when I ran.
Runners / joggers / walkers may understand but sometimes, this kind of activity can be extremely boring. I was very underwhelmed and feeling rather uninspired with treadmill running in the gym so I bought myself a pair of decent running trainers from an actual running shop (talk about imposter syndrome) and took to the streets of Reading, crime audiobooks the soundtrack to my runs. (I underestimated this ENTIRELY; road running and treadmill running are excruciatingly different but I persisted.)
Having a running buddy in my friend Kikky most certainly helped and we pushed each other to run; stick to the running schedule even though we wanted to skip it entirely and just go a little bit further than we did the run before. It wasn’t always possible to run together but we shared our progress, celebrated those small achievements (sometimes minutes, most often seconds) and motivated each other to get our feet in those expensive trainers and get outside – no matter the weather!
Park run and the 5k
In early March, my youngest brother and I flew to South Africa on holiday to visit family. It was my athletic sister who encouraged us all to enter the local park run and I believe that this was the first time I completed a 5km anything (despite it being a run / walk) – it took me over 50 minutes but in my defence it was extremely hot and I was still carrying a few extra kilograms. This park run, however, became a little bit of a motivating factor and supported the aspiration in the back of my mind. A 5km was possible, the question was how quickly could I get it done.
My first 5km outdoor run was not long after return from this holiday – the 4th of April 2020 – and I ran 5km in 39 minutes and 21 seconds (with a few stops along the way). My 5km in 30 minutes felt a lifetime away but what I didn’t realise then was that a lifetime wasn’t that at all. It would be 7+ more months of persistence and consistency before I finally saw the numbers on my screen that I had aspired too all that time ago.
Consistency is key
My mantra in life, annoying but the truth. The only way I was able to lose the weight that I did or build up my fitness the way that I have is through consistency. I consistently track my calories; track my macros; schedule my exercise and track my running.
When I became more involved in resistance training and building up a gym routine, it was extremely important to still keep up the running as part of the cardiovascular aspect of my training. My strength / resistance training was scheduled in for 3 days per week and I do enjoy my active rest days over the weekend so it was important to me to keep running twice a week between gym days. For the last few months, without checking every single day in my Apple Health app for confirmation, I have consistently run twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and usually plan on running 5km. Sometimes, I feel a bit stronger and a bit more ‘in the zone’ and I may run a little further (6-8km) but for the most part, 5km is a comfortable run for me.
Recently, my focus has been more on pushing myself and watching my progression as my time for the 5km slowly got shorter and shorter. More importantly, running has become an integral part of my routine and schedule. I don’t always want to run and don’t always feel good when doing it but like brushing my teeth, it has to be done and I always feel better afterwards.
And then I DID IT.
Today, I set out for my Tuesday morning run as I always do and I decided I wasn’t going to look at my watch – I was going to shuffle my playlist and just run. For some reason, I opted for my ‘longer’ route which I choose on days when I feel like doing more than a 5km run. This route involves over 2km of uphill in the beginning and it wasn’t long into this run that I was questioning my life choices. When my watch vibrated at the 4th kilometre, I finally looked at it and noticed that my pace was considerably faster than usual and perhaps I should go for it… perhaps it was time to see if I was ready for the next level up.
So I ran.
My chest burned, my stomach ached and my legs cried as I put one foot in front of the other and breathed the cold winter air into my lungs. When my watch vibrated at kilometre 5, I all but crumpled into a heap on the floor and nearly burst into tears when I looked at my time.
8 months after I managed a 5km run in ‘one go’, I managed a 5km run in 30 minutes and I worked for it.
The moral of this long, running story?
I believe that it is time for me to stop underestimating myself – my body and my mind. I am a runner. Not because I finally managed to run 5km in 30 minutes but because I run. I am a winner. Not because I have won anything but because I keep showing up for myself, every single time.
Running may not be your thing and that’s fine but I implore you to look at the things you think aren’t ‘your thing’ and reevaluate why that is. Look at who is telling you that you cannot do something and I would probably assume that 9 times out of 10, it is you. YOU are the only one holding you back, the same way I was the only person telling me that I wasn’t a runner.
I did it.
I ran 5km in 30 minutes.
So can you…
If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.John Bingham