Oh hey reluctant exercisers. I’m the accidental fitness fan, nice to meet you.
I’m also a fan of food. And wine. Mmmmmalbec. It’s all about balance right?
A few people have emailed asking me about running after I trained for a half marathon, and given that I could run a total of an entire three kilometres when I signed up to cycle 200 miles and then run 13, it might help to get a few tips from a non-runner who sometimes runs.
‘But running a half marathon makes you a runner!’ You cry. No it doesn’t. I trained myself to run far enough to make it over the finish line back in 2013 because people donated their hard-earned money, and until last month when I managed 10k on the basis that I got lost, I hadn’t run more than about 8 kilometres since at very infrequent intervals. Sometimes I’m taken by a fresh morning, or maybe I can’t get to the gym, so I might procrastinate for two hours before finally nipping out around the beautiful big park across the road. I’ve been drawn a bit more to the outdoors lately, as I briefly mentioned in my January Happiness Ten (it’s a new thing, go with me) so I’m trying to listen to that and get out there. But on the whole, I will generally head to the gym for a class much more readily than I will just put my trainers on and go.
I appreciate that not everyone believes they can run, but you must be at least a little curious to have made it past the title of this post. Further to that I also, always, for 25 years of my life, believed I couldn’t run. I just wasn’t a runner, it wasn’t my ‘thing’. I could tap dance, I could be a goalie, I could hula hoop… but don’t make me put one foot in front of the other and run because I’m not your girl.
BUT (ohhhh, there was bound to be a bloody ‘but’ wasn’t there) once you break that mental barrier, and you experience the accomplishment and exhilaration of a decent run, you may find yourself putting on your trainers a little more than you anticipated. So to help you on your way here’s a few tips that have helped me.
<Insert generic seek medical advice disclaimer here. These tips are based on my own experience. Don’t sue me, ta.>
Ok let’s deal with the obvious first. Ohhhh my god this one’s important. I think people are afraid of drinking before a run in case of stitches, but as long as you’re not downing pints, you’ll be ok. About 20 minutes before a run I will make sure I have a decent glass of water, having had another glass an hour before that. As soon as you start to run, you start to lose water through sweat so never start without hydration.
There’s a balance to be struck between hydrating and drinking too much, though. If I’m running less than around 8km in normal temperatures (aka NOT scorchio) I find that my body will be ok without water until I get back – when I then head straight to the tap. But any further than that and I know I need to sip steadily as I go. I learned this the hard way (aka nearly passed out around 12km in on a balmy day), then suffered for a good 24 hours while my body tried to recover after the damage was done. We’re talking blurred vision, foggy head… it wasn’t fun. They say that if you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, so if you’re running a fair way, keep a bottle on you for small (I’m talking one or two mouthfuls) but frequent sips on your route. It really makes so much difference, unsurprisingly given how vital water is for our survival. I never really experimented with isotonic drinks as I felt I was working effectively without them, but that’s not to say they won’t help you replenish fluid if you’re running longer distances.
2. TO EAT, OR NOT TO EAT?
Again I think this comes down to distance. I tend to do most of my running in the morning, and I will simply get up, have some water, do a blood sugar test and put on my trainers before my body clocks what’s happening.
If I’m running in the evening, I find my body will always carry me as I’ve got surplus energy left from the food I’ve eaten that day.
Much like hydration however, I found that when training more seriously, food became more important the further I ran. Anything upwards of 10km and I would have my fail-safe superfood protein porridge about two hours before which made me feel absolutely kickass.
3. RETRAIN YOUR PERSPECTIVE TOWARDS EXERCISE
We’ve historically trained ourselves to believe that exercise is a chore; something that we have to ‘fit in’; an inconvenience that we merely endure. How many times have you said to yourself, ‘I really should go for a run’? This only emphasises it as an undesirable activity, when instead we could easily be saying, ‘I’ve had a tough day at work, so I’m going to indulge in thirty minutes to myself, and reward my body and clear my mind by going for a run in the air’.
I know, I know, this is easier said than done. If I’m putting exercise off, I think of all the workouts I’ve reluctantly dragged myself to, and then think about how many of them I regretted vs how many I finished feeling like I’d achieved something. Answer: none vs all. Some workouts are harder than others, sure, but I’ve NEVER come away without feeling 1000x better than when I started. On a good day I finish feeling like I can conquer the world. These are pretty good odds.
Be free about your runs; don’t set yourself a distance target, just go. Movement is one of the best ways to reconnect with yourself and to release tension. Focus on the scenery, the nature, the meditation of the thing. Try and see it as an act of kindness to yourself, not a torturous chore!
4. DON’T SET OFF TOO QUICKLY…
This held me back for so long – I just thought I couldn’t handle more than 2km, hence the belief that I wasn’t a runner. I just didn’t have a clue about pace – setting off at four minutes per kilometre is tantamount to sprinting as far as I’m concerned, and will leave you gasping for air at the top of the road. Then you’ll slow, stop, turn around and plod home with spots in your eyes, defeated; slinging the trainers to the back of the cupboard for another month, by which time you set out the door and do exactly the same thing.
Start slow and steady. Listen to your breathing – you should be breathing fairly comfortably so if you’re not, you’re going to fast. My standard pace is around six minutes per kilometre; sometimes slightly more, sometimes less. If you have to take walking breaks for the first month or two that’s absolutely fine – your cardiovascular fitness will build up quickly as long as you are consistent.
Get an app that will tell you at certain intervals how fast you’re going and use it as a guide for pace. Don’t make life hard for yourself by dashing off because you feel you should – Usain Bolt isn’t judging you.
4.a. …BUT DON’T GIVE UP TOO QUICKLY!
Point 4 is allllll valid BUT! Listen to your body – if you’re not panting, you can keep running. Listen to the rhythm of your breath, and don’t let that naughty mind of yours trick you into thinking you need to stop when your body is telling you its fine. At this point I shake out my shoulders and lift my chest up. This helps the air get into my lungs properly. Yes you should be breathing harder, but unless I’m actually on the verge of passing out (this has never happened with the exception of HydrationGate above), I know it’s more likely my mind is trying its luck. I also, as a general rule, find the first two kilometres the hardest. My body isn’t quite sure what’s happening and it’s not entirely convinced I shouldn’t have stayed in bed. But once I get into a steady pace, I know it’s going to get better.
Also a seemingly obvious one, but when I started training I instinctively reached for the loudest, most bass-heavy playlist I could curate in order to block out the sound of my own breathing. I did this for months, right up until my half marathon as I thought it was the only way for me to stay motivated. And while I still love the odd Swedish House Mafia surprise on my route, the one time I put in an orchestral album from the gorgeous Laura Mvula, I actually ended up with a faster average pace at the end. Many people have found listening to audio books really meditative on runs as they ‘get lost’ in the narrative, meaning they’re not focussing on the distance/breathing/cold/tiredness.
6. FINALLY, ONE FOR THE DIABETICS… don’t give up after the first hypo.
I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in my tips to bounce back from a day of blood sugar frustrations. It went a little something like…
When I first started training I was hypoing all over the shop because I just wasn’t yet aware of how my body would respond to different types of exercise, and how THAT varied at different times of day, after different foods. Just like anything else, this takes practice. Your body is a very unique tool that you need to tune into to understand it better. And you’ve got to work WITH it, not against it.
If you DO end up hypoing, deal with it quickly, get a little annoyed for sure, but DO NOT have the mindset that it means you’ve negated your workout and thus the benefits you gleaned from it. It really doesn’t. You will still have cleared your head, still have improved your lung capacity, still have challenged your body positively, and still have stoked up your metabolism. Test frequently in the hours after your runs to try and spot patterns that you can anticipate next time. I rarely go hypo while out running, but know that I will get a sudden drop a few hours later, so I get the OJ ready. Other type 1s can’t get to the end of the street without their levels crashing, but as you tune into how your body responds to running, you can hopefully reduce the hypos and reap the benefits. It goes without saying that having a glucose gel or some glucose tablets in your back pocket on a run is a wholly wise idea, because this glorious condition has a tendency to suss out the most inconvenient opportunities to be wholly unpredicatable. But don’t use that an excuse to not bother at all.
One more little point… don’t try and pound the pavements in a pair of converse. You’re not likely to get very far. I’m not telling you to get your gait measured (I never have), but a pair of shoes that are actually designed to support your feet and knees will help. If they happen to pretty… they might just make you want to put them on.