The Rhythm Is Gonna Getcha!

What’s that, Ms Estafan? The rhythm is gonna get me? Well, if you mean the running rhythm, IT ALREADY HAS! It’s been a little while since my last blog post – mainly because there’s been so much going on that I haven’t had much time to sit down and write, partly because my last post was a touch tl;dr, but also because I’ve been thinking over stuff that I wanted to post about. Apologies in advance if I go a bit tl;dr all over again.

Running has it’s ups and downs, doesn’t it. That’s the main thing I’ve been thinking about. Most things in life have ups and downs but not all of them will keep you coming back for more. In the short time I’ve been running (three whole months now….) I’ve already experienced the setback of a – thankfully minor – injury. It felt rubbish at the time but I got over it and was straight back into running in no time at all. Down and then back up. I’ve also had a couple of crappy runs – runs where my body just did not want to do what I wanted it to do. Runs that I really struggled to complete in the way I wanted to. Runs where I got home feeling deflated and doubtful. After each of those runs, my lovely Facebook running group provided me with the support and advice that I needed – everyone has bad runs, they happen to us all regardless of experience, fitness, level etc., and you always come back from them. They were right. I picked myself up and took myself out for my next run and it went exactly as planned and hoped for. Ups and downs and ups. I’m learning things from running all of the time and this experience of having setbacks but always coming back from them is a new one. I’ve had sports related injuries in the past, as well as training sessions that drained any joy and positivity from me and they were extremely difficult to bounce back from. Analysing it now, I think that’s because there was so much outside pressure from other people. Team mates, ‘coaches’, worrying about how your place on the team will be affected, how attitudes will change towards you, and all the politics that go along with team sports. Even remembering how it used to make me feel is making me shudder and grimace.

This is where I have found running to be completely different. I am in charge of my progress. There is no ‘coach’ or team mate telling me that I’m not good enough or that I can’t do it. I know that I am and I can, and I have dominion over achieving it. It’s been an enlightening realisation. Recovering from an injury or moving forwards from a bad run is solely in my hands. My Facebook running group is an invaluable asset here. There is nothing but positivity and encouragement and support coming from it. The advice that I’m given is always constructive and when I follow it, good things happen! I’m now actually really doing what I thought I could never do and I’m loving it, even when it doesn’t go to plan. Downs and ups and UPS!

So this brings me on to my new plans. I have decided that in addition to taking part in virtual runs in my own time, I’m going to take part in real organised races. GULP! A wonderful friend of mine works with Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid and together we will be taking part in the Birmingham Half Marathon to raise funds for this awesome organisation. It’s happening on 15th October and I’m all signed up and registered and everything. LOOK!

birmingham half

Sarah (my wonderful friend) has set up a super cool fund raising page and linked my blog to it so that anyone who might be interested can read about my progress from couch potato to half marathon runner. If I can do it, so can you! I’ve also got a few other plans in the pipeline to help with my training for this. Firstly, entering some official 10k runs so that I have experience in taking part in organised race events prior to the half marathon. There’s one I’m definitely going to do, which is set in the grounds of an RAF museum. The race course takes in the hangars, the airstrip, and the museum itself with all of its iconic aircraft. You even get a Spitfire themed medal. So that’s top of the list, while I look for other 10k races to add to it. Secondly, I am going to get in touch with a local running group to see if I can do some training with them. An actual real life running group with people that I would run alongside! That’s a big deal for me, believe me. It will be a good way to become used to running with other people and it’s a chance to pick up some knowledge and tips from people who have been where I am and can give me the benefit of their experience. I’m finding both of these things really scary, by the way! Again, that’s something else that running is teaching me – that I can do the Scary Things. I can go out of my comfort zone and still be okay.

So, to summarise my progress so far and what I’ve learned, I would say:

  • You are the master of your progress. You control it and you are responsible for it. No one can tell you that you can’t do it and if they try, you can go out there and prove them wrong. There are no politics or social dynamics to stress over with running – just you and what’s inside your head.
  • After a Down, there is always an Up. Setbacks happen but you can bounce back from them. And yes, it really is true – everyone has bad runs now and then. It’s not a reflection on you or your ability or your potential.
  • You can do the Scary Things! You’ll reach a point where in order to progress, you have to push yourself outside of what is comfortable to you. Whether that is taking part in organised runs, joining a running group filled with lots of strangers, or trying a new training route that might challenge you – you can do it. You CAN do it.

There’s lots coming up on the horizon now, so brace yourselves: there may be a few tl;dr posts to go with them. 😉 Happy running! x

Can We Dig It? Yes, We Can!

I’d like to start this blog post by sharing something with you that I completely forgot to mention last time. It’s about one little moment in time, one tiny event – something fairly insignificant in itself but because of circumstances and timing, it became a little bit magical.

As I completed the cool down walk of my last run of the C25K programme, I walked past a lilac tree growing in amongst some elderflower bushes. At the time I was feeling very happy to have completed the programme – I remembered those first few weeks of feeling as though my lungs were on fire as I forced myself to run for a minute non-stop. I felt pride at how far I’d come and at not giving up. Just at that moment, a breeze shook through the lilac tree and the elderflower bushes and sent a cloud of beautifully fragrant and delicate petals up into the air, which then descended on me. Getting covered in those petals felt like my own little victory parade on my route back home – a route that started out with cherry blossom trees in bloom and ended with lilacs. It was just a moment in time and a coincidence of course but it helped me to realise that every milestone of a journey should be celebrated, whether it’s by patting yourself on the back and saying “look how far you’ve come already” or reading too much into a swirl of petals.

Now it’s time to look forward again, and to plan the next stage of my journey as a runner. I’m lucky in that I have friends who are thoughtful and encouraging of my progress, and they’ve given me tips on how to start training for marathons and what to do next. Running a marathon feels like a big ask right now though, and the thought alone is a little overwhelming! At the same time though, it feels like the right goal for me (if that makes sense). It feels like something I do want to work towards and aim for. But! Knowing how my brain works, I don’t want to set myself up for failure by giving myself an immediate task that’s too big for me at the present time. I think the key is to approach this in smaller and more manageable chunks. This is where planning and looking for useful tools comes in!

Since I’ve been running, I’ve found myself finding tools that really help me. In the past, I’ve tended to just throw myself into things and exhaust myself trying to make it work. I’ve never really looked at planning out my progress and identifying what I can do to help me along. For example, I used to play roller derby. I used to love it with every fibre of my being – it can be a tough and relentless sport but it was also so much fun. Sadly, for every bit of joy it brought me, it also brought me misery. There were times when it sucked every bit of confidence I ever had out of me, and made me feel so worthless and inadequate. I quite often felt like a complete and utter failure. The physical demands of the sport were difficult enough to deal with, but then there was also the ‘team sport’ element to it and all the social politics that go along with that. For an introverted and socially awkward individual like me, that was incredibly difficult to deal with and ultimately became an insurmountable barrier. It became too much for me and I abandoned a sport I had once loved and dedicated so much of my time to. Roller derby will always be something of a dichotomy for me – I managed to be physically fitter and stronger than I’d been in a long time thanks to training and playing but my confidence levels and emotional well-being were hugely depleted; I met some lovely people along the way who have remained trusted friends even now but I also experienced the worst kinds of behaviour from others (bullying, harassment, discrimination, and just general bitchiness). After walking away from roller derby, I knew I still wanted to do something physical, something challenging, something to help me regain my fitness levels but not at the cost of my emotional and psychological health. Below is me, one of the few times that I actually got to play:

old derby

This is where running has saved me. I only have myself to rely on to a) get on and do it, b) measure my progress, and c) find ways to improve. It’s been a bit mind blowing! Instead of having a team mate or ‘coach’ tell me that I’m not good enough or I can’t do something or I’m too old or I’ll never get on a team, I only have myself saying “look how far you’ve come! You can actually do this! You’re getting better all the time! Let’s try something that will help you to improve even more!” This way of thinking probably comes naturally to a lot of people but for me it’s been a revelation. A very positive revelation! Now I have a list of objectives that don’t feel impossible and I have identified how I will work towards them, and what will help me long the way. So here is my plan!

  1. To consolidate what I’ve achieved so far by keeping at it! I’m now able to say to myself “I’m just popping out to do a 5k run, maybe even a bit more” and I just go out there and do it. I’ve spent the last week repeating the final run of the C25K programme just to cement that both physically and mentally. I can now accept that I am a 5k runner. Here I am in all my red sweaty realness having returned from my longest run to date (5.75k):

sweaty realness

2. The next logical step after completing C25K is obviously the 5k to 10k programme. The app for it is now firmly installed on my phone, and the C25K app has been removed. This is about looking forward and moving on to what I can achieve next. I’ve had a sneaky peak at my first run (which I’ll be doing tomorrow) and I’m looking forward to it: 20 minute run, three minute walk, 20 minute run. It sounds good and I never thought I would something like that about running, never mind running for 20 minutes non-stop TWICE!

3. Taking part in more structured runs and events. My Facebook running group has been an invaluable source of information and through it, I have discovered two things: virtual races and parkrun. Virtual races are running events that you can complete on your own and in your own time, usually combining a number of runs to meet a target if necessary. They will be themed, have different targets, raise money for charities, *and* you get a medal if you complete it! So far I have completed one – ‘Run 22 for Solidarity’. This race was a response to the tragic recent event in Manchester. All proceeds will be donated to charities assisting those affected. The run intended to show solidarity through runners joining together to walk/jog/run for 22 minutes as a mark of respect for the date of the tragic event and the number killed to date. I was especially pleased to be able to compete this run as my first. I have two more virtual runs to complete, the first I will start on tomorrow! It’s called the Bricktastic Virtual Challenge (the medal is Lego brick themed!) and the aim is to run as many km as possible from the 1st to the 30th June. I want to do this run because my kids will love the medal and also because it will provide me with a good benchmark. It’ll take place over my first month post C25K and will give me something to gauge future months against, so that again at some point in the future I’ll be telling myself “look how far you’ve come….” The other virtual race I’m signed up for is called Wonder Runner July Challenge, and again the aim is to complete as many km as possible throughout the month of July. The best bit about this race though is the Wonder Woman themed medal. It’s amazing!! Who wouldn’t want to earn some Wonder Woman bling for their medal collection?? I’m aiming to join a virtual race as often as I can throughout the year, preferably month long ones so that I can track my progress as I complete them.

The other tool I mentioned was parkrun – here in the UK, there are runs set up and managed by volunteers that take place in public parks all over the country (usually on a Saturday morning) and all are welcome to join. They are 5k in length and they can be walked, jogged, or run! I’m lucky in that there is one that takes place about 20 minutes drive from where I live, so I have registered to take part. It’s free and open to all and family friendly. Your times are logged via your own personal bar code and you receive official confirmation after each race, even receiving special alerts when you hit a PB. You’re also given your place result. Again, this will be something that will help me to measure my progress especially in terms of pace and time.

4. Additional training! Yep, I run three times a week but I also want to add other training/workouts to that in order to build on my strength and fitness levels. It’ll help those split paces improve! This follows on from a tip I read in a very excellent post from Cat H Bradley’s blog – she shares how strength training has really helped her and noticed just how much when she recently completed the Brooklyn half marathon. Her blog is fantastic overall and I recommend that you follow it: http://cathbradley.wordpress.com/

My favourite workout has to be HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the queen of HIIT is my eyes is Jillian Michaels. I have done a few of her workouts over the years and I love them. They are always challenging, demanding, and they make you work HARD! When I’ve tried other workouts, they’ve never seemed to push me as much as Jillian’s. So it was to be expected that I would turn to Jillian’s DVDs to find something new to complement my running. And here’s what I chose:

double jillian.jpg

Just look at those workouts! I think they will *all* make me feel like I’m dying! There’s certainly enough choice for ways to make me sweat….. I’ll be trying out a few of them to see which works best with running. So far Killer Abs has been a hit. It’ll help me to target an area that running doesn’t focus on exclusively, and core strength is good for many things in addition to having a smaller tummy. If you have a strong core, everything else builds up around it. Your overall fitness improves and you are less prone to injuries going forward. A strong core also means improved posture, and this is something that will help me – I envision great runners as having poise, confidence, strong strides, low shoulders, loose arms. This makes me think of the importance of a good posture and maintaining it while running, even when you’re feeling tired. Killer Abs is just 30 minutes long though, so I’m thinking of combining it with another 30 minutes workout on those days when I’m not running. I’m considering  Yoga Inferno, as one of those workouts is specifically for resistance training. So that’s what I’ll be starting out with. If it doesn’t work as well as I hope, at least I have lots of other options to try out!

So finally, what have I learned at this point?

  • Celebrate every milestone and achievement. You’ve worked for it, you’ve earned it, so give yourself that big pat on the back!
  • Set out a plan. Even if it’s only in your head. Give yourself something to work towards and think about how you’re going to achieve it.
  • Look for tools! And use them! Consider what you can do to complement your running and measure your progress regularly, whether it’s small weekly races or taking part in month long challenges, or taking on extra non-running training that will build your strength and fitness levels.
  • If you have a Big Overall Objective, map out a path to it that’s filled with smaller goals. For example, your big objective could be to run a marathon – plan your way to that target with lots of smaller goals. Parkruns or other 5k runs, virtual running events, 10k runs, half marathons. Anything that’s realistically achievable without being overwhelming. Smart targets! This will keep your overall objective in your sights and your progress towards it more constructive. And you’re way more likely to achieve your objective in the end!

Happy running! x