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

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