DooDoo Doo Dooooo! DooDoo Doo Doo Doo! It’s the Final Countdooooown!!! Yes, I did just sing the opening bars to Europe’s The Final Countdown. Let’s all take a moment to thank Joey Tempest and his gang for this 80s classic (my tongue is firmly in my cheek). It seems the most appropriate opener to a post about my final week of Couch to 5k – week eight!
Before I begin, a quick content note: I’ll be mentioning the effects of menstruation on running performance, and I will also be referring to the tragic event that occurred in Manchester here in the UK this week. If either of those things are going to make you feel uncomfortable, please stop reading now.
I began my final week of C25K with feelings of excitement and anticipation – the previous week had gone so well and I felt that I had learned and achieved a lot from it. I couldn’t wait to get started on week eight and finally be able to say that I can run for 5k! Unfortunately, a few other things happened during this week too. Firstly, the weather suddenly became very warm and humid. For my part of the UK, called the Moorlands, we don’t get a lot of hot weather – summer is usually about three weeks of sunshine, which happen to occur at different points over the summer months. The rest of the time, the weather tends to alternate between rain, fog, and ‘general meh’. So on one hand, it’s great to be able to get outside and run in the sunshine but on the other hand, it really takes some adjusting to! The heat and humidity brought with it all sorts of new considerations for me – I was going to sweat a lot more, I was going to expend a lot more energy, I was going to need hydration whilst running for once, and it was generally going to be *harder*.
The next thing that happened was the arrival of my period. My monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Shark Week. Call it whatever you like. In the past, I’d always tried to continue with physical activity throughout menstruation and even on my heaviest days. It’s never been ideal but I’ve never had to stop what I was doing. I’d notice that fatigue would affect how well I could exercise and my cramps would worsen afterwards but I never stopped. I thought it would be the same with running, but oh how it wasn’t! Yet again, I would have new considerations and adjustments to make.
The final thing that happened was the tragic event in Manchester. An act of atrocity carried out against an arena full of people enjoying themselves and having fun. I will not give any space to the who or the why here. Instead I will mention how members of my online running group were directly affected – they lost friends, relatives, and colleagues and could include many others amongst the injured. One member was actually in attendance and leaving the arena with her children at the time of the blast. Although they were all thankfully uninjured, they did have to literally run for their lives through the carnage and the aftermath and will be forever scarred by what they witnessed. I was not personally affected but reading the stories of members of the group, hearing more about what happened that night, and being part of how my group responded to the attack did influence my running during this week.
So on to my runs for the final week of C25K and how all of this comes together! Week 8 Day 1 took place on Monday. A very humid day. Also the second day of my period and the first day of heavy flow. Like the genius I am, I decided to do this run in my running jacket. I still had some hang ups about body image and my physical appearance and hadn’t been able to not cover up yet. I learned the very hard way that this was a giant mistake. HUGE. The non-stop run section was for 28 minutes. I was relieved when I saw this as my last run of the previous week had been for 25 minutes and I had *nailed* it. This will only three minutes more! So off I set. All was well for the first half, if a little more tiring than usual, but the problems started during the second half. I began to feel very, very hot. Sweat was pouring down my face and into my eyes. I felt very light-headed and dizzy, and suddenly completely exhausted. My head and my feet became hot – I could actually feel the heat evaporating from my face and head and my feet felt like they were on fire. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I kept going for as long as I could but once I reached 19 minutes it was a FULL STOP. I could not carry on. I was so SO disappointed in myself. I chose to walk for one minute and gather my senses. Of course I unzipped my running jacket and I like to think that for anyone watching, it would have looked like someone opening the door to a sauna. I felt really defeated, given how well the previous week had gone. Instead of letting those head demons back in again, I decided to be kind to myself – everyone has bad runs. Everyone. I am still learning – this is all a new experience for me. Learning curves aren’t always a single curve – sometimes they undulate! Learning comes in waves and progress can ebb and flow. So how could I handle this? Firstly, I would listen to my body and take a break by walking for a minute. I would do what I could to cool down and gather myself. Then, and only if I felt able to, I would start to run again at a gentle, easy pace. So that’s what I did. After a minute of walking, I finished the remaining eight minutes by running. I slowed down and told myself that if I needed to stop again, then I would and there would be no shame in that – I was doing the best that I could on that particular day. I got back home, drank a bottle full of electrolytes, showered, and continued to hydrate. By this point I was developing a pretty bad headache, so I knew that over-heating and lack of adequate hydration had been a problem here. I also researched what effects my period could have had, and I asked other members of my running group if they experienced anything similar when running at the time of the month. I got a resounding YES in reply. Pretty much everyone said that they don’t run on their heaviest days. That dehydration in far more likely (especially in hot weather) as you’re losing more fluid than usual. Reading online was also enlightening. The first half of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase and when oestrogen is the dominant hormone. You have more energy during this phase and you will always train and perform better. For a standard menstrual cycle of 28 days (obviously not everyone has these), ovulation occurs halfway through and then the body enters the luteal phase. This is when progesterone becomes the dominant hormone and training and performance can slack off as a result. So as you approach menstruation, your body is already having to work harder. This was one of those Lightbulb Moments. I was going to have to put a lot more planning into my running, instead of just assuming “oh I’ll be okay- let’s just get on with it”.
The second part of my run took place on Wednesday. By then, the tragedy in Manchester had happened and everyone was reeling from the shock and horror of it. My running group rallied together. Around 1,000 of us (that number has most likely increased significantly by now) decided to take part in a virtual run for 22 minutes. We would all complete it (by running, jogging, walking, mixing it all up) in our home locations for 22 minutes (one minute to honour each life lost) over the next two days. So I chose to do mine on this day. I knew that I had struggled on my previous run but I had a new, if poignant, perspective. I was lucky that day – lucky to be able to go out for a run, lucky to have my children safe and well, lucky to be in the position to be able to pay my respects. I was determined to run for at least 22 minutes as my way of honouring and remembering those who lost their lives. The non-stop run for Week 8 Day 2 was for 30 minutes. The weather was even hotter and more humid than before. I took water with me and left my running jacket at home. Again, the first part of my run was fine and as I would have expected and again, it was during the second half that fatigue began to set in. I kept going. I kept pushing myself to run that bit further and I managed to get to 22 minutes of non-stop running. Again I stopped and walked for a minute, this time with tears in my eyes. After a minute of walking, I started to run again and completed the final seven minutes of my run. Not only was this progress and an improvement on my previous run, I had also managed to pay my respects to those who died in Manchester. Along with the many hundreds of other women in my running group.
By Friday, I was ready to do my final run of C25k – Week 8 day 3! The weather was still hot and humid and I really wanted to get this run down. I had spent the week making sure that I was drinking plenty of water. I included electrolytes too. I also cast my body issues to one side in a small way. I chose to put aside not only my running jacket but also my leggings. In their place I wore a pair of shorts and a loose fitting, sweat wicking vest. I don’t think I’ve ever left the house with so few clothes on unless it’s been to go to a beach (which only happens one week every year). There had been a thread in my running group where the issue of body confidence was discussed, and why so many members talked about feeling that they should cover themselves when running for fear of judgement and negativity from others. I thought about how much my body has changed over the past eight weeks. It may not look any different and my physicality may not have changed, but I am certainly stronger and fitter and healthier than I was at the beginning. I’ve been guilty of covering up because I’ve been more concerned about what other people will think (the judgement of complete strangers) than my own comfort and wellbeing. I decided that my focus should be on how my body has improved in terms of fitness and strength rather than appearance. Women are, I personally think, conditioned to view their health and fitness in terms of size – the emphasis is always on being *smaller*, never stronger or fitter. You only have to casually glance over a rack of women’s magazines to see the bold headlines proclaiming ‘How to Drop a Dress Size in a Week!’ or ‘The Six Week Diet That Will Help You Shed Three Stones!’. The emphasis is always on being smaller in some way, whether it’s your weight or the size of your clothes. I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to gauge my value or progress in terms of how much less space I’m taking up or how much I have shrunk myself. Instead, I’m going to look at my thick thighs and think about how strong they are and how they can pound through the rain and make me feel like a superhero, and how they can run for further than I ever thought they could, and how I’m going to keep them running for longer and further and they *will* do it. That’s my goal now. So here’s a picture of my pale sturdy legs with their completely non-gapped thighs in all their glory. This is what anyone who sees me out running will get a load of from now on. And if they don’t think “Good on you, keep it up, you go girl!” then their opinions don’t count for anything.
Now back to my final run of Couch to 5k – the point which I doubted I would ever reach, that I thought would be too difficult and beyond my ability. Yet here I was actually doing it. I was kitted out in my new attitude – fewer clothes for comfort and practicality, water for hydration in hot weather, new found knowledge and experience, and a fresh determination. The non-stop running section today was for a full 35 minutes. I set off early in the morning before the temperature climbed too high. I took an easy pace, focusing more on the distance that I wanted to achieve than the time I was going to achieve it in. I listened to my body and took sips of water when I needed to. I stayed out of my head by listening to my playlist and focusing on the music. And I did it. I only went and bloody well did it! It was a moment of pure joy when I got to the end of my run. I may have been dripping with sweat from my tomato red face but it was a face filled with HAPPY. I am a 5k runner. I can run for 5k. I am a runner. I can run.
Here is my final badge from the C25K app that I used, along with a certificate. I’ve certainly felt motivated by receiving these badges as I’ve progressed through the programme and the final certificate is a particularly nice touch. So now what do I do??
Things I’ve learned this week:
- Learn the easy way! Use your common sense and take account of your environment and your physical wellbeing. Don’t think “oh I’ll be okay – I don’t need to fuss or make a deal out of anything, or I can just carry on as usual”. That’s called learning the hard way.
- There are different ways to measure progress. Do the best that you can do on that particular day. Think about how your body feels and performs rather than how it looks.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Every run is different. Every runner will have bad runs and good runs. Don’t be hard on yourself when you experience a dip – there may well be external factors that had an impact.
- Appreciate what you have and what you can do – so many others don’t have what you have, or face losses far greater. Be thankful.
- You can always do more than you think. I’m proof of that. I couldn’t run for a bus eight weeks ago and now I can run 5k. If a middle-aged mother of four can manage that, so can you.
This weekend has been spent thinking about how to consolidate this achievement, build on what I’ve done so far, how to take it further, and what to do next. But this post has been long enough as it is, so more about that another time. 🙂
Happy running! x