Monday, 1 June 2015

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

I've signed up to #Juneathon again, which means I have to exercise every day - and blog about it. I'm up for that, on condition that "A gentle Sunday stroll" constitutes exercise.

So, what has happened since last year? Did I lose lots of weight? No. Still trying there. Did I get fitter? Well, yes - I'm fitter now than I've been in years.

This time last year I'd just signed up to Couch 2 5K. I've now completed it. It's a nine-week programme and took me the best part of a year because I kept failing weeks and having to re-do them. In particular the first 20-minute run (I think it comes at the end of week 6) was a killer. It took me a long time to build up to that. Then I had a problem with my foot and couldn't run for all of December which put me right back to square 1. (Turns out the problem was with my trainers. You have to buy new ones occasionally. Who knew?)

Next month I am running an honest-to-goodness 5k, and I am determined that I really will run it all. At the moment I can run for 30 minutes, but that doesn't actually equate to five kilometres. Probably not even 4, in fact. So lots of training to do this month. Watch this space!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Nine Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Running

I'm not sure whether I passed or failed Juneathon. I did exercise every day (even though at weekends it was mostly limited to walking the dog), but after starting off strongly on the blogging I somehow never seemed to find time to post as the month wore on.

Anyway, I am now on week 4 of Couch25K - the week where it starts to get really tough - and looking back at what the last month has taught me, I find there I several things I wish I'd known before I started.

1. No one is judging you. If anything, they are cheering you on, or wishing they had the courage to do it themselves. You may think you look stupid lumbering round red-faced, sweaty and wobbling in all the wrong places, but most people will admire you for making the effort. If you see them regularly, they will probably also be appreciating how much quicker and thinner you are getting. (Okay, so some people may be judging you, but if they are the sort of people who look down on those making such an amazing effort, then who cares what they think.)

2. Run slowly. You’re not trying to break any records, here. If it’s hard work, don’t stop or give up, just slow down. Even if you’re jogging at a pace barely faster than you can walk, you’re still running. Even if you’re walking, you’re still moving. Don’t stop, just slow down. (Oh, and having to slow to a walk every once in a while to recover isn't called failing at running, it’s called interval training.)

3 Running outdoors feels completely different from running on a treadmill. I started off running on the treadmill at my gym about a year ago and my best time for 2.5km (1.5 miles) was around 19 minutes. The first time I decided to run outdoors I thought there was something wrong with the app I was using. It claimed I had just run 2.5km in 17 minutes 43 seconds. It was right, and I’ve bettered that time since. I run better outside than I do on the treadmill at the gym, although I have absolutely no idea why. I also enjoy the experience more, possibly because of all the lovely scenery I pass on the way. All the same, the treadmill will always have a place. It’s more accurate, more measurable, more controllable, is often in an air-conditioned environment, it doesn’t have hills in the wrong places, and it’s wonderful when it’s too icy, too wet or too hot to run outside.

4. Use motivators. “I’ll just run as far as the next lamp-post and then I’ll slow down.” Goals can be very helpful, especially if they’re expandable goals – so, for example, you get to that lamp-post and realise you can manage little further, so you set a new goal of the next lamp-post. I find it’s also motivational to think about the people around me, and try to show them how well I’m doing. Sometimes when I think I can’t manage another step I’ll see a dog walker coming my way and find that I don’t want to slow to a walk (sorry, change to the next interval) while that person is watching me. Having the right music with a good beat is also really great.

5. Don’t expect it to get easier quickly. Getting fit is a very long, slow process. Don’t get discouraged if improvement is a long time in coming. It will come, but not overnight. It may also come in unexpected ways. The first improvement I noticed when I started running wasn't my times getting faster, but my lung capacity getting bigger. I have always suffered with asthma, but the lessening of my symptoms was one of the first benefits I found to running. A little bit later I noticed how much quicker I was recovering after each run. To start with it would often take over fifteen minutes before I was no longer beetroot-red, panting, sweating and gasping for a drink. Within two months I was feeling back to normal within two minutes of finishing my run.

6. You don't need lots of expensive equipment, but you do need the right equipment. You can run in anything comfortable and light, but a good sports bra (if you're a girl!) and a semi-decent pair of trainers are essential. I also like my sports belt to carry my phone, inhaler and door key

7. Have a purpose. I didn't actually start running this June. I've been running for well over a year, two or three times a week, just a couple of times round the block with the vague intention of burning a few calories. What changed this month was that I downloaded the free NHS Couch25K app and began a proper training programme with purpose. I'm actually aiming for something with my running now, and something measurable and worthwhile. Whether your goal is to improve your speed, stamina or distance, having something in mind as a long-term goal really makes a difference.

8. Get support. I have found Juneathon so helpful, and must give a shout-out to other runners I have connected with through it and on Facebook, especially the ever-cheerful Sharon, and the inspired Fat Girl's Guide to Running. It's really great to be able to compare notes and tips with other runners, and know that others are experiencing exactly what you are. My next goal is to find a running buddy--I'm trying to rope in my eldest daughter.

9. You will eventually come to enjoy it. In my blogs earlier this month I often mentioned that I didn't enjoy running. Others assured me that I would one day, and they were right. It was once something I dreaded, then it became something I was a bit apprehensive about, then something I was ambivalent about, and now it's something I look forward to. I'm not sure whether it's the sense of achievement, the endorphins, or simply the fact that when all your effort and energy is put into just keeping moving all the day's other worries fade away. Whatever, the reason, I am actually resenting the enforced rest days between runs (Couch25K insists you have a day off to recover). I'm giving blood this evening, and I know I'll be counting down the hours until I'm allowed to exercise again.

It's been an interesting Juneathon journey, and I'm glad I did it. I will keep running--and swimming--and I'll keep enjoying the benefits of being healthier.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Having the Right Equipment

I haven't blogged for several days, but I have exercised. Not sure whether I have failed at Juneathon or not.

On Saturday I went to Primark and bought a new running outfit. When you're exercising every day it's quite tricky if you've only got one set of running clothes to wear. I've yet to try out my new gear as it's best suited to very hot days, and we've not had any of those since I bought it.

It did get me thinking about three new but surprisingly vital pieces of new kit I have invested in for my running, and how important it is to have the right equipment.

1. Sports Bra
These are fab! Who knew? Not being terrifically well endowed, I hadn't thought it could make any difference, but having bought one on Saturday I am now finding running a much more comfortable experience.

2. App
I downloaded a Couch25K app and used it for week 1. It was fine, with beeps and brief instructions at the right intervals, but I then found that I had to buy the full app for week 2. Blow that for a game of toy soldiers, I downloaded a new one - the NHS Choices app, which is free. It's much better. The voice is reassuring, gives encouragement and tips, and it's much quicker and easier to use. I'm actually looking forward to going out with it today. And of course it does all the usual stuff you'd expect it to do, like posting to Facebook and playing my music.

3. Belt
My iphone holder thingy which straps round my arm broke, so I dug out a belt version instead (pictured). I like it better because it's roomy enough to hold my door key, my inhaler and my phone, but still small enough to tuck out of sight under my t-shirt. It's comfortable to wear and fully adjustable for when I (hopefully) get thinner.

So now I'm wondering what other equipment I need to make my running easier. Particularly trainers. I run in Reeboks which cost about £30, but I'm open to suggestions of better footwear.

Friday, 13 June 2014


I haven't noticed my times getting faster, or the distances feeling easier, but I think I am getting better at this running lark.

What makes me think that? I'm recovering more quickly after a run.

Don't get me wrong - I still arrive back at the house beetroot red, gasping for breath and sweating so much I leave a trail of slime across the kitchen floor, but these days it's only a couple of minutes before I'm feeling normal again. When I started out I had to sit down for five to ten minutes with a large glass of iced water before I could get my breath back and hobble into another room. My legs generally ached for several hours afterwards, and I stayed a fetching crimson colour for at least an hour.

Today I ran 3.75km, grabbed a quick drink and headed back out again to pick up my daughter. I felt pretty much normal just two minutes after finishing my run, and my legs no longer hurt after running.

It may not be slashing minutes off my time, but 'll take every sign of improvement I can get.

Just for the fun of it, here's how I look immediately before and immediately after a run. (Not pretty. Sorry.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Running with Oscar

Today was an enforced rest day. My Couch to 5k app insists that I don't run every day, so I chose instead to go for a very long walk with my sweet little standard Schnauzer, Oscar. We strolled around Thundersley, enjoyed the sunshine, probably walked about three miles in total and hopefully that counts as enough exercise for the purposes of Juneathon.

When I first started running, I tried taking Oscar with me. Inspired by pictures like this one, I thought it would be fun to have him trotting along at my heels.

Big mistake. I had to stop every time he wanted a wee (he's a male dog, so every couple of minutes) or a poop (at least twice each outing). Add to that stopping suddenly every time we passed any sort of discarded edible, or interesting smell. He's a stocky and strong dog, so he would comically pull me up short as he threw all his weight into standing still. And when he saw a squirrel...well, put it this way, I may have to learn to run up trees.

But the most fun I have ever had running (and I don't enjoy running at all, yet) is when I run with Oscar. It's generally in the morning, on the way back from the school run. I wear my running gear to save time later (I only get one hour free a day) and we walk the first part while Oscar is on the lead, then I unclip his lead, and we run home. It's about ¾ mile on a wide, flat and level path, well away from the road, so it's perfect.

Oscar loves running alongside me, his little ears flapping in the breeze, his tongue lolling out. He veers off course several times, but when I call him he sprints to catch up with me. Sometimes he wanders across my path and I almost fall over him, but I just yell at him and he moves eventually. Off the lead he's a great little running buddy, and it's still the only time I enjoy running.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

And breathe...

Last night I took a deep breath. And another one. It was heaven.

Let me explain. I've suffered from asthma since I was a child. I take the usual blue reliever inhaler, plus inhaled steroids twice a day to prevent an attack. When I'm going through a bad patch, I have to sit on the bed for a couple of minutes to recover from the exertion of going upstairs. I always have the sensation of never quite being able to get enough air into my lungs. You know how you feel when you get a chest cold, or a lung infection? That, but all the time.

Until last night when I found, for the first time in many years, that I could breathe in to the point where I actually felt that my lungs were full. Even typing this now I'm revelling in drawing in that wonderful delicious oxygen. My lungs currently aren't as clear as they were last night, but it's undeniable that my asthma has improved.

I'm putting this down to the exercise. I've been running for around two months now, and swimming for over a year. I'm losing weight and getting fitter, and the health benefits are starting to show.

I may not enjoy running (yet), but I really, really enjoy breathing, and I'm so happy that I can do a lot more of it now.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ten Reasons I Love Swimming

It's a swimming day today. I like swimming much more than running, and here's why:

  1. I don't sweat and go beetroot red when I swim
  2. I don't have bugs fly into my mouth
  3. It's extremely easy
  4. I'm much better at it than I am at running (In other words, there are often many people in the pool who are slower swimmers than me, but I've yet to meet a slower runner.)
  5. I can do it whatever the weather
  6. Sometimes (today!) I get to have a lovely few minutes in the spa afterwards, and I always get to have a really nice shower (using someone else's hot water)
  7. I don't ache afterwards, or get injured (apart from having "swimmer's shoulder"--tendonitis in the rotator cuff--a couple of weeks ago)
  8. It still burns around 400 calories in 30 minutes
  9. After years of trial and error, I finally found the perfect swimming attire - an M&S tankini. Covers plenty, holds in my fat bits, but still convenient to wear under clothes before my 2pm mad dash to the pool.
  10. I just downright love being in the water, and under it is magical, even in a pool.