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

Improving...slowly

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.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Why Not Just Walk?


One thing I'm enjoying about Couch to 5k is that it insists on a five minute walk before I start running. I enjoy walking, especially in this sunny weather.

I read the other day that running a mile burns the same number of calories as walking a mile. In other words, I could get the same results without half killing myself. In even more other words, what's the point of trying to run 5km when I can already walk it? 

Well, here are the answers:

  1. Time. I can run a mile in ten minutes, but it takes me twenty minutes to walk it. In other words, I burn those calories in less time. When I run back from the morning school run I get home with a good five minutes to relax before I am due to start work (I work from home, 9-2). When I walk back I often open the front door to the sound of the office phone ringing. I'm usually pretty short on time, so being able to run buys me more.
  2. Afterburn. Running raises the heartrate considerably, and that can burn an additional fifty or more calories in the half-hour after my run is over. I don't get that with walking.
  3. It might not be true anyway. More recent research suggests that, in fact, running burns around 26% more calories for the same distance as walking. Studies are ongoing, so I shouldn't throw in the running towel just because the urban myth is that it doesn't make a difference which I choose.
  4. I may claim to be running just for weight loss, but in fact the underlying reason I want to lose weight is because I want to be healthy. I want to lose weight so that I reduce my risk of heart attack, stoke and diabetes, so that I can be active without getting out of breath and so that I can improve my asthma and my general quality of life. Well, running gets me to those goals too. I am not running for weight loss, I am running and losing weight in order to be healthy.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Day of Rest


The app I use for Couch to 5K tells me quite emphatically that I should have a rest day between each running day. Well, I'm good with that, and I'm not. I'm good with it because I like resting, and I'm not because I signed up to Juneathon so I'm supposed to exercise every day in June.

Luckily, I have long been alternating my run days with swim days. I know swimming is exercise (and good exercise) rather than rest, but it's so much easier and more fun than running that I think it is still giving my running muscles a chance to heal.

Today is Sunday - the day of rest. I have three hours of church, a book club and a drive to Witham, so it's not entirely restful, but I'm trying to show willing. I won't be running today. I won't be swimming, either. I signed up to Juneathon, so I'm supposed to do exercise every day, but today's exercise will be a pleasant walk with the dog. I'm fasting today too (in our church we fast one Sunday a month and give the money we saved on meals to those who can't afford to eat) so it wouldn't be wise to try to do anything major.

So I'm going to enjoy my day of rest, such as it is, and get back to running on Monday.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

5k to Couch


On Thursday night I had a flash of inspiration, and downloaded the Couch to 5k app, the one that promises that you'll go from being a non-runner to someone who can run 5k in eight weeks.

I'd heard of it before, of course. I probably dismissed it as altogether too hard, but I'm a runner now and it stuck me as a good way of actually achieving the goal I posted about last week - to be able to run 5km.

So yesterday I ran with it for the first time. Compared to what I had been doing before, it was pretty easy. I'll enjoy that while it lasts - I suspect in three weeks' time I won't be finding it easy at all. In fact, I'll probably be coming back from an exhausting, shattering, run, collapsing back onto the couch, and wondering why I'm bothering at all.

I don't enjoy running. I do it because I'm on a major weight-loss journey and running burns a lot of calories. The descriptive blurb which describes the  app says that soon I'll love running and looking forward to my runs. I doubt that. I've yet to find an exercise I enjoy more than lying on the sofa repeatedly lifting a 500g chocolate bar to my mouth.

Once I've lost the weight and achieved that 5k goal I'm going straight back to the couch.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Not my Best Day

It was raining heavily at 2pm today (the one free hour a day I have to devote to exercise) so I had the bright idea (usually) of going to the gym to run on the treadmill. It was only as I drew into the car park and saw lots of people in workout attire standing outside that I remembered why I had written on my calendar not to go to the gym on 4th June: because they were testing the fire alarms.


So when I finally got in there wasn’t a whole lot left of my free hour.

I then picked a “new” treadmill. I usually run on one of the six treadmills lined up overlooking the pool, but for reasons I can’t begin to guess at now I decided a change would be nice. Of course, it’s probably entirely in my head, but running on that new treadmill seemed so much harder than running on one of my usual ones. Maybe I need a view of a beautiful cool blue pool when I’m working up a head of steam.

Then, partway into my run, I felt the Velcro on my armband—the one which holds my precious iPhone—start to come loose. I panicked and hit the emergency stop just as my phone started tumbling towards the belt and my pounding feet. Luckily I successfully caught my phone before disaster struck.

Unfortunately hitting the emergency stop on a treadmill completely deletes all the data. So I have no idea how far I had run, how fast, or how many calories I’d burned. I reset it and started again, but the Velcro was shot, and I find it really hard to run without the motivation of the beat of my music. So all in all, not a great run, but at least I tried.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

What's my Goal?

I was in Shoeburyness yesterday, and it was covered with high-vis signs which suggested that it was the start point for the Southend half-marathon.


It got me wondering whether a half-marathon is something I'd want to have a go at someday. Did I want my running to lead me to the point where I'd be lining up with those runners in Shoeburyness, facing thirteen-odd sweaty miles of running?

No. Really, a thousand times, no.

I'm running to get fitter and thinner. I have absolutely no aspirations to be one of those lycra-clad muscled women who think nothing of pounding the pavement for ten miles each morning before breakfast. There are no exercise-based items on my bucket list at all.

So what are my goals? Primarily weight loss. I have set myself a target of losing four stones by Christmas. It sounds tricky, but I have lost 9lbs in the past two weeks, so at a steady 2lbs a week it's entirely achievable. The main tool to help me in that goal is the wonderful Slimming World plan, but running helps keep my head in the right place, and keeps me away from the fridge.

My running goals are in stages. I can now--just about--run 1 km without slowing to a walk. I run 2.5km each day, and my first stage goal is to be able to run all of that without having to walk any of it. Once I can do that, I'll build up the distance slowly. Luckily the circuit from my house, down the road, up the middle of the Common and back to my house via the cut-through is exactly 1.25km, so I run two circuits, and will build up to three eventually and, finally, four.

That's my final, ultimate goal. I want to be able to run 5km comfortably, without slowing to a walk or stopping. Once I can do that, I'll maybe only aim to do it quicker, but I don't feel the need to do any more.

I think that'll be pretty impressive for a fat, middle-aged asthmatic woman.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Finding Time


So far I have done 5,780 school runs, with 840 still to go before my youngest child is old enough to walk to school by herself. That's a total of seventeen years of having to be at school gates at 9 and 3 each day. Let me tell you, that really eats into your plans for the day.

I also work five hours a day, and with two writing clubs, a book club, church responsibilities (teaching teenagers via Skype from 6.30-7.30 am each day) and attendance, plus the kids activities, and laundry, cooking and housework, it's been really tough in the past to find time to exercise.

But recently I arranged with my boss to change my working hours from 9.30-2.30, to 9-2. It means I have to rush (run?) back from the school run in the morning, and can no longer hang around chatting to the other mums, but it gives me precious free time each day, from the time I finish work each day, to the time I have to get to the school gate again at 3.

As I write this, I'm wearing my M&S tankini under my clothes (to save time). My bag is packed, and the moment 2pm comes round I'll be racing out of the blocks to the gym. I aim to be getting into the pool by 2.15 and out again (having swum 32 lengths - half a mile) by 2.45. That leaves me ten minutes to shower and dress (no time to dry my hair) so that I can get to school no. 1 at 3, and school no. 2 at 3.15.

Tonight is riding for my eldest, and the church youth group. Tomorrow is cheerleading for the middle child and Slimming World for me. Carving time for exercise into my schedule was something of a coup, I feel. (Just don't ask whether I ever do housework.)

How do you find time to exercise?

Monday, 2 June 2014

Whatever the Weather

I haven't been running long--maybe two months--but I think it's fair to say that thanks to the wonderful unpredictability of British climate I have run in all weathers.

This morning I checked the weather forecast, and discovered that it was predicted to be hot and sunny in the afternoon. That's my least favourite running weather, although ironically it's my favourite weather generally. If I'm going to get hot and sweaty I really don't need extra heat from the sun, thank you very much. (If I'm going to lie on a lounger by a pool with a good book, on the other hand, bring it on!)

I'm not too fond of windy, either. Running with the wind to your back is great, but running with the wind in your face is twice the effort for half the results. And since my running route is circular, I get both extremes on windy days.

But at 8.30 this morning my favourite running weather presented itself. Overcast, about 12 degrees, with the tiniest bit of drizzle. So I decided to throw in a quick run before work. I didn't do well, possibly because my body is used to running later in the day, and I gave up after only one circuit (more on excuses in a later post) so I'm going to have to go out again in the blazing sunshine after all.

Other great running weather includes snow, ice and storms. Because then I drive to the gym and do it on the treadmill in air-conditioned comfort.

Update: The promised sunshine never appeared, so I went out at my usual time (2pm) and did 2.4km (2 circuits) in 17 minutes 4 seconds.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The German Cake Shop Dilemma


So, Juneathon begins (www.juneathon.com). Only partway through 100 Happy Days (www.100happydays.com)  I've signed up to another daily commitment. This time I've committed to do some exercise every day, and blog or post about it.

Today I face a choice. This afternoon, several of my friends are going to celebrate the one year anniversary of their favourite local coffee and cake emporium, Anke's. I've never been there, but I understand that the cakes are amazing. My sister recently moved to Germany largely, I suspect (from her numerous Facebook posts involving them), because of the superiority of German cakes, so I've been looking forward to visiting Anke's. And since I'm never averse to spending some quality time with quality people, this afternoon would be the ideal opportunity, especially with the party atmosphere and live music too.

But I need to do some exercise, and with most of the rest of the day taken up with church, cooking and driving to Witham, that two-hour slot this afternoon is the only opportunity I have. It's my swimming day today (I alternate swimming and running) so it would be 32 lengths of the pool followed by a ten minute relax in the spa.

So there's my simple dilemma. Cakes with friends, or a half mile swim?

Tipping the balance are several factors:

  1. I've committed to a pretty major diet goal. I aim to lose 4 stone (56lbs) in 6 months. Tough, but do-able, provided I choose exercise over cakes.
  2. Last time I went to a cafe with said friends (and it was only Friday) it ended in sour cream, nutella, Doritos and pancakes, among other things. 
  3. My eldest daughter is going to come to gym with me, and we can sit in the spa together and put the world to rights.
So while pretty much all of me is clamouring for wonderful cakes in the company of my favourite people, my obligation, thanks to Juneathon and a potty diet goal, is to go for my swim. So my bag is packed, and I'm off now.

Hopefully Anke's will have a two-year anniversary party next year, and my friends will go again, and this time, having been at my goal weight for six months, I'll be able to join them and enjoy a wonderful German cake guilt-free.