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.