I will freely admit I have a love/hate relationship with running. At its best it can feel extraordinarily liberating, empowering and dare I say it, almost effortless. There is a glorious simplicity to it too. Anyone, anywhere can go for a run. It can be a fantastic way of working through an issue or alternatively clearing your head and thinking about nothing much at all.
It can also be really, really hard. Sometimes the mind is willing but the body just won’t respond and every step feels leaden and about as graceful as a chicken doing the can-can, all knock-knees and flailing limbs. More infernal gallop than chorus line, shall we say?
Clocking in at 5 feet 3 inches (I’ll bite your kneecaps), shorter distances suit me. I’m more of a “are we nearly there yet?” kind of gal. 5k is an achievable distance for a newcomer as much as it is used by longer distance runners to build speed and pace. As such, you can always return to it with a change of focus rather than necessarily feeling you need to then run further, once you have mastered it.
Running style can be worked on to improve efficiency of pace and ease and fluidity of stride. First things first – decide you want to try and commit to getting off the couch. Visualisation is a mighty powerful tool, so try imagining yourself actually doing it. You can simply picture yourself at the local park completing a lap or get all Mo Farah, stadium cheering and put a gold medal around your neck. Whatever it takes to shift from nothing to something.
It bears mentioning that even the greatest runners have to constantly strive to keep going, to train when they don’t feel like it, willing themselves onwards. Consistency leads to mastery, be it playing the piano, completing a 5k run or doing the fandango. The wonderful Japanese author, Haruki Murakami who also happens to be a committed marathon runner, writes refreshingly honestly on this in his book, “What I Talk about when I Talk about Running’’:
“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
If the idea of running on concrete doesn’t appeal, suss out local off road trails as an alternative. Map My Run is a useful App that will track your route, recording the distance plus it shows other runners routes for you to try and/or beat their time. Mix it up to add variety and avoid boredom. Add difficulty by building in some hills. Take a mate to ensure you do it.
Once you have chosen to give it a go, you need a training plan. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will steer you towards Josh Clark’s beginner’s running schedule, “Couch to 5k”, complete with App, that clearly and systematically guides a newbie runner through those first tricky steps, www.c25k.com. Importantly, it provides a gradual program which is vital to avoid injury and burnout but also to ensure your mind and your body get to grips with what may initially feel very alien and uncomfortable.
Fact: it will get easier. Wish: it will become more enjoyable. Certainty: you won’t regret trying.
Tips for keeping going: start slowly and try to find a rhythm. Banal as it sounds, I find counting to 100 again and again helps focus my unwilling mind and keeps the footsteps steady but alternatives could be singing a song, reciting a mantra, attempting the alphabet backwards (this could equally spell a bunch of stop starts too, mind) or listening to a killer playlist. I’ve used most of these over the years and always come back to top tunes played LOUD. That and running with friends is always a welcome distraction when the legs are lagging.
Lastly, in order to help keep you on track and accountable towards your mission 5k, why not sign up for a running event 9 or so weeks away to finalise the commitment? Run, Forest, run!
Please share your running stories be they short or long, success’ and failures, tips and tools.
Where are you at?
Photo credits: Jake Bellucci, Van Boosh, Pablo Torres Costa, Unsplash