On November 17th, 2014, I went for my first solo run. I was wearing an old pair of trainers that weren't the right size and leggings that I now realise were see-through. I was frustrated with not being good at it yet. I was impatient. It's taken a while but I'm finally at a point where I can reflect on some of the things I've learned on my running journey.
1. It will come
If you are dogged about it, if you don't let too much time go by before you try again, if you trust in the process, it will come. Some days your body will be telling you to skip today's run. Just go slow and listen to a good audiobook to distract you.
2. Be gentle
Don't be harsh on yourself. It's enough to suddenly take up running, you don't need to add in the pressure of trying to be World Number One Fastest Ever Olympic Gold Medalist.
I'm not a speedy gal. That's just how it is. I've never really 'pushed' myself. If I was struggling, I just went slower or stopped. The more I ran, the less I needed to stop. I only ever ran at comfortable level. If I've become a faster runner over the year, it's because my body was ready for it and it happened naturally.
3. Set a challenge that suits your running style
I'm a plodder. Give me miles of green countryside, a few days off work and a destination 90 miles away and I'm off. I'm happy. I knew this was better for me than something in 'race' format, which I dread as people are all around and comparisons are inevitably made, PBs inquired about, times noted. I set off alone with a bag of snacks and no real plan. Apart from when I stopped and made phone calls, no-one knew where I was.
Something about doing this challenge changed everything. There was a shift in the thought process underpinning my self-perception. It made me more confident in my running. I relaxed. Long distances don't intimidate me. I don't worry about battling despair and desperation. I don't need to listen to audiobooks to distract me. I can embrace being outdoors. Running is now a part of my life. It's my way of being outside and watching my world change as the seasons roll by.
4. Take advice from the greats
Look for someone who fits your style and whose achievements you admire.
After returning from my big run, I listened to Eat and Run by Scott Jurek and absorbed it like a sponge. I became intrigued by ultra-runners (and am looking to get started with a 30-miler soon) and veganism. Scott says that veganism helped him run better so I tried it and found the same. Without pushing (for it is against my ethos to 'push' myself), I was running to work ten minutes faster. Scott uses a phrase of his dad's to get through tough moments when running - "Sometimes you just do things." Saying this over and over to myself when feeling lazy and wanting to get the bus instead of run to work made me keep going until it became ingrained in my thought process. Now I don't worry about what my brain will do when I run, for it has become quite accepting of what I tell it.
"We are running to work tomorrow morning," I say to it.
"Ok, then," it replies, "sometimes we just do things."
I recently finished listening to Travis Macy's The Ultra Mindset and the phrase which re-occurs in that book is, "It's all good mental training," and this is now starting to knit itself into my running thoughts. Every time it is cold outside, or raining, or it's early and I want to sleep longer, I remember that the harder it is, the better mental training it provides.
5. The human body is capable of so much
When you feel like the distance you're running is too much and you should stop, think of my friend, Anna McNuff, who ran 1911 miles across New Zealand this year. When you are tired and you want to stay in bed, think of Travis Macy, who regularly competes in six day adventure races where sleep is scarce and the mileage is massive. When you feel like anything over 10k is outside of your capabilities, think of Scott Jurek who runs 135 miles and survives.
If I may be so immodest, might I also say that when you're a new runner and feel like you're not getting anywhere, remember that I didn't do exercise of any kind twelve months ago, yet a few weeks ago I completed a marathon (second hardest in the country, apparently!).
The only reason we think that a marathon is the top end of our running capabilities is because that's the distance chosen by race organisers. We can actually do far more than that with the right preparation. If you look at it that way, the 5k or the 10k are merely stepping stones, as are marathons and 30-milers. We runners are all simply en route to something bigger and more spectacular.