Running is one of those things that anyone can do – you just need a pair of trainers, and off you go – and yet it’s an activity that’s somehow shrouded in mystery, a lot of people expressing regretfully that “I’m just not a runner…” When you’re starting out, running for longer than 10-15 minutes seems like an impossibility, which is also why those couch-to-5k programmes alternate a few minutes of running with a few minutes of walking at the beginning. If you stick with it, though, I’m convinced that anyone can do it – I’m definitely proof of that! – and that you may surprise yourself with how much you end up enjoying it.
I don’t remember when I first started running ‘seriously’ (if ever). At school I was a sprinter, winning the 100m rather than making any attempt at the longer distances; at university I went for some half-hearted jogs around the park with friends from time to time. Then I think I ran my first 10k, the women-only Tjejmilen in Stockholm, with my aunt and in doing so got pretty hooked on the festival atmosphere and the sense of achievement that came with running events – since then, I’ve run several more 10k races as well as a couple of half-marathons, including one in Disney World. Just because. Having a race booked in is a huge enabler for me to stay motivated and keep putting on those running shoes. And this year, I feel that things are a bit different…
1. I’ve actually been consistent in my training for several months
This may not seem like a huge achievement, but usually when I’ve run I’ve done it for a few weeks and then something gets in the way, a cold, or just a few too many missed sessions; or I train for an event and then as soon as it’s over I stop completely. This time round, I started with a few tentative runs over Christmas and since then I’ve maintained a running routine of every few days or so, except during a bout of bronchitis and on a skiing holiday (which I think is acceptable!). Even though I allow myself to take an evening off when I feel like it – in fact, I think that’s part of the secret to a sustainable plan – I find that I miss it when I’ve been sedentary for a couple of days and I feel quite motivated to keep up the miles now that I’ve built up a decent base.
2. I’m doing several 10k runs a week
I’ve been signed up a few times to run the 10k Midnattsloppet in Stockholm in August, and I’ve often found myself just days away from the event wishing I’d trained more consistently, unsure if I’ll even make it round the course, let alone if I’ll get a good time. Once or maybe even twice (the shame!), I’ve chosen not to run at all. For a few weeks now, though, I’ve actually been doing a couple of 10k runs a week as a standard part of my training. By the time the race rolls by in August, I’ll know that the distance won’t be a problem and I’ll be able to concentrate on enjoying the atmosphere and pushing myself to go faster if I feel like it.
3. I’m running without earphones
I’ve always listened to music or to audio books when I’ve gone running, so that I don’t get bored, and so as to use the time efficiently – during one period I used my long runs to get through Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom, during another I was learning Spanish. Recently, though, I’ve been leaving the earphones at home and enjoying the tranquility of being alone with my thoughts (or lack thereof), taking in the sights and sounds of the area in which I’m running. Of course, it helps if you’re running in a nice area – like, say, around Westminster and Hyde Park. It’s a great break from technology and one of the few moments of ‘stillness’ I get during the week, not to mention liberating not to have the earphones dangling and getting caught all the time.
4. I’ve bought proper running shoes
Over Easter, I had some shopping time in Stockholm and discovered that Asics had their flagship store in town. My old trainers (also Asics) were coming apart at the back, the broken material on the inside giving me blisters on my last few runs. So I went in on a quiet Saturday afternoon and went through a whole Foot ID analysis, which gave me the shape and dimensions of my static feet (as I knew already, my left foot is bigger than my right; I also have high arches, and my left ankle is wonky – attractive!) as well as a gait analysis of how I run. The result was that I came away with a pair of shoes with lots of support for my over-pronation (this means that the foot rolls in too much as the weight is transferred from the heel to the forefoot) and with plenty of wiggle room for my toes (apparently most people wear shoes that are too small and since feet swell during long runs especially you need plenty of space at the front, the sides, and the top of the toes), as well as a set of exercises to strengthen my feet.
You can get the Foot ID analysis done at the flagship store in London as well, it’s free with no obligation to buy. Otherwise you can also do the ‘wet foot test’ and look at how your current shoes have worn down from your running style.
5. I feel like I might be able to do a marathon
This is a biggie. From Facebook I get the impression that all my friends are out running marathons all the time, but I’ve never seriously considered it before myself. Running a marathon is on my bucket list (*DOH*), but it obviously requires a good base level of training and then consistent and long training over a period of months. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I feel now that it might be an achievable goal for next year – assuming of course that I keep up the consistent training this year, which is in no way a given. As I don’t expect to be running lots of them, I just need to settle on a good one, in case it’s the only one I do! There’s London, of course, but also New York, Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm… the classic, Athens… or how about Reykjavik or Patagonia? I imagine that having something nice to look at helps you to keep going………….