Three years ago I worked out my BMI. I was obese. Standing 6ft5in tall meant the weight I was carrying (over 17 stone) was quite well hidden, but there was no hiding from the truth. Being 32 and a dad of two at the time (now three [crikey – ed]), I figured it would be possible to undo the damage of around 10 years of physical dereliction to provide a good basis for the rest of my 30s and beyond, rather than leave it until too late and only manage a damage limitation exercise.
My approach was two-fold (luckily, I’ve never smoked or been a big drinker). The food part of the equation has been hard (still too much pizza and too big portions), though with some good patches (calorie counters like MyFitnessPal have worked best). The running part, though, has been far more successful.
What’s surprised me about running, though, is how much I’ve learnt. Here, then, are some reflections on running from the last three years (metaphor warning).
- The first few steps are nearly always the hardest. This is true at the start of any running journey – those first few runs are terrible. It used to also be true most times I went for a run: it may be a bit cold, I may be tired or hungry, or I was sitting on a comfortable sofa. But once out of the door and 10 or 15 steps into a run it was ok – I’d made a start, and the challenge then became a different one.
- The only time the first few steps aren’t the hardest is when you’re close to breaking through to a next stage of development. This could be increasing distance or running a bit quicker; whichever it is, there will be a period of time when what you’re trying to do will be the hardest thing you can imagine.
- At these times there is an immediacy to what you’re doing: focus is almost entirely inwards and you can’t think of anything but what’s hurting (your lungs, your legs).
- These hardest moments pass quite quickly. If you run for 15 minutes longer than you ever have, the pain will be for a maximum of 15 minutes. If you run quicker for short bursts of time over a run, the pain will end after the last burst. In the context of a day or a week, those 15 minutes or short bursts are no time at all (though that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt right there and then).
- Quite aside from being left with better fitness after these hard bits, I’ve been amazed by the strength of mind I’ve gained from them. I’ve run distances/times I never thought I could, all because I did a bit of hard running every once in a while. This is very closely related to the mindset that knows the first few steps are the hardest.
- If there’s a chance to be a geek about something, I’ll take it. You should see my notes on training plans, running paces (VO2 max, lactate threshold) and training routines.
- I really like the running gear. Compression wear (especially socks and tights), wick-away fabrics, accessories (cap, gloves, gels) – I can’t get enough. Funnily enough, the only thing I’m not that fussed by is trainers: I found a good, cheap pair (£35) that work for me and have worn the same make/style ever since – I’m on my third pair.
- A decent enough pair of trainers will last for around 500 miles.
- Cold is fine. Wet is also fine. Heat or wind, however, are not.
- Running up hills or running faster are the same type of hard.
- Developing an ability to run isn’t just about running: understanding how to run effectively and so strengthening the right muscle groups makes a considerable contribution. Two reflections come from this: (1) the muscles it’s good to strengthen are ones you can’t really see: not biceps or a six pack, but “the core”, calves and things like hip flexors; (2) what’s needed to strengthen these areas is quite simple: it doesn’t require lots of equipment or complicated manoeuvres, but small, consistent, straightforward exercises you can do whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.
- Pedestrians are generally very annoying – especially the ones who randomly stand still or change which side of the pavement they’re walking on.
- There is a big community of runners. Each has different reasons for running, not all of them say hello when you pass each other, and some are annoying; but you have a common endeavour and, especially on race days, there is a lot of strength that comes from being part of this community.
It being the time of year, there are lots of people out running at the moment. This brings a smile to my face: if only one or two folks taking up running get the enjoyment and learning from it that I have, they’re in for a treat that will, I firmly believe, shape their life.
(If you use Strava then feel free to add me as a friend: here’s my Strava profile.)