How I went from cynic on the sofa, to running convert in 5 months.
The best advice that I got and the unexpected benefits I received.
Many moons a go, my eyes would roll when I saw a jogger passing me by. They always seemed a bit pleased with themselves, which didn’t help. I’m so glad to not be in my scratchy dissatisfied mid twenties anymore!! I wouldn’t go back for love or money.
Back in May this year, a friend told me she was about to start training to run her first half marathon. She told me about a 20-week programme, from Couch to Half Marathon that takes you from the smallest of intervals right up to the full 13.1miles. I have never been a committed exerciser. I have committed many an hour being dissatisfied with parts of my body, saying I should do something about it, but that has never been a motivator of anything other than shame for me.
Something lit up in me. The idea that I could take these small steps, day by day, week by week, to build up my endurance and go so far was an intriguing concept. So I took the leap. I signed up for it then and there.
The first few weeks were about building up the simplest amount of cardiovascular endurance. You run for two minutes, you walk for two minutes, for thirty minutes. Each week, the run times build incrementally and your walking drops down to 1 minute. Every Saturday a long run would be put in, starting from 3miles and building up to 10.
My early wall
After about 6 weeks, I was really enjoying the ongoing commitment I had put in, but I then hit a wall. I felt rough for about a week and didn’t do anything. I kept going and a month later the same thing happened: lethargy, achiness all over and no zest at all. I decided to cut down. I still committed to the interval runs and the long run each Saturday, but cut out most of the suggested cross training. The thing is, the suggested two days rest happened to be my two massage shifts, which uses up a lot of energy as it is. Sure I could have swapped days around, but I didn’t want to exercise on the massage days either.
After that I consistently built up my strength by listening to my body to really see what I could cope with and what I needed to step away from.
The biggest learning curve throughout trying to build up my cardiovascular system was how much my mind tried to talk me out of doing it. Constantly I would have this voice in me saying, “You can’t do this. You’re knackered. Your legs are tired and you can’t breathe. I think you should stop.” I would check in to my body to see that my legs actually felt fine and that I had plenty of breath. My mind just wanted out.
The top of the pops top tip
When I bought my running trainers the guy simply said, “Breathe out every 4th stride, a nice strong blast of an out breath. The inhale will take care of itself.” That tip alone is worth so much, as it means I can run forever and not feel overwhelmed by a lack of lung capacity. I stay regulated. I don’t run out of breath. I can keep going like the energiser bunny, as long as i don’t listen to my head.
An unexpected bonus I found, was that running time was giving me the space to process things that were troubling me. On my runs I was able to exert feelings around past events, around anger, frustration, resentment, regret. I could run through it and let things drop away.
I also had moments of incredible euphoria and a sense of connectedness with the world around me. I would often try to think of things other than the run, so would look to catch glimpses of sunlight on leaves, dogs scamping, kids swinging, people giggling. I would bare witness to the world and each spot of beauty would be an extra micro energy boost to keep me going. It became my form of meditation.
Running on a break at work did wonders for my concentration and ability to prioritise. Mid afternoon between 4-5pm was ideal, as that would be the time that I would start to flag. I’d get out, run around Clissold park, and then come back revived, inspired and really proactive with the end part of my working day.
I signed up to The Royal Parks Half Marathon and raised money for The Royal Marsden, as it is the Hospital that successfully treated my boss and good friend Carla Octigan, owner of Shine Holistic. You may have read her blogs about her process and treatment here.
Raising money for such a worthy cause and having people donate lots of money, gave me further impetus to complete on my commitment. I would not have stuck to this training past week two for me alone! Self-motivation is not my strong point.
Towards the end of the training I had a ten mile run to complete with a 6:1min running to walking ratio. I was so excited about the prospect of being capable of such a feat, that I somehow flew it. It was almost easy!! Two weeks later I had to do the same distance and run 7:1. That was sooooo hard. My mind very quickly dug in to the idea that I needed to quit and couldn’t go on. That was the toughest run.
So for the big day I stuck to a 6:1 ratio. I knew that I could probably complete quicker with higher intervals, but figured it would be best to keep it feeling feasible.
I treated myself to some fancy running gear so that I would feel great getting ready for the challenge. I couldn’t sleep much the night before because I was so excited!!
I put myself in the group that aimed to complete in 2.5-3hours. However I quite quickly saw that people were running at a much slower rate than I was used to, so I weaved in and out quite a bit.
Within the first mile, the beautiful London scene overwhelmed me. The autumn leaves shone in the
bright sunshine and all the people that lined the streets were cheering, waving and high fiving runners as they passed. Having your name printed on your t-shirt meant that total strangers would call out to you, “Go on Sophie,” “You can do it”, “You’ve got this Sophie, keep going.”
Each time my heart filled. “Thank you” I’d say each time, or at least a wink and a smile if I was too puffed out to speak. It was amazing to feel part of something so filled with Community spirit. Seeing the streets of London closed off to allow people to either run or be cheered was a scene to behold.
Half way through my feet hurt. By mile 9 my legs were super grumpy. Once id got to mile 11 though I knew it was almost done. By now my intervals had fallen by the way side and I walked much more than I ran, but the last mile I picked up again. This was it.
At mile 12 i felt like i was losing my mind. My friend who was working at mile 12 for the RNIB had her photographer capture the very moment i ran towards her arms out saying, “What the f?#k am i doing?”
My best friend was at the 800m to go sign, just as Id broken back into a walk, “Go on Sophie, you can do it, all the way now love, all the way.” I spluttered a laugh and picked up. I crossed the line in disbelief. Did I really just do that? Yes I did. I ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 26minutes, only months before i had said I couldn’t run for any length of time at all.
I think that running will always be a part of my life now. Whenever I need a pick me up, whenever I’m troubled, whenever I’m low, whenever I’m too excited.
I am a true convert. For the body, sure there are bonuses, I hardly lost weight, but I definitely lost fat. For the building up of my cardiovascular system, strengthening my heart, which helped me take brave steps forward in every area of my life. For the empowerment that it gave me too. Mostly though, for the mind, to show me how much I can choose which thoughts I pay attention to.
I wear my “Choose Love” t-shirt when I run now, just in case I see my former grumpy cynical self, smirking at me from a park bench, so that I can smile right back.