Friday, 2 September 2011

Everything you ever wanted to know about running but were afraid to ask

When I was at school we sometimes used to do cross country running. This involved waiting until it was the most inappropriate and miserable weather, either freezing cold and raining and everywhere covered with mud or boiling hot, and then everyone getting dressed up in our navy knickers to stumble round the bottom of the sports field, fending off flashers. I used to manage to run a hundred metres with the gym teacher hollering at me (from the relative comfort of the sports block I might add) before I gave up and walked. I cannot think, looking back, of anything that would put you off running more effectively. I mean, I suppose the flashers made us speed up a bit, but, generally it didn’t work as a programme. I wonder why they wanted to put us off exercise? I don’t remember anyone trying to teach me maths by, for example, hitting me on the head with a hammer. Then a while ago in the Guardian I read an article by a man who had apparently gone from nothing to being able to run 5K in a fortnight. I suspect that man also tells people his penis is 12” long because this is complete nonsense and there is no wonder those of us who are not athletic are put off, what with navy knickers, flashers, mud, and unreasonable expectations. So as I am now following Couch to 5K and am thus an athlete and an expert, I have decided to tell you The Truth about running and exercise for those of us who are not 18 and were never sporty to start with. Yes, readers: this is everything you wanted to know about running but were afraid to ask (although if it isn’t, ask away).

1/ Couch to 5K works. However. If you are unfit like me, the weeks will take you longer than a week. Frankly they may take you months. You might even need to practice to get good enough to do week 1 (I did). Don’t feel bad about it and don’t do more than you can do. I mean, try to do it regularly and push yourself a bit, but you’re not supposed to be on the point of collapsing because then you would give up and be depressed. Remember: sustained effort, not one-off huge unrepeatable efforts (and that is a summary of everything I have ever done wrong in my life).

2/ If you ever go anywhere near a running magazine, website or other publication, they will impress on you the importance of correct shoes and equipment. Now, if you have existing joint problems then yes, fair enough, but, if you are just averagely unfit like me, let me break it to you: when you first start running, there is absolutely no chance of you running far enough to do your knees any harm at all. Frankly you could drag a pair of flip flops out of the back of your cupboard and do it in those (don’t because you might trip. I fell over today (not wearing flip flops) and it hurt, also I had to be rescued by two ginger dogs and I looked ridiculous). If I were you I would wear whatever trainers you have got lying about until you know if you like it or not because if you spend a fortune on flashy new ones that will guarantee that your first run will be your last.
Bruise developing on knee from falling over. Splat! Just like a starfish!
3/ Nor do you need leggings which wick sweat away, posh shiny vests or anything of that ilk unless it makes you feel more confident. I am sorry to say this, but, when you have first started running, you will look daft. You will look as if you are about to expire when you have been running for twenty seconds. You will stumble. You will have a constipated expression on your face. If you have posh sweat-wicking leggings and big shiny trainers you will look like a new runner who has spent money on clothes: you will not look as if you can run any better.

4/ When I first considered running I was very preoccupied by how daft I would look. I felt it was something I could not do in public. I felt the embarrassment would crucify me. After I had been running for 10 seconds I stopped caring and I have never cared since. And I am generally quite self-conscious. So do not let self-consciousness put you off because there will always be someone who looks worse than you (me) and really, no-one is looking at you. If they do look at you, give them the finger, no I am joking, or at least do not do that until you are confident you can run away fast enough. For me that will be some time in Autumn 2012.

5/ There is one item of equipment that is vital and that is a sports bra. I sometimes think you can tell who was likely to have benefited most from PE at school if you know what bra size they were when they were 13. I was 36C and let me tell you, there were additional issues for me when we had to do trampolining (I kid you not) that were not a problem for my AA friends. Get a good, supportive bra (it will look revolting) and I also then wear a tight lycra vest (from Treehouse28 on etsy) to strap myself down further so I can be comfortable, and not be recreating Baywatch Circa 1991 any more than I have to.

5/ Dogs love runners. I run through the local park and the hairier and larger the dog, the more it wants to be friends and run with me. It is a bit disheartening to be continually overtaken by the Dulux Dog, yes it is, but just remember that dogs have no sense of irony and they mean well. (Unless they bite you! They won’t).

6/ Buy a stop watch. Again, you do not need one that measures your blood pressure, heart rate and the condition of your soul, just a very cheap one from Argos. This will mean you can measure your progress and it is encouraging, also you cannot do Couch to 5K without one.
Pro Fitness. Ha
7/ Think back to the days of navy knickers. Did you try to get out of PE by saying you had your period? And did your PE teacher tell you that exercise was actually excellent for period pains so get moving, Fatso? Well, you were right and she was wrong. I suspect this is one of the things that is different for everyone, but, if I time my run wrong (either as my period starts or during ovulation) I can bring on cramps. You may be different but just be aware because who wants pain if they can avoid it. And while we are way down the TMI road I will tell you that although I do not have personal experience with this, I believe running can bring on leaking if you have stress incontinence, although I have also read it can make it better. You see, running is hardcore and all your insides get jiggled about. Why should I do this terrible thing you cry, well…

8/ What they really don’t tell you is that exercise makes you feel much better. Much better! It is like drinking wine without the hangover. It is the endorphins. They are strangely addictive and also it is better than drugs because you don’t have to be hanging about on street corners, you just have to embarrass yourself failing to overtake dogs and occasionally falling over.

I am thinking of swimming next, but the thought of the swimsuit is putting me off. Perhaps I could have one like Nigella? I would be the talk of Cambridge.


Denise said...

I found your article entertaining. I used to run cross country as a Freshman in high school.

I'm afraid with the temps most of the year where I am it's just not going to happen. It's September 2 and it is supposed to 100F/40C by noon and 108f/around 44C by 5pm. At 5am I went outside and it was 80F/26C for the low.

I suspect if I tried running I would collapse at 25 ft in front of our manager's door. Heck, I break into an awful dripping sweat just walking a half-mile. (My Wednesday post)

Please know, that I'll be here in my rocking chair, cheering you on.

No swimming won't work, as I have a terrible fear of water caused from a near drowning accident when I was 2. Could you imagine wearing Nigella's swimsuit in 40-44C temps? I sweat the last extra 5 pounds I have left from this years stress. I suspect they may be what's left in the little bags my breasts came in.

George said...

I've done the couch to 5k thing. I think it took me a year to be confident that if I set out to run 5k that I'd make it.

My consolation on the days when running for two minutes and walking for ten seemed impossible that no matter how slowly or how short the running interval was at least I was moving fast than the people still sat on their couches.

Vivianne said...

Good for you, Susie :) I did it the other way round: was very fit & sporty at school. It was worth it, I stayed sort of fit and flexible until relatively recently. I am over 40 now, so I've resigned myself, it's about time I had some realistic expectations :D

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. When I was 20 - a long time ago; I went out for a 'run' for 15 minutes at a time. I say run but I couldn't so I walked. By the end though I was running for a lot longer than the beginning. I did it for a week. I don't know why I stopped but yes I did feel silly. Very, I had a bright red face and was wheezing. That has been my running career.

I won't take it up again as all runners or sporty people I know, have no knees left and have had bits removed. They are in pain, somewhat arthritic and they can't move as well as I can - and I only plod. So much as I want to run, because I think it seems like fun, I won't. I do walk though and when I pass the huffing and puffing man in the park, who will probably pass out or have a heart attack when he gets home, I really think he should just walk too. But that is just me and really just excuses for being lazy.

There is definitely a difference between being sporty (I am not) and quite liking excercise and yes school definitely put me off. Being shouted at and picked last made me hate PE.

I tell everyone to be careful they don't fall over. They never do, but I do, and you do feel silly don't you - the first thing I do is look around to see who saw me, and then usually I laugh which makes me look really peculiar I'm sure. It's not nice falling over is it? Your poor knees look sore. Hope they feel better now.

Alittlebitsheepish said...

I love that you are more truthful about the couch to 5k when everyone raves about it. I am tempted to give it a go, but may find the lure of the shiny (but totally unhelpful) trainers hard to resist :D

Susie said...

Give it a go! It does work - I think it just takes much longer than they say (George says a year above and I think that's realistic).

Anonymous, I do wonder about knees and things in the long term, my dad is an ex-runner and he has had to have a knee replacement. I shall pause now for everyone who knows me IRL to stop laughing at the thought of me running far enough to hurt my knees...