Exercise · H Plan

Taking up running in middle age – how I did it.

Things to take in to consideration when reading this  –

  •  At the time of writing, I’m 53.
  • I have never run – I am not a lapsed runner, or someone who ever wanted to run; and indeed I had no latent fitness level, either cardio or strength wise to speak of – so my starting position was ground zero.
  •  I was overweight sadly.
  • I’m post menopause and feel it!!
  • But I had sound joints

Key things to be aware of – 

  • Please don’t look at other people and compare yourself
  • Expect progress to be slow – if you do better than you imagined, then that is great. But if you find it tough, be kind to yourself, because you have spent so long doing nothing, your body will take longer to catch up with your mind!
  • You aren’t in a competition – all gains are super – even small ones.
  • Don’t expect weight to drop off you, just because you have set up running – especially if the reason for doing it is for weight loss
  • You MUST buy yourself some good running shoes – better still go to a proper sports shop and have a qualified person help you to chose what works for you. I can’t stress this point enough to be honest.

Being motivated – 

I’ve never been a runner, not even as a kid – and latterly, exercise had become a dirty word. During last year, at odd times I found myself considering exercise – I knew I had to start doing something seriously, because I was struggling in all sorts of areas and I knew it wasn’t going to improve unless I made it happen. I was over weight and I wasn’t moving as freely as I had previously, I was visibly weaker and I was starting to feel  – well, frail.

I have a relative on Facebook who turned 50 last year – and I swear the woman had the body of a 20 year old. She hadn’t always been that way, no, until 5 years ago she had looked like every other woman in her mid forties. But then something weird happened – one of her kids bought her a Garmin running gadget and since then, her Facebook page was awash with photos of her new slimline figure and her string of marathon medals.

She became my guilty secret, I would visit her page and check out her photos and feel inadequate! But it also sowed the seed. If she could do this, surely anyone could? Because she was after all only 3 years my junior, had 3 kids like me and had never been someone who I thought of as an athlete in any way shape for form – she was so normal.

I have a new found respect for this woman these days, I truly do.

At some point my secret Facebook stalking became an action plan of my own. From somewhere, came the notion, that if I took up running I would face up to my exercise nemesis – because honestly I hated running and it hated me back.

But I rather fancied looking more like that relative of mine, and I wanted what came along with it – proper fitness. I started to think about when I would do this, and I felt I would much prefer to start when it is colder weather, because I couldn’t bear the idea of starting in the heat, and I also knew I had some holdiay time over Christmas (2015) where I could start off.

Christmas 2015

I had 2 weeks holiday over Xmas and the new year – I decided I would jog every other day for the 2 weeks. The idea was good but I only managed 1 week because I was running in 6 year old gym shoes and this was a BIG mistake. I hurt my shins, knees and ankles badly – and that put paid to that, until I rested up and took  myself to get fitted for proper running trainers c/o Running Fox, Loughborough.

 January 2016

Adidas Supernova Boost running shoes purchased I set off to start my running career.

I couldn’t just  run – I had to start with a run/walk schedule and on my first outing, I realised it had to be more walk than run. In fact I would suggest if you feel particularly weak, it is perfectly OK to start out just walking the whole route – get yourself used to the distance you need to travel and a time frame in which to do it.

My starting point was I wanted to be moving for 30 minutes altogether. In the first instance I decided that distance was immaterial, I selected a way point – something to aim for – something I would run to.  So I selected this water tower – which was 1.49km from our front gate, turn around and come back again. On paper that seemed very short. In reality I thought I was going to die!

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I had seen online, simple starting programmes that had you jogging for 1 min and walking for a minute – no way. I knew that I could not manage that, not over and over again for half an hour.

So I started with 30 secs run/ 30 secs walk (30/30)- and I quickly realised I had woefully over estimated my recovery capacity – so the 30 sec walk was extended to 60 secs – and from here on everything was measured in seconds. Never had 30secs felt so long.

There are several points to remember.

Keeping yourself moving for 30 minutes, when a third of the time is running, when you aren’t used to doing it – it going to be hard work. Expect running to be hard work. I read somewhere that you have to become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable for 30 minutes – and that is very true. Sometimes I wondered what the hell I was doing.

It is important to remember that you want your run route to be at least 30 mins in duration – so adjust your waypoint . I also realised that I was far quicker getting to my way point than I was getting back home – so if you’re like me – it doesn’t have to be 15mins away.

Spend some time checking out suitable routes – for me, I couldn’t manage ANY undulation – I needed flat. I also became intimately in tune to the camber of a road – because if I ran in the gutter (there are no pavements near home), then my left leg seemed forever to be suffering cramps. So it is important to look at alternative routes should they become necessary.

If 30 minutes is too long for you, and I struggled with strength in my legs – then drop it to 20 minutes. There are no prizes, so you need to feel you are being made to work hard – but it shouldn’t be impossible or so painful that it is damaging you.

I couldn’t always run at home (it is winter, dark in a morning and by late afternoon) so in order to run 3 times a week, I had to find a similar route at our office. I found a 30 minute route to the cemetery and back (how fitting!!)

IMG_0064

Given it was January, there seemed to be a lot of people starting out on running programmes – especially on Facebook. This didn’t help me – all it seemed to do was underline how pathetic I thought I was. When in hindsight I think I was being pretty amazing because this was hard. It was harder than childbirth at times!!

By week 2 I bought myself a stop watch  and a pair of gloves – January is freezing!

Generally I ran 3 times a week – Tues (office route), Thurs (office route), Sat (home route) and did it early so as to get it over with, and not give myself time to talk myself out of it. I decided that unless I was near death, I would run on my run day no matter what. I am the worlds worse for giving myself an excuse not to do things I don’t like – so I had to be firm with myself. I only missed a couple of days for snow.

2 weeks into Jan and I had to extend both run routes slightly to keep moving for 30 minutes – so now for the office run, I ran past the cemetery up to the A47 junction and on the home route,  I ran past the water tower to a dutch barn (2k). I was able to extend the run section to 40secs but the walk remained the same at 60 (40/60) – I found the homeward run more hard on my legs and always on the route back, I lost a lot of form, I seemed to stumble quite a bit and flailed around a lot  – for this reason I found the home route preferable because it was isolated and no one saw me. I had to learn not to care for the office route – where there were  pedestrians and road traffic.

February 2016

I read a blog which told a similar story to me here – about a woman’s journey from couch to runner. This woman told a brilliant story of how quickly her running ability developed, the joy she experienced doing it and by week 2 her shorts fell off, she had lost so much weight. I should be so lucky!

Not a bit of it. This is like climbing the north face of the Eiger by your finger nails – this is inch by desperate inch, snot and saliva, having a panic attack because I suddenly felt I couldn’t do it anymore, this is the stuff of nightmares. But never have I felt so proud of myself – every little tiny gain felt like I was the only woman ever to do it and I felt calm even on a stressful work day.

I woke up some days knowing it was a run day, and almost dreading that first half hour – but every time I got back home and thought, that was fab.

my legs hurt

my calves got cramp – I introduced yoga on a Wednesday to help with stretching and that made a massive difference, and again this is something I would encourage – anything that has you stretching, because you will need it, especially your legs.

I increased my run to 60 secs – I also increased my walk to 90 secs because I thought I wouldn’t be able to recover, but found that was not the case, so reduced the walk back to 60 secs. (60/60)

When I had increased the run distance, it took me over a 30 minute run but as I went through February, I found that I was doing the extended route slightly quicker – until I was back to within the 30 minute frame.

I also edged up the running to 80 seconds. I tried to cut back the walk to 40 secs but didn’t seem to be able to manage it consistantly – and so at times, when I was finding it hard, I allowed myself 60 secs, but always trying to keep the walk to 40secs whenever I could.(80/60)

I didn’t think I would ever be able to increase 80 secs running, because I would keep checking my watch, only to find it was at 50 secs and there was still a way to go before I could rest. this was a difficult time, because I realised how hard this was and how small my gains were.

However the routine of it was starting to make me feel like I was runner, despite the walking- I would see people, especially on the office route – speed walkers and a guy who runs like the wind, who would all say ‘mornin’ – and old ladies pushing trolleys who would say ‘keep up the good work’ – and no one said – look you old fool, give it up, you look stupid and are crap at it! – Everyone smiled and everyone was genuinely encouraging.

In February, my husband took me on a mini break to the Channel Isles, and I ran around St Helier bay, in the rain and wind off the sea that took my breath away and soaked my feet, but I felt ecstatic to have done it!

Toward the end of February, I tested the waters by trying to increase my home route length – but I quickly realised that I wasn’t physically strong enough to run any further and psychologically didn’t have it in me – I was full of self doubt. So I stopped trying to force the pace and came back to my old route. I did however reduce the walking (80/40)

March 2016

By the time March arrived I was comfortable with my routine, in fact I stopped worrying about people seeing my altogether, however bad I looked, and I started to try and focus on form – keep striding. Sometimes in the middle of a run I would realise that I had somehow sagged and was more shuffling than jogging – and I would have force myself to stand up and move properly. I read somewhere that running to music isn’t a good idea, that it is important to run without zoning out – to focus on what you are doing. I preferred doing that. Music annoys me and I actually prefer looking around and listening to world around me – especially on the home route, I like hearing the birds.

I was now back to running within the 30 minute range on my extended route and I knew I had to think about how my routes might develop – I could see where both of them could be made in to a circular route (rather than a there and back route) but that would extend the overall run to 5k and I wasn’t sure I could do it.

So instead I increased the run to 90 secs with the walk remaining at 40 secs (90/40) – that extra 10 second on the run seemed to be a water shed – on one hand it was hard, just 10 extra seconds, but perversely it seemed to make me stronger much quicker.

Tuesday, 8th March – office route. I knew I had a circular route from our office up past the cemetery, along the A47 foot path and then back in to town, up hill and back to the office. That last uphill bit was very daunting. But on Tuesday 8th March, as I headed out the office, I committed to the new route. I did 90/40 all around and did it in 29 minutes. God I felt so good I could have bust!!

I repeated it again on the Thursday.

On Saturay, I ran a circular 5k route at home, this time increasing the run to 100 sec/40 secs which I had to extend a couple of time to 60 secs. I did that in 30 mins.

I clearly still have a long way to go

But you know, I’m in this for the long haul – I don’t care how long this takes, my shorts have never dropped off and I don’t sing as I jog on my merry way, in fact there are some points I feel like crying – but I am so proud – me, who hates running, is running.

I’ll update you again in a couple of months.

My personal secret aim is to be able to run 5k without walking at all – it seems an impossible task, but it’s nice to have a target and I have a real spring in my step, for the first time in ages and ages – it has been worth it. It so has.

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