My running story

I first decided that I wanted to be good at running when I was about 10, a few years after I first stepped foot on a track. School sports day was never something people trained for, and I resigned myself to only being good at 100m and long jump, because anything over 200m left me legless and feeling like I was about to die. The first time I consciously attempted longer-distance running training was years later in secondary school. I was about 16 and training for the national schools squash championships, and was convinced that training more was always better. I made it a couple of kilometres through sheer force of will, despite every step feeling like my legs were made of lead. I think it’s a common feeling for first-time runners, especially those who attempt to run their first 5km at 200m pace, as I always did – a problem I didn’t resolve until many years later!

Unsurprisingly my first instinct was that I would never be a long distance runner (my body is definitely built for speed and power, not endurance), but persevered, if as much for weight loss benefits as anything else!

When I joined university I immediately joined the athletics club – since running is cheap and simple it seemed like the easiest option in terms of clubs, and it gave me the opportunity to try lots of events without any real aim but also without a huge cost. I did cross-country (badly) every winter and track every summer, usually running around 400m and being drafted in last minute for various other events to make up teams. I was never particularly good, but the social aspect of the club kept me coming back, and it felt good to be part of a team, especially during cross country in the winter!

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University cross country – more a social event than anything!

However, it was during this time that I first started suffering from IT band syndrome, the second most common runner’s injury (after runner’s knee). Runs longer than 3km would make it flare up, and it crippled me to the point of not being able to manage stairs without a crutch. Every time I would have a flare up it would put me out for 6 weeks, where I was unable to run (but thankfully still able to gym). After 6 weeks I would go back to running, feeling fine but having done nothing to solve the root of my knee problems. Needless to say, my three years at university were plagued with injury. Occasionally I would be able to manage a 6km run, but running when I was tired, stiff or simply running on the wrong day would mean I would injure myself and be out for another month or two. It was irritating to say the least, and I resigned myself to being able to run only 2km – 3km at a time (albeit faster and faster).

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My 5k pb in university second year – 23.01 (almost 2 mins slower than now)

After university I discovered boxing, which gave me far more of a kick than running ever did, and for a while I was satisfied simply gymming and boxing to keep fit. However, being able to run is pretty integral to my DNA, and running had allowed me to get outside and explore places better than anything else, so I was adamant that I would strengthen my weak supporting muscles in my hips and glutes (the cause of my ITBS) and work on my striding (heel striking puts a lot of pressure on the knees and can exacerbate injuries), whilst simultaneously continuing other sports so as to avoid over-training in one area as I did at university.

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Boxing training made me fitter than ever and allowed me to start running again

After years and years of trial and error, better shoes, rehab and rest, I am finally getting to the point at which I can trust my body to run further than 5km without giving up. For years I’ve turned down opportunities to race in some amazing places for fear of putting myself out of action for months, and finally I think it’s coming to an end! I don’t want to jinx it but now I’m working with a coach (who is very aware of my history of injuries) and taking adequate time to activate muscles before each run (and rest properly afterwards), I’m feeling really positive about my journey ahead – it’s only just beginning!

My goals this year:

  • Finish Tokyo marathon with no injuries.
  • Complete a fell race
  • Bring my 5km personal best below 21 minutes
  • Bring my 10km personal best below 44:30 minutes
  • Run a half-marathon
  • Enjoy the journey!
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23km in the bag and no pain – a highlight of 2018

Running essentials – gear

Hi everyone! I get asked (pretty much on a daily basis now) what gear I’m using to train for the Tokyo marathon, from shoes, to leggings that don’t fall down, to fitness watch. So here I’ll share my absolute faves.

Tops

This mid layer from Underarmour is a godsend in the cold. I have many versions of this, but for this weather I’ve not found anything more comfy!

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Under all your gear you’ll want a base layer for warmth and moisture wicking. This one from Asics does the job nicely.

Bra

A good, well fitted sports bra is of vital importance when it comes to running. I love this one by Underarmour and this one by Asics as featured in my latest vlog.

Leggings

The most important thing for me when choosing leggings is that they don’t fall down when I run. Second most important thing is that they don’t get sweaty and make me cold when I’m outside. I have a couple of favourites that smash both of these elements!

These coldgear leggings from Underarmour are perfect for colder runs. They’re super soft and a little thicker than my usual legging, so great for this time of year.

Alternatively, my all time favourite running leggings come from technical brand 2XU. They’re not cheap, but if you’ve ever raced, you’ll see a large proportion of the runners wearing this brand and for good reason – they’re fab! The compression technology also promises to deliver you faster times and less muscle soreness (I did indeed get both my 5k and 10k pbs in the leggings). I couldn’t find the exact ones I have (they’re old) but here are the same type in another pattern!

Socks

Socks are easy to forget when it comes to running, but when you start to run further the importance of a good sock becomes very evident. My favourite brand is Stance, so have specific socks for all kinds of activities. Again, not cheap, but fully worth it.

Shoes

Potentially the most important thing when it comes to running – shoes! Because we all run slightly differently, a shoe that works for me might not be a shoe that works for you. However since I have a neutral stride and wear a neutral shoe, chances are it’ll be great for a large proportion of you!

My all time favourite running shoe is the Gel Nimbus 20 from Asics in Platinum. Most colours are also reduced, but get in there fast – they’re selling out!

Alternatively, if you’re planning on running off-road/in muddy places, a good trail running shoe makes all the difference. They’re also great if you don’t want to invest in cross-country spikes but need some extra grip. These shoes from Columbia can be raced right out of the box (they gave me no blisters on a wet and muddy 23km trail race) and will keep your feet dry for the most part. I can’t find them in my colour but you can find other colours here.

Rucksack

I don’t think people realise how useful a running rucksack is until they have one, at which point it becomes invaluable. Whether for holding gels, water or extra layers (usually all of the above for me), it’s just so useful to have with you on every run. This is my all time favourite from Columbia – however, if you’re much smaller than me and not wearing lots of layers, it may sit a little big.

Watch

I used to use the Fitbit Versa (for about 8 months) before it broke. I was impressed with the heart rate sensor and ease of use, but when it came to running it really let me down, cutting off as much as 10% off any route due to poor GPS. I hope new Fitbits have better sensors! I’m now looking at the Garmin Forerunner collection which is unfortunately obscenely expensive. But when it comes to running, Garmin and Polar definitely lead the way!

 

Three things I’ve learned from marathon training

There’s something about marathon training that teaches you a lot, both about yourself and also about the human psyche. Perhaps it’s the necessity of having hours with only your own thoughts as you pound the pavement (almost by definition of training for a marathon), but I’ve been thinking a lot about what marathon training is teaching me about myself and others who do the same. Here are a few of the things. No doubt I’ll learn more as my training picks up for the next four weeks.

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Early morning runs are truly special, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy them

I can run
It’s an on-going joke with my boyfriend that as soon as I get into running, I injure myself, and that anything above a 5k might as well be a marathon. It’s been pretty awesome to realise that a lot of that fear of running far is in my head. Sure, injuries are physical, but the fear that we so often get after an injury/accident can be significantly more debilitating than the injury itself. Three years on from my chronic IT band pain I was still apprehensive about running further than 10km for fear of being set back years. But with the right amount of rest, the right shoes and right training plan, I have (touch wood) really impressed myself with not only the fact that I CAN run far (I recently did my first 10k race and half marathon), but that I’m finally allowing myself to enjoy it, and I think that’s something to be celebrated.

 

I’m lazier than I thought
I say this partly in jest. It is perfectly normal to put off tasks that, let’s face it, are not necessarily as appealing as sitting in bed watching prison break. Procrastination can sometimes get to the point where it’s actually too late to do something anymore, and you end up not doing it because you’ve put it off for so long and the moment has passed. People ask me how I stay so motivated and the reality is, I am not always motivated. I have discipline and enjoyment, and both these things have always been enough to get me to the gym or to boxing on time. However, with running it’s different. Running is not something I naturally love every second of, so it takes that little bit more energy to get myself outside in the cold (and often dark) outdoors to do my training for the day. BUT what I have discovered is that my discipline is very much in check. I haven’t missed a training day (although I have postponed a couple to fit with my schedule) and I am proud of that. As Adrienne says ‘you can do hard things’, and it’s blooming cool to realise that I can.

 

People who constantly run marathons are somewhere between sadists and gods
Marathon training is really, really hard. It’s not just that each run is difficult (although lots of them are), it’s also that you have to consistently push yourself harder, and there’s not really any possibility of settling into a routine during training. People who frequently put themselves through this baffle me, and I have continuing respect (and a little fear) for them all. And yet the sense of community when you find someone else who is also running a marathon is also incredible, so I can see how people become addicted. Pushing physical boundaries alongside thousands of other people has to be one of the most incredible experiences ever, and I’m excited to be a part of that, no matter how painful it is getting there.

I would love to hear what you learned as part of your training! Whether it’s for a marathon, cross-fit competition or your first 5k – it’s all valid!