Do you remember learning to run? I don’t mean as a kiddie, but as a sport, hobby or pastime? Was taking up running a purposeful effort for you, rather than a continuation of a lifetime habit? If so you will probably be, like me familiar with couch to 5k or various beginners running guides.
It is 4 years now since I started out, and although I don’t remember the date I do remember the day. Sunday morning, lashing with rain. My plan was something like 2minutes run 3minutes walk, repeat 4 times total 20minutes. I’d cut the plan out of a Sunday newspaper. I set off in the rain, my old trainers were leaking. I found that I couldn’t run for 2 minutes. My wristwatch told me that I’d done 20seconds. So instead I (very sensibly and I give myself a pat on the back for this) just did what I could – 10 minutes out, 10minutes back.
Since then I have read a lot about running. Guides written by coaches, guides written for beginners, biographies written by ordinary people who took up running and ran marathons, ultras, lost weight or whatever. I enjoyed them all. But there was stuff that I didn’t understand until now.
Now I have a treadmill. Now I can run in ‘standard conditions’. As both the scientist and the subject in an experiment where n=1 it’s a dream.
There are lots of common themes in advice given to new runners. To take walking breaks. To run ‘at a comfortable pace’. You should be running fast enough to break a little sweat and breathe a little heavier, you should be running slow enough to have a conversation at the same time.
No one explained that you might not be able to do that. Run and talk at the same time. Or explained that if you can’t walk uphill and talk at the same time you should probably just stick to walking. Well OK, actually I found 2 books that did explain that but I didn’t find either until I had been running for over a year.
One was a book called ‘run fat bitch run’. To be honest, I didn’t really like the book because of the negative self talk, but on reflection it actually had some of the best advice. The author recommends setting yourself a 5k route and walking it every day. And when you can walk it at a fair lick without getting breathless, add in a little jogging. She’s also tough on the nutrition, rightly pointing out that you know what crap is- so just don’t eat it!
The other book was ‘the non runners marathon trainer’ by David Whitsett. At the beginning it explains that if you can’t run without stopping for 20 minutes you need to start with a walking programme and it gives a walking programme.
I read about heartrate training bands, and bought a heartrate monitor. I found that I couldn’t run in the zone 2 or 3,running always pushed me into zone 4, so I did most of my running in that, anaerobic, zone. Running groups and parkruns didn’t help either, with people pushing you to ‘keep going, you can do a bit more’.
After becoming completely exhausted and still a slow runner I chanced upon the maffetone method. Yes it’s still heartrate training but this time I have taken it more seriously trying to give it space to work. There’s a lot of walking involved for me to keep my HR in that low zone and as my average mileage is only a mile per day progress is slow. After 5months though I now understand what an easy run is and have reached the stage where I can jog and talk or sing at the same time,well for about a minute.
Watching the clock on my treadmill I have observed that now, I can run for 40 to 60 seconds at MAF pace before my HR goes too high and I have to walk. If I allow my HR to go a bit higher I can run for 2 minutes and feel comfortable.
So yes, after 4 years of trying my fitness has improved -I’m now at the entry level for C25k. Yes , that was written with a heavy sense of irony.
Setting my cynicism aside though, I think that I am genuinely fitter than I used to be and that’s a good thing. Only after switching to the slow running. Low heartrate (and accompanying low junk diet) have I lost weight and body fat. I don’t think that I realised when I started out, just how unfit I was and actually I don’t think that the people who wrote the NHS C25k app realise how unfit ordinary people can be and that ‘start with a walk and keep doing it until you aren’t heavy breathing’ is probably a much better starting point.
what advice would you give to someone newly starting out running?
do you think that you could have done it better yourself?