Last week Marathon Monday was all about the beginners, and more general advice.
As I sit writing this particular post, aimed more at those moving into distance running, I’ve just returned from a 10 mile run in 25 degrees heat and full sunshine. To some this might sound like heaven, to me, this was hell.
Runs like this happen, you have to take the good with the bad. So I will pull no punches. I will tell you the truth, based on my experiences of running everything from a 10km up to a marathon. Are we sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.
Find Your Support Network
I’ve lost count of the number time Mr GFB has come to my rescue. When I’ve run out of steam, water, when I’ve injured myself. He’s come with me to races, met me at the finish line, helped me take off running gear when I’m too cold to manage it myself and ease me into a hot bath. He’s put Savlon on my chapped bits, cuddled me when I’ve shed tears and celebrated with me when things have been awesome.
Whether it’s your best mate, husband, wife, girlfriend, know who’ll be there for the good and the bad. It’s easier with help.
Build up gradually
The recommendation is that you increase your distance around 10% per week. If you feel you can do more, or need to do less, this is fine, this is just a guide. A great plan to follow is the Jeff Galloway plan, which uses walk/run to not only build up your distance, but you can use it to build up your speed over a chosen distance. (For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Facebook, this is what I refer to as ‘jeffing’).
I run three to four times a week, saving my long distance or ‘big run’ for Sunday morning after a good Saturday rest. Rest days are just as important, give yourself at least one day off a week, and if you can, have it the day before your big run.
Though it’s not essential, I’d highly recommend cross training. Use weights, do classes, get yourself a personal trainer, whatever suits your budget. You’re going to be putting your body through a lot, anything that can strengthen you and support your running is a good thing.
I’d also recommend something like yoga, pilates or body balance to stretch out your muscles.
Blood, Sweat, Tears, Urine, Diahorrea and Vomit
You will go through all of the above at some point. Chaffing, blisters, runners trots, watching what colour your urine is to check your hydration levels (this can be affected by supplements, but generally this will only be to colour it darker), runs so hard you want to cry.
Tummy issues can be caused by what you eat, when you eat and how hard you run. Learn what suits and what doesn’t – everyone is different and you can only really learn by doing.
Gels, sweets and refuelling
As well as hydrating on a distance run, you’ll probably need to refuel. Some prefer the heavy sharp hits of sugar, such as gels, jellies (Shot Blocks, jelly beans, Jelly Babies etc), others prefer fruit purees like Crushed, or something more chewy, like Soreen. This again is going to be personal choice and what your tummy will settle with. Mine likes Shot Blocks, or my preference, Elivar – which offers hydration and a small slow hit of sugar (it’s also developed for veteran runners like me, i.e. over 35s).
You’ll have to think about pre-run fuelling too. Porridge, toast, whatever works for you. Dairy can be a no-no for some, for others, protein doesn’t sit well. I must admit, I don’t bother with breakfast on anything below a 10KM, but above about 15KM I find toast and peanut butter works a dream, or porridge made with water. It’s all trial and error.
Yep, this is likely to happen at some point too – strains, sprains and pulls are all likely. Get yourself the number of a good physio and go and see them early on, it saves time and tears in the long run. No pun intended.
Also treat yourself to a regular sports massage – once a month, once every two months if you can’t stretch to it and certainly after every big race. You’ll go from hunched over old person to sprightly Bambi like deer in an hour. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Doesn’t matter what size you are or sex you are this stuff happens. Joggers nipple, blisters from your trainers or rubs from your sports bra, and unfortunately you can’t always predict where it’s going to hurt. So always keep Vaseline or Body Glide handy, and plasters for your nipples. And a tube of Savlon and some Compeed for when you discover where hurts.
Hard as nails
Every so often you will experience a run that tests you. Like the one I had today, where I fought nausea, heat, dehydration, and hated it so much I wanted to stop. Or cry. Or both.
These runs are just as important as the good ones, or not more so. These are the ones that teach you to dig deep and find your strength. They make you nails. Most distance runs are more about your mind than your body, telling yourself not to give up. I recently saw it described as an argument between your two halves, the one that wants to keep going and the one that wants you to stop. It’s which one you give into first.
Get to know useful places
You’re not always going to go out 100% prepared, no matter how much you try. Sometimes an emergency bathroom stop is going to be necessary, or a water top up. Learn where the useful pubs, bars, restaurants, shops and friends houses are. I have a couple who have helped me out more than once (god bless Wetherspoons for opening Sunday mornings), from charity shops to pubs.
There are also those who don’t want to help, like the newsagents in Old Trafford who insisted that they didn’t have a loo on site, and that I should go to the bookies on the corner. They had one bathroom. I do not recommend this experience one little bit. If all else fails, find a covert bush, or just run home.
If you have no local shops/pubs etc, I can highly recommend the loop method – run in 5km loops around home. This means you can safely dash in to the loo, or top up your water.
It Can Get Boring
An hour or so of your own company can get a bit…. Dull. Make sure you have vast music playlist, or I’d happily recommend an audio book, from someone like Audible. Though don’t do like I did and listen to Tina Fey. That lady will have you stopping to giggle into a bush by the canalside much to the bemusement and concern of passing dog walkers. There are also apps like Zombies, Run! which make a simple run much more interesting.
People will annoy you
Dog walkers, pedestrians, cyclists on the pavement. They will all manage to wind you up somehow. I know countless runners (and cyclists actually) who say this. According to Mr GFB, I end up something like this lovely lady after a long run (contains swears).
You will also experience ‘runners brain’. Running takes it out of you can can leave you feeling a bit….. stupid. If you’re doing a big distance, maybe don’t plan writing bits of your thesis after.
Everyone will have an opinion
‘Oh I couldn’t run that far..’
‘I don’t know how you do it!’
And my personal favourites: ‘Run fat lady!’ or ‘I’d get you fit girl!’ and ‘Shake that ass!’
It’s all worth it
I promise. I absolutely completely solemnly swear there is nothing, nothing on earth like crossing that finish line. The sense of achievement, the relief, the endorphins and (if you do) knowing you’ve raised money for charity.
Even the training runs will give you a massive boost – every little bit extra, every week you tick off on the training plan will make you feel fantastic. The endorphins are amazing. You won’t necessarily feel a rush, but the more you do, the better you will feel. Running is my therapy.
And if that doesn’t work as incentive, ALL THE FOOD you can eat is a pretty damn awesome bonus. This is the time that carbs are your friend and should be embraced. Wholeheartedly.
Or I wouldn’t keep doing it.