Looking Back – What I Wish I Had Known

Looking back at the past year, I started thinking about the things that I wished I had known when I started. I properly started running in January. Before that, I ran occasionally – on average less than twice a month through 2013. I ran because I wanted to stay fit for football and tennis. No other reason. And I rarely enjoyed it – it was a means to an end. 

Inspiration to Change

(Image © TattyDon)

A photograph of me on holiday brought it home to me that I was starting to lose control of my weight. I wasn’t massive but my size was definitely increasing year on year and I was doing nothing about it. My neck issue put that thought on hold for a while and it took me until the start of last year to feel physically confident enough to run again at which point there was no stopping me. This year I have run over 1300 miles and have moved from an average pace of around 9:30 to  8:00 mins per mile. I have most definitely ‘got the bug. 

So what have I learned over the last year that I wish I knew when I started out?

1 Miles Under The Belt: This to me is the absolute clincher. You have to develop a core. I have read a few times that you should increase your mileage slowly, concentrating on at most a ten per cent increase week on week. I didn’t exactly do that but then I had a lot of drivers which meant that kicking in a ‘do or die’ attitude to running was personally my best way forward. However you end up doing it, I would say that getting to 100 miles a month level is key. I would go as far as to say don’t really worry about anything else until you get there. That doesn’t mean don’t race, it just means don’t start focussing on epic distances or breaking  records until you have this baseline.

Attack Those Hills

(Image © Unknown)

2 Hills are your new friends: I started in January when I went away for new year to Southleigh in Devon. I found a circuit which was only 2.5 miles and over which I was only able to run at 11 minute pace. The circuit had an elevation gain of 500 feet which over 2.5 miles felt pretty aggressive. I walked occasionally but generally tried to keep running where I could. When I got back to Milton Keynes, I was able to run 5 miles without thinking. The ‘Hill Training’ from that week in Devon gave me the base to get over the mental ceiling of only being able to run for three or four miles. It provided the change in my breathing which took my running from being a chore to being simple. Now I approach hills with vigour, pretty much however tired am. I understand that they are the route to success, the core of development. I am also increasingly aware  that in a race, a hill is a great place to move up the field.

3 Race Times Give you 10% bonus: There is a quote I see quite regularly on twitter which reads “Don’t judge your life by everyone else’s highlight reel”. For ages, I was looking at everyone’s race times, at seasoned runners training times and comparing them to my running stats. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to get close to competing with them. (Also, when you are running day in, day out you don’t necessariliy notice the speed gain or endurance gain that is taking place). Then I raced my first half. My PB went from a training time of 113 minutes to a race time of 101 minutes. After a couple of half marathons and various races, I now get that being in a a race tends to give you around a 10% performance increase on your training times. 

4 Invest in the Hardware: I can’t emphasise this enough. As soon as you start, get yourself some decent running shoes. I did what everyone told me and got myself professionally assessed and bought the recommended shoes. I have no idea whether that bit was a gimmick or was worth it but I do know that I ran for nearly a year with no injury. My present injury is probably due to not changing my running shoes quickly enough and going from very worn ones to new ones overnight. Change them as soon as they look worn  – start checking from 300 miles. 

Buy running shorts, running tops, gloves  – everything! It honestly makes a diffference. Loads of research (admittedly as well as marketing budget) goes into this stuff. A running top that takes sweat away, shorts that don’t chafe – they all make for worthwhile investmensts to make you get out there day after day. 

The second bit around hardware might be more me specific to me. I am a data junkie. I will sit and analyse my run and bike stats for hours. I use three apps / sites to give the all the data I want. For that reason, the piece of equipment I value more than anything else in this space is my Garmin. Every stat I could want, full GPS mappng, heart rate etc. It drives me forward. Finally, Strava. Since Strava is essentially geared around segments, you are constantly acheiving personal bests, constantly moving up leaderboards. I love that. Just because I have been out for a slowish run, doesn’t necessarily  mean that I haven’t hit a PB. I love that feeling when the little trophy pops up showing you what achievements you have made. I sync them using a site called Tapiriik which keeps all three apps (Strava, Garmin and Runkeeper) together.

5 It’s Not Cheap: I’ve read several things about running being one of life’s great free sports. In some ways that’s fair enough. No expensive gym fees, no huge kit list and no expensive servicing costs. However, the reality is it’s not free either. As I pointed out  above, you need decent shoes. And they need replacing every 300-500 miles. Before long you will need a GPS watch or something to measure the data. And then there’s race fees, club fees and the running kit. You run every day, one pair of shorts and socks really isn’t going to cut it! Then you start looking for extra challenges. Multi-sports. Suddenly you are into tri-kit. Into tri-shoes and then a new bike…
6 Join a Running Club: I started running to beat depression and mainly because of that I’ve never really struggled to find the motivation to get out the door. For many, being in a running club gives you that motivation. For me, it has given me friends, support, structure and the incentive to push myself far harder than I otherwise would have done. Through that club, I have been paced to a Half Marathon PB and have worked with others to improve their times. Most welcome all standards of running so take a deep breath and throw yourself at it. I wish I had done earlier. 

7 There Will Be Detractors. When you start, you will get a lot of advice. ‘bad for your knees’, ‘you’re obsessive’, ‘you won’t keep it up’ etc etc.You will hear countless reasons why others are not able to run  – often couched in a way that says you will soon learn yourself.  Listen to it but process it. Pick carefully who you go to for running advice. Three things that worked for me in this area is to find out early who will be really supportive, create a bling wall to celebrate your own personal achievements and finally, use social media. Online groups like #UKRunchat are great at offering you support, advice and giving those family and friends close to you a break from constant running talk!

8 Intervals Are Vital.If you want to get faster then do intervals. They are tough, they are still the one part of training that makes me think twice before stepping out of the door. But the exhilaration when you have completed them is immense. Easiest ways to do intervals are either to pick a Strava segment or two and try to set a Personal Best on that or to do them with a running club. Chasing your mates up and down hills or over measured segments makes it way easier!

9 Watch The Weight Loss. If you run every day the weight will initially drop off. Simple as that.  I haven’t changed my diet much at all over the past year but I’ve lost another stone (2.5 stone in 18 months). It’s easy to get carried away. Watch the calories you are putting back into your system (especially after long runs) and make sure you are taking on enough. However, also be aware that muscle is heavier than fat and you will soon start developing it! I reached a level and then started to slowly put weight back on. Get a set of scales that measure Body Fat % rather than just weight. That tells you a more accurate story of where you are heading.

The flip side of this is I have seen several people who run but still struggle with weight. Do some research into what calories you are burning. A slow three miler followed by a celebratory cake and latte will not decrease your weight. I used MyFitnessPal to record my calorie intake. It also takes feeds from Runkeeper (or Fitbit) to add in the exercise you have done that day. Doing that has given me a far better picture of when to take on more, when to lay off and also more generally, an understanding of what foods contain what in terms of calories. 
10 Don’t Walk. This one might be a bit more controversial as I’m aware that most beginner programmes start with run / walk sessions. I’m not knocking that  – I started in Devon like that.  I would say that once you can run without walking, never walk on a run again. Even if you slow to a snails pace, don’t give in and start walking. Much of this is a fight with your mind. Your head will give up way before your legs do… Don’t let it.

And finally….

11 Take in a McDonalds On Your Runs. I love running past a McDonalds on a Sunday morning if only for the smug satisfaction I get from watching all those people too lazy to even get out of their cars to order fast food. I was them once. Now I’m a runner…

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