Two years of running

It’s a little over two years since I first went for a tentative run-walk in Pollok park, and I feel the need to look back a little. It started as something simply to get fit, and the very last thing I expected to get out of it was a new interest, passion dare I say. As I start thinking of realistic running challenges for the season and the new year, it’s helpful to look back at my progress so far.

I remember the first tentative session, doing (I think) 30s of jogging and a minute of walking, using the only thing I could find to time my bursts of activity, my mobile phone. I didn’t realise it then, but I’d chosen a slow steady incline in Pollok park to get going, which I hate to this day when it features in a local 10k. I also only had an old pair of trainers. As soon as my friend Sharon discovered I’d started running, I was under strict instructions to get a proper pair of shoes, and excellent advice it was too.

What I remember most about the early days was the delightful feeling of steady progress. Feeling confident about going that little bit further, or running for a bit longer before taking a break. Using a park with lots of options meant I could ‘tack on’ a bit more, or add in a loop. I was soon doing a 5k distance, and after a few months often getting around without stopping. Then the pace slowly came, and time soon became a target. But each small improvement helped create a virtuous circle that fed back into my enjoyment and encouragement.

My big mistake in the early days though is no doubt common to many new runners. I wasn’t realising the benefit of mixed sessions, specifically running at an easy pace more often. I was largely just running the same course, and feeling if I didn’t push my time slightly each time I wasn’t doing it right. This became glaringly obvious when I got the best running gadget out there, a Garmin 305 GPS device. It included a heart monitor, and the first thing I did was go for a ‘normal’ run, and look at the data. It told me what I probably realised, but didn’t face up to: I was pushing far too hard all the time. So I slowed down, and used some of the training options and features, not least getting used to running at lower intensity.

With that came rapid progress, and soon ran my first 10 mile distance as part of my half marathon training was completed in the not-too-shabby time of 1hr 32m. My 5k times were also tumbling, and ran the Bella 5k in 23:41. I then managed to get around the Glasgow half in 1:52:36 – the culmination of a year of training. Raising £3,500 in the progress for The Prostate Cancer Charity felt great too.

But when you hit big targets – which completing the half marathon was for me, it’s easy to get demotivated. I’m always a bit puzzled by the huge number of joggers out in the parks before big races, who vanish the week after. It’s akin to a yo-yo diet: Hit the target, and return to old ways. So I take the view that if you’re going to try and do something, make it a fundamental change to your way of thinking. I’d already got in that mindset, so the next obvious step for me was to join a running club, in my case, the Bellahouston Road Runners. I’ve not looked back since, and times have fallen further still as a result of the excellent coaching and excellent support and encouragement of my fellow bella’s.

If my first year of running was a lifestyle change – taking up regular activity and steady improvement – my second year of running was about getting serious, and improving my times. My 5k time is now 20:59, and my 2008 Glasgow Half marathon time was 1:36:46. I’m very confident my target of getting a sub-45 minute 10k (my PB is 45:01) this year too, having just missed out on it earlier. I just want to find the right course to do it in: I have a habit of choosing difficult courses, which makes getting a PB a little bit harder.

Frances deserves a medal too for her support. I suspect she, like a good few other people, thought this was just my latest thing, and I wasn’t going to stick at it for very long. She’s since helped out with marshalling, and gives the impression that she enjoys the chance to get out and see a bit more of the countryside and fiddle about with the camera and take pictures.

As to the year ahead, it’s likely to be about stepping up to bigger challenges, primarily to do a marathon in a decent time. Whilst I’m realistic about my slim chances of getting through the ballot for London, my club does get a few places allocated which I’ll apply for. Failing that, there are plenty of events around the country, and Edinburgh is currently appealing. I’m also hoping to keep the progress up, as I don’t yet think I’ve hit the limit of what I can do, or – at least – hit the limit of what I want to do. The commitment and effort required to push times to serious competitor (ie. winning awards at local events) level may be beyond me, but most serious competitors have been running for many more years than I.

I took part in the George Cummings relays (Club writeup here) at the weekend, and whilst I wasn’t the slowest (Indeed, I pushed my WAVA (a distance/age independent measure) to it’s best ever at 64.81), I did have the 4th leg, and consequently achieved a first in my running career and was the very last runner to finish. It was certainly a very good field, but I was somewhat struck by the less than complimentary ‘snoozing’ noises coming from one group of runners cooling down as I approached the finish. It certainly says more about them than me, but coming last was a useful experience nonetheless. It reminds me of that school-days adage that “it’s not the winning, but the taking part”, and I’ve discovered that running