Learning to run

On Saturday I will be embarking on one of the biggest physical challenges I have ever faced: running 42 km in Bordeaux.

I have never been a runner. Although I have played a weekly game of football for the last few years (interrupted regularly by travels), I’ve never really got into running. It always seemed boring, physically uncomfortable, and it was not something I had an aptitude for.

But about a year ago, I started going to the gym. I started running on treadmills. I had lost a bit of weight, and it was getting a little easier. In the spring I began trying some outdoor runs, including slightly longer distances. It hurt, but it wasn’t impossible.

Then, on May 22nd, a friend tweeted me. ‘Run the marathon du médoc with me? Early September. Ultimate wine run.’ With misgivings, I agreed. A week later, the practicalities were sorted – team Pichon invited me to run with them – and I had to start to think about training.

I had an urgent need to learn to run LONG distances. Wine trade colleague Sally Bishop, who had run the London marathon in 2013, sent me a book she’d used – The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. This had a 16 week schedule in it that was designed to get a non-runner ready to complete a marathon without dying. I had 14 weeks, and one of those was going to be in Canada, and one on a family holiday in Portugal. I was in trouble.

The first thing I did was get Runkeeper on my iPhone. Being able to track your runs and pace is a brilliant motivator. I would need a lot of motivation, because there is no alternative to putting the miles in. [Actually, I prefer kilometres to miles. They go quicker.]

Runkeeper tells me that my first 10 k was on June 9th. I had to walk bits, but it felt like an achievement. I repeated this distance on the 12th, 15th and 19th, and then in July on 2nd, 7th, 9th, did a couple of runs in the heat and humidity in Canada, then another 10k on 22nd, followed by my first 15 k on July 27th. I was now getting ready to try some bigger runs, and each time I pushed it a little further, I felt an immense sense of achievement. On August 4th I did my first 20 k, then on 11th I did 25 k, on 25th did 22 k and on 28th did 27 k. This week I am taking it easy in anticipation of running an absurdly long distance on Saturday.

Whatever happens on Saturday, I am now a runner. I know that I can run for relatively long periods, and still enjoy it. I have lost quite a bit of weight: nothing burns calories like running. In terms of weight loss, I’m in a job where as you get into your 40s you need to either diet brutally, or take up running, or you will get fat. [I'm not judging fat people. It's a choice. I just don't want to be fat.]

As long as my body lets me, I will now be running regularly. It didn’t take that long to make the change from being a non-runner into being a runner, and I’m quite old. There is no secret, and if I can do it, most people can. It just requires a bit of willpower and persistence to break through that horrible stage where running really hurts – this is where most people give up, or they don’t run often enough and far enough to pass that point, so it’s always an uncomfortable activity.

My biggest worry has been injury. So far, I have been lucky. I have been stretching. I have been getting into ice cold baths after long runs, and using ibuprofen and ice spray to combat muscle soreness. I have stopped playing football until after the marathon. Just one muscle tear, or back injury, or some other such misfortune, and my marathon experience would be snatched from me.

Part of me is terrified about Saturday. But the reason I agreed to it is that it will likely be a great life experience, aside from the running element. The Médoc marathon is unique, and if I was a better runner, I’d certainly like to join in with the fancy dress theme, which this year is science fiction. I know that I am not properly prepared for running 42 k, and that it will hurt. My goal is merely to finish, and not having a time in mind removes a lot of the pressure.

I am still not a good runner, and I will probably never be one. Removing the competitive element makes it more fun, though. For any non-runners out there contemplating running reasonably long distances, my tips (as someone just one rung higher on the ladder) would be as follows.

  • Get runkeeper or a similar GPS tracking device: a great motivational tool
  • Run small distances regularly at first, and break through the barrier, so that running becomes fun
  • Get some decent running shoes, preferably from a running shop where they can look at the way you actually run
  • Get some good running socks: they make a huge difference
  • Rehydrate, but not just with water. Try diarrhoea rehydration salts, they work much better
  • Find scenically attractive running routes, it makes all the difference
  • Consider training for a race, even if it is as short as 5 k (a Park Run?). It’s great to have this as a motivation

So, just a few days to go. I’m going to go out and buy some plasters today to cover my nipples (apparently, nipple chafing is a big problem), and make sure all my running gear is ready. I may do a short run, too, just to keep my legs moving. And then tomorrow I fly to Bordeaux. I’ll keep you posted.

16 comments to Learning to run

  • You’ll love it! I never did the Medoc but loved doing London. All I can say is the nipples thing is just one potential area of chafing, Start slow and one thing that worked for me – an Espresso just before you start although you do run a marginally increased risk of the trots rather than the run!
    Cheers,
    GUY

  • Oh yes and make use of Twickenham Lock and Richmond bridge so that you get to run both sides of the Thames and, when you’re feeling particularly reckless, get up Richmond Hill to try a circuit of the Deer Park!
    G

  • Lise

    Good Luck! You have the right attitude, it WILL be great. The pain goes away but the memories last a lifetime!

  • James Small

    Well done Jamie on taking on the challenge. I did the Marathon du Medoc back in 2008 and it was great fun – a real carnival atmosphere. Ensure you stop and enjoy all of the tastings – I was surprised by the number of runners who didn’t stop.

    Vaseline works a treat for the chaffing – apply liberally wherever that may occur ;-)

    It’s the only finish tent I have been in that has wine and beers alongside the water and energy drinks.

    Best of luck.

  • rachel davey

    Good luck Jamie!great achievement. Agree with the vasaline :) and jelly babys are great for bursts of energy when you start to feel tierd!

  • steve connolly

    As another 40-something who has taken up running to offset other lifestyle choices, I’m impressed with how fast you have stretched your distances. I can only manage 2 times a week, 3 at most, but I am up to 10K now. I have no desire to get up to marathon distances however. My excuse is not having the time, but the real reason is probably not wanting the pain. Good luck for Saturday and for your first marathon, to finish is to win, but just to have a go is a great effort.

  • Katy

    Find some anti-chafing gel like Body Glide (http://www.bodyglide.com) or Arm & Hammer makes a great one here in the US. I believe Lanacane sells one in the UK, but I can’t vouch for it. Also, don’t wear new clothing or shoes on race day. Enjoy!

  • Hugh

    Best of luck, I had a similar story involving a dry ken news years before being reminded the next day I was running the London marathon. Went from not being able to run to the end of the road to running London (slowly), in 4 months. My advice would be a full English breakfast before the run, drink water astounding drink the wine, and start slowly timing the first few miles to manage your pace. Best of luck and looking forward to the updates.

  • What a wonderful place to begin run marathons. Good luck!

  • Tim Carlisle

    Well impressed. I have tried to take up running for 20 years – and always fail. I’m pretty good at running 22 yards, and can turn quickly but longer than that I tend to give up after about 100 yards (even in the days when I could play 5 sets of tennis)

    Good luck, maybe I’ll give it one more go…

  • Inspirational! I’ve just taken up running and aiming for Médoc Marathon 2014.

  • Paul

    I ran the Douro half marathon earlier this year. You will be doing double. That is seriously impressive, very
    very best of luck, Paul

  • Douro half marathon sounds good, Paul – are they doing it again this year? Should get an English team together!

  • Those Park runs are a great place to start – 5km runs at 9am in your local park. Go to Jamie’s link. My two adult daughters started doing them earlier this year and both are now doing triathlons. Maybe they should come with a health warning!

    At the Medoc marathon there are drinks (wine) tables every km. Jamie, it is considered bad form to forego the refreshments offered :)

  • Bob Parsons

    Good luck Jamie, will follow your progress.

    Bob Alberta

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