I wrote last year about how I’d begun running. The good news is that I have managed to keep it up. And I’m just about to get on a plane to run the Marathon du Médoc for the second year.
I’m so pleased that I have managed to carry on, because what it shows me is that change is possible. We love the idea of change, but in reality it is very hard to achieve. Enduring change, I reckon, comes from within. It revolves around changing our internal narrative: the story we have running in the background about who we are, what we are like, what our purpose is, where we have come from and where we are going.
When you get older, you have to do some exercise, or you have to change your eating habits, or you will get fat. If you are happy being fat, then that is fine. Sort of. Being fat is a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer – and it rarely looks good. So I want to avoid it. I find it very difficult to eat and drink less. Particularly the drinking thing, because I love wine and beer. So exercise is necessary, and unfortunately it takes a considerable amount of exercise to burn off a decent meal or a nice bottle of wine.
Short term change isn’t too tricky. It’s comparatively easy to make a once-off special effort and lose weight and gain fitness. A diet will do it, or maybe working towards a heroic sporting goal. What is more difficult is sustainable change: building this new approach into normal life, in such a way that you can keep it up.
I am lucky in that I am a freelancer, so I have flexibility. For winter running, this is a real help. There is little joy in running in the dark. It’s difficult enough running in the wet and cold, but add darkness into the mix and I don’t know whether I could do it.
I am, however, under no illusion that I am a good runner. I am below average. It is not a talent I possess: I was rubbish at cross-country at school, so I just don’t think I am biologically equipped for it. This knowledge does serve a purpose: it keeps me from becoming a running bore. It prevents me from boasting of my PBs (personal bests), and getting competitive. Long and slow is how I roll.
My tips for novice runners, as someone who was very recently in these ranks, are as follows. Get some decent shoes, and wear tight-fitting gear (you won’t blister or chafe). Always wear shorts over the top of running tights in winter, otherwise it looks obscene. Find some good routes to run, preferably in places that are naturally beautiful – nature lifts the soul. Buy an arm wallet for your keys and carry some change so you can buy a drink half way during a long run (I hate carrying a water bottle). Rehydrate on warm days using diarrhea rehydration salts rather than just water. Use a running app such as Runkeeper to track your runs, but don’t share them via social media. Where possible, run with others (although I do almost all my runs alone).
I’m a little scared about Saturday’s run, but my goal is simple. To enjoy the day as much as I can, and just to finish. I am not aiming for a time, but if I do break last year’s very slow time of 5:18 I will be delighted. Truly and honestly.