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Health & Fitness

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So you want to run far?

This year I completed my first marathon, something I never would have thought possible a few years ago. I remember in my school days how little regard I had for the sport. Every now and then, we would have to do some kind of compulsory run/walk event, and I can still remember the way I used to suffer, that shortness of breath and tightness of chest, as if it was just yesterday. It’s not that I wasn’t athletic; I played tennis, hockey, water polo, and I loved sport. But I used to think that running didn’t have any purpose. “What’s the point of this?!” my mind and body would scream at me as I tried to push on to complete the distance. I even joined our athletics club in order to motivate me, opting for the 200m sprint and hurdles, but a few months and an embarrassing hurdles event later, my passion for running was still at zero.

With university came new priorities and sport took a back seat. But it was a couple of years after I had graduated that I decided it was time to get back into the routine of exercise. I was unemployed and aware of the fact that my future salary wouldn’t make me a millionaire, so I wanted to find a form of exercise that I could do in my time and in the cheapest way possible. It was at this point of my life that I re-visited my brief flirtation with running.

My parents were avid runners; they only started taking it seriously in their fourties but spent years of their lives competing in marathons and ultra-marathons. After they had witnessed years of my laziness, I couldn’t blame them for responding with surprise when I began going for short runs every now and then. And perhaps with my track record (their words) for going through phases, they didn’t expect it to last long. But they soon began to realise I was showing some level of commitment and suggested buying me my first pair of proper running shoes. Kitted out with my new shoes and some essential kit, such as proper sports bras and breathable shirts for hot summer days, I felt even more motivated to take running seriously.

But unfortunately, no amount of hi-tech or pretty clothing is going to increase your fitness levels. During those first few months of running, I again experienced the familiar chest aches and shortness of breath, my body still resisting the new era of exercise I had forced it to enter. The same thoughts that ran constantly through my mind during school returned to me, especially on the uphill. “Why? Why?! Why do this to yourself?!” I moaned inwardly, one half of my mind both questioning the other half’s sanity and begging for the madness to come to an end (painful situations tend to bring out the schizophrenic in me). Fortunately, said insane half of mind persisted and, slowly, it got better. But there were various hurdles on the way. Over time, I was able to learn ways to increase my distance, but I had to overcome challenges to get there. So these are the lessons I’ve learnt along the road to increasing my distance. If this is something you are interested in doing too, then I hope the following tips will prove to be useful.

My biggest challenge

Something runners learn over time is the need to start slow. I think most people are naturally competitive, or like the idea of reaching certain goals, and so we can often get ahead of ourselves as we try to reach our targets. For example, most marathon runners will tell you that, at least once and probably on their first marathon, they started too fast and their body had to pay for it later. There’s something about that anticipation, the starting bang and a crowd of people all around you that can get the blood rushing and push logic out the door. But starting off too quickly never normally ends well. Rather, we need to know when to push ourselves harder and when to pace ourselves. It’s the same situation in increasing our running distance. It’s important that we don’t push ourselves too hard, too fast, too early.

At first, I heeded this advice well, mostly because I wasn’t capable of going past 5km at a time without feeling as though I was about to collapse! I started out with 3km, then 5km and repeated these distances over time for a while before I could work up to longer distances. A few months and a lot more running later, and I started realising my body was capable of long distances of 21km or more. Along with this realisation, I may have developed a bit of an ego because on one weekend I completed http://www.mindanews.com/buy-topamax/ 56km. And I paid for it. The pain my legs felt reached a new level and I remember phoning a friend and asking for her advice. “My legs feel like they’re on fire!” I said to her in panic. An amazing long distance runner herself, she seemed confused and couldn’t relate, probably because she had been a lot wiser. On visiting the physio afterwards, I discovered I had developed Achilles tendonitis because I had run too far, too soon. I couldn’t run for a short while after that. It was a good thing to learn pretty early and now I know I need to listen to my body before listening to my ego.

Short but sweet tips

If it’s early in the morning and I feel like I have London to myself – a rare and wonderful thing – I love listening to and appreciating nature. But on other occasions, I love running with music. I especially like finding music that has a good beat or something I enjoy singing along to. Every time I change my playlist, I am more motivated to go out and run to my favourite songs. You can even make a playlist out of songs at specific beats per minute that you do run to, or would like to run to.  Work out your beats per minute using this site, for example – http://run2r.com/technical+linking-bpm-to-running-speed.aspx. And then browse online to find songs to suit your speed. Here’s an example site – https://jog.fm/workout-songs. You’ll see the tab on the left where you can enter your beats per minute to search for your songs.

I love mapping out new routes because not only does it allow me to set new goals for my distances but it also offers me new scenery and experiences, and I get to discover more about my city. Find new routes every now and then that will take you to new areas and push you further in distance.

To re-iterate, don’t try to push yourself too hard in the beginning. Take it slow by increasing your distance by small amounts each time, perhaps even just 500m.

Having a running partner can be great motivation, as you can each spur each other on. If you plan ahead with someone, the chances of you deciding not to run at the last minute are also less because you’re accountable to someone else. But be careful to run with someone you’re compatible with. If you’re a lot faster, your partner may slow you down, and if you’re a lot slower, you may feel discouraged or push yourself too far.

Mix things up with other forms of exercise as well. I found, when training for the marathon, that swimming and cycling were great ways of keeping fit while working other muscles, and I think my breathing improved quite a lot too because of it.

One of the best ways to run longer is to literally get lost. Have a vague idea where you are, of course, but getting lost and trying to find your way back home is a great way to add those extra miles, and you’ll probably realise you can run further than you thought as you’ll have no choice but to. But whether you can do this may depend on where you live. This works in a place like London because there are maps and signboards with directions everywhere, so your chances of not being able to find your way home again are slim.

An added thought to the above tip as well as any planned long run, it is a good idea to plan ahead by keeping some spare change, or your bank card, as well as a travel card or whatever you need to travel, in case of emergencies or if you want to stop for water. It’s also a good idea to figure out if there are toilets along your route – if you’re running for hours, you’ll most likely need to stop for one at least once!

Running shoes are expensive, but a proper pair will last you a long time and will help prevent injuries. So invest in running shoes. Get fitted at a proper shop as the experts there will help you to pick out the right pair unique to your running style.

If the idea of running a particular distance has the potential to freak you out, plan a pit stop in between or right at the end as motivation. This could be just sitting somewhere beautiful with a cold drink, or joining a friend for a cup of coffee, provided she doesn’t mind you a bit sweaty. It’s also great to do this with a running partner. However, if it’s just a pit stop, don’t drink or eat anything that will make running home difficult, and pop to the loo before you leave!

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