Running with a Smile

In 2014 I decided to take up running… but my goal wasn’t just to run, as I’d tried running outside before and was used to regularly going to the gym and attending exercise classes. This time I wanted to learn to run and enjoy it! Instead of my body aching to stop and my head telling me to walk back home after just a minute or so, I wanted to run, keep running and take pleasure in running! I was keen to have the flexibility to exercise when I wanted, to enjoy the freedom to run where I wanted, to have a reason to go outside in the sunshine on a summers evening and the chance to breath in some fresh air after a day in the office.

Running seemed to be evermore popular, so I thought there must be something I’m missing and all the people I see out running must have found a way to like it! And so I ran, well more walking and jogging for a while, and I discovered how to run and smile about it…!

RunnerI’m thankful that a few of my work colleagues at the time recommended to me the NHS Couch to 5k podcast. The free nine-week programme taught me how to run sensibly and build up the distance and time gradually, in an achievable way, from running for 30 seconds to running for 5 kilometres. I discovered that it’s not necessary or helpful to run straight from my front door and broke through the embarrassment factor of being out in running gear but walking to begin and end (I used to have the notion that if I was going for a run, it was only acceptable to walk when I looked like I had been working up a sweat!) Like, other forms of exercise, warming up and pacing yourself is helpful.

RunnerI was going through a particularly difficult time when I initially started out running – battling with anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and low mood, experiencing my relationship with my partner fall apart, and feeling stressed at work. The running really helped me get through all of this. The podcast gave me goals and structure. And, as well as being good for my body and mind, it was a way of keeping myself going. Regardless of what was happening in my life, how difficult each day seemed, how much I wanted to just stop doing anything, when I ran I was propelling myself forward both physically and psychologically. I believe this momentum helped me to be more determined to keep working through my therapy exercises at the time, to keep going to work when I was stressed, and to remain hopeful when I couldn’t quite see how I would be happy again. And it boosted my mood through the release of endorphins from the exercise, as well as my self-belief from the achievement of completing each run.

Parkrun 2014Having successfully completed the podcast and learned to run 5k, I wanted to complete an organised run with other people. I was working for a charity at the time, so I signed up for their upcoming sponsored run. I also started going to my local Parkrun. The organisation Parkrun facilitate free, weekly, 5k timed runs all around the world that are open to everyone, made possible by dedicated teams of local volunteers.

Again, someone suggested thisChristmas Parkrun to me and I remember at the time reacting as if it was a silly suggestion and promptly responding that I wouldn’t ever be comfortable running with other people! This of course turned out not to be true… Once I plucked up the courage to give it a go, I loved it! I don’t go all the time, but I’ve ran a fair number of Parkruns including an extra one in 2014 on Christmas day! I find there’s a really lovely community spirit, a great way to push yourself to run faster and I love the sense of achievement to have run first thing on a Saturday morning! It’s also great to feel part of a something bigger – there are now Parkruns taking place each weekend at over 1,000 different parkland locations all over the world, with 1.8 runners signed up and typically 300 to 400 attending my local run each week!

As well as being motivated by joining the wider running community, I found it helpful and encouraging to learn more about running. This included reading the book Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley. This really resonated with me at the time given the author is a woman and her running journey started in her early thirties just like me. Alexandra takes you on journey from when she used to get out of breath just running for a bus, to becoming a marathon runner. Reading through her achievements encouraged me to believe I could take up running as an adult and added to my determination. Her comic edge and honest, insightful descriptions engaged me, made me laugh, and helped me apply an important sense of humour to my running. Her passion made me want to get outside and move whenever I read more. She also provided a collection of helpful running tips along the way, like how best to choose comfortable running gear and how to run up hill, particularly useful when you’re starting out.

Charity RunAs the charity run grew closer I realised that 5k was no longer a challenge for me, I could at that point run that pretty comfortably. There was the option to run different distances and so I decided, even though to double the distance seemed a huge jump, that I’d set a fundraising target and agree to run 10k if I beat my target. This turned out to be a great way to encourage people to donate more so in the end I raised about £500 for my charity. And, I successfully managed to run the whole 10k distance and enjoyed it too!

Running continued to be good for me physical and mentally. I soon decided I needed a new goal to work towards, so in January 2015 I signed up for the Birmingham Half Marathon which takes place each October. I had watched the half marathon runners in the past when I’d lived on the run route and never thought that I’d ever be running it myself, so I was thrilled when I did.

In the months preceding the half marathon I wasn’t actually sure I would be able to run the distance. I channelled this uncertainty of what my body was capable of (and fear!) into motivation to keep running further, until I was confident I would manage it. I also had a couple of friends sign up, so we were able to share tips, encourage one another and go to the run together on the day.

ParkrunA resource that helped me at this stage was the book Running Made Easy by Susie Whalley and Lisa Jackson. As well as the inspiring stories about the joy and benefits running has brought to people, descriptions of the positive impact running can have, and advice and running plans, it helped me set and achieve goals. A few specific goals I set really helped me build up my distance in manageable steps. My first personal goal was to complete my local Saturday morning Parkrun followed by running the 3 miles home (rather than driving). My second was to run from home to the Parkrun then complete it, and the third was to run both to and from the Parkrun, having completed the 5k run in the middle. This was a great way to give myself smaller achievable goals whilst training for the half marathon and the achievement of these boosted my confidence in my physical and mental ability.

I have tried to not spend too much on running kit, but there are some essentials. One of these is some decent running trainers, ideally from a running shop to ensure they are really suited to you. At first I wasn’t convinced about it being necessary as a beginner to go to a dedicated running shop and have my gait analysed, then be advised on trainers, but I was very pleased I did.  Having some trainers specifically designed for running, with the right support for me, instantly made running more comfortable and has helped prevent injury.

Birmingham Half MarathonThere’s now all sorts of running tech out there too. One piece of equipment I found particularly helpful when training is my FitBit. Personally I love data, so I enjoy in general being able to numbers and graphs about how my exercise each day. In terms of my running though, the FitBit was really helpful when training for the Birmingham half marathon. It tells me how far I have run and for how long when I am out running, important when you’re pushing yourself to run longer distances.

The half marathon was the best run I’ve ever done. It was hard work, I wasn’t by any means fast taking around 2 and a half hours, and my body really hurt when I stopped afterwards, however, I ran the whole way and I loved it! There was a great atmosphere, I enjoyed the route through the various areas of Birmingham I know and the sense of achievement was fantastic! It’s amazing what the mind and body can do!

You might not like the idea of running, or you might physically not be able to run safely (always do check with a doctor if you’re not absolutely sure it’s ok for you to run or take up any form of new exercise before you start). If running isn’t for you, I still encourage you to set yourself a goal and work gradually in stages towards it each week, no matter what the activity or focus is. In my experience, working towards something you want to do (not have to do) can be really beneficial.

If you do want to start running, how about getting going with a guided podcast. I’ve mentioned the NHS Couch to 5K which you can download from iTunes or Google Play, but there are loads of exercise podcasts you can download for free online. Get yourself an arm holder for your mp3 player or phone, add some headphones suitable for on the go, put on a decent pair of trainers and off you go! I’ve mentioned a few books to complement your running adventure, but there are many more running resources including magazines, websites and social media channels from which you can gain useful tips and inspiration.

If you’d like encouragement and support from other people, you could look for a local beginners running group. I’ve seen adverts for groups around where I life that are following the Couch to 5K or similar plans, as well as lunchtime running groups in the city for office workers. I was also pleased to hear recently about This Mum Runs – a women’s running community for time strapped women of all sizes, shapes and abilities, who want something different to the typical running clubs. I actually met the the founder Mel Bound and watched her speak at an event I attended. The talk she gave about why she started This Mum Runs and the difference it’s made already to thousands of women was truly inspirational. I think about how some of my friends with young children now find it difficult to fit in exercise or attend groups like they used to before becoming a mum, and can see how valuable This Mum Runs could be to so many people. Although only operating in the South West presently, they are growing all the time. Visit the Smile Being You Resource Directory to find out more about them and other running resources.

Whatever your chosen goal, related or not to running, good luck – you can do it!


… If reading this post has inspired you to get running I’ve love to hear from you and I encourage you to share your comments below.


About the Author 

Joanna is the creator and main author of Smile Being You – read more on the About Joanna page.

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