Photographs by Toni Tran
Let me begin by pointing out the obvious - I'm no pro runner. I can't reel off scientific facts, bar a few I've picked up along the way and I'm certainly not an expert on nutrition. However, what I do know is that roughly a year ago, when I began running, I couldn't even run the 1K to Dulwich park without needing to stop for breath. Now, I run 5K in a fairly steady 27 minutes - an improvement of almost 20 minutes from when I began. It's not always easy but I can slip on my trainers and go for a 10K run and be back indoors in under an hour without giving it much thought - just the thought of that would have made me laugh out loud a year ago.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that if I can do it, so can you. There are things I wish I had thought about a little more when I began running - I knew nothing about shin splints, rolling foams or how the right trainers would make a world of difference. Here are my tips to get you up and out for the long run.
Invest In Your Running Kit
Get kit you feel good in. Look good, feel good, right? As I mentioned above, the right trainers really will change the way you run. Did you know that Nike has a gait analysis in London that analyses the way you run and matches you to your perfect running shoe? For those of us with larger boobs, a correctly fitted sports bra will stop you from getting a bad back. I'd recommend this one by Chantelle - it's so comfortable and I can honestly say the only sports bra where I've had no back pain at all to date. Running is strenous and a high impact sport on your joints and the right kit will help you look after your body.
Kit isn't cheap and it can be daunting spending a lot of money on kit when you start out but you're making all the more commitment to sticking to it if you do.
Get Over Yourself
I used to be literally terrified of running outside because of what other people would think. I explained this to a friend, only for him to ask if it was likely that I would ever see any of these people again and what did it matter anyway? I shrugged and agreed it wasn't and it didn't. The next day I finally braved it and I've never run in a gym since. No one cares if you're red and sweaty. No one is interested how fast, slow or far you are running. People are far too self indulgent to give you more than a glance and a passing thought, if even that.
Work Out What Sort Of Runner You Are
Do you run best when you're running alone to loud music? Can you think clearer and run faster with no music at all? Do you need a group to push you that little bit harder than you push yourself running solo? All of these aspects of running will make a difference. If you run better as part of a group but don't live close to a friend, join a club. In London, Nike brings together runners for free running sessions every week.
Don't Just Run
So, you want to be a really competent runner? Shocker - it's not just about running. You need to incorporate workouts that include weights to build and strengthen your muscles, which in turn will help you run faster. Never underestimate the importance of your core when exercising. Gym classes such as LBT, circuit training and pilates will help tone and strengthen it.
I was thrown in a little at the deep end. Nike got me involved in their 10K We Own The Night, which was what kicked started me running in the first place. Not only was I tied down to doing a race, even though I couldn't even run, but I had been kitted out with kit to do it with and met some lovely girls at Nike. Being fitter and writing about it was something I was keen to get in to and while it was bloody hard work and at the beginning I hated it, dropping out was never an option - mainly down to the embarrassment it would have caused me. Find something similar - sign up to a 5K fun run or a 10K race - failure soon isn't an option. I found myself getting all too comfortable in my routine recently so I've just forced my friends to sign up to do the Hackney Half with me in a few months. We're a particularly competitive bunch and to be honest, they are all better runners than I am but challenge is key!
Try Not To Expect Overnight Results
One of the best things about running is that if you put in the effort, you can get better quickly. However, it's important not to push yourself too hard and prepare your body as you go otherwise you could end up damaging your muscles, meaning you can't exercise for weeks. I began running with interval training to do just this - some great advice from my extremely fit Aunt Emma, who runs the marathon every year - and increase my fitness without making me feel like a total failure - just as you start to get out of breathe, it turns out it's time to walk anyway.
Getting Fit & Toned, Not Losing Weight, Should Be Your Main Motivation
Fit doesn't necessarily mean thin. The idea of getting fitter, more toned and looking after your body should be enough motivation. And sure, it might even mean you'll lose some weight in the process. It was only when I started to incorporate other classes that I began to notice my body shape changing and my clothes feeling a little looser. I didn't ever measure my weight - as someone who suffered from anorexia for years as a teenager, I let my weight control and dictate my happiness and success (another post for another time, perhaps), this was something that was really important when I decided I was going to take fitness a lot more seriously - and I'd recommend not weighing yourself to everyone. If you are someone who needs to see your progress in numbers, use a tape measure. Don't let weight ruin your progress.
Running Is a Privilege
You should feel privileged with every step of your run that you take because there are so many people who don't have the ability to do that. It's something a lot of people take for granted and shouldn't.
Lastly, don't give up. You can run at any age, in anything, anywhere, at any time...
There really aren't any excuses. Bar a chronic hangover on a Saturday, of course - now that's something I totally understand.