A few days ago I noticed a plug on Facebook for a new 20 mile running event to be held in Nidderdale this May. Run Nidderdale, organised by the Rotary Club of Harrogate, describes itself as being ‘for serious runners only’. I guess they mean they only want entries from sub-elite skinny minnies in running club vests who post super-fast times, but it got me to thinking about what constitutes a serious runner. Does it depend on your ability? Or can it just be about your attitude?
I have friends who are runners at all levels, from those just starting out with Couch to 5K to others who can run a marathon in less than three hours, and everything in between. They are almost all taking their training seriously: setting a goal, following a plan, trying to eat healthily and doing their best to improve, sometimes at the expense of other things like holidays or even a social life. But if someone happens to be older or slower than that person who can run a marathon in three hours, does that mean they aren’t taking running seriously? That their efforts count for nothing?
To look at things another way… when I’m out running I always say hello to other runners. I guess I feel an affinity with them, whoever they are. Some reciprocate, but others totally blank me. Am I not worthy of their acknowledgement if I’m clearly not clocking sub six minute miles? If I smile and say hi does it mean I’m not taking things seriously enough? Are they the serious runners, too po-faced to offer a friendly greeting? Being snooty/serious doesn’t necessarily make them any faster than friends of mine who are super speedy and dedicated, yet also some of the most cheerful people I know; people who’ve encouraged me throughout my running journey and don’t feel the need to be so up themselves.
So where does that leave me? Am I a serious runner? I’m never going to trouble the podium in any event, but I always want to do the best I can. Even though I’m no spring chicken I’m still trying to improve. I didn’t become a Good For Age marathoner by not taking my training seriously. I haven’t yet given up on trying to shave those last few seconds off that elusive sub 50 10K. But I feel the good Rotarians of Harrogate wouldn’t classify me as a serious runner because I’m never at the head of the field.
Interestingly, the aim of this new run is to give people (and I quote) ‘the opportunity to raise money for their favourite charity’. But is running 20 miles a challenge for a serious runner? It’s far more of a stretch for those of us lower down the food chain. You know, the ones who sometimes wear tights when it’s a bit chilly, have fun while we’re running and are probably more likely to run for charity anyway.
If the organisers of the Rotary run want only fast runners to enter, then that’s what they should say, not insult the rest of us by implying we don’t take our sport seriously. Personally I don’t ever want to be serious enough not to say hi to another runner. I prefer to be in the middle of the pack. Smiling.
What do you think makes a ‘serious’ runner? I’d love to know.
I meet a lot of people who tell me they’d like to start running but can’t – for various reasons. They’re mostly wrong, just lacking in confidence. So I asked lovely local lass Claire Streeton, who only took up running late last year, to write me a guest post about her running journey so far. As it turned out, a lot of it sounded very familiar from when I first started running! I hope it will inspire others to take the plunge.
The memory is still etched in my head… going back to school for summer term and seeing those fresh white chalk lines circling the green field. Cue panic at the thought of having to spend the next few weeks of ‘attempting’ athletics during PE and consistently being picked last in teams. The one big fear though was the running, any running; it was not my thing at all. As the years whizzed past I still pushed the whole running malarkey out the way. I used to see runners (who never looked happy) and wondered why they did it. Then a combination of two babies and a pretty sedentary lifestyle resulted in the rising of the muffin belt and extra inches. I didn’t feel good emotionally or mentally. I was quite honestly a mess. Over the years I became a serial gym member. I shimmied with best of them in Zumba and kicked ass in body combat; but the weight and self-esteem issues continued. Any attempt at running usually involved a treadmill or a feeble jog for all of a minute before I got bored and breathless, jelly thighs wobbling, and returned home. My head was still resigned to the fact that I’m not a born runner, it’s not my thing, I am useless, blah blah blah.
Then, cue an unexpected house move away from the big city of York to a cottage in the Wolds countryside. Something changed, something shifted. The open spaces helped me to relax, and I knew deep down that if I wanted to tone up, get fit and lose weight, now was the time. Again, I never set my mind on running, even with the beautiful scenery and abundance of running routes on my doorstep, so a home exercise DVD was the start. I went straight for the big guns, we are talking INSANITY! Let’s just say the fit test alone nearly killed me, but I followed the plan every day for twelve weeks. I was supported by my husband and children, who sometimes did the DVD with me. It was the first time I had ever committed myself to exercise and I started to see results. I was getting fitter and losing inches; it was slow, but it was happening. I began to gain a mental clarity that I hadn’t had for a long time. It felt good. I felt proud – whoa, that was a new feeling!
One of my friends in the village had started running and asked if I wanted to join her. I chickened out; I was so fearful of looking like an idiot gasping for breath and not getting any further than the end of the road. She continued to ask and I continued to chicken out, but eventually last October I decided to try a run by myself; a dummy run, if you like, to prepare for a run with someone else. To my surprise my feet keep moving, my legs were working and my breathing was good. I actually managed to run 3K without stopping! Whoa Nelly, what happened there? Maybe it was a fluke. I tried again the next day and it happened again. I was actually able to run far enough to be comfortable to go running with someone else. I put this down to twelve weeks of increasing my fitness with Shaun T and Insanity.
So, the running with someone else turned out to be the best thing ever. Ruth was supportive yet helped me push myself at the same time. She is what I would call a proper ‘runner’; she is quick and makes it look effortless (unlike me). We ran together in rain, wind and ice, and it still felt good. The distances increased and the times got a little better. We had another friend join us too. Marcelle was also really supportive if we were running without Ruth. We enjoyed plenty of good conversation (whilst we could talk) and one day this turned to the subject of maybe signing up for a race. Panic stations! Race? What, me?! Nah… don’t think I could do that. We decided to wait another few weeks to make a decision.
I hit a bit of a low point over Christmas when my running plateaued and I just couldn’t do it. I was struggling with my IBS and had no energy to run or push myself because of my diet. I did a little research and signed up for some kinesiology sessions to help. I needed to be better, I wanted to keep running. Who’d have thought it! After a few sessions the running slowly came back and I was able to get the distances in without struggling. We were currently hitting 7.5K at this point. We had some great routes to run, both on and off road and including hills. I decided that I love to run in the rain! I was able to join my husband for a run which was great, although he pushed me a little further than I liked! The conversation loomed again about the race. I really wanted to do it, but we were looking at going straight for 10K, no 5K practice. How on earth would I do a 10K? But we went for it and signed up. On Easter Sunday we would be running a 10K undulating course in Helmsley which had 2.5 miles of hill! I continued to panic over the next few weeks. How would I ever accomplish this? We upped the distances. We didn’t follow a plan, we just got out as often as we could, including rolling out of bed at 7am to go hill training and mixing it up with a bit of cycling. Never in a million years did I think I would be willing to do that! We completed our first 10K distance, then our second. I tried not to get hooked on times, I just wanted to complete them. I still refused to believe that I would make it round the ‘real’ course with other ‘proper runners’. I would soon find out.
I didn’t sleep the night before the race. I had stressed the whole day before about what to eat and what the weather would be like, praying it would be raining and not sunny; after all, I run a little better in the rain. Race day loomed and we arrived with families in tow. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I am in no way competitive, I have never had an inclination to race so why was I here? What if I cry at the end? I don’t want to cry! A few supportive words from my husband and Ruth and I was kind of OK. I decided I was going to achieve something that I never thought I would be able to… oh, yes and to get an Easter Egg and a mug for my effort!
I was prepped for the race. I had uploaded all my music to help me run. I discovered over the past few months that if I have music to listen to (in one ear for safety) it stops my head getting in the way and making negative comments. I tried to visualise finishing, whether that was walking or running, and told myself it was OK if I had to walk. The weather was dry – a little windy, but actually was perfect to run in. Looking back on it now the race seems a bit of a blur. It felt almost surreal; I still question whether it was me who took part in it! The worst bit was the start, straight into ‘that hill’ – I honestly thought I would die! I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t done any hill training. We got to the top and the track got better, off road terrain just like we were used to. I felt comfortable; slower than I wanted to be, but still moving. We hit 7K and my chest was hurting, but Ruth kept me going. 8K passed – not far to go! I imagine most people would be thrilled to see the markers and know they were almost home, but oh no, not me, I would rather not have seen the distances. The 1K sign was the worst – only 1K left, but it was the hardest kilometre I’ve ever done. I wanted to give up, it was torture, my chest was hurting so much (later realised that I was suffering from exercise induced asthma) but Ruth kept me going, over the last hill and nearly home. I didn’t want to embarrass my family, I wanted my kids to be proud of their mum for finishing. I don’t think I was smiling when I finished, but I did! Our time was 1 hour 8 minutes; by no means fast, but I got my Easter egg, a mug and my first 10K under my belt.
I spent the next week in meltdown. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know how to deal with the accomplishment. I have never competed in anything before. Then I started to feel angry at myself for being so slow and not good enough, and resigned myself to not racing again, deciding that it wasn’t for me. I would keep running but nothing else. We had a 5K fun race looming, but that was fine; there was no pressure or serious runners at this, so all was OK. The Colour Me Rad 5K at Harewood House in Leeds was the complete opposite of Helmsley. Full of giggling, music, tutus, cool sunglasses and getting paint bombed – it was such a fun experience. But I realised that even though we didn’t have to get a personal best, we still ran and were easily able to run the distance. 5K used to be such a long way for me to think about running; now it’s our short run during the week. We will definitely do Colour Me Rad again!
So, here I am having completed my first 10K and 5K races, all in the space of six months. It just shows that it is possible for anyone. I have had wonderful support from my husband and friends; my husband especially knows how hard I have worked and how far I have come, and for that I am grateful. At this point you may be wondering if I want to increase my distance and sign up for a half marathon; the answer is no. I am more than happy to keep at my 10K distance. I didn’t think I would want to run another race, but now that my chest pain has been resolved and I am able to run better with the help of my inhaler it has made me want to push myself and get a better time. I have lost inches, toned up and a few pounds have disappeared, which is a bonus; but the strange thing is I am now more interested in the running than the weight loss. I feel so much healthier and more focused. It’s an ongoing lifestyle change and hard work, but I am not going back. I will keep moving forwards and maybe one day it will involve a half marathon, or a 50 minute 10K. We have even talked about an obstacle-style course like the Spartan Sprint or Tough Mudder, so watch this space!
Claire’s Top Tips for Beginners
Good luck with your running journey!