Running – beyond 5k

Back in August I wrote about completing an NHS podcast series ‘from couch to 5k’,I found it to be a useful structure for getting myself into running, and up to a reasonable standard. Since then I have carried on running. This morning I completed 16km, the second time I’ve run this distance and I beat my first time by a few minutes.

So I thought I’d write a little about the stupid mental tricks I’ve been using to stick at it. When I did the original programme it was summer, the weather was pretty amazing, and I did a lot of running on bright, hot, summer evenings. Since then we have plunged into UK autumn and now heading into winter. It is dark before I leave work and it is frequently only 2-3 degrees C when I get home in the evening.

Believe it or not, I am not imbued with a non-stop high energy feeling, bursting to get out and get running. I am frequently tired, and looking for excuses to not run. I suspect this is the case for all runners ever. So the question becomes, how do I overcome this natural instinct to curl up on the sofa for the entire winter.

Mostly the parts of me that know I should keep up the running, lie to the parts of me that really don’t want to. Its definitely a psychological battle within yourself.

There are the traditional elements of trying to remove barriers. Making sure that your kit is clean, dry and ideally warm and ready to go is essential. During week day evenings I start trying to get myself prepared for the idea that I will get in, get changed, and get on the road. absolutely no stopping to relax or sit down. No distractions. I know if I allow myself to think “i’ll just get that done first before I go” that its the top of the slippery slope to the sofa.

If I’m not in the mood, I tell myself to make it a short one, just get a few km out and turn around if you want. my route has lots of obvious places I could bail out early, turn back and go home. Mostly though I find this just helps me pretend I’ll turnback long enough to get warmed up. Then of course its a matter of “well you’ve come this far…it would be a waste of all that will power if you just give up so soon”

I often tell myself I’ll have a nice treat when I’m done, want pizza? sure we can have that when you get back, Wine? absolutely, whatever you want… when we get back. The thing is that after a good run, I’m always out of that mood, not that hungry any more, don’t feel the desire to follow through on whatever treats I promised myself.

At the weekend I have certainly found that if I drink the night before, I’m in for a hard time. It makes running a hard slog. So I try to flip it around and choose to go easy or not drink of an evening, with the idea that I’ll run in the morning but reward with wine the following evening. Another super important part of prep is that I have a box of alpen bars next to the bed. In the morning I can sit in bed, catching up with the internet and eat an alpen bar before getting up. The bar kicks my metabolism into gear, and gives me the start I need to go for a run. I tried running without this, again it was a horrible hard slog. Also it is relatively easy to sit in bed and eat the bar, but once I’ve done that its like I’ve committed to the run. can’t back out now.

I often leave the house without really deciding how far I’m going to go. I generally try to go further at the weekend and during the weekday evenings, but that is mostly because I have more time to do so. It is easier to decide to do 10k when you’re already 5k in and still feeling pretty good. Though when I do decide to go for a longer distance than I’ve managed before, I do tend to explicitly take it much easier, not trying to get near my normal pace, just settle into the long haul. This is good because I make it easy for myself to hit my goal, and I also set myself for the second attempt to easily beat the time of the first run.

I’ve not spent too much time explicitly chasing personal bests. I’ve tended to try to run further rather than faster. The faster happens on its own as what was once a challenging 5k becomes just how far it takes to feel you’ve warmed up.

So far I’ve run through a gorgeous summer which was easy, through dark nights which was easier than I thought, and pouring rain which can actually be quite nice as long as it starts after you’ve started (once you’re soaked, rain stops having much impact). But the worst thing is cold. Rain and darkness is fine if its mild. But cold is very hard, it takes at least 2km to start to feel warm. I’m hoping there are enough mild days to the winter to avoid me having to deal with any seriously cold days. But I’ve also bought some longer running trousers, and will get a warmer jacket to try to mitigate against the cold.

So far I’ve racked up about 450km of running since I started. The fact that I know this is one of the main long term motivators. I’ve been tracking my running with a gps tracking app since I started. Every so often I approach a big marker, like 400km, and that run becomes pretty easy to go for, its the run that will take me over the next big step. as I head towards 500km, I have my eye on that, but also the longer term idea of one day making it 1000km. All of which seemed like complete crazy talk back when I was starting out with 1 minute runs. But through studious mind games, and some reasonable prep I’ve somehow become someone that runs 10 miles before breakfast at the weekend.

I’m reliably told by more experienced runners that a half-marathon is really just a 5k with a 10mile warm up…So I guess that is the next obvious milestone.

Do you have tricks to keep yourself running? let me know!