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One unseasonably warm spring day earlier this year, high on sunshine and kombucha, I responded with uncharacteristic enthusiasm when a friend suggested we sign up for a half marathon.
I have never been a runner. The first time I bought trainers designed for running rather than wearing with a cropped jean was the summer of 2020 when, like every 30something woman latching onto pandemic clichés, I downloaded the Couch to 5k app. Yes, I also did Zoom quizzes, baked banana bread and cajoled the kids into working out with Joe Wicks - sorry if all of that is as triggering for you to read as it was for me to write.
Anyway, I got through around six weeks of the Couch to 5k programme, but gave up when they started asking me to run for any longer than 20 minutes in one go. (By the way, if you followed me on social media during this time, you might think that I was a seasoned, dedicated, regular runner - because I proudly posted every single run I ever did on Stories. More proof if it were needed that social media bears zero resemblance to real life.)
During the intervening three years, I’ve had months of chemotherapy, extensive surgery and been diagnosed with osteoporosis, so I’m not sure what made me think I’d be capable of running a half marathon. Yet for some reason, on that spring day as I scrolled down the list of charities offering half marathon places, I thought: I can do this! October is ages away! I’ve got the whole summer in which to become a runner!
My ‘training’, if you can call it that, got off to a promising start. I downloaded the Couch to 5k app again and diligently completed all nine weeks of it. But having hit 5k, and now without the app narrator Jo Whiley’s reassuring voice in my ear, I didn’t seem to be able to run any further. Several people suggested Nike Run Club, which I tried, but those overenthusiastic Americans are just not what I need in my ears when I’m trying to run (I listen to lots of podcasts, so maybe it’s given me overenthusiastic American fatigue). I panicked. I wondered if I could fake an injury. I wondered if I could actually get an injury.
Then I googled ‘how long does it take to walk a half marathon’. And realised that, in the very worst case scenario, I can just walk, and it will all be over in four hours. And it’ll hopefully be a bit less than that because I’m sure I can run some of it.
Also, just because I’m bad at running doesn’t mean I’m completely sedentary and unfit. I’ve been working out with the brilliant Fabien of Walthamstow’s Underdog Boutique Gym because, not only does he have a level 4 cancer rehab PT qualification, but also his ethos of mindful empathy makes it such a different experience to a big unwelcoming gym. I signed up with him after my osteoporosis diagnosis because I knew that strength training will help my bones (and reduce my risk of cancer recurrence), but he’s been giving me tips ahead of the half marathon too.
If you are also a runner, of any level, here’s his advice:
The part of your foot on which you land while running is important. If you do a heel strike, that’s essentially braking and slowing you down, while a toe strike is more like accelerating. Don’t worry if you feel as though you’re cantering like a horse; that means you’re doing it right!
Don’t overuse your arms, swinging them wildly around to give you momentum, it’s a waste of energy. But do pick up your knees.
If you feel that you need to stop running because of breathlessness rather than muscle fatigue, you need to improve your VO2 max (or the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during exercise). Unfortunately the way to do this is running uphill, but it can be done in short bursts so grit your teeth, get through it and it’ll make your usual run much easier.
Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth calms your nervous system, while also being very efficient for oxygenation and deoxygenation.
You can also improve your lung capacity by occasionally singing while running. Don’t be shy!
The two weeks before an event such as a half marathon should be for ‘tapering’ where you reduce your level of training so that your body is rested and raring to go. You can still do easy runs, but no long runs or strength training.
Now the half marathon is just over two weeks away, so I should be ‘tapering’ down my training, which is quite hilarious considering I haven’t actually done any long runs. But I’m told that the atmosphere on the day will power me through, and plenty of people walk it anyway. If you’ve ever run a half marathon please do send me your own tips about what worked for you on the day to make it bearable - or even fun. I’m told it can actually be fun? I’m yet to be convinced of that.
This week I’m…
Horrified (but sadly not that surprised) at the news that trusted registered dieticians are being paid to flog ultra-processed food and drinks on social media
Flabbergasted as to how little I actually knew about pelvic health, having read Strong Foundations by Clare Bourne. It should be required reading for all teenage girls.
Hoping that you’ll support Maggie’s by sponsoring me to run this bloody half marathon. Thank you!