Back to Running

I’ll be the first to admit that at school I hated running. Not to say I wasn’t any good at any of it – I had one of the best times in our year for the 100 metre sprint for the first two years of secondary school, but running itself is a rather broad category, covering everything from the 100 metre sprint to the marathon, all 26.2 miles of it. And though I was quick at the sprint, I was sloooooow on the longer distances. Make me run anything that required pacing instead of sprinting and I would come in last. Every. Single. Time.

In hindsight, the problem was that no one ever taught me how to run. It sounds silly, I mean running is like walking, we just do it, right?  But there is more to it – pacing, breathing, correct form and so on, and like anything worth doing, it requires training and practice to do it well.  As a child I never had a cause to run one kilometre non-stop, and so I never learned how to do it. All my running was as part of other sports, or just playing, and tended to be in short, sharp, speedy bursts which of course trained me to be a sprinter, though I didn’t realise it at the time. As a result, by the time I reached adulthood I knew for certain that I wasn’t built to run, and avoided it whenever possible.

Fast forward 15 years or so, to Spring last year, when I discover that I love my body and the feeling that eating right and exercising well brings, and I decide to try running again.  Still overweight at this time, and realising that I haven’t run more than 100m to catch a bus since I was 14, I know this is going to be tough, but I am highly motivated by my new lifestyle and leap into the Couch25K interval-based running programme (with a handy app on my phone to tell me when to walk and when to run).  I make it to week three before I get distracted and forget about it.

Fast forward again to Autumn last year, now a healthy weight and the fittest I’ve ever been I decide I’m ready to try again; I am now wiser and stronger and take things more slowly, knowing when to push my body and when to rest.  I quickly get hooked on the endorphin buzz I get at the end of a run, and progress steadily through the training programme – not without tough patches mind, with shin splints from worn out shoes, and getting stuck on the same week of the programme for a month despite training three times a week.  I even went running in a thunderstorm and loved it!  I started planning to do a 5K race and then to progress on to 10K next.

Sadly, winter came too soon, and along with it came the various illnesses of the season, the dark evenings and the hectic social scene, so running once again fell by the wayside in preference for indoor based sports or home workouts. And although I tried to get back on the wagon – running home from work a few times for example, and running in my lunch break, it was clear that I am not a winter runner.

Thank goodness it’s Spring!  After the equinox yesterday I decided it was time to start again – the evenings are lighter and it’s warmer weather outside. So I  started off with a 1/2 mile jog with my husband, to see how I got on. After a break of three months I feared I’d find it pretty hard but was happy to find my first run was quite easy.

Emboldened by this, today I decided to just run and see what happened.  I use an app on my phone called Runtastic, which allows you to not only record your workout, but also set custom goals for it, such as distance, time, calories burned, or pace (loads of other features too but I’m sure I’ll come to those another time).  Knowing that in the past I’ve always tried to do too much too soon, and knowing also that this is the most common mistake new runners make, I set a goal pace of 13 min/mile, which is slower than my previous average pace of 12 min/mile, so I wouldn’t push myself too hard.  The app then notified me if my pace was too slow or too fast throughout the run, so I could modify accordingly.

Turns out taking three months off running makes you faster….no, I couldn’t figure that one out either, but I ran for 27 minutes today, only stopping because I found myself back at my doorstep. My average pace?  11.22 min/mile.

Run Details 21.03.2015

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Like Chocolate, with Negative Calories

Mmm....chocolately goodness

Everyone loves chocolate, right?  The delicious creamy taste, melting texture and feel-good factor…..

Yes, I totally tipped out my chocolate stash to take a picture, then ate some!
Mmm….chocolately goodness

Science tells us that eating chocolate triggers the release of neurotransmitters known as endorphins, such as serotonin. These are the body’s natural pain moderators, and act on the same receptors as opiates like morphine – no wonder we feel good after a bar of chocolate, eh!

Such a shame that aside from making you feel good chocolate has no nutritional benefit and is a short-cut to weight gain if not consumed in moderation…

The thing is that for me cycling has the same effect; it’s like eating chocolate, but with negative calories! I used to cycle daily as a teenager for college and work, and I started cycling daily again two years ago for my commute to my current job, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that those two periods correspond with me being happiest overall in life.

Consider it a natural high – a pain-fighting, mood-boosting, concentration-enhancing wake up call every morning, and a stress-busting, motivating pick-me-up after work, plus a work out and an uncomplicated way to get to work each day.

I’m not just making it up though, and I refer to science again (you’ll find I do that a fair bit) but studies have proven that exercise releases endorphins too (more so than chocolate even!) and it is becoming more common now for doctors to prescribe exercise to treat a range of conditions, including depression, because of the measurable effects of exercise on mood, among other things.

So, when people ask me now why I choose to cycle instead of drive, one of the reasons I should give is that it is like chocolate, with negative calories – what’s not to like!

If you’re interested you can find out more about exercise and depression from The Harvard Medical School.