Thursday, 18 April 2013

My First Year As A Runner

Good morning, one and all! What a beautiful day!

OK, after yesterday’s teaser let me explain why this is an important day for me…

April 18, 2012 was my
“Point Of No Return”. After a conference in the centre of Bristol I went into MOTI and purchased my first (and, to date, most expensive!) pair of running shoes. I’d decided to give it a go and had figured out that you need a decent pair of shoes. All my research suggested you should buy your shoes from a dedicated running store (your first pair, anyway…) and so I headed into MOTI, changed from suit to t-shirt and shorts and got onto the treadmill. Having established I was neither pronating nor over-pronating, I tried on a range of shoes – all above what I was prepared to pay, still not knowing how long I’d keep up this here running lark…
…eventually, I opted to invest £53 in a pair of
Asics Men’s Gel Blackhawks 5 that I still wear today, albeit not quite as frequently as the £29.99 (plus £9.99 delivery) Brooks Green Silence shoes I bought on at the start of 2013 (and in which I’ll tread the streets of Greater Manchester in ten days’ time). I left those Asics by the side of the bed overnight, gleaming in their untouched cleanliness…


…and, the following day, I took them out for a run!

April 19, 2012 was the day I first went running;
today, April 18, 2013, brings to a close my first year of running.

Back on that Thursday evening, I felt my moment had come. Overweight and unfit, courtesy of my epilepsy operation on 22/11/2011 but also of my gorgeous two boys, I set out in pursuit of some of the fitness that I’d enjoyed back in the not-so-distant days of playing tennis four times a week. My first outing with the Asics lasted all of 20’. I ran for a minute and I walked for a minute: I did that ten times that evening. This morning, a year on, I went out for a 16.2-miler, my last double-digit distance pre-Marathon. Time for the taper to get really serious now!

(Didn’t I feel like repeating that 20’ run/walk session today? No. Firstly, today is the end of my first year, but the anniversary is tomorrow. Secondly, that wouldn’t count towards my runstreak, which requires at least one uninterrupted mile per day. Thirdly, I’m training for a marathon!)

That’s right, I began with ten run/walk ‘intervals’. And for ten times in total my early sessions were run/walk sessions! It wasn’t until May 4 (and no, I’ve never even watched “Star Wars”) that I ran without walking, for all of 3km (I dealt in metric back then, pre-
@Mazymixer). My next session was on May 6, when I managed… wait for this…
…5km! 3.1mi! And it only took me… 34’!

That’s right: thirty-four minutes. I ran 3.2mi last Thursday and it took me 21’40”. At 6’46”/mi, that was actually two seconds slower than the previous week; but compare that to the 10’58”/mi from 342 days prior and you get an idea of what you can achieve with a little exercise..!

OK, I can’t really get away with that. Because it’s been more than a little exercise, I grant you. It’s been 2,005mi, an average of 5.5mi/day including those early days of run/walking and of sweating through 5k – and, indeed, including… whaddyacallem… that’s right, “rest days”. My last rest day was October 11, 2012: since the following day alone I’ve clocked 1,470mi, an average of 7.8mi/day over the past 188 days. That’s right: sure as the sun has risen, since mid-October every day I’ve run 7.8mi. It feels good to know that. My body feels good for having put in that effort: and, do you know what, so does my mind.

(OK, I might run a 5k on May 6. Or maybe on May 5, as that’s a Sunday: I won’t be doing a long run and weekends are when I fit in my weekly “speedy 5k”!)

But enough self-congratulating. I’m not writing this post for me: I know what I’ve managed, I know what I want to achieve, and I know how I feel about it all. In all seriousness, this post is for anyone who feels now the way I did a year ago. I was inspired to buy those shoes by the likes of
Paul McDonald, Kelly Race and Nick Marriott, and I’ve since been inspired to push myself further by an extensive and eclectic bunch of supporting #nutters. Over the course of the past six months I’ve been approached by a few people about how to get started with running and it’s been a heart-warming pleasure to provide a few pointers, to give a little back to the running community whose praises I sang again yesterday in the wake of the Boston explosions. I run not out of enjoyment but out of a desire to feel a sense of achievement: and believe me, if I were to get just one person to stop thinking about running and start running, I’d feel a sense of achievement akin to my 1h35’54” Bath Half. And remember: whether you’re running a mile, a 10k, a marathon or an ultra, you’re part of this community. It’s surprisingly not elitist, at least at the non-elite athlete level.

So you… yes you, on the fence… with that frowning expression of confusion and internal debate…

…I invite you to read my first two posts and revel in my innocence as I wrote about
the day I bought my new shoes and then about the day I first took them out for a run (well, run/walk!). It is with fondness that I’ve looked back at them over the past few days, knowing this milestone was approaching. Let me just highlight one paragraph for you from what I wrote around my first run:

I’ve not told you what my ambition is yet, have I? To run a marathon.
Yeah, right! Is it heck. C’mon, you didn’t fall for that, did you? If you did, please e-mail me your bank details and I will put you in contact with a Nigerian oil magnate for the investment that will change your life forever. No, I’m just trying to do a 10k here. I say ‘just’… obviously that would be a monumental achievement for me. That’s 25 laps of a running track, that is. And that is my goal. Every step I take, every breath I take, is geared towards running ‘a’ 10k.

[n.b.: “a” because I wasn’t after any old 10k, but even then had targeted the
Sheffield TenTenTen]

And trust me, that’s exactly how I felt. That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve. It was a decent enough target! I had no intention whatsoever of
getting myself into this mess! When I ran those five kilometres on May 4, I was halfway there to my true, initial goal. I knew I had to speed up and improve stamina, but I was halfway to 10k. And now…

…well, now I’m ten days away from 42.195 of the darn ks. Or 26.2mi, as
Simon would rather I said. It’s been one helluva journey, my friends – and I hope and pray my legs and I do it justice come April 28. In the meantime…

…if you’re thinking of running a bit, for whatever reason – why not give it a go? What’s the worst that can happen – you go out once, figure it’s not for you and don’t go out again. That’s fine! But at least give it a shot… if you get lucky (and I sure did), you’ll feel fitter, happier, more energetic… and you’ll give yourself the chance to experience feelings of achievement, be it by running a mile or… well, a few more. But you really don’t have to embrace running the way I have done to feel the benefits I have. And sure, if you take to it go and buy yourself some reliable shoes, some polyester shirts… but you know what, for a 20’ walk/run session, that old t-shirt will do. Just don’t get too attached to it for running: trust me,
nipple chafing is a nightmare. Nobody will tell you about it until it’s too late. Just as well surgical tape is dead cheap! And hey, I’m the first to point out that, contrary to what some believe, running is not free! But trialling it is.

I’d never heard of the
“Couch To 5k” concept a year ago, but in effect it’s what I did. Gu’on, it’s an NHS link – have a look. Or, if you want to look at what I looked at, try Runner’s World – this is the exact schedule I followed. To start with, anyway: then, as I slowly (and trust me, it was slowly) got more confident, I tweaked it.

Two months ago, I spoke on here about how I’ve got
all evangelical about running. Let me just reiterate, you don’t need to get into running the way I have done to reap benefits aplenty. I got into running to lose weight and I’d lost about 3 ½ st within the first 131 days (of which I ran on less than half) / 337mi. I’ve stayed with it because it felt right and good for me, because through running (on my own) I’ve met some great people (on t’Internet), because I’ve gradually set myself goals that are doors onto a great sense of achievement. So, to sign off, here are five succinct tips reflecting my experience as a novice over the past 365 days / 2,005 miles:

1. Don’t be afraid to start with run/walks. Twenty minute sessions of which for half you’re not even running? Perfect! Aim too high (or too long) too soon and you’ll get downhearted: leave yourself room for improvement.

2. Plan your week: when you’re going to run, how long for… Those plans need not be set in stone but they do focus the mind. Try not to leave it to the day to decide whether you’re going to run that day or not: do that and odds are you won’t.

3. Measure your efforts. It’s knowing what I’ve achieved that keeps me going. If you get into running, GPS watches are excellent value for money, arguably none more so that the Garmin Forerunner 410. Until then, you can gage your efforts using MultiMap (that’s how I started – imperfect, I know!) or, far better, with a smartphone if you have one. Strava, RunKeeper… excellent apps! And free. You’ll just need to invest a fiver or so in an arm-strap. I started with RunKeeper and heartily recommend it; now I’m a Strava-convert, more for its social aspect than for its actual monitoring features, but upload data to it from my Garmin.

4. Don’t be afraid to talk to runners, either folk you know or even complete strangers on the likes of Twitter. We’re surprisingly approachable because we all get ‘something’ out of running (some even enjoy it!) and we want to share those benefits. Whether we
’ve ever met or not, we have a clue as to how you’re feeling. Again, it’s free.

5. Read up on
nipple chafing and buy yourself some surgical tape. Just look it up on eBay. Trust me, you’ll thank me for that when you come in from a run in the rain.

Oh, here’s a bonus tip…

…if you have a runner in the family (say, purely for argument’s sake of course, your Dad) and they try to get you to go out running with them, give it a go. Soak in their tips, which may or may not include running on the road facing traffic (softer on the joints), trying to keep a steady pace, one at which you’re comfortable… Whether you go out running with them or not, store those simple but effective tips. It may not be the right time for you now, it might even be over two decades before those tips come in handy – but you know what, eventually they just might. They did for me. So hold on to them tight. And thanks, Dad.

Trust me, one thing hasn’t changed: I still can’t stand running! But that sense of achievement…
…yes, I’ll take that any day. And for one hundred and eighty-eight consecutive days, through rain, snow and the occasional dry day, I have.
I feel good, my friends. I didn’t know that I would.
“My First Year As A Runner”… first of how many? Or could it even be my last?
Who knows, eh? Looking back at what this year has held in store for me, it would be foolish to try and predict. As you’ll know if you know me, I’ve always done sport of some sort: if I were to stop running I’d only have to find something else. And most other things entail set times, expensive kit, dependence on team-mates and opponents for matches to take place, travel to/from matches on a weekly basis, potentially dependence on the Great British weather……you know what, for the time being I might just stick with running. Whether I can stand it or not.

p.s.: I managed today’s 16.2mi in 2h05’50”, i.e. at 7’46”/mi. Without boring you with my stats and calcs ahead of Manchester, suffice to say this run put me in a good mood this morning. And still I can’t stand it..!


  1. great work Giaco! Its of no particular relevance but I've never had an issue with nipple chafing, bit further south maybe.

    1. I'm not going to offer a swap deal there, Lloydy..!

  2. What a great read and how far you've come my friend. A lot of what you've been through rings a lot of bells with me, apart from the nipple chafage, I've been very lucky on that front :).

    Well done again and all the best for Manchester, you'll run brilliantly I'm sure.

    I'm also sure that sometime in the next year, you'll finally admit that you do genuinely like running :).

    1. Thanks Mike - for the comments above and all the help on Twitter!
      There is a specific day in the not-too-distant future on which I've got a run lined up that I might just... you know... 'enjoy'. If that turns out to be the case, it could change the dynamics going forward. But, for better or worse, I'd still keep blogging..!

  3. Brilliant, wish I'd read this three months ago!