Health

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Time to reap the reward for staying the course

Participants pictured before the start of the recent Fit City Series in the Phoenix Park. Photo: El Keegan
Participants pictured before the start of the recent Fit City Series in the Phoenix Park. Photo: El Keegan

It is week 11 of the rest of your life. Now, where did you put those pesky runners? There was so much hope; so much promise – back in January.

There were couch-to-5k plans and half-marathon PBs glistening in the distance. If January is for making resolutions, then February is for keeping them, and March is for starting to reap the rewards of consistent training.

It is easy to make promises to yourself, and not so easy to keep them. If you're a new runner, it takes about four to six weeks to make something a habit, so it's worth persevering over that difficult patch when the initial glow of self-improvement has worn off, the weather is bad and the television's siren call becomes ever louder.

If you're one of the proud finishers of the Fit Magazine 5k or 10k this month, give yourself a pat on the back for making it to the start line – often the hardest part – and all the way to the finish.

There's something about March – probably that solid eight-week block of training that suddenly starts to show rewards for those tiny seeds of fitness you've been sowing; the run-walk days suddenly start turning into run-run days; the turnaround at the end of the prom is much closer; and the 20-minute run is edging towards 30 minutes.

Well done, you're now a runner, with a proper routine. (Feel free to announce your new status loudly and repeatedly to your friends so that you're ashamed to quit.)

Sticking to your new routine of regular runs – at least on the same days at a similar time – and a meet-up plan with your new running buddies will encourage you to keep going.

I started running, not in January, but one frustrated mid-exam study afternoon in May 18 years ago, on a whim, with ancient running shoes, a spinning head to clear and a vague notion to get fitter.

Aside from during a few months of travelling abroad, I have run continuously since then at least a few times a week. I often struggled with motivation, energy, low blood iron; a few times, I put my shoes on, ran out the door, and back in again. More often than not, though, I kept running.

Sometimes I would make a pact with myself: if it's still terrible after 10 minutes you can turn around and go home. I usually didn't.

One day I woke up and I was surprised: I had been running almost as long as I had not, and this in itself is a tiny miracle of perseverance. It's year 18 of the rest of my life.

This week...

If you're a seasoned runner with speed goals, March is when little rewards start to appear. I've been running hard since January.

Marathon training is about piling effort onto tired legs, so it's often hard to see any progress when you're constantly running fatigued. The Thursday tempo run is one that I find mentally tough.

This week I planned a 10-mile run at marathon pace. I was delighted to be joined by running friend Wes, who would act as a pacemaker (and a distraction – somebody to chat to).

When you are training for a marathon PB, marathon pace actually feels quite unsustainable over longer distances in training. Of course, there's always the creeping thought that maybe this pace is simply too fast for me; an over-reaching goal? On Thursday, something I wasn't expecting happened.

All of a sudden, we had run five miles. I was working hard but my legs felt strong. Finishing the run right on marathon pace at 10 miles, I was excited at seeing a step-up in fitness; the January and February run routine is finally paying off.

Irish Independent

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