Running hurts sometimes

Age 12, I was volunteered by my class to run the 800m at sports day. I was never an athletic child, and the thought of running around a track, with the entire school watching, filled me with dread. I was so worked up about it, that when I went to the track to have a practice run with two of my friends, I experienced my first ever panic attack. I was thinking about how I would probably come last, and how much it would hurt, and how embarrassing it would be. Those unfounded fears just enveloped me in absolute panic. Tears. Snot. Gasping for air. I never did end up taking part in that race, and I didn’t even consider running again until I was in my 20s. 

Now I understand that running does hurt sometimes. Those first ten minutes or so as your body warms up can feel awful, but that’s completely normal, and is exactly the reason why warm ups are so important. Now that I understand the science behind why that happens, I wish that somebody had explained that to me as a child. Perhaps I would have given running more of a chance at an earlier age.

Running as a means to lose weight did not bring me any joy

When I was 22, I eventually gave running another chance. I had just moved back to the UK, following a period living in Italy, gorging myself on all the carbs (potato pizza was a particular favourite of mine). I wanted to get active to enable me to lose some of the weight I had gained, so I entered a few events for motivation to run and ran with a friend once or twice a week for company. My life was basically: run; weigh everything I ate obsessively; and weigh myself once a week. I lost around 2 stone in weight, but I was miserable! It’s also no surprise I didn’t really enjoy running when I was treating it as a way to burn calories. My husband still reminds me of the first time he took me for a run around beautiful Kendal, and I burst into tears because it felt hard. It wasn’t something I felt I should enjoy back then. Nowadays, running is a treat for me. Back then, I think it was a kind of punishment.

Running can be a catalyst for huge change

Given my obsession with calories, it was no wonder that I decided to take on a part-time job as a slimming club leader, in addition to my full-time work as a marketing manager, but I became disillusioned with preaching about how people ought to move more, when I wasn’t enjoying exercising myself. One day, I decided to quit, just like that. I went for a run the following day, and I felt like a huge weight of self-expectation had been lifted of my shoulders. That was the day I actually consider I became a runner, 28 year old me. I discovered endorphins for the first time, and was hooked. I was so hooked, that running for me then became a catalyst for changing my entire life. A few weeks later, I started a running club, which lead me into a whole new social circle of friends, and set me upon my coaching journey, which in time led me to a whole new and rewarding career.

If you can find the strength to run a marathon, you are capable of anything you set your mind to

It took me a long time to muster up the courage to register for my first marathon, and as soon as I did, I became pregnant, so that was put on hold. A year after my daughter was born however, I ran my first Marathon, in London. The range and intensity of emotions I experienced during that marathon meant I have never been the same person since. Excitement. Joy. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. Pain. Euphoria. I didn’t expect the mental exhaustion of a deafening crowd shouting your name endlessly, or from arguing with your inner chimp as it tried to make you stop running and just lie on the floor for a rest. A marathon hurts, however much training you do, but somehow, facing that fear and self doubt changes you forever. I realised I was capable of anything after running a marathon.

To enjoy longevity in running, you must listen to your body.

I had been ignoring a niggling pain in my ankle throughout the last few months of training for my first marathon, and I continued to ignore it as it worsened, even doing a 24 hour team running event the following summer. When I eventually sought professional advice, I was diagnosed with Achilles tendonitis and advised not to run for at least 6 weeks, while I received ultrasound treatment and did daily rehabilitation stretches and strengthening exercises. I was lucky I recovered quickly because I was young. I had probably caused that injury by embarking on marathon training too soon after pregnancy. Nowadays, I would not ask so much of my body, and I am careful to listen carefully to it. I consider training loads carefully, give it adequate rest, and treat it with respect.

Runners are the wisest and most kind hearted people I know

I have made many lifelong friends through running, and experienced such beautiful moments of kindness. I will never forget the ultrarunners who befriended me during the Race to the Stones ultramarathon and helped me through the final, dark kilometres by telling me jokes, making sure I ate and drank, and showing me kindness. They taught me that in reality it is simple to just keep going – all you have to do is continue to put one foot in front of the other and you will eventually arrive at your destination. I will never forget the question one of them asked me on the finish straight: “If you had to run another ten miles now to the finish line, would you?” Of course I would have. Every time I struggle on a run now, I think of that, and the answer always helps me to find a little bit more in reserve.

The best kinds of running friends have four legs

Discovering canicross helped me bond with my anxious, nervous rescue dog. Running on the trails and the fells together, bonded by a lead, communicating via simple voice commands or a gentle tap on the lead, tunes us into each other. Running effortlessly, as my dog pulls me across open moorland and through dark forests is a truly meditative experience. It brings me a sense of calm, yet makes me feel truly alive. Running knows no boundaries when I’m attached to my dog. She and I could run forever. Perhaps we will.

What has running taught you? I’d love to hear from you.