Thursday, 23 October 2014

How running has changed me

(it's made me feel THIS happy!)

Yes that's right, here comes a deep and meaningful life post. I haven't done one yet and now I am settled into my blogging journey, I felt it was time to share in full detail how I became a fitness addict.

For those of you that read my debut post (and for those who haven't you can find it HERE), you'll be aware that I have dabbled in and our of sport pretty much my whole life. At times it has been an intense and big part of my life but in other periods it has been a very small part.

Finding my running 'mojo'.
My true love and appreciation for health and fitness came into action during my last year at University. Studying journalism and with my dissertation focussing on writing a health & fitness magazine for plus 50 women, I spent the whole year buried deep in books and websites all about fitness and healthy living. It was here that I realised I'd truly lost my 'running bug' I had during my teens and I decided I needed to find it again.

After graduation, I made sure I ran once, maybe twice a week. It was normally around 3/4 miles and it nearly always killed me. Despite this decision to take up running again, it took yet another year before I really got stuck into it and found my fitness groove. I think the fact that I moved to London, got my first proper job and was finally settled that I plucked up the courage to join a local running club. After all, I was new to the city and I needed to make friends!

I opted for a running club close to home and one that didn't look too serious. There are some with a whopping base of members that compete in all sorts of leagues. That was not what I was after. I wanted a social group that I could share this common interest with and simply enjoy it. Going along to the first session, I was so nervous. Entering a leisure centre with 100 or so runners mingling in the lobby is rather daunting. That said though, a Captain approached me (she must have sensed I was a newbie) and advised I head off in the 'gentle joggers' group. After a glorious run around Regent's Park with fellow newbies I was dead set on returning. Two and half years later, I remain at the club and have even become part of the committee, volunteering in my own time to club admin and marshalling at races. I have also gained a bunch of close friends, discovered a whole new level of energy within me and even found the confidence to take on challenges I never thought I would be able to achieve.

Ready, set, GO!
Being part of the running club meant there was plenty of inspiration around me. With fellow runners racing marathons, half marathons, cross country leagues and much more, I wanted to join the 'training clan' properly and decided to enter a half marathon. I chose Reading Half Marathon and gave myself around eight months to train. With training buddies and a club coach surrounding me and a sub two hour target time, I worked my socks off taking on several challenges in the build up to the big race. From locally organised 10Ks to even dipping my toe in cross country (and realising quickly I didn't like it), by the time I got to the start line of Reading I was just so proud of myself to even be at the stage of wanting to run a half marathon. I remember it being a very cold, wet day but my family and friends trooped out to cheer me on throughout the course to see me finish in a time of 1.47 - 13 minutes faster than I was aiming for.
(the finishing streak of Reading Half Marathon 2013)

As you can imagine I was chuffed to pieces with this achievement. To this day, I can still remember the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line. It was a tad emotional for me. Never had a ran that far and to smash out a time like that, well, I was shocked!

Since this remarkable journey of mine, I have gone onto complete two more half marathons, three 10 mile races, a 24 hour relay race and several 10K and 5K to reach the below PBs which I am continuing to improve as my running strength and experience evolves:

Half Marathon - 1.45.30
10 Miles - 1.18.02
10K - 45.45
5K - 21.58

Improved lifestyle.
Keeping fit doesn't just do wonders for your body. It greatly improves all aspects of your life. When I moved to London, I moved in with my boyfriend and a couple of his uni friends. We dived into stressful graduate jobs and quickly slipped into the robotic routine of get up, work, come home, eat, sleep. We had no energy to give time to one another, to go out and explore, head out on dates. Looking back on it now, I get really frustrated with myself.

After a few months of being at the club, my energy levels soared. Despite using more energy running, I felt 10 times better for it. Running has also given me more motivation. No longer do I spend my weekend laying in bed til midday. Now an early riser naturally, I am up and raring to go. Myself and my boyfriend (who is now my fiancé) spend quality time together, we sometimes even train together (he too has developed a love for exercise) and our relationship has never been better. In fact, I think it is these hobbies we have that help keep us going. We can share this common ground and enjoy it together.

Along with my social life and relationship, running has had an impact on my physique. By all means, I am no skinny bean. I have always been strong and curvaceous but what running has helped me to achieve is a strong, athletic body. I am toned and healthy. Being so sporty has also helped me to accept parts of my body I once despised and saw as flaws. My large arms used to bring me down. Now they are a power house to help push me through sprint finishes and hold up a plank position. My legs, appropriately nicked-named 'thunder thighs' are my pins of steel for running, cycling and swimming. These are parts of my body I am now proud of and that itself, I feel, is a huge achievement.
( left: 2011, right: 2014)

Setting the challenge
In the last year, I have been more motivated than ever before to set myself challenges that are totally out of my comfort zone. Hungry for new plans and projects, I have gone on to complete my first ever 24 hour relay race, working in a team of eight to continuously run a five mile course for a whole day. Once upon a time, I would of turned my nose up at heading out at 2am, head torch strapped across my head and running through the woods as if it was the most ridiculous idea. What it actually turned out to be was an incredible moment in my life. The team morale I experienced on that night run and all the fantastic, inspirational people I met running around the course was brilliant and the sense of achievement at the end was totally worth the aches and pains that followed after.

What I have also noticed in my attitude towards sport is my curiosity to give things a go. For a good year now, I have debated whether or not to give triathlon a go and last month, I took the plunge and thought, "sod it! I bloody will do it!". Because, why not? With the sprint distance on the horizon, I am now training my body to take on swimming, cycling and running to eventually do them all in a row. To some, this may sound tortuous but to me, it's a huge buzz of excitement.

In all, looking back at the person I was four years ago (taking into account appearance, happiness and personality) to the person I am now, I was say there is a huge difference. Gone is the de-motivation, short temper, frustration and tiredness and I feel totally confident to say these traits have been diminished through sport. What I am now (or at least what I think I am - I hope others would agree!) is an upbeat, positive minded individual with patience and self discipline. All of which has been achieved through lacing up a pair of trainers and heading out the door.

To conclude this, I guess it's fair to say that the best things in life really are free.

Lipstick Runner.

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