Starting to run is so hard I often wonder why persist? I do not just mean when you have never run before and you are starting out, I also mean when even experienced runners lace up and get going. It can hard to see the light ahead.
Those first few hundred metres or few miles are a fiesta for the protesting body. These can be the times when everything hurts. My lungs, my legs, my knees, my calves, my ankles, my knees, my shins, my toes, my neck, my arms. A chorus of cries to stop, to give up, to rest those aching bones and tight muscles.
It is as if your physical self is engaged in a battle royal with your mental self – each with diametrically opposite requirements. One to thrown in the towel and get back to the house, the other to drive you on further away from the comforts of your sofa or your bed.
“those early agonies”
It is about pushing through those times and actually convincing yourself that those early agonies are going to be a distant memory once you get going. Now, of course, there are times when your body genuinely is telling the truth and not just faking it for the sake of a moan. Knowing when to rest is as important as knowing when to run. But if I am fit and healthy, then it is about my mind winning that early cat and mouse battle with my body and keeping going.
It would be easy to say that – as someone who has been running for a few years now – that this is just what everyone needs to do. You have to force yourself. You have to persist. You have to keep going. But that denies the reality of our experience. None of this is straightforward. It is a learned behaviour. It is firstly about believing, then later, knowing that regardless of how hard those starting miles feel, it will get better. Most of the time.
“I was genuinely fearful”
This is also where you need to believe in yourself. I fully realise that the last few months have motivated some and de-motivated others. I have had low times, no doubt. There have been times I have felt anxious and worried. There have times I have eaten too much. There have been times I have probably drank too much. There were times I was genuinely fearful for what was going to happen. I am still concerned for what the future holds. But running has helped me cope.
Finding that same mental strength which lets me deal with the opening strides of a run has also got me through the last few months. This is not the same for everyone. I am not preaching anything here. All I would do is just urge everyone to have belief, have faith in themselves of what they are capable of. Because I can guarantee, you are far more capable than you think you are.
“Trust yourself, it will get better”
So when you do start your run and your body is protesting, trust yourself, it will get better. And when you get through that initial stage, the rewards can be great. Now getting to this point may take a long time. It is not going to happen overnight and it is definitely not going to happen if you let the doubting voices win. The only thing I can say is persevere.
This was brought home to me last weekend, when I had decided I would go for a long run on my own on Sunday morning. I wanted to run in some places in the city where I had not been running for months because of the lockdown restrictions to exercise close to home.
It was really hard going to start with. The wind was from the south so pretty much straight into my face for most of the first seven and a half miles. At loads of stages I wanted to stop, of course I did, particularly when the weather forecast lied to me again and the rain, which was not due to arrive until after I had finished, actually began after only about twenty minutes of the run.
But as the run went on – pace-wise I was taking it nice and easy, this was about distance and nothing else – those early struggles became a distant memory; left far behind as the miles ticked over. And then by the time I reached the city centre about ten miles in, I reached that part of of a run which makes it all worthwhile.
Everything felt good. My breathing was easy. My body was strong. Nothing was aching. Mentally my thoughts were clear. I was relaxed. Now this feeling does not last forever – I truly wish it did – but when it happens it is transformational. It justifies all the other stuff I go through to get to this point. It erases the pain of those early miles and convinces me I can go further.
This point of run does not happen on every one – in fact, it occurs on very few. On some distances, particularly shorter ones, it never happens. For them it is a case of sucking it up, pulling up my big boy pants and just getting on with it, knowing that when I finish, the endorphins which will be flowing through me at that point will give me the physical and mental strength to justify why I went out in the first place. And why I will go out again.
Sunday’s run ended up being seventeen miles (27km), probably the longest run I have done since the Barcelona Marathon in March last year. It was hard, of course, but it felt great to get there and also to feel that I had the strength and motivation to go further if I had wanted.
Seventeen was more than enough though, but it has made me think that perhaps I could run another marathon. Who knows when that would be though, as I am very sceptical about racing at all this year, given the current situation. But the important point for me was the sense that the fight through those early metres and miles was so worth it for the benefits it brought. And then there was also this.
Who needs any other motivation than a nice slice of cake at the end? Persevere and there will be rewards – maybe not cake of course but you know what I mean. So if you have never run before, or you have but the motivation has seeped out of you through these last few months and you are going back to the start once more, just keep going. Take it easy. Stick with it.
And for those experienced runners that you see and you think they have it easy because they are always out pounding out the miles? Just know that your struggles are also their struggles. We all start from the same place. Those first few paces are the worst. Get through them and who knows how far we can all go.