Running. You can, honest.

 

Running has never been more popular than it is at present. Many big city marathons (and increasingly shorter races) have to run a ballot in order to fairly share out the available places. Parkrun, which started in 2004 as a bunch of mates timing each other’s runs in Bushy Park, has grown into a world-wide phenomenon. ‘There are now over 3 million parkrunners (and counting)’[1].

Many people however find the idea of running daunting. For some it’s the challenge of keeping going if you’re running alone, for others it’s the thought of coming last, or of not being able to keep up with other runners. What’s often overlooked, sadly, is that running can be an incredibly uplifting, sociable and inclusive activity. Running as one person in a mass of tens of thousands of likeminded souls with the same finish line in sight, can give you the biggest buzz.

Running as seen on tv and in the media often focuses on elite sport, however it is, by virtue of its simplicity, a sport for all. It’s (almost) free and can be done anywhere and at any time of life. In fact long distance running is thought to favour older runners that are new to the sport, basically because they usually come into  running without the history of running injuries that lifelong runners may have notched up, and so they can reasonably expect to have a good few running years ahead of them.

So, what do non-runners say about starting to run? For some people, it’s an activity that they just never quite managed to grasp. It never felt right. Others might feel that they’d love to run, but when they try, they can’t breathe, or they get knee pain. Others say they simply have never enjoyed it. But, if we persevere and perhaps try to approach running differently, the payoff can be substantial.

 

Benefits of running

Running can be incredibly good for you. Your heart gets stronger, your mind clearer and it’s great for weight control, if that’s an issue for you. Running improves your lung capacity and strengthens your respiratory muscles. It’s a weight-bearing activity, so it helps retain your bone density. Contrary to popular belief, it can help to keep joints healthy, because the muscles around the joints become stronger and this can help take the pressure off­ the joints themselves. As a runner’s muscles get stronger, their risk of joint problems in the future becomes lower, as can their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, thus reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 50 per cent. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms are also relieved, by easing constipation and bloating. Running can ease the symptoms of PMT and menopause. Your risk of future dementia and stroke becomes lower, as brain circulation is kept healthy.

Above all this, though, and in the shorter term, running can simply make you feel better. It can give you both a ‘runner’s high’ – feel-good endorphins coursing through your veins, and then a lovely sense of calm afterwards. As it can burn fat and build muscles, running can be very helpful in improving body image. It can help you concentrate afterwards, and help you sleep better that night.01b57b9df2dc6339483f8e52ddef7216aa4b08a0dd

 

A note of caution

Can I run if… I’m taking Herceptin?

… I have knee or hip problems?

… I have cancer in my bones?

… My breathing/swallowing is different since cancer treatment?

My answer to all four scenarios would be a cautious, qualified ‘Yes, as long as…’. I’ve worked individually with people who’ve been in each of these situations, all of whom needed a little caution before embarking upon a programme of running.

Emphatically I would say to speak to your oncologist first, and, if you have access to one, a physiotherapist with oncology experience. They will be able to advise you whether your individual circumstances are such that running, for you and for now, might not be the best plan. However if they think it would be safe, then they would be able to direct you on how best to accommodate your current needs. So, for example a woman on Herceptin might discuss her intention to start running at her next regular heart scan appointment, a physio might advise on gait, strength exercises and improving balance for people with joint problems or bone mets, and a physio or SLT might be able to guide you specifically on breathing, or dealing with saliva, as you become more active.

In these four scenarios I would definitely seek the expert input that’s available so that you know you’re doing the best thing for you, and so that you can use your clinical team’s expertise to support you on your mission.

How to start – Couch to 5k

I find that the best way to start, by far, is to mix brief spells of running into a longer walk session. Try jogging – gently at first – for however long you can, whether that’s 10 paces, or 1 minute, or longer. It can be ‘from here to that lamppost’. As soon as you want to, or when you get out of puff, take a short walking break to get your breath back. Repeat this pattern, for about 20 minutes in total if you can.  Do allow yourself walk breaks. It’s not cheating.

Keep your pace comfortable. If you try to go too fast you’ll probably just hate it.

Take that first session as your baseline that you will then build on. Most training programmes suggest running 3 times a week, on non-consecutive days. I often use, and highly recommend, a method called ‘couch to 5k’. If you follow it, I promise you it will work, as long as you’re consistent, but don’t overdo it. There are lots of different Couch to 5k programmes, and they normally help people to train up to a point where they can run without a break for 30 minutes.  There’s an NHS version here: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/c25k/Pages/couch-to-5k-plan.aspx that you can download – it talks to as you run, telling you when to take a break.

Many people – especially if they’re having cancer treatment or are just starting out afterwards, want something a bit gentler than the NHS programme, and often need something that progresses more slowly and predictably week by week.

 

Here’s my version, which includes a visit every four weeks to your local parkrun:

Couch to 5k– from here to parkrun

  • Train three times a week – try Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays
  • It’s fine to repeat the current week, or go back a week if you need to. Then move on to the next week’s plan one when you’re ready.
  • Run at a pace where you’re out of puff, but can still talk, even if it’s just in short phrases rather than long sentences. If you’re struggling, slow down.

 

Week 1 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds x 15

5 minute cool down walk

2 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 45 seconds, walk 45 seconds x 15

5 minute cool down walk

3 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 60 seconds, walk 60 seconds x 15

5 minute cool down walk

4 This Saturday, do parkrun. Run and walk as much as feels comfortable. 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 90 seconds, walk 60 seconds x 12

5 minute cool down walk

5 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 2 minutes, walk 1 min x 10

5 minute cool down walk

6 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 2.5 mins, walk 1 min x 9

5 minute cool down walk

7 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 3 mins, walk 1 min x 8

5 minute cool down walk

8 This Saturday, do parkrun. Run and walk as much as feels comfortable. 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 3.5 mins, walk 1 min x 7

5 minute cool down walk

9 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 4 mins, walk 1 min x 7

5 minute cool down walk

10 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 4.5 mins, walk 1 min x 6

5 minute cool down walk

11 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 5 mins, walk 1 min x 5

5 minute cool down walk

12 This Saturday’s parkrun – try to run the whole way, taking a short walk break after every km. 5 minute warm up walk.

Run 5.5 mins, walk 1 min x 5

5 minute cool down walk

 

 

How to breathe

This, for many people including me, is the deal-breaker. If you feel like you can’t breathe while you’re running your brain will, automatically and quite sensibly, encourage you to stop running in order to preserve life. However, if you learn to breathe deliberately and deeply, you can control it, and stay calm and in control while you run.

Try this: Jog gently and breathe in rhythm with your footsteps – try breathing in for three paces and out for three. Gently, calmly, in, two, three, out, two, three, over and over. It’s up to you whether you breathe through your mouth or nose – there’s no right or wrong. Some people find that when they’re exercising they prefer to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Play around with this rhythm until you find what feels comfortable – it might be, for example, that you prefer four paces per breath. When I’m working hard, or getting tired, I use two paces to breathe in, two to breathe out. Drop your shoulders and try to relax as you do this.

Finding and keeping this rhythm should mean that you feel more confident as you build up your running, because you can be reassured. You can run and still breathe. Return to this trick if you get tired but do remember that slowing down or stopping are always an option. You don’t have to struggle or suffer in order to call yourself ‘a runner’.

 

Kit

Wear good quality running shoes and replace them if you know they’re pre-historic. They don’t need to be pricey, but they are your most important piece of kit. If you are going to invest in new ones, go to a good running shop and ask them to do your ‘gait analysis’ – they’ll pop you on a treadmill that has a little camera on the back, and film you as you run. (Please don’t feel self-conscious here – they only film your feet and lower leg.) Gait analysis will tell you, and the shopkeeper, how you land, and what the best type of shoe is, for you.

Women usually need a good running bra, obvs. Again, you don’t have to pay a lot for them but one that’ll really support you is a very good idea. Personally, I swear by Shock Absorbers, otherwise Boobydoo.com normally have a good range. Nicola Jane stock sports bras for women who’ve had mastectomy and breast reconstruction and Stella Macartney’s post-surgery bra made by adidas is one that several of my clients recommend.

 

Parkrun

 

parkrunPhoto copyright parkrun

Parkrun is a wonderful phenomenon that has swept across the world. It is in my view the running community at its most splendid and it’s something I am personally committed to. Parkrun works like this: it’s a free, timed, all-welcome 5k run every Saturday morning at 9am. There are currently 1050 parkruns in the UK – find your local one at www.parkrun.org.uk/events .

Parkrun is very strictly NOT a race and there are no winners – everyone completes the distance together rather than racing against each other. Faster runners elbowing slower folks out of their way is an absolute no-no. Walkers, dogs, kids and buggies are most welcome. It’s not-for-profit, staffed by volunteers, and it’s for everyone regardless of ability. By 10am on Saturday morning you feel such a sense of achievement, and it’s a fab way to start your weekend. It’s truly a remarkable movement that has become global. Read about it, find your local one, and join up here.

I think it is the ideal goal for anyone starting to run, and it’s habit forming and may well keep you on track for years to come.

 

5k Your Way

5kywAnother fabulous movement that I’m proud to be a part of, is Cancer 5kYourWay – ‘a cancer support group with a difference’. This lovely organisation does a simple yet brilliant thing – helping people affected by cancer to come together in order to take part in their local parkrun. So, for the daunted and the unsure, this is one way of taking part on parkrun safe in knowledge that you have some buddies with you who understand how much it means, for you, to be doing a 5k event at 9am on a Saturday morning. The groups normally get together for a coffee (and cake) afterwards to swap parkrun stories. Check them out at www.5kyourway.org .

 

Running is a mental sport

There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between running and mental health, and there are numerous studies to show that running can help to manage depression [2], fatigue, stress and anxiety[3].

Running can clear your mind, certainly, and mulling over a problem can feel easier. As you run, your mind can really wander. It can be where you do some of your best thinking, and have good, creative ideas.

For some, running can feel easier with distraction, and listening to music or a podcast can really help you to keep going. Over the years I’ve built my own playlists, normally of music that I don’t listen to otherwise. I associate these songs now with running, and once I hear a track from my list, I feel revved up, almost excited to get going. I’ve found extended songs that last 11 or 12 minutes which for me represents a mile. I know that if I run right through one of those songs, I’ll have another mile under my belt. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone, and some just love the peace and simplicity of listening to what’s around them, hearing the birds singing.

That said, it can be really hard to push yourself out of the door to go for a run if you’re feeling mentally low, or if your mojo is temporarily missing. One trick – again partly as distraction – is to try to think of things that you feel grateful for. I’m sorry – I know this might sound trite and cliched. And frankly if you are feeling a bit down, you might feel unable to think of much that you’re grateful for. But here’s the thing: sports psychologists think that if you distract yourself with grateful thoughts, they will help spur you on physically.  Kevin Vandi has written about this widely and says ‘Maintaining an intentional and grateful mind through training can add resiliency to hard workouts. When you’re grateful for the opportunity to run, or thankful for being able to be outside safely, it makes it a little bit easier to head out when you’d rather head back to bed.’[4]

Reasons to be cheerful, it seems, include the fact that you’ve become a runner.

 

Join my running group

For several years now, I’ve run a small, friendly running group. If you would like to start to run, you can find us at Hyde Park Corner at 6pm every Tuesday. All-welcome, there’s a rolling programme of couch to 5k plus a longer lap for those that can. We have a laugh, and some people reluctantly admit that they even enjoy it.

Get in touch if you’d like to join us.

 

Life goals

best run everPossibly the most beautiful run of my life. Starting before dawn with a fireworks display, running into the sunrise over the Pacific ocean.  The day I ran the Honolulu marathon. It was hot, steep and stunning. Big medal, and a big grin afterwards.

Keep your eye out for future blogs on how to do a full body stretch, on running strength, and on how to look after your knees.

 

[1] www.parkrun.com/about 14.04.2020

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

[3] https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

[4] https://www.compedgept.com/blog/gratitude-and-sports-performance

 

2 comments

  1. I can’t recommend running with Carolyn enough, not only have I seen others benefit from being part of her oomph running group, I have personally benefited from the group. I hated running until i started training with Carolyn. She doesn’t push you too hard, just hard enough with lots of friendly encouragement.

    Like

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