In 2017 I ran 603 km (roughly 13km per week). It is not elite numbers, but it is 2.5 times more than what I did the previous year, and also still more consistent than on the years I did the half marathon.
My goal last year was to do sport consistently, and as I picked running as one (the other is yoga), I set to do it twice a week. One short run (~ 30 minutes, 4 km) on the weekday, and one longer run (~ > 1 hour, 8-10 km). As I started (again) running last year, I know I can run a 5k comfortably, I can kinda run a 10k (kinda = dying in the end :P), and my pace was about 7km/h (~ 8:30 min/km).
By the end of the year, I did run twice a week, in various weather conditions (rain, snow, sun, wind). The only two times it stopped us was when it was stormy over Berlin, or when I had a fever. By the end of the year, 10k was a manageable distance, and I could run it in 1 hour and 10 minutes (average pace of 7 min/km), and I could even do a 6:30 mins/km pace over 4-5km distance (The thought of running under a 7 minutes pace used to be so foreign to me).
Here are what I gained after a year of running
1. Pick a Challenging But Still Enjoyable Goal
The mistake I had made before was really to just set a running goal. The half marathon. I know I can do it, and I did. But I did not enjoy the process of training at all, so after every race, I did not want to run again for the next few months. I know people who swore by running every day, or 3 – 4 times a week (as in all the plans recommended for you to get better at running). Good for you, if you can enjoy that. But I know for me, that only would make me want to stop doing it after 3 – 4 months (and that’s not the goal!).
So I knew it had to be something that will not add more stress to my weekly routine. Once a week is less stress, but then again, but it probably will be too few to build my muscle strength (which will result in enjoying the process less).
My goal was to run twice a week, one shorter run in the morning before work, and one longer run on the weekend. I can wake up earlier in the morning once a week and I can give up one weekend half a day to run. The laundry pile is reasonable (2 people winter running gear takes up 2/3 of the washing machine load!), and my muscle has enough time to recover after each run.
2. A Lesson in Self Acceptance
Here is why it is big for me. I’m so not the athletic type. If you see the cool ladies running like a wind, that’s not me. I’m such a slow runner that for the longest time I did not feel like I should be running at all because of that (everybody who said they are slow seemed to run at a 5-6 mins pace. WTH! Humblebrag much?). So running to me seemed like a thing I could never be good at. But guess what? It’s OKAY!
It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but it is really okay to be the slow runner. It’s okay to be the last person who crosses the finish line on a race. I’ve been there, and even though it felt sucky at the time, but really, we are great in a different way than the winners since (1) it is also painful to run longer, and (2) our bodies are just created differently, just like someone can’t be a math genius, I can’t be an athlete. Plus, you’re still faster than someone who is sitting on their couch!
My average pace did get faster over the months though.
Which means, I accept my running speed (to those who thinks I could do a speed training programs: sure, it’s a possibility, but the effort for me will be 2-3 times more and it’s not worth it for me). And challenge me in another way than just speed ;).
3. Fitter Body
This must be quite obvious to anyone. But anyhow I was still amazed by it. My weight was hovering between 55-56kg last year (I’m 163cm tall) and I did not feel I had to lose weight. I turned 38 in 2017, so I’m not at the height of my metabolism anymore.
After the whole year of running, nevertheless, I lost some weight, became leaner, and a year later my weight seemed to stabilize between 52.5 – 53.5kg. I don’t do any diet, just opting for healthier option 80% of the time (less sugar, less meat, more veggies).
I feel so good!
4. Persistence Pays Off
Such a cliche, but true. This was not much of a case of running but everywhere else in my life. In the era of when everything seems to be an “instant success” (I used quotes because most of the time it’s actually not), a lesson in persistence is what I kept forgetting.
In this case, running was extra challenging because so often I did not see any improvements. Yet now when I see my running chart I did see it! I became progressively faster (sometimes I don’t, due to various conditions), and the runs are also becoming easier(ish).
5. Running Buddy
Depending on your jam, this could be a good or bad thing. I dislike running groups with a passion (possibly because of my school years being the last one picked for the team), but I know some people who swore by it.
What I do love, however, is running with my husband. Though for the longest time, I felt guilty because I slowed him down, but at the end of the day, he reassured me that it doesn’t matter. What matter is: we run together, and couples who exercised together, stay healthy together!
6. Stick to a Plan
It helps to set a fixed schedule for this, especially for a climate like Berlin. If you only run on sunny days, you’d probably going to run only once a month. I couldn’t rely on my own willpower to decide in the morning. Especially not when you’re starting out.
So, our plan was:
- Every Thursday morning, we will run 4-5km.
- Every Sunday, we will run at least 1 hour (now it’s 10km, but we started with 1 hour).
We made an exception / acceptable excuses list, so we have to do this, unless:
- One of us is sick (= fever or worse)
- The weather is dangerous (pouring rain, storms, temperature drops below -10 deg C), in that case, we should pick another day to replace it when the weather is better (Wed/Fri instead Thu, or Saturday instead of Sunday)
- We are on holiday somewhere. Note that holidays for us means we are walking a lot and usually have a daily step count of above 15.000.
- If it’s not on the list, then suck it up and go run.
We’re already quite active before, but being fit also means there are so many places we can explore. Hikes, walking around a hilly city (looking at you, San Francisco), and not getting out of breath when you’re chasing that damn bus.
Also the experience of running in a new city (Munich and San Francisco), and exploring it in a different way, I never thought I’d be one of “those people”.
8. Listen to What My Body Said
If you haven’t been exercising maybe you should consult your doctor first. I’m just writing my own experience and what had worked for me last year.
I find the most important thing for me is not to set a fixed goal of speed/distance but to know what I’m up for that day. My goal is to run for years, and I won’t be able to do that if I’m injured. You never know, but I hope by listening to my own pace, I can have a healthy and long running-journey.
We are all built differently but that doesn’t mean that if you don’t feel like you’re an athlete, you should not run (like if you don’t feel flexible, you should still do yoga).
9. If It’s Not Fun While, It Will Be Afterwards!
Last but not least! It rarely is easy for me. It gets easier, yes. But many days when I’m tired on Sundays, the weather is shitty and cold. I wonder why I signed up for this (I still somehow do).
But then I realized how my overall health feels. It’s easier to put myself in an upbeat mood. I managed to not catch a cold.
The best feeling? Is to be able to eat what I want (yes, of course, healthier choices, but I still have my cake and fries!), and maintain my weight!