Lost in Lycra… the Christmas Gift of Running

So you opened up the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree, and you were greeted by new running shoes, an all you can wear lycra buffet, a new GPS watch, and much more in the way of running paraphernalia.

Let's start with a little multiple choice exercise... and you can tick as many as you want, you're not being scored or tested!

Yay, just what I wanted
Erm... gee thanks
Nice colour to go with my dark denims
Awesome, I needed a new pair
Haven't had a digital watch in ages
Sweet, the most modern GPS around
Ah great, spring marathon season is close
What's a marathon? I can't run a bath
Run Baubles

It goes without saying that the multiple guess test above presents the extreme ends of the running spectrum, and there is a hell of a lot in between... depending on level of fitness and / or insanity, probably somewhere between 3 and 100 miles!!

Not even the most experienced and highly able runner should, however, forget where they started. 30 marathons (hopefully 31 by Saturday - to give context today is Thursday) perhaps suggest someone who has been running all of his life, but it was merely in Christmas 2012 when the my 19 stone self risked an earthquake on the streets of Birmingham!

Actually, that's not strictly speaking true. That 19 stone self was scared to the extreme of not doing an outdoor training run until December of 2013 so said earhtquake was confined to the treadmills of Anytime Fitness Edgbaston!!! By the point I went for a training run outside, I'd done 3 half-marathons...

Yes, it's unconventional, and it probably sounds utterly mad, but it was what worked for me... I just didn't think I could make it very far at any point, and at least I knew on race day I could fall over in exhaustion and someone would see it with the good folks of St John's hopefully dropping me off at the end!! A training run may not be so well populated and I could end up splatted on any road or path waiting for someone to come along.

Again, the mind is capable of telling the body all kinds of things, some of which are a lot truer than others. However, by the time I got out at about 6am on the morning of Sunday 1 December 2013, I already had 3 half-marathons behind me and had been daft enough to enter the following year's London Marathon... to this day I don't know if my mind was telling me that I could do my training runs outside or that I had no choice but to!!

3 half-marathons & a treadmill...
3 half-marathons & a treadmill...

I digress, however, albeit only slightly! The point here is not about running on a treadmill but it is very much that it is about you as an individual, whether novice or Sir Mo in your own mirror.

So here are my tips for any runner, but aimed particularly at those who may just be a little bit fearful of donning their beautiful new lycra and trainers.

  1. It's your race, do it your way. Do take on advice but this is about what you enjoy and not others. In my case, I prefer running on my own and without music, but if you need either Guns N' Roses or Tchaikovsky's Crown of Roses to accompany you from A to B, then go for it.
  2. Take your time. The saying "finish line not finishing time" is so true and the same counts for every run you do. The joy comes in patiently pushing your boundaries, not worrying about anyone else's.
  3. Rest. Even the pros do it!! Listen to and know your body. Embrace all it allows you to do but, above all, know when it needs to rest.
  4. Eat... as much as you can of the good stuff! Now I'm well known for rewarding runs with cake but, joking aside, you need to make sure you're feeding your body the right fuel to run. This is a balanced diet of protein, carbs and the right fats with treats readily available on occasion!
  5. Be goal oriented; whether that means aiming to finish your first Parkrun as part of Couch to 5k or running a marathon, it doesn't matter! Set an achievable goal that you believe in, that you can embrace and bring others on the journey with you.
  6. Join a local club or running group. Even the classic running introvert (like me!) enjoys meeting and running with others on occasion. It's great to share your journey with others to share the encouragement.
  7. Invest in the right kit. Go to a local running store and get your gait analysed to make sure you are wearing the right shoes. Beyond that, do get some nice lycra, it's a much better look and feel than a cotton t-shirt!
  8. Enjoy it. Running is liberating and freedom... for some but not all. My fiancée can destroy me with her HIIT classes and the like, but she cannot abide running! If you're not enjoying it, it doesn't mean you should quit but definitely try mixing it up with other exercise.
  9. Keep it varied; different routes, different surfaces, different times, different company. Don't just get into a routine
  10. Above all, be proud! With every step you make towards your goal, you're becoming a different person and the mindset will transform other areas of your life. I know for me that the more I ran, the less I believed in limitations, the more I achieved at work and in my personal relationships.
Finding the right club is a great thing!
Finding the right club is a great thing!

Here are some resources to get you started...

  • Find a club on the England Athletics site
  • Get to your local Parkrun
  • Share the love... online communities like #ukrunchat are terrific for meeting others
  • If you're ready for a fun event where you get the same medal whether you run 5km or a marathon, then get down to Walton-on-Thames and join a Phoenix Running event
  • If you're in SW London or Birmingham and want to join a great, inclusive club, then try Clapham Pioneers or City of Birmingham Striders respectively

Above all, have a ball. Remember it's not a race, even when it is one! It's about you, it's about you doing something you love, pushing your boundaries, staying healthy and meeting great people! Sounds like a pretty awesome combination to me!

So whatever Santa left you in his running sack, enjoy it and do it your way!

Rohan Kallicharan

Rohan is an award-winning mental health campaigner and speaker with lived experience of mental illness. He has been involved in a number of high-profile campaigns to raise awareness and break down the stigma around mental ill-health. He is a sub-3 hour marathon runner, HR Director and husband to Claire.

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