We’ve all been there; we plan out our New Year goals and within the month we’ve given up. January is a tough, dreary and dark month and many of us fall into the trap of setting unrealistic goals, become overwhelmed by them and giving up - especially if they are linked to the outdoors and fitness.
But, as someone who still has New Year resolutions from 2001 not achieved, one thing that 2023 taught me is that our goals need three things; time, patience and resilience. You can achieve your goals but you have to dig deep sometimes, ride out the storms, not allow yourself to give up and eventually, you’ll start seeing that progress.
By the end of 2022 and at the start of 2023, I wasn’t in a good place mentally or physically. I was desperately unhappy in a career slowly sucking the life out of me, struggling to balance it with getting outdoors enough - something which I desperately needed to function successfully - struggling to keep my emotions in check and not able to see a way out. I was comfort eating, denying there was anything wrong and my weight was going up and up which just created a vicious cycle of unhappiness, low confidence and quite a bit of self-hatred.
Finally finding the courage to face up to all of this and as the fireworks flew through the sky marking a fresh new year with blank pages for me to write on, I decided 2023 would my ‘Year of Challenge’ - a year I wanted to use getting myself better, facing my fears, pushing my comfort boundaries and along with making the decision that I needed to leave my career behind by the end of the year. Part of the challenge for 2023 was also to take up running.
Well, I’ve always been an outdoor lover and as a keen hiker who cursed trail runners under my breath every time they skipped past me in the hills, I decided maybe that would be the perfect challenge for me; combining hiking which I’m comfortable and confident doing with running, something which I knew I was useless at. So that’s exactly what I did. I decided I would become a trail runner but little did I know how much harder this was going to be than I first thought.
The start of my running journey - riddled with mistakes and errors
By the start of February, I’d already given up.
It was too hard. Too tiring. I wasn’t getting better and every run was just as hard as the last one.
I always remember my very first trail run; I decided I’d run up Catbells - a small peak and one which was simple for me to hike up. If I could hike up it, I could run up it, right? Wrong.
I honestly thought I was going to pass out from the pain in my chest and whole body. I walked pretty much all of the uphill after trying to run at the beginning, jogged along the top, wheezing and unable to understand why I was so tired, before walking back down and moping back to the car. I felt absolutely useless and like a complete failure. My only option that I could see was to give up.
After a couple of weeks moping, I decided to try again. This time I thought I’d go out on a 5km run. Everyone can do a 5km run, right? I’ll be able to do it easily I thought.
I set out on a run around my village after having a quick look online at the average 5km time - 40 minutes - I thought, “okay. I can do this.” Right? Wrong.
The problem? I set off at top speed, thinking I was an Olympic long distance runner and couldn’t run for more than 3 minutes.
So I gave up again.
Looking back I was just trying to do too much, too soon. As a relatively fit hiker, I found it hard to accept that I couldn't actually run. At all. After around 3 minutes I'd start to struggle and accepting that was my current ability was a bitter pill to swallow.
But it got better…
Starting my running journey - take two
I started researching how to run further and faster - good old Google reliably informed me I needed to do intervals to get quicker, slower runs to build endurance and distance and to stop worrying about my pace. I accepted that I could only run for a few minutes so that became my starting point. I read about being consistent and I decided to go for a run three times a week as well as combining it with weights at the gym to build my muscles and some active rest of swimming. I stopped worrying about times and stopped running on the treadmill in the gym because I found it mind-numbingly BORING!
So I created myself a plan and my week involved running for just a few minutes at a time, gradually getting ever so slightly quicker and building the distance each week by just 500m or so. I’d do different types of runs; sometimes intervals, sometimes a slower run and sometimes a slightly longer run but keeping a slow pace to build my endurance and stamina.
I also gave myself the day off, without punishment, when I needed it.
It was incredibly hard to fit it in with my full-time and full-on job but I kept at it and made it, forcing myself even, to make it a priority. Work didn’t get done on time. I missed some deadlines and my work output probably wasn’t as good as it had been but did the world end? Clearly not. Did I get into trouble at work? Not even a tiny bit. Did anyone even notice? No.
Eventually, I managed to build myself up to a comfortable, if not slow, 5km and progressed from there. I increased distance ever so slightly each week and ran ever so slightly quicker each week. I’d reduce my rest when doing intervals and if I was finding it too much, I’d give myself a day off. I gave it time, I was patient and I was resilient even when I didn’t want to be because I kept telling myself that overcoming the difficulty would help me realise, once again, how capable I really am.
After around a month of being consistent (yes, it was that quick), I noticed I was actually enjoying it. However, this wasn't all. I felt calmer, happier even. I felt I had a purpose again and I could feel my self-confidence building back up.
Work was still what I would describe as absolutley hellish but it wasn't consuming my life anymore; running was. I needed to run. I needed the fresh air and the endorphins to get me through my daily life. I needed to know that I could do anything I placed my effort into.
A huge turning point
I remember the exact moment when I started to take running seriously; it was when my friend Hannah (who I call The Running Queen - you can find her on Instagram here) asked me if I wanted to run around all the lakes in the Lake District with her. I’d followed her on Instagram for a while because she had recently started a running journey too and she inspired me - she was honest about her progress, starting from nothing and had already entered into the London Marathon. We’d met up and been on lots of adventures already but I wondered why she chose me for this particular running challenge? We had never ran together and she was a great runner, she could have asked anyone to do this challenge with her but she chose me. After struggling with self confidence, the belief from her that I could do it was a huge turning point.
When she sent me the list of the lakes, the distances and the routes she had already planned it was a shock - some of them were shorter distances which felt achievable but then there were the bigger distances of 20km+. Bearing in mind the furthest I'd ran by this point was around 7km, instead of feeling self-doubt I felt excited; I could do this. I would do this. This truly would be a huge tick for my 2023 Year of Challenge. We started our challenge and with Hannah leading the way and running slower for me, with absolutely no judgement and just unwavering encouragement, we’re now around half way through our Run The Lakes Challenge. We recently did Catbells again as part of a longer 15km route around Derwentwater and guess what? I didn't think I was going to pass out this time! I think 2024 will definitely be the year we finish them all off.
I owe a huge part of my running success so far to her.
Part way through 2023 and after starting this running challenge, something clicked in the running side of my brain and I’ve not looked back since. I’ve continued building distance, improving my speed and ticking off milestones I never thought were possible - my first 10km, my first hilly trail race, my first half marathon.
All it took was time, patience and resilience.
Oh, and a sprinkle of self-belief and motivation from friends and family!
Don’t get me wrong staying motivated wasn’t easy and I was far from perfect, in fact I still am far from perfect and often miss runs because I just can't be bothered. But I’ve come to realise that it’s ok. It’s OK to give yourself a break if you’re busy or just don’t feel like heading out. Sharing my running journey with those closest to me kept me motivated in the beginning and my husband would, and still does, hold me accountable, reminding me how good I’ll feel after going for a run.
Allowing myself to take it slow and make my own progress at my own pace was my biggest motivator because there was no pressure.
One thing I stand by though is that the motivation has to come from within too. You need to want to do it for you, whatever your goals are.
Here’s some of my top tips to help you with motivation;
Running with a friend really kept me going through the darker days because I didn't want to let her down. She believed in me and I wanted to do it for her, as well as me. So, if you can find one (Hello! Pick me!) get yourself a running pal who won't pressure you and will make you feel encouraged and motivated to smash your running goals. You'll still do a lot of training on your own but having a running friend to talk to about all things running has been one of the best parts of the journey.
If like me, you're staring from no running background or experience, I recommend the Couch to 5k programme from the NHS. It's a free 6 week running programme to get you to running 5km and lots of people I have spoken to say they started with that. I wish I had.
Choosing running kit
This doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as social media and the internet likes to make it. Look in one direction and people are telling you to buy a certain type of trainer; to have 5 different pairs on rotation for different terrain and training types, to buy a certain type of sock that will reduce blisters, to buy this certain t-shirt but not that material because it will make you sweat too much, and of course you obviously need a specific running cap, gloves, headband, hydration pack, running vest oh and don’t forget the specific running jacket that packs away into it’s pocket and weighs less than a feather.
It’s consumerism at its finest and you don’t need all of this STUFF to be a runner.
Sure, as you progress, you’ll probably want to choose lighter kit or running clothes that might offer you different benefits but, if you’re just starting out, the best advice I can give you is just to make sure you’re comfortable and not to worry about what other people are telling you. You'll find what works and what doesn't work for you.
You’ve probably already got everything you need in your wardrobe at home anyway.
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given when dressing for a run is to choose your clothing based on what you would wear if it was ten degrees warmer outside. So, if the weather is currently 9 degrees calcius, dress for it being 19 degrees. It’s amazing how warm you get running. However, during winter, I’d probably still have gloves and a hat with me because the wind chill can be nasty!
One thing I would recommend investing in is a decent pair of shoes. Running isn’t particularly good for your body (but we don’t care because it’s so fun) and a proper pair of shoes will reduce your chance of injury. Make the time to head to your local running shop for a gait analysis where they will get you on a treadmill and take a video of what happens to your feet and ankles when you run (mine collapse inwards) and they’ll recommend a pair of shoes that will help any issues that crop up. It’s usually free and worth every minute you'll be in there.
If you do want to treat yourself, I’ve been running in the My Urban Trail shorts lately (they’re buttery soft, with a pocket for your phone and don’t ride up or down) and highly recommend them.
When the sun reappears, a cap like this adjustable sports one will be your best friend because there’s nothing worse than running with the sun in your eyes.
Running - why I love it and why I’ll never give it up again
As I reflect back on 2023, running gave me so much more than I could ever have imagined; new friendships, feelings of success and pride, better fitness and endurance than I’ve ever had but most importantly; happiness.
the endorphins released from physical exercise are what's known as The Runner's High and I can confirm those feelings are 100% addictive.
I'm not going to tell you that running is an easy sport because it's not and sometimes, when those feelings of doubt creep back in, I have to remind myself of how far I've come. In one year I've gone from not being able to run for longer than three minutes to running my first half marathon. Your goals take dedication and you have to push through the mental and physical barriers that are so desperate to stop you.
What I can tell you is that running has changed my life. I love it and the way it makes me feel afterwards. I use it to reduce stress, to reduce anxiety and to just feel good.
Oh, and if you're wondering - yes, I did quit my career and I couldn't be happier.
2023 - smashed it! (even if it didn't quite start out as easily as I'd hoped)
My top tips for starting running;
- Don’t compare yourself to other runners on social media - there’s always going to be someone you can consider to be “doing better” than you but that’s not going to help you.
- Find people that motivate and inspire you to push yourself and build you up when you’re feeling a bit demotivated
- Find your starting point - what can you currently do and build from that
- Be consistent - this is a biggie. Without consistency, you’re unlikely to see much progress.
- Try to enjoy it - running is a tough sport to get into as a beginner
- Sign up to some races - they aren’t as scary as they seem and the community spirit is incredible
- Don’t give up! You will make progress and it will get easier.
- Vary your routes and distances
- Have fun, be kind to yourself and trust the process
Happy 2024 goal setting and I hope to see you out on the trails!