I started running when I was on maternity leave with my second daughter. Like virtually every other new mother, I just wanted to get fit and lose some weight: running was just a means to that end.
My only previous flirtations with it had been one of those night-time Nike 10K runs years before (just squeaked under an hour) and a summer during which I did the Olympic distance London triathlon (the 10K in 48 minutes, which surprised me, though not enough to keep running). But when time is tight and you have to be flexible, then running is the most efficient form of exercise. So running it was. Throw baby and toddler at husband, run out the door. Repeat.
Around 18 months later I’d got my 10K PB down to 41 minutes and ran the Royal Parks half marathon in 1:28:16. This year I ran my first marathon – not the time I’d been hoping for as I was injured rather a lot in the run up, but still a decent three hours and 25 minutes. I’ve made some good progress. You could argue the toss for ages on innate ability versus volume of training, but if I had to pick two things that have made a real difference to me, they would be getting a coach, and sheer bloody-mindedness.
It was in early spring 2012 that like so many others, I started the Couch-to-5K programme, wheezing to the nearest lamppost and stopping for a breather. About six months later I ran a 45-minute 10K. That was the point at which my husband stepped in, and bought me a session with a running coach, and a few months of personalised running schedules.
As a strictly amateur runner I do feel slightly abashed when talking about ‘my coach’ – it sounds like I have visions of medals and trophies. But what it actually means is that said coach – David Chalfen – sets me a totally individual plan for my training, based around my own schedule, races I want to do, holidays I might take, and so on. This plus advice, for the price of a cheap night out. I have only ever changed the plans he makes for me when I’ve had to due to illness, or unforeseen family circumstances. Otherwise I religiously follow them. It works for me – because David knows what he’s talking about.
Then there’s that bloody-mindedness. When you run, you run mainly for yourself, against yourself. There’s always someone faster, someone slower. So you have to have the will to improve yourself, for yourself. You have to not mind the suffering. And you have to embrace the oft-quoted motto, ‘It’s supposed to hurt’. It’s a cliché, but I do really believe that if it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t working hard enough. If you can have a chat on what’s supposed to be a hard session, then run faster. The comfort zone is a nice place for a jog with a friend, but it’s not going to get your PB smashed in that next race.
While running is essentially a solitary sport, I also find huge encouragement and incentive in being in a club – whether it’s running with them in cross-country league races or training sessions. I’ve also got a very dear friend who has been on pretty much the same running journey as me – also has two kids, also has to fit the running in when and where she can. There’s not a day goes by when we don’t email each other reporting on a niggle, or a rubbish training run, or a good session. Probably because she, too, is brilliantly stubborn when it comes to running.
Kate Carter is Guardian Life & Style and Running Blog Editor . She can be found tweeting @katecarter
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