A few words with Charlie Webster - Women's Running

A few words with Charlie Webster

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  January 6, 2016

Charlie cover photo

This month, TV presenter, charity fundraiser and runner Charlie Webster features as our cover star. Charlie, 33, has been running since childhood but stepped up to endurance running in her 20s. This summer, she was an ambassador for our Women’s Running 10K Series, and took on one of her hardest challenges to date: Ironman UK, a long-distance triathlon involving a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon. She fits sport around her work as a TV presenter and has used running to raise awareness and funds for charities including Women’s Aid. We caught up with Charlie about her running and how she made the transition from reluctant track runner to multiple marathoner and Ironman finisher.

How did you first get into running?

When I was about 11 I got asked to do one of the school races. I was a bit under confident so was like, “No, I don’t want to draw attention to myself.” But they made me do it. I won the race, and then a coach asked if I wanted to join the training group. I ended up going to the group and felt really intimidated and just didn’t pursue it again. But then they contacted me and asked me if I wanted to go in an all-girls group, so I thought I might as well go along. I really enjoyed it the second time. I started to go to this running group not because I thought I was going to be a runner but because it was just a bit of a social thing and to keep me occupied as a youngster.

Do you find running helps you to de-stress?

I use it as a coping mechanism. Some people might use music, or reading, which I do as well, but for me it’s running. My job is sometimes unsociable hours, weekends, nights; the last shows I’ve been doing have been Saturday night boxing so you finish at 2am. But I think that I’ll always go for a run before because it sets me up for the day or if I’m doing an early then I’ll go for a run after and just release the stresses of the day. If I don’t go running I find it even harder, so even though I’m finding that time, it saves me time elsewhere – it does make me more efficient and focused. If I don’t train in a week I’m much lower in energy.

Charlie cover

How did you first get into endurance running?

When I was younger I hated endurance, so much so that on a Sunday we used to do this three-mile run and I could hardly get round it. I’d have some Weetabix and throw it up because I was so rubbish at endurance. As I got older, when I went to uni, I started to run 5Ks – a big step up for me. Then I lived in Asia in my mid-20s and started to help the Special Olympics, working with athletes with autism, Asperger’s or dyspraxia, and they had a target of running the Singapore Marathon so I volunteered to help do some training with them. Then somebody said to me, “Are you going to do the marathon?” and I was like, “I can’t run a marathon!” I’d got about six weeks to go, but I said, “Oh, OK then!” I found it so hard, and it was so hot and so humid. I ended up doing it in 4:30 or 4:40. I remember cramping so badly in my thighs that I got some Tiger Balm and rubbed it all over my thighs and then got it in my eyes! After that I got hooked. As I started to train for marathons I realised I was quite good, and almost better at endurance. It’s funny because I really like the longer stuff now, so it’s interesting how you completely change. Mentally I really like that time on my own, I’m a little bit like that, because of my job – you’re always with people – I like going for the longer runs because you can be in your head.

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When running long distances, how do you manage to push forward when you feel like your body is giving up on you?

There are so many mental tricks to get through longer stuff. Towards the end of the Ironman, I was really struggling, my vision had gone, my legs felt like they were going to give way and I felt really sick. I started to count, which I know Paula Radcliffe has done. Then, what I’ve done for a long time is I find a point – even if it’s that lamppost there – and I aim to get to that lamppost. In the Ironman it was getting to that pub, then set myself a new target, get to that group of that people with Macmillan signs, or get to the next fuel station… I had to break it down so much that it was even 100 metres in front of me because I was struggling that badly. I just gave myself those tiny goals because if you think, “Oh my god, I’ve still got 10 miles to go” – that is a long way. I go really deep sometimes which really helps. [Think about] some of the things you’ve gone through, why you’re doing this in the first place, the feeling of what it would be like if you didn’t cross the finish line, and that we’re so lucky that we have the ability to push our bodies.

What is your best advice for anyone looking to take up running?

My biggest recommendation for any runner out there would be to do weights. I think people are quite scared of it, especially women, because they think they’re going to get big, but you’re not at all, unless you’re taking ridiculous amounts of creatine or shakes. Doing weights builds incredible lean muscle and you look beautiful and sculpted, which I think is the best and most positive way you can be. It also prevents injury; runners don’t use their glutes very well, their hips are always so tight – doing weights really strengthens those areas. I’m 33 now, and I’ve done so much running and so many challenges, it’s not the actual challenges that would injure me, it’s the fact that I haven’t prepared my joints to cope with it, so I do weights and stability strength as well: core work and press-ups and all that basic stuff.

Charlie 5

For those who are nervous about taking up the sport for the first time, what’s your best advice?

If you’re thinking about running but nervous, I’d say don’t be worried, give it a go. One of my friends did a Women’s Running 10K [last summer] and it was her first 10K – she only started running last year and she was worried and scared but it’s made such a difference to her life, physically and mentally. Don’t think “I have to do a 10K” or “I have to do a half-marathon” – ignore all that. Just take yourself out and go for a little jog and walk. The hardest bit is the very beginning because once you start doing it on a regular basis, you improve so quickly. You’ll notice such a difference to your mind and your body and you’ll start to fall in love with it and you’ll want to go, and once you want to go the battle is over. But initially I know it’s hard, and sometimes when it’s crap weather I’m like, “I can’t be bothered,” and I have to make myself get out the door but I always know that I feel 10 million times better once I’m out of the door.

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