Adrienne Herbert interview: "Running can be however you define it!" - Women's Running

Adrienne Herbert interview: “Running can be however you define it!”

Author: Rachel Ifans

Read Time:   |  February 24, 2022

Running helped Adrienne Herbert cope when life was hard. She tells us how it gave her solitude and space and a new sense of identity when all else was in flux

Sorry, what? Get up an hour earlier, you say? If the thought of getting up earlier sends you a bit loopy, think again. You probably need it now more than ever, says Adrienne Herbert, runner, personal trainer, Instagram sensation, podcaster and author. Adrienne has just written her first book, called The Power Hour, which explains how an extra hour to yourself first thing in the morning – before the demands of life seep in and drown you – can be transformational.

She says: “The most important things to remember are that it’s the first hour, that it’s non-negotiable and that it’s reclaiming time to do something YOU want to do. It’s time for the things you say you don’t have time to do – whether it be running, reading, doing a meditation or something else entirely. You can build it however you want but the important thing is that it’s not punishment – I’m not suggesting people get up early to do something gruelling!”

Adrienne’s a bundle of energy. She’s a positive force, who talks quickly but takes you along with her from the moment you meet her. “I really believe we can all achieve whatever goal it is, whether it’s personal or professional, business goal or financial goal. And in the book I try to marry lived experience with inspiration and motivation, and practical tools too.”

For Adrienne, the initial goal behind her Power Hour was, yes, you guessed it – running. She started running 10 years ago – more on that later – but it was when she was approached and offered the chance to do her first marathon that she needed to magic up a bit of extra time for training. She says: “I was wondering how on earth I would fit it into my day but I knew that if it was important to me I needed to prioritise it. I needed to get up and out an hour earlier, before my day started, before I had to take my son to school and before I needed to be available for everything else including emails, work commitments and other parts of my life.”

Even though it started with running, Adrienne soon found that on the days when she wasn’t going out for a run, she would still get up and use the hour. “I really enjoyed the solitude,” she says. “An hour with no demands on my time.”

You can do hard things

She makes it sound easy but it wasn’t. Not only is Adrienne an optimist, she’s also a fighter.

For instance, she first started running during a very challenging time in her life; she’d just become a mother for the first time, her husband had fallen ill with a life-threatening illness and was unable to work, and she was juggling breastfeeding and lack of sleep as well as a lot of change to her lifestyle. She explains: “I found running because I didn’t have the childcare options to go to the gym, but I realised I could just about sneak in a 20-minute run. Just out and around the block while he was napping meant I could have 20 minutes on my own.”

It was a hard time but she persevered with the running and it’s become a mainstay – a constant companion – in her life for nearly a decade now.

But let’s go back to the rigours of setting the alarm an hour of earlier and forcing herself out of bed in the dark. “Sure, getting up an hour earlier is hard to do. I’m not going to pretend that I find it easy, that I just jump out of bed every morning. One of the things I talk about in the book is that I have this mantra – ‘You can do hard things’ – that I use a lot in my life. If it’s difficult, instead of waiting for it to be easier, I try to just do it.” She’s right of course; we all have to do hard things, whether it’s running a marathon, overcoming personal challenges or building businesses. “I don’t believe that people succeed in life because it was easy for them!” she laughs. “It was hard but they did it anyway.”

All about me

Rewinding back to Adrienne’s first steps in running, she found solace and escape in those early miles. “To be honest it was the solitary part, I think, that was probably the most appealing. As a new mum, I had a wonderful little person but he was there all the time – day and night. And my husband had a life-threatening illness so I think I was craving solitude both physically and mentally. I needed space to process it and that’s what got me lacing up and going out.”

She found immediate benefits around mood and feeling uplifted but also discovered a new part of herself, at a time when, frankly, most women feel like they are losing a part of themselves. She explains: “Lots of new mums lose their identity so running was something for me. I found myself talking to other runners on Twitter, getting active in run chat communities, reading about running. I was signing up to my first 5K… really immersing myself into this whole world of information, knowledge and shared experiences. It opened my eyes to a new world and community and it gave me a new identity as a runner, not a mother, wife or colleague.”

She found the multi-dimensional nature of running liberating too. “Running can be however you define it – so I found myself wondering what it looked like for me.”

Baby steps

Those tentative first runs were liberating in an emotional way but of course they were physically hard. Adrienne loves running now; she runs with a smile on her face and she just makes it look like the easiest thing in the world – but don’t forget her ‘hard things’ mantra. It was as hard for her as for any new mother setting out in her runners with the weight of the world on her shoulders. “When I think back, I was probably annoyed, because I thought I’d been miss-sold a lie that running was great, that I would feel these endorphins… And there I was puffing away, wondering where the runner’s high was.”

In hindsight, she was probably going too fast; attacking a 5K with the gusto of a high-energy dancer or sprinter. “It must have got better,” she laughs, “because otherwise I would have stopped!”

She did the very same 5K route again and again and again. And it really worked for her. On the days when she was feeling good, she’d try and run it quite fast and then, when she wasn’t feeling great, it spurred her on to know exactly where halfway was. The repetition allowed her to manage her expectations as a novice runner; she knew when there was an incline and when she was five minutes from home. “Now I’ve got much more experience, I like a bit of mystery in my routes and distances, but at that time I really liked the repetition; it enabled me to benchmark my energy, and I knew I could do it because I’d done it before.”

Like for many of us, the last decade has been full of change and challenges for Adrienne; she’s had security issues, family illness, a miscarriage, and she’s worked hard to build a career that she loves. “I often say to people, if they’ve started running and they’re not feeling the high, to be patient. It’s only over time that running became a consistent part of my life. And now, with hindsight, I realise it’s probably the only thing that has been consistent in the last 10 years.”

It’s true for us all right now; when everything feels a bit uncertain, and it’s really hard for us all, from a mental health prospective, to feel grounded and to feel optimistic, running is a constant that can be very powerful.

Adrienne talks more about her miscarriage and the emotional and physical strain it put on her. Despite having just gone through the trauma and feeling emotionally and physically weak, she says the London Marathon in 2017 gave her a new focus. She decided to give it everything; it was a lifeline.

“I did make it to start line. And to the finish line. But it was probably the toughest race I’ve ever done in my life, not just because it was my first marathon but because at that point in my life, I felt like I had nothing left, emotionally, physically and mentally.”

“I feel emotional saying it now. When I felt like I had nothing left, I still ran a marathon. It proved to me – and it continues to do so – that when you think you’ve got nothing left, whether it’s a physical challenge or a mental challenge or just life, when you’re at rock bottom, you can actually run a marathon… it made wonder what else I could do!”

Despite finding the marathon hard, it spurred Adrienne on to more and more running success. She ran six half marathons the following year and she started to train properly for them. She says: “I was constantly training and going out all the time doing longer runs and over time I became physically and mentally more adapted to it; I started to learn how to fuel and how to recover and how to train properly instead of what I was doing before.”

Unfortunately, all her good training work didn’t pay off when she entered the Berlin marathon but it turned out to be an experience she won’t forget in a hurry. Putting aside the fact she started the race with an inflamed tendon in her foot that she’d got running on a beach with her son, and putting aside the fact that she had to pull out at mile 15 and get ambulanced off to a German hospital. Yes, putting aside all that, it turned out to be a positive experience overall: “I really committed to training for Berlin; I was fitter, faster and stronger than ever. I was doing three-hour training runs on my own and not feeling tired!”

When she hobbled back to her hotel, and saw all the balloons, all the marathon swag, and the other runners with their medals, she happened to step into the lift with none other than Eliud Kipchoge and his coach. “That was definitely the highlight of the Berlin marathon. Getting in the lift and standing there with Eliud after he’d just WON the marathon. His coach looked at my foot and told me not to worry! I thought, well, if Eliud Kipchoge’s coach has told me it’s fine, it must be fine!”

Piling on the miles

Adrienne has just signed up for a 50K ultramarathon race – a great big leap in distance for her. She philosophises about the decision: “I have said before on my podcast that I’ll never do an ultra, because I always wonder why people aren’t happy with the distance they’ve done and feel the need to push for more.” A 5K leads to a 10K and then to a half marathon. “You don’t have to do these crazy things,” she laughs. “You can just run for half an hour, it’s fine!”

But the opportunity came and it’s for a good cause so she’s keen to clarify: “If there’s a cause it’s worth me dedicating the time emotionally and physically to, that’s fine. But I’m not the kind of person who wants to do more and more. I think in the running community, it’s good to understand that you don’t have to do those extreme things if you don’t want to. They are big challenges on the body and on your time and you don’t have to do those things to be considered a runner.”

And anyway, what with Covid and everything that’s going on at the moment, the ultramarathon seems a long way off for now.

In the meantime, she says, she’ll be more than happy keeping up with training for the shorter races. “When I have races in the diary, I see a difference in the consistency of my training and it gives me structure. I think without the scheduled races I would just go out and run for 45 minutes or an hour every single time so I put as many races as I can in the diary to keep me on track.

She smiles at the thought of getting back to normal. “As soon as races start up again, I think I’ll probably do 10!”

Written by

Rachel Ifans

Rachel Ifans

Completed her first virtual half marathon this year and enjoyed it almost as much as the real thing

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