Things that I think and do
In my first year at university I made the bold decision to enter the Leeds Half Marathon – a decision borne of a bizarre need to impress my then girlfriend (who turned out to be not particularly impressed) and curiosity about whether I could survive such an ordeal.
What then followed was my first real foray into the world of running, the metric system and the infamous Jogger’s Nipple. This brave and uncharacteristic choice to voluntarily run 13 miles signalled the first time I’d ever given serious thought to running for any other reason than simply to get the last muffin.
I’m not built for running – childhood flab and the indulgence of my grandparents has dictated my body shape throughout my growth – but I maintain that pretty much anybody could run if they really want to.
Even my usually supportive family viewed my naïve optimism about the half-marathon with some considerable doubt; so much so that my grandmother insistent that I wouldn’t make it past the five-mile mark. No doubt they were highly impressed when I not only finished it, but finished it without having to call ambulance.
I don’t want to give off any illusion that I’ve become some kind of super-athletic exercise fiend, largely because that illusion would evaporate as soon as you saw me attempting to tackle any incline steeper than your average disabled ramp.
However, from my limited experience in this strange and unforgiving world I am now qualified to pass on a few tips.
1. Buy some proper shoes
I’m switching my jovial and humorous hat for my more serious one now, because this is actually a hint worth listening to. Running for more than 15 minutes in shoes not designed for that purpose will probably give you blisters, and blisters are not big or clever. Actually, they can be big. They’re definitely not clever though, and as well as being painful and inconvenient, they’ll stop you pursuing your newfound passion for exercise.
Generally an ordinary pair of running shoes will be fine. If you’re really serious about it (like some kind of loony) then you may want to go to an actual running shop and get your feet measured. They’ll even analyse the way you run and find shoes based on that. I doubt any pair of trainers can help me shuffle up a hill any faster.
2. Don’t surround yourself with run-crazy enthusiasts
As soon as you advertise your intention to take up running, a telepathic message will be sent to anyone nearby who’s ever run more than seven miles, and they’ll be magnetically drawn towards you on a mission to give advice.
These people will proudly demonstrate their knowledge by giving you a forty-minute lecture detailing all the routes they know in the local area. They will also give you the distances in kilometres instead of miles. Running will suddenly cause them to turn European and abandon the imperial measurement system. While I can roughly estimate a mile, I doubt I could accurately tell you how far 100 metres is, let alone “10k” (no-one uses full words either).
These people know how long it should take to run 5k and 10k (3 miles and 6.25 miles in real life) and will regale you with heroic stories of finishing marathons under horrific circumstances,including anecdotes that are so hilarious as to be, in fact, catatonically boring.
They will also map out their runs on the Interweb to show the world how amazing they are. I have to admit that I have also done this, but in my defence it was because I wanted to know how far I’d just run (in miles) and anyway the runs I go on wouldn’t excite even the most impressionable of people.
3. Go with someone
Alan Sillitoe once wrote about the ‘loneliness of the long distance runner’. I don’t know who Alan Sillitoe was but I’ll assume he had some experience of running because he’s hit the metaphorical nail on the head there.
Obviously running on your own is by definition lonely, but I’m sure Mr Sillitoe is making a deeply profound statement with many layers of meaning. Nonetheless, for me the problem isn’t so much loneliness as a complete lack of willpower and motivation.
The answer to both these problems is to go running with someone. This is where it gets a bit tricky because of course you don’t want to go with those hardcore running extremists we discussed before, but at the same time you need someone who will motivate you. This will involve a discussion, and possibly a demonstration, of your approximate running pace and an agreement.
The main benefit of going with someone else is the motivation –if either one of you stop you’ll look like a total wimp. And then you’ll be even lonelier.
4. Invest in plasters and/or a proper running t-shirt
Because no-one wants painful nipples.