Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inside the mind of a runner

9.58 seconds! Wow - that's pretty fast....I'm almost sure that Mr Bolt can run a 100 metres faster than I can down a pint and I'm no slouch! Whilst I'm no Asain or Paula Radcliffe, mainly because I'm slow, a little on the round side and can't run 26 miles, I want to share with you what goes through my mind when I'm running. There's the preparation for the run, the run itself and the postmortem after - largely because I'm knackered and want to collapse! Not to mention selecting the playlist on my iPod and choosing the distance and route I'll run.

What makes us do it?

Well for me, running is one of the only times of the day where I have complete control over what I'm doing. Due to the weather here in Vietnam, I have to run late to avoid the worst of the heat and humidity. That being said, I'm usually running at a heat of 30 degrees C, or 86 for the Americans, at 10-11pm which is the time I venture out. When I'm pounding the street I decide the speed I run at, the length of the run and how hard I'll push myself. On most occasions I run within myself. I run at a comfortable speed, occasionally increasing it should I feel like raising the tempo. As I'm not a competitive runner, the time doesn't really bother me. When I was running in Korea, there were organised events every weekend and I was always seeking to improve my time over 10km. In the future I hope to run a sub 50 minute 10k run which would be a great personal achievement. However, as there aren't any timed events in VN, I'm now running purely for the endorphin feel good factor at the end of the run! Also, there's nothing better than feeling physically exhausted after doing something that you know not many other people do in the temperatures and conditions out here.

Running is more than about weight control and fitness for me. Ever since I was young, I've loved sports. In my early teens I was very active and was involved in nearly of the sports teams at school. Invariably, when you get older you stop playing sports and the weight piles on. I'm not sure whether it's the competitive side, goal for constant improvement in performance or the camaraderie with other people but I've never felt more comfortable than I do in a team. Whilst playing in a team has great benefits, it can also be frustrating! As a cricketer, there's no worse feeling than scoring a 50 or ton but to go on and lose the game. You can perform well as an individual but if your team mates have a bad day at the office you'll lose. Conversely, in a team you can be lifted or have your deficiencies papered over by those if form. Running, however, is different as your alone.

Mind games

I usually run about 7km when I go out. I think this represents a good workout and is sometimes a challenge or comfortable distance depending on how well I've conditioned myself. As I'm most often alone, why do I not stop and walk when the going get tough? And what strategies do I use to keep going? Well, to answer the first question I'm stubborn. I hate stopping during a run. I see it as a failure. As my mindset is that it's wrong to stop it drives me on to run just that little bit further. I don't run to impress my friends and the only person I do it for is myself. Therefore the only person I need to justify stopping to is me. I'm a pretty tough judge on myself so I need to have a good reason for taking a breather!

When I feel really tired there are several things I try to keep placing one foot after the other. The first is playing with my ever faithful companion, my iPod. It common for me to feel really tired after 7km. During 10km runs, I tend to have a lull between 7km-9km before picking it up for the final push. At this time, I need upbeat songs to pick up my pace and my mindset. If you're anything like me, you'll have certain songs that always give you a lift, no matter what you're doing. I like to call these my 'power' songs. Unfortunately I can't tell you what these are but I'll tell you it's a sorry mix between boyband tunes, songs from a certain musical and (maybe surprisingly) Scandinavian metal. The next thing I do is to set myself small targets. For example, 'just run to the end of this song' or 'get to that set of traffic lights'. Finally, there's a point in every run where you know you can make it home regardless of how tired you are. I've found mine to be 1km from my target. When I get to that point of a run, suddenly my mentality changes. I know I can do it. Any questions of walking evapourate, and the heaviness in my legs lifts and I'm able to finish on a high.

What do you do when you can't be bothered to run?

I try to run 4 times a week. However, the heat can be draining in VN and as 10pm is pretty late in the day I often don't have the urge to go out. Therefore going for a run isn't always on the top of my list of priorities. That being said, I get an overpowering sense of guilt on weeks where I don't run. It's almost like an addiction. Smokers will tell you that they can't give up and they get a buzz everytime they draw from a cigarette. Well running is the same for me. I feel so good after a run that I want to go again! If I don't get the endorphin buzz for a while, my body craves it. The more runs I go on, the more I want to run! So if I can't be bothered to run, I just remember how good I usually feel after and that gives me the spur. Failing that I try to set a target or sign up for a run. If I sign up to do something, I'll generally take it seriously and as I hate failing I'll put the required effort into it. This fear of underachieving will then drive me to go for a jog, even if I don't have a particularly strong urge to do so.


A few final words. Not everyone enjoys running. However, I know a lot of people who like it but don't do it for whatever reason. I just want to get a few suggestions that may inspire (or put you off) digging out your trainers, slinging on some shorts and running a couple of kms.
  • Be realistic - On your first couple of runs, just run what you feel comfortable with. After that will understand what your current limitations are and you can start to build from there.

  • Do increase the distance you run too quickly. Maybe an increase of 500m a week if you want to increase it would be good. It all depends on what your goals are, but you needn't lengthen your route unnecessarily and you shouldn't expect to be able to complete a marathon after a couple of months. Remember running is a psychological sport and setting unrealistic goals will put you off it.

  • Choose a run that gives you options to extend or shorten it depending on how you feel. My current run is about 7km. However, I can easily turn it into a 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9km run should I be having a good or bad day. This can be psychologically beneficial as completing a 6km run without walking is better than finishing a 9km run when I've had to stop because I didn't feel great.

  • Try to make sure you eat and drink well throughout the day. It may sound obvious by I always run much better if I've taken onboard a lot of water and eaten a couple of decent meals in the day. Basic, but important.

  • I'm certainly not in great shape. When I started running I was pretty fat. A few people pointed and laughed at me as I trundled past them. However, I bet none of them do exercise as if they did they'd understand what you're doing. Don't let the fear of embarrassment stop you. Many people don't like going to the gym for that very reason and I find it sad where people are put off doing something they enjoy because of the prejudices of other people.
So now you have no excuses! For those of you in HCMC, there is a 5km run coming up in early September. Come and join me for a gentle jog! I promise you, you'll be hooked! Running with a crowd of a couple of thousand people is great fun and is a great way to start your running career as running alone can be difficult when you first go! Happy running!!

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