I was that girl at school who permanently had a sick note for sports lessons. It was always â€˜that time of the monthâ€™, a headache, a sore tummy, a sprained wristâ€¦ the list goes on. And my mum, faced with a palpitating nervous wreck, would diligently sign the notes excusing me from whatever team sport was on the agenda. As a teenager (and a fully grown woman) I am uncoordinated and uncompetitive.
Ball games are my worst nightmare.Â I simply cannot throw or catch. So you can imagine everyoneâ€™s surprise when, at the age of 21, I ran my first half marathonâ€¦ and my second at 22. And my third at 23! The girl who hated sports has well and truly caught the running bug. So how did I do it?
Start Small. Very Small
After failing to get excited by exercise in my teenage years, my weight started to creep up when I reached university. The only activity I did was walking to lectures, and even that got me into a sweat. Blessed with the classic pear-shaped body, my thighs were starting to reflect my leisurely life.
So on a hot sunny day, on a whim, I pulled on my completely inappropriate Converse (the only vaguely trainer-like shoes I had) and went for a jog. I ran for about a mile around the park and back again, ending up as a sweaty mess. But as I showered my red face clean, I realised how exhilarated I felt- and that was where it all began.
From then on, I went for regular, small runs around the same park. Swapping my converse for a cheap pair of running trainers (my ankles were starting to complain) and hooked up to my iPod, I would jog slowly for about 10 minutes. I learnt quickly that running flat-out would get me nowhere, so I lowered my expectations and kept within my limits. From there, the miles started to creep up.
Enter a Race
I entered my first 10k run after a couple of glasses of wine. Â ItÂ seemed like a great idea at the time. Luckily for me, paying the Â£20 fee stopped me from backing out when I woke up the next morning (Â£20 is a lot of money for a student after all). So I started increasing my runs from ten minutes to 20 minutes, and then from 20 minutes to half an hour. Soon I was running 3 miles quite comfortably and I was feeling good.
To encourage me even further I brought myself some proper running clothes- being kitted out in expensive Lycra really puts you in the mood. Upping the distance to 6 miles was a challenge, but I soon learnt to â€˜splitâ€™ my runs- running the first half slowly and then increasing the pace in the second half. Finishing my first 10k was a fantastic feeling.Â I displayed my trophy proudly on my desk and pinned my number on the wall. Best of all, I lost around 4 pounds in the run up to the race.
Rope a Mate In
Seeing how well my running was going, I managed to persuade a friend to come on a run with me. Luckily, she was my height and about the same fitness level, so we were evenly matched. Abandoning my iPod, we began to plan our routes and start going out earlier and earlier. The best thing about running with a friend was the motivation;Â you canâ€™t back out if there is somewhere waiting for you in the cold and the dark at 7am!
After another few glasses of wine one night we thought it would be a great idea to enter a half marathon (you can see a pattern emerging here). And so the next day we found ourselves with no choice but to create a training schedule, and stick to it religiously. Runnerâ€™s World has some great ready-made schedules for runners of all abilities. We had about 4 months before the race, so had to up our mileage quickly. We promised ourselves that after our first 10 miler we would eat a foot long Subway- the perfect inspiration!
After my first half marathon I felt like I was walking on air. Well, actually I was exhausted, I ached, I nearly threw up, and I couldnâ€™t walk up stairs for about 3 days afterwards (physiotherapy was covered on my health insurance, but luckily I didn’t need to use it!) But it was all worth it when I crossed that finish line and was handed my medal.
Although I wasnâ€™t going to win any prizes for my time (I am only 5 Ft 1 Â and my legs are not built for speed), I did not stop to walk once. From that moment, my love affair with running really kicked off. The girl who got picked last for the team at school had run 13.1 miles, and done it in style.
Since then, I have run another two half-marathons, and I am considering entering a marathon. The best part about running is that you can take it at your own pace, and there are no team members relying on you to do well. If I can do it, anyone can,Â so get out there and take that first step. You may become addicted!