Friday, 10 March 2017

Learning to run

I hate running. I hate that my muscles hurt. I hate that I can't breathe properly. I hate that I sweat. I hate that EVERYONE else makes it look so easy. It's hard. At the beginning of January I could run 300 metres maximum before I'd walk and give up. This is just me recording my running journey.

Why did I decide to start running?  My husband does the Two Oceans Half Marathon every year; he is a natural. He didn't need much training and he does it well. We thought it would be funny if I applied for an entry to this year's race. I got in. My world came crashing down. I agreed that if I got in, I would train as if I'm running it but if by mid-March I can't at least run 15 kilometres at a decent pace, I'd sell my entry.

Many people are saying that's the wrong attitude to have and that I should put my mind to it and do it. I need to be realistic. I run extremely slowly and I started my training on 9 January 2017. Let's see how this goes.

My kit:
For my birthday, my 1-and-a-half-year-old son bought me a pair of New Balance running tights. My sister-in-law got me a New Balance running t-shirt, cap and socks to match. So I have one full outfit. I then bought a pair of Adidas tights and running t-shirt just to have at least two to alternate for the Monday and Wednesday. I bought a pair of Asics running shoes because the ones recommended for me were R2500 - I'm not ready for that kind of commitment yet. So my R800 (on sale) Asics need to take me through the next couple of runs, and only when I enjoy running, will I take it further and invest in the real deal. I also now own a Samsung Gear Fit watch (thanks, husband) - to track runs. I still have to figure out how to operate it properly. I didn't invest in those fancy watches all the runners have.  I've got one sports bra that I have to wash and re-use at each training session - I've just ordered another pair to keep me going. I still have to buy the Itheko running t-shirt, then I think I'm sorted for now.

9 January 2017
Joined Itheko Sports Athletic Club's 8-week running programme. It's for people who don't run/who think they can't run and just general beginners. We did about 4 kilometres at a very slow pace. VERY SLOW. So slow that even I could run the full 4km without needing to rest.

11 January 2017
Today we did uphill running. It was torture. We ran up past the Baxter and even further up towards UCT. Worst day of my life. But I managed and came back alive...just about.

So this is the general schedule - Monday and Wednesday you train (average 5km each time) till your 8 weeks are done, then you do your first 10km race.

Fast forward to 20 February 2017. I'm on week 7 and still going strong. I still struggle to run - it's only easier in the sense that I can push myself because I know I can do it (because I've done it before), but it's not easier in the sense that I can do it all more effortlessly. I still don't enjoy running, and every time I do it I hate myself. After a run I feel proud of myself... but then the hate kicks in at the next session again. I want to love running... but I'm still a long way from that.

A bit of background: I'm average height but above average weight ( I love eating). I don't do any fitness activities or training. I joined a gym but went for one month then never went back. I loved the vibe and the feeling at the finish line at the Two Oceans Marathon whenever I went to support my husband and his brother-in-law and always wondered what it would be like to have that feeling they have when they finish.  Maybe I won't get there this year, maybe I will. Next week is my first 10-kilometre race so I'll update as I go along.

1 March 2017 - 10km Lighthouse Run
It was torture. I started out too fast because I got carried away with what everyone else was doing. I ran with the constant fear of being the last one. After the first water point (3km) I was dead. I wanted to give up. I was running at 7,5 minutes a kilometre, which was way faster than my training ever went. So I walked a bit and bumped into someone who trains with me. We ran together and it went so well. We kept encouraging each other and we made it to the end. It wasn't easy...but it was doable. We were probably one of the last people through the finish line, but we made it.

Fast forward to 10 March 2017.  Tomorrow I'm doing the Constantia 15km run. Bear in mind my last race (that was also my first race) was a week ago at the lighthouse. So I'm taking a huge chance here. I'll update tomorrow - whether I finish or not.

11 March 2017 - The Constantia Village K-Way 15km
To give you a bit of background, my brother-in-law is a coach at Itheko  (Neezaaam Mohamed) and he agreed to run the race with me, at my pace and guide me through it so that he can see where I'm at and if I can manage the Two Oceans Half Marathon.

I'm always very anxious before any run - training or race- and this time was no different. Once the race started we headed off VERY slowly. So slowly that we were the last people in the race. I was getting worried and kept looking behind us. Neezaam told me not to worry about that and we kept going. As we kept going we started passing a few people and some people even joined us.  When we got to the first waterpoint I rejoiced and thought it was a resting opportunity. Neezaam said, "no stopping, keep moving, you can do a brisk walk while you have your water." And then off we went again. The race had lots of hills so it did feel like torture, but I just kept at it. By now our group was about 10 people running together - and easy pace and planned short walks in between.  By the time we reached 12km I felt like I needed to give up, so I slowed down and cheated whenever Neezaam wasn't looking (I stole walks).

We had 500 metres to go and I was ready to quit. He said, "Are you mad? You're at the finish line??!!" I didn't care - I wanted to walk. But as we turned the corner I saw all the people cheering and my husband (he had already finished) standing ready to take a pic of me coming in. I don't know where the energy came from but I started running like the most confident person in the race - haha. i finished with my head held high and a medal in my hand - 2hrs12 minutes. And Neezaam told me our goal is to finish at 2hr15.

Even though I literally had a personal coach all the way, I was still proud because he said he was expecting me to complain at every kilometre that I wanted to stop - and I only started the complaints after 12km.

His feedback was that I can do Two Oceans but I will have to work hard and I'll have to to get to a 8-8:30 mins per km comfortable pace to manage.

Kit update
I bought a new pair of running shoes - I forgot to mention that in my first 10km race I wore orthotics - bad idea. I got a blister within 3km so I removed them. The blister went away but popped up again after the 15km Constantia run. So I got worried that this will happen at Two Oceans. I popped into the Adidas Outlet store and found a pair of shoes I've been eyeing for a while - not for running, but because I loved the colours - they're called Adidas Pureboost X. I wasn't willing to Pay R2500 for them, though. Lo and behold, two days later I'm in there again and it's marked R899 - woohoo!  I bought them and they are sooooo comfortable. One issue I have with them is that they come off too easily. Someone stepped on my heel while running and the shoe came right off. This also happened when I tripped on a speedbump. So I'm a bit concerned about this for race day - I believe the crowds are huge and I can't afford to have my shoes coming off. There's also no way to tie it like you normally tie running shoes.  I also bought a new pair of tights from New Balance in Access Park - they feel good.

*** After this race I switched to the "advanced" training groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays where they had a Two Oceans programme. I finished the 8-week beginners programme I mentioned earlier. Their programme divided runners into their ideal finishing time Two Oceans. So it's those who want to finish in under 2hrs (what??), 2h15 , 2h30, 2h45 and 3hr (this is the slowest group - where I am).

Bear in mind I joined this group when they were halfway through their training so I missed a lot of the essential training, like the Southern Cross route and all the LSD (long, slow distance) runs on weekends.

18 March - Ravensmead 15km
A week later I tackled this 15km flat race. The club decided they want to have the biggest bus (a bus is basically a big group of people running together at the same pace). They said the pace would be the same as the slowest group.  I STRUGGLED! I was convinced they were runnig way faster than our slow group pace. I thought the race would be a bit easier because it was all flat - not the case.  I kept up with the bus, just about. I was always at the back and always pushing to catch up. Again, at the end I managed to finish strong because I saw the crowd cheering our huge bus. We finished at 2h15.  I felt a bit despondent after this run - like I wasn't getting better.

21 March - track training at Vygieskraal
We spent the morning running around a field - starting out slowly, then pushing and giving 80% effort (fast for me) and then slowing down to walk to the start, then starting again. We did this 5 times (after a 5-lap warm up). This was tough - but I don't mind it too much because I know there's a break to walk - whereas with running a route or a race, you don't get a break.

26 March - my first LSD - 18km
We met at Green Point Urban Park and ran to Camps Bay, up Kloof Nek (a steep, long road). I enjoyed this run. I'm not sure if it was because the pace was doable or if I was just having a good day, but at no point did I wish I wasn't there...which was a first for me. When we got to around 16km I started struggling. I felt like just walking the rest. so I did a walk-run routine. This run made me feel more confident about Two Oceans.

After this run, everyone was encouraging me to do a race in Gordon's Bay the next weekend. It was a 21km race that was a good training run for Two Oceans. I didn't do it. Partly because I felt scared and partly because it was a mission to get there and arrange a babysitter and all that other admin.  I don't know if that was a bad move on my part but here I am with no 21km experience.

I then did the next LSD which was a 15km run from the club house (Rosebank) to Claremont, up Wynberg Hill and to Kirstenbosch Gardens top gate, then the 3km finish stretch of the Two Oceans run (to UCT) and then back to the Club House. It was tough. I ended up running the first part on my own because I fell behind on Wynberg Hill. A good taste of what's to come.

This brings me to my first race completely on my own:

9 April - Central Athletics Challenge - 10km
The race started out slowly because there are quite a few bottlenecks. Being the lazy person that I am, I didn't make an effort to pass it, I just went with it and enjoyed the walk because I was too afraid to start running.  Eventually I had to start. The first 3-4kms are always tough for me. It's the section where I want to give up and I feel like I'm not going to make it. Once I pass that phase I'm OK-ish. Before I knew it I saw the first waterpoint - 3km down... yay!  I saw a few buses that I was tempted to join but I ran past them and just kept going. By 6km I started feeling a but tired but I kept on. When I saw we only had 2km to go, I felt glad. But in any race, even 1km feels like forever. I checked the time and felt despondent again. I was already approaching 1hr15.  I finished the race at 1h30mins. When I got to the finish line it looked like everyone had already finished. It made me feel disappointed because I know I should have been faster.  Whether it was the walking at the beginning or the fact that I was just slow - I'll never know. Either way I got my medal and this was the last race before the big day.

We will do our last training on Tuesday 11 April (an easy 5km, they say). We'll see...

* The training was a 5km run but it was fast. So my muscles are aching a bit. Hopefully it'll recover for the weekend - because that brings us to the Two Oceans Marathon...

15 April - Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (half)
Nerves, nerves, nerves. We're all lined up in Claremont Main Road singing the national anthem and it's almost 6am. I'm in the E seeding - so, right at the back. The gun goes at 6am and group A heads off. At 6:10am another gun goes and B, C and D head off. So now it's our turn. I'm feeling super emotional because I'm doing this big race on my own and everyone I know already started running at 6:10am.  And off we go...

It's a slow start with lots of walking in between because of the crowds, we head up Protea Drive towards Edinburgh Drive. No complaints...yet. As we get onto Edinburgh drive, the road just keeps getting steeper and steeper. This isn't ideal for me. We just started running and I'm not even warm..and I haven't found my rhythm yet.  I struggle up the hill and notice how I'm moving further and further to the back of the race. It's not looking good. I see one of the Itheko coaches come past me with a girl in my training group - he's helping her out and I think I should join them so that I can at least get out of this situation. I couldn't even keep up with them. By the time I reached the top of Wynberg Hill I felt like giving up and just getting an Uber home. While I was deciding what I'm going to do, I just kept running. I was wearing one of those bands that show you where you need to be in the race at particular times. I wasn't making the cut. I started noticing the crowd behind me thinning out and the sweeper car lurking in the background. I spotted a couple that looked like they knew what they were doing so I tried to run near them.

I eventually got to a loop where the people ahead of me were coming past me so I could see some people I recognised. As I got to round the corner, I ran the same way they were so now I could see all the people still coming on behind me. That's when I spotted the "Cut-off bus". This is the pace setter running with the people who want to make it for cut off (i.e. they want to finish the race, even if they come in a second before cut off).   This is when I decided I needed to pull up my socks. I needed to stay ahead of this bus, so that if I struggle later, I can still fall back to the bus. But if I run with the bus and can't keep up, then chances are I won't finish the race in time.

So I kept going. I ran Ladies Mile - it's all a blur because I just kept thinking about what lies ahead (Southern Cross). People always talk about how tough it is and this bothered me throughout the run - whether or not I can make it up there.  Once I reached the 10km mark, I knew the infamous road was just ahead. Bear in mind, I was already on 1hr32 minutes by now. If you do the math... it didn't look good for me making cut-off.

I reached Southern Cross Drive. I tried to keep a steady pace and just find a rhythm. It felt like I had a good plan but it didn't last long. After about 400 metres I needed to walk. I kept the walk-run routine for a few more minutes and then saw the 11km mark. This was exciting because I realised I already passed a kilometre of Southern Cross. I kept going at this pace and by some miracle, I made it to the top. With a lump in my throat and watery eyes I gave myself a nod of approval.  I remember my husband telling me I mustn't be fooled into thinking it's all downhill from here. So I kept that in mind, had some water and Coke from the stand and tried to pick up the pace a little. I figured, I managed Southern Cross - I might as well push to finish this race. The sun was out and it started getting a bit uncomfortable, but I just kept moving.

Once I reached the Rhodes Drive descent, I was on a mission. I started pushing downhill at a pace I never knew I could run. I started moving past so many people I saw ahead of me, and I smiled, and thought, "I'm actually doing this. I might just finish this race in time."  I started hearing people shout, "12 minutes to cut off at 18km"  This meant that if I didn't reach that point in 12 minutes, I wouldn't be allowed to continue. I figured I should reach that point a little sooner so that the time I have left means I have 10 minutes per kilometre till the end (30 minutes for 3 kilometres). This should be enough time for me to walk at certain points if I'm tired - because by this point I was knackered.  I passed the 18 kilometre mark and kept going. I needed to walk in between - I couldn't believe they'd make the end of this race filled with uphills!!

When I heard someone shouting, "Come on!! 1 more kilometre!!" I thought, "You've got this."  I started smiling again but this time it was an emotional I'm-going-to-cry smile. I couldn't believe I was reaching the entrance to UCT. I could hear the music and all the people cheering. I pulled myself together and started running like it was the easiest thing in the world (haha, things we do when there are spectators). I reached the grass and heard the cheers - I'm sad that I didn't even look around to take it all in. I just looked at the finish line and kept running towards it.

When I reached it I just started crying. And I still can't believe I made it. My time was 3 hours, 6 minutes. Not an amazing time by running standards - but for me it was a miracle!  I finished 4 minutes before cut-off. The feeling was amazing. I completed a Two Oceans Half Marathon - my first 21km run...ever.

The journey wasn't an easy one. I had to sacrifice a lot of time, arrange a lot of babysitters and my husband and I had to alternate some races and training days so that one of us is home with the little one. Our parents also sacrificed a lot of their time to look after our son while we attended races or when we trained till late. I can't remember when last I had a full week of cooking - we ate at our folks' houses a lot of the time because we were tired or just didn't have time to prepare meals.   So none of this came easily.  But I'm glad that this four-month sacrifice paid off and I achieved my goal and my husband beat the time he wanted to do.

Do I love running? I can't say I love it. I don't mind it. I still curse myself while I'm doing it. But the feeling after you finish something you were never able to do before, is what makes you keep going back.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. I wish you well on yours, if you ever choose to embark on it.