Setting my pace for 2017

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to take my fitness a little more seriously than I had been since giving birth. I didn’t have a specific goal in mind, I just wanted to get fitter. I worked out a schedule, and tried to stick to it as best I could. But life happens and I struggled to find my “get-up-and-go” attitude. I even flirted with the idea of running. I did the odd 5km and 10km race, and for some unexplained reason I assumed that I was capable of finishing a 21km run. My thinking led to acting, and before I knew it I was registered for a 21km race, a trail run. My training was limited and when I stood at the start all I wanted to do is turn around and head back home.

I was proud of finishing the race, but I wasn’t very proud of the time it took me to cross the finish line. My ego got slightly bruised and I hung up my running shoes for a while.

At the end of last year I made a decision that 2017 would be different. Once my ego recovered I realised that if I was serious about running, getting my body fitter and stronger, then I would need to work a lot harder than I had the previous year.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

January 2017 saw me signing up for an intense workout class. SWEAT1000. Burn up to a thousand calories in one hour. I’ll never forget walking into the first class, feeling as though I was walking into an exam. My stomach was in knots, and my palms were sweaty. Yes, before the class even started my palms were already sweaty. I felt relieved when one of the regulars came up to me and offered some words of encouragement. He reassured me that it didn’t matter how fit, or in my case, unfit I was, I was there to get stronger. And it didn’t matter how fast or slow I was, but what mattered was that I kept moving. After a quick demo of how the treadmills work, the 60 minute gruelling experience began. The class is very fittingly called SWEAT1000. The sprints, the climbs, the uphill runs and the weight training had me sweating from every possible pore on my skin. I was exhausted, out of breath, but I had the biggest grin on my face. There were some moments when I was ready to walk out of the class, but the simple words of encouragement not only had me finishing the class, but returning every week after that. The second week was easier, the third even more so, and it had me thinking, “What else could I do if I put my mind to it?” SWEAT1000 had got me stronger than I had been in a long time, and this was the time to seriously start considering another attempt at a 21km race.

I soon realised that no amount of SWEAT1000, spinning and weight training were going to have me running race ready. They were all great at keeping me fit, strong and confident, but I needed running time on the road, or on a trail. Anywhere but on an indoor treadmill. This was going to be the start of my running journey and this was the year I was going to do it right.

I started with the Parkruns and yet again my ego suffered a little bit of a bruising. Even with all the training I was doing, I couldn’t seem to move past the 33 minutes finish time on a simple 5km run. I loved being outdoors, I enjoyed the feeling of running, but for some reason I couldn’t move past my own “mental” best. Slow and steady just wasn’t working for me anymore, and neither did changing my running playlist. I refused to allow this to be the end of my training, and of my running journey. I was determined that this year would be different, and in order to get different results, I would need to do something differently.

Running for me has usually been a time of solitude for me, a time when my earphones would blare out my favourite songs, and I had the time to clear my mind and de-stress. That worked for the first half an hour of my run, and when I thought about it, and admitted that I really am an extrovert, the issue was that I was getting bored and not tired. This is why SWEAT1000 was working for me. The upbeat, loud music, the instructor who truly makes you believe that you are stronger than you think, and the fellow sweaters who push you harder just by being there. This is why I loved the class as much as I did, and if I was going to make running work for me, I would need to make sure that bored, was the last thing I felt.

My first run with a friend proved I was right. We decided to enter a night trail run. What we didn’t consider was that this run would happen right after our demanding one hour workout. At the start of the race we were already feeling the burn in our trained muscles, but decided to continue on. We ran thorugh a muddied golf course, up gravelled hills, and eventually made it to the finish line in our best time to date. The feeling I had when running didn’t change. I loved the sound of my feet against the ground, the cool air hitting my lungs, and my muscles burning with a tingling sensation with every stride. What did change was the stronger companion I was running with who pushed me harder and encouraged me along the way. I’ll readily admit I’m not a natural runner, I’m still debating with myself whether I am at all a runner. I am, however, willing to work hard and put my heart into making my goals a reality.

I am truly blessed to be surrounded by selfless people who are much faster, fitter and naturally running talented, who take the time to run with me. They push me harder than I would push myself, and always have positive words of encouragement. It’s even encouraging when they shout at me to stop being lazy and tackle one more hill. This kind of comraderie is getting me through my running journey, and making my goal of a 21km race, in an hour less than last year, an achievable possibility.

To anyone who is reading this who wants to run, or get fitter. It will be hard. The first few times you will wonder why you are putting yourself through this kind of pain, and why you ever thought you could do it. Simple, because you can. Start slow, find your training style and keep pressing on. This applies whether you’re running, cycling, swimming or any exercise regimen of your choice. You will have better training days, you will have worse training days and you will have the days when all you want to do is sit on the couch indulging in ice cream. Keep your goal in mind, and reward your small wins. You might not win the next Tour de France, or compete in the upcoming Comrades, but you will be stronger than you were yesterday.