It was my husband who got me involved in running.
After years of saying ‘no’, ‘no’ and ‘no’ some more, especially as I didn’t relish the idea of getting up early to brave the wind and rain in winter, he returned from parkrun one Saturday morning and said they were desperate for volunteers. So desperate that the runs might be cancelled if no one came forward.
The next weekend I was standing on one of the course corners as a marshal, cheering and clapping everyone on with our last greyhound, Alfie, by my side.
‘But don’t get any ideas,’ I told my husband. ‘I’m never going to actually run.’
I had always hated running when I was younger. Guaranteed to get a stitch every time I tried. And so out of breath it was embarrassing. The only time I did some running was at university when my bike was stolen and I had to get to the river for rowing practice. It wasn’t long before I bought myself another bike.
Fast forward 30 odd years, twice as many extra pounds and only dog walking as exercise and I certainly didn’t feel in any kind of shape to start running. But I was tempted. Watching everyone run or walk past me every week as they completed their parkrun made me realise that I wasn’t too old, large or unfit to give it a go.
Too long, didn’t read: Go vegan; Start running; Join Vegan Runners; Eat cake; Be happy; Don’t fall over; If I can do it, anyone can.
My first attempt at doing the 5K parkrun course was as the tailwaker with the dog. That was no problem, but when I tried to push Alfie to move at a slightly faster pace when I wasn’t volunteering, he didn’t want to know. Since it was August by then and far too hot for him to come with me, I tried a couple of parkruns without him, jeffing (this refers to the run-walk-run method promoted by Jeff Galloway) all the way.
But my resolve crumbled again and Alfie and I spent the rest of 2018 watching everyone run past corner number 3, which became our favourite volunteering position as it was the furthest to walk to.
And then, a week before Christmas, Alfie had to be put down because of cancer. Almost two years to the day after we’d had to say goodbye to our other greyhound, Lara, also because of cancer.
Even going to a supermarket was hard at first because I had to walk past the pet-product aisle without buying any dog treats. There was no way I was going to volunteer without him. But as my daughter had joined in the running by that stage, I didn’t want to stay at home on my own either.
That’s when it all really started. Although I was one of the last to cross the finishing line on 29 December 2018, clocking a time of 42.48, I made it my New Year’s resolution to keep at it. It’s the only one I’ve seen through until the very end of the year and beyond.
“If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.”
After four months, I’d cut five minutes off my time even though I was still jeffing. The goal became to run the entire course without stopping, which didn’t happen until the beginning of June, but at a minute slower than my previous PB of 37.56.
It then took me another four months to smash that PB. I finally managed my last PB breakthrough just before Xmas 2019 with my best ever time of 35.39.
If you’ve heard of the NHS Couch to 5K plan, you might be surprised that it took me so long to run the distance without stopping and that I still haven’t got anywhere near a time of 30 minutes. Don’t be. And don’t be hard on yourself if you’ve been following the programme and haven’t achieved that either.
What you can attain in running will depend on your general fitness level when you start, your age, gender, injuries, etc. My husband’s been running for years and he still finds it hard to run consistently under 30 minutes.
“Measure success in life by effort and doing your best, then it is always in your hands to succeed and to be proud of yourself.”
Becoming a vegan runner was the easy bit. We’d all switched from vegetarianism to veganism in the spring of 2017, so technically I’ve always been a vegan runner. But it wasn’t until I saw some other parkrunners shoot past me wearing the green and black, and Googled how to buy us the shirts, that I realised Vegan Runners was a club. We all promptly joined and have been enjoying the benefits of forming part of this rather special running community ever since.
Unfortunately, along with so many other activities, COVID-19 has meant parkruns and all the other races we’d signed up for have been cancelled. This was a real blow as I was just starting to ramp up my running to include some 10Ks.
We’d also begun socialising regularly with other vegan runners at meet-ups in the south, sometimes followed by a vegan breakfast together too. In fact I was well hooked on parkrun tourism (running at as many different parkruns as possible) and still want to complete the alphabet challenge one day. Running a range of courses makes the whole experience more interesting, challenging and enjoyable.
Since lockdown started, we’ve mostly run around our local municipal golf course on our own or along the promenade when it’s not inundated with visitors. I’ve even done 5K in the garden, running over 120 lengths. But that’s nothing compared to fellow vegan runners who’ve run marathons and ultras in their gardens to raise money for charity.
I know I shouldn’t grumble, especially as so many worldwide have been confined to their homes for weeks, but it’s been hard sometimes to find the motivation to run with no weekly events. That’s why I’m glad I signed up for Race at Your Pace. Every month I set myself the goal of clocking up 50 miles, thus forcing myself to establish some kind of schedule.
A minor injury put paid to that in February. And last weekend I somehow tripped over my own feet and landed splat on my knee, so it won’t be happening this month either.* Once the summer is over and it’s not so hot, I might be able to make up for the lost miles and still end the year with 600 to my name.
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
And why is the first 5K the hardest? Because it takes about 1.5K (around one mile) to get my breathing under control and stop telling myself I hate running, won’t make it to the end and should just stop.
In kilometres 2 and 3, my legs start hurting a bit, but I feel more confident about finishing. Then comes the lull in the all-important KM 4 when I feel myself flagging and orders to my legs to pick up the pace are ignored.
Finally, it’s the last 1000 metres, helpfully marked at my local parkrun on the path. Again, I try to speed up, but it’s far easier to plan than to make my body respond. When the finish line’s in sight, however, I usually manage to find enough energy to sprint to the end. Because it’s nearly all over!
It’s on training runs when I keep on running past the 5K mark that I suddenly start to believe I could keep running forever (but currently actually no further than just over 10K). That feeling of elation and sense of achievement, which money could never buy, spur me on to lace up, get out there whatever the weather, and not give up. Because 2021’s goals are the Thorney Island Trail Run (12.9K)** and a year-end total of 1200 km.
February 2022 update
* This injury kept me out of action for months and I only began getting back into running properly in January 2022. I’m following Jeff Galloway’s 10K training plan, which comes with my new Garmin watch.
** This run eventually took place towards the end of 2021 and because of my knee injury I had to power walk it.
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