My dirty little secret.

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‘No-one ever said it was going to be easy.’

The opening line of Inspiral Carpets 1994 top 20 single ‘I Want You’. But also relevant to anyone out there aspiring to achieve things in their life. Obviously, I am talking about physical achievements here, but if you want to relate it to something dull and boring (like just about any job in the world) then feel free to do so!

Much to my surprise and incredulity, I find these days that I am often asked for hints, tips, advice etc about all things running. I still feel like a beginner to be honest so I only offer advice with the double caveat that firstly I’m no expert/coach and secondly everyone is different anyway. Certainly in the case of running, what works for one person (me) will not necessarily be the magic formula for someone else (you!).

But one thing that is true in running is this; if you are wanting to improve your performance, don’t expect an easy ride. Do expect to have to work for it. I get a bit fed-up (OK I get really p***ed off) when people say “Oh it’s alright for you, you’re a good runner.” Well yes, I suppose you could say that I am half decent now, but I didn’t used to be – it has taken, and still takes, a bit of effort and sacrifice.

‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!’

I’m an OK runner now because I work hard at it. Just like everyone else, I began with that fear of even putting my trainers on and the utter exhaustion that followed trying to simply trot round a 3 mile loop from my house. And I’m not talking long ago either. I’m 44 now (yikes!) but I was 38 when I finally made a conscious decision to stop being an unfit layabout and get myself a bit fitter.

Is it easy? NO!

There’s nothing easy about setting your alarm for 5.45am on a Saturday so you can get a long run in without ruining the family day. There’s nothing easy about going out at 10pm after a day at work having not eaten yet because you have too much work to do and you want to read a story with the kids and put them in bed and your wife also has too much work to do and you haven’t ironed tomorrow’s clothes and the kitchen needs cleaning and the little ‘un needs a fancy dress outfit for the morning and you need to pop to the shop ‘cos you’re nearly out of milk again and oh look there’s a couch and a TV and there’s Facebook and Twitter to browse.

What I’m basically saying is –

  1. Don’t stand there and tell me you’d like to do it but you haven’t got time. I HAVEN’T GOT TIME! Teaching these days is such a relentless, all-consuming, life-swallowing, happiness-killing, family-life ruining occupation that I could sit in the house every minute of every day (and night) working (I sometimes do) and I still wouldn’t be even in the slightest bit up-to-date with anything. And that’s before I even stop to consider the needs of my poor neglected family.
  2. Don’t enter a race (or tell me you’re entering a race) without accepting whatever preparing for that race entails. Guess what? You won’t get fit for it by reading about it. You won’t get fit for it by talking about it. You won’t get fit for it by buying all the kit for it! (I know loads of people who do all three of these things!) You have to actually go outside and train for it too! No excuses. You don’t have to follow some of those ridiculous training plans out there on the t’interweb but you do actually need to go out and train – whatever the weather, whatever the other things are that you have to do. If you don’t want to train for it, fair enough – DON’T ENTER IT!
  3. Don’t tell me I’m ‘addicted to running’ or some other similar crap. “It’s easier for you to go out running because you love it!” Er, no… Here it comes, my dirty little secret…..

I DON’T LOVE RUNNING – I HATE IT!

OK, maybe hate is a little strong. Let me explain myself here.

  • Nine days out of ten I would much rather be sat on my arse eating crisps and cake and bacon butties and beer. That would be easier. In many cases it would be nicer. Often I would be happier.
  • I get really hacked off looking through photos in running magazines at models beaming away as they skip up a mountain / along a river bank / down a back alley / across a beach etc. It’s a totally bollocks false image of what most of us feel when out running. For once, I would love it if they showed proper pictures of proper runners showing proper feelings while doing proper running. Here’s a good example:-
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This is Mike from our club (Wigan Harriers). He’s a very good runner. There is no pleasure in this face. He isn’t ‘enjoying running’. He isn’t skipping through a field with the wind rustling his hair. He is just relieved that he hasn’t died a horrible, grizzly death at the National Cross Country Championships. He isn’t happy. He won’t be happy for some time afterwards. His wife won’t be happy when she sees the state of the bathroom afterwards, either. (And if you think he’s an exception, take a look at the face of the guy behind him!)

 

  • There is a ridiculously fine line between fit me and 17 stone, lard-arse me. It’s determination, not love of running, that’s the difference between my two-selves. Determination, and the knowledge that I am just a whisker away from being a totally lazy, miserable sod! (And the amount of cake I eat, I’d have to add ‘fat’ into that sentence too!)
  • I don’t skip out of bed at 6am on a Saturday shouting “Yippee, it’s horrible out there! Let’s go running!” I don’t charge in from work screaming “I am so excited about that 10 miler I have planned!” I would rather not do it. It would be much easier not to do it.
  • The fact that I am half decent at it doesn’t make it easier. In fact, in many cases it makes it harder. I probably COULD skip that run and, if anything, the rest might actually do me some good. But most of the time I still go out if I’ve planned to.
  • I suppose what I am trying to say is – if you feel these things about running (or swimming, the gym, cycling – whatever) I am no different. I’m not trying to put you off here. In fact I’m trying to show some solidarity. I feel the same things as you. What I am trying to say is that getting fit and healthy doesn’t happen by magic. (Or especially not by reading about it, talking about it and/or purchasing kit and equipment for it!) Ultimately, whether you are literally taking your first running steps on a ‘Couch to 5K’ plan or trying to run a marathon PB or complete your first Ultra, effort is required.

The only person who can put that effort in is YOU. The only thing stopping you is YOU. Excuses are exactly that – excuses. (We all have them.)

Blimey, I’m grumpy today! Sorry everyone, I just had to get that out of my system.

Let’s get positive here! You don’t want problems, you want solutions! Let’s spin this depressing tale of woe on it’s head!

Sooooooo, without further ado, I present……. (da, da, daaaaaa!)

Sticks’ Super Hints And Tips To Get Your Butt Out Of The Door Even Though You Might Not Want To And I’ve Just Spent The First Fifteen Paragraphs Telling You Why It’s Rubbish But Now I Want You All To Forget About Everything I’ve Just Said And Read This Bit And Then Get All Positive And Dust Off Your Plimsoles And Go And Give It  A Whirl!

I can’t make you put your trainers/lycra/swim stuff/gym kit on. I have no magic wand (even though my daughters clearly think I do). All I can give you are the motivational tools that get me out of the door on a regular basis. So, in no particular order:

1 – Don’t think about it – just do it! (Hmm, ‘Just Do It’ – catchy. Might use that. Could catch on.)

Don’t ever think. Thinking is massively over-rated. I have got a long way in life (well, I suppose that is debatable) by basing all my major life decisions on knee-jerk reactions. I would never have gone to Uni if I’d thought about it (and, therefore, never have met Leanne). I would never have accepted that first teaching job in Liverpool (thus meaning I wasn’t going back home to Bradford) if I’d thought about it. I would not have moved schools since as application forms are hard work and interviews are scary, we wouldn’t be living in Wigan, we wouldn’t have taken the kids skiing (certainly not as babies!) and we DEFINITELY wouldn’t be having a third child if we’d thought about it!!!

But, for the purposes of this blog, I would NEVER go out running if I thought about it.

A million things would stop me: Work, weather, a big hill, getting muddy, my poor children, my even poorer wife, I’m hungry, I know it’s going to hurt, it seems such a long way, I’m too tired, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s too windy, it’s too frosty, I’ll go later, I’ll just do that first, I’ll go tomorrow, I’ll rest until the weekend.

NNNNOOOOOO!!!! DON’T THINK.

Just put your stuff on and step outside. Don’t even think about where you’re going to go if you don’t want to. Just set off. And if you absolutely HAVE TO think about something, think about number 2 on the list…

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The Northern Cross Country Championships, Knowsley Safari Park, January, 2017. A brutal mudfest. (Just look at that mud! THE WHOLE WAY! I PROMISE YOU!) I would never enter this race if I thought about it. An hour of torture every year. Never again. (Until next year when I don’t think about it and enter again.)

2 – Think about how good you will feel AFTER you’ve done it!

This is it. My NUMBER 1 motivational tool. That’s why I put it at number 2 on my list. (See? Not thinking.)

Often, the only thing that gets me out of the door is thinking how pleased I will be when I get back. Early Saturday morning get-ups are torture; I’m so tired. I literally dread the thought of 20+miles and getting muddy most weeks. But if I can just make it outside, I know I’ll see at least one lovely thing while I’m out: sunrise, deer, assorted other wildlife, view, other dedicated souls doing the same thing. And I know that, come 10am, when a lot of people I know may just be waking up, I’ll already have achieved something that most people can’t do and my bacon butty will taste just that little bit sweeter.

Above: See, if you do get up early you might, just occasionally, be rewarded with views like these.

3 – Run first.

If you have loads of stuff to do, run first. Remember, I’m not talking hours here. A 20 minute walk/trot in the fresh air actually does make all the stresses of work/home more tolerable. As a general rule, I’m more productive when I get back.

In the holidays I get up and run straight away (don’t think about it!) if it’s at all possible. This works for me because I feel better about the entire rest of the day knowing I’ve already ‘done’ my healthy bit for the day. If I have already ‘achieved’ and it’s not even 9am yet, I have the rest of the day to achieve loads more. If I do anything else first, the whole “I’ll do it later” cycle kicks in WITH EVERYTHING – not just the run!

Personally, running before a work day isn’t something I’ve managed. I’m determined to explore it a bit this summer, mostly because I need to up my mileage for this year’s big ultra run. All my work day running has always been in the evenings – but it’s even harder then, so I doff my cap to all you early morning runners! I’m going to try!

Obviously it’s not a miracle – running to escape stress doesn’t make the stresses go away. But it often reminds me that, really, the things I’m stressed about are all bollocks, aren’t they? (ie work!) If I died tomorrow no-one would say “What a great bit of marking that was!” or “What a beautiful lesson plan that is!” If I knew I was going to die tomorrow I wouldn’t get my marking up-to-date, I’d spend time with my family. Going out for a trot reminds you that most of those stresses are irrelevant. The sun will still rise, (OK maybe not in Wigan, but the sky will turn from dark grey to light grey), those trees, that hill, your house for goodness sake, will still be there regardless of what you do in the next 30 minutes, so you might as well enjoy these things while you can. Which leads me nicely to my next point….

4 – Whenever possible, run in the countryside / try trail running.

I think my rant at the top of the blog showed I do not love running. But I love what it does for me: the fitness I feel, the sense of achievement, that fleeting moment of peace and quiet, that 30 minutes to get my brain in order, solitude.

I definitely cannot say anything positive about street running, apart from the fact that it might be safer, especially in the dark. (Although that depends on the street!) Road running is largely miserable and thankless. Ask anyone training for a marathon if they enjoy 20 milers up and down some duel carriageway ‘cos it’s the flattest bit of land they can find and if even one of them says they enjoy it I’ll join them in my mankini. (Paul Platt and Chris Green need not respond to this…)

I can only speak personally but one of the joys of where I live is the abundance of footpaths and country lanes at my disposal. It’s the reason we moved here in the first place. As a general rule I prefer winter running to summer running as I’m not as good in the heat, but one of the bonuses of summer is the daylight hours meaning evening runs can again be switched to country lanes. You have to be a bit traffic savvy sometimes, but I nearly always enjoy a run if it takes me past fields of bleating sheep, farmhouses (not farm dogs, I hasten to add), birdsong and the general tranquility of the countryside. I could run around forever just looking at the views, feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Contrast that with running on a main road: stopping for traffic, checking your pace, dodging the scallies outside the shop, thinking about how much your feet/calves/quads/shins hurt, counting the junctions back to your road etc – it really is no contest.

Road running – think about negative things; Countryside – think about positive things.

You can then double these positive thoughts if you actually head out onto trails and footpaths to run.

Now you have all the positives of the countryside with added extras; you’re thinking even less about pain because you’re watching where to put your feet. You’re training with added benefits because you’re working harder running on the softer surface whilst at the same time giving your feet in-particular a more gentle workout. It’s very liberating stopping avoiding the puddles and actually deliberately targeting them – once you’re wet, you’re wet so do it straight away and get on with it! There is no pace-pressure because you are definitely slower so you don’t have to worry about it, but you’re working harder, so you get more bang for your buck anyway. Miles will slip by more easily without you noticing because you genuinely aren’t thinking about that, you’re thinking about where your next footstep will be.

It’s just more relaxed and relaxing, OK?! Take my word for it because, for once, I’m definitely right!

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See, try running through THAT and thinking about the stresses of the daily grind! (OK this is a little extreme, the canal towpath will do just fine! Thanks to Trail Running Mag for the #Run1000Miles ruff, btw.)

5 – Turn being a beginner into a positive.

This is for the newbies, or potential newbies out there. I know how easy it is to think ‘I’m not good enough, it’s embarrassing’ so not starting. But just start. Just walk. Walk on a treadmill or cross trainer at a gym. But just start. Build it into your weekly routine. If you know that you do exercise on a Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday then you’re more likely to stick to it.

Turn starting out into a positive. The progress you make is so much more accelerated at first that you will feel the benefit straight away. Remember it doesn’t necessarily translate to faster times/pace straight away, that takes time and, most importantly, consistency. Think in longer periods of time. For example, look back on where you started after 3 months (or even 6 months).

I think some people think if they are not quicker or finding it easier after a fortnight then it’s not for them – it’s not working. Like I have said many times already, this isn’t a magic wand or a quick fix. What you are achieving at first is a life choice; a lifestyle change. The mental benefits will be immediate. You WILL feel better about yourself. The actual physical benefits take longer and, importantly, take consistency. (Remember, NO EXCUSES.)

6 – Join a local running club.

This is a little bit rich coming from me, I know. I’m a solo runner at heart. I run to get away from people, not to join them! But I tell you now joining Wigan Harriers is the best thing I’ve ever done in terms of running.

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Wigan Harriers photo-call before the Wigan Run Festival 5k and half marathon, March 2017. Footnote: missing from the photo are the many club members who were on duty marshaling that day. Great people giving up their time (and their own race) so that the rest of us can run ours.

Just look at us all in this photo! I ask you, do we look like an intimidating band of elite athletes?! (I heard you then – we don’t look that bad!)

Again, I know people don’t like to join a club because they think they aren’t good enough – I didn’t join myself because I thought I wasn’t good enough! But I promise you, whatever your ability, you will be catered for and welcomed with open arms wherever you live. There will be members there of your ability, whatever that may be. And, if you are the competitive type, there will definitely also be runners there just that little bit quicker than you to aim at!

You don’t have to commit your life to a club either, just pop down to training once in a while. As a general rule there is no financial commitment at first, and the joining fees if you do decide to commit are so minimal for what you get that it really is a no-brainer. (£38 per annum at the Harriers, including English Athletic Association fees – probably less than your monthly gym membership?)

There are added perks to joining a club too. The main reason I eventually joined was so that I could run in the local cross-country leagues. THEY ARE FREE! Yup, free! Some buffoons out there spend £100 entering ‘Tough Mudder’ races and the like! Well, you’ll never believe it but for, ooohh, £100 less you can run 6/8/10 races a year. AND, as a general rule, they are muddier than a tough mudder! Oh, and they are DEFINITELY tougher than a tough mudder! (Did I mention they are free?!)

You can keep your burning hay bails! You can stick your cargo nets! If you can run for an hour in the kind of mud presented to us annually at the Northern Cross Country Championships and keep your facilties and sanity in tact – AND score points for the team in the process – then you have my eternal admiration!

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Possibly my favourite running picture to date. As with Mike’s pic earlier, this is from the National Cross Country Championships, Nottingham, Feb 2017. The course wasn’t actually as hard or muddy as the Northern Championships but the mud that was there was so spectacularly messy that the pictures are infinitely more satisfying!

6b – Join a social running club.

If that real, grown-up running club really is a step too far, there are loads of social, recreational run groups springing up all over the place these days. I can only speak for the Wigan area but you are spoiled for choice round here. Downhill Runners, Penny Flashers to name but two are fantastic for joining up with like-minded souls and exploring the local area in the comfort, safety and friendship of a group. In my experience they are led by amazing, enthusiastic, kind people who are there to help any runner of any ability. Check your social media feed for details near you!

7 – Get your kit ready before you go to bed / go to work.

This tip has saved many a Saturday morning for me. Lay your kit out before you go to bed. Then when you roll out of bed put it straight on. You’ll be out of the door before your brain realises what’s happened! I can pretty much guarantee that if I started fumbling around in the dark trying to find some kit first thing in the morning I would give it up as a bad job and get back in bed again.

I apply the same rule at night. If I want to do bedtime stories with the girls, I put my kit on to read the stories. If I do this it is 95% certain the run will happen. If I do the bedtime story in comfy clothes there is a 95% chance that I will be asleep before the kids!

Same rule for after work runs. Leave your kit out on your bed, then you will be much more likely to put it on when you return.

8 – Exploring your new holiday destination.

This is my new favourite rule! You know you have achieved that lifestyle change – and can call yourself a runner – when you pack for a holiday and the FIRST thing that goes in the suitcase is your running kit! These days I often don’t have space for very much else!

The reason I love holiday running is it allows you to explore your new destination and find your way around without having to drag your poor kids around with you. In fact, the kids are always impressed when, despite only arriving at a resort the night before, by the next morning you know where the best beach, playground, pub, restaurant is located and you probably know 3 different routes to get there!

At this point it is important to stress that I’m not suggesting you turn your relaxing holiday into some sort of boot camp, (although I know people who do!) No, what I am saying at this point is that Rule 3 from above applies doubly to holidays; if I have a run first thing in the morning, not only will I enjoy running with a change of scenery (and possibly climate, depending on where you go) but I will have done something healthy by 9am, leaving the rest of the day to concentrate on the unhealthy things (ie food and drink) that are so important to our happiness on holiday! I can relax with the peace of mind that I am not being lazy, I can play with the kids knowing I have already had my ‘me-time’, I can even look after everyone else’s children whilst others go off and do something for themselves too.

Holiday running is now my absolute favourite type of running exactly because I associate that happy, relaxed feeling with running and can (try to) replicate it when not on holiday.

9 – Enter a race. (WITH A HEALTH WARNING!)

There is nothing more motivating than entering a race a month or two down the line to get you out training.

BUT… please refer to my earlier point – if you enter a race which is way too challenging and/or you are not sure you can commit the time to properly prepare for it, DON’T ENTER IT. Then it becomes a demotivating factor: ‘Oh no, I’m not ready, I’m never going to be ready. This training run is futile because it’s not going to do any good anyway. I’ll never finish’ etc.

Enter a race you know you can realistically succeed in, dependent on your training goals/time available and your current ability. Then you’ll be motivated. Then you’ll train. Then you’ll smash the race. Then you’ll be motivated to try something more challenging (or do the same thing again, but quicker!)

I am not saying don’t ever enter something challenging and scary – I just have! What I am saying is challenging is great IF YOU ACTUALLY HAVE THE TIME/ABILITY/MOTIVATION TO BE READY FOR THE EVENT ON THE DAY. If you have any one of these three aspects missing, you will not be ready, you won’t feel ready, and the whole spiral of demotivation will begin.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s supposed to be fun!

L to R: “Look, it’s fun!”, “Medic!”, “This is going to be great!”, “What the #@£& was I thinking?”

10 – Think of the benefits! (Last one, honest!)

Finally, if all else fails, just remember it’s (probably) doing you good. It might hurt a bit, it might be an effort, it might not come naturally at first, but every time you go out your body will be a tiny bit happier than last time you went. And, as it becomes part of your lifestyle, you will notice it being that little bit easier, you will find you improve your pace, you will notice your body change shape. And the longer you maintain that lifestyle change, the more likely your body will stick to it’s new regime and new shape.

I am two and a half stones lighter than when I started. I don’t do it for weight loss (if I did, I’d actually start watching what I ate!) but my new body shape and size is now my regular body shape and size. I used to get down to this weight, run a race and then put it all back on again. Why bother doing that?

I said it at the start, but I’ll say it again. There’s only one person who can do it for you. It’s easy to say it. It’s easy to read about it. (You just have!) It’s even easy to buy all the gear for it. Just don’t forget to go and actually do it.

 

There you go. Today’s sermon is finished. I hope I have perhaps motivated you a little bit. (If I’ve totally naffed you off, accept my apologies!)

Happy Springtime! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the teenagers are trashing the local playground. Stick your trainers on, eh? Gooooo on, you’ll love it – like me!

GBSticks

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Running in for 36th place at the inaugural Wigan Half Marathon, March 2017.

To follow sometime soon – January, February and March race reports. (including Burnley XC, Northern XC Champs, National XC Champs, Wigan Half Marathon, Kielder Forest Dark Skies Trail Marathon.)

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