Although I am not good at running, I am not a stranger to it. During my school years I often competed in local and county athletics competitions, and whilst at university I was happily running half marathon distance trails up to three times a week. However, once university finished and I started work as an engineer, I found it difficult to continue. Most of my running had taken place in the middle of the day when I was not in lectures or in the lab, as a release from the stresses of studying. Now, I am forced to run either first thing in the morning which involves getting up at about 4am; in the evenings after long days at work when the last thing you feel like doing is heading back out again in the dark, or, I am restricted to a run that can last for no more than 45 minutes at lunch time, which, for me, can sometimes be when I only just start hitting my stride. So I didn’t do it anymore. This sudden lack of motivation for something I had once enjoyed – due to convenience – bothered me, and so I decided I would do something about it.
Competing in “Tough Mudder” Obstacle Race (Photo by ToughMudder).
For me, signing up to races is a big motivator, and would ensure that I would make an effort during the colder months. So one of the first things I did was sign up to some well known obstacle races, so that I could have fun and remain interested in my training even if it felt like an effort to get out. But more than this, I ended up finding my office ‘winter running league’, and with it, a whole community that I didn’t know existed.
The Colin Barnfather Winter Running League is a set of eight cross country races which are employee organised (along with a bonus ‘race to the pub’ celebratory finish), and named in honour of a passionate runner colleague who sadly lost his life. The league is now in its sixth year, and gathers runners of all abilities for a series of lunch time cross country races in the vicinity of our offices. There are 2 races per month between November and February, which vary in distance from 1 mile through to 6 miles. Most are run through the winter mud and along the nearby canal bank, and allows runners to discover new routes locally which can of course then be run in their own time, outside of the races. Each competitor’s best five races (out of the eight in total,) count towards the scoring, giving a buffer in the case of any missed races due to work, holidays or the like. With true spreadsheet warrior rigour, all entrants also have a handicap which is based on age, past performance, and race terrain (mud or tarmac). This means that the race is a staggered start, and therefore regardless of distance, all runners tend to finish within about a minute or so of each other, making for a competitive finish! This is especially fun on the shorter races, as it can often be a sprint at the end of about five or more people! All of this means that there is no pressure in these races. The handicaps mean that anyone can win, regardless of ability; instead, it’s all about improving, which for me, is a really important concept.
Sign seen on the trail during a winter league race.
Inspired by the dedication, camaraderie and enthusiasm of the winter running league, I decided I could do more than just turn up to locally organised races during my lunch times. So I pledged to run 1000 miles in 2018. Some of these miles would come from the races that I had signed up to, and from the office winter league races, but I was also very aware that there were lots of miles for which I needed more motivation to cover. That’s where run-commuting came in.
I am lucky enough to have a nice, easy, two mile commute to work. This meant that an obvious next step for me, was to begin run commuting. Not only does this reduce my impact on the environment and get my mileage up, but it does so regularly. There is also little excuse to avoid it, seeing as I don’t really have any other way to get to work other than by foot.
1000 miles in a year is roughly 20 miles in a week. 4 miles, 5 times a week, gives me the 20 that I need, with any lost due to unforeseen circumstances made up through the races I had already signed up to. This would mean that anything more than what I had committed to, would be a bonus, which also turns out to be another motivator to keep going. On top of this, very little ‘gear’ is needed for running. I already had trainers I could run in (most people do), so the only thing I needed was a suitable rucksack to carry my workwear and lunch in whilst I ran. This turned out to also be quite an easy find, with plenty of advice online regarding good run-commuting packs.
Winter league race results! Always muddy!
So, to begin with, I started running home from work only, and instead walking in to the office in the mornings. This was so that I could build my miles and ability up gently, and not tire myself out too much which could have demotivated me from continuing to run in the future, and ultimately give up on my goal. Plus, this meant that I didn’t have to deal with being sweaty during the day in work, or having to spend time doing my make-up and drying my hair using the office showers. Once I was ready and felt comfortable enough to start increasing my mileage from 2 miles after work every day to 4 miles, I began to run commute perhaps 75% of the time. Again, this was to ensure that I felt comfortable enough to then up the consistency to 100% of the time, and achieve my goals of full-time run-commuting. Not only does run-commuting decrease the time in which it takes me to get to work, but it increases my overall health and fitness as well. I find that not only am I fitter, stronger and a better runner, but it also motivates me to make healthier nutritional choices, as I want to ensure that I have the appropriate fuel for my body for continuing my run commuting streak.
Evening commute sunsets are some of the best.
Lastly, ‘streaks’ and having visible targets is also something that I think is quite important. For instance, I have a mileage tracker which is stuck on my fridge door at home. This means that I see my goal every single day, often before I leave for work in the morning and first thing when I return from the office in the evening. This provides me further motivation as it serves not only as a reminder of the challenge I am setting myself for the year, but also as a visual reminder as I can see my progress in filling in the number of miles I have run each week, and filling in the total progress bar. Even if I am unable to hit 1000 miles this year, it means that I will know how much harder I will need to work in order to hit it (or even exceed it) next year. Either way, it has changed my life. I have finally fallen back in love with running again.
I do love stairs! I do love stairs! I do love stairs!