Saturday, 31 August 2013

Can I run on holiday?

I'm going on holiday! Finally, after an insanely stressful year, I am off for a two week break and I couldn't be looking forward to it more. It's nothing ground-breaking: I'm heading over to Ireland to see lots of relatives first and then off to the Algarve to catch a bit of sun (trying to make the transition between translucent white and beige), but I can't wait.

Now my primary aim for my holidays is to relax. Recently, particularly the last few weeks, I have been really feeling the pressure. I'm juggling a new job (night shift work) with finishing my MA dissertation, finding a place to live for September and (of course) learning to run. My MA year was also fraught with various dramas, many of which I have only just been able to leave behind.

And yet while I do feel that I deserve a break, I don't want to lose the progress that I've made so far. I've made it so far as to be able to run 7k and now that I've signed up to run the Regent's Park 10k in November I'm especially determined to continue to improve.

So my big dilemma is can I run on holiday? 

They make it look so bloody easy

The Irish hotel we stay in is in quite an isolated spot halfway down a road, so I really have no idea where I would go. I wouldn't really feel comfortable running on the road (I'm not really sure it's terribly safe). The hotel does have its own grounds (35 acres according to their website, although I've never explored this properly before), so could I have a go at running around there? Or would I look like a bit of a numpty?

Then we're on to Portugal. I've never been to here before so I don't really know what to expect, but what I do know is that I HATE running in the heat (just check out my Race For Life post). I've seen so many inspiring posts about running on holiday, but the idea of running along the beach in 35 degree heat just doesn't do anything for me.

SO, is it worth packing my trainers and trying to get a few miles in while I'm away? Or do I sack it in for two weeks and hope for the best when I return?

Harris x

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A weighty issue

For the past year, the only exercise I have done (bar a couple of Davina McCall DVDs - such a fangirl) is running. But I keep hearing people singing the praises of a little weight training here and there.

Now I know the "but I'll end up bulky" myth has been busted a thousand times over (and to be honest I'm kind of proud of the little baby quads I've started to build), so what is my problem with weights?

Call me a big ol' teenager, but in the end I just feel way to uncomfortable with the way weights in my local gym are geared towards men.

Now I don't have much experience of gyms, having only ever joined my local one and my uni one. But this seems to be a recurring problem. I just have no desire to make my way over into testosterone land to do my 5kg bicep curls. Maybe that makes me a wuss, but seriously, I tried it once and I have never felt so self-conscious.

Having said that, I know that free weights aren't the only option and many people swear by weights machines. I have definitely got on much better with these in the past and although some people say it's not as good a workout as free weights, I certainly still feel the burn!

I really would like to build some weights into my week's workout but I don't currently have any form of gym membership as a) I am stone cold broke and b) I am moving house in about a month so there doesn't seem much point.

I've also seen and heard a lot about Crossfit, but in all honesty that just seems waaaay out of my league. I definitely think this is an area I need to do a little more research into though.

So what's the answer? Do I give up, sign on the dotted line and learn to deal with my ridiculously teenage embarrassment? Do I buy some of my own weights? (with a move coming up this doesn't reaaaally seem ideal) Or is weight training not all it's cracked up to be?

Harris x

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Update: I've signed up for a 10k!

Seriously, I keep having these moments of madness. I wish I could say I was drunk or something, but no, I was simply feeling a little over-confident after hitting the 7k mark for the first time last week

So I've signed up to the Regent's Park Winter Series 10K in November. I know, I know, you're thinking "that's ages away woman, get a grip". But it's at the very beginning of November and I'm on holiday for the first two weeks of September. And...y'know....I'm a massive wimp.

Sure it looks like nice now...

But this means that, once again, there's no backing out now. Since doing the Race For Life I've sort of been fannying around, sometimes not even doing 5k when I run. So once again, it's time to get a bit serious, knuckle down and start really working.

I also didn't realise that it's common to get you to estimate your finish time before the day itself and this really stressed me out. It's my ultimate fear that I end up with loads of people stuck behind me, cursing me for my slow plod, but at the same time I don't want to sell myself short either. I really have no idea what a good time is for a beginner to run 10K! I ended up putting down 1:10 but I genuinely have no idea if I'll smash this or be loads over. To be honest this is more about just being able to finish the race for me, rather than the time, but we'll see...all part of the learning curve I guess!

I'm not really sure whether to find myself some Bridge To 10k podcasts (after all C25K worked well for me) or to simply keep increasing my distance...

Any advice guys?

Harris x

Sunday, 18 August 2013

See Harris Inspired: 'Running Like A Girl' by Alexandra Heminsley

So I'm planning on trying to do a little regular slot about what has and ched ontinues to inspire me, whether it's a book, person, picture or just some music. They say that running is 80% mental and so I find it really important to keep finding stuff that inspires me to keep going and stay motivated.

My first Inspired post is about 'Running Like A Girl' by Alexandra Heminsley. I admit that what first attracted me to this book was the fact that it has an endorsement from Caitlin Moran (I'm a littttle bit of a fangirl). I didn't want anything too intense for my first bit of running reading and I thought that if unashamed fag-smoker Caitlin liked it, maybe I would too.

My hopes were well-placed. 'Running Like A Girl' seriously helped me in my prep for the Race For Life. Granted Alexandra is talking about training for a marathon rather than a little old 5k, but a lot of what she talks about in the book really rings true for me. Her description of that very first run struck a particular chord with me: setting off with the best of intentions, only to return unable to breathe and totally beaten.

She covers all sort of topics with honesty and a great sense of humour. She never takes herself too seriously but at the same time this feels like a book that you can trust. She gives loads of advice all the way through, from finding your perfect trainers to the importance of a decent sports bra (seriously, this is really bloody important), much of which I've found absolutely invaluable.

This girl seriously knows what she's doing (credit)

Alexandra's running journey is, I suspect, like a lot of people's: huge highs, terrible lows and lots of hard work in between. It might sound strange but I actually really like that she includes her low points too - everyone has moments where they totally lose their motivation and hers came straight after she completed a marathon. I would've thought that this was when you would be feeling totally invincible but Alexandra admits that she just lost her running mojo for a while. These negative moments, along with the euphoric highs of completing races, make this is a really accessible and human book.

I can't really stress how much 'Running Like A Girl' encouraged and helped me as I started out running - I would recommend it in a heartbeat!

Harris x

Friday, 16 August 2013

My Race For Life (5k): 14th July, Hyde Park (Part Two)

I wish I had documented the day better, but I think I was too busy feeling nervous to really think about taking photos!

The morning of the 14th arrived, the hottest day of 2013 so far. This was not good. I always specifically made sure that I ran either early in the morning or later on in the evening because I found running in the heat so hard. And yet here I was at 11am, queuing up with all the other runners in Hyde Park.

Things suddenly got pretty damn real...

It was boiling and it was only going to get hotter.

I was actually a little glad that I had got just a little (a lot) lost on my way to Hyde Park and missed out on the warm-up - I definitely didn't need to get any warmer than I already was.

Before I knew it I was lining up with all the other women to start. I opted to join the 'joggers' rather than the 'runners' because I am chronically afraid of holding other people up and this was definitely the right choice.

Lining up to start the race
After a bit of a false start (it was a bit confusing how they got us all hyped up and then herded us off again to the actual start line), we finally started the race.

One of the most important things I've learnt about running so far is that distraction is a powerful tool. When your mind wanders off on a tangent, you often find that you've suddenly run a kilometre without even realising it. The Race For Life was great for that as I was so deeply engrossed in people-watching that I didn't even realise that I'd run past the first kilometre marker.

There were plenty of people just like me, plodding along on their own with their earphones in. But there were also whole groups of people, some in training for bigger runs, families, classmates and sports teams. Sometimes I paused my music to briefly catch a snatch of conversation, whether it was encouragement ("Apparently Mum's made pavlova, just think of that!"), complaints ("My ***ing legs feel like they're going to ***ing fall off") or just general chit chat.

Even more engrossing were the 'I'm running for...' signs people wore on their backs. I'd completely forgotten mine, but it was fascinating and kind of moving to read them as I ran past or was overtaken by others. Many simply read things like 'My mum', 'Jess' or 'a cure'. But there were a few that really caught my attention. One woman's read "because my children have already lost their father". Another's had a whole list of family members. And one little girl, who couldn't have been older than about 10 and jogging with her mum, had a sign saying "because I miss my dad".

Now I'm not an emotional person. In fact I think I've cried about twice in the past year. But those signs were one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Well, sad, but also in a way sort of uplifting. Without going all mushy-gushy on you, just after the 4k mile I had a little moment of realisation. I was here running alongside thousands of other women, all doing the same thing because we really bloody hate cancer and what it's done to our families, friends and people we don't even know. Whether these ladies were walking, running or flat-out sprinting (yeah in my dreams), we were all here to join the fight against cancer. 

That feeling of being in a team like that is something pretty bloody amazing, something you don't really get to feel every day.

Beginning of the race

And what made it even more amazing were the supporters. Now I assumed that people simply came along to support their own friends and family. But just over halfway, the heat was really starting to get to me and I was wishing I hadn't dumped my water bottle by the start (future tip: DON'T DO THAT). I was starting to doubt myself and the little niggly voice in my head started to tell me that I'd never actually run 5k before, I was kidding myself that I could actually do it and to be honest I might as well start walking now.

But that's when I ran past three guys who I reckoned to be about forty-something. Now after several occasions where people have beeped their horns, passed smart-arse comments or wolf-whistled as I've run past (seriously HAVE YOU SEEN HOW RED MY FACE IS?) I've perfected my staring-straight-ahead. But these guys were shouting at almost every woman that ran past them. And it wasn't until I too ran past that I heard what they said: "You're amazing!"

I couldn't believe it. As I continued to run I could hear them encouraging those behind me: "Go on, you're over half way now!" "Well done, keep going!" "You're awesome, keep it up!"

More than once this happened, coming across pockets of people, mainly men and children, shouting encouraging words. Then of course there were the people with the foam hands who insisted on giving you high-fives as you ran past.

As someone who always runs solo, this was a whole new experience. But it gave me SUCH a boost.

Before I knew it, the 4k mark was heralded by the above-mentioned foam-handed people. Despite the insane heat I still felt okay - I wasn't going fast by anyone's standards, but I wasn't walking and that was my goal.

The crowd thinned down as the heat started to take its toll  - these trees were one of the few shady parts of the course!
I didn't start to feel really knackered until the very final 500m. There was something about knowing I was so close to the finish that made me start to feel tireder and tireder. The last bit really was a battle, with the almost midday sun beating down, but finally (and about bloody time) the finish line appeared.

I remember a friend who ran the London Marathon (yeah dream on) telling me that you have to do a sprint finish for every race. Now I don't know how you feel after 26.2 miles, but I imagine it's a whole lot worse than after 3.1. So with her words ringing in my ears, I absolutely pelted the last 50m. Everyone around me probably thought I'd lost the plot, but you know what? It felt bloody good.

Finishers were herded through a gap in the fence to collect their medals, a bottle of water and a brioche bun (personally my favourite part of the whole day) and I promptly collapsed under a tree.

I had been worried that doing the Race For Life on my own would be a kind of lonely and I would feel like a bit of a Billy-No-Mates. But even though I didn't chat to the other runners or have anyone there at the finish line to cheer me on, I really did feel like part of a team.

I realise that for many people, 5k is no distance at all. When I mentioned that I was doing the 5k Race For Life, several people promptly told me "Oh that's easy, you'll have no problem, 5k is nothing". But for me this was a really big deal. I was so proud to cross that finish line after running all the way and I think I always will be. I made to so much progress to get to that day.

But I hope that there is more progress to come.

I've kept up my running since the Race For Life, adding either distance or more intensity to my run. I'm not really sure what the best way to go about it is, but I'm determined to continue to improve.

Next stop, 10k.....?

Harris x

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

My Race For Life (5k): 14th July, Hyde Park (Part One)

Signing up for the Race For Life was my first big challenge. I'm a very goal-motivated person - if I can't see a point then I don't want to do it. While it was nice to see myself making progress with the C25K plan, I certainly wasn't dedicated.

I wasn't aiming for a particular goal or trying specifically to lose weight, so on days when I though "ahh I can't really be bothered with this", I just stayed there on my bed watching Gossip Girl.

I found all sorts of excuses not to put my trainers on and just get on with it: I just ate, I'm too hungry, it's starting to get dark, it's too cold, it's too hot, I have work to do (yeah like I ever actually did any), on and on it went.

So finally in a moment of madness I signed up to the Race For Life. Well, more specifically in a moment of trying to avoid my Business Journalism assignment. But whatever.

I had always thought it sounded like a great thing to do, but up until this point I firmly believed that races were for runners. You know, those people up pounding the pavements at the crack of dawn with their neon lycra on (yes I have since bought some neon lycra and yes I am thoroughly ashamed). My interest was particularly piqued when I saw the newest Race For Life advert on TV.

But it was only when a family member got diagnosed with cancer that I decided to put my money where my mouth was and sign up.

It had exactly the effect I needed. I stopped making quite so many excuses. Drizzle was no longer a legitimate reason to skip a run. I wanted to run that race and I wanted to do it properly.

Once this arrived, I knew I had to go through with it

I followed the C25K plan and made it all the way to my 'graduation run', a half hour non-stop. Although initially very pleased (this was real progress for a girl who thought she was going to die after 10 minutes light jogging), I soon realised that I wasn't even hitting 4k in this time. 

I knew I needed to train harder, but with my final MA exams looming, there simply wasn't the time left.

I was going to have to chance it on the day.

Check out Part Two to find out what happened to me when 14th July rolled around and I found myself in Hyde Park on the hottest day of the year so far...

Harris x

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Why on earth am I doing this?: How I started to run

Aside from those times when my reluctant PE class was bullied around the school playing fields, I managed to completely avoid running until I went to university. Since most nights ended with a cheeseburger, by the second term I eventually figured that I should do something, anything, to try to fight off the 'freshers fifteen'. With visions of loping gracefully across campus like a gazelle, I set off with a couple of other people who lived in my halls. 

It was less gazelle, more gorilla. Within two minutes of starting to run, I already had a stitch and was getting short of breath. By five minutes I already felt like my lungs had been passed through a shredder. I was pretty much convinced that I was going to die. I have no idea how I made it through the 2km run, but when I arrived back at halls pretty sure that I was having a heart attack, I swore I would never run again.

Fast forward to the end of my time at university. I'd never quite manage to shift that cheeseburger weight – if anything the problem had only been added to by my introduction to kebabs by a close friend. I'd tried and failed again and again to become a gym bunny. It wasn't so much the 20 minutes on the cross trainer that I minded, but being surrounded by perfectly toned lacrosse boys as I gradually turned puce with the effort was just too soul destroying. After the final indignity of bumping into someone toe-curlingly embarrassing while desperately struggling to touch my toes, I threw in the towel once again.

I think this pretty much sums up the Cheeseburger Years
It wasn't until I stumbled upon the idea of a 'Couch to 5k' plan that I started to reconsider running. I was most certainly on the couch. With a giant cheese sandwich and large glass of sauvignon blanc. But I was  intrigued and so I started to do some research. The idea of ever being able to run 5k was laughable: the three flights of stairs to the History department were an issue at this point.

I found myself on the NHS website of all places, where they had a whole section dedicated to the C25K plan. Heck, I thought, if it's approved by the National Health Service at least I shouldn't keel over. Well, not straight away anyway.

Finally, somewhat dubiously, I downloaded Week One.

Laura, my new audio personal trainer, told me she was confident that she'd get me running for half an hour (apparently an appropriate time to be able to cover 5k). I wasn't so sure, but thought I'd better humour the poor girl.

Half an hour later, after lots of intervals of jogging and walking, it actually  didn't seem so bad. Maybe this was doable after all.

Over the next few weeks, I stuck with Laura and found myself progressing to longer and longer periods of running. It wasn't pretty and every time I returned to the house looking like a big sweaty baby. But slowly, so very very slowly, I was getting fitter.

After some initial trepidation, I actually started to enjoy the NHS C25K plan

I admit though, this was a bit of a false start. I basically stopped when I moved to London after uni. I just didn't have the motivation, what with starting my Masters and various problems going on at home.

But in around March 2013, I decided I'd have one last go. I promised myself that if I didn't like it this time, I didn't have to do it. I'd just give it one last shot, just to check. And it was a handy way to avoid writing my MA essays.

A few weeks in, it all seemed to be going surprisingly well and in a moment of madness I decided to sign up for a 5k Race For Life. It was time to test Laura's claims and myself. Without a goal, I was pretty sure I'd either keep hovering around week 4 of the C25K plan or just give up altogether.

It was only once my registration pack and race number arrived in the post that I began to wonder what sort of terrible mistake I had made. What the hell was I doing? I was only running for 8 minutes at a time before Laura mercifully allowed me to walk again. I wasn't even sure if I was covering a kilometre, let alone five of them.

I really wasn't sure I was ready to be one of these guys...

But it was too late now, I'd signed up and if my mother has taught me anything, it's that you never ever back down when you've promised to do something.

I'll write about my experience with the Race For Life in another post, but I can safely say that when the day came,  running across that finish line was one of the best feelings ever. Sure it was only 5k. But to run 5k without stopping would have been absolutely unthinkable back in March. Even more so back in university.

So now it's onwards and upwards. My Race For Life was last month and I have continued to improve since then. Okay so I won't be signing up for next year's marathon, but I've already decided that my next target is a 10k and I'm really starting to believe that maybe this running thing is for me after all...

Harris x

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Run Harris Run!

Welcome to See Harris Run!

I'm Sarah Ann Harris, but, mainly due to having a bunch of friends also called Sarah, most people call me Harris. Original right?
So this blog is very much a work in progress, but I'm hoping to use this blog to record my progress as I learn to run. And learn to blog. Basically there's a lot of learning going on here.

I started from absolutely ZERO fitness - I got out of breath even running for a minute. I was actually kind of ashamed to walk up the stairs with anyone because I got a bit out of puff. I used to get soo mad when people were like "Oh yeah my fitness is like sooo bad" and then they'd go for a casual half hour run and return looking fresh as daisy. I was SERIOUSLY UNFIT. Like beetroot-faced, tshirt-soaked, dropping-your-iPhone-because-even-your-hands-are-sweaty unfit.

But in the end I had enough and after a couple of false starts I decided I really did want to run.

And now I look like this.  In my dreams.
I really wish that I'd started blogging sooner because I'd like to have documented my journey right from the start, but I'll do my best to look back on my progress from total beginner to an advanced beginner (as I like to think of myself now).

I am in no way whatsoever an authority on running, exercise or nutrition, but I have tried to educate myself as I go. I still very much consider myself a beginner, but hopefully you'll be able to see my progress as I learn to run!

Any advice or comments will be very much appreciated!

Harris x