I used to be known as a cyclist, and people asked me how I started. So I told them. Now I am known as a runner, and people ask me how I started. So I’m telling you.
Starting was probably the hardest part. I had read about the Couch to 5K program, and I’d found a C25K app to use on my iPod Touch, but it sat there, virtually unused for years. I tried at one point, and it wasn’t very successful, and while I knew why, I also felt like I was trying for someone else’s benefit and not my own.
In November 2011 I decided that I wanted to complete a triathlon. I simultaneously signed up for the mini tri option at the Women’s Triathlon in February and the lead-up six week training course run out of Challenge Stadium. The course started in January, so I had two months to get in the pool and to learn to run.
I went out to the playing fields near our house and ran around them. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run it all, so I thought that I’d implement the idea of the Couch to 5K program and just run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit. I would set out on the perimeter of the fields and run to certain lamp posts, then allow myself to walk for a lamp post interval, then ran to another specific lamp post. I did this a couple of times before I decided that I wanted a bit more structure in my attempts.
I’d already worked out when cycling that being attached to my phone or my iPod Touch was a huge irritation to me – I didn’t like those arm bands, and I suspected I’d just be distracted by my phone if I had easy access to it. I unearthed my old iPod Shuffle and loaded the first week’s track of the Podrunner Couch to 5K podcast onto it – the Shuffle just clipped onto my clothes and wasn’t obtrusive. The Podrunner music is set to a specific set of beats per minute, and there are tones overlaid on the music that tell you when to run or to walk.
I made the decision to follow the Couch to 5K program but not the timing of the program. The proper program timing has you running to the week 1 track three times, then the next week moving to the week 2 track and running to that three times. I knew what my schedule was like and decided that I would only move to week 2 when I had managed to comfortably complete the three runs to the week 1 track within a seven day period. If I wasn’t comfortable, or my schedule meant that I couldn’t do the three runs in that timeframe, then I wouldn’t graduate to the next track. I was going arrange my running to my schedule, not theirs, which meant no pressure to me.
I hadn’t been running long when I started to develop shin splints. I didn’t realise that they were shin splints at first, as it only appeared in one leg initially. When one Saturday morning it in appeared both I realised what it was and booked a session at The Running Centre that lunchtime to get on a treadmill, have my gait videoed and find a pair of shoes that were more supportive than the old trainers that I’d been running in previously. Once I had different shoes the shin pain halved immediately, but I realised I’d done sufficient damage to warrant booking in to see a physiotherapist. She showed me exercises to do three times a day, immediately followed up with icing of my shins. I was also shown how to use sports tape and to tape up my shins and calves so that they were supported before I went for a run. Over the following six weeks she would give me regular horribly painful Saturday morning massages of my calf muscles to loosen them up.
The realisation of shin splints was about one week out of the start of the triathlon training course. My physiotherapist gave me options to do that wouldn’t cause flare ups; like running on the grass verge alongside the path. The course running coach was very encouraging and pleased to see that I was out giving it a go any way I could rather than avoiding the problem entirely. I took careful notice of the instructions during the course because even if I couldn’t implement the coaching ideas immediately they were something I could try in the future. For running sessions at home I was still slowly making my way through the Podrunner Couch to 5K series.
To my relief around the end of the training course my shin splints completely dissipated. Mid-course during swim training I managed to sprain a facet joint in my neck so I had been visiting a physiotherapist near work for my neck three times a week, plus the physiotherapist near home on Saturday for my shins. Needless to say my physiotherapy benefit on my health insurance swiftly ran out. I would end up needing physiotherapy three times a week for three months before I had complete movement in my neck again. Interestingly, before the sprain I used to regularly wake up with a stiff neck because “I’d slept wrong”, but since I completed the physiotherapy I’ve very rarely woken up with any neck issues and if I did they would quickly dissipate rather than hang around for days the way they used to.
I completed the triathlon, and did as expected – appallingly badly in the swim, fourth in my age group for the bike split and mid-pack by the time I finished the run. But I’d loved the running, so I carried on with Couch to 5K. Just before we went to Malaysia for our honeymoon and then the Malaysian Formula 1 race, I had been ready to graduate to the Week 5 tracks, but after not running at all in KL (good intentions aside) and then having to recover from a terrible cold that I’d developed in KL, I ran week 4 again. When I finished, and where I’d finished on my regular playing fields course I realised I was much faster than before, so I downloaded the Week 5 tracks.
Week 5 in Couch to 5K is a departure from the previous four weeks. For starters, there are three Podrunner tracks, the first two making the run intervals longer, culminating in the third track a 20 minute solid bout of running. I barrelled through these with relative ease; I’d feared them a bit, but by that point I’d been regularly running for about 6 months, and they proved no difficulty. The next week I went to the week 6 tracks, and had no issue with those either. Actually, that’s a lie; for the first track of the week it had felt weird returning to interval running again just to build up to 25 minutes of running for the third run of the week, so I jumped straight to the third track of week 6.
At this point I decided that I was going for it. A few months previous Jeremy and I had walked the perimeter of the playing fields with my bike Garmin and had measured the full distance as 1.8km and marked every 250 metres up to 1.75km. We knew that if we ran the perimeter three times that would make 5.4km, so one day I loaded up some music on my Shuffle, and went out there and ran. It took me about 45 minutes, but I ran all 5.4km. I was ecstatic. I deleted the remaining Podrunner tracks and replaced them with a playlist that went for a bit longer than 45 minutes. At some point not long after that I realised that I liked hearing the sounds of my neighbourhood instead of music so I stopped using my Shuffle and just ran my three laps of the playing fields without music.
I kept going out there and running my 5k. At one point Jeremy and I felt brave enough that we decided to expand our horizons beyond the playing fields and run a perfect 5km loop that I’d found online; the loop went straight past our house. This was a big step because I generally ran before work and with the playing fields loop if for some reason I couldn’t complete the run I could always shortcut through the playing fields for home. Running around the neighbourhood made that easy back-out clause disappear.
It had been early in 2012 that I’d read of parkrun in a magazine, so I kept an eye on the parkrun website to see whether it would come to Perth. At some point I found out that Claisebrook Cove parkrun was launching the first Saturday in August, so I waited impatiently for it to begin. The Monday before the launch I was sitting cross legged between shelves at work, went to stand up and felt a very sharp pain in my left knee. I gingerly walked around on it, but by the Wednesday I’d had to buy a knee brace so I booked into the physiotherapist again, only about 50 days after having stopped seeing him for my neck. He told me that I’d torn my medial collateral ligament, and that running at parkrun – actually running full stop – was out, so I was restricted to volunteering for a while. I knew my knee injury was a pre-existing condition; back in 2009 after I crashed my bike the doctor sewed my left knee back together, which meant I wasn’t able to bend it for a few weeks while it healed. When the stitches came out I’d been told to go to a physiotherapist to get full movement back into it, but hadn’t been diligent in attending beyond about three sessions. One day standing up in an awkward fashion tore it at its weakest point.
The physio got me back functioning in time for the Perth City to Surf at the end of August; “your knee will probably hurt but you won’t do any more damage to it”. It wasn’t close to perfect – his advice was City to Surf on Sunday, or parkrun on Saturday; but not both, so I chose City to Surf. Jeremy and I had walked the 12km course a few years ago, but the 2012 City to Surf 4km run was going to be our first running event. We enjoyed ourselves, and finished happy with our times. The following week was a little difficult on limbs that weren’t used to hills – we’d been training around our area which is a mini Netherlands when it comes to elevation change, and by the Friday my right hamstring was fairly tight. In retrospect this was to have been expected; my right leg had been doing all the stability work keeping me upright while my left knee was a shambles. So when my right hamstring tore while I was running the Friday morning after the race I knew immediately what I’d done. I already had a booking for the physio that day for my knee, so I sat perched on my ice pack at work until the appointment and then the physio ignored my knee and worked on my hamstring instead.
When my hamstring and knee were finally sorted it was the start of October, and the physio allowed me to run parkrun. I’d been volunteering reasonably regularly on Saturdays, sometimes getting Jeremy to come meet me at the Kinky Lizard café for the post parkrun coffee afterwards, but this was to be my first bash at it, so Jeremy volunteered as timekeeper while I ran. The first guy in came in in 19:07, and I came in in 33:09. In that 14 minute gap Jeremy was converted to a parkrunner. He immediately ‘got’ it; that it wasn’t just his mad wife and a small group of runners, it was a supportive community. The next week I had a Saturday morning appointment, so I wasn’t going to run parkrun, but he went to Claisebrook Cove without me. By December 2012 he would be talking to Jon about setting up what became Canning River parkrun.
Having both become parkrunners, Jeremy and I decided to run a 10k race in Albany at the end of October, so we drove down to do it and took part in one of the last Port to Point races. It was surprisingly hot for Albany, and the hilly 10k course took me 1:23:00 to complete. Two weeks later there was a 10k race in Fremantle, and the flatter course had me 4 minutes faster, with 1:18:51.
In the finishing area at Fremantle, surrounded by parkrunners I sat quietly, reflecting on a few things. One, it had been almost bang on 365 days since I’d decided I needed to learn how to run, and two, that I’d taken it very gently the whole way round on the Fremantle 10k course. So gently in fact, that if given the option I knew I could have immediately set off and run the course all over again.
Three months later I ran my first half marathon.