It’s been ages since I blogged. And it’s not as though nothing has been happening, I’ve just struggled to find the time and the words. So I decided today to start with pictures instead.
This was my first parkrun, back in August.
I struggled all the way, forcing every step, and it shows. I had to slow down to a walk twice. I thought I’d been crazy to sign up for the Great North 5k, that I’d never run that far. My daughter even photoshopped this pic to try and justify my pained facial expression…
Of course I did run the Great North 5k. And I didn’t stop there. I’ve now run 7 park runs. There aren’t photos of all of them, but in the photos there are I think you can see an improvement:
My time has been sneaking up from 37.29 back in August to my current personal best of 31.18 last Saturday. Which for my age, size and relative inexperience I think is good.
And it’s not just parkrun. I’m running at least another twice a week now, currently somewhere between 7 and 10k each run. After all that fear that I’d never manage 5k I’m now at a stage where 5k is the shortest run I do!
And the thing that surprises me the most is I’m enjoying it! I’m looking forward to my runs and prioritise them over all the other stuff I have to do. All those years of believing I just couldn’t run, now I can. I wish I’d done it sooner.
I’m also visiting the gym weekly, less cardio more weights as I’m running so much outside now.
And yet my weight stubbornly hovers at the same amount. Which is partially because the dark and cold at this time of year make me reach for the comfort food, and I’m finding that the hardest habit to break. I’m cooking healthier meals from scratch the majority of the time, but I still need to reduce the lapses.
I’m aiming high though. Next year I want to run the Great North Run. All 13.1 miles of it. I’m certain I can get up to that distance by then.
I’ve shared some of the things that happen to me while I’m running on Facebook. Highs like the old man waving his walking stick in the air as he cheered me on. Lows like being stopped by preteens who wanted to scrounge a tab (how unhealthy do I look when jogging that they assume I’m a smoker?) Several Facebook friends suggested I should try Parkrun as I’m running.
I’ve known about Parkrun for a long time, but never thought it was something I’d take part in. I’d read the news stories when a council tried to charge runners, and agreed that people should be free to run in local parks without paying for it, but that’s as much as I’d ever thought about it. Parkrun clearly must be for runners, and I’m not a runner. It’s a similar situation to how I’d discounted This Girl Can because I’d misunderstood the age range it was targeting. Had I made it to the Parkrun website I’d have seen how welcoming it is to all ages and abilities, but I’d never got that far because I was so convinced it wasn’t for the likes of me, just based on that one word “run”.
Luckily word of mouth, or comments of Facebook, got me reconsidering. And as soon as I’d seen the Parkrun website I realised I could give this a go. I signed up last weekend , determined to go along this week.
I think going to something new, alone, feels intimidating to a lot of people, even if their mental health’s good. When you have anxiety like mine it can become impossible to face new situations. Throughout the week I worried intermittently. I knew I could do 5K, even if I had to walk bits of it. My main concern was that I would be last. It takes me just under 40 minutes to run 5k on a treadmill at the gym, and I was sure I would be slower out in the real world. The previous week the slowest runner at my local Parkrun had taken just under 44 minutes. I worried that if I was last I would never feel confident enough to go back.
And then I got a news email from Parkrun with a link to this fantastic blog. As well as being impressed with Helen’s determination I realised I couldn’t come last. Until then I hadn’t heard of Tail Walkers, volunteers who bring up the rear at each run, providing support and encouragement and taking that worrisome last place.
Saturday arrived, annoyingly warm and sunny (I’d hoped for drizzle or at least clouds and a cool breeze, to mimic the air conditioned gym I’m more used to running in.) I drove to the park, and got almost to the start line when I realised I’d left my water in the car. I decided to count the run back to the car as warm up!
My initial impression walking from the car park was that it was mostly men. Once I was nearer the start line there was more of a gender mix, perhaps women just are less likely to drive there, or to leave it as close to the start time to get there? There were lots of incredibly healthy looking young people, but there were also children, older people, people of all shapes and sizes. Most people seemed to be in groups, or at least to know others. I felt conspicuously alone and large, but kept telling myself that was my paranoia talking, and that I could do this.
I couldn’t hear the briefing, I was near the back of over 500 people, but it was obvious when people started running. So I started running too. I still struggle with my pace and breathing when running outside, I had to slow to a walk a few times over the 5k to get my breathing back under control. There were other people slowing to a walk every now and then, so I didn’t feel like it was a sign of failure. Generally though I kept running. I even speeded up towards the end!
I was particularly impressed by how supportive everyone was. Not just the volunteer marshals, who were whooping and cheering me on at every stage. Also the other runners. There were a couple of places on the route where runners were going in both directions, and those further on were saying “well done” and “keep going” to those of us near the back. I couldn’t manage supportive words while concentrating on my breathing, but sent lots of smiles to fellow runners.
At the end of the run I was handed a token and had to queue up to get it and my barcode scanned (my barcode I’d printed off the internet in advance). People in the queue were friendly and chatty. I can see why people had recommended it to me, its a real community atmosphere.
When my time came through I was really pleased with it. My fitbit had said 37 minutes but I wasn’t sure I’d started it at the right point. My official time of 37min23 is more than 2 minutes quicker than I’d run 5k on a treadmill. Clearly being surrounded by other runners helped me pick up my pace. Now I’ve done it once I’ll definitely be back.
Until yesterday I hadn’t run much further than the bus stop at the end of my street in decades. Today I signed up to the Great North 5k. I’m slightly terrified.
I know many people who are doing the entirety of the Great North Run, who think nothing of running 5k before work as a warm up, or in the evening as a stress buster. I don’t have that sort of a relationship with running. I’ve been throwing the odd minute or two of running into my exercise routine more out of duty than enjoyment.
I’ve been struggling to remain as enthusiastic about my health kick since my weightloss stalled, and I’ve been feeling like I need a new challenge. I’d had an email from Newcastle Can about the Great North 5k and was toying with the idea of signing up. I know I can complete 5k at a brisk walk, I did it for International Women’s Day (see This Woman Did! to find out how I got on), and that was before I started my regular gym sessions. I wondered how much fitter I was now, how to increase the challenge. Could I run 5k rather than walking?
Feeling the buzz around the Newcastle Can Wake and Shake event on Northumberland Street this week made me more confident about joining in and pushing myself. Seeing all those people enthsiastic about getting healthier energised me. It’s easier to make lasting changes together rather than struggling alone.
At the gym yesterday I tried running on the treadmill rather than fast walking. To my surprise I managed two lots of 15 minutes. A sign of how my fitness has improved so far this year. And I decided if I can do 15 minutes now I can build up to 5k by September.
So thats the plan. 5k at a run (jog!) on 9th September. Wish me luck!
Today Newcastle Can joined with various leisure facilities across the city to offer free sessions to residents to kick start their fitness. There are an awful lot of people out there, me included, who never consider going to a gym and expect it to be an unpleasant experience. I think they hoped actually getting us in there and proving there were no demon PE teachers waiting to ridicule our every failure (or perhaps that fear’s just me?) would make us consider going more often.
I persuaded my partner to come along, partly for moral support and partly so I was sure there was at least one other person there at my poor fitness level! We went to Eldon Leisure. I walk past this place several times a week, but have never been up the escalators to see what it’s all about before.
We were welcomed by one of the leisure centre staff, with a Newcastle Can T-shirt and a welcoming smile whose genuine enthusiasm put us at our ease. She explained what was going on and pointed us to the changing rooms. In a typical rookie mistake I left my phone in the locker – so have no photos to illustrate the experience. We were early for the first fitness class, so we spent half an hour in the gym where we were delighted to discover cycling for 30 minutes didn’t lead to us keeling over. We stuck to the cycles because we didn’t want to be too tired in advance of the class.
The class was Aerobic a GoGo Dancercise, something that took me and my partner way out of our comfort zones. The fact it was being filmed for the Newcastle Can documentary added to our nerves, and I think if my partner hadn’t been there I might have legged it! They asked if we were happy to be filmed, personally I’m not sure happy was the right word – I’ve committed to do this, I’m not going to back out now, but the idea of being hot, sweaty and uncoordinated on camera didn’t fill me with joy!
The class was led by Dawn who was a fantastic instructor, clearly aware of the very mixed levels of experience in the room, and keen to make everyone welcome. She went through the instructions for each routine clearly, demonstrating the low and high impact versions and letting us know it was fine to rest if we needed to. One of the things that’s put me off attending exercise classes is the fear of being the only fatty in the room, the only one that can’t keep up, the only one puffing and panting while the lithe athletic types don’t break a sweat. It wasn’t like that. Dawn warned us at the beginning that we’d all be hot and sweaty, her most of all!
There were more mirrors than I’m comfortable with, but once we got going my eyes were on Dawn, my concentration on trying to get my body following the moves in time with the music and I didn’t have room for worrying. There was loud music, flashing lights and lots of moves. Some came easy, the surf board and shimmying I liked. Others were more challenging, getting my whole body moving in different directions was a challenge to my coordination. Most challenging was the Newcastle Can Can-Can, incorporating balance, rhythm and high kicks. I couldn’t keep up, but I was smiling.
After the session we went back to the gym and tried some more of the machines. And I found myself wavering. I’ve always thought gyms weren’t for me, that I’d be too out of place, too self conscious, too bored. But this was OK. I was definitely working muscles that don’t get a look in during any of my walking. Could I do this regularly?
Since I signed up to Newcastle Can I’ve lost over a stone. And although there have been challenges there’s nothing yet that has felt impossible. I feel healthier. People can see the difference. I think now I’m at the limit of what I can do on my own, and if I’m going to make bigger changes I need to take advantage of what’s out there.
The point of Newcastle Can is that we come together as a community, that enough people all making changes together can be more successful than struggling alone. I’ve known for years what I needed to do to get fitter, I’ve never done it til now. If I stop at the changes I’ve already made I’ll still be significantly healthier than I was.
I suppose what I’m considering now is do I step up a gear? Is what I’m already doing enough, or do I do more? My worry is if I up the pace, make changes that are too dramatic, I might not be able to keep going I’ll feel like a failure. But how will I know how much I can do if I don’t try?
There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though.
I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs.
HoudiniDog is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel.
DaisyDog is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”
My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it.
Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…
Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.
Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.
Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand!
My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs.
There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows.
I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them.
What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid…
Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection.
But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat.
I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included.
Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it.
Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!
“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?”
Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other.
Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.
Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.
Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique!
Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.
I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it.