Where I was a year ago – An avid weight lifting gym bunny, who loved to exercise but would never really push myself to my limits with regarding to high intense interval training and endurance cardio training. Looking at me you would have said I was healthy, fit and full of life; however that was a very bad misconception and completely incorrect. I could barely run two miles along my local beachside shore, I would get out of breath quickly and wouldn’t be able to maintain or identify a comfortable pace for me to run at. I knew to be healthy inside I needed to improve my cardiovascular system one way or another! And due to my love of food I knew I had to workout to a better standard to gain results. I was lifting heavy arm weights, squatting nearly double my weight and leg pressing nearly 5 times my weight! However this had a very detrimental effect on my long distance running as going back only a few years I was playing competitive women’s football and being able to run and sprint for 90 minutes without feeling exhausted. I knew I had to change my workout routine because I remember how much I used to enjoy running and how much I despised it at that very moment.
I started to do a Monday night circuit class at my local gym, this was a very unique circuit class, one that I had not seen anything like before and nothing like your traditional circuits class. It involved more high intensity interval training (HIIT), involving sprints, plyometrics, body weighted as well as heavy weighted exercises. HIIT and Tabata type exercise regimes are proven training methods to develop not only your anaerobic system (i.e. sprinting) but also your aerobic system (i.e long distance running). After attending this class once a week for several weeks I noticed a drop in my weight, looked slightly leaner and also realised this class was the only one that I felt worked me to my complete limits. The Personal Trainer that conducted this class also did a Saturday morning class of similar nature but outside along the beach on the stones and hills of the Portsmouth shore. I started to attend this class and compared to Monday’s circuit this was another level of training! It incorporated hill sprints, beach stone sprints and up-hill step sprints with very little rest and circuit based exercises amongst it.
This was HIIT at its very best and I knew this was aiding my fitness levels hugely. Additionally, I started running to the gym and to these Saturday morning classes – this was around 2 miles from my house and I was achieving this very easily. As it began to feel easier, I was starting to enjoy my running more a
nd hence found a comfortable pace in which I wanted to step up to see how quickly I could achieve 2 miles in. After about 3 months, I was running the 2 miles to the Saturday morning classes within 13 minutes, which for me was a great achievement. I felt fitter, I looked healthier and one thing I did notice was that my abdominals had now started to show! I loved the compliments and loved feeling like my body was changing for the better, this is strove me to continue and to continue to reach new levels of achieving.
I began to start road running three times a week outside extra to my weight training three times a week, and the Monday and Saturday circuit classes. I started with 4 mile runs, I found that I felt comfortable at a certain pace (8.5 min/miles) and that I was now really enjoying running outside! After a month of this training, I found that my runs were feeling very easy and on the days that I felt extremely comfortable I would always push myself another few miles to see how easy it was and if I could make it. I was now running up to 6-7 miles with ease and feeling like I could continue still. My goal was 10 miles, and one day shortly after that month I had achieved it; bearing in mind 6 months prior to this I was unable to run not even 2 miles! I felt exhilarated and overwhelmingly happy but I wasn’t stopping there!
Four months went by, during this time I had ran the Tough Mudder race (~12 miles) and continued to run three times a week with my normal training regime of weights and circuit classes. I was starting to get bored, autumn was creeping in, dark nights were able to set in and the summer was over. Why should I carry on training? Where had my enthusiasm gone? I needed something to motivate me, something to drive me forward and get me out of my training ditch that seemed to be getting deeper with the more junk food that I consuming due to being bored of my training. I needed to mix things up and enjoy running again, because it had become so tedious, effortless and in sociable that I started to lose the love for it once again. I remembered on one Saturday morning we started to pebble run along the seafront, not the typical sprint to the shore line and back but this was a continuous pebble beach run – lasting for about 8 minutes. I realised I found this a lot easier than many of the other members, I loved bouncing along the pebbles and found that I wasn’t thinking about running or how far I had gone or how I had taken, but I was more thinking about not falling over and not tripping up! Pebble running is amazing for toning up different parts of our legs and glutes and additionally aids a slimmer waist line by having to stabilize the core a lot more than in normal running. I started to incorporate pebble running into my own runs and would initially start my runs of the pebbles and continue it for about 3 miles then onto road running; I found it to be amazing! I sweat a hell of a lot more, my heart rate peaked massively and thus I then found road running ten times easier! It was a brilliant source of motivation to get me back out onto the roads and beach again. I fell in love with pebble running!
After about a month or so I got a bad chest infection from probably being out in the wet and cold too much (oops!) that meant my training stopped completely for 9 days! I felt awfully anxious about getting out on the roads again but knew I had to recover first and worry about that before training could start again. Then it hit me, what am I actually training for? I am a size 6/8, fit and healthy with a great diet and lifestyle; I didn’t need to put myself through this much training if I wasn’t training for anything. I had reached my goal of 10 miles and I had achieved it well, I was now back to being bored, tired and not hungry for reaching further goals. After I had recovered from being ill – not fully – but to a state of feeling okay, I went for a run, a pebble, mud, beach, steps and road run! It was brilliant and I did 10 miles of it. That night my friend text me and asked me if I wanted to do the Bupa Great South Run in the morning! This event is 10 miles around the costal roads in Portsmouth. I sat there thinking, I’ve been ill, not trained for this event, and just completed 10 miles the day before, how could I do this? I took the plunge anyway and thought hell with it let’s go for it and do it for fun! I had never entered a competitive run like this before and didn’t even know the procedure or where to even stand at the start! Bang the gun went and off I went too, surrounded by thousands of other runners, everyone looked so exhilarated and ecstatic for being able to run! I realised I felt at home, I felt comfortable, I felt where I belonged and I loved every mile – well accept for the awful head wind on mile 8 – but that added to the enjoyment of being in a race with other runners. I felt like I was in a pack, a pack of runners being herded around Portsmouth all together staying strong and fit, it was brilliant!
That night I was sat at my computer looking up other runs in and around Portsmouth. I had caught the running bug! I wanted to enter competitions, not only to see how well I could do, not only for the enjoyment but because it gave me something to train for! I needed a goal to challenge myself when training and I needed this enthusiastic side of me to shine. Whilst searching for runs, charity runs and events, I came across the Portsmouth Costal Marathon. My eyes lit up, ‘A Marathon!’ I said to myself, imagine being about to run a marathon. Well, what is stopping me? Nothing I said, so on my next day off work I decided to go for a long distance run, I didn’t know how long I going to run for or how far but I just wanted to get outside and run again. I began the run at a nice and easy pace – for me this is about 8.5 minute miles – I had planned in my head that I wanted to run for about 2 hours just to see how easy it was for me. So, whilst I’m running along Portsmouth’s shore line I begin to think how far have I run already? I know that people struggle to run marathons in under four hours and thought if I could keep up this pace I would be able to run 26 miles in 3 hours and 41 minutes! All these working outs and mile calculations had gotten me through about 5 miles of running, I hadn’t realised I was even running as I was so comfortable. I began to think how proud I would be of myself to see if I could beat the furthest I have ever ran before (this was 12 miles, which I had completed in the summer’s tough mudder race); I wanted to beat this distance, I wanted to achieve something amazing that day so I could make others proud of me and of my training. I carried on running completing the same route over and over again (3 miles in length).
People were coming up to me and saying ‘How far are you running today because you’ve past me many times already’ and I just simply answered 24 miles without a hint of hesitation from my speech. I had worked out if I run this same route 8 times that I would have ran for 24 whole miles, just 2 miles off of a marathon! This spurred me on and I continued to jog at this steady pace. On the return of my fifth lap, all new aches and pain started to hit me in my knees, these were the sort of pains that I got from running just two miles 12 months prior to this day, however this was now after 15 miles instead of 2! I kept going, I kept running as well as good through what seemed to be only getting worse pains in my knees but now my ankles, however through this whole time my breathing and cardiovascular system seemed to feel fantastic! Not once did I need to stop to take a deep breathe in, not once did I need to stop of catch my breath, I felt like I could run forever – well only if I possibly could start with a new pair of legs that is!
On mile 22 my legs were killing me but I had insisted to myself that I would run 24 miles so why stop now? I always love to leave some reserved energy for a sprint finish so as I was coming up to about 400 meters till my house I started to push harder and faster. I was sprinting home and home was where I was going to stop after completing 24 miles! The end was in sight and I couldn’t wait to tell people! And there I was just steps away from my front door, I stopped got my key out and walked through my front door, I wasn’t even that much out of breath, it had taken me 3 hours and 27 minutes to complete 24 miles. I was so happy I had done it! I told my family and friends and they were all super chuffed but they all said the exact same thing to me: ‘WHY?’ They couldn’t grasp the concept that I just wanted to see how far I could run never having run more than 12 miles before, and you may ask why I stopped at 24 miles and this was because I wanted to double my previous furthest running distance – and I did it! Not many of my friends are into the gym so they don’t understand the feelings you get from achieving such a distance, but as soon as I was around my fellow gym buddies they all lit up and said well done! My marathon training has begun so I entered the Portsmouth Costal Marathon the very following day!
So there you go in just 12 months I went from running only 2 miles breathless and panicky to running 24 miles breathing perfectly and feeling on top of the world!
Hayley is part of the Fitness Fan team. Follow Hayley on Twitter (@HayleyMadigan)