I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic about exercise. My complete lack of skill at any type of team sports, combined with a strong preference for curling up with a book, meant it took until I was thirty to find something physically active I could actually say I enjoy. I started out with a yoga class in 2005 and revelation hit.
At the time, I was commuting from London to Brighton daily for work, which – as a result of the vagaries of public transport – meant I left home before 6am and got home about 7pm. This just about allowed enough time for making and eating dinner, before collapsing into bed, and not much else. On the day of my weekly yoga class, however, I came out of class at 7.30pm and was ready to skip home, with enough energy to do another day’s work then and there. This had never been my experience of exercise before. Exhausted? Yes! Exhilarated? Never!
Doing one weekly yoga class had other benefits as well. I actually found myself craving yoga, and would often do more at home. My posture (I am slouch queen extraordinaire) improved and, when hungry, craved healthy things rather than my standard chocolate and cheese. I also had less of an urge to drink alcohol.
Reading this, you would be entitled to wonder why I am not still attending weekly yoga classes. It’s a question I regularly ask myself. I moved to Brighton in November 2005 and have tried, several times, to re-establish the class-going habit. It just hasn’t quite taken. I don’t know why. I have, however, continued my yoga practice, albeit haphazardly, by going on yoga holidays for every holiday I have taken over the last ten years. I might do another post about those. I have also, on and off, continued with a home practice – although this is mainly in the “off” setting than the “on”. I certainly have ALL the books necessary to support a home practice (i.e. several shelves’ worth).
By the end of 2011, my exercise regime was non-existent. This was one of the key factors in my decision to get Toby at the beginning of 2012. I was, at that point, the proud owner of two cats – Dorothy and Oscar. But cats are not conducive to physical exercise, as they have a knack of coming to sit on your lap at exactly the point you intend getting up to do something. One could argue that Oscar’s tendency of curling up underneath me on the (rare) occasions I get out the yoga mat and get into Downward Dog is supportive, but I think it’s more likely to be orneriness.
(For readers unfamiliar with yoga, this is Downward Dog. Having a cat sit underneath you in this pose might be seen as an incentive to maintain the pose. Or not.)
Having Toby has been a joy, and I cannot now imagine my life without him. He has certainly got me off the sofa, as was my intention, and I now leave the flat many times more per day than I would if there weren’t big brown eyes begging for a walk. Particularly when you considers that dogs have to be walked in all weathers. At least, they do, if you don’t have a garden to bundle them out into so they can *ahem* perform, and I don’t. But it would not be honest of me if I let you believe those walks are anything other than a gentle stroll. For me, at least. When we get to the park, Toby might do some running around. But not me.
Over the last eighteen months, Toby’s walks have got shorter, my weight has crept up again, and I have been trying to think how I am going to get back on top of my physical health again. A few things over the last few months have put running into my head:
- I read, and thereby felt a modicum of inspiration, Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
- A friend on Facebook has embarked on a healthier lifestyle, including taking up running using the Couch to 5k programme (aka C25k)
- Last week I read a post by one of my regular beauty blog reads about her fitness regime
Those things, combined with the indignity of having to buy a pair of jeans in size 16 (when I consider myself a size 12), just so that I could wear jeans and breathe at the same time, planted the seed. Yesterday, I took my normal approach to starting a new project; read everything I can find about the subject (when I decided to get Toby, I read ALL the books about dog behaviour – go ahead, you can ask me anything!). I concluded that C25k sounded like it might actually be achievable.
All of that is leading up to the fact that, if you had been in a certain Brighton park this morning, you would have witnessed a very red-faced woman alternate jogging and walking backwards and forwards, followed by a very confused dog. I have completed my first ever run!
How did it go? Very well, all things considered. I had taken Toby to the Sorting Office to pick up a parcel in lieu of a warm up and almost bottled out when I had to stop and drink some water before even embarking on the run (in my defence, the park is significantly uphill from the Sorting Office). There were also quite a few people in the park with their dogs, and I wasn’t sure I wanted that many witnesses to my first go at this running lark. What finally got me going was, having bought an entire “fitness” outfit (including new headphones and a sports bra), I would have felt really silly walking home from the park without even trying.
If you are unfamiliar with C25k (as I was until yesterday), it consists of 3 workouts each week for 9 weeks, building up very gradually to being able to run for 30 minutes (which is likely to be roughly the right amount of time for 5 kilometres or just over 3 miles). The first workout, you jog for 1 minute, then walk for 1.5 minutes, over and over for 20 minutes. I had actually gone to the park with the intention of doing a slightly different workout (which I found in an ebook), but with the same basic approach, but it went a bit awry. One of the USPs for C25k is that you can download a mobile app which tells you exactly what to do and when, during your workout, thus removing the need for clockwatching or counting. I had attempted a do-it-yourself version of this app (thinking it only worked on newer versions of the iPhone than the one I have – which turns out to be wrong), which did not work at all; I couldn’t hear the announcements, so ended up running for 2.5 minutes in the first session, and only approximating the remainder, as I had to keep looking at my phone to check whether I was supposed to be walking or running.
By the way, I have been using “jogging” and “running” interchangeably so far. I shall be talking about running hereafter, but I want to acknowledge that this description of my activity is aspirational rather than accurate. The one clear message I took away from all the reading I did yesterday was that most beginners try to run too far and too fast at the beginning. I was moving forward during the “running” parts of my first go, but it felt snail-like compared to even a brisk walk.
The other slight issue was that Toby was thoroughly bemused by this new approach to park life (do you all have Blur in your head now?). He ran along behind me for the first circuit (by which I mean he did his usual “stop to sniff something interesting, sprint to catch up” rather than actually toddling along beside me). On the second circuit, the only dog he is actually scared of turned up at the far end of the park, so he cut that corner off. On the third, he had clearly decided I had gone mad and went to stand by the park gate for the remainder of the time. I am petrified that, one of these days, someone is just going to pick him up and have off with him when he isn’t in sight at the park, so the rest of my running/walking was backwards and forwards in an arc, keeping the gate in sight. Which must have bemused any onlookers greatly. Lesson learned. Next time, Toby gets his breakfast before the run.
The running itself was fine. It confirmed for me just how beneficial the regular walking actually is, as I could certainly do a whole minute without collapsing in a heap. The programme I was using (or rather attempting to use) actually had two minutes’ walking after each run, and I didn’t need all of that to recover sufficiently – so I’m definitely switching to the proper C25k 90 second walk for the next one. Towards the end of the twenty minutes, my face was sweaty enough to make my glasses annoying, and I was taking a mouthful of water when I passed the place I had left my bag.
On the way home, I bumped into a couple of friends and felt sufficiently proud of my performance to announce that I had just done “my first ever” run. They both confirmed that I looked “quite red” and were very supportive. So we shall see how the rest of this week goes. As C25k only requires 3 runs a week (and strongly suggests you space them out), I’m half-hoping all this enthusiasm might reinvigorate my yoga practice to complement the running. We shall see how it goes!