Return to running – an uphill challengeMay 15, 2020
Main photo: a hill runner on Beinn Alligin in Torridon, Scotland
I could not live without exercise, and as my usual pursuits of hillwalking and climbing are forbidden in the current crisis, I decided to take up running.
Most of my climbing friends were excitedly sharing home exercise routines, but to be completely honest, I felt a bit too depressed about the whole situation to join in. Instead, I decided to take up running, as I’ve always found running to be one of the best ways to dissipate negative emotions, like anger, anxiety or depression.
I used to run a lot, although I started quite late in life, in my early 40s. I’d been doing a bit of running on a treadmill in the gym, and then my sister suggested training together for the Women’s Annual 10K run. To my surprise, I found that I loved running, and I over the next few years I did a few 10Ks.
I also did a Half Marathon, but I found that to be just a little too much on the wrong side of enjoyable. And I got two purple toenails, one on each foot.
Why I stopped running
About five years ago, I suddenly developed an underactive thyroid. One of the first signs that something was wrong was that I could no longer run. If I ran for longer than 20 minutes, I would completely run out of steam, and then I’d be exhausted for the rest of the week.
Luckily I managed to overcome my thyroid problem by taking high doses of iodine. It took me about 18 months, and I documented it in a video diary on YouTube called “Freethinking Health”.
After I recovered, I didn’t go back to running, because I had discovered a new passion – hillwalking. When I was too unfit to run, I started walking for hours instead. Then I joined a walking group, and after a few months, I started walking up hills (stopping frequently to get my breath back).
I didn’t think I would ever want to go back to running.
But I’ve met a few hill runners over the past year or so, and I admire the way that they go fast and travel light. I was always nervous of tripping up while running, especially after a terrible accident I had in 2017 on a hillwalking expedition, where I tripped while running to catch up with a group, fell on my face and lost five teeth.
However, about a year ago, I started to realise that I felt much more stable when wearing lighter walking boots, and that the severity of my accident in 2017 was probably due to the fact that I was wearing a new pair of big, clumpy mountain boots.
So over the past year, I’ve been wearing much lighter boots on the hills – except when there is snow on the hills, or a lot of rain and bog. And I had started thinking about maybe taking up hill running. Not for races or anything, as I’ve never been a particularly fast runner.
I always use walking poles now, to prevent falls on rocky ground, and if I do start hill running, I will probably take a light pair of walking poles with me.
On the third day of lockdown, I looked out an old pair of running shoes that I’d only worn a few times before my thyroid started acting up. I did my first run on the 3rd day of lockdown. I described it in my diary as “a stagger”. I was astonished at how unfit I felt. I did a total of 13 minutes, which included a two-minute break.
The next day, I downloaded the NHS “Couch to 5K” app, and did the first run. You get to choose a “coach”, and I chose Michael Jordan. I thought I might as well aim high!
That first session was just running for one minute, followed by a 90-second walk, eight times over.
I loved it.
What I remember from when I first started running, years ago, was that it always seems difficult when you first start off, because your leg muscles are weak, and you’re carrying your whole bodyweight on weak muscles. As you progress, you start to build strength, so the running gets easier (and you lose weight too, so you’re carrying less of a load!). That’s why in the early days, it’s best to run in short bursts (interval training), to allow muscle development and recovery.
I am now at the end of Week 8. This is a huge milestone, because I’ve run for 28 minutes, three times in a week, without getting too exhausted. And I’ve been cycling as well, so I know that my underactive thyroid problem has been consigned to history.
So far the furthest distance I’ve run is 3.71km, so I’ve a bit to go before I reach 5km, but I know I can do it. According to Strava, my elevation gain was just 18m, so once I’ve got to 5km comfortably, I’ll need to start tackling some hills.
3.71km in 28 minutes is not the fastest time ever, but I’m getting there!
All photos are author’s own.