Couch to HM – My running journey for a year and beyond

One cold but fine day in Dec 2012, two of my male cousins sprinted up Box Hill. The 33 37 year old beat the 27 year old. But there was the 30 year old me who was struggling to keep up with the pace of the walkers. I always told myself I have the stamina to walk however long I want – little did I realise that is just mental strength. My 6 month old dog was running back to me every 2 mins and questioning why we weren’t moving faster around this big green space!

Today when I speak to many of my friends (especially back home), I hear all those excuses I gave myself – we have all given up thinking this is what happens when you turn 30. I was 50 Kgs when I finished undergrad in 2003. I was almost the same when I went to Bombay in 2006.

I was 65 Kgs when I last checked my weight in 2013. (I am barely 5 feet tall!). Biscuits, Pizzas, Eating out, Evening Snacks and No exercise. I was looking ugly in the pics and I just hid them all thinking this is what happens when you turn 30.

That’s me in Aug 2013.

Aug 2013

Something happened in me that day when I saw the boys run up the hill. It was another 6 months before I did anything about it though.

A had tried Couch to 5k (C25k) and was upping his running distances quite a bit – he could climb all those hills on his bike (had had ridden at the Flanders twice by then) but running was a new domain for him and he seemed to be loving it. Slowly without any expectations at all, I went for that first C25k run in Aug 2013. It is a 20 min set of 8x 1 min jog + 1.5 min walk. All I wanted to do was finish it – and I can still feel the happiness inside me when I think of that day. Yes, the 4th jog was difficult, and I was just hoping the 60 secs gets over as quickly as possible for the next 4 turns but yes, I could do this! The only thing I promised myself was that I will get out 3 times a week as per the plan and try and do as much of it as per the plan – it doesn’t matter how slow I am, all I wanted to do was follow Laura (the NHS podcast girl all C25K runners come to love 🙂 ). The plan repeats the same run 3 times during the week before progressing to the next stage the following week (2nd week was three runs of 6x 1.5 mins jog + 2 mins walk). I could see that the third run was always a tiny bit better than my first run each week which gave me the mental confidence needed to move to the next week (the first run of every week I would always come home and crib how hard that run was and how it is getting more and more difficult).

It was not all easy. We were moving houses at the end of the summer and at the end of Week 4, I stopped the runs. I was busy shopping, setting up the new home and settling in. In Dec 2013 when I saw that 65Kgs on the scale, I started again. On 29th of Dec, I went out again for Week 4, Run 2. I almost died doing the Week 5 Run 3 – 20 mins continuous jog – slow, slow and very slow, I think I was walking and telling myself I was running! but I completed the plan and for the Week 9 Run 3 I went on to do my first Park run on 1 Feb 2014 🙂 which was a disaster in the mud and I came last (by a big margin) at almost 48 mins 🙁 .

As any runner will know, there are good runs and bad runs and ok runs – it all comes as part of the package. Running a 5K was a big achievement for me and in a couple of weeks, in better conditions, I could do 45-46 mins. And then I did a park run in 40 mins by the end of March!  All through the C25k and beyond, given my body wasn’t used to all these workouts, one of the painful things I had was shin splints. A’s advice helped me here – ice packs after every run whether there was pain or not. Recovery is as important as exercise. I wasn’t going to run consecutive days and ice ice baby.

I had to now focus a bit more on the cycling as I was doing the short distance (80Km) at the Flanders in March. My next big celebration was when I rode up Box Hill on my bike without stopping (I now know it is one of the easier climbs, but back then it was the ultimate climb for me 🙂 ). I had ridden tougher ones before I went up there but I was happier when I went up Box Hill in one-go! With the Flanders done in March, I took a long hiatus in April and May and slowly got back to running again in June. I registered for a 10k for my Birthday weekend in July and slowly started increasing my 5k runs to 6 and 7ks. I did my first 10k on the 5th of Jul in 1 hr 18 mins. My actual event 10k on 26th Jul was slower than that – 1 hr 21 min (bad run day 🙁 ).

The only way I was going to continue running and motivate myself was to register for the next event when I finish one. I work better (I only work) with deadlines and challenges! Next up were:

  • Kingston run at 13Km on 12 Oct – this was finally my first good run on race day and I smashed a 5k (35:33) and 10k (1 hr 14 min) PB :). The 13 Km took me 1 hr 38 mins. I was getting better – I was running sub 8 mins / km pace.
  • Leatherhead Duathlon 3k run, 10k bike, 3k run on 19 Oct – my first Duathlon and an opportunity to take my bike out for the first time after Flanders! The realisation of how difficult it is to do the second run after riding the bike 🙂

Last year A had done the HumanRace Winter Trail Series and I decided (still trying to figure out why I did this and why I want to go back and do this again!) to try my leg on a different kind of (hillier muddier) challenge. I was running up Curling Vale (long but gentle climb) more often and also tried jogging up the Mount (steep long one) a couple of times. WildMan on 22 Nov was a good introduction to the trail hills followed by a good run at the tough Iceman on 7 Feb 2015 and a bad slow jog / walk to finish the tough tough MudMan on 7 Mar 2015. I was slow, one among the final few to finish, but I really enjoy these runs and will definitely be back 🙂

I also started to increase my distances (more 10 and 10+ kms leading to a 16 km run in 2 hours in Richmond Park on 29 Nov) in order to be able to run a HM distance before the end of the year. I logged my highest monthly mileage in Nov at 70 Kms. But Dec was a write-off month with only 13 Kms in total! In Jan, I decided to sign up for HumanRace Garmin Race Your Pace HM around the Eton Dorney Lake on 28 Feb. Now that I had signed up for an event, I was back to training. In Jan I did 5 runs for 60Kms. Feb training was another 5 runs for 50 Kms including a 20Km run and a 5K PB (31:51) just two days before the HM!

Running hills and increasing distances did have an adverse impact on my right knee. Rest and ice packs didn’t make it better. Driving 2 hours every day was making it worse. Internet searches asked me to do glute and quad strengthening exercises but all these were greek to me and I got bored doing reps of these without knowing what I was doing. I needed a plan and I needed someone to tell me what to do. I also wanted to work on my speed. I signed up for a 4 session S&C coaching program with Surrey Sports Park and asked for a running specialist coach. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better – I met Stephanie Twell who was patient with a newbie like me and showed me nuances on how to strengthen / activate different muscle groups that aid running. Within the month, I could see the impact of weight training and my speeds were improving a tiny bit every other time.

When I registered for the HM in Jan, a decent time in my head was 2 hr 30 mins. Anything below that I was going to be happy. My 20k run on 14 Feb took 2 hr 29 mins. I told myself I am going to push to get inside that 2 hr 30 min I wanted to do for 21 Km. On the night before my HM, I felt confident. I felt good that Sat morning. It’s been a long time since I felt this – a nervous feeling when I don’t want to disappoint myself when I have prepared well.

I started off with 10 min / mile pacers and I was surprised I could run faster than them (albeit only for a short while). I smashed another 5k PB at 31:13 and a 10k PB at 1:04 🙂 I knew that the next 5k is important as I will flag after 15 km. I did slow down behind the 10 min pacers but I kept them at sight for another 4 kms. The 15th Km was tough and I was flagging – my slowest km at 7:44 mins. Slowly started picking up again to get back to low 7:05 – 7:10 mins / km for the next 3 kms. At the 18 Km mark, the 11 min / mile pacer caught up with me. She was my much needed saviour. The final 3 Kms were all run with sub 7 mins / km pace to finish in 2:21:44 🙂 at 6:44 mins / km (11 mins / mile).

I couldn’t be happier with my run. I just did my 21 Km run, 7 mins faster than my 20k run two weeks ago.

When I ran my first 5k in Feb last year, I definitely didn’t think I could run a HM in one year and definitely not that pace! 🙂 I am used to my Garmin showing 8 mins+ a km for anything longer than a 5k 🙂

And that’s me in Feb 2015.

Feb 2015

I exercise to get fitter, stronger and feel better. Weight loss and looking good is a nice and very welcome side effect (I don’t hide my pics any more 🙂 )

Next up is Edinburgh Half Marathon on 31 May – I want to do 2 hr 8 mins. Looks difficult, but now that I have put it up here, I promise to give my best 🙂