I know what you’re thinking – why put yourself through it?
The reason I decided to sign up for 5 distance runs in 2016 was firstly, to give myself a physical challenge and a reason to push myself, and secondly, to raise money for eating disorder charity Beat.
I did my first ever 10k last September and thoroughly enjoyed it, and knew I wanted to sign up for more in 2016, but wondered how I could make something more of it. Lining up 5 distance runs in 6 months and making it a mega challenge that I could be sponsored for just seemed like a great idea, and I’m so glad I did it.
I’ve now completed all my 1oks, which included races in St Helen’s, the Great Manchester Run, Leeds, Salford, and the Women’s Running Manchester 10k.
As pretty much a running novice, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting in for – but I’ve learned a lot along the way. So, for anyone out there thinking of taking part in some long distance running, I thought it would help for me to share my top tips and want I’ve learned about pushing yourself to the edge physically.
You need good trainers
Until I decided to embark on this series of five 10ks, I’d been exercising in some ancient, bright pink, bargain bin Nike trainers that I got years ago.
When I decided to step up my distance running game, I knew I’d need to invest in some better shoes to help see me through the runs.
A good pair of trainers really makes all the difference – my old pair used to consistently rub and produce huge blisters as well as pain all the way through the run, and if you’re busy thinking about your shoes being uncomfortable, you’re not dedicating all your mental ability to getting through the race.
You want there to be the least amount of obstacles present between you and the finish line, and a quality pair of trainers is part of that.
After a bit of shopping around, I went for the Adidas Ultra Boost, and got a slightly discounted price from online retailer Wiggle. These are eye-wateringly expensive for someone who’s never invested in quality trainers before, but they really were worth the money.
They’re made mostly from fabric meaning they mold completely to your feet and from my experience, that means no rubbing, anywhere. The big bubbly sole also makes you feel like you’re walking on air when you put them on, and the trainers overall are super light.
Unfortunately, maybe 3 months ago, the insole in the right shoe came off almost completely, so I now have to be careful when putting them on. It doesn’t make too much difference when running, but I’ve noticed they can become uncomfortable now when I play netball. And, the fabric on the toes of the right shoe has also now developed a hole! So, I’m not sure how long they have left (and I would expect a long lifespan thanks to how much I paid for them) but I can’t deny how instrumental they’ve been in my training and helping me get to those finish lines.
The course can make a difference
Being very much a beginner in distance running, I didn’t think to research into the kinds of course that made up each of the races I’d signed up for – just the thought of getting through 10km seemed hard enough?
But I know now that the way the course is laid out can have a huge impact on your stamina, your race time and your enjoyment of the run.
St Helen’s has to be my least enjoyable run of the year – the course involved running up the single biggest hill I have ever seen in my life (almost), running round a park at the top, then coming back down. Of course, coming down the hill wasn’t too bad, but trying to get up almost killed me.
Leeds wasn’t my fave either, as it essentially consisted of running down one huge long road for 5k, and then running back up it. There’s something about seeing how far you have to run in a straight line in front of you that makes it all the more daunting, and knowing you have to run all the way back makes it worse.
My most enjoyed course was the City of Salford 10K – it features lots of turns and you get to run round all the different landmarks of Media City, Salford Quays and Old Trafford. Plus, with that one being the closest to where I live, I kinda knew my way about a bit more.
The Women’s Running 10k in Wythenshawe Park was fun too. Because there was a 5k going on at the same time, you had to run one lap of the park for the 5k, and two laps for the 10k. This meant that you got to see what time you were on at 5k, and also that you already knew what was coming the second time round, making the run easier and the time go much faster.
It can get expensive
Entering yourself to do a 10k isn’t cheap, but I can understand why. There’s a lot that goes into each day, from the tents at the start/finish line, to the goodie bags and medal at the end, and all the marshals and staff that have to be there to guide you round.
But, this means that you do need to budget for your entrance fee, especially if you’re doing several runs like I was.
I think the most expensive one I entered was the Great Manchester Run, which was around £38, and the rest were approximately £20-£25 each – and that’s not counting petrol and travel costs either.
However, as I was doing this challenge for charity, it wasn’t really about what it would cost for me, it was about what I could be able to raise.
You need to maintain a basic level of fitness
Now, I signed up for all of these runs because I thought that having so many things to train for would mean I’d become one of those people who can’t wait to get up and go to the gym, and I’d basically look like Jessica Ennis-Hill by the time I was done. To my surprise, this simply does not happen if you do not train enough. Obviously.
I’ll happily put my hands up and say that if I’d put more effort into my training for these runs, I could have achieved much better times and seen much better results with regards to my health. I could never manage to get into a consistent training programme, and the only times I’ve ever ran the full distance were on race days.
What’s great to know is that you don’t need to be smashing out 10ks four times a week in order to run one – although it undoubtedly helps. What I’ve found you do need, however, is to maintain a basic level of fitness in order to be able to cope with the endurance required.
The one I most struggled with was the Leeds 10k, and it’s because I’d been for a chilled week in a log cabin with the uni girls in the lead up to the run. Note to self: trying to run 10k after a week of hot tubbing, an unrestricted diet and zero exercise – not a good idea.
The point I’m trying to make is, you don’t have to be Mo Farah in order to run a 10k, but you need that basic level of endurance and fitness to get you through. You can’t just blag it without having put in at least some training.
There’s nothing like the adrenaline of race day
This was something I didn’t expect until I started entering actual races, and is what gave me the buzz for running to sign up for more.
No matter how much you train, in the gym or out on the streets, nothing can compare to the atmosphere of the actual race day. Seeing so many people in one place, there to push themselves physically, and with many raising money for charity – it’s seriously inspiring, and helps you push yourself too.
I’ve always found that I run a wee bit faster on race day than I do in training, and a lot of that is definitely down to the support throughout the course – and the adrenaline rush you get as you do that final push and sprint past the finish line is one of the best feelings in the world, along with the pride you feel once you’re done.
Mental strength is what’s most important
One of the biggest things I’ve realised about distance running (and it likely applies to other physical challenges) is that what’s going on in your head will dictate how well you do on the day, and that developing mental strength is key for being able to push yourself to the end.
Even if you bring along friends and family for support, after you cross that start line, you’re on your own. Only you, and you alone, can convince your legs to keep moving, your muscles to keep working, and your attitude to stay positive.
To make the run as painless as possible emotionally, I now know that you have to completely accept what you’ve let yourself in for. You have to absorb and accept the fact that you’re legs and knees are going to really fucking hurt, that you can’t get out of it, and that you’re going to be uncomfortable for the next hour or so.
Once you’re out there, it’s so easy to talk yourself into walking, and I did that for a good while in 2 of my races just because I wasn’t mentally prepared for the run. There’s nothing wrong with walking, lots of people do, but I was always striving to keep running that whole way round, and found that the only way I could do that was when my mind was fully on board with what was happening.
And, it sounds mental, but actually smiling and forcing your facial muscles upwards can make a world of difference – something about it sends positive signals to your brain and gives your legs a new lease of life. Also, a good playlist is essential!
If you’ve read this to end – huzzah! This was way longer than I expected, but these runs have taken up a big part of my year so far and I really wanted to share the impact they’ve had on me.
I put myself through all those kilometres to try and raise money for the fantastic eating disorder charity Beat – I’ve raised over £300 so far but would love to get a bit more! You can still donate by visiting www.justgiving.com/sophiefbutcher, and it really would mean the world to me if you did.
Are you signed up to run a 10k? What advice would you give for novice distance runners? Let me know in the comments!