Since 2013, 5000 women who thought they shouldn’t be able to run have started running. That’s thanks to Julie Creffield of Too Fat To Run. She’s a bit of a legend, as it happens. Could this be you too? No? Well, I disagree. I think you could smash it. Because once upon a time I didn’t think it could be me either. Here’s my story and the 5 running ‘shoulds’ I debunked on my journey to becoming a runner.
Up until six years ago, my only experience of running involved some very miserable cross country experiences at school where the finish line felt as far away as Mordor, with a similar level of brimstone in my way, and humiliating sports days where I trailed in wheezing and medal-less after the others had moved on to high jump. Needless to say, I had concluded that I was most definitively “not a runner”. Fast-forward 18 years to one fated pub trip where, during a drunken conversation with the work girls, it became apparent I was not alone. We all had reasons why: we just assumed we “weren’t runners” and therefore couldn’t be. Another colleague overheard and, an experienced runner herself, insisted she would teach us to run. That night, in the snug room of an Oxford pub, we created a sacred pact that would change our lives for the better: in five weeks we would run a 5k race, and she would help us to do it.
It was called Fight Club, because, well, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? We kept it between us, so no-one would spot us huffing and puffing our way up and down the canal path. Within 5 weeks we all ran that race. Then we moved on to a 10k, and within six months we had completed our first half-marathon. Say WHAT now?
But you see, that was our first mistake: not wanting anyone to see us. We were embarrassed, and looking back I realise that was because we held a collective belief that to be seen running you should be able to run a certain distance, a “respectable” distance. We decided we shouldn’t be out in public until we had achieved this. In short, we were afraid of looking like numpties. Now I’ve met Julie, I can see others won’t make this mistake.
As I look back over our running journey, I can see that we held so many “shoulds” like this in our heads, so many assumed rules about running that affected how we viewed our own potential. Here are five key ones that we successfully debunked, to inspire you to just get up, get out, and give it a bash:
1. “I shouldn’t be running. I’m too fat”
Nope! Not true, and now we get to the heart of Julie’s philosophy. There were a range of sizes in our Fight Club gaggle, and this came up a number of times: some were concerned they would be too heavy to run. The fact was all of us had runs where we felt heavy, regardless of dress size. We realised it was our minds telling us we couldn’t do it. Our emotional weight was slowing us down more than any physical weight. Our thoughts were too heavy. To quote Martin Luther, “Heavy thoughts bring on physical maladies: when the soul is oppressed, so is the body.” Do have a chat with your doctor before you get going if you’ve any concerns, but otherwise let go of the shoulds! Acknowledge how amazing you are for even being outside wearing a pair of trainers, start putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll be amazed how much lighter you feel.
2. “It shouldn’t hurt this much. I’m not fit enough”
You can only be as fit as you are at that moment, and that is fit enough for today. It may be uncomfortable as you get going, but even Mo Farah had to start somewhere. Every step, just putting one foot in front of the other, counts. Go at a pace that works for you. We can do a lot in our minds to manage our relationship with discomfort when running: there is pain, the physical sensation, but we can also find ourselves putting a story layer on top of this pain: we shouldn’t be feeling it, it’s too painful, we’re not fit enough. This story layer is what makes us suffer because of physical discomfort, and makes the discomfort worse. I found that by just letting go of any expectation of how I should feel, and accepting it might be uncomfortable for a while, it actually felt less painful and was much more manageable. In some cases, it dissipated completely.
3. “I should be able to run 5k”
Why on earth should you? You’ve never run one before! Take it slow, really really slow. Find a good training plan (like Julie’s fab Clubhouse or the Couch to 5k) starting with walking, and build yourself up gradually to whatever is safe for you. Be kind to yourself: you are amazing for giving this a go in the first place. Let go of your expectations of what you should be able to do, and just do what you can do that day. You will be flabbergasted how quickly you will reach your goal.
4. “I shouldn’t have to stop”
This was my biggy. I was so hard on myself. Every time I stopped to walk I would berate myself for having done so, and for needing to in the first place. I soon realised I needed to be kinder to myself: I was out there, on my feet, being active, and that in itself was a great achievement. There are no rules as to how to get to the end – walk, jog, crawl (!) – do whatever you need to do. If you put pressure on yourself to keep going, you’re more likely to want to stop because your head won’t be in the present moment. It’ll be way off in the land of maybes and shoulds, creating a story about how tired you are. How you get there doesn’t matter in the slightest – as the wise prophet Miley once said “It’s the climb”.
5. “I should have proper running gear”
Well, actually, the most important thing is a well-fitting pair of running shoes to avoid injuries like shin splints. Apart from that, just throw on whatever you feel comfortable in. There will be people who have all the gear and no idea, or no gear and all the idea. Apart from the shoes, there are no rules. Anyway, have you seen this guy? ‘Nuff said.
Right. Convinced? Good!
Now we’ve debunked some of the big ‘should’ myths around running a 5k, you’ve really no excuse not to sign up to Julie’s amazing One Big Fat Run July, have you? Head on over to the website, pop in your details and you’ll be sent all the info you need to get started. I’m in! Together, let’s get 10,000 women running 5k on 31st July, and lose “should” for good!
You’re going to ACE this.
This post is in support of the Too Fat To Run campaign.