Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to hit the gym and become an ultra-marathon runner from January 1st? Skipped the Costa caramel latte and chocolate muffin in order to fund those Pilates classes? Natalie Holborow argues against giving up on the dreaded “get fit” resolution.

Now that the first month of the year is over, most people will confess that the gym has been frequented about as often as Narnia and the only thing running is that leaky tap in a cold Brynmill kitchen.

But this doesn’t mean that all intentions to get fit and healthy for 2013 have to be abandoned. The problem with the typical New Year’s Resolution is that it is completely unrealistic. As a keen runner I know that targets and aims are important, but the key to progression is keeping those aims completely realistic. I may be able to run over 10 miles most mornings now, but I can promise you that I didn’t just roll out of bed one frosty morning of January 1st a few years ago, put my trainers on and pound the pavements for an hour and a half. I was far too hungover and full of Christmas turkey for that anyway. Plus Shrek was on.

If I remember correctly, my first few jogging sessions with my Dad five years ago were anything but impressive. All I remember is a tight chest, a face the hue of a Gala apple and the utter certainty that the Grim Reaper was coming to claim me in a blackberry hedge. And that was after a ten-minute jog. With a rest against a wooden gate. And a bit of walking towards the end. No way did any running stamina arrive immediately on the next run. Nor the next. I realised then that this was going to take a lot of work and perseverance. And I could have told you in those moments of certain oncoming heart failure and death that while I was hitting the trails around Loughor Estuary, I hated running. Yet now I couldn’t bear to think of my life without it.

The problem is that too many people see regular runners out, expect to be like that straightaway and then become disheartened when they find that running is in fact incredibly hard when starting out. The expensive new Nikes are put away with a secret sigh of relief and the belief that “well I tried it – running just isn’t for me.” Everybody finds it a challenge to begin with. Even Paula Radcliffe didn’t shrug and decide, “cool, I’ll start running” then charge straight into the London Marathon. The truth is, even Radcliffe isn’t immune to feeling challenged and disappointed. The important thing is to not lose faith and not give up.

Swansea beachSwansea boasts some beautiful running spots, so why not get out there and give it a go?

I didn’t give up. I had so many reasons why I thought about putting my trainers away too, but something about that rush of endorphins and that beautiful feeling of a cool shower afterwards kept me rushing off to get changed into my kit to join my dad every time he came home from work. Common reasons why people say they don’t want to run (most of which I have also felt in the initial stages of training) include:

  • “I’m just not meant for running.”
  • “I don’t have time to exercise.”
  • “I feel stupid running in front of people.”
  • “I get a stitch.”
  • “I die in sunlight.” (Usually this problem is strictly vampiric).

How do you know you’re not meant for running after just one run? Your body isn’t used to it. Count it as practice. Count it as introducing your body to something new. Sure, it feels like being tortured, but the old saying is true: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Keep persevering and your body will probably start itching to go and burn energy at that same time every evening. Don’t have time to exercise? Twenty minutes of jogging isn’t much time in a 24-hour day. You could jog home from work or Uni. Grab a mate and go to the pub that hour later so you can both train together first. It’ll probably do your liver and bank balance a favour anyway to replace that first Jagerbomb with a run along the bay. Company keeps you motivated and will resolve the next problem: “I’ll look stupid.” Take a friend and look stupid together.

The fact is, no one thinks you’re stupid for moving your bum off the sofa and getting out in the elements to get healthy. And if you do get the inevitable Corsa full of adolescent boys beeping and yelling, “RUN FORREST” (unoriginal, don’t do it if you are one of the individuals who shout at runners, get a new film quote please), then think about who is the stupid one. The one getting healthy, clearing their head, pumping endorphins, and cutting their risk of heart disease? Or, the spotty teen hanging out of a car window in the hopeless pursuit of looking like a babe magnet behind the wheel?

If you get a stitch, check your hydration. Whilst it is important to drink water, downing a litre of Powerade WILL make your sides hurt. Likewise, try and have a high-carbohydrate snack such as a banana beforehand and save the big meal for later. As for dying in sunlight, Edward Cullen, you can just go running at night.

So remember: realistic aims. Start small and you’ll start achieving something big in the long run (no pun intended). Make it your aim to jog 10 minutes 3 times a week. Then the next week, increase the time to 15 minutes or add another run. Make little weekly targets and push yourself. Yes, sometimes your body does just get too tired and you might come home disappointed, but this doesn’t mean you have failed. One bad run is always going to be better than no run at all, and it will still count towards getting you fitter and used to the exercise. I’m currently finding it hard to manage my diabetes past the 10-mile mark to reach my half-marathon distance in time for the Llanelli Half Marathon (which I’ll be doing to help the local hospital’s blood cancer unit). But I’m not going to give up. All it means is that I’m probably pushing too hard on the speed and need to focus on distance. I need to look at my nutrition and work out how I’m going to adjust my insulin accordingly. Hitting a plateau in training just means that you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. Aim smaller if you have to. But don’t ever give up.

And if I can do it, you definitely can. This is athletic advice coming from the girl who was 3 stone heavier in school and often smacked on the head with badminton racquets for letting the team down every time.

By Natalie Holborow

Are you a pro when it comes to running in Swansea? Help out the newbies by suggesting a few of your favourite running spots, and ways to motivate yourself to hit the track for those times when staying into watch Hollyoaks seems all too attractive.