At the start of July I set myself the ultimate challenge. I don’t see myself as a runner. In fact I have always said that running is the thing that I have to really work at – it doesn’t feel natural and takes real commitment. It isn’t that I haven’t run. Five years ago I completed the Great North Run and the Great Eastern Run and have done a number of 5 and 10k runs too. Whilst I was proud of these achievements I always quickly return to circuits, weights and my comfort zone.

I like to set myself challenges and have worked hard to conquer swimming mastering both front crawl and open water swimming. I have completed 3 Sprint Triathlons, a number of long cycles and outdoor swims. Not really any more running though until I started the road to recovery after being diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. Taking on a running challenge at this point was a way of changing my focus and doing something where I couldn’t see exactly how far my fitness and energy levels had declined. I did a Half Marathon at Druridge Bay in Northumberland and loved the whole experience. I had stuck to my plan and had seen huge improvements in my running. Having decided that I wanted to do the same run next year I was keen to find a way to keep running.

As always I didn’t take the easy route which would have been to book a couple of events in the autumn and to then build back up to the half marathon distance at the start of 2018 ready for April. I still wasn’t fast but the more that I had run the more I surprised myself. It was starting to feel easier and I wasn’t struggling for the first 20 minutes as I always had. I had kept motivated and hadn’t had any injuries or niggles either. I started to think about what I might be able to do if I put my mind to it. I can honestly say that running a marathon has never appealed at all. I had however bought a book ‘The Non-Runners guide to Marathon running.’  In a moment of madness having been inspired by the success stories in the book I started to wonder whether I should challenge myself to see how far I could get following the plan.

Now this was not an easy commitment to make. The plan involves 4 runs each week of increasing length and is therefore a major commitment. The weekly long run starts at 5 miles and by week 12 is 18 miles. Looking at the plan I acknowledged that if I could complete the plan to the end of week 8 then that would be an incredible achievement. With the long run at 14 miles and to do the other 3 runs totalling 14 miles, 28 miles in a week seemed way beyond my capabilities as a runner.

So I made it to the end of week 8 and at that point had run 160.3 miles. Even reading that seems crazy. I have remained injury free and my biggest challenge as always has been in my head. On the final long run I pushed myself really hard despite having really heavy legs and no energy. Clearly the 14 miles I had already run during the week had taken their toll. It was the hardest run that I have ever done and I made it to 13.1 miles equalling my longest distance. As I sat on the floor in the shower afterwards feeling nauseous I did acknowledge that that was as far as I would be going with the plan! Even the following day I felt pretty awful and had obviously done far too much.

Now I know that in the past I would have spent the next day berating myself for not having done the 14 miles and stopping short. I have learnt so much in the last 8 weeks about running but more importantly about myself. It turns out that I am a runner. You can’t run over 160 miles in 8 weeks and be anything else. My confidence is soaring and I can now see how fit I really am. It always surprises people to know that I really battle with my self confidence and doubt my own ability. The last 8 weeks have taught me that I am a force to be reckoned with and that I can do more than I gave myself credit for.

I haven’t missed a single run and have coped with every increase in distance. I have stretched, massaged and fuelled my body carefully. I have completed the 8 weeks without a single niggle or injury. Yes I was exhausted at times but from the start I knew that there would come a point when I would run out of capacity to continue the plan and still do all the other things I do. I run my own business and with the training and massage it can be physically demanding. Add in a family to take care of and the juggling can be tricky.

I have clients say all the time that they can’t fit training into their schedule. It can be hard but in the last 8 weeks I have managed to fit in 4 runs. I have amazed myself with the progress I have made in cutting out unnecessary tasks that I wasted my time doing week by week. You can always find time if you look hard enough and get organised. I did runs at 6am and some at 8.30pm. Not ideal but you have to do it when you can.

I have enjoyed the running and can feel the difference that all those miles have made in my body. My legs are stronger and more toned. My core has less padding and my shape has changed too. I think in miles now and any run under 60 minutes is now a short one. My head is in a much better place and I am so much clearer on my priorities and what I want to do. I have really enjoyed the thinking time that running has given me and have processed all sorts of things that I didn’t even know were still lurking around. What a shift in a short space of time!

I am however desperate now to be able to do other sorts of training. I have missed my TRX and swimming regularly. I can’t wait for my weekend away filled with walking and outdoor swims. I am keen however to keep the running going. I plan to do a long run each week and add in some sprints and tempo runs too. There is a half marathon I plan to enter in November with the goal of clocking a faster time than I did in April. I think that all the miles in my legs will stand me in good stead. I have 10 weeks to go so can change my focus and achieve my goal.

What I want you to take away today is that it is good to do things that you don’t enjoy sometimes. Doing something that you find hard can be a real challenge and you can learn so much about yourself in the process. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or even fitness related. It needs to be a challenge and to be a little bit scary. It won’t work otherwise – you need to be excited about achieving your goal so that you will make the time to commit and to get yourself out in the cold or the dark (challenge dependent of course). By stretching yourself you really connect with yourself. Growing is a good thing to do and really helps you in your day to day life.

I would love to hear your comments and for you to share the challenge that you are setting yourself. Don’t forget to like and share this post with anyone else you think would find it useful too.

Clare x

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