Today Facebook told me it was my Faceversary! 11 years ago today I joined Facebook, how fitting as I sit to write my latest article on barriers that prevent people from running. How does my 11-year anniversary fit into writing about barriers that prevent people from running? Read on...
I have spent over 20 years talking to people, men and women, sharing their fears, their doubts and their anxieties encouraging them to either try running or come back to running. It is a part of my job that I love so much as I feel privileged to be able to listen and alleviate people’s fears so that they can achieve goals that they never thought possible. Sometimes I’m successful at getting people out of the front door and other times I’m not.
In my experience I have found parkruns to be an amazing concept and I have utilized this great free community run for the last 8 years. My beginner’s running course always finishes with a 5k parkrun and the sheer delight and elation that people show when they’ve achieved this goal makes my job the best job in the world. I am often told that when people start my course, that they look around at all the other beginner’s and mentally tick off who will be able to achieve being a runner in 8 weeks, of course telling themselves that it won’t be them in a month of Sundays! Week by week my runners are coached, encouraged and supported, often there are tears, more often there are beaming faces as they achieve more running time week by week! “18 ½ minutes! I’m still in shock”
A high proportion of my runners come to me later in life having experienced setbacks that has meant that sport was not an option for them and they gave it up as soon as possible. For some this may have been the minute they realised they could “bunk” off PE lessons without much recrimination because they thought they weren’t “sporty”, others because they were told they couldn’t do it or they had the humiliation of being picked last for the team in PE. There are many reasons, and I’ve heard a quite a few, unfortunately these negative thoughts can stay with you for a lifetime. My job as a coach is to encourage and try and change the negative thoughts into positive ones and give people the skills to achieve, I really do believe anyone can run.
It sounds perfect doesn’t it? But I’m not a miracle worker and it can go wrong and it does. People do drop out of my courses for a number of reasons, life gets in the way, memories of PE teachers take over, feelings of not being good enough, and sometimes it’s because they physically and mentally cannot get out of the front door, 30 years of being told you are rubbish sometimes just can’t be undone.
I’ve learnt so much since setting up RunVerity and I’ve got so much more to learn, one thing I’ve learnt is how particular I am about which parkrun we graduate from, the toilets have to be accessible, there needs to be somewhere for bags to be kept, the atmosphere needs to be friendly and welcoming with not too many runners dressed in Lycra. The main thing is that the route isn’t laps, I’ve learnt this at my cost as I’ve lost numerous runners on lapped courses. A graduate who has just completed a beginner’s running course does not see themselves as a runner, I’m still not sure when that kicks in but turning up to a “race” event, (even though it’s not a race it is timed and perception is everything) is often scary and intimidating. So much fear and anxiety because 5k is a long way; “will I come last? Will the tail walker really walk, what if they walk quicker than I can run, will I hold them up? They might get cross with me and I’ll be able to hear them breathing down my neck, will everyone have packed up when I’m finished, how is it timed, will I be laughed at because I haven’t got the right gear on, why do I need the toilet so many times, my heart rate is out of control, how am I going to be able to run without having a heart attack”. And that’s all in the first 2 minutes.
Having a lapped route where you are passed by other “runners” who seem to know what they are doing because they look so professional can be soul destroying, seeing the same spectator 3 times as they stand cheering you on, offering fantastic words of encouragement like “not far to go” can be off putting when you feel vulnerable as your face is the colour of a beetroot, you are sweating and all of Verity’s words of wisdom have gone out of your head as you remember horrible days of cross country when you thought you were going to die as you came in last, too late to shower as you had to catch the school bus home, sweaty, hot, red, smelly (or was that just me).
What does an adult do when all these feelings come flooding back again on a lapped parkrun? they leave the course and get in their car and go home, never to be seen again. I have found many a graduate in the car park crying with frustration and anger because they “gave up” And who can blame them, no-one knows if you are there or not, there is no pre-registration, you just turn up and run, if you don’t finish it doesn’t matter, there won’t be a detention.
For those runners who tame the tiger and grab it by the tail, learning to run and break down these barriers can bring about feelings of euphoria and strength that they never knew they had possessed, they are achieving goals that they never ever thought would be possible “in your face Miss Black! I am a runner!”
However, once more, in my experience it can sometimes all go wrong as PB’s are chased as new runners experience a real honeymoon period where achievements are in abundance. I can advise and say “remember the terrible toos’, don’t do too much, too soon, too quickly” “Only chase one rabbit” “You need to rest and let your body recover”. But unfortunately injury can occur after years of not running where the body has adapted to a sedentary lifestyle and created weakness’s that rear their ugly head when you put too much stress on the body. These are the physical downsides of running too many PBs, but what about the psychological downsides of achieving PBs or not achieving PBs. We are living in an age of envy as we can now compare ourselves to the rest of the world with a swipe of a screen and envy can be for anything, career envy, holiday envy, six pack envy, arm envy and of course run envy. Our lives are filtered and whitened and plastered all over social media 24/7, we carry our accessible devices for comparison everywhere we go, how many times a day do you check social media? Is it the first thing you do in the morning and last thing at night. Have you uploaded your latest amazing run on Strava or filtered running photo? and yes I am guilty as I uploaded a great photo of me from the AGEAS 10k last week presenting the very best of my life to all my old school friends and acquaintances? You won’t see the one of me running on Sunday at the RNLI with my big moon face wrapped up in my bandana and my boobs down to my knees! We present the very best of our lives and by doing so we are creating a lifestyle that is not sustainable and most of the times unachievable. The Facebook app just shows the good bits, the pbs, the great photos, the amazing holiday, the wonderful beautiful friends who are having an equally wonderful beautiful holiday. The Strava app tells us how good we are up Strawberry Track compared to all our other running buddies and who this week is on the top of the leader board. We are ruled by numbers and therefore we compare ourselves using these numbers. But not having a pb each week (or a new house, new friends, new holiday) does not make any of you less succesful or your achievements less important. And whilst I am proud of everyone’s achievements and celebrate every success we also have to remember why we started to run in the first place and what’s important. One very wise runner told me this week
“I feel I have achieved by just getting myself out there, being within a group of people and not feeling like I have made a complete prat of myself, but there is no app for that!”
So happy faceversary J