On Sunday 8th September this year, I joined 57,000 other runners on a bright and glorious Newcastle morning for the 39th Great North Run. The Tyne Bridge just over a mile away, I met with friends (this in itself is a minor miracle when meeting at the world’s busiest half marathon), dropped off my gear and soaked up the nervous anticipation of the crowd.
While I stood in the waiting pens, I thought about doing this the previous year and wondered how it would all work out today. Had I trained as much as I wanted to? Had I eaten well enough during my taper days? Could I really beat last years’ time? Would I embarrass my family, so patient in their support of my goals? Why was I even standing there amongst all these strangers, completely alien to each other yet so familiar in their hopes for the day? Did I even like running enough to do all this again?! If there is one thing, I have learned more clearly than anything else, it’s that your brain can reach for your core doubts.
Then the countdown begins, Mo Farah and the elites have set off and as we shuffle towards toward the start line, I feel a sense of calm. I read something about the race itself being the victory lap; because all the hard work was those early mornings and long miles you’ve already done. I’ve crossed the start line; the chip timer beeps and we’re off. I am running and left with just my thoughts about what I am going to write for this blog post. Anything to distract myself. Much like the race, I’ve already committed to it, no matter what the outcome.
For me, running ‘started’ (I’d dabbled about ten years before this, but not seriously) in August 2017. As a secondary school teacher and a heavier guy (at the time) I was sometimes a target for unkind comments. I decided to do something about it and as we’d bought a treadmill a few months earlier, I spent my summer holidays walking, then jogging and then running. My goal initially was to lose weight and I thought running at home in private would be a good way of doing this. What I didn’t anticipate was the journey I have been on since then. So here I am, 2 years, 1 ultramarathon, 2 marathons, 6 half marathons, 5 10ks, 57 parkruns and over 3,000 running miles later, with the six things that have been most helpful to me.
*Disclaimer – these are just my views and as running is such a personal thing, please feel free to agree or dismiss anything!
- Set a goal, it keeps your aim on a target
This one seems fairly obvious. Set a date on a calendar, book something a few months away or make a plan with a friend. The goal can be to finish the event you booked, run a distance or run for a certain amount of time. Every target will serve as motivation. Once you have achieved a target, you’ll start to think about performance and how you could improve. I started with a very simple plan to complete a 5k treadmill run. I was much heavier then (though now I’m not as hung up on the weight thing as I was initially) and I hadn’t attempted any real exercise in several years due to an injury. Now, enough was enough. I set a goal. It was a massive thing at the time because once I set it, I knew I had something to aim for. It’s still a big thing now though, because I still have a target, it just changes based on what I want to achieve.
- Be ambitious. Believe in anything
I watched the London Marathon with my children in 2018 and my daughter helpfully suggested that I should do it. At the time I’d just completed my first 10k and the idea of attempting something four times the length filled me with so much dread. Was I going to let my children see my doubt and fear? Absolutely not. It’s a massive jump, from a 10k to a marathon. But with ambition, anything is possible. Lazarus Lake, the notorious race organiser for the Barkley Marathons, says that people sign up to his events because they want to find their absolute limit. I think the environment we live in can set artificial limits and because we’re busy, scared or tired (or all three) we start to believe them. The reality is that we are each capable of so much more, we just need ambition to change that belief. I ran the 2019 London Marathon in just over three hours and I think I did this because I believed in myself and my ambition. You read every year about people that complete marathons in eight hours or even twelve hours. What is it that gets them around the course? Belief and ambition.
- You aren’t going to hit your target immediately, so don’t expect to. Keep working towards it
We live in a world where we sometimes expect instant results and gratification. In reality with running, it can take a while to see the results you want. The ambition of the goal determines the scale of the steps you’ll need to complete along the way, so working towards any distance will take some work (and most likely, lots of steps before you get there). Running the Great North Run in 2018 was the goal I set myself in May that year and as someone that hadn’t run 13.1 miles for a very, very long time that seemed a very challenging target.
I sought advice and tried to break things down. I made training plans, I worked out how many weeks I had and planned how I could build up the distance of my longer runs. Getting to that point required working towards other smaller targets, so I knew that I would have to work through a set of runs before I got there. The good news though was that all my runs up to the Great North Run could now count as training runs, so even though I wasn’t achieving my actual target for the vast majority of my runs, I knew that they were each counting towards my ‘final’ goal. Just another thing, more linked to my next point – be OK with things not working out as you planned. It avoids mental anguish and negative feelings being attached to what is a really amazing thing. Plus, save all the frustration for the running, it’s can be great fuel.
- Make time, because you believe in what you are doing
For anyone that tracks their workouts on the millions of apps out there (Strava is my app of choice) you’ll know just how much time all this running can take up. Again, the ambition of goal will determine the amount of time you’ll need to spend working towards it. If you are planning an Ultra Marathon, be prepared to spend hours on long runs, sometimes on both weekend days. If you want to run 50 miles in a month and know it takes 10 minutes to run a mile, you should be under no illusion how much time you will need to dedicate towards achieving your goal. Sometimes it is very easy to see the hours you will spend as a ‘sacrifice’ towards a goal. If you believe in what you are doing, it isn’t a sacrifice, its progress. For me, looking at the time spent as progress makes a massive difference. Looking back over the last year, I have spent an average of 35 hours per month running. Without those hours, I wouldn’t have achieved the targets I have set for myself over the last year. The next point is finding that time. If you believe in what you are doing, you can find time. It might mean you have to get up early in the morning or go out late at night. Setting a routine will help. I don’t always manage to keep to my routine, but it is there as ‘the plan’.
- Get people involved, they are your secret weapon
I am a father of two young children. Keeping running separate would have meant me being away for races without them. I am also a husband and a teacher. So luckily for me, having a very supportive wife and children has meant I travel to most events with a cheering team. Though I can bore them all to tears with long accounts of pace, heart rate and ascents, they know how important it is in my life and are a constant source of support. Not only that, but now we are a family that run at Junior parkrun on a Sunday and my wife has even taken up running too. She believes I am insane, but there isn’t much that gives me the same amount of joy as knowing that my family are going on the journey with me. I have also managed to involve my school by signing up to as a charity runner and making my races a part of school life. Not only did this make the fundraising easier, it also kept me motivated as students and staff were constantly asking me how I was getting on. In fact, for me, I’d go as far as to say that the encouragement from my colleagues increased my belief in what I was doing. We have so far managed to raise £3,000 for charity this year and other staff have even started to take up running. Lastly, there are tons of online running groups (I recommend Lonely Goats, Fordy Runs, Urban Fox Running, Fitwins, to name but a few). Each are exceptionally supportive and as well as being great for advice and tips, I have even made some new friends as a result of this part of my life. A lot of people can see running as a solitary thing and though it can be that way if you want, it is easy to find groups to engage at a level you are happy with. People have helped me believe, kept me realistic and been there to celebrate the successes. Crossing the line at the 50k Peak District Ultra Marathon will stay with me forever, because my family and friends were there to share the moment.
- Share your progress, we all have a journey to share
I decided at the start of 2019 to set myself a new goal – to run 2019 miles this year. I’d always been a little suspicious of Instagram and filters but decided to set it as a platform to share my journey. A recent article in Runner’s world suggests that posting images of your running watch or stats at the end of a run is a great way of documenting progress and reminding yourself of how far you have come. I have found it to be a great picture book of important moments and a great source of inspiration for when I’m avoiding getting out on the next big run. Plus, everyone else on their own journey can share yours. Obviously, this is a personal thing, but my guess is that you’re already using some kind of social media if you’re reading this so why not share your journey and enjoy the connections that your journey can provide. Not only that, but through Instagram and Facebook I have been offered many great opportunities, such as becoming an ambassador for the MK Marathon Weekend in 2020.
So, there they are, my six ‘tips’, to ignore or consider. I am still learning about my limits, but I plan on doing a lot more running to try and find them. As for the Great North Run 2019. I believed I could beat my 2018 time. I worked at it for the year. I beat it by nearly 6 minutes and set my current PB of 1:25. I still have one more target to hit this year and as it currently stands, I’m under 400 miles away from hitting it. Beyond that, I can’t wait to see how 2020 will top this – my running year.
– Shaun Furzer
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Thanks to Shaun for sharing his running story! What’s yours? We’d love to know. Send an email to Caroline, firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to contribute to our blog.