Being unfit and over 30 really is no obstacle

Runners compete in the Whole Hog Race - something Ellen won't be doing, even though she's taken up r

Runners compete in the Whole Hog Race - something Ellen won't be doing, even though she's taken up running - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

Just before Christmas, I discovered that I am a quitter.

I’m worse than that, actually, because how can you quit something you have never even started? Running.

Five of my friends have been discussing their preparations for the Hog Race, an eight-mile endurance test which takes place every year in Wantisden.

It’s a multi-terrain adventure involving freezing water, muddy bogs and torturous military-style obstacles.


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“It’s great fun,” one friend told me. “You should join our tag team.”

I laughed it off: “I would slow you down. I will come along with flasks of hot chocolate and offer moral support instead!”

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What I didn’t tell them – what I was ashamed to admit - is that I simply couldn’t take part. I have never been running. Never. I don’t think I have ever even run for a bus.

Now my New Year’s Resolution for 2014 was to try new things. Before we get carried away, I need to point out that I have absolutely no intention of ever doing an obstacle race.

But this week I did unearth a pair of brand new trainers - which I bought about three years ago with good intentions and never used – and went for my first run.

There is a current boom in the number of people taking up running and, according to surveys, the vast majority are over 30, like me.

Part of the reason for this is that it is one of the few sports at which it is possible, albeit with a lot of hard work, to progress to elite status despite a late start.

While the amateur footballer is confronted, aged 40, with his or her place in the team being given to the latest young talent, the amateur runner is often just getting going.

Look at Jack Foster. The New Zealander went for his first jog at age 32 and at 40 found himself picking up a silver medal at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games.

I have to admit a secret part of me had medal hopes myself when I bounded out my front door on the morning of my debut and breathed in a lungful of cold air.

But the truth is that my first foray was just an exercise in pain.

I stumbled through the woods with all the grace of baby elephant, gritting my teeth and trying not to slip up.

Then, when I returned home, red in the face, bent double and wheezing like an old man, my husband, a seasoned runner, spent the next 45 minutes talking animatedly about getting in the zone, riding the endorphins and powering through the mental block. If I hadn’t been so exhausted I would have happily smashed him in the face with my new, now very muddy, trainer.

Having said that, he is, in part, the inspiration for my change of heart when it comes to running.

Up until now, the only thing stopping me from trying it has been me.

I will look like an idiot, turn as red as a beetroot, sweat profusely. I will fall flat on my face, pull a muscle, get a stitch. I’m too fat, too old, too uncoordinated. I will fail.

All irrational and all part of my own complicated self doubt.

But my husband made me realise it was ok to look stupid when he recently embarked on a new training programme which involves periods of running backwards.

This bizarre trend is called reverse (or retro) running and – apparently - can help improve your fitness levels. Personally I think it makes him look ridiculous.

But, if he is unconcerned by the fact that people stop and stare at him while he trips over his own feet while trying to look over his shoulder, why am I worried?

It is for this reason that, the morning after my first run, I got up, aching all over, and tried again.

And surprisingly, the second time around it felt marginally better.

Running is undoubtedly good for you. And not just because it burns calories.

Research suggests that if a newbie can develop a regular running routine they can increase brain activity, improve their memory function and reduce their stress levels.

The latter is particularly true if you listen to music. Professor Andy Lane, a sports psychologist from the University of Wolverhampton (and marathon runner), discovered that runners could regulate their positive and negative emotions simply by listening to certain tunes while exercising.

He also concluded that riders should pay attention to the tempo, genre or vibe and lyrics of the songs they run to as well as the compilation of the tracks.

I’m taking his advice and this weekend I’m working on an inspirational playlist. Cigarettes and Alcohol by Oasis, anyone?

If you would like to get in touch, email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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