If you’ve ever thought you can’t do something because of your age or lack of abilities, this interview will make you think again.
Nikki took up running at the age of 40 and is now in training for the London marathon. Here’s her story…
Why did you take up running instead of another fitness activity?
It all started with a book. In 2015 my partner and I had experienced a prolonged period of stress in our lives, which left me suffering from extreme anxiety, affecting my daily life. I rediscovered a book that a friend had bought me some years prior, Champneys Spa Secrets for Body & Mind, and it helped me to regain some mental clarity.
Over the weeks I noticed my feelings on anxiety dissipating, my best days being after a run
One part of my life the book did highlight was how isolated I had become through running our business at home. I adore working from home, but I felt that I needed to connect with the outside world. That in itself caused feelings of anxiety, I had developed FOGO (Fear Of Going Out), but I knew it was something I must tackle. I decided my first step should be to put myself into an environment in which I felt comfortable. My partner had been using a personal trainer, for many years, and over that time, we had become friends, so I joined myself. The personal trainer incorporated short runs during PT sessions, then suggested that maybe I’d like to have a go at their 5k event around our city centre in May of that year. I signed up, knowing it would help with my social anxiety, and began training in earnest around our village (addressing running outside on my own), during PT sessions, and I even joined a running club.
Over the weeks I noticed my feelings on anxiety dissipating, my best days being after a run, and further research into how running improves mental health backed up how I was feeling. A few weeks later I ran my first race, the Dynamic 5k, and was hooked on running from there.
Were you into fitness before then?
Not at all! My Uncle was a sporty person, running a marathon himself, but my immediate family were not at all interested, so my childhood was influenced by that. Being asthmatic, which worsens in damp Winter conditions, and having chronic nasal polyps didn’t help either, both earning me a place in the ‘Bad Attitude’ PE group at high school through lack of understanding by teachers.
Was there a significance to turning 40?
After the 5k run, I signed up to do a 10k in August of that same year. Independently I chose to raise money for a charity that I felt very passionate about, the Animal Health Trust, a veterinary research charity who two years prior had given our Border Terrier, Earl, a new lease of life by restoring his eyesight.
I completed the 10k in 00:56:12, and raised just over £1,600 for the charity. A month later I had to undergo my eleventh operation to date to correct a deviated septum and remove nasal polyps which had completely blocked my sinuses. Time out to recover meant I lost my momentum to run, and anxiety once again took over, peaking with us moving home in 2016.
Once again, I found inspiration in a book, or rather journal, the Daily Greatness Journal, which helped me to work through my anxiety, and begin running again. The journal also prompted me to review my general wellbeing, and focus on my individual goals and achievements, an element of my life that had taken a backseat through various demands over time. My 40th was looming, and whilst the milestone didn’t remotely bother me, I decided that it was time to rediscover myself.
One of my goals that I had written down in my journal was to run the London Marathon, and I wanted to use the challenge to help the Animal Health Trust once again, but something was holding me back.
On a number of occasions I nearly approached the charity, my nearest attempt being at their 75th anniversary event which Earl and I had been invited to as VIP guests, but I never summoned up the courage to actually come out with it.
After watching a television program, Mind Over Marathon, which followed the progress of ten people with varying degrees of mental health issues to the London Marathon, I realised that my mind health was holding me back. I now had a new motto, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, and I finally approached the Animal Health Trust to see if I could run the London Marathon 2018 on their behalf.
How do you keep motivated to train?
A month after approaching the Animal Health Trust, sadly we had to say goodbye to Earl after a sudden illness. Earl was my first dog, and we were completely devastated; it was the first time I had truly felt personal loss.
Earl and I had begun our journey to London by signing up to a few events throughout the year leading up to the marathon – the 5k and the 10k runs, and a half marathon. I even started a blog and obtained a significant amount of sponsorship.
Losing Earl made my plight even more poignant; I couldn’t let Earl down, the charity, those who had put their faith in me, nor indeed myself – that is all the motivation that I need.
How do you overcome those days when you really don’t feel like going for a run?
There are plenty of those days! It’s hard to push yourself out of the door when the weather is bad, work is busy, you feel tired through training, or you’re having an anxiety blip, but usually my first step is coffee…yes, coffee! Everything doesn’t seem quite so bad after a hit of caffeine.
I then take our two terriers, Red and George, for a walk to warm myself up and get used to being outdoors. I generally have a chat with myself whilst I am walking, reminding myself of what I am doing and why, and just how awful I would feel if I didn’t run that morning. Sometimes I get home, have a quick cup of tea, and shove myself out of the door; on a really bad day, I’ll go into the office and do some work, then go for a run. I am quite lucky in terms of my lifestyle as it does allow some flexibility in my day, so I take the view that it doesn’t matter how long it has taken me to go for a run that morning, but that I did it.
How much of the training is mind over matter?
From my experience, when you first start running, it’s the physical effort that’s the dominant feature, albeit you undoubtedly have days when you don’t feel like training which you mentally have to overcome.
Getting to the point where I could run consistently for 20 minutes was physically hard, but achievable, and it gave me confidence that I could add another 10 minutes to reach my first 5k.
I think at that point, progressing onto the 10k began to test my mental strength. I started analysing my pace because I had a recorded time to beat, and self doubt as to whether I could do it kept popping into my head, as I was out running for a longer period, and beginning to tire on long runs.
Training for the half marathon amplified those mental elements, bringing the balance to about 50/50 physical and mental.
It became important to keep things fresh, a changing playlist and varying routes, so as not to get bored on long runs of up to 2 hours. It also became more technical in terms of fuelling i.e. what to eat and drink. I was also faced with an iliotibial band injury two weeks before my half marathon, meaning time out from training. It was tough remaining positive through that time.
I’m now four weeks into marathon training; I have a good strong physical base, and after following a few training plans, am confident that I can add miles, and indeed complete the marathon providing injury or illness doesn’t side line me. However, the balance has shifted; the mental element is now the dominant feature. Not only am I going to have to face the aforementioned, but I have a lot of miles to cover over the coming months, and the long runs are going to require distraction. To while away the hours, I’m currently trialling listening to an audio book through Audible, and whilst at first I thought it would be difficult concentrating on my run, I’ve found it quite natural and enjoyable. By the time I finish the marathon, I’ll have quite a library!
Running is a form of meditation to me.
How has running helped your anxiety?
For me, running has given me time to focus on myself; it’s my time, getting me out of the house from where I also work, into the fresh air, and space to think.
When I first step outside, my thoughts and emotions are scattered, but by the time I get back home, I’ve been able to process everything and restore order. Running is a form of meditation to me. On a really bad day, I guess fatigue beats anxiety out of me, so I’m too tired to worry.
Running has also been a way for me to address certain issues; it’s connected me to the outside world, introduced environments that I would have previously shied away from, helped me to tackle social anxiety, given me purpose, and given me confidence that I can conquer my fears.
What advice would you give someone who’d like to start running to get fit?
First and foremost, invest in a proper pair of running shoes. Many sports shops offer free gait analysis which ensures you have the right fit of shoe, and it will stand you in good stead to avoid injury. It’s nothing to worry about, they just take a video of you running on a treadmill for a few seconds, and then analyse the movement of your foot frame by frame, recommending a shoe perfect for you.
Second, if you are a lady, you will need a high intensity sports bra. Again, I would recommend getting fitted. The wrong fit can make running very painful and your breasts are something that should be taken care of.
Third, find a good training plan. Complete beginners should be looking for a walk to run plan, those with a little experience would suit a plan with walk/run intervals. Bupa’s website has some excellent training plans, some of which I have used myself, as does the Race For Life website which also has some stretching and strength exercises, both are vital to improve your running and prevent injury. There are also many training apps that can be added to your smartphone which will guide you as you run.
Finally, get out there and have fun. Join a club, go running with friends (you should be able to hold a conversation when you run easy, and chatting to a friend on a run helps to ensure you’re not pushing too hard, though I have been known to talk to myself on runs!), and sign up to a race – it will give you something to work for, the atmosphere on the day will be incredible, and it will give you a huge boost in confidence.
We interviewed Nikki Stebbing
To sponsor her visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkistebbing