Over a year ago, I would’ve never imagined myself being able to run from Hamilton to Brantford in close to three and a half hours. That run two months ago was 30 km of pure joy and beauty on the Hamilton to Brantford rail trail on a crisp April day, surrounded by absolutely nothing but forest for kilometers on end, accompanied by my favourite music and only the occasional hiker.
Over a year ago, I was a full-time chain smoker, couldn’t run more than five minutes and only walked with my family for occasional jaunts through local trails.
But as March 2020 rolled around and news of a worldwide pandemic and subsequent lockdown changed lives for billions around the globe, I made some drastic changes.
I quit smoking cold turkey at noon on March 23, 2020 and never touched another cigarette again. A few weeks later, as my family and I began going on long walks through local trails and forests on weekends with nothing else to do during the most restrictive period of the first Ontario lockdown, I started light jogs during parts of our hikes.
I had crappy Sketchers shoes that were meant for walking and not running but I slowly started inching up from five minutes to 10 minutes and by May 2020, I was up to 20 minutes of running continuously without having to stop to catch my breath.
It was then that I invested in a pair of Brooks Ghost trainers meant for long-distance mileage and it’s been the most empowering and wonderful journey of my life ever since.
I was a star long-distance runner in high school and ran a lot in my early twenties as well. All that was put on hold when kids and full-time jobs took over my life. I didn’t prioritize anything but my career, kids and keeping a spotless house.
Now that the kids are older, running is a hobby I can pursue with full force and I want to encourage people who’ve put their fitness on the back burner during the pandemic to get into a sport they might end up loving, too.
First, get a check up from your doctor and get the all-clear that your ticker is in good condition to begin something intense like long-distance running.
Secondly, invest in a high-quality pair of long-distance training shoes. A pair of $60 Sketchers might look cute but they’ll never cut it for the impact absorption required from hundreds of kilometers of pounding the pavement, or trails, or local track. Replace your runners every 500 km or so.
Many runners get fitted for training shoes but with stores closed, you’ll have to get advice from other runners online and order a pair for delivery or curbside pick-up. I never got fitted. I read great reviews about Brooks Ghost shoes and just went out and bought a pair and they worked out amazingly well.
I switched over to Asics Gel Nimbus in December, which also have excellent shock absorption. Both brands will run you over $160 and close to $200, depending on where you buy them and if there are any sales going on.
Now, how did I start and increase my mileage?
Last year, from May to August, it was hard to increase my mileage because the heat of summer impacts the ability to safely engage in vigorous outdoor activity. But I kept increasing my mileage slowly from 5km a few times a week up to 10 km a few times a week by the middle of August. That’s when I joined a local running club in Hamilton and my running ability and speed really took off from there.
By October, I ran almost 20 km one night on a whim. In early November, I ran my first half-marathon at 21.9 km with my local running club up and down the Bruce Trail in Hamilton. I have run three more half-marathons since then. I plan to run the full 42 km marathon within the next few weeks on a relatively cool day.
Which brings me to an extremely important topic when it comes to running: proper hydration. Some people, depending on their ability to cool themselves, fitness level, and outdoor temperature and humidity, can sweat anywhere from one liter to four liters per hour from outdoor exercise during hot summer weather.
I have run in temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius but as long as the humidity is below 85 per cent, your body can still cool itself down properly with the right hydration. Humidity values above 85 per cent impair the ability to sweat properly. But you can acclimate your body to run in the heat within two weeks. Running in hot weather, your body adjusts by increasing blood plasma volume, increased sweat rate, reduced heart rate and reduced salt loss in sweat. Just make sure you bring at least a liter of fluid with you for one hour of activity and perhaps two liters for two hours. One important thing to remember is to ensure you don’t lose too many electrolytes while sweating. Dehydration isn’t just the loss of fluid – it’s also the loss of necessary electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride, among others) that flow in your blood and keep an optimal fluid balance in your body, among other functions. I dissolve electrolyte tablets in my water to drink during hot, outdoor runs. I use Hydralyte tablets, which you can find in Shopper’s Drug Mart. Drinking too much plain water after losing lots of liquid through sweat can be dangerous and can result in hyponatremia (dilution of electrolytes and eventual heart failure) so make sure you replace electrolytes when you sweat a lot. Alternate your fluids with plain water and electrolyte-charged fluids.
Another important thing to consider when running is fueling. Running requires a lot of energy and the number one source of energy during intense, prolonged aerobic activity is carbohydrates.
Some healthy fuel options should be a source of complex carbohydrates, found in foods such as whole grains, bananas, sweet potatoes, beans and oats. I usually eat a 12-grain bagel with a dab of peanut butter before a 10 km run. If you’re allergic to wheat or gluten, buckwheat and quinoa are gluten-free grains. If it’s a short 5 km run, I just eat a banana or half a banana.
You also need to be safe and bring some items with you.
I bought myself a running belt for when I go out on the sidewalks or trails. It has a cup holder to hold my drink(s). It’s also advisable to bring the following items on a run longer than 30 minutes: fully-charged phone, electrolyte-filled drink, a small snack if longer than 10 km (I love Clif bars because they’re small and fit into pockets easily yet are full of carbs if I hit the wall and need some energy), charged earbuds for your music, bank card, a mask (if you have to run into a store or use the bathroom somewhere) and any necessary medications you may need.
Finally, train your muscles. Don’t be like me where I was running a lot in the winter without doing enough conditioning for my legs, glutes and core. You’ll get runner’s knee or shin splints, which really hurt and are quite depressing to have when you want to keep running.
You need really, really strong leg muscles, glutes and core muscles to run long without injury. With gyms now opening up on Six Nations, get those leg muscles a workout a few times a week! I just do bodyweight exercises at home because I really dislike the atmosphere at gyms but do whatever makes you feel happiest.
Also, start tracking your running activity to measure your progress by joining Strava. It’s a social-media-like app that you can use on your phone to track your running mileage, pace, progress, etc. I record all of my runs. Some of the women in my running groups joke: if you didn’t record it on Strava, did you really run? But it’s a great tool that helps me see how far I’ve come.
Take rest days, join a running club, sign up for online running newsletters, follow running publications and groups on social media, such as Runner’s World, Runner’s Den and Running Room. You’ll learn about things like proper warm ups, running drills, stretching, and all the things I already spoke about, such as hydration and fuel. Please don’t be discouraged by running snobs on these forums who make fun of new runners and are very catty and competitive. Follow encouraging people who love running and simply want to see other, everyday people enjoy running happily.
As time goes on, you will learn more and more each day about the ins and outs of running, one of the most euphoric, intense, and addictive sports out there that almost anyone can take part in. I’m still not super fast and I know a lot of runners would make fun of my pace and personal records but hey, I’m 41 years old, soon to be 42, and I can run 30 km in just over three hours. I’m super happy that I have this amazing hobby in my life, it helps me sleep better, it’s helped me be happy throughout the pandemic, my cardiovascular health is top-notch and my waist shrunk down quite a few inches, which is a super bonus!
I’m not in this to get super lean – I’m in this to run, push myself, feel proud of my achievements, have fun and chase that runner’s high that we all love.
Follow me on Instagram if you wish @donnaaadee (three As) where I chronicle my running and hiking adventures, coupled with some food posts and raising a special needs son.