There's a time and a pace for everyone  

Posted by Vittoria Gallagher on 18/07/2017
Nicola Johnson at the Great Run

Catching the running bug

Nicola Johnson, Senior Product Manager, is an accomplished runner, and a keen advocate of getting as many of us as she can up and running, whether it’s as part of the Great Run Series or not. 

With the London Marathon completed, and many half marathons under her belt, Nicola is one of our most experienced runners. Today, she kindly shares her expert knowledge with us, revealing her advice for anybody, no matter what level of fitness, to become part of #millionsmoving.

Have you always been a runner or did you catch the running ‘bug’? (If so, how?)

I was a sprinter at school, and loathed long distance running. Anything more than 800m and I’d walk it, so I missed a lot of the field athletics activity. While everyone else had moved onto javelin or high jump, I’d still be walking around the track… Sport disappeared from the agenda while I was at Uni, but in my year out working in Vancouver, I started feeling the need to get some exercise. I’d get off one or two bus stops early and run home – it was pretty basic stuff. When I moved back home and got a job in Salisbury, I signed up for further study through my employer and needed something that created a mental break between working in the day and studying in the evening.

My first run was a loop around a disused army training square – nearly killed me. The dog thought I was nuts. But the following day I came back and did 2 loops, and then 3 loops…. My epiphany came when I completed my first race – the Blenheim 10k. Now I was officially a runner!

I’m not sure what drove me to be honest – I think I liked (and still like) the challenge, the achievement, the fresh air, the nature, the ‘brain cleansing’, and the ‘physical cleansing’ that comes with getting a good sweat on!

What was your reasons for getting involved in the Simplyhealth Great Run Series?

When you become a runner, it’s very easy to evangelise to anyone and everyone about running. I’ve gone to parties, found a runner and spent the evening talking about toilet stops and associated emergencies – rock and roll!

So, when you get the chance to work on a running series which has a flagship event of near-mythical propositions, which means your employer will pay you to talk about running, work on running, fund some running clothing, and pay for you to travel and take part in races that would previously have been outside your budget, what’s not to love?!

And it also plays to the evangelising element – as a runner, you want everyone else to get running… #millionsmoving indeed!

Do you have any advice for a novice runner? Any good tips to get someone up and moving?

Absolutely. Firstly – get the right gear. So much of running is mental positioning. If you look like a runner, you’ll feel like a runner, and you’ll be more comfortable as a result. Buying technical clothing is incredibly easy today, and doesn’t have to break the bank. Even supermarkets sell it now.

Secondly – buy the best trainers you can afford. Go to a running store that has a treadmill and get properly measured for them. They’ll guide you into the right kind of shoe (under pronating, stability/neutral or over pronating) that will support your whole body. They’ll also make sure you buy the right size. They might feel huge when you walk in them, but your feet swell a lot so you’ll need to go 1-1.5 sizes bigger than your usual. And for ladies – supportive underwear. Get properly fitted for the right kind of bra that provides maximum stability.

Thirdly, take it steady. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Find a training plan (couch to 5k or 10k) and follow it. Build up slowly – this will help manage your expectations and minimise chances of injury.

Also consider a club – many have beginner sessions that will help guide you in the right way.

What food would you recommend before and after a race?

This is something to practice in your training. If you normally have chicken pasta the night before a long run, with peanut butter on toast on the run morning, don’t do something different before a race. Going out for a curry the night before when your body isn’t used to it could end up going spectacularly wrong!

I tend to stick to reasonably bland food, but that is well balanced with protein, carbs and veg in there. Chicken pasta is a good choice! Peanut butter on toast works for me the morning of the event, but I can also run with scrambled eggs on toast.

Afterwards, there’s lots of science about refuelling within the first 30 mins of finishing a race. I struggle with that, so try and eat something light – a banana, cereal bar or similar. And then follow that up with something a bit more substantial later on. You just need to experiment and find out what works for you. Be wary though. Celebrating racing a 10k with a handful of doughnuts, some cake, lots of crisps and beer/wine is unlikely to help with any weight loss you might be wanting to achieve. Your run will have burned a lot less calories than you think!

And lastly… we hear you got in a bit of flap on a recent jog?

I love the unexpected on a run – a new route, a new view, seeing water voles in the river, horses in a field, wildlife of all shapes and sizes: deer, hares, stoats, bats... The only dangerous thing I’ve had to mind for has been traffic.

Until now. Clearly a glade of trees on one of my routes now has a nesting buzzard in it, who takes a dim view of visitors. Having run past it on the way out, I suspected nothing untoward. On my return route, it flew down low over my head, close enough for me to hear the wind ruffle its feathers and for me to get a good look and admire its beauty. It then came in for a second flypast.

“How lovely!” I thought.

“How annoying!” thought the buzzard – “this person hasn’t got the message yet!”

On the third pass, it stopped being nice and came in with claws out, thumping into the back of my head, ripping out my hair tie, and stunning me with the force. No bloodshed luckily, but it certainly shocked me!

Warning signs have now gone up as clearly it’s demonstrated its low level of neighbourliness with other runners, dog walkers and horse riders in the area!