Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram will likely have noticed that I spent January taking on the RED January challenge for Mind. The challenge is quite simple — run or do some other exercise every day throughout January — and I decided to take it most literally and committed to running at least a mile every day for the month. On top of that I also signed up for a challenge from Running Colchester, my local running group, to aim for running 100 miles in January.
Jumping to the end, I can tell you that I managed both goals, both running on every day this January and getting up to a total of 106 miles for the month while doing it. I’m not going to go through and detail all of the runs, but if you’re into that, you can see them all on Strava. There were 32 different runs in total (I did the Parkrun double on New Year’s Day) with the shortest being just over a mile, the longest one over six miles. None of them were particularly fast, aside from managing to set a new personal best for Felixstowe Parkrun at the start of the month, and perhaps unsurprisingly I think I got slower as the month went on. Total time exercising for the month was about 24 hours, which includes a few swims, but you can work out from that I’m not a particularly speedy runner.
The one big positive I’ve got from this is that regular exercise is definitely good for my mental health. Getting out running has helped me feel more positive and focused, and even on days when it’s felt like a real drag to get myself out there and running, I’ve felt a lot better when I’ve completed the running for the day. I’ve got more work done, and feel like I’ve got a lot more ideas coming through.
This isn’t something new, though. I’ve known regular exercise makes me feel better for ages, but what’s been interesting is that it still applies even when I’m out running every day, not just a couple of times a week. The boost from it can be cumulative and it doesn’t drop off when running becomes a routine thing. There were some days when trying to fit the running in was a bit stressful (like Tuesday, when Greater Anglia delays meant I was pretty late getting home) but it was worth it when I did it.
Physically, the main lesson I got from it was the importance of recovery when you’re doing extended periods of training. I was doing large amounts of mileage last year when I was training for the marathon, but that didn’t usually involve several consecutive days of exercise. Even though I wasn’t doing extremes — no really long distances, no sprints or interval training — that sort of exercise does eventually take the energy out of your system. I wasn’t excessively stiff or sore, but after a couple of weeks of running every day my legs were feeling pretty heavy whenever I went out for a run. What I also noticed was that when I had a slightly longer break between runs — say running in the afternoon or evening after a morning run before — my legs felt fresher from just having had a few hours more rest, and when the gap was shorter, say when I was doing the morning run after an evening run the day before, I was even heavier legged than before. I’m looking forward to having a few days off now to see how I’m running after a break.
I didn’t want to set up a Justgiving page or anything like that — if you do want to give, then you can click here to donate to Mind — but I tried to give myself some sort of routine to keep me going. So, I did videos of myself after every run (you can see them here), and made sure I posted about each run to various social media, just to give myself some kind of viewing gallery to keep me honest and keep me going. And while there weren’t many people watching them, the videos were good for me in thinking through how the runs were going and making me think about why I was doing them and what I was getting out of them.
It also changed a bit about the way I run, which I think I’ll try to keep up. Normally, I set out from home, do my run and keep going until I get back to the front door. This month, I’ve generally been stopping running a little bit away from home to take a picture and record a video, just because the park at the end of the road is a nicer backdrop than anything in my house. But, doing this has meant I walked for a few minutes at the end of each run, and that helped me cool down, relax and stretch out my legs a little, so I wasn’t dripping sweat all over the house every time I got in after a run. (And one thing I won’t miss about this month is all the washing I’ve had to do…)
In the end, it’s been an interesting challenge. I don’t feel like I’ve been pushed to the limit in doing it, and I definitely feel better for doing it at the end of the month. I’m not tracking my weight, but I feel slimmer and lighter after it all, and the stats I get from my watch suggest that my resting heart rate has dropped a little and it’s not getting as high when I run, so it’s been positive. But, I’m also glad it’s over because I do need some days when I’m not running and want some lightness back in my legs again. Well, more than I have right now, I’m not expecting to ballet dance any time soon.
And now it’s time to focus on Colchester half marathon training…