There is so much about my running that is surprising; but still the biggest surprise for me is how much I love it.
I've been running since May, so only five months, but it's now difficult to imagine my life without it. I can now confidently and consistently run 5k in under 30 minutes and the longest runs I do now are about 7k. Back in May the 60 seconds of running followed by 90 seconds of walking, which the Couch to 5k podcast begins with, were more than enough for me. I guess a part of me is still surprised that I can run at all.
The nicest and most exciting surprise lately has been winning the September parkrunner of the month prize from my local parkrun in Hackney. This means that I win a free pair of running shoes from Sweatshop - one of the sponsors of parkrun - which is incredible. I have gotten so much from parkrun over the past five months that I feel like I should be the one giving a prize to them, not the other way round.
Parkruns are free, timed, 5k runs that take place in parks all around the UK, and abroad, at 9am every Saturday. They are entirely run by volunteers and welcome people of absolutely any age and running ability - the Hackney one which I go to each week has the fastest runners finishing in around 16 minutes, and the slowest between 35 and 40 minutes. Everyone is welcomed over the finish line with applause and smiles from the volunteers and other runners. Plenty of new runners run-walk the course, as Olivia and I did at first. I try to run as fast as I can at parkrun now, because I love running fast, and I like the challenge of trying to get a new PB, but not everyone is a speed freak.
The exhilaration I get from running as fast as I can is another surprise to me. I don't have any desire to run long distances like half marathons or marathons - I just want to be able to run a 5k as fast as I possibly can - eventually in 25 minutes I hope (at the moment my PB is 28:09, so 25 minutes is still quite some way off). Mo Farah runs 5k in 12:53....
I am trying to do interval training once a week, where I alternate a few minutes of very fast running with a couple of minutes slow jogging. It should make me faster, generally, and is also so much fun. Thanks to the Couch to 5k Plus podcasts (designed for people who have finished the original Couch to 5k podcasts and who want to carry on improving) I have become much better at running to a beat. I found that incredibly difficult at first, but it gets easier each time I do it. I can now waste hours at a time compiling and fine-tuning interval training playlists that alternate songs of about 155bpm and 175bpm. There are programmes you can download that will analyse the bpm on your entire iTunes library, but I just use a free metronome app on my phone and check the bpm of my favourite songs when they come up on shuffle.
I think what it all comes back to though, is not the music, or the speed, or even the friendships I've made at parkrun. It's that I live so close to Epping Forest, which is a fantastic place to run. Even though I enjoy it so much, running usually feels hard for me - yet what never fails to lift my spirits are the glorious expanses of skies and trees in this part of East London.