Couch to half-marathon: my friend Gloria

Remember when I said I would run that 10K? It’s thanks to Gloria’s inspiration. Let me introduce you. We met in university and together we were quite the pair of laziness and sloth. Whenever we hung out we would talk about all the TV shows we watched and food we ate. Glo would drive me crazy because she would talk about sitting around and watching TV all day and still get better marks than me! Athleticism wasn’t really something we ever admitted to aspiring to. So you can imagine my amazement when she I started hearing her talk about running, distance running, and liking it. Glo is an inspiration to me for this reason. She’s a real “Couch to 5k+” spokesperson. I wanted to know more about how she got to where she is now. I hope this encourages you to hit the pavement as much as it does me!
Tell me a bit about your life before you started running. What were your hobbies? Were you in shape (you can define what that means)? Did you feel healthy?
It still amazes me that I can consider myself a “runner” or athletic. I really consider myself a “bed living” type of person; I still do! (that has not changed). However, before running, I had just moved to a new country after graduating and started a new career (teaching internationally). A lot of hobbies that I did in this new phase of life (and still do) include watching tv shows and documentaries (I am a proud nerd), shopping, explore sketchy parts of Asia, hang out with friends, photography, and finding out where delicious restaurants to eat at were. The first year of life in HK was stressful and since I like to eat my feelings, I think I gained weight. I’ve always been overweight my whole life, so I don’t think I was ever in shape. There have been moments in my life where I felt healthier such as joining the gym for a couple of months or doing more active things, but I’ve never seen myself as in shape. I guess for me being in shape, I always pictured those models in SHAPE magazine or the personal trainers as people who were in shape. My measurement of being in shape was that if I could just get to that level where people were so fit that they no longer felt pain when they exercised, then I would be “in shape”. I have since learned otherwise.
How did you usually spend your free time? 
In my free time, I was usually prepping for my lessons, marking, and all the other wonderful things you have to do before you show up to class to teach. I also traveled a lot during my holidays, playing the tourist in places like Thailand, India, China, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. During my everyday life, I would end up hanging out with friends, catching a movie, learning how to cook, going dancing, going to concerts, the usual 20-something single girl life!
What made you decide to start running?
I had joined this gym called Pure in Hong Kong with a bunch of coworkers and we were trying to be active together (often, we would end up having a snack or dinner after the gym hahha… probably defeated the purpose of working out ahha). Anyways, so I was at the gym for about 6 months and I stumbled upon this program called Couch to 5K and somehow I got it in my head that I really wanted to do this program. I didn’t really tell anyone, but thought to myself “hey…it’d be cool if I could run 5k” and I started to do that at my gym, on this fancy treadmill that had a TV screen attached to it so I could watch my favourite shows while I ran. I think I was inspired by blogs that I was randomly reading (yes, stalking strangers is beneficial sometimes) and also I just wanted to do something new and for myself.
Can you tell me a bit about those initial stages? Did you want to quit?
It was really really really really really really hard. Really. I remember when I first start doing the Couch to 5k program, I didn’t really follow the time frame that they would recommend for you to do at each level. I remember when I first started I couldn’t even run 90 seconds without feeling like I was about to die. But, because you work at your own level on the program, those 90 seconds of death is usually followed by 2 min of walking briskly that you could motivate yourself to continue. There were days where I wanted to quit, but the feeling of accomplishment that you finish the next level and also just feeling generally better during the day really motivated me to continue onwards. I also didn’t really tell anyone about my goal and initially just did it on an elliptical and then moved to a treadmill. I started to run outside after I reached running 5k largely to my athletic friends. They had asked me earlier to join them in their training. (They teach PE at my school and love like doing active things) They asked me if I would join them in their training on the track. Because I saw them as such hardcore athletes, I said to them, “well… when I reach 5k.” I really thought I would NOT reach 5k… and somehow I did (following my own schedule). They kept bothering me about how I reached 5k jogging non-stop and I started to run with them outside. My friend also showed me a beautiful route where I could run along the water and my outdoor running continued.
When did running start to become enjoyable? 
 I think running became enjoyable when I started to see changes in my body and recognized that when I went on runs, I actually felt better afterwards. I had quite a stressful year last year and one of the things that running did was help me literally run away from my problems (haha, not the best strategy). But it helped me to “ostrich” ** at least for 40 min and then come back with a renewed mindset. Sometimes I would also play Christian music and I would use that time for worship. I always knew I would never regret a run, so even when days went by or if I had a crappy run, I never regretted it. There also were slim moments during a longer run, where I actually enjoyed it (usually only around the 3k-4k mark or the 7k-8k mark). I felt free and strong during those slight windows and the rest of the time I felt like I was either going to die or kill people who kept interrupting my run. (People in Hong Kong are not runner friendly at all).
Why do you keep running?
I always have a love/hate relationship with running. I hate how with each run that I feel like my legs are going to fall off, my shins hurt, and that I might at any moment stop breathing. (I’m a tad dramatic). I hate the heat and the people who are always in my way when I run. However, I LOVE how i feel so free while running, how incredible God’s created your body to be, how I feel so much better afterwards, and how I just feel strong and independent. I also have gone on runs as an escape and to clear my head and usually when i get all girly and emotional, running helps return me back to normal.
Do you have any tips for a beginner?
I always tell people that if I can run, anyone can run. Seriously! I am the queen of couch potatoes and bed living. If I could have an invisible hover craft, I would totally use it. Some tips to get started is to set small reachable goals for yourself:
I really recommend doing the Couch to 5k program. It is so easy to follow and you can adapt it to fit your own pace. You also can see how far you’ve come from doing the program. A lot of times people get discouraged because they run way too fast to run consistently. Slow down your pace and see running as something that you can do.
Also, every run is different. If you have a bad run one day, it doesn’t mean you suck. It just means your body might have needed to rest or the weather was too hot/cold or you just had a bad run. I actually just ran my First 10k run on Sunday (I decided to run a half-marathon race before actually running a 10k race… go big or go home i guess). However, running that 10k was so painful and it just reminded me again that each run is different and also to be consistent in my training because I have definitely been slacking lately.
If it helps, use technology. My friends also gave me a Nike+ watch for my birthday and this is when I discovered the plethora of technology that is out there to help you continue running. It was really awesome to have a record of my runs and also how long and how fast I was able to go. You can also download the Nike+ app for free on your phone and it’s just a simple and effective way to keep you motivated and also see a record of your achievement. You can even sync it so other people have “races” with you or running challenges.
Anything else you’d like to share with a new runner/someone trying to reach a goal?
I really recommend finding a running buddy or signing up for races to compete in. I have really close friends in HK who have exposed to a new world of athleticism in terms of how they live their life as well as their interests.They would literally promise me cooked meals to get me to go run with them and also teach me simple and effective tools such as “breathe through your nose” and “slow down your pace” when I felt like giving up. Having someone to run next to you can also motivate you to keep going and reach your goal.
Another way that really helped me take running a bit more seriously (as well as make me scared/freaked out a bit) was signing up for a race. My athletic friend somehow convinced me last year that for my first race EVER that I could run a half-marathon. So from August 2011-November 2011, I took my training up a notch because I had signed up for this half-marathon. I definitely ran more consistently. On race day, you definitely feel so accomplished and get into the whole running culture that is out there. I’ve also tied running to some of my interests. I’ve made it a point to do some sort of running in the different places I’ve travelled to, just so I can say…. I ran on the beaches of Bali, somewhere random in Malaysia, on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC, on a treadmill in India, near red fields in Prince Edward Island…. Running is like any other exercise, you have to find some sort of intrinsic motivation (for me that’s the feeling better, ability to run away from my problems in a healthy way, running in random places) as well as some extrinsic motivation (friends who shame you for too much bed living and then sign you up for random races).
I am going to run my 2nd half-marathon in December. I don’t know what I’m thinking because currently I almost felt like I couldn’t even finish a 10k. However, with running half of it is mental. Mind over matter. So don’t give up! Think you can do it and eventually you can!!! And if I can do it (practically the ambassador for coach potatoes), you can do it!
That’s it, I’m out to go for a run. Actually.
**to ostrich is to stick your head in the sand as a coping mechanism for stress and difficult situations. 
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  • Kathryn

    I loved your interview with Glo 🙂 It made me miss both of you so much … and possibly inspired me to run … I said possibly 😉

    • http://jessversteeg.ca Jess Versteeg

      No pressure! Great story though, eh? Granted Gloria has more Chinese in her so maybe she’s got something going for her from all the Chinese parenting/self-discipline happening.