Why I thought learning to run at 50 would be a good idea | Styling You | Nikki Parkinson

Why I thought learning to run at 50 would be a good idea

Nikki Parkinson Health, Life 31 Comments

Want to know why I thought learning to run at 50 would be a good idea? 

Efficiency mixed with laziness.

Stick with me here. You see, up until making the decision to learn to run, I’d spent the six months prior pounding the pavement walking. Initially the walking had a goal – I’d signed up to do Sydney Coastrek in March 2017 (you can read all about that HERE)

I trained like crazy, putting in the kms but also put in time at the gym and doing Reformer Pilates and yoga to build up strength. Coastrek came and went and I kept on walking, kept on going to the gym, kept on with Reformer Pilates and yoga. I liked feeling strong, to being able to move my body, even at the age of 50, but I found the walking was no longer a challenge unless I was doing more than 10km.

The thing is, I don’t have the time mid-week to do those kind of distances. I wanted to get my cardio fix but in under 40 minutes.

Early July, I was sitting on the balcony of our apartment on the island of Vis in Croatia and I read this post by Champagne Cartel’s Gillian Moody. By the end of it, there was a little something in my eye and a little fire in my belly.

Gillian’s running history story had so many similarities to mine. I did run at school and at uni because I played hockey. We had to do road runs or giant loops of six fields before the actual training that then involved MORE running. I didn’t like it and I was not good at it. Wasn’t very good at hockey either.

I remember school athletic carnivals where I had no choice about entering running races because my Dad taught at the school and was always on the loud speaker at sports’ carnivals. There is no running humiliation greater than bringing up the tail end of an 800m race while your Dad is cheering you on OVER THE LOUD SPEAKER.

Any previous thoughts about taking up running again have also been ill-advised by my GP. I’ve got Hashimotos (you can catch up on that very long story via this post and the archives) and, in short, doing too much exercise can impact an already impacted and stressed immune system. What I achieved last year was finally getting to a point with my management of my Hashis that I could take on more.

There have been plenty of days, however, where I’ve overdone it, where it feels like my eyeballs are encased in fog and I could fall asleep at any given moment. I’m more aware of those days now as it’s no longer an every day occurrence. I take that awareness on board and go slower the following couple of days. Sometimes that’s not possible with work but it is possible with the type of exercise I do.

Gillian completed a half-marathon. I’m nowhere near that point but I’m closer to believing that I could run that distance. And that’s all been down to two coaching programs I’ve done in the past six months.

1. Operation Move’s Learn to Run program*. Gillian also did this. I’ve known the organiser of this program for a long time and it would pop up all the time on my Facebook feed. I didn’t think it was for me but I also knew that I needed guidance and support if I were to transition from a walker to a runner. I signed up for a mid-August round but was keen to get the running situation started sooner, so downloaded the Couch to 5km app. The app was ok but I felt that it transitioned me too quickly each week to longer intervals.

Operation Move was different. It was 12 weeks for starters, so I felt that each week was a challenge but not a giant leap. You have amazing support in the Facebook group – from the coaches but also your fellow “shufflers”. When you sign up you get running programs for both beginners and advanced levels. They are programs that involve you progressively doing longer running intervals (with walking in between each interval). I worked through each week of the beginners’ program without missing a session, grateful for not getting the awful flu that struck down so many during that time. When the 12 weeks was up, I started at week one again, this time working through the advanced program. I’ve taken longer to do this one but I’m almost at the end of that program.

2. One-on-one coaching with Carmen Low’s Mindful Running program*. Towards the end of my 12 weeks beginners’ program with Operation Move, Carmen made contact with me after women in her program noticed I’d been learning to run. After chatting with Carmen, I signed up for three one-on-one sessions. See, I’d completed all the runs prescribed in Operation Move, but I’d never had someone actually look at HOW I was running. One thing from our sessions (I’ve got one more to go) has made a massive difference – Carmen got me to slow right down so that my easy pace was one that felt like I could just keep on running all day. This one thing was a game changer. I might shuffle along, Cliff Young style, but I CAN keep on running and don’t feel like I need to stop. That easy pace is also incrementally getting faster each week.

Why I thought learning to run at 50 would be a good idea | Styling You | Nikki Parkinson

So where am I at now?

I can now run for 5km, comfortably. I’m not breaking any speed records but I’m doing it. When I started learning to run, I could barely run for 30 seconds, so for me, this has been a huge ticking off of my initial goal. Nailing the 5km, means I can run out the door and be back home in under 40 minutes. That’s the lazy and efficient part of my motivation sorted.

My next goal is another 5km race – running all the way. I did 5km in the Bridge to Brisbane last year and completed it in 35 minutes by doing one minute run/walk intervals. So, I’ve signed the family up to do the RACQ International Women’s Day Fun Run in a month’s time, raising funds for Mater Chicks in Pink (shameless plug: I’d love you to sponsor me HERE). After that, I want to work towards a 10km in this year’s Bridge to Brisbane event, late August. 

For me these are slow, steady and do-able goals. 

Things you need to plan for if you start learning to run at 50

1. You need your health professionals on speed dial. Your body is screaming WTAF and it will make stupid muscle and ligament compensations in response. I could not have made it through the past six months without visits to my GP, podiatrist, physiotherapist and chiropractor.

2. Running alone will not give you the strength you need to run. Training with exercise physiologists at Body Smart has enabled me to build up the strength where I’ve needed it (glutes, hamstrings and core). It’s also meant that if I’ve had an injury, they’re qualified to adapt my training around it, so I’ve not had to miss any sessions due to injury.

3. Supportive footwear is mandatory. You know this is a big thing for me every day and why I love being brand ambassador for FRANKiE4 Footwear. When it comes to my exercise footwear, I go under guidance from my podiatrist. I wear orthotics suited to my running. For the past year, I’ve worn Hoka One One trainers – they have a lot of cushioning but are lightweight and have a sole that kind of rocks in movement with your running. They look big but have been awesome for me.

4. Most of the training is mental training. Sure, it’s physically taxing to go for a run but, for me, the biggest hurdles have been mental ones. I remember when the training intervals went up to nine minutes each. That was huge for me and that was the day I realised I needed distraction in my ear from the negative Nancy voice inside my head telling me just to stop, to quit. I went out and bought Apple AirPods (they are seriously awesome and don’t fall out!) and now I run with a podcast or audiobook in my ears. You might be more motivated by music. Whatever distracts and keeps you running, I say.

5. Apart from supportive footwear, in theory, you don’t need much equipment for running. I say, in theory, because I have an Apple Watch and carry my phone for tracking my runs in the Runkeeper app. I also have shorts or tights with pockets in them so that my Apple 7 Plus smartphone can easily fit in them and doesn’t move while I run. My favourite tops are from UNIQLO. They’re relaxed over the hips and tummy which is rare in a sport top and are value for money. They only downside is they’re just not always available. Keep an eye on the Airism range online and in store. I last stocked up in September so hopefully they’ll be back soon. I wear Injinji toe socks – so good – and no rubbing or blistering between your toes. My girls need serious support – this sports bra does the job it needs to and the gel support on the shoulder straps is welcome.

6. Light leakage is a thing. I’m a kegel girl from way back but nothing prepared me for those early running days and the reality that I just couldn’t hold on. Particularly running up or down hills. GAH. Thank goodness for Modibodi undies, I say. And thank goodness, the situation has actually improved over the past six months’ of training. 

7. Scheduling is key to sticking to your learn-to-run plan. Operation Move is very big on this and it’s something I now do every Sunday. I plan out when and where I’m going to run and what HIIT (gym), Reformer Pilates and yoga classes I’m going to do. For me, it all happens early morning – the alarm goes off 5 or 5.30am – it’s cooler and then over and done with for the day. The only exception is on Sunday. If we don’t have anything on socially, I love going for a run along the Brisbane River. It’s shady, flat and there’s generally a breeze coming off the river.

8. Just do it. If this is something you’ve been thinking about doing, then seize the day, my dear Stylers. The next round of Operation Move’s Learn to Run program starts February 12. Read more about it HERE.

I know this has been a LONG post, but it’s one that I’ve been busting to write for some time. I wanted to get the point where I felt that I was actually enjoying running, that it wasn’t something I was forcing. That time has come. I can’t believe it really. It’s been the sum of small steps but if I can do it at the age of 50 – going from zero running fitness to running 5kms, then you can too.

So tell me, are you runner? Always been one? Something you’ve recently taken up? Or a beginner like me and thinking of starting? Hit me up with all your questions.

* I signed up and paid for both of these programs

Comments 31

  1. Hi Nikki

    Thankyou for sharing your story – I started running about a year ago and I recently ran City to Surf (14K) in Sydney. It was an amazing feeling, and a goal I would have never dreamed of before. It’s a bit different as I am 29, so running has meant I haven’t had any injuries (yet, touch wood, ahh!). I have never been a runner and I told myself that constantly. I too did c25K, and I found the programme got me off the couch, but it progressed too quickly. It took some series dedication and a love affair of Parkrun for me to develop the ability to run more than 5K. I am proud of myself – and I thank you for sharing your story along the way. It’s not until you know that others also have to work hard to achieve a goal (ie. running doesn’t come easy to those that do it) – it means it is an achieveable goal as long as you’re willing to try. Great work on Bridge to Brisbane!

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  2. I remember running pre-kids and after my first was born and absolutely loving it. After my separation I got back into it but was quickly persuaded to go to boot camp by a bunch of friends, so the running fell by the way side. After about a year and a half of gyms and boot camp I decided I hated it and it didn’t provide any mental relief the way running does. My ex wanted to get rid of my old treadmill and bloody oath yes I wanted it back. A month into my latest running journey another friend coaxed me into signing up for the GC 10km – and then promptly pulled out herself. I’m not a quitter so trained on my own, drove there on my own (in the dark), ran the whole race on my own – check, check, check to all of my anxieties being realised. And I loved every minute. So much so that I came home and signed up for the Jetty2Jetty a month later. I’m only 6 months into my return to running but I’m loving how good I feel – mentally and physically

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      I love that you’ve found your way back to running Janet – for more than just the physical things. And I think the key to consistent exercising is that you find the type that suits you.x

  3. Nikki, I’m not sure if you will come back and read this comment, but I’ve read this article 3 times now, and it was just the kick up the backside I needed! I too have looked at Op Move a few times in the past, and when I looked again a couple of weeks ago when you first posted this, I though “oh there is another round starting soon – but I’m not ready yet, so I’ll do the next round”… then last night, i thought to myself, why am I putting this off AGAIN? I really don’t have any excuses. So I put my money where my mouth is, and signed up. I start this coming Monday and am feeling really excited! I am a huge walking fan, but like you, need to walk quite long distances to get anything serious out of it. Also like you, I currently can’t run much more than 30 seconds at a time, so I am so very much looking forward to being able to run even for 5 minutes non-stop!
    Thanks again for being so honest in your post, and for indeed posting this in the first place! You’ve definitely inspired me 🙂
    Oh one other question – were you doing your weekly run around the hills of Paddo? If so, I’m VERY impressed, haha!

    1. Jacqu, I read your comment and couldn’t believe how that’s exactly what I’ve done and felt! Are you in Paddington? We could join forces.

      1. Oh haha, great minds think alike Michelle!
        I grew up in Paddington, but I’m currently living in Canberra… otherwise I’d have been happy to run with you! Although it gives me cold sweats thinking about trying to run up hill and down dale around Paddo, haha!

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      Jacq! I’m so, so stoked you signed up!! Keep me posted on how you go. And it’s a yes and a no to the hills of Paddo. In the early stages of the program, I would take myself off to a flat running track area (Marist Flats or the River) to not set myself up for failure!! Now, I’ll tackle them (sort of). I do my warm up walk up to the “ridge” of Latrobe and then do a loop either down to Suncorp to to the end of Given Tce (near the church), so it’s not totally flat but it’s not crazy hills either.

  4. Good on you Nikki! I think this is super inspiring. I plan to get back into running. Years ago I became a 5ker but that was post-break up when I needed to get out of my head and keep moving. I thought you might like to know the Mother’s Day run is a bit of a battle. Last year it was super packed and hard to get around but hopefully you have a great experience 🙂

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      Oh thanks for the heads up about the run, Karli … I’m in the slow group and happy to stay slow but will be careful. Running does keep me out of my head too – hope you come back to it. x

  5. Hi Nikki, well done, keep on running 🙂 I am 51. I’ve never been a speedy runner but I love it. I run 10km twice a week (rain, hail or shine). I go to boot camp twice a week (rain, hail or shine), my trainer (awesome trainer) includes running drills in the workout and watches us all like a hawk, corrects any cross body action that may sneak in or bad habits that we may start to form, he ensures we are all in good form, straight and remain injury free. Keep up the fantastic work, training has to be sustainable and your trainer is worth their weight in gold!

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  6. Well done Nikki! I’ve been a non-runner, done C25K, C210K, run a couple of 10k races (ok, ran/walked!) and 5km race last year here in Canberra. But I struggle with consistency. I’ll go great guns, run a fun-run and then stop. Sickness, work trips, holidays all stop me. And then I have to start AGAIN. I’ve started c25K at least 6 times! Anyway, at the moment, I’m just concentrating on eating really well and losing those 15kg (again). Once I’m close to goal and have some energy back, I’ll think about running again. I do love it when I’m into it, and maybe I’ll get there again. I think I can safely say that I’ll never run a marathon, though!

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  7. Good on you Nikki,I’d love to be able to run or even do walks but unfortunately my leg and neck is unable to do so.
    You look amazing and I’m glad you enjoy your running,but also listen to your body Xx

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  8. I have my 2nd personal training session tonight that I had every intention of cancelling cause I’m not good at it and quitting sounded like the perfect solution but after reading this I’m gonna go! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  9. Congrats!! What an achievement in a short space of time. Sadly my running days are behind me due to foot injury a couple of years ago. But next week I’m starting Bikrum Yoga. Not sure if its for me but a few of my friends said its been fantastic for them not just physically but mentally. I’m going to give it a go coupled with my normal gym sessions – wish me luck!

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  10. I love this so much! I couldn’t use to run for a bus, but that all changed when I turned 40. I started running with hubby and slowly built up the distance. In the last six years, I’ve run eight half marathons and countless fun runs, albeit really rather slowly. In fact, the older I get, the slower I go (I’m loving the walk/run intervals) but that’s still quicker than sitting on the couch! Running is so addictive – once you start you can’t stop! Perhaps you need a runcation in Sydney for the Blackmore’s running festival in September – there’s a 9k Bridge Run (you can run along the middle of the Harbour Bridge) and it has you name on it! PS How good are Hokas?! I can’t run in any other shoes!

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      YAY for Hokas … mine are nearly up for replacement (according to Runkeeper!) And YAY for what you’ve achieved Sammie. That’s incredible. That Blackmore’s event does sound excellent. Will look into the timing x

  11. Well done Nikki and yes, totally agree on the efficiency. When my twins were under one (and still now with 3 under 3) there’s no way I could get to a gym. Running all I had to do was get up early and go. I did couch to 10K. It was great. My body screamed from about Week 4, but a PT who specializes in running said it could take 6 weeks for everything to “settle into it”.

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      Hi Ali, yes, the convenience of not being tied to a certain scheduled time is so good. I congratulate you for getting through it on your own with the couch to 10km!! And yes, the PT is correct … even longer for someone of my age who hasn’t done such full-on exercise for most of her life. Understanding that helped me understand why I needed a lot of PT!!

  12. Nikki, I think it is fabulous that you’re exercising and have found a love of running. As a mum of young children my pelvic floor is not what it used to be however with the help of a women’s health Physio and a PT trained specifically to help women with pelvic floor issues I am able to exercise with no issues. (No weights & modified exercises) I will however not run. It actually makes me quite sad as I LOVED running before children and did several city to surfs, was in a running group as well as running with friends 3 times a week before work with friends. My women’s health Physio says NO RUNNING! If you’re unable to control your bladder she suggests no running until it is strengthened and this is no longer a problem. I think we all know our own bodies and what we are capable of however my Physio tells me she sees and has seen thousands of women who do not listen to their bodies and now have irreparable damage. What are your opinions?

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      My opinion is that the advice of health professionals is key any step of the way for any exercise. My pelvic floor is a whole lot better than what it was when I started running and I’ve worked with my physio along the way too – on this and multiple other issues. I realised that I couldn’t do new exercise without this support so am grateful for this.

  13. I use to be a runner and like you Nikki I liked how you can get it over and done with within a quick time frame. Unfortunately from years of pounding my body from running and I am a gym junkie I have a bad back so I gave up running. I every now and then go for a run and love how it makes me feel really good. I still go to the gym 6 days a week, I have one day off. I love group fitness classes. (80’s chick) I actually hope to start again to increase my running again especially after reading your post, perhaps there is hope for me. Maybe I could go slowly. That is my problem though I like to go like a bat out of hell with all my workouts. Well done Nikki it is a fantastic achievement keep up the great work.

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      Thanks Davina! And WOW you’re doing a lot. My runs are slow – it’s been key to be even doing them. And then I do a HIIT class, Pilates, Yoga as well during the week. It’s a good balance for me right now. x

  14. I love that you have embraced the ‘slow’ movement and are now reaping the speedy rewards.

    Congratulations on how far you’ve come Nikki! I look forward to the onward running journey!!

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