Week 9 – Knowing when to stop

Catherine Coby contemplates Knowing when to stop

The last blog I wrote was a positive look at getting back to training after a few weeks of being unwell. The day after I sent that I was back at the GP finding out I had yet another infection and needed yet another course of antibiotics.

It was at that point that I had a decision made for me. Training would need to be put on hold and I needed to focus on getting to a pretty basic level of health and fitness. I was struggling to get out of bed let alone out for a run. So in August that’s what I did; I looked after myself, took my medicine, got enough sleep, went away with my partner and with my family and generally tried to do all I could to get better.

Now in September I’m in a much better position to go out and get some exercise and but I’ve had to face up to the fact that in a months time I’m not going to be able to run a half marathon. Realistically the furthest I could manage would be a 10k, less than a quarter of a marathon. Pulling out of the race is disappointing as I have failed to achieve a goal I set myself months ago. But that’s ok, I’ve been really unwell and the goal was never to push myself further than I could healthily go.

When asked why I signed up I said “I really want to be fitter and get outdoors more, so when I heard about the opportunity I went for it.” I might not be running the Great West Run next month but I am fitter and I am getting outdoors more. I went for the opportunity and it has been a worthwhile experience, even after being unwell I can run further than ever before so I’m definitely not putting this one down as a failure.

It’s amazing to see how far the others have come and I’ll be cheering them on as they cross the finish line in just one month!

Week 8 – When’s this run???

Holly’s favourite question just keeps popping up…..

“So when is this run?” I get asked more and more.

“Six weeks” I murmur. By the time this is published it will be five.

“Not long now! Hope training is going well!” they say and I laugh nervously. It definitely isn’t long now at all. We completed our official signups recently – it shouldn’t have been a big deal, as we were committed to doing this anyway, but having it formally down that I am doing this half marathon adds a layer of apprehension. I’m choosing to feel cautiously optimistic at this point, but I know the hardest part is ahead of me. As term kicks off again it will be much harder to get to lunchtime runs so I need to be doubly motivated to make sure I catch up. I’m not too worried about my time as long as I finish!

I’m pleased with how training is going as a whole though – as someone who swore that they would never be a runner, regular training and determination has taken me further than I expected to ever get. This past weekend I decided that it was time to see what I’d let myself in for and run the last half of the race, from Duryard area to the finish. On one hand I was pleased I could do it (including adding the 2k I didn’t really consider in getting to Duryard in the first place – oops), but now I know what to expect I am dreading revisiting those hills on the race day. I’m hoping the temptation to borrow a shopping trolley from the Sainsbury’s in Pinhoe and roll down to Polsloe Bridge station will pass!

Week 7 – Alison ponders the Long V’s Short runs

Long runs versus short runs                       

As the training continues, you begin to wonder whether you are making progress or if you’re ever going to be able to complete that impending challenge in October?

The training is varied and as others have explained we follow a set routine each week of three varying runs.  I never thought I could be a runner let alone a long distance runner, but I am slowly finding that the longer runs are much easier for me.  I seem much more relaxed when I know I’m going for a seven, eight, nine mile run (yes I hit the big nine last weekend) but give me a thirty-minute hill session or fast intervals and I really struggle.   I also think it’s to do with the time of the day, early mornings and I’m fine, lunchtimes I find particularly hard and evening runs also seem to be more challenging.  I never thought it would be so diverse, but it appears everyone has their individual likes and dislikes.  What we have to remember is that whether we like it or not the training schedule is what is keeping us on track, developing our skills and preparing us for the big day.

Although I enjoy the long runs, it is becoming apparent that we also need to be thinking more about diet and post run recovery, compared to the beginning when it was just all about getting out there and getting our legs moving.  It’s great to share the experience with everyone else, hear their challenges and successes and the progress everyone is making.  Slowly but surely, one step after another we are getting there, everyone is doing so well, just 45 days to go, eek!


Week 6 – Sophia Pudney mentions magic trainers and progress!

Although it is hard to make every training session, it seems if you really want something then you’ll make time for it. So even when I’m missing a lunch run, I’ll try my best to make sure I do one at home. We currently have two training sessions a week and then do a longer, slower run by ourselves at the weekend. Monday usually focuses on fitness/high intensity and then Thursday is usually hill climbing. It’s a huge confidence boost to be able to run up a hill that you’d have previously thought you’d struggle to even walk it let alone run up there!

The training we’ve been receiving has been really great, it’s lovely to run with others and see more of the campus and the city. The hot August weather makes some days more difficult than others, but at least my tan is coming along nicely.

So it’s up to about a 6 mile run at the weekend and I have mixed feelings about this. I’m proud that I can (just about) run 6 miles but at the same time I’m trying to process that I’ll have to run more than double this distance in October. I’ve therefore decided that I am going to try and focus on the progress that has been made so far rather than the daunting challenge to come.

This week I’ve finally got around to investing in some proper running shoes. I’ve got a lot of hope riding on these – as far as I’m concerned these magic trainers will make me run effortlessly faster and further and I won’t have any aches or pains. We can all dream right?’

The Wall

Week 5 – Jess Peirce writes about motivation and the benefits of running with a group.

Well, I never thought that I would be wishing for cloudy, cool days in August, however the thought of going for another run in the heat is just not appealing. It seems that I have hit a bit of a motivation wall. The first few weeks I could see myself, a running goodness, training every day and effortlessly completing the half marathon. But as the weeks roll by, there seems to be less and less training and more fear and panic taking its place. I have had to give myself a talking to, and actually went for a quick run on my birthday – shockingly! I’m hoping that I can build back up to the motivation which came with the initial sign up and push myself to run further. 13 miles is still a long way off!

I know it has been said, but it really does help having the other girls and Paul around for motivation. They’re all so supportive and it’s always better to have a bit of competition when we’re running around (that may just be me though).

Overall, I am pleased with what I have achieved so far and feel much more comfortable running then I thought I ever would. 2 months to go…

…But I forget about the weather!

Week 4 – Amie Jordan writes about making the transition from long-distance walking to running.

It’s warm! Who thought learning to run and training for a half marathon through August was a good idea? Oh yeah – me!

Thankfully I’m not alone – 5 other people signed up for this too. It turns out training doesn’t just mean running either. We are stretching, doing circuits, looking at technique (relax) and breathing, and even thinking about how we approach our goals. Running distance isn’t just a physical task, it’s a mental one too.

Training as a group really helps overcome some of the mental barriers. Not only are we getting expert advice from Paul, Katie and David but being in a group really helps to push me to keep going that little bit further – and that little bit further again. It’s the weekend runs, by myself, that are harder. Though I’m finding a rhythm more easily now we are a few weeks in.

I walked a marathon this year so knowing that one way or another I can do the distance is reassuring but I want to know that I gave it everything I could (and complete it faster than I would have walked it). I’m not sure picking one of the hilliest half marathons as my first run was necessarily my brightest idea but here we are – almost 1 third of the way through training. We’ve conquered Argyll Road which is half a mile of steep, steep road (when I say conquered I mean we all reached the top – I was a rather fetching shade of purple) and the hills on the course are no worse than that at the moment. Repeating that route will be a good test of how far we’ve come. I’m tempted to try it next week and see whether my time has improved – or if I at least look less beetroot by the time I reach the top! We shall see!

The biggest thing to come out of the last few weeks for me has been the fact I can run. I might not be running far yet, or moving particularly quickly, but I can do it. So if you fancy giving it a go, do! Just remember to bring a water bottle!

Running in sickness and in health


Week 3 – Katherine Coby writes about the challenges she has faced so far and her attempts to balance training with recovery.

Having signed up for the challenge with the best intentions, I was disappointed to start my training and immediately have to stop when I was struck down with an infection. GP visits, antibiotics and even a couple days waiting around at the hospital had to take priority, and my doubts about whether  I really would be able to run 13.1 miles in October were increasing.

As my health has slowly improved it has been great to notice small improvements, whether that is getting a bit further up a hill or not feeling so focused on just getting one foot in front of another that I look up and appreciate my surroundings. Exeter really does have some lovely routes, even if they are much too hilly. I’ve had to be careful, not pushing myself when I’m already too tired but also recognising when I’m feeling better and ready to get out for another run.

One thing that has helped me is monitoring my heart rate while I run. My online research suggests that some people think it’s great tool and others think it’s expensive and pointless. Personally, I really value it as a way to understand my fitness now at the beginning of my training. It meant that I could see that I was pushing myself too hard and I’ve noticed I feel better when I adjust my pace, running in a way that isn’t going to leave me exhausted only 10 minutes in. I’ll get better at recognising my own levels of exertion soon, but for now it’s great to have the help.

We’ve got just over 10 weeks to go now until the race and honestly I’m still doubtful of whether I can do it. All I can say is that I’m already running further than ever before, so whatever time I manage in the end I’ll have made some amazing progress.

The plodding continues…!

Week 2 – Holly Dowle writes about her experiences of the programme so far.

Whose ridiculous idea was this? I curse at myself as I jog along the path, trying to convince my legs to keep going. I know the answer – it was my idea to start training for my very first half-marathon, and so it’s up to me to prove I can do it. With the initial spurt of motivation from starting training wearing off, it’s getting harder to keep focused.

Training is still in its early stages. My body and mind are still rather confused over why I’m deciding to run around our notably hilly campus during my lunch breaks instead of seeking out a sandwich, and my feet aren’t really sure what the rest of my legs are doing just yet. Still, each time I get up a particularly taxing bit of hill that would’ve deterred me before, it makes the beetroot face and concerned “Um… are you alright?!” of my colleagues when I get back to the office worth it (sort of – I am hoping ‘heart attack scarlet’ will be replaced with an ‘ultimate fitness goddess’ post workout glow soon…please?!).

I’m not proud of it, but I have lived the majority of my life with the equivalent exercise regime to a desk lamp. What I am proud of is signing up to keep pushing myself. Only in the past year or so have I finally committed to exercising regularly, and it’s a big jump from a couple of sessions of Body Pump a week to running 13.6 miles in a couple of hours! However my doubts after barely scraping past the 5k mark are matched only by my abject stubbornness and the support of the group to keep putting one foot in front of the other all the way. Paul and the rest of the group have been so helpful – it’s really motivating to feel like we’re all in this together.

So as we’re on the 10th hill drill, I cross my fingers that this is going to get easier, that my knees will forgive me one day, and that come October 16th I can enjoy a well-deserved moment of smugness.

All the gear but no idea!


Week 1 – Alison Ramsden shares her thoughts on the challenge ahead.

So there it was in black and white, ‘Are you a non-runner, would you like to train for the Great West Run with specialist help’ and a few seconds later myself and five others were putting our names down and about to embark on a journey to become experienced runners, half marathon runners in fact, in just over 13 weeks.

It all feels very exciting at the moment, I have my trainers, my new running trousers, short sleeve tops, long sleeve tops, I have downloaded the latest running app and I’m ready to go.  The words ‘all the gear but no idea’ start to creep into my mind! But that’s the whole idea I guess, and where the University of Exeter Sports Park steps in to actually help make this happen and provide six of us with the knowledge and training to complete that 13.1 mile circuit in October – do they know what they have let themselves in for?

Our first training session was great, after we had all got used to doing star jumps and spotty dogs, with memories of PE classes from secondary school flooding back (oh the horror!), we were out running actually running, albeit in an 800m loop. The session lasted around 40mins and we quickly got to grips with running the same route to meet our partner running the other way, concentrating on pace, and tackling those first small training hills.  Paul is a great motivator and after suggesting maybe another lap in the 23 degree heat his decision to end the session early was warmly received.  With our homework set to run a steady route at the weekend and set our active recovery run for later in the programme, talk turned to ‘gear’ again, the latest running apps, recording devices and watch combinations all of which are great motivators.  However, the real message was that we don’t need any of those things, just a decent pair of trainers, a sense of humour and the motivation to train, train, train and build ourselves up for that all important race.  How hard can it be…?!

Welcome – Meet the team!

Welcome to our blog! Here you can follow the progress of a group of University of Exeter staff members as they train for the Great West Run 2016. This will be quite a challenge as the group are new to running, but they will receive specialist training and support from University of Exeter Sport along the way. In just three months, the group will go from being non-runners to taking on 13.1 miles! 

Find out more about each member of the group below.

Jess Peirce  Jess Peirce, Academic Support Administrator to the Economics Department

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    I have never really run before, apart from a few half-hearted attempts to get into it last year, none of which were over 3 miles.
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    I go to the gym 4/5 times a week which keeps my fitness levels up. I either do HIIT or Spinning classes or weights in the gym. I also play Netball once a week.
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most?
    I’d love to say that I have completed a half marathon and had the discipline to do so, and continue to run after the event. Also, a little weight loss wouldn’t go a miss.
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    Having not run before I’m not sure what to expect or how my body will react. I will need to keep motivated to complete the runs at the weekends, as this is the time I avoid the gym and enjoy eating and drinking!

Alison RamsdenAlison Ramsden, Communication Manager

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    Since April 2016 I decided I wanted to start running, so with advice from friends and colleagues I have gradually been building up, although I have struggled to get past the 5k distance.
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    I’m nowhere near as active as I was a couple of years ago. I regularly walk and try and attend the odd fitness class here and there but I don’t have a regular routine. I see running as a much more flexible form of exercise that I can hopefully build in around a busy life!
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most?
    The Great West Run is a fantastic event which I have seen so many friends and colleagues take part in, in the past. I never dreamed I might be able to complete a half marathon, so when this opportunity came up I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. I’m looking forward to the support and training and eventually running over the finish line!
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    I have a two year old son and demanding job, so fitting in the time to train is going to be challenging.  I’m also worried about achieving the distance and being able to tackle some of the big hills on the course.

Sophia PudneySophia Pudney, Development Officer (Students’ Guild) in Global Engagement and Development

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    Last May I ran a 10k along the canal (on completely flat ground and very slowly!). I’ve tried to take up jogging in the past but clearly haven’t been very successful!
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    At the moment I go to gym classes 3 times a week. My favourite classes are pump, spin and insanity.
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most? 
    Earlier this year I realised that my lifestyle had become very sedentary. With a desk job, driving to work and not being a gym member I did very little exercise so joined up at the gym in January. I hope that training for and completing the Great West Run will help me in my ambition to become much fitter, healthier and lead a more active lifestyle. An added bonus would be to lose some weight!
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    I think I might find it a challenge to keep up with the training due to busy work and home life but I’m determined to make running a part of my routine. I think I’ll have to push through some difficult days when I’m feeling achy, tired and not up for a run at all!

Holly DowleHolly Dowle, Programme Administrator for CEDAR Psychology

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    I am a non-runner. I have tried to start running a few times in the past but never got very far!
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    Currently I enjoy going to gym classes two or three times a week.
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most?
    I’m hoping to prove I can do something I never thought would be possible for me – most of all I’m looking forward to the race day and crossing the finish line! It would also be great to be able to use this chance to raise a bit of money for a great cause.
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    I’m expecting that starting from scratch to running a half-marathon in three months will be very difficult and will require a lot of grit to keep me going.

Amie JordanAmie Jordan, Senior Administrator (Research)

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    With the exception of the odd school sports day or being late for the bus, I do no running. I’ve been walking more over the last year and walked a marathon in May and am training for a 50k in September, but running is going to be a very different challenge.
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    I walk every day as it is part of my commute and my training for the 50k means I walk a lot so my endurance is quite good. My fitness levels are fairly average.
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most?
    I’m hoping to get away from the computer and keep moving – especially as the autumn sets in and the shorter, darker days make me want to cwtch up inside rather than get out and exercise. I’ve not run before but I know one way or another I’ll do it and I’m looking forward to crossing that finish line!
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    It’s a big change going from walking to running and I think that will be the hardest challenge. That and September is looking rather busy with a 50k walk and courses and conferences, so keeping up motivation then is going to be tricky.
  • Will you be running for a particular charity?
    I’ve been raising money for Walk the Walk this year. They are a grant making charity that supports programs around research, treatment and support for those with breast cancer. They also promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage people to get out and walk – but I’m sure they won’t mind me running (or trying to) to raise some extra. My sponsorship link is https://multichallenges2016.everydayhero.com/uk/amie-2

Katherine CobyKatherine Coby, Economic Development Project Assistant at Devon County Council (GBP)

  • Have you run before/what is your running history?
    A few years ago I would go for an occasional jog but was much more likely to do any running on a treadmill or cross trainer than outside.
  • What are your current levels of physical activity?
    I walk or cycle to work and try to fit in some yoga when I have the time. I used to be quite active, playing squash, swimming and going to the gym but since I finished my Masters last year I haven’t been making as much time for exercise.
  • What do you hope to get out of the project? What are you looking forward to the most?
    I really want to be fitter and get outdoors more, so when I heard about the opportunity I went for it. Right now it seems like a pretty enormous challenge, but I think with support I will be able to do it. I am really looking forward to getting to a point where I am looking forward to going on a run, as right now I’ll admit to feeling a bit of dread.
  • What challenges or barriers do you expect to face?
    I have a couple of trips planned in August and I think it will be a real challenge to keep up with training while I am away. I’m glad we are starting in July as I think bad weather might put me off sometimes. I’ll need to be determined to keep going beyond the Great West Run.