I am a pretender, a distance running wannabe. However over the last few weeks I've learned some important lessons which I think may help other's in a similar situation. Enjoy, and please feel free to add tips of your own below.
They say it takes 30 days to work something into your routine, and after that it becomes embedded in your psyche. This varies slightly for everyone, but I've so far found the basic theory to be correct. That initial period of time is tough - you'll have to force yourself into action every single time. Gradually though it becomes easier, and in my experience you reach a point where it just feels natural. Now if I don't run almost every day I feel sluggish and lethargic.
2. Make a plan
If you want to hit your distance, and do it well, then you're going to have to train properly. Research what others have done, ask advice from the pro's, and make yourself a schedule which is realistic yet challenging. This is also going to be tough, but once it's done, then all you have to do is stick to it!
It pays to switch things up a bit. Instead of running through the same old rigmarole every morning or evening, try something different.
I have always been a fan of morning exercise and generally go for a 2 hour run or gym session at 7am. This works for me, but sometimes I also get very very bored and find myself plodding along on my run wishing I was doing something else. So now I try and do a couple of evening runs during the week, and give myself a lie-in. I've found my distances and times have got better since I started this, so there must be something to it!
I also alternate between road runs, park running and the gym (alas, no wild countryside to speak of here in London!) The gym may sound a very boring place to run, and let's be honest, it is, but it makes a good change from the roads and can be an escape from the wet and cold. Adverse weather is NOT a good reason to skip out on a running session, but I've decided (in my old age) that when I'm running every day I'm allowed a day in the warmth now and again.
4. The start ALWAYS feels rubbish
Without fail, the first mile or two of my runs are exercises in pain management and grumpyness control. I am always convinced that I won't be able to make it, and that I need to go back to bed and take the day off.
I force myself to do three miles, and tell myself that if I'm still feeling rubbish after that, I can quit. Inevitably, by that time I've woken up and my legs are working, and I keep going. Every single time. So the point is, don't give up at the beginning, or before you've even started. It's natural to struggle at the start, but let yourself settle into it and gradually it will become manageable.
5. Don't give up when it gets tough
There are times when running is just not what you want to do. Maybe it's because the weather is foul, or perhaps it's just that the week is drawing to a close and you've already run more miles than you care to count. Naturally, you will feel tired and want to look for an excuse. My advice? Get over it, and go do some running! Follow your plan. When things get tough, that when you know you're onto something good. Long distance running, like anything worth striving for, isn't achieved by doing things the easy way.
6. Listen to your body
This may seem to contradict the previous point a little (sorry, I did say I wasn't a professional) but there are times when you'll want to listen to what your body is telling you. Specifically relating to mental or physical fatigue. There's a difference between real fatigue when you've pushed yourself to breaking point, and just being tired because you've exercised a lot. Learn to distinguish between the two. I recently got carried away with my training and didn't take any days off for nearly three weeks. Subsequently my body went into melt down and I spent a weekend with headaches, sore joints and barely enough energy to get out of bed. Days off are key! Respect the need to rest, and listen to mind and body.
7. Don't be afraid to take breaks
If you're trying to run further than you're used to, then you will probably feel the need to walk every so often. This is okay! It's better to walk than to stop. As long as you're still on your feet and moving forwards, then it's still useful training. Just be sure to try and go further the next time before you walk.
It won't be easy (as the saying goes - if it was, everyone would be doing it!) If you're slacking off, then be strict - deny yourself luxuries. If you don't hit your target for the day, maybe you don't get to go to the pub...this requires motivation to self-discipline, but it's a great technique to keep yourself in check! Equally, reward good training. If you've run a new personal best, or had a good week, then maybe that visit to the pub has been well earned! (NB There are other rewards that don't involve alcohol...feel free to choose your own...)
9. Choose some good music
Self explanatory really. For short runs most people look for something upbeat, with a strong rhythm to propel them onwards. Over a few hours I find this sort of music annoying. Choose a variety which you will be able to appreciate even after 20 miles of hard running.
10. Enjoy it!
Above all, remember that you are doing this to keep yourself fit and healthy, to challenge yourself, and to see what you're capable of. You are engaging in some form of self-improvement, and that's a good thing! Relish the journey, and look back on the hard moments through nostalgic rose-tinted goggles. This is much better for you than eating crisps and watching telly. Enjoy!