A few weeks ago I launched a new series on the blog centred around people who I really admire and look up to in the world of fitness. So often we look for inspiration in the celebrity world and we forget that we can learn so much and gain so many insights from the people around us. Victoria is based in Oxfordshire, UK and I first met her in 2003 when we were both volunteering at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape Town. She was a few years younger than me but fiercely independent and she showed a maturity beyond her years. She was quick to show me the ropes and we spent several weeks bonding on the bus to/from the sanctuary and in between penguin bites! This is her running story…
When did you first start running? I was quite sporty at school, but was never really that interested in running. I went on the occasional run every now and then during my university days (2003-2006), but never had the staying power to get into it properly. I wanted to be good immediately…so often went out too fast, huffed and puffed my way around, pulled lots of muscles, and then didn’t go out again for months! I only started running properly, or rather, sensibly, in 2010. I was working in the TV industry at the time, working long hours, eating really badly and had recently broken up with my boyfriend. I was feeling pretty lost and low and just needed something that I could focus on and do by myself, for myself…something that wasn’t defined by my job title or relationship status. I needed to do something that would give me a sense of self-worth and the satisfaction of achieving something I had set my mind too, so I started running…and entered myself into a 5k race to hold myself to account!
How did that first race go? I ran my first official race in May 2010, only a few weeks after I decided to take up running. It was a 5k Race for Life in Regent’s Park in London. I ran with my housemate Becky and a couple of her friends. I remember being very nervous at the start line. There were lots of people taking part, it was a very hot and sunny day and I started doubting whether I would be able to do it! I was so relieved and proud of myself when I crossed that finish line. I can’t recall my finish time as I just wanted to complete it. I also learnt a very important lesson too that day…re-hydrate! My housemate and I had pre-planned a celebratory BBQ at ours for that afternoon with around 20 of our friends. However, whilst my friends partied into the small hours I was laid up in bed with sunstroke!! It was rather embarrassing at the time…but I can laugh about it now!
LOL! A lesson learnt the hard way! What would you say is your weekly mileage? Do you also do other fitness activities? At the moment I am running around three times a week, totalling 15-20kms. In the last few years I’ve gone through stages of doing workout DVD’s (mainly Jillian Michaels) and Yoga. However, at the moment I’m only running. I’m not really a fan of gyms (all those people and mirrors!), however, being married to a military pilot I have free access to a host of amazing facilities: gym, swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, spinning classes, yoga, climbing wall etc. so I really should start taking advantage of them!
Looking back at all your races, what has been your favourite race experience? It’s difficult for me to highlight one specific race. There are 3 races that I have fond memories of for very different reasons:
Toronto Zoo 10k (Sept 2013) – this was the first 10k race I had ever done….but not the longest distance, having completed my first Half Marathon earlier on in that year. It was the first race that I had entered where there were thousands of entrants, so the atmosphere was really good. Despite it raining from start to finish, and the course having some of the most horrific hills I’ve ever encountered, I really enjoyed running this unique course. I set off with no real expectations (I wanted to run close to 1hr, but didn’t think that was achievable with all those hills!) so I just ran with the aim of enjoying the surroundings and trying to spot as many animals in the zoo as possible! My boyfriend (now husband) was running with me and we spent practically the full 65mins pointing out giraffes, rhinos, chimpanzees etc. to each other!
Blenheim Palace Half Marathon (Oct 2015) – this was my first race back in the UK, having returned from living in Canada for 3 years. It was also my first race as Mrs Whitfield, having got married a couple of weeks beforehand. There were three motives for entering this race: to lose weight for my wedding, to have something planned for afterwards to try and avoid the inevitable post-wedding blues, and to try and put some demons to rest from my first half marathon experience…and I managed to achieve all three! I was lucky in that I knew the race course inside out and back-to-front as I lived within walking distance from Blenheim Palace and used the grounds for all my training runs. It was a completely different experience from my first Half Marathon (a small locally run race with around 200 entrants, 2 laps of a straight out and back, where I started right at the back and finished 3rd to last…they were packing up as I crossed the finish line!). I managed to knock 14mins 15secs off my PB, finishing in a time of 2:19:48 and smashing my goal of a sub 2.5hrs!
Royal Berkshire 10k (May 2017) – this is the latest race that I’ve run. I just really enjoyed this race from start to finish. This photo pretty much sums up how I felt about it!
That smile really does say it all! We will come back to that race in a bit but first tell me about the Half Marathon you completed earlier on in the year – I think it was Bath if I remember correctly! Yes, I completed the Bath Half in March this year. I’m not going to lie, I had mixed feelings about the race. I didn’t run as well or as fast as I would have liked to. I’ve always wanted to run the Bath Half…I love the city and it’s a relatively flat course where lots of people achieve their PB’s. So I had high expectations and was very excited when I entered the race. I had also promised my husband that this would be the last race I would enter for a while before concentrating on family life…tick tock biological clock(!)…so I wanted to finish on a good one. However, I suffered with two bouts of flu during the winter and missed 6 weeks of training. I went into the race knowing I wasn’t as fit as I would have liked to be…and I felt it. It’s the first race I’ve ever done where I actually walked sections, and where I’ve had to mentally, as well as physically, battle with a blister for half the race! I crossed the line in a time of 2:28:48…not my slowest time…but I felt like I had failed. I beat myself up for about a week after that…disappointed that my final run hadn’t gone to plan. But then I picked myself up, put it behind me, (postponed our family plans…again…sorry Tim!) and entered myself for another race!
And that would be the Royal Berkshire you mentioned earlier! I remember crossing all my fingers and toes that you would do it in under an hour and was overjoyed when you did! Yes! I still can’t believe that I’ve finally managed to break that elusive sub 60 barrier! I really enjoyed this race – the Royal Berkshire 10k, in Green Park in Reading. I came into the race with a completely different attitude from the Bath Half. First and foremost, I wanted to enjoy this race. Regardless of whether I ran a PB, this would be my last race for a while and I wanted to come away with a positive experience. I also knew that my training had gone well, I had stuck to my plan and was in good shape. I had run a 59:56 in a training run 2 weeks prior to the race so I knew that I was capable of running that pace again. So, as I lined up at the start, positioning myself a few metres in front of the 60mins pacer, I didn’t have any niggling negative thoughts. I had no idea what the course would be like. On paper it looked like it could be quite boring, running on roads close to a very busy motorway, but it completely exceeded my expectations. It was a straight forward, one lap along country lanes, which really made me feel like I was on one of my regular runs…with a few thousand people tagging along! It was easy to find a nice pocket of space and found myself running alongside some lovely people. There were lots of spectators for the first and last 2k’s, but other than that we were on our own, bar a few marshals and some lovely horses in the fields we passed. We crossed over the motorway twice and actually had cars honking their horns at us in support! Having looked back at the professional photos from the Bath Half (in which I look like I am having the worst time ever!) I made a pact with myself that I would actually seek out those photographers…and it really wasn’t difficult to find that smile!
And my resolve didn’t waver even when the 60mins pacer overtook me just after the 5k mark. My running watch was telling me I was still on course for a sub 60 and I could hear the pacer shouting out that he was on target for a 59:25 finish time. So as long as I could keep him in my sights I knew I would be ok. It was a bit touch and go at the end though, as, like with most races, my watch beeped that I had completed the distance, but the finish line was still around 100m away…and the seconds seemed to be ticking by very quickly! I dug deep though and was so pleased to have crossed that line with a finish time of 59:56. I felt great! I had gained a new PB…but more importantly I had really enjoyed the race. I came away with a great sense of achievement, good memories and excitement about the thought of running that course again in the future…oh, and some running photos where I’m actually smiling! It was definitely the right decision to enter that extra race and be able to finish this running chapter on a high!
What would you say is your favourite distance? The Half or the 10k? If you had asked me this question a few months ago I would have said the half, as you get a huge sense of satisfaction completing those long training runs as well as the races themselves. However, I really enjoyed training for my most recent 10k! I loved being able to push myself to go faster and it’s certainly easier to fit those training runs in around your everyday life. I would definitely like to enter more 10k’s in the future…but I would also like to re-do the Bath Half as well.
What has running taught you about yourself? I’ve never really thought about what running has taught me until just now! And now I’ve thought about it…the answer is lots! Running has given me the confidence to go out there and achieve the things I want to do. I am good enough and I can do things by myself. It has also taught me that sometimes things don’t go the way you wish…but rather than throwing in the towel, you just need to brush yourself off and carry on. Obstacles and set-backs only make you stronger and more determined to achieve your goals. Running is great for your mental wellbeing! No matter how badly your day has been, or how awful you might feel whilst actually running, the post-run feeling cannot be beaten! That sense of achievement, having space to clear your mind, fresh air and the endorphins running through your body…it’s amazing! Running is not only good for your body, but it’s good for your mind and your soul as well.
What are some of the fitness or running goals you have for the future? As mentioned earlier I’m shifting my focus to concentrating on family life and trying for a baby, so my running goals are going to be very different. I’m going to try to carry on running for as long as I can, without putting any pressure on myself…so no races for the moment! I know people who ran up until 38 weeks pregnant, but also know people who couldn’t run much after around 10 weeks…so I’m just going to go with the flow, listen to my body and see what happens! And if I fall into the latter camp then I will definitely come back to running when the time feels right. There are so many more races I would like to do…and there’s still that marathon box that needs to be ticked! Ha ha!
What advice do you have for new runners who have either just started their running journeys or would like to start but just don’t know how? My advice for those who would like to start running is to just go for it! The only thing stopping you from taking the first steps is your mind…your body can definitely do it! Ignore any self-doubts or negative thoughts and just get out there, putting one foot in front of the other. I would also recommend downloading a training plan (even if you have no desire to run an actual race) as it gives you the structure and takes the decision making out of the process. I’m a procrastinator and can talk myself in/out of anything so without a plan in place the words “maybe tomorrow” work themselves into my vocabulary and before I know it I haven’t run for months! However, I’m not a quitter, so love having a plan to hold myself accountable to. I’ve always used the ASICS website to generate my training plans (www.myasics.com) – it’s free, you just have to create an account, and I’ve found them easy to follow and to get the results I want.
Another thing I would advise (and something I have to keep reminding myself about too!) is to not compare yourself to other runners. It is great to find inspiration from others and look up to them for motivation, but damaging if you are then criticising yourself and putting yourself down. This is your journey, not theirs! And it is always good to remind yourself about how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved. It’s all about the small improvements. Last month you might have been able to only jog for a few minutes before walking, this month you can now run for half an hour without stopping! Celebrate those moments and be proud of all your achievements! Before you know it you’ll be running 5k’s, 10k’s and half marathons too.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I love your beautiful honesty and authenticity. I love all the personal lessons and practical advice you shared about running. I love that you ended on such a high note before closing this chapter for now. But most of all, I love that big, bright, shining smile that you have after each race. That to me is the best part about running – and the reason we keep coming back! Best of luck to you and Tim as you enter a new stage of your journey! 🙂