FROM 0 TO 21K: MY STORY ABOUT RUNNING – mental barriers, training & food

23 minutes read

I never considered myself a runner, running for me was physically and mentally uncomfortable. After overcoming the Cooper Test at school and a few failed attempts on the treadmill, I went back to jogging when I first started living with Simo. Since I didn’t like running and he didn’t like exercising in the mornings, we came to the agreement of going for a jog a couple of times a week… in marriage, things are negotiated from the beginning and without too much compromise from each side (but that’s another subject!). Not long after we left Colombia for the first time, and the morning runs didn’t transcend. When we arrived in England, we started going to the University gym, where I did Bodypump for the first time!!… but that is also another story.

Everything started when….

A few years ago, I decided I was going to get over my limitations and learn how to run. I knew I needed to do more cardio because I wanted to shred some extra fat. I had an office job and used to go to the gym regularly, but I only liked lifting weights. So I started on the treadmill, using an app that guides you progressively towards running your first 5k. C25K promises to take you from the couch to running 5k or 30 minutes in only 8 weeks. The secret is that this is a smooth introduction to move your body, 3 times a week, beginning or alternating between walking and jogging very little distances, and increasing slowly until in 8 weeks you’re ready to run 5k or 30 consecutive minutes. I recommend this program to anyone wanting to start running! And more especially to those who believe they can’t or don’t know how to do it or where to begin.

Here’s the C25K (5k) program in detail:

WEEKDAY 1DAY 2DAY 3
1Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1 minute
Walk: 1.5 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1 minute
Walk: 1.5 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1 minute
Walk: 1.5 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
2Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1.5 minute
Walk: 2 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1.5 minute
Walk: 2 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

Jog: 1.5 minute
Walk: 2 minutes

Repeat jog/walking until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
3Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

SET 1
Jog: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

Repeat Sets 1 & 2 until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

SET 1
Jog: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

Repeat Sets 1 & 2 until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.

SET 1
Jog: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

Repeat Sets 1 & 2 until 20 minutes completed

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking

Total time: 30 minutes
4Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 2.5 minutes)

SET 3
Jog: 400mts
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 4
Jog: 800mts
(o 5 minutes) 

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 2.5 minutes)

SET 3
Jog: 400mts
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 4
Jog: 800mts
(o 5 minutes) 

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts 
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 2.5 minutes)

SET 3
Jog: 400mts
(o 3 minutes)
Walk: 200mts
(o 1.5 minutes)

SET 4
Jog: 800mts
(o 5 minutes) 

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
5Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

SET 3
Jog: 800mts
(o 5 minutes) 

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 1.2k 
(o 8 minutes)
Walk: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 1.2k 
(o 8 minutes)

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 3.2k 
(o 20 minutes)

Cooldown: 5 minutes walking
6Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 800mts 
(o 5 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 1.2k 
(o 8 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

SET 3
Jog: 800mts
(o 5 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

SET 1
Jog: 1.6k 
(o 10 minutes)
Walk: 400mts 
(o 3 minutes)

SET 2
Jog: 1.6k 
(o 10 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 3.6k 
(o 25 minutes)
7Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4k 
(o 25 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4k 
(o 25 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4k 
(o 25 minutes)
8Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4.5k 
(o 28 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4.5k 
(o 28 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 4.5k 
(o 28 minutes)
9Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 5k 
(o 30 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 5k 
(o 30 minutes)
Warm-up: walk 5 minutes

Jog: 5k 
(o 30 minutes)

Going back through my Instagram I found some posts from the first couple of times I used the app. The first one here is from day 3, week 1.

After day 3, week 3, I never posted about the app again. But I remember I kept training, and before I knew it, I was already running more than 5k 🙂 or at least I can say that from this other post of when I run 5.6k on my way to the office… I remember that day. I really enjoyed it! Even though I was going to work on a Saturday, which was unusual, I decided to go running to change the routine. Going through places of London I normally didn’t see because I used the underground every day, was beautiful! And being able to work out without using more than my own legs, was the best!

Half Marathon, the first attempt

The year after we returned to Colombia, it was 2016. We had the idea of going for a half marathon at the Maratón Medellín. We started training, but my knee didn’t respond well, and after a few weeks training I had to give up. Simo went on and because of a friend visiting from London, just on race day, he decided not registering and running his 21k alone, one night through the streets of the city. At that time, I didn’t really know what it was to run 21k, and honestly, this event passed without much notice… poor baby.

After leaving London and travelling through Central America and Italy for a few months, we eventually settled in Medellín. At that time, we were transitioning to a more conscious way of eating, more beneficial for our health and friendlier with the planet. We had been reducing our consumption of animal products, and I was back to the gym. So I consulted with a sports professional about my knee because I was a bit frustrated for having to quit the half marathon training, even though I didn’t know exactly what I had given up.

I started focusing my workouts to strengthen the muscles around my knee and adopted the stretching as a non-negotiable part of my routine; in addition, I started to jog at the Ciclovía (in Medellín and other cities of Colombia, a couple of the main roads on Sundays stay close for vehicles, to make them suitable for people to exercise, ride their bikes, run, walk, rollerblade, etc.). This resulted to be very useful! I started also to jog during trips as a way of keeping up with exercise when travelling. I must confess we also adopted morning runs as a way to compensate for party nights 😄 jogging made us feel good after some excesses.

As per our way of eating, changes have been progressive. We went from days to weeks with no meat, and weekends of heavy BBQs to consuming fewer animal products, processed and packed foods; and we started to try new restaurants, and new veggie products that we eventually adopted as habitual.

My first official race

5k official

Two years went by, between a lot of exercise and regular jogs, but not many challenges, and a growing conscious way of eating. Until last year, 2018, when I was ready to leave Colombia (one more time), my friends from work: Nata, Lina Isa & Tati convinced me to register for the race. At the Medellín Marathon, you can run 5, 10, 21 and 42k… I went for 5k. For fun and safety 🙂

This was an incredible experience! I registered for 5k because I was trained for that, I used to run on Sundays at a really relaxed pace. But at the time of the race, I filled up with energy! Meeting my friends early in the morning, doing the warm-up together with the music, surrounded by a bunch of positive people sharing one passion, I found myself at a sports party. And at that very moment, I set a goal for myself: I wanted to run those 5k in my best time possible, last Sunday I had done 35-40 minutes (I don’t remember exactly), so I calculated to make it in less than 30. If any expert runner is reading this, they might think this is not a big challenge, or that given my physical condition this is the least I could do. But no, I was not a runner… mentally, I wasn’t.

I hit my own record at 00:29:23, and joined my friends at the end to celebrate our victories! One of them was running 21k for the first time, another one 10 and the other 5k. We took photos, commented about our happiness and went for a much-deserved brunch.

friends runners

A few days after this recharging experience, I travelled. Leaving Colombia indefinitely for the third time in my life, this time (as some of you know) to meet Simo in Europe and start our most recent self-discovery trip, better described on this other post. During this time travelling, and contrary to what I’ve done previously, I kept exercising. I didn’t want to lose the good shape and physical condition I’ve built during the last few years. Additionally, I was still training for my Bodypump International Certification, so that also kept me in shape.

Becoming a runner

We were 7 months and 7 countries into our trip when we were already planning our return to Medellín. A couple of months and a couple of countries before coming back, while in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico), Simo proposed to sign up for the Medellín Marathon. My immediate response was of course! I did 5k last time, this one I’ll o 10. But he insisted on going for 21k. And my answer to that was: noooo, I can’t!

We had a bit more than 3 months, enough time to train and the truth was that we were already running a couple of times a week, always 5 to 6k. We rarely tracked them.

Ok, the decision was made. We signed up for 21k, 14 weeks prior to the race, and as we usually do, we chose a method to train. I was terrified from the start!… of what? Not sure. I had already quit training because of my knee, and I thought it could happen again, but I began training as per the plan. Without leaving my other strength and resistance workouts and without thinking too much about what could happen, besides my man, he motivated me and inspired me.

The method we chose was the Nike NRC (Nike Run Club) mobile app, where you enter your details: age, height, gender, level of training, the date of the race and even how many days you want to train per week, and it sets training plan for you (this is all on the free version). I followed this plan to the letter! And this is super important, I’m convinced that this was one of the keys to improve my performance as a runner, my resistance and speed. And most importantly, to manage fatigue. Some of the pieces of training proposed by the app seem very soft, but I tried to give them meaning and followed them as per the plan.

Here’s the 14-week training plan I did:

WEEKDAY 1DAY 2DAY 3
1 3.5k Fit test: 2.5k Long run: 6k
2 2.5k Tempo: 1k Long run: 7k
3 Sprints: 4x 400mts 2.0k Long run: 8k
4 Sprints: 8x 200mts Tempo: 1k Long run: 9k
5 Recovery run: 2.0k 2.5k Long run: 10k
6 Sprints: 4x 800mts Sprints: 6x 400 Long run: 11k → 4k
7 Sprints: 8x 800mts 1.5k Long run: 12.5k
8 Sprints: 7x 800mts 1.7k Long run: 13k
9 Sprints: 7x 1000mts 2.0k Long run: 14.5k
10 Recovery run: 4.0k Sprints: 7x 800mts Long run: 15k → 16.8k
11 Recovery run: 8.2k Long run: 17k
12 Recovery run: 7.5k 6.8k Long run: 18k
13 Recovery run: 7.5k Sprints: 8x900mts Long run: 10k
14 Tempo: 3.5k Recovery run: 4.0k RACE DAY: 21k

What I liked the most about this plan is that it is different every day, I chose 3 days: Tuesday, Friday and Sundays, so I could continue with the other strength and resistance workouts, and I never felt fatigued or bored. The combination of sprints, recovery runs, and long runs, and the gradual increases each week were so fun and effective!

I must confess that the sprints after 400mts were terrible! These really challenged me and made me push my limits. But the satisfaction after each training was so rewarding. Simo was a big support and my motivator during the most difficult moments… because there are hard moments! The trainings are not all the same.

I only modified the program a few times. On the day that I was supposed to run 11k, I did 4, not sure why… a couple of weeks after, we had 15k and made almost 17; and on week 11, I skip one day just because we were travelling. Days 2 of 1.5, 1.7 and 2.0k were short runs but on a heel on my way to the gym, so those also added to improve resistance.

Having signed up for the race was crucial. If it wasn’t because I knew the day was coming and I had to be trained for it, I would’ve skipped many training days. The mind plays against you, but visualising the goal is key.

So what about food?

Even though the changes in our way of eating have been gradual throughout the past years, these haven’t been intuitive. We have made sure we’re well informed! We have studied and learned how to follow a balanced diet, that is not only eco-friendly, but optimises our health. Today, this is not only the basis of my work, but it has also been an important part of my sports performance.

The months previous to the race, I was training nine times a week: 3 running and 6 Bodypump classes. I never felt exhausted, or got sick or injured… I don’t count calories, nor macros, and I don’t follow “diets”. But I do make sure I eat beautifully. This means eating colourful, nutritious food. Plenty of vegetables, whole-wheat cereals, good fats, fruit and vegetable protein. Nothing processed, packed or extremely greasy. I cook almost everything I eat and (in case you don’t know) love sharing my recipes on Instagram – by the way, do you have my free ebook already?

I’d like to share some of what I usually eat, even though it varies. Always under the premises of good nutrition and giving my body natural foods, coming from the earth.

Breakfast

Usually post-workout. Training fasted or not depends on the kind of workout I’m doing on that day, or how long before I’m awake. If eating before exercising, I take a reduced portion: oats, cinnamon, fruit, soy milk, peanut butter, seeds (ground flaxseeds, chia, sesame, pumpkin, sunflowers seeds).

Lunch

It varies depending on what’s in the fridge, but it usually goes like this: whole-wheat rice or pasta (a quarter of my plate), vegetables (cooked or raw carrots, broccoli, red cabbage, tomatoes, etc.), avocado / olive oil (half avo, a tablespoon of oil approx.), legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, etc.), seeds or peanuts depending on the dish.

Snacks

I like having a shake in the afternoons or sometimes in the morning after training. If I had it in the morning I won’t in the afternoon. My snacks depend on how hungry I feel, and the level of activity during the day. It can be also almonds, peanuts, fruit, or a small portion of a meal, like a mini-lunch.  For the green smoothie, I mix in the blender: spinach or any other green leaves – a handful, first with water and add the rest after; fruit – banana, berries or mango; soy milk – a cup; peanut butter – a tablespoon.

Dinner

It can be the same as lunch – a smaller portion or I love making wraps, or arepa con todo (typical Colombian corn “bread”) – with everything on top! Everything usually means what I had for lunch plus avocado, of course 🙂

Others

I drink plenty of water during the day, one coffee in the morning and sometimes green tea with lemon, chai or golden milk once in a while, at any time of the day.

Pretty much every Wednesday we go for pizza and a glass of wine 🙂 And If I eat out any other day or on weekends, I’m flexible with my meals, depending on where I go and what’s available. I love burgers, fries, pizza, ice cream, cheeses, etc. But I love eating well, and to me, some empanadas or nachos would never replace a balanced meal. I do eat them, but not very often and honestly, I much prefer a whole, rich meal than finger food 🤷🏽

Continuing with the running…

Once In Medellín, we found out that some of our friends were also training for a half marathon, and one of them invited us to train together. We were not training to make time, we only wanted to finish the 21k – that was our challenge, at least mine. But our friends were training hard to make their time, so they used to run much faster than us. In the beginning, I was a bit intimidated and made clear that I wouldn’t run as fast. As expected, the group was divided, but Vivi, one of them stayed with us. And so we ran at her pace: 13k at 6’13’’ (min/km). It was the first time we challenged ourselves in speed, and we did really well! That day I was surprised at myself, I realised how our consistent training so far was paying off.

After running with Vivi, we continued to challenge ourselves in speed, but not too much. My philosophy with exercising has always been to enjoy it. So we continued like that during the upcoming weeks, enjoying but challenging ourselves! Until it was time for the last long run: 18k two weeks before Race Day. The NRC plan didn’t include to run 21k before the race, this would be on the big day, and that really excited me! 

That night before the last long run, Simo didn’t sleep well. He never gets sick and just on that night, he had a fever… so after some thought, I went on my own. I had planned to run only 10k and wait for Simo to get better to run 18 together during the week. I took my music and my phone to track the run. It was the first time in a while running long distance by myself. I was a bit discouraged at the beginning, but it was a Sunday, in Medellín, where many people go out to exercise outdoors, enjoy the nice weather, and good vibes 🙂 so I started to run… and before the first kilometre, my earphones ran out of battery… oh! Ok, let’s run with no music.

The fact that I had to run alone with no music didn’t stop me. Somehow running trains you not only for that… I started to feel good, so I decided to do the full 18k as per the plan. And so I did.

I was so happy! Felt ready for the half marathon. On that last week the training was as follows (now even thinking about speed):

Sunday (previous to race day): 10k at 5’42 ’’
Tuesday: Tempo, 3.5k at 5’00”
Friday: Recovery run 4.0k at 6’36’’
Saturday: pre-race 2k, super low speed

I lowered my weight training during this week to 2 days, and I rested as much as I could. For some reason, I was sleeping as much as 10 hours every night! And I allowed myself to do that. I took special care of my diet too – I wanted to nurture my body with natural, nutritious food exclusively. I didn’t eat anything that I don’t consume regularly or anything that could lower my energy. And as advised before a race, I carb-loaded of course! With good carbs only, nothing junk or processed.

THE BIG DAY

Sunday, September 8, 2019. We had gone to sleep very early the night before, woke up before sunrise and got ready to be there on time, 6:00 AM 

It is amazing to get on the train and see almost everyone dressed up for the race. They all say hi, smile at you, the shared feeling of excitement for this big day is in the air.

We arrived, took positions and the race started to the rhythm of Colombian music. It feels like a celebration, how exciting! People singing, the nice weather, good vibes, and positivism all around. Other people who come to see the race were cheering with whistles, posters, and messages.  

After we realised we actually could run faster, Simo and I aimed at running the 21k in less than 2 hours. That was our goal, and according to our calculations, if we started running at 6’03” (min/km) and progressively increased speed each kilometre to reach an average of 5’42”, we could make the 2h-hour mark. And so we did exactly that, using the NCR app, and my Samsung Gear-Fit2 we tracked our speed each kilometre.

I remember those first kilometres right after the first one. Running with the crowd, everyone silent, focused. The silence and the tapping of everyone’s shoes on the asphalt were music to my ears.

The first 10k were easy, almost like a warm-up. After 15k the fatigue strikes. We had read on the marathon leaflet some motivation tips, and one of them was to dedicate the hardest kilometres to someone.

I don’t remember exactly which one, but I dedicated one of those to my grandmothers; they both passed away a few years ago while I was living abroad, and they never had the chance to be athletes… I never thought about this before, but I do think about them very often, and this was one of those moments.

Another one I dedicated it to my parents, at that time I wondered if they knew what it means to train to run 21k, I thanked for having them around and because they inspire me. They’re my treasures.

And another one was for Simo, my partner. He ran beside me during all the training time, and during the race, as in this life, we live together.

At kilometre 18 my knee started to hurt. On no! It didn’t bother me at all during the training weeks, so I thought this was mind trying to resist. I applied a gel I had on hand, reduced speed for a short time, stopped at the Gatorade stand to hydrate and resumed with ALL the energy I had left. Simo went ahead, it was the end. The longest 3km ever! I wasn’t measuring speed any longer, I ran as fast as I could! I took over lots of people, joined some others on the way and interchanged motivational words. People outside were cheering, shouting encouraging messages. The music, the finish line, and the most exciting few last steps…. The end. I almost felt sad about this being over. And there he was, Simo, holding his arms open for me in this triumphant moment!… he only had to wait 15 seconds.

1:57:21 my personal record. I’ve achieved many things in life, and I’ve physically and mentally trained for them. But this is a special accomplishment. I’ve received many nice messages from friends before and after the race, and I’m so grateful for being surrounded by people who support me 🙂 I wanted to share this set of stories because I hope to inspire someone to make their dreams come true, to fight their fears and limitations. And to keep fighting my own, to grow and to win in this race that is life.

Author: Carolina

I used to be a Digital Project Manager with a passion for healthy food and fitness. Now I’m a full-time healthy lifestyle advocate, on a mission to spread the word about the best medicine: healthy life habits. I am a certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach, Les Mills BODYPUMP™ Instructor, and PADI Scuba Diver; I am a sociable and positive individual, I speak three languages and this has allowed me to get to know and understand several cultures. I love learning, and I have achieved most of what I aimed in life. I value justice, empowerment, friendships and a sense of community. I don’t like enclosure, artificial things, nor melon. I enjoy life, and I take care of the planet.

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