Progress Makes Perfect

In the December issue of RUNNER’S WORLD, we introduced you to three intrepid volunteers willing to let us train them up from being absolute beginners to running the Flora London Marathon in April. You’ll be pleased to know that, after six weeks of training, Kerry Neale, Philippa Braidwood and Phil Wilson are still training and making great progress to boot.

It hasn’t been a case of simply going out for a run after work, though: all three have agreed to completely reshape their lifestyles. Under the guidance of Keith Anderson – a former international marathon runner, now a coach who runs the Trailplus training camps – all three have had to alter their diet, exercise more than ever before and change long-term habits in order to reach their goal. And all three admit that they’ve found it tough: Braidwood has suffered an early injury setback, Neale has had moments of despondency when the temptation to reach for a chocolate bar seemed like the only way to pick up her mood and Wilson has ploughed a lonely furrow running and walking to and from work, as well as facing the additional challenge of trying to give up smoking.

It’s been tough for Anderson, too. He has devised training programmes and dietary advice for our three runners, and been in constant contact with them. When things are going well he has had to remind them not to do too much too soon, and when they’ve felt down he’s had to encourage, and at times cajole them to stick with their schedules. But with Anderson’s careful mentoring, and the avid support from forum users at www.runnersworld.co.uk, all three are on target for their 26.2-mile challenge in the spring. Here’s what they have to say about their new lives as bona fide runners:

Kerry Neale, 32, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire — computer software analyst

Neale has become the toast of the www.runnersworld.co.uk Beginners’ Forum, shedding two stone since she started her training programme, mainly by changing her eating patterns and doing one to two hours a day of cardiovascular exercise. She swims, bikes, walks and jogs, and after two months, her resting heart rate has dropped to 48 beats per minute, her motivation is sky high, and she has been able to fit in the demands of her training around a busy work and social life.

“I’ve been going away a lot on the weekends and that is when Keith schedules the long sessions. Sometimes it’s a real pain having to fit more than two hours of training in – especially if you’re travelling with a non-sporty friend,” she says. As she needed to lose weight before she could start running, Anderson set an uncompromising diet for Neale. He has set strict rules about her food intake, and demanded that she follow them to the letter. There are no cakes, no biscuits, no sweets, cheese, crisps, fast food, and no alcohol allowed. Surprisingly, the diet hasn’t been the hardest thing for Neale. Anderson wouldn’t allow her to jog during the first six weeks of her schedule – getting her to swim and cycle instead – and she found it incredibly frustrating. Now she is allowed to run, she’s finding it hard to hold back. She also admits that simply having to do things like staying hydrated throughout the day is tough. “I actually find having to drink so much water one of the hardest things,” she says. “The only time I used to drink water was when I was exercising.”

Understandably Anderson is delighted with Neale’s progress. “She’s been absolutely fantastic,” he beams, “ I can’t praise her enough.” He has been in close contact with her by e-mail and phone, and kept her spirits up when she has hit a rare low patch. “She’s totally committed, it’s an amazing turnaround,” he admits. He says that their relationship has to be absolutely honest if Neale is to reach her goal, but that doesn’t mean he’s a complete ogre: on Christmas Day he allowed a slight relaxing of the rules. (Knowing that all three runners are attending a Trailplus marathon training camp early this month and any major seasonal lapses will be found out.) “That was the carrot," he says, “the promise of a day off!”

Philippa Braidwood, 48, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey — writer

With a nasty muscle tear in her right calf just two weeks into training, Braidwood has had the toughest start to her programme. After a couple of days off, she resumed the walk/jog sessions set by Anderson, but the pain soon flared up again, and she was forced to to stop running. “I went swimming – aiming for 75 minutes a day – and cycling,” she says, “and visited a local physiotherapist for some ultrasound treatment and deep tissue massage.” Braidwood found, as most runners do, that there was no instant cure. In fact, she was forced to avoid running for four weeks. “I can’t believe it took so long to heal,” she says. “I have found it very frustrating, and the lay-off means that I’m increasingly nervous about the idea of the marathon.”

Braidwood, too, has been set a strict diet by Anderson and she admitted to him that she had slipped. “She had a bad couple of days, and she had a couple of glasses of wine,” says Anderson. “But after that hiccup, Philippa became a lot more positive and got back into the swing.” In fact, the determination Braidwood has shown to maintain her fitness while unable to run has delighted Anderson. “Seventy-five minutes of swimming is mind-numbingly boring, so well done to her,” he says.

With the support of her children, Braidwood followed a detailed plan throughout the school holidays, and having lost a stone already, is feeling fit. She and Neale e-mail each other regularly, and Braidwood says that the support from her fellow beginners, from the www.runnersworld.co.uk forums and especially Anderson has inspired her when she has needed it most. “I think we are lucky to have such a superb coach on tap,” she says. “Keith patiently responds to endless questions and really inspires us to carry on when we feel like giving up.”

Phil Wilson, 36, from Nottingham — sheet metal worker

While the running has been going well for Wilson – he is doing 12-15 miles a week – kicking his smoking habit is proving to be the biggest challenge. “I’ve had a stressful couple of weeks,” he admits, “My mum went into hospital, so I’ve been smoking one or two cigarettes.” He realises, though, that he will have to quit completely if he is to achieve anywhere near his potential at the marathon.

He is enjoying his running though. “It’s such good stress relief, and it’s really good fun,” he says, “especially after a day’s work. I used to just get home and sit down in front of the TV with a cup of tea and a fag.” In fact, most of Wilson’s weekday miles are done on the way home from work -– he does the two-and-a-half mile route home each day, with a longer session over the weekend.

Like Neale and Braidwood, Wilson has also noticed some weight loss benefits of his new regime and has so far shed five pounds in weight. He admits that he is feeling much fitter. “I’ve cut down on fat, and I’m not eating any rubbish. I’ve cut down my drinking, too,” he says. He says his only problem – apart from the cigarettes – has been a couple of blisters. He remains highly motivated, even though he does all his training by himself, and cannot keep in such close contact with Anderson, as our other two runners. “Sometimes when it’s cold I just don’t want to go out, but once I’m out there it’s great,” he says. After a quiet Christmas, Wilson is considering entering a race in the New Year, maybe even a half-marathon.

Anderson is impressed with Wilson’s inner determination, but hopes that he isn’t afraid to contact him if things get difficult in the coming months. “If Phil’s not communicating with me, that could mean one of two things: either he’s not doing it, or he’s happy to get on with it. Thankfully, I’m convinced that he’s quietly getting on with it at the moment”.

Click here to read Kerry's forum thread.

Click here to read Philippa's forum thread.

Click here to read Phil's forum thread.