Lisa Jackson Q&A for Run Mummy Run

Exclusive Q&A with chat-runner and author Lisa Jackson

Run Mummy Run member and Runner’s World columnist Lisa Jackson frequently features RMRs and their amazing achievements in her articles for magazines such as Women’s Running and Outdoor Fitness and Adventure. Her two books – Running Made Easy and Your Pace or Mine – are firm favourites among our members.

Her message, ‘It’s not about the time you do, but the time you have’ has struck a chord with many of you. Although Lisa’s done over 100 marathons and ultras, she’s (by her own description) super-slow and has come last in 25.

The audiobook version of Your Pace or Mine? has just been released, and we’re sure it’ll inspire and entertain many RMRers, especially those who’re missing chatting to their running buddies and having to do solo social-distancing runs.

To celebrate the launch of the audiobook, Lisa did an exclusive Q&A for Run Mummy Run – but one with a twist! Instead of a journalist coming up with the questions, we threw it open to the RMR community, and here’s what you came up with…

I’ve been offered a charity place in London Landmarks, but am really worried about going on my own. I’ve never run solo before, always with my training partner. Should I go for it and do you have any advice to calm my nerves about being on my own? Rebecca Pass

First, enter without delay! Once you’ve got a place, you’ll definitely figure out a way to actually do it! I liken entering races to fishing – if you cast a line and get a bite, it’s the fish that reels itself in, rather than you having to reel it in yourself. Having a goal to aim for is hugely motivating, particularly if it’s a goal that’s a tiny bit scary. I can understand your concerns about running on your own as I also don’t enjoy that kind of solitary running at all – my main reason for running is because it gives me the chance to connect with people I’d never meet otherwise, and I just love hearing their stories and also sharing mine. That’s why, when my running buddy moved jobs and we could no longer run together, I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks (remember, Your Pace or Mine? has just been launched) as I found my own company a bit boring after ten minutes.

The main thing to remember is that you NEVER need to run alone – runners are a supremely friendly bunch and if you use some of the tips below, you’ll chat-run all the way from the startline to the finish.

  1. Start up conversations in the loo queue or while you’re waiting to hand in your bag to the baggage bus. I’ve run several marathons with people I’ve met this way – we’ve got talking, ended up starting together and then just continued the conversation for 26.2 miles. I know it’s not very British to talk to people you don’t know (I’m lucky that I’m South African and that we’re not known for our reserve), so just make some comments about the weather, how long the queue is, how much you’re looking forward to the race, or how you hope there’s still some toilet paper left in the Portaloo. Before you know it, you’ll have a new BFF.
  2. Wear fancy dress. People often ask me whether the runners I talk to during races wouldn’t prefer to run in silence and in fact find my chirpy chat-running a bit of a pain. The fact is that I NEVER speak to other runners while they’re running without them speaking to me first, as that way I can be sure I’m not an unwelcome distraction. The secret weapon I have for breaking the ice is wearing fancy dress. I either choose outfits that relate to the race itself (for example, in the Loch Ness Marathon I wore a Loch Ness Monster hat, and in Boston I wore a cardboard teapot on my head as the city is famous for being the site of the Boston Tea Party), or I wear my trusty flamingo hat. Countless runners have come over to me and commented on how much they like my outfit and asked where I bought it. Once I’ve explained those things I leave it up to the runners whether they want to continue talking or head on off. That way I can always be sure my companion actually wants companionship.
  3. Start listening to podcasts and audiobooks. There are a host of fabulous podcasts to choose from that will make the miles fly by and make you forget you’re running on your own: Runner’s World, Running Commentary, Bad Boy Running, parkrun’s Free Weekly Timed, Marathon Talk, Beyond The Life and Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place are particular favourites. You can also listen to audiobooks – Vassos Alexander’s Don’t Stop Me Now, Anna McNuff’s The Pants of Perspective and Kathrine Switzer’s Marathon Woman are my top picks. And don’t forget my own Your Pace or Mine? which tells of how I went from fitness-phobe to fitness fan and 100 Marathon Club member by coming last in 25 marathons.

Why am I slowing down? Poppy Bourke

I’m not a running coach, so you probably need to speak to someone far more qualified than I am, but you may be slowing down with age (which is only natural), because you’re anaemic, because you need to look at your nutrition or because you’re not doing enough faster running in training. I have always been super-slow and really did believe that I had only one pace: turtle stampeding through peanut butter slow. But then I decided to run the 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon. In those days you had to be able to run a marathon in under five hours to qualify, which was 45 minutes faster than my average marathon time back then. I despaired of ever being able to achieve that, but once I started doing speed training and tempo running, my speed increased dramatically.

I also did lots of lunges, squats and sitting in an imaginary chair with my back against a wall (I went from being able to manage barely 10 seconds to doing a full three minutes!) When I did my Comrades qualifier in Seville, I took almost an hour off the time I’d run in the marathon before. So it can be done – you’ve just got to want to run faster and put in the effort. That said, I don’t ever enjoy running fast, so I’m much, much slower now, but all the happier for it.

I started my running journey a few months back, I still need those few walking minutes between running sections, even on a 5K. Is it only psychological? Should I just press on? Noe Kartones

Congratulations on taking up running – it’s a decision you’ll never regret. Whether you take those walk breaks is entirely up to you. If you feel that running 5K non-stop is something you need to do to get out of your comfort zone and also move on to longer distances, such as a 10K or half marathon, then by all means try to press on as it’s unlikely that your body can’t run 5K provided you’re uninjured and have been training for a while.

However, don’t feel you have to eliminate those walking sections if you don’t want to: even elite athletes use walk breaks in races and they can actually make you faster rather than slow you down. Walking before you need to in a race reduces fatigue (both mental and physical) and also dramatically lowers your risk of injury. I like running for 15 minutes and walking for five, but you need to play around with the walk/run ratio that suits you best. My book Running Made Easy, which was one of the UK’s best-selling running beginners’ books for over a decade, has lots of information on walk/running and is available on Amazon.

How do you keep yourself motivated to run in those cold, winter months? Gemma Anne Chown

Before I became a runner I used to hibernate between October and March and never set foot outside the house unless I needed to commute up to town to go to work. Once I became a marathon runner, I realised that if I continued to do this, I’d only train for two weeks before my marathon, so I was forced outdoors entirely against my will. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it wasn’t actually all that cold outside, and that winter running was actually rather enjoyable. Instead of breathing in stuffy, centrally heated air, you get great big lungfuls of fresh, bracing air, and quite often it’s not grey and gloomy but sunny and spiritually uplifting outdoors. Here are a few ways to make winter running wonderful…

  1. Enter races. The camaraderie you feel encountering other runners who’ve also decided to avoid becoming sofa slots over the winter months is priceless. And you’ll run much further than when you’re solo.
  2. I struggle with running in the dark – I really don’t enjoy it – so I try to run at lunchtimes while it’s still light. The exposure to light (it doesn’t have to be bright sunlight) will help prevent getting seasonal affective disorder (SAD), too, so you’ll feel happier on bleak, wet, wintry days.
  3. Always fill the kettle and put out a mug with coffee or a teabag in it, so you’ll have a warming welcome waiting for you when you get back. I do my post-race stretches on the rug in front of my gas fire while watching telly – that’s a reward in itself.

I’ve got my first ultra later this year – what’s the best way to train for it (it’s a 50k with a generous cut off so I’m planning to run/walk). Clair Ramsden

What an exciting challenge Clair – and congratulations for deciding to walk/run it, as that’s by far the most sensible way to tackle such a long distance. I’m afraid there’s no one-size-fits-all training plan I can recommend: it really does depend on your existing fitness, time goal and also the time you have available to train. When I trained for the 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon, I did 5K to 8K four times a week and did a long run ranging from 21K to 65K on Sundays, but your race is shorter so you’ll need to look for a training programme that takes that into consideration.

The long run is the most important, as you need to be able to spend long periods of time on your feet. As you intend to walk/run, make sure you practise walking when you’re training. Many ultra-runners choose to walk the uphills to conserve energy (it’s usually not that much slower than running) and then run the flats and the downhills. Remember to walk ‘with pride and purpose’: walking in an ultra should not be window-shopping pace. You don’t need to walk every uphill in training – use hills to build your running stamina – but you do need to be sure you’ve practised at least a bit of walking in the run-up to your race. Good luck and well done on having the courage to become an ultrarunner, it’s something to be very proud of.

I started running in last February and regularly run 5K. In November I did a 10K. In my mad moments I think about entering a half marathon. I’m a teacher and mum so mid-week training is difficult. How long would it take to train for a half? Rachael Skelton 

Go with the ‘madness’ and enter a half-marathon Rachael – you’ll absolutely love it. A half marathon is a great distance: it’s a real challenge but it doesn’t take the best part of a day to finish, and it won’t take you to the outer reaches of your comfort zone like a marathon would. Most experts say it takes about three months to train for a half, so book one three months hence (if you fear lockdown will still be affecting races, look for a virtual race you can enter).

The key to successful training is getting your body used to spending long periods of time running – and to build that up gradually. You’ll need to put in about ten to 15 miles a week at the start of your training and build up to doing double that near the end. Look for a training programme online that fits into your schedule. You can probably get away with two shorter runs mid-week and then plan to do your long run at the weekend, so it won’t interfere with your schedule too much. If time is short, consider splitting your long run into two some weeks – so you could, for example, run a 10K before breakfast and then do a 5K in the evening once your children are in bed.

As I told Clair, the most important run is the weekly long one, where you should run at the speed of chat (preferably with a buddy), and gradually increase the distance by no more than 10% per week, to build your endurance.

If you have a long run planned but haven’t managed to do a poo, do you still set off on your run? Keren Rickerby Dale

Thank for submitting the question that made me grin, Keren! The answer, of course, is yes! Never let anything bar an emergency, broken bone or earthquake deflect you from doing your long run as it’s the most vital one of the week. Firstly, I’d suggest trying having a strong coffee when you first wake up as that can often get things moving. If that doesn’t work for you, adapt your route to make sure you have adequate loo provision. Either put on some headphones and run in circles round your block so that you can pop home to use the facilities when nature calls, or once the lockdown has ended, map out a route that has several loo stops en route (think public toilets, McDonalds, pubs, and in extremis, woods) so that you can run stress-free. On the subject of woods, make sure you carry some tissues with you along with a small plastic bag. If the ‘bear option’ turns out to be your only one, you can remain a good citizen by taking your poo paper home with you. Thankfully I’ve only been caught short in this way once, but the tissues definitely saved the day.

Any tips on getting faster without burning out? Alexandra Lyons

You’re asking the right person as I intensely dislike running fast and if I had to do so regularly I’m sure I’d burn out! As I mentioned to Poppy, above, I had no choice but to run faster when I wanted to do the Comrades ultramarathon. I found that adding strength-training into the mix was very beneficial. One or two speed, tempo or fartlek sessions a week made a huge difference, without forcing me to run faster all the time, and so prevented burn-out. The rest of the time I just ran at my normal 10,000 words per mile pace – which I found relaxing, not stressful – and I seemed to get faster without having to put in any extra effort (besides during the speed/tempo/fartlek sessions, of course).

What has been the one run where you have been really close to giving up and what motivated you to keep going? Rebecca Smith 

What a great question. The closest I came to giving up was during my first Comrades ultramarathon. I’d vowed not to speak to anyone (huge mistake) as I thought that would conserve my energy. It may have done that for my physical energy but it meant I felt bored and demotivated (blisters from wearing three pairs of socks didn’t help either). When I got to halfway I seriously considered giving up as I was 25 minutes behind schedule and thought it would make sense to spare myself the pain of running for another six hours only to go home without a medal.
But then I remembered the runner who’d snorted when I’d told him I was going to run Comrades (I was the slowest runner at my club so his reaction wasn’t unjustified, just very upsetting) and I vowed not to give him the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’, so I pressed on. Just then I met a runner from Canada who’s now a dear friend and her delightful banter pulled me through. So my advice would be ‘Never, never, never give up’ unless you’ve torn or broken something – and find someone to talk to when you think the end is nigh, preferably someone worse off than you, as supporting someone else is a sure-fire way to forget about your own woes and help ensure you get a medal.

Message from Lisa

Your Pace Or Mine AudiobookA huge thank you to the Run Mummy Run community for your fantastic questions and also your support over the years. I’ve loved featuring so many of you in my articles and hugely enjoy reading your posts on this forum. Happy running during, and after the lockdown – and remember, if you need to put some smiles into your miles, the audiobook version of Your Pace or Mine? is out now.  The three RMRers who’ll be receiving a paperback copy of Your Pace or Mine? as a thank you for submitting the questions I most enjoyed answering are Rebecca Pass, Rachael Skelton and Keren Rickerby Dale (for making me LOL!). Stay safe and far apart – and happy running!

 PS. If you’d like to try before you buy, either listen to the 4-minute preview on Amazon, or hear me being interviewed on the following podcasts:

261 Fearless Voices

Runner’s World UK

Band of Runners

Parkrun podcast (this one only seems to work on Apple devices)

Running Commentary

Bad Boys Running

Behind the Life

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