Have you ever been asked a question that has changed the course of your life?
In the past two years I have been asked at least two such questions. The first, was one I asked myself in January 2017. When I stepped on the scale and the digital number settled at 107.4kg, I said: “How the hell did I get here?”
By then I had been editor of Cape Community Newspapers (CCN) for nine years, and sitting at a desk for up to 12 hours a day, eating badly while chasing deadlines, inadequate stress management, and not exercising enough, had caught up with me.
I had become unfit, unhealthy and heavily overweight behind my desk. And that’s when I decided to apply to my lifestyle, the skills I knew best – I edited my eating.
The second significant question was posed to me by Kathy McQuaid, the strategic, media and sponsorship manager at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), around mid-year last year. After seeing some social media posts of me dabbling in a bit of treadmill and road running, she sent me a simple message: “Hey Chantel, what are your running ambitions?”
Anyone who knows Kathy, knows that running is her absolute passion. So I answered very carefully: “I don’t really have any.”
At that point I had already lost nearly 40kg and was feeling ready for my next challenge when she suggested I do SSISA’s 12 weeks to 10km OptiFit programme. While I started with modest expectations, I did better than I thought I would, and towards the end of the programme (and just before my 40th birthday) – Kathy sent me another message: “If I said Two Oceans, what would you say?”
Her message, of course, referred to the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM). And therein lies the point of this column, which will run weekly until the end of April.
I’m going to be training for my first half marathon and will be taking you along on the journey.
At my side as I take on SSISA’s OptiFit 9 weeks to 21.1km programme, will be three others, each with their own amazing story – a blogger, a radio personality and runner who feels he has “stagnated at 10km”. Together we are Oceans 4, getting ready to #RunAsOne.
Kathy developed OptiFit in 1995 to create an environment in which members could exercise safely, under the guidance of professionals. It’s structured to be gradual and progressive and to reduce the risk of injury – and by the time you read this column, we’ll be running three times a week. Each session will have a different focus, with the training load being incrementally increased each week.
But. Before we hit the road, we’re each going to have to complete a medical screening and a fitness assessment – which I will write more about next week.
In addition to writing about my own experience over the coming weeks, I’ll also be tackling topics such as hill and speed training, the importance of strength training for runners, rest and recovery, nutrition and the history of Africa’s biggest running event, with input from experts on each subject.
This week I asked Kathy what, in her experience, were some of the most important things runners omitted from their training regimen. Here’s what she told me:
While some runners have perfect biomechanics and somehow never seem to pick up injuries, most of us succumb since we have some muscle imbalances, leg length discrepancy or joint weakness.
As part of any exercise regimen, strength training should be included. Many people, and probably a large percentage of runners, prefer getting their heart rate up and being outdoors running rather than doing diligent strength training. Running, because of the stress it places on the body, will find one’s weaknesses which in everyday activities might go unnoticed.
Not getting adequate rest and recovery can be a problem – but that is usually more common in more experienced runners.
Chantel Erfort Manuel is the editor of CCN, which publishes this paper and its 14 sister titles. To track her journey to OMTOM2019, follow @editedeating or #editedeating
OMTOM on social media.