Women Running - Interview with Dr Jane

Dr Jane, Health Advisor on Beat Menopause Gain talks to Elizabeth Martyn about how she took up running in midlife.

Elizabeth Jane, had you always been keen on running, or was that something that started when you were in your forties?

Dr Jane I remember running everywhere as a schoolgirl because I was always late and that hasn't changed! I enjoyed running when I didn't notice I was doing it, but I detested cross-country running at school but loved running in rounders.

In my 20s and 30s I tried jogging but found it so boring. Then I found a friend to run with, and that made me forget that I was running. After a bit I found I actually started to enjoy the sensation of running, but I still find it's much better if I have a friend to talk to at the same time. We've solved many of the world's big problems while running!

Elizabeth What was it about running that appealed to you?

Dr Jane I like it because it exercises all parts of you, you don't need any equipment apart from running shoes and a good sports bra, and you can run from outside your own front door. I love that convenience of not having to 'go' anywhere to do it, and all you need to do is put one foot in front of the other. That simplicity and ease was a great attraction particularly when I was very busy juggling work and family.

Elizabeth What are the health benefits of running - and how has it benefitted you, physically and mentally?

Dr Jane Running is so good for every part of you. It helps tone virtually every bit of your body especially bum, legs and stomach. It helps your balance and coordination, and your heart and circulation. I personally believe that it has helped me even more mentally. The endorphins that are released after a run seem to stay with you for a long time afterwards, possibly the whole day, and helped me to cope with mood swings that were apparent as one of the signs of the menopause and probably reduced them. More importantly, when runnning regularly the insomnia I've suffered with for years improved greatly, making me much more productive during the day.

Elizabeth Let's talk about running for beginners - can you tell us how you began training and building up your stamina?

Dr Jane I began running by walking! I know that sounds odd, but it makes it much easier if you start by telling yourself that you're just going to walk, and then if you feel like it you might just jog for a few paces. Quite soon you find that as you start walking faster you naturally break into a slow jog, and then if you feel tired you just start walking again. You simply walk/run alternately however it feels natural for you at the beginning.

If you have a partner you can push each other to just run to that tree or that lamppost. Remember that it's important to take water with you. When you find that you've been jogging long enough to feel a bit out of breath it's good to stop and stretch your leg muscles to warm up.

Elizabeth Did you work on your own or did you have other people to run with - or even a coach? How much time did you spend on running?

Dr Jane In my opinion it's essential to run with others, especially to start with. The more different people you have that will run with you the better, so that if one person can't make it the others will still motivate you to go out on a cold winter morning.

Incidentally, regarding the weather I suggest that you do go out in all weathers, even in light rain (not pouring) wearing a waterproof, otherwise the weather will quickly become an excuse not to go. It's amazing how quickly you get warm even on a freezing cold day. You can always start with jumpers and gloves on which you can then take off. The only caution would be on extremely hot days to go out either very early or late, and to be very careful in frosty conditions when there is ice on the roads as you might slip - this has happened to me. For this reason, if running alone do take a mobile phone.

I have three other regular running friends and we have helped each other as much as we can. I have one main running partner who has been amazing at keeping up my enthusiasm. She is one of the most postiive and determined women I know and without her I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to keep it up and enjoy it. Whilst we run we share our life stories and day to day angst, and work out wonderful ways to sort out all the problems.

It's good to talk when running, as it stops you running too fast. You should be able to run and talk at the same time - that's an ideal pace - unless you're racing. If you're training for a race you should conserve your energy and not talk.

My 3 friends and I did have a coach for a 6-week course of squats, weights and core body strength exercises. He was excellent and helped us develop better muscle strength. He was also an inspiration himself as he is a marathon and triathalon runner. Of course, the 4 of us doing 'Spotty Dog' exercises in the warm up made us all laugh and we didn't take it too seriously. A coach can be a good idea if you can't find a friend to run with and because you're paying it makes you turn up and do the exericse. You could even run with your coach.

Elizabeth Were there any problems or challenges with taking up running that you hadn't anticipated?

Dr Jane The main thing that I hadn't anticipated was the need to spend money on good quality proper running shoes, (not trainers). These start at around £70 ($45). One of my friends did her first run round the block in old trainers and fractured a bone in her foot due to the impact on her foot of the road. If possible you should have proper running shoes before you start a running program, or at least new trainers with some cushioning.

Another piece of essential kit is an excellent running bra - and this is something you should buy as soon as possible afer you've decided that running is for you. You can't enjoy running if your breasts are bouncing up and down and hurting you, so therefore you won't run as fast. You need a properly designed bra that straps your breasts to your chests. Your body doesn't feel free otherwise.

The other thing I hadn't realised was that injury even in non-serious runners is very common, especially muscular sprains. I think everyone of our running group including myself has had a muscular injury of some sort that has prevented us running for a period of time. We've had to learn the hard way that to reduce the risk of injury it's vital to do stretches before running, more stretches as soon as you feel warm, and a proper cool down at the end. If you have hurt yourself you should also rest until you're fully recovered. It's too easy to skimp on these stretches - but my advice is DON'T! Always exercise safely.

Elizabeth Can you tell us a bit of background about the Great North Run?

Dr Jane The Great North Run is half-marathon of just over 13 miles and is held in Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK every October. A lot of people run for charity, but you can also run for yourself, and to do this you enter an online lottery for a place, first come - first served.

All sorts of people do the run. The course is beautiful over the bridges in Newcastle, and at the end there is a run down to the sea with a fantastic view. The only problem is at the bottom of the hill, when you think it's the end, there's still one more long mile to go, the hardest mile of my life! There's a great atmosphere with people cheering and singing and bands playing music all along the way.

Although The Great North Run was one of the toughest challenges I have ever done, it was also one of the most memorable and happiest days of my life. The sense of achievement in completing the race in 2hrs 37 minutes at the age of 50 was greater than I felt for passing any of my medical exams. I still look back to that day with a glow of pride and confidence. The fact that my other 3 friends also achieved it despite injuries in the preceeding 3 weeks has strengthened our friendship and we have a marvellous photo of our four pairs of tired feet together on a sofa in soft stripy socks taken later that day.

Elizabeth Thinking now about other midlife women wanting to take up running - what tips can you give them?

Dr Jane These are the top tips I'd suggest for women running in later life - or at any age:

1. Find a friend or coach who wants to run with you.

2. Buy the best pair of proper running shoes you can afford from a sports shop that understands them.

3. Buy a very good sports bra.

4. Ask your friend to get you to go running at least twice a week.

5. Go first thing in the morning before anything else distracts you.

6. If running alone, try running with an iPod, or take a dog - be careful of traffic especially when using earphones.

7. Build up your time gradually.

8. Don't run faster than a pace at which you can still talk.

9. If going for a proper race like the Great North Run, download their training program and follow it as closely as you can.

10. If you're injured, stop running and don't restart until a week after you feel completely better.

Elizabeth Jane, thank you for sharing your experiences - I'm sure you'll encourage other women to try running and enjoy the same benefits that you've discovered.

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