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A Beginners Diary

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Welcome to Emma's Diary

Emma Baronenas who works for the Express & Star's Chronicle group of newspapers recently joined the Dudley Ladies Beginners Running Course as a relatively unfit newcomer to running. Below is her weekly diary charting her progress.




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Week 1 - 04/05/06 

Reporter begins her running commentary

As I climb the ladder into my loft at home to dig out my old running trainers I am reminded why I need to dust them off and start pounding the streets again.

Getting slightly out of breath after climbing two flights of stairs cannot be a good thing for a 21-year-old who is supposedly in the prime of life.

Having not done any form of exercise for the past two years it is high time I attempted to improve my fitness levels, so to help me in my quest I have enrolled in a 10 week beginnerıs course at Dudley Ladies Running Club.

The club was formed by Rita Vanes, from Lower Gornal, in July 2002 and it has now become the largest women-only road running club in the Midlands, accommodating ladies from absolute novices up to seasoned marathon runners. Rita has held the beginnerıs courses for the past 10 years so I know I am in capable hands.

Dudley Ladies is based at Wombourne Leisure Centre, in Ounsdale Road, Wombourne, and I was shocked at the number of beginners who piled into the small village for the first session of the course last Tuesday. Around 260 novices turned up for the introductory session and Rita said the course gets a similar level of interest from women every year it has run.

Ladies and girls of all ages, shapes and sizes packed into the nearby Ounsdale High School hall for the welcome talk by Rita. She told us what to expect from the course and introduced the club physio as well as a couple of ċformer-beginnersı - one of whom has just completed the London Marathon.

Ritaıs beginners courses set a target of running three miles within 10 weeks and the way the training is structured ensures that most people achieve it. During the ten weeks, we will be taught how to warm up; how to warm down; how to stretch; how to avoid injury; how to identify a good pair of running shoes; what is a good bra for running and people can have their body fat levels monitored if they want to lose weight.

After an inspirational and motivating introduction Rita led the group onto the leisure centreıs football pitch, showed us how to warm up and then set us off on our first physical challenge of the course which involved a combination of brisk walking and jogging.

After a cool down session of stretches the ladies left the leisure centre.

All in all it was a really enjoyable evening and the majority of women who took part left feeling better for having got out of the house and having done some exercise.

Being out in the fresh air and jogging on a warm evening has rekindled my enjoyment of running


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Week 2 - 11/05/06

Running in a cold climate - Emma braves the elements 

I foolishly decided to don a pair of very short running shorts for this weekıs beginnerıs session.

Like most Brits, I tend to get a little bit carried away when the first sign of early summer sunshine breaks through the clouds and forget I live in England and not somewhere in the Med. With the nice weather at the weekend I thought Tuesday nightıs running session would be the perfect opportunity to get in the summer spirit by showing a bit of flesh - it is May after all.

Within 30 seconds of stepping out of my car and walking to Dudley Ladiesı meeting place at Ounsdale School hall I had begun to regret my rash decision. By the time I made it onto to the neighbouring field to begin the training session I was frozen and could not wait to start running to get warm.

Blustery winds and light drizzle may have caused my legs to go blue but the weather certainly did not dampen the spirits of the scores of girls and ladies who once again turned up for the course.

After a brief introduction by our instructor Rita, which included a talk about sports bras and free running shoe advice from  an expert from Sweatshop, we headed out to the field to do our warm up routine.

Rita leads the group through a series of stretches at the start of every session to ensure all us eager runners are limbered up before we start exercising so that we do not get injured.

Fully stretched, it was time to get down to the business end of the evening and start jogging.

At the first beginnerıs session Rita broke us in gently by making us walk and jog around a football pitch.

In total we covered a distance of a mile and a quarter and out of that the aim was to run approximately half a mile.

The system we followed was to walk around the pitch briskly to warm up then run one side of the pitch and walk the remaining three, then run two sides and walk two and so on until you end up running around the whole pitch.

This week we followed a similar pattern but Rita made us increase the amount of jogging and decrease the amount of walking.

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Week 3 - 18/05/06

It's worth it in the long run

It was in a state of some trepidation that I approached this weekıs beginnerıs session.

My anxiety stemmed from the fact that this was the first week the group would not be running/walking circuits around the football pitch.

Instead, this week we would be running for as long as we could for a set time down a disused railway line.

Our instructor Rita Vanes informed us that we would run as far as we could physically manage for 10 minutes then she would blow a whistle and the group would turn around and run back.

In real terms this means however far you run in the first 10 minutes you end up having to run the same distance back and when we set off my competitive side kicked in and I immediately headed to the front of the bunch.

I managed to stay there for the whole of the first 10 minutes but when Rita blew the whistle the reality of the situation I had created for myself suddenly hit me hard.

Because I could not keep a lid on my competitiveness in the first section of the run, when I turned around to head for home I faced a very long run back to the starting line.

If only I had used my head and run a little slower in the first section I would not have ended up having to force my tired, aching legs to jog what felt like a very, very long way back.

I tried to run all the way on the return journey but had to stop briefly to walk on a couple of occasions.

When I eventually managed to haul my weary legs over the finish line I was tired, very out of breath and sweating profusely.

My plight had not been helped by the fact that I had had a cold all week. This illness was probably caused by my shorts fiasco from the previous training session. I thought I had got over the worst by the time of this weekıs session but I realised half-way through the run that I hadnıt. It was quite difficult to breath properly because my nose was blocked up and consequently, because I was unable to inhale properly and I got a stitch. It was not very pleasant and I was worn out by the time I got home.

This weekıs training session had been a shock to the system. I had coped fairly comfortably with the previous weekıs combination of jogging/walking but this was the first time we had attempted to run without stopping.

A combination of competitiveness and a cold meant that I struggled. It made me realise just how unfit I am and has spurred me on for next week when I will try and take it steadier so that I can run the whole way.


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Week 4 - 25/05/06

'Chocs making light work of long runs'

Have finally made a breakthrough with this running malarkey.

After four weeks of training I believe I have discovered a secret weapon that will see me through the remaining weeks of the beginnerıs course.

What is this miracle product I hear you cry. Forget the energy-boosting isotonic sports drinks.

Forget those sticky plasters that athletes put on their nose to help them breathe better.

Forget the ridiculous knee-high granny socks that a certain Paula Radcliffe is often seen wearing.

The answer is far more simple and enjoyable - chocolate. I am sure the training manuals would not recommend eating chocolate as the ideal preparation for a strenuous run but it certainly worked for me.

I wolfed down a king-size packet of Maltesers a couple of hours before this weekıs session and I ran the best I have ever run so far on this course.

OK, I accept my improved performance was probably down to the fact I have been training for a month now and my fitness levels have improved and my legs are getting stronger but I am convinced the chocolate gave my the extra energy boost I needed to carry me through.

This week followed a similar pattern to the previous session. We had to run for as long we could down a disused railway line. However, our instructor Rita Vanes added two minutes onto the time we needed to run for.

Learning from my disastrous mistakes from the week before, I decided my strategy would be to hang back, stay in the middle of the bunch at the start and pace myself.

I set myself the target of running for the entire 22 minutes and I am pleased to say I managed it.

Apart from one minor glitch - I think I swallowed a fly half-way through the run - I completed the task without too many problems.

Donıt get me wrong, I was exhausted by the time I finished and glad when I had worked my way back to the start line but the fact I had achieved the goal Rita had set made up for the pain.

I cannot wait for next week to see how much further I can push myself.


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Week 5 - 01/06/06

Leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of running goal

A disused railway line may provide a picturesque setting for an evening jog but the location certainly has its fair share of irritations.

The old train route near Wombourne Leisure Centre provides a beautifully quiet, leafy track for the group to plod along every week but it does have a number of problems that plague us eager beginners.

I am starting to worry about what I am digesting while running down the railway line.

For the second week in a row several flies hovering in the bushes that line the track managed to find their way down my gullet.

An insect hurtling towards the back of your throat at 100mph does tend to throw you off your stride somewhat.

So too do muddy puddles.

After what feels like endless weeks of torrential rain, the dirt track that our instructor Rita Vanes takes us down has become something of a quagmire in certain places. Not only do the pools of mud dirty my rather nice Nike trainers, they also mean it is impossible to run in a straight line.

I have had to adopt a Krypton Factor-esque running style which involves hopping over puddles, dodging slippery mud and manoeuvring from left to right in an attempt to try and find a flat, dry piece of soil to land my foot on. It must look hilarious to onlookers. During recent weeks I have learned to cope with these minor frustrations and have come to terms with the fact that they are just some of the quirks involved in running in a countryside setting.

However, this week I experienced the ultimate irritation that could strike any runner at any time regardless of whether the hapless jogger chooses to pound a dirt-track or an urban street.

I was only two minutes into this week's 24-minute run when the nightmare scenario began to unfold. Picture the scene - I have just set-off, the prospect of almost half and hour of jogging lies ahead of me, when all of a sudden I feel a stone lodge itself in the bottom of my shoe. I do not want to stop to take my trainer off to get the pebble out from underneath my foot because I have just begun to settle into my stride so I carry on jogging.

I ended up running for the entire session with this stone stuck in my shoe.

Every time my right foot hit the muddy ground I could feel it moving around.Having managed to run for the entire 24 minutes I was pleased to get back to the leisure centre so I could take off my trainer and remove the offending stone. When I eventually held my upturned shoe in the air, what can only be described as a minute speck of granite fell to the ground.

I had travelled all that way with what felt like Ayers Rock wedged under my foot and what had actually been causing me agro was no bigger than a grain of salt. How annoying.

Never mind, I am told the group will be running in a different location next week so I shall wait and see what delights the new route has in store for us intrepid beginners.


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Week 6 - 08/06/06

Bring back the flies and mud

BRING back the railway line all is forgiven.

Regular readers of this diary will recall that last week I made some rather derogatory comments about the disused train track which runners on the beginners course have to jog down.

In this instalment I would like to take the opportunity to emphasise the one major positive this route boasts.

Due to holiday commitments I was unable to attend this weekıs beginnersı session at Wombourne Leisure Centre.

Not wanting to let my training regime slip, I decided to venture out for a run on my own around the streets where I live in Wolverhampton.

After my experience this weekend jogging alone, without any guidance, on urban roads I realise that I was a little too hasty to criticise the rural railway line.

In spite of the flies, mud, and pebbles, this location has one principle advantage that I neglected to point out in my last diary entry - it is as flat as a pancake.

Because I managed to do the 24 minute run without stopping at the last session I decided to run a three-mile circular route around my neighbourhood which I used to do regularly a couple of years ago.

Feeling brave I set off from my house confident that I could complete the course. More fool me.

Not only had I neglected to remember the fact that I am nowhere near as fit as I used to be, I also forgot about how many hills feature on the circuit.

It is one thing running for 24 minutes on the flat, it is quite another to do the same on a hilly course. You can probably sense from the tone of this article that my run was far from successful.

I managed to get within about a quarter of a mile of my house before I gave into my weary legs and stopped running.

I only walked for 30 seconds before I resumed my laboured jog but to me this was a failure and I was hugely disappointed to have given up when I was so close to home.

Thankfully I will be back under the guidance of instructor Rita Vanes for this weekıs session and hopefully my willpower and determination to keep running will be spurred on by jogging alongside other women.

Letıs hope there are no hills on the new route Rita is going to take us down for our next training session.


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Week 7 - 15/06/06

A Bridge Too Far - Mother Knows Best

Although it pains me to say it you should always listen to your mother because, annoyingly, she does know best.

The parting words my mum uttered to me as I left the house to travel to Wombourne for this week's beginners session were "make sure you take a bottle of water with you because of the heat."

What do I need a bottle of water for, I thought. I have never needed a drink while jogging in the past so why bother taking one now?

I am more than capable of doing some exercise for half an hour without having a drink - I used to do it all the time at school during our 'vigorous' PE lessons.

Besides, it is hard enough lugging my own body weight around without having to carry a bottle of liquid as well.

No, I thought, I will ignore my mother's advice - what does she know about running anyway?

"Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you," she said somewhat forebodingly as I walked out the door.

I thought no more about it and when I arrived at the leisure centre I found out our task this week was to run for a mile and a half down a canal towpath and then run back.

Feeling well and truly up for the challenge I set off at a steady pace, determined to run for the entire three miles.

At the halfway point I was still on target to complete my goal.

It was with a feeling of immense satisfaction that I touched the canal lock which marked the halfway point and turned around to head back to the start.

I was about a quarter of a mile into the return leg when my mouth started getting dry and my legs started feeling weary.

On the way down to the lock I had sweated quite a lot and it was at this point on the way back that my mom's words came back to haunt me.

Nevermind, I thought, I am almost back - I can see the bridge where we joined the towpath, if I can get to there I am almost home.

I got to the bridge. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't the bridge I thought it was. The bridge that I was hoping for was still a half a mile away.

It was a crushing and demoralising blow to suffer because, by this time, I was very hot and gasping for water. When I did eventually reach the correct bridge I was ready to pass out.

Not wanting to make a scene by fainting and falling in the canal, I decided to walk back to the start line feeling weak and disappointed at being so close to completing the three mile jog.

When I got back home it was my mum who had the last laugh - I had to practically crawl over the front doorstep.

To add insult to injury my dad, who used to be a pretty handy runner in his day, decided he would get in on the act and kick a girl while she is down.

"Didn't you take a drink with you?" he asked. "Well no wonder you are exhausted, you should always make sure are properly hydrated, especially in this heat."

Oh be quiet, I thought, as I sheepishly headed for the cold tap.


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Week 8 - published on 22.06.06

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Runners

After enduring 70 minutes of England's game against Trinidad and Tobago it was a relief to get out of the house and head off to the beginner's course.

My nerve-endings and my finger nails could not take anymore of Sven's men being put through their own Nuremberg trial.

While Peter Crouch and Stevie G were saving our national side from embarrassment, I was driving towards Wombourne focusing on the task in hand - running for three miles without stopping or collapsing.

I arrived at the leisure centre where I was greeted by Phil Vanes, husband of our instructor Rita, who informed me that this week we would be going in the opposite direction down the canal so we could build more hills into the run to increase our strength.

Oh joy of joys.

I was feeling slightly nervous about the run anyway and Phil mentioning the dreaded H word did nothing to allay my fears.

The trouble with writing this diary is that I feel a certain pressure to do well and achieve the target that was set for all of us beginner's eight weeks ago.

If I didn't have to publicise the fact that I failed to run a complete three miles I don't think I would be nervous at all.

Of course I would still be trying my utmost to reach the goal but I don't believe I would be so worried about it if I didn't have to print the results of my training every week.

Consequently, I was determined to succeed this time around.

Armed with my trusty bottle of water which my mum dutifully handed to me before I left, I set off down the towpath trying to mentally prepare myself for the hills that lay ahead.

Fortunately the two inclines were near the start of the course so once I had got over them I settled into a steady pace and wasn't in too much discomfort.

I passed the mile and a half mark and decided to continue on to Rita who was standing a little further down the towpath next to some rather bemused people on a canal barge who looked intrigued and a little afraid by the stream of women thundering past them.

If I made it back to the leisure centre I would have run three and a quarter miles - I almost got there.

I was about 50metres away from the finish line when I stopped. I started to feel a bit sick when I was going up the last hill towards the leisure centre so I thought it best to give in instead of making myself ill.

I wasn't too disappointed but I would like to apologise to a friendly beginner who attempted to make conversation with me while I was going up the final incline.

At that point in the proceedings I was unable to muster the strength or the breath to talk to her for too long which is a shame because having a chat with new people is one of the nice things about running in a club with other women.

With time slipping away on the beginner's course I will have to wait until next week to have another attempt at completing the task.


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Week 9- published on 29.06.06

It's Now or Never

As Elvis Presley once said, it's now or never.

With my summer holiday in Ibiza clashing with the final week of the course, I was going to have to do the three miles this week or face months of torment from my colleagues and friends for failing miserably to reach my target distance.

No longer could I safely hide behind excuses such as 'I could've done it but I felt faint', 'I was put off by the minute stone in my shoe', 'it was too hot', 'it was too cold', or 'I expended all my energy dodging flies and puddles.'

After week's of disappointment the time had come to tackle the challenge head-on.

With the fear of failure weighing heavily on my shoulders, I headed off to Wombourne Leisure Centre for my final training session.

As if the prospect of having to run the three miles wasn't enough, the first words out of our instructor Rita's husband's mouth when I walked through the door did not put me at ease.

Phil Vanes greeted me with the following statement: "you are in for a shock tonight, I will tell you how far the course is when you have finished it."

This was definitely not what I wanted to hear.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that if the trainer does not want to tell you how far the course is before you set off, it probably means the route is going to be longer than you expected.

Never mind, I thought, at least we are going on a different circular route tonight - maybe the change of scenery will inspire me to success.

Little did I know the course would be a tour of the various sites of my previous failures, disappointments and upsets.

First up was the canal towpath where I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion. This was closely followed by the two hills that Rita had built into the course last week to improve our strength.

Then we hit the bridge which marked the halfway point during the previous week's jog but this time we went passed it, off the towpath and onto a country road.

This is great, I thought, no more water to fall into.

Everything was going swimmingly until I reached one of our instructors who told me to turn off the road and keep going until I reached the leisure centre.

I did as I was told, turned right up a bank at the side of the road and then right again onto a dirt track.

I had jogged about 100metres down this path when I realised where I was - I was back on the puddle-ridden, haven-for-flies that is the disused railway line. I took a little comfort from the fact that I knew there would be no more surprise hills to climb.

I also knew I was nearly home.

As I turned off the railway line and onto the leisure centre's playing field the realisation hit me that I had just completed the entire route without stopping.

My feeling of relief and excitement multiplied tenfold when Phil told me how far I had done - the course was just short of three and three quarter miles.

Finally I had reached and surpassed the goal that had been set nine weeks ago and, despite the various highs and lows of the course documented in this diary, I enjoyed every second of trying to reach the three mile target.




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For More Information Contact:

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Tel 01902 898202 or
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