Alexandra Heminsley: Starting A New Sport

It’s easy to consider running then think, ah I’m not fit enough, it’ll be too hard. It’s even easier to discount wild swimming. But Alexandra Heminsley, freelance journalist and author has bravely conquered both modes of movement in her hometown of Brighton, and has written about starting out in both – Running Like a Girl and Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves And The Will To Swim show what an incredible journey can follow that first jog or dip in the deep blue. But how do you get started? Read on for Alexandra’s top tips.


What made you start running?

“I started running the day after my partner overheard me telling my brother I’d like to do a marathon but I ‘couldn’t run’. “It’s not that you can’t run,” he replied, “it’s that you don’t.” That day, something clicked in my head and I realised that to be something, you just have to do it. So I decided to run…”


The biggest stumbling block has always been simply leaving the house.

How did you get started with running?

“This was nearly ten years ago, before social media could help you with pretty much everything, so I followed my dad’s very old school advice. I started off slow and steady – doing walks or runs and going in small loops so I was always close to home, I got some decent trainers that had a bit of bounce but didn’t promise the world, I covered my feet in Vaseline when it got to longer, rainier runs where blisters could have been a possibility and I made sure I didn’t over-train. My dad drilled into me that resting was as important as running, so I grabbed that advice with open arms.”


What were the biggest stumbling blocks?

“The biggest stumbling block has always been simply leaving the house. I have procrastinated in so many wild and elaborate ways – from fancy nutritionally balance breakfasts to fiddling with high tech tracking devices, or simply tweaking my running playlist. But I have never, ever, regretted leaving the house for a run, despite how hard I’ve tried to avoid them on occasion. Even the shortest, crappiest runs were better than not going at all, and the fact that I know that is probably the only thing that makes me feel a proper runner… I know there is no real secret.”


And how about with swimming?
Did you start with a pool and work up to the sea?

“I wish! It was actually the other way round – I did a one day open water swimming course, thinking I just needed to ‘tweak’ my front crawl, then got in the sea with the class and had a huge panic attack. It was so much harder than I had anticipated, and I was terrified! Then I went back to the pool and took a proper set of lessons… It was honestly one of the best decisions I ever took.”


If you’re swimming out in the wild, you don’t even always need a swimming costume!


Did it impact positively on other areas of your life other than your physical health?

“Yes! It impacted my whole life – because sea swimming is best not done alone, I made a new group of friends, and I got to know my city better. But it also gave me a whole new set of mental skills – you simply can’t swim if you’re very stressed. I love running because it relaxes me, but I love swimming even more because you need to get relaxed in order to swim at all. Its rhythm, the way it forces you to exhale so deeply, the support the water gives you, the icy cold thrill of winter swimming … it’s all about so much more than keeping fit.”


First swim? Don’t forget to exhale!

Is there any kit you especially recommend for anyone starting to run or swim?

“For running, I would say a decent bra is even better than trainers, and even trainers don’t have to cost a ridiculous £150 no matter what anyone in store tells you.

For swimming, it’s goggles that will really make the whole experience. I really suffered until I got a decent pair (Zoggs, Predator Flex). After all, if you’re swimming out in the wild, you don’t even always need a swimming costume! (But if you do, I love KinaMara).”



What’s your number one piece of advice for someone thinking about going for their first run or swim?

“First run? Remember that no run will ever, ever be as bad as this one. You’ll never have to do your first run again, to feel what your body is when it’s running for the first time, to get a handle on how far or how fast you can go. If you leave in five minutes, you could be back in twenty-five and still have done better than you could ever have imagined!

First swim? Don’t forget to exhale! Seriously, holding in air to make yourself feel safe is completely instinctive but utterly counterproductive. The whole time that your face is in the water, you need to be blowing out air, that way you’ll have time to simply snatch a breath when you tip your head. Don’t worry – you can do it! Soon it will be as easy as riding a bike or cooking an omelette.”

Alexandra Heminsley is the author of Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves And The Will To Swim and Running Like A Girl.

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