A lifelong addiction

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noo noo girl running for David

I am like a wild animal that roams this world, seeking extreme terrain and weather systems and other creatures who inhabit our beautiful oblate spheroid.

Being in possession of a treadmill in this life is a blessing – I have three young children – but it only takes a nervous glance out of my window at black clouds, trees almost bent to the ground with the wind, and the odd splat of water and there I am, running for miles along what seems, at times, the stormiest coastline in the world.

It’s never planned; it never should be. Any of us can take the easier option – to wait, to run inside. But this week the distant rumble of thunder drew me outdoors, and what an explosive experience I had. I switched off the headlines about the coastline of our island flooding and headed down to my local beach to check out the lie of the land for myself. Breathing? I couldn’t. The first three miles out the wind was against me and I was slow. Coming back it sliced through me, a westerly wind from an imaginary world more grim than the Ash Mountains of Mordor in Middle Earth.

My iPod flicked on to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, music I hadn’t listened to for years. It transported me back to my school days when I would run the same route, fighting the same battle with the relentless wind. Which ever direction you run, it’s always there. In the run up to my O levels, my form tutor Linda (also my P.E. teacher) would suggest that my grades would get better if I spent less time out running, and more revising. But then, like now, I couldn’t stop myself from venturing out. It’s been a life-long addiction.

On my stormy run I thought about how, despite living and running all round the world, there were deep constants in my life. After spending half of my life trying to get away from where I grew up. I then spent half trying to get back. That tutor and P.E. teacher is now training my youngest as she takes small steps towards becoming a gymnast. When someone from your past reappears you can’t help but ask both why they have come back into your life, and what message life is sending you by the reunification. Thoughts began to flood back and I remembered I still had all of my school reports. I went up into my loft and found my battered old suitcase that holds the memories of my 40 or so years, and dug them out. Having told my girls that their athleticism is down to me (which of course they sniggered at) I found myself in tears within minutes as I read my form tutor’s words. “Could try harder” then “gymnastics is her weakest area” and finally, from my last year of school “…giving up athletics is such a waste of talent”. Those words winded me.

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Like the majority of teenagers I left my sport behind for what I thought were much more exciting options: going out, boyfriends, the pub… Regret is a heavy feeling that no-one wants to carry around, but sitting in our dusty, cold and still loft it’s what I felt. I’m not saying I could have reached any heady heights within athletics, but if I had at least persevered I could have discovered how far I could have gone. And would know now. Instead I stopped running for nearly 20 years.

Yet running came back in my life, and it still brings the ups and downs that athletics did when I was younger. Now I seem to seek many different things from running, one of the most important being connecting with other people. There was a time, when my children were tiny, when I desperately needed to go for a run, and ventured out to a club session, for ‘me’ time, but if anyone asked how I was I would hold back the tears. Now I want to talk to everyone; any runner I see I say hello to, but some are zoned out and I have to admit, this bugs me! Is a quick smile or wave of the hand wave so much to ask? Yet I know that once this was me, so caught up in myself that perhaps I didn’t have the time to reply, respond, or react.

Still, I look for eye contact now, and even though it’s sometimes hard to get this, I will keep trying.

What’s up?

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noo noo girl running for David

Are you one of those runners who suffers from mood swings post run, becoming grumpy and irritable with those around you? Do you often fail to take on enough fluid during your exercise? The two could be linked, with dehydration being the root cause of your mood fluctuations…

Graham Bell experienced one of the worst possible outcomes to any runner in any race; he collapsed at mile 26 in the 2007 London Marathon. “Conditions were exceptional in 2007, and I basically didn’t take this into account,” he recalls. “I did hydrate, both before and from the start of the race. It was cool to start with, but the temperature seemed to rise very quickly.

“I probably hadn’t properly realised the effect of running in a city environment when the heat is rising, compared to the sea breeze I experience when running at home. And I certainly didn’t take this into account in my pursuit of the elusive sub three hours. This led to collapse, and for several hours my wife Tracy had no idea where I was, causing her considerable worry. We concluded dehydration was the route cause, as the only treatment I received was an IV saline drip, both in the St John’s ambulance and at hospital. Just as soon as my core temp had reduced I was free to go, and managed to walk to the tube station and get the train home. There were no after affects, apart from the pride issue.”

Graham’s problems didn’t end there; dehydration when running and after is a problem he constantly battles with. “I am not the best at hydrating and really have to force myself to drink fluids. I now have a pre-race day ritual of drinking plenty but it is a struggle. During a race I just can’t seem to find the right technique for taking fluids on board,” he continues. “The effect of all this is that I seem to use up all my reserves, and if I don’t rehydrate properly post-race, or reward myself with a beer or two instead, then I suffer the side effects.

“There are two other elements to this,” he adds. “Firstly, as I get older it takes longer to recover from a race, and this sometimes leaves me tired and irritable. Secondly if the race hasn’t gone to plan that leaves frustration and causes irritability! But the thread that joins them is the dehydration factor. Tired and irritable, with a tight feeling in the head means that it best to keep out of my way! I think this is partly born out of frustration from wanting to go for a run. After a recent 20 mile race I tried a new tactic. Instead of feeling sorry for my poor aching limbs and letting them rest I decided a recovery run would be good. Just by myself so no pressure and no chatting. It kick started the recovery and I drank plenty afterwards. I would say that it worked for me. I got back into running quicker, which was pleasing, and this generally made me happier than I had expected to feel.”

As for impacting those around him, Graham can’t deny that sometimes everyone in the family is affected by his post-race mood. “Living in a house where both parents work full-time, with two sons full of testosterone can be frustrating! When my energy levels are low, and I am aching and tired, the dehydration is just the icing on the cake in the recipe of a frustrated runner.”

“I can certainly say that immediately after a long training run or race Graham can be fairly grumpy,” says his wife Tracy. “I initially put this down to blood sugar levels as there is a family trait of grumpy when hungry. (“We can all relate to this!” Ed) If it is a big race we often have a fews days where he is low, however the impact on the family is less now our two sons are aware of the situation, but we do tease him and pull his leg to lift him out of it.”

Emotional connections
In Graham’s case, the link with dehydration, unpleasant mood, and unsatisfactory performance stems from the 2007 marathon. “If he suspects he is de-hydrated, even a hint, unpleasant emotions come flooding in mainly due to the link between not completing the 2007 race,” states Andrew Lane, a Professor of Sport Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, and an expert in emotion regulation in sport. “Graham probably pushed himself greatly to complete the event below three hours. He would have required fluid after running for that time in the heat, and so it’s not surprising that he received a saline drip. It’s a strong connection that is reinforced by the fact that he struggles to drink during races.”

Prof Lane believes that developing a plan has helped Graham. “I suggest he sets a goal of being able to drink more during races. Most people learn to drink in races and not in training. I would advise learning to drink during training; treadmill running is the easiest way of doing this as your drink is already there. You can gauge how much you need to reduce speed to drink. Like with all goals, you start at one level and then look to improve. In long duration events its worth taking a drink at each feeding station, even just a slurp. Graham admits he finds this a struggle. Most people who miss three hours do so over the last few miles; they can run 6.40 miles easy enough early on, but during the last few miles the pace drops to 7.30, 8.30, or even slower. You only have to look at marathon splits from any race to see the second half is run a great deal slower.

“If hydration is factor, and if you have strong beliefs that hydration is a factor, then if you don’t drink, it will be. Your beliefs have a powerful influence on how you operate. If that describes how you perform, then try strategies to get better at drinking during running. If one week you have to slow to just above walking pace for 60 seconds but the next week you drink the same volume in 40 secs, you have made a 20 second saving.”

How sweaty are you?!
There is also a huge range in sweat losses between individuals. “However, many runners don’t appreciate this and simply drink fluids whilst running without structuring the amount they drink around the weight loss they experience through running and sweating (this can be worked out by weighing yourself before and after a race),” advocates Dr Charles Pedlar, Director of the Centre for Health, Applied Sport and Exercise Science (CHASES) & The St Mary’s Clinic at St Mary’s University College, London.

“For example an elite runner could loose four kilograms an hour due to sweat loss whilst running, while other runners don’t even loose 600 grams in the same time period. On top of this, some people are more salty sweaters with elevated electrolyte loss . If you don’t ensure that you replace sodium, as well as water, you can suffer from hyponatraemia (an electrolyte disturbance that is defined by lowered sodium levels in the blood).”

A sweat check to find out how much electrolytes you are losing may be invaluable to future performances, believes Andy Blow, an ex-GB international tri and duathlete and director of sports science at the Porsche Human Performance Centre at Silverstone. “If you do suffer from high volume losses of sweat your net sodium loss could be massive and learning to supplement this correctly would definitely help any runner to perform better.”

What’s the link?
How much dehydration can affect your mood is not well understood physiologically. “Research provides many different explanations as to how dehydration influences mood,” states Hannah MacLeod, a Lucozade sport scientist. “This may be due to hydration levels in the brain, increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol or changes in the way chemicals are transported to the brain. The human body is made up of around 65-70 per cent water. Any significant loss of body water, such as when you sweat during a race, causes multiple physiological and psychological problems. If you manage to make it to the finish line, but fail to replace any sweat losses incurred, you may experience headaches, confusion, reduced reaction time and changes in mood in the hours post race.”

“Anecdotally the evidence suggests that dehydration can affect mood,” continues Dr Pedlar. “Mood is a very good measurement of fatigue and overtraining, and often pre-empts physiological responses. As a holistic measurement of how you are feeling after running, your mood can often summarise for you how your body feels. If your exercise has gone well there are many positive effects on mood; you experience the release of endorphins.” Don’t forget that endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides, a morphine-like substance that function as neurotransmitters in the body which act on the same receptors in the brain as morphine, producing analgesia and a feeling of well-being. “You also release endocannabinoids,” says Dr Pedlar,” substances produced from within the body that activate cannabinoid receptors, promoting a feeling of euphoria.” We all crave the runner’s high, don’t we?

“It is likely this feeling is linked to hydration,” suggests Dr Pedlar, “so the better hydrated you feel, the better you run, and the better your mood.” Surely it makes sense that greater levels of dehydration will negatively impact on mood?

“If you are performing well and think you will achieve your goals, then its likely you will be in a pleasant mood,” continues Prof Lane. “If things are not going so well, then the reverse might occur and you will be in an unpleasant mood. That sounds obvious I know. Sweating gives an indication of work load; if you are sweating more than usual, this will send a message to your brain saying ‘I need a drink’ – if you do not have a drink then concern over being able to sustain your running speed will build. If you become concerned there will be a physiological response, which could contribute to further sweating. We know we sweat when we are nervous. Hence, your emotional state in response to feeling that you need to drink becomes an additional issue.”

Research also indicates a link with sodium replacement in drinks and improvements in cognitive function (suggesting the opposite could also be true). “We’ve also seen similar results in our own testing which suggest that insufficient sodium replacement in hydration drinks used during exercise can lead to compromised cognitive function,” adds Andy Blow. “Whether this is directly related to mood swings it would be hard to say (usually low blood sugar and over training are more likely to be linked to mood swings) but it would not be fair to rule it out; anything that affects the brain negatively could affect mood.”

What to do?
So, considering the above, what is the solution? “Firstly, you need to develop a mindset that you can cope without drinking and that excessive sweating is a normal part of running hard. You accept that you will take fluid on when it is available, and will plan to take on enough fluid to match your needs,” says Prof Lane. But how do you develop such a mindset?

“A feature of training in the heat is that you get used to altering sensations of hydration needs. When you first start running, you feel you need a drink all of the time. After a few runs in the heat, you start adapting. Part of this adaption is psychological; you re-interpret bodily symptoms. Warm weather training is possible for some athletes but not all. Running in gyms usually involves running in hotter environments than outside. Alternatively, wear additional clothes to create the sensation of feeling hot.”

Another great tool in the fight against dehydration, and possible mood swings, is using an isotonic drink regularly. It is important that you replace the sodium and potassium you lose through sweat, so your drink needs to include electrolyte levels similar to the levels you loose. How should each individual runner know how much fluid is enough? When training, you can weigh yourself before and after a long run. The difference will be mainly fluid. There will be a range of weight loss where you feel fine. If you run at your race pace until you feel you need to drink, you can then weigh yourself to see how much water you have lost. Once you know this, you can calculate how much you need to drink. “One pound of weight loss should equal one pint of fluid intake approximately,” advised Prof Lane. “If you were already hydrated at the start of your run, your bodyweight would need to reduce by more than five per cent to have a meaningful effect.”

Are you a sweaty Betty?
So how do you know if you are one of those really salty, sweaty runners? Most of us have a good idea of whether we are sweaty runners or not (our damp clothes are a basic sign), but if you see salty deposits on your black lycra it could be a sign of excessive salty sweating. Tasting your sweat it is also a good gauge, though not an accurate guide. A sweat patch is much more accurate and can be analysed to give you a more scientific reading. However, it is also important to be aware that your sweat range can change over time, especially as you become more fit.

What is a sweat check?
At Precision Hydration they measure your sweat and tell you how much electrolyte is in and then match you with the right sports drink giving you optimal hydration. It is a simple test. No exercise is required; you sit down, have electrodes placed on your arm, a sweat sample is taken with a sweat check analyser and within 20 minutes you get your results.
For more information about sweat tests visit www.myh2pro.com
Learn more about Andy Lane’s work at www.virginlondonmarathon.com/training-centre/training-centre/music-and-motivation or www.winninglane.com

Andy Blow: www.votwo.co.uk

Too busy to train? You are not alone!

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Here are my 10 easy ways to sneak in running time, regardless of schedules, commitments or distractions

1. Get up early
“Running before breakfast is a brilliant way to get used to running when a bit tired plus when you are low on fuel, as you will be during the latter stages of a half or full marathon,” says Steve Robinson, an athlete, personal trainer and sports therapist specialising in exercise rehabilitation. Even though the thought of getting up before the alarm should be going off may send many of us into hyperventilation, especially in the winter, by fitting in your run whilst the rest of the house sleeps means it’s ticked off your to-do list, and cannot be put off later in the day. It may at first be a struggle, but give yourself the chance and you will soon be buzzing from your early-morning exercise.

2. Run to and from work
If your commute to work is the same distance as a normal training run, why not run to work instead? “I used to bicycle into work when I was a submariner,” explains ex-marathoner Bryan Head, “then run home at the end of the day. The next day would be a run into work, then cycle home. The cross-training benefits were amazing.” You may even find that running is quicker than your usual commute. If the distance is too long to run, either bike, or park your car further from work and run the last part.

3. Run during your lunch hour
“Don’t forget that in winter this gives you a chance to get out in daylight, providing vital boosts to your health and wellbeing,” says Steve. The research shows that individuals are more productive during afternoons when they have left the office, compared to eating lunch at your desk. Make this the most productive 60 minutes of your day.

4. Take your kids with you
Tanya Brady represented Great Britain in the Women’s Lightweight Quadruple Scull in 2004 and 2005. After retiring from rowing she took up running. “The best investment I made whilst my daughter, Orla, was a baby was saving to buy an American BabyJogger 3 wheeler with 20 inch wheels and suspension,” explains Tanya.

“I did steady runs, interval sessions, tempo runs and even hill reps with her watching the world go by as I puffed and panted pushing her along! On weekdays, I trained in the daytime using the BabyJogger. At the weekends, I would either train early in the morning before anyone else was awake, or mid morning. It worked really well for everyone and I had a bit of ‘me’ time again, time to organise my thoughts.

“I still take the BabyJogger out for a spin along the seafront,” says Tanya, “however, this is now so much harder as my daughter is three years old and not nine months old. She is now also very chatty and expects a full running commentary (excuse the pun) for the duration of the run!”

5. Run with your dog
Again, this could be vital time for running, with health benefits for your pet! The more your dog runs, the fitter it will become, and soon they will be dragging you along. There are many events out there for runners with dogs; together you can find a new dimension to your relationship!

6. Invest in a treadmill…
If getting out running is just not on the cards, then why not run indoors? It may only take a garage clearance and some research on the internet to get you up and going, and treadmill prices have come down considerably making them more available to all today. Once the children are in bed you can turn on the belt and let yourself go; you will have to rely on your imagination to make the miles melt away, though an iPod will be invaluable. If you are stuck in doors though, this may well be a worthy investment; just make sure that the one you buy fits your spec.

7. Fetch a pen and a piece of paper
“As not only a professional athlete but personal trainer I get bombarded with the same old question time and time again: how to fit your running training around your busy work and family life and not lose the quality and quantity of the training,” says Mike Buss, who specialises in ultra running. Mike suggests writing down columns for work, family time, shopping, watching TV and housework.

“Then have a column for per day and a column for per week and tot up the hours you do these activities. You might be surprised, but when I sit down with my clients, I will often find several hours free to train once everything is set down on paper,” he says.

“Then you need to look at your training. Many of us believe it’s alright to just go for a run three times a week and not put anymore thought into it other than putting one foot in front of the other. So it’s important to look at each session; are you just going out for 30 minutes or an hour run? Look at what you are running for, is it weight loss? Is it for your first marathon? Then look about tailoring each session around your goals and your lifestyle.

“Commitment will be key to your successful training in the rat race,” believes Mike. “It may mean that you have to get up at 6am to go for a run before work or go out at 8pm after the kids have gone to bed, but there are ways of getting your training in without too much loss of your relaxing time.”

8. Socialise on the run
Instead of having lunch or coffee with a friend, try catching up during a run. By setting regular dates with running friends, you’ll be more motivated to run, as it’s harder to let down someone else than it is yourself. Running clubs are a great way to meet new people as well; many runners join a club looking for social runs, rather than training and competitive ones. There is bound to be someone of your fitness at your local running club, so why not give this a try? Remember, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!

9. Run to and from…
… the gym, the garage to pick up your car, the shop, a friends, school, college, the post office, the mail box, to see a friend at the weekend; see, if you just look at your calendar, there are boundless opportunities to run just waiting for you to notice them. Not only does this give you health benefits as well as being more economical than taking a car, it allows you to run through the seasons and your community, instead of these whizzing past you year in and year out, without you noticing.

10. Keep a spare set of kit in the car…
You never know when the opportunity to run may arise. By always being prepared you are able to seize the opportunity to lace up your trainers, should it arise unexpectedly. Choose appropriate times to run though; Charlie Spedding relays a tale in his book, From Last to First, how during a date with a girl he left her to chat with a friend whilst he went for a run. So pick your moment! Or alternatively, go on a running date … it could be the best thing you both ever did!

Your top tips:

Graham Bell: “You have to find an excuse to run, not an excuse not to run. If need be, get up early while the rest of the house sleeps. On a day out get dropped off 10k from home, and run it. You’ll be home only a few minutes after the rest of the family, and they won’t have missed you.”

Emily Foran: “I used to run with both my two young boys in our Phil and Ted’s pushchair with them shouting ‘slow down mummy!’. I also always run to collect the car from the garage, if it has been left overnight . And with marathon training, at weekends I used to get up, eat breakfast at 6:00am and then go back to bed for half an hour before heading out running at 7.30am, so that my runs weren’t eating into family time. It’s a juggling act every week!”

Caroline Baker-Duly: “For me, I have to run with my kids. Its like a corral! I’m the lone ‘wagonner’ running round in circles whilst they are trapped in the park!”

Melanie Charlton: “In the park, round the outskirts, while the kids play on the apparatus.”

Lucy May: “My dad used to run for an hour when I was at swimming lessons. Recently I’ve been getting in from work and getting my kit on so I don’t sit down and start relaxing, otherwise I don’t go. I also have a motivational poster on my wall. One of my friends works through their lunches (eating while at their desk) to build them up so they can be taken together at once to fit in a longer run/cycle once a week.”
Sharon White: “I often go while my two boys are in their karate class which saves me driving home and back again. I also often set off half hour earlier for my Pilates class and do a tempo run first. It really is lovely to have a real good stretch out afterwards.”

Stephanie Gardiner: “In between drop off and pick up from cubs….an hour is just about right!”

Nicky Cole: “I struggle with childcare so sometimes my kids have to come with me on my runs. They are about the right pace on scooters and I make sure we end up at the park. I think they quite enjoy it!”

My experts:

Steve Robinson, Runability, Bury St. Edmunds, www.runability-runningshoes.co.uk

Mike Buss, www.mike-buss.com

The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race

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The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race…an event of a lifetime! This race was amazing, even though it left me doing a serious John Wayne walk for a few days. Being the adventure race virgin half of the Running fitness team competing in this 60km run, bike, kayak, run, bike event, I was a little nervous.

When you start running everything is new, exciting, challenging. For some time you can step up the distance of races and every weekend you are meeting new people. As the years drift past
doing the same races and routes becomes tedious and uninspiring; this is the time to throw a new race, distance or challenge into your training. When I was asked if I would like to compete in the Killarney Adventure Race I was booking my flight online before I had replied yes please.

These races you book in months ahead have a funny way of coming round very quickly. Even though I was running regularly leading up to Killarney, I didn’t quite manage to fit in any bike training, and I had never been in a kayak. Killarney is quite a challenge; if I had known how tough it was I would have been scared on the start-line. In this race you will be running, hiking, cycling and kayaking some of the most dramatic, breathtaking and remote scenery in the world.

Held in early autumn, we were extremely fortunate in the weather; by the time we arrived at the start-line for our wave the sun had come out and the temperature had risen to zero degrees! The first run took us through a tough steep bog mountain trail up and over Strickeen Mountain, through hill trail and heathen bog. It was tough but culminated in the stunning views of the Gap of Dunloe, the Lakes of Killarney and Purple Mountain. However, I managed to face-plant myself six times during this first section and remember more the bitter taste of bog between my lips. I was covered in bog and very cold water up to my right shoulder, and couldn’t stop giggling.

Next came the bike stage; I had been looking forward to this… however, all media personnel who travelled to Ireland were provided with ‘sit-up-and-beg’ bikes that resembled the cumbersome bike that my 11-year-old daughter rides to school; the only difference being no basket on the front! This made for impossible cycling on the ascents and was hugely demoralising as every single competitor from our wave, who had bought their own bike, was able to overtake me on this section. The bikes were so under-geared we couldn’t peddle them up the mountains! Still, again, the views were worth it. A quick kayak was followed by the final run, incorporating a 1,755 ft climb to the summit of Torc Mountain, (at one stage we did a 30-minute mile!) then a slippery, almost treacherous descent causing my niggly knees to scream in agony throughout. The final bike was a breeze. The race took us nearly six hours; at times it felt impossible, but it was a huge achievement for every competitor. The Irish fairies seemed to have spread their magic dust on my pillow the night before, as somehow I finished it, and it will be an event I will never forget; I remember thinking that the next marathon I ran would seem easy.

Registration is still open for this year’s race on 4th October. Will I see you on the start-line? www.killarneyadventurerace.ie

I’ve not been completely honest with you….

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I have something to tell you. Please don’t be cross. But I haven’t been completely honest with you. I fear you are going to be angry with me…. I know when we met you expected me to be open with you. It’s part of the deal, isn’t it. But there’s something I haven’t been telling you. I couldn’t. I was scared of the consequences. I know we are supposed to share everything. I just couldn’t tell anyone. So it’s not just you I’ve been dishonest with, it’s everyone.

I’ve been training for a marathon. Is that it? you laugh. But it’s not a simple thing, is it, when that one run means more to you than anything else in the world. I see other people, on Facebook, twitter, at my club, able to share their journey with club mates, friends and peers. Every training run, the niggles and injuries, the ups and downs. I couldn’t. Not this time. I was so scared I wouldn’t make it, that I feared sharing my hopes. Even though I try to encourage and motivate every person who needs help, I can’t ask for that help in return. This issue I have seems to go very deep. If you read my next column you will maybe understand a little why I couldn’t share this with anyone. My friend Marina says to me: “You are the first person to offer help, but the last person to accept it.” Is this some kind of genetic default?

We all want to be good runners, right? When the person who comes before you is more than just a good runner, it’s such a hard task to try and achieve for yourself. What I am really trying to say, is that I really wanted is for my dad, the great runner, to show me that he really loved me. ME. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed feisty person that is me. Just me. For me. And one way I hoped to gain his recognition, later on in my life, was through running. Its something we both were so, so passionate about.

Why do any of us seek admiration or affirmation from anyone else in this world? We all know that the only person who can make us happy, is ourselves. Yet the thoughts, hopes and opinions of others really do count, don’t they? The primary school teacher you hope to impress. The friends at college and university you want to accept you. The other mums at play group you need to listen to your struggles. Not one of us can exist in isolation. We don’t need science to tell us this.

I guess my biggest fear is failure. But not in a traditional sense. In the sense of not showing myself that I can be strong, be loved, be different. If I think I am really opening myself up, I am very unsure of what will happen.

Anyway, the long runs have been getting longer. And they were going well. Until the return of an old niggle, that quickly became more than a niggle and blossomed into a full-blown injury. Suddenly all my plans were upset. And this happened a few weeks a go. I only have less than two weeks to race day, so it’s too late to do anything now. So it’s here, it won’t be here forever,  but I think its put an end to the one race I have been planning to do for a long time. I am so angry I want to shout and cry and promise that if only it will go away I will stretch every day and do my conditioning and cross-train like a good athlete. The truth is, niggles and injuries arriving just before race day are part of a runner’s life, aren’t they? Just like you, I have to get on with it. If I was a man, you would say man-up. But I am not quite ready to let go of my hopes of making race day. I do think I am having a major adult temper tantrum, though, yet in the most controlled mature manner you could possibly expect. Even if I don’t make the start-line, there will be other marathons I tell myself.  I am so fed up with being grown up! I have 12 days to sort myself out. Will I make it?

Trapped! My running nomansland

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noo noo girl running for David

 

Do you remember when takeaways started coming in those sealable plastic tubs, instead of foil containers with lids? Suddenly, the night after a takeaway, you had numerous tubs to do whatever you wanted with: store sandwiches, hold leftovers, even stuff with the kid’s craft leftovers. There were hundreds, even thousands of possible uses for them. It was truly exciting. I began to save them, so that it wasn’t too long before every time I opened the cupboard under the sink a stack would fall out. After every weekend treat, they were added to the collection. It became a compulsion, to add more and more. Then I got to the stage where I realised I had hundreds of tubs that I didn’t really use. But could I throw them away? No. I knew deep down in my heart that they were just plastic drift wood. I wanted to liberate my cupboards and throw them out. I wished they had never been invented.

Looking at my running kit, I think I may be following a similar pattern. Plastic containers no longer provide that moment of Scrooge-like pleasure when looking and just knowing they are there is enough. Now it’s compression socks, baselayers, running bras and tights (and hats are going that way, too). Perhaps none of us can ever have too much kit. My worry is that I may have had my running peak, and all this wonderful apparel will never fulfil it’s manufacturer’s dreams. I am in my 40’s – who would expect you to start churning out PBs at this age? I didn’t really like running at school, but I did jog through my early adult years. Then the epiphany came after having children and jogging morphed into a kind of alright-style of running where I felt I wasn’t too bad… considering. But was it just a fleeting experience?

I’ve had an OK winter of training – no records set, but consistent weekly running, with my club and on my own, has left me feeling I have gone some way to building a strong base. Yet that is all I have done for months now. The energy or fitness to take it to another level is gone. Mentally, more than physically, I am finding my running tough. If I could jog along at a happy pace for the next three decades I think I would be fine. I don’t want to though! When I run at a faster rhythm, one that my body loves as much as my winter dressing gown and fleecy slippers, I feel right. It really is one of the few times in my daily and weekly life that I do feel completely ‘me’. Less effort is still rewarding and relaxing and soothes my soul, but if I don’t get up to my natural rhythm, the buzz just isn’t there.

Once you’ve felt the joy of being able to run at a comfortable pace that is still stretching you, other running, just like those plastic tubs, becomes meaningless. I thrive on the social aspect of running, but that flash of competitive spirit has to be fed in all of us and seven minute miling is my running fodder. Once you’ve been running for a while you begin to understand that in order to improve you need to race.

Therein lies the rub. Children’s activities during weekend mornings, an overstretched week and an unwillingness to commit to pushing myself in a race scenario has turned me into a mouse. Having thrived on racing for the last two years, now I fear it. The desire to stand with all those other lovely runners on the start-line, feeling ready and able to race, has deserted me. All I can do is hope it will return. None of us want to race when we are not fit and speedy, but also, you have to get out there and just compete. This nomansland I washed up on this year is starting to make me feel lonely.

Something, or someone will somehow flick a switch in my head and will see me step back into my old shoes, or trainers. When it will happen, none of us knows. Life sends us down different paths for it’s own reasons, and hitting PBs isn’t one of the great lessons we must learn. The incessant rain seems to have returned, again, and I must admit, I have started to dream of owning a treadmill. Just imagine – no wind, cold, rain or snow. Did I just say that? There really must be something wrong with me at the moment.

 

Seen any green ogres out running recently?

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noo noo girl running for David

Watching a great family favourite, Shrek, with my kids recently bought home how subversive stereotypes can be to young minds. There we were, witnessing a princess realise her ‘outward’ beauty was not enough for true love; only when she becomes an ugly, fat, green ogre does she really realise her true desire. Have you ever noticed how women always get the rough end of the deal in fairy tales and children’s films? In Nemo, the mother is brutally murdered at the beginning of the film (my three year old daughter, upon finishing watching this film at the cinema when it was first released, burst into tears. “They killed the mummy,” she cried, as all the other parents and kids filed out of the film, happily content that Nemo had been re-united with his dad. She’s a perceptive one). Think of grannie in Little Red Riding Hood, or Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White etc etc. All are punished, brutally murdered, or portrayed as dysfunctional. Were all of these films made by women? I guess not…

It’s not just the media that toys with our perceptions with it’s surreptitious messaging to our unconscious minds. Doesn’t running allow us to throw off our own stereotypes of ourselves? Why would we even consider running in freezing mud, with icy rain pelleting our skin, our fingers like frozen sausages, other than to overturn the stereotype of our daily life, which, lets face it, is pretty full of routine and monotony whoever you are or whatever you do. What about the chance to, literally, make someone you don’t like at work ‘eat mud’ as you speed ahead of them in an off-road race. Whose the boss then? Or the shy runner who has heaps of undiscovered talent, discovers this and has to walk up to receive a prize post-race. There is a split second of a flash of ‘look what I can do that you can’t even though you have all the gear and endlessly boast about every single run you’ve ever done’. Not just anyone can see it; catch the light right though, and it’s there. There are runners who have lost themselves in relationships, careers, families, yet can rediscover their inner journey simply by having the courage to pull on some trainers and step outside.

Don’t we all share the need to run to escape from our own self-imposed limits? How many runners do you know who have only taken to the sport either mid, or later life, compared to those who have always run from childhood? Running, and sport is amazing that it has health benefits, but the psychological lift it can give is off the scale. Every time you begin a run it’s your own chance to create one of those mini-videos in your head of who you are, and who you would like to be. Finishing a race in a certain time allows you to reward yourself for achieving something. This is not to be underestimated! A PB, even of one second, can allow another day in paradise to become a secret success story. The problem being that the unavoidable bad days, whether they be at training or in a race scenario, can become extremely hard to manage, especially when the mini-highs come to mean so much.

Stand on any start-line and you can see similar scenarios being played out, by young and old, men and women, speedsters and plodders. In those moments of excitement and anticipation, dread and sometimes worry, all the routines of daily life are thrown off for a set period of time. I know one person who definitely starts each race believing that it will be his chance to fly like Roger Bannister. Even if the body doesn’t comply with the mind, believing that anything is possible is the carrot on the hook that we throw out to ourselves when we go for a run.

Now transport yourself to the other side of the finish-line. How many princess or ogres, smiles or grimaces, do you see? Where are those runners right at that point in their lives? The more you look, the more you can spot who has had a successful day. Stereotype subverted. Unfortunately, some of us – both men and women – still go home to a waiting ogre!

Living with the curse…

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noo noo girl running for David

Having a womb is both a blessing, and a curse. My womb has produced my beautiful children, and for that I shall forever be grateful to it. But the monthly backache, abdominal pain, bloating and spots, to be honest, I have had enough of. You can feel your period coming, like a steam train roaring out of control downhill; the passengers desperately want to jump for their lives, but have to endure their journey to the bitter end. Snatching at people, befuddled brain, losing the will to carry on; all these are monthly visitations that I dread. I try to imagine they are just not there; I am not feeling grumpy, tired, miserable, moody, irritable, tetchy, impatient or cross. No. I am floating away, over a summer meadow full of wild flowers with their dizzying scent surrounding me, totally at peace with myself and the universe.

Even though it’s the last thing you want to do when you are feeling at a low ebb, running does alleviate some of the more ‘emotional’ triggers that your period can bring, even if it doesn’t really help with the physical issues. Seriously, if I couldn’t, when at the point of exploding with frustration at every human being within a one-mile radius, just go for a run – on my own, with absolutely no other oxygen-breathing entity entering my ‘white light’ (a sphere of about 10 metres that extends in front of, behind, above and below my body) – I would probably end up incarcerated. Not just thrown into a cell, with the key metaphorically tossed into a river. We are talking about being chained to a cart and taken to Tyburn gallows, hanged, disembowelled then my body cut into four parts, each with a limb attached (to be displayed outside my home) with my head probably put on a spike on London Bridge.

Yet, go for a run, and life becomes like that Chariots of fire beach scene that begins and ends the film… There I am, running down the beach, with the spray suspended around me, a ridiculously happy smile on my face. Sand all over my kit; doesn’t matter. Wind ruining my hair; no worries. Rain smudging my mascara; not a problem. Except, unlike the main characters, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, there are no Olympic gold medals to be had in between. Instead, the reward is simply release. Release mainly of stress, situated firmly and deeply in the brain region.

I am sure if I didn’t have this outlet, then I would feel as if my head had been boiling in a cauldron of water for half and hour, with my eyes already burst and a strong layer of fat risen to the surface. Yes, reader, it truly can feel that bad. I’ve tried taking supplements to help me recently – both with improving my running, and coping with monthly fatigue and period pain. The one-supplement-fits-all powder I tried looked liked pondweed. It promised me every nutrient I could possibly need in my over-worked and over-stretched lifestyle. Knowing it was so amazing I persevered, for about four days, after which my stomach, and gagging, firmly told me no more. Then I progressed to an elixir that would improve my speed in a race, only to suffer horrific wind – horrific for both me and those around me. Even the extra potent royal jelly, filled with the wizened knowledge and power of millions of years of queen bees made no inroad into my sorry state. The label of this last panacea stated: store in a cool, dry place, out of sight and reach of children. Did it mean me, or the supplement? I drank the full contents of one vial before breakfast every day for peak performance. There was none.

Maybe, just maybe, good old-fashioned rest is all I need to re-establish some state of peace, both emotionally and physically. Well, the sun is now strong enough to send warmth deep into the soul, so now I’ve finished writing this I am going to make a coffee and allow the spring sunshine to work it’s magic. Mother nature to the rescue, once again.

Living with running envy…

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noo noo girl running for David
You looked at each other for some time before you became more serious. It wasn’t a quick affair, more a gradual deepening of feeling; somehow you just got under each other’s skin. It took a while, but slowly your feelings grew and grew, until there was that hedonistic explosion of love. Your minds were tormented by thoughts of each other. Together, you discovered amazing places you never thought existed. There were challenges, of course, and some lows after the initial ‘high’. And when you were too busy to give your full attention, you felt guilt creeping into the edges of your relationship. The thing is, even though you’ve been in this type of relationship before, it’s never been this intense, this ‘real’. Finally, you ask yourself,: ‘Could this really be love?’ During your honeymoon period everything – EVERYTHING – faded into the background. You not only became lovers, you became best friends.

Yes, trainers can really do this to a person. Education, travel, career, family: all unbelievable life experiences. We all know that life often evens out after your roller-coaster years. But buy a good pair of trainers, and running can reignite dormant passions you couldn’t anticipate still existed following between one and 10 years of broken sleep.

The rush of endorphins keeps you coming back for more – seeking out new routes, new races, harder intervals, to see how far you can push your body. Why then, am I looking at my trainers now with those inevitable feelings of, not ‘hate’, but: ‘I’m not so sure now I made the right decision’ thoughts trailing through my mind. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ feelings plague me as I walk in and out the front door (sometimes 10 times a day) glimpsing the pink and green flash of my Brooks.

Every time I spot them, I am reminded that at this stage of my life, I cannot run as much as I would like. As I began to spout my frustration at this to my wise Aunt recently, she reminded me that running can always wait: she kept running into her 60’s, a once a week 10 mile excursion to ‘clear the mind’. “You can always run when the children are older,” she reassured me. “But I want to set some new PB’s now,” I impatiently replied. “In five years time I will be five years older and it will be so much harder.”

“But running is mental, not physical,” she retorted. “Don’t forget, the cells in your organs, your muscles, your bones, are constantly regenerating. However old in years you may be, much of you is only a few days new.” Of course she was right. But, I am getting more than a little frustrated at this half-way house I live in, where I have developed this love affair with running, and am temporarily having to keep it on the sidelines due to family/work responsibilities. I can’t do this gracefully. I constantly contemplate forcing the children to give up what they love doing, just so I can do what I love doing. It’s crazy! I can’t do this as it goes against motherhood: kids come first, right?

I can train, but not always with my club. I enter races, then don’t make the start-line. Yes, I am suffering from the debilitating condition commonly known as running envy. The more the weeks pass and my running fails to move forward, the more I contemplate ridiculous scenarios to fit in a run. The underlying condition can be diagnosed as never being happy with one’s situation; a common symptom is the desire to scream out: “What about me!” Originally thought to be a pre-occupation of younger generations, there are increasing numbers of older people who are struggling to come to terms with dreams of running at greater speeds than we ever thought possible when our journeys began.

I think creatively; during holidays my children ride on their bikes whilst I run, or play in the park as I manically orbit them, a desperate satellite trying to make each session count. I am now starting my runs as tired as I usually feel when I’ve finished them. The only solution is to take the kids everywhere, it seems. My partner is not just a running widow, the kids have become a strange mutation of the ‘latch-key’ variety. After manic mornings and evenings where five to six hours of life have to be compressed into one hour, so that we can get out of the house and to club/events/races, they stand, abandoned to the countryside, whilst mummy goes off for half an hour or so to ‘do her own thing’. Take a step back and, compared to the lives of some children, this isn’t such a hardship, so why do I feel SO guilty?

Who am I?

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noo noo girl running for David

You know you are really bored at work when you put your name into the internet to see what comes up. Having quite a distinctive name, I was shocked when I did this yesterday, as someone else with my name came up on twitter. Obviously, I wanted to tweet to them that I was the real me. Then it got me thinking, if I believe I am the real me, who is this other me with the same name? Now I understand if your name is John Brown or Sam Smith that you may have grown up without that feeling of utter uniqueness that my early life was comfortably cushioned with. Not only did I stand out at school due to my naturally burnt white hair, but my name was very different. Today, in any school playground, there are hoards of parents who have called their totally unique offspring totally uninspiring names; Harry’s, Charlotte’s, Millie’s and Charlie’s pepper school registers like nappy rash on a three-month-old baby’s bottom.

This got me thinking, and it made me realise how I have a peculiar habit when I am out running, whether plodding on the paths or racing on the hills; I often wonder if people recognise who I am. So even though when I meet someone, and instantly recall who they are when I see them for a second time and greet them with hello, I never assume that the person who has met me will remember who I am. You don’t need to be an amateur psychologist to deduce there may be some insecurity issues lurking in my subconscious mind. Is it the little girl in me, lacking in self-esteem, trying to undermine her 43-year-old big sister? I have even embarrassed myself recently at a press conference by offering my hand in hello to someone who chided me for being so coy, grabbed me and kissed me on the cheek. Even though we had met several times, I wasn’t sure if he would remember me!

This curious belief, like many, is based on some small grain of self-perceived truth. Question: What do you do when you meet someone, say at a barbecue, and chat with them for a while, then when your paths next cross and there you are, waving across a street at them, or throwing them a hearty hello, they blank you? Plausible answer: assume the person either can’t remember who you are, doesn’t like you. Of course maybe they are just not as socially eager as you, as well.

This scenario has happened to me a few times as an adult, and either I am someone, after first impressions, that you don’t want to ever talk to again, or I am instantly forgettable. Neither option is a great ego-boost. There is however, a third explanation – that there is another me out there. My doppelgänger, I assume, lives somewhere exotic or romantic – on the coast of Croatia, or a dusty backstreet of a Moroccan souk. She spends her life nurturing her creativity, exploring universal concepts of space/time mediums and honing her body into the immaculate, powerful temple it was born to be. This shaggy haired darker skinned person is both me and not me.

So when I stumble upon a new acquaintance who rebukes my friendly hailing should I wonder if it was the other me they met? What, also, should I do about this other me on twitter; should I contact them and ask them to stand down from our name and assume another one? And, if I am out running, and I see someone that I think I know, and that I think knows me, but I assume either doesn’t know me enough to say hello, or may not want to take that little leap over the line of familiarity, I will do as I often do… I will put a half-grimace on my face and look vaguely away. If I have already done this to you, all I can do is apologise – or was it the other me, the one I just met on twitter…? Maybe putting in my contacts every time I leave the house will solve the whole problem.