Category Archives: life issues

The Butterfly Within

A Triathlete’s race against a brain tumour by Rachel Bown

9781910878439

She’s an unordained vicar who uses sport to reach her audience and her personality to reach out to her online parish. Rachel is a daughter/sister/partner/friend, but she’s something more than this – a triumviarate of sporting personalities that gets unleashed in that hardy multi-discipline sport, triathlon. And she’s pretty good at what she does.

When Rachel finds out she has a brain tumour it can mean only one thing – the battle to survive surgery becomes another race that has to be taken on, endured, and survived. Her brain tumour becomes Rachel’s most difficult opponent she has ever faced.

This isn’t just a story about survival, and one woman’s battle against the tumour that is growing in her brain. There’s another ‘battle’. One where the ‘evil’ is depression and the sufferer is Rachel’s mum, who is fighting her own devils in her life, alongside Rachel, and how dramatically this impacts Rachel’s journey through her own illness.

Alongside the swirling doubts that Rachel fights to keep out of her mind, there’s a desperately sad story in the background of a family rallying to help their mum cope with her own disease. So often hidden behind closed doors, Rachel refuses to pretend that her mum wasn’t facing as much of a battle as she was. Instead of dealing with a physical symptom, that ultimately could be overcome, Rachel’s journey back to health is paralleled by her mum’s battle with her own mental health illness. As if facing surgery on a brain tumour, and rebuilding her life after, wasn’t a big enough challenge, Rachel couldn’t turn to her mum for the support she desperately needed. Other family members had to cope with both women fighting their own battles. And they did.

Rachel’s is a powerful story of resilience, positivity and also a good dose of bloody-mindedness. Everything Rachel takes on in life she does with 100 per cent commitment. And so the journey to defy her tumour is exactly the same. There’s little self-pity, even though there’s some moments of sadness and confusion. Maybe more than anything Rachel’s personal journey is testament to how sport, and living a life where you purposefully go out to be the person you know you can be, meaning you strive to achieve your goals and commit yourself, means that you can bring an inner conviction to your ability to survive. And beat a physical condition that could mean the end of your life. Rachel approaches tackling her tumour as a race, and talks us through the preparation, execution and recovery of her ‘race’ against her tumour.

It’s like most races though… how many go exactly to plan? How often have you run a PB when you felt there was no way you could, or have you thought you were perfectly prepared for a spring marathon then an unexpected event in the race shattered your hopes and plan? After her initial operation, and as she is recovering, Rachel suffers an infection in her brain and finds herself much more poorly than she had thought possible, or planned.

Though at times consumed with feelings of being scared, worried and frustrated Rachel always holds on to her hope. Rachel’s body fights the secondary infection, but as a consequence of post-operation complications, Rachel is left visually impaired.

Does this mean her career as an athlete is over? Of course not; it means that Rachel has even more determination to return to health and fitness – so much that she defies her doctors in her rapid recovery. It’s not long before Rachel is competing at triathlon (and that means competing not completing, representing Team GB in the age group category) and last year she set a world record at the London Marathon, running in fancy dress. Even when we are faced with an unthinkable challenge Rachel shows that we can all be the creators of our own destiny.

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Rating: ****

The 401 Challenge marathon #392

You know how the water in a sink will swirl one way down the plug hole in the northern hemisphere and the opposite way in the southern hemisphere, but it doesn’t really matter which way the water travels; gravity always wins. That’s how it is running with Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge. When you run with Ben on one of his 401 marathons, wherever you run in the pack, you just want to swish yourself this way or that, so you can be near him. Ben draws people to him. His force is strong. You want a little bit of him to rub off on you, which is selfish as running hundreds of marathons back to back has got to be quite tiring. I mean, how many people have you met who have run (just about) 401 marathons in consecutive days?

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Ben – in picking running as his massive challenge – made a canny choice. He’s a clever man. Every village, town and city in the country has a running group of some sort, and have you noticed how a lot of people in these groups are, mmmmmmm… how do you say it, slightly *different* (…crazy/bonkers/sometimes out of the ordinarily, unbelievably mad…) in that once you draw them in then you’ve got them for life. I mean, have you seen this group of mad people in the winter? Are we at home getting our Christmas presents wrapped early just before we brush a wet cloth over the blinds/radiators/skirting boards so that we can go on to clearing out the garage, raking away the winter leaves and checking we have enough loo rolls/packets of pasta and tinned rice pudding in case of a national emergency? Before we hoover the car.

Love Laura's face, whatever...

Love Laura’s face, whatever…

No, we’re up at the crack of dawn driving with droopy eyelids to some wood or forest or other place in the middle of God knows where to run around a muddy, frozen track for about five miles and then after, after we stand in a large space (usually quite chilly and definitely not toasty) and talk about how wonderful the whole experience was as our fingers slowly defrost at the same time as the mud on our legs claggily dries so that we know even after the first shower when we get home it won’t come off. These are not average human beings. It’s a tribe; all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ages, but with a strange and steely obsession about getting from one line to another and low and behold anything or anyone who prevents them from doing so (and don’t muck with our GPS signals either as there’s this really crucially unbelievably important element of time from one line to the other that can lead people to do crazed things). We are family. We look after each other.

We are DIFFERENT. Be proud as being normal is over-rated. Then one rises above the rest. He’s got a REALLY big beard. He looks kinda cool in a bandana. He’s obviously not only been born with the ACT1 gene (no, that doesn’t mean he’s good at drama, it’s what makes you an endurance king), he was also delivered in to our world with an extra something tucked away in his soul. He wouldn’t have known it was there. I’m sure his mum and dad had no idea (or maybe they did). Life gave him a few knocks – and he had choices, some very tough. He made them and this shaped who he became. Then a flicker of an idea must have grown, as these things do, probably silently at first, just thoughts starting to stick together like the ends of sellotape do, when you don’t want them. They created their own glue that held the thoughts together so they could become something greater, and a challenge was born. Did Ben create the 401 Challenge, or did it create him? His life was probably hurtling to the moment, in about one week’s time, when he finishes his 401th marathon, right from the first breath, whether he wanted it to or not.

Some of the Gosport Road Runners contingent

Some of the lovely Gosport Road Runners ladies

When you’re a runner a marathon is a BIG challenge, whoever you are, however fast, thin, fat, tall, short… there is no easy marathon. Who would ever think of running 401 on 401 consecutive days? No one of course. Because it’s madness. What a ridiculously large challenge to ask of one body, its 700-odd muscles and 206 bones. Your Neanderthal grandmother and grandpa had already genetically evolved to run about 10K (that’s six miles) a day to fetch food. Why would they have added an extra 20 miles on top when they had Stone Age chores to do like sweeping the cave and hanging out the newly laundered bear skins?

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

We’re not meant to do these miles every day. It’s not just worrying about dodgy knees and a tight ITB band, either. How do you get the brain and heart, the physical and emotional engines, to keep driving those muscles and bodies day-in, day-out, over and over and over and over? You don’t. I don’t. Ben does.

The Fareham Crusaders

The Fareham Crusaders

He can’t say ‘I just can’t do this today. I’m ill. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m just fed up. I don’t want to run any more. What was I thinking when I thought I could do this? I want to go and sit on the beach all day long with my mates. I want to pull on my compression tights, pour a massive glass of wine and just spend all afternoon cosied up with Mr or Mrs Netflix. I just can’t be bothered today.’

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

Ben has to turn up and smile at a big bunch of people who just gaze at him with a slightly dumb look on their face when they say ‘Wow, you’re really amaaaaaazing,’ like silly love-struck teenagers with their first girl/boy crush. He’s got so much better at dealing with that since I ran with him a year ago.

The Boss... this man bravely guided us along new trails

The Boss… Tony from Portsmouth Joggers bravely guided us along the trails

We know that when our excuses create our daily boundaries, we’re not really living, we’re existing. If you stand at the end of any race and you see…feel…taste that life doesn’t happen in our comfort zone. Force yourself out of it and, like an explosion of magic dust before our eyes we see sharply how beautiful life can be (and painful, but it’s always a good pain, right?). Then we realize we can share this beauty. We can do something that somehow helps someone else see it, and their lives are then changed forever. This is what Ben has done for us all. He shares this life-love. Surely we should all be giving him money just for this as we say: ‘Thanks. You made me realise there is so much more than just me in my life.’

Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

The gorgeous Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

All of us can bring that brightness into other’s lives; we can sharpen the focus so that new paths become clearer, and other choices can be made. We live in the age of empathy, and the only way through is to respond. Each of us may be but a grain of sand on the beach. Ben – and pioneers like him – they are the moon that can help us turn the tide. People… if we let these challenges sweep us together, between us we can be deeply powerful. Raising massive amounts of money together, by donating just a few precious pounds individually, can help build a beautiful palace, free for all to live in.

I cant even run two marathons in a row so I’ve no idea what it can feel like to run more, again, again. Again. Ben has though. He doesn’t complain. He listens. In fact, no one could have been more inclusive and supportive for those who were struggling to carry on yesterday. No jaded looks shine from his eyes. Coach/mentor/motivator/life shaper/life changer.

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Just a quick note for Ben’s support crew. I’ve figured out a way Ben can double his quarter million to a half. It’s easy! Do the 401 Challenge all over again, and make people pay a fine (£5, £10?) for being privileged enough to join in one of the runs. It’s got to be a winner.

The school run and normality called us back… but we escaped for a whole five hours

Come on, you’ve done 401 marathons Ben, you can’t tell me this isn’t possible…And I’ve also figured out a way I can do this with you, without feeling let down by my inferior, slightly smaller very less hairy body. Yes, I’ll not have a bath for 401 days. It will be tough, but it’s the least I can do to support you.

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He’s nearly there! You can help Ben in his final push to raise the last thousands he needs to make his £250K total by taking part in the 401’s virtual challenge, either 10K, half marathon or marathon, which you can run on your own, any time, any place. The closing date is 8th October. Enter here

Support Ben by donating here

Buy a 401 sweatshirt/tee shirt here (I quite like the blue…)

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What marathon training taught me this time round…

It’s a thinking out loud day, and since running London Marathon a few weeks ago I’ve thought a lot about how much I love the journey that is marathon training. Much more than the race itself probably. The painful start in mid-winter, when you can’t believe you’re going to be able to do any long runs, let alone 26 miles in the spring. Feeling like you’re in pieces after anything over 5 miles. Then the slow evolution of strength and stamina. The cold bikes to the pool, and back again, with freezing wet hair. Running long  – it gives you time to think.

Post marathon I've been able to spend a bit more time with these two beauties

Post marathon I’ve been able to spend a bit more time with these two beauties

I tend to seek understanding … of myself and life, and I have always done this through new challenges. As I seek a deeper awareness I need to go further out of/away from myself, to be able to really ‘see’ who I am. After all, we all have those moments of thinking ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Who am I?’ (Apart from the obvious, which is a mum to three human beings on their own onward journey.) With a busy life, running gives you time to think. Or to not think, if that’s what you need on any particular day.

The last two weeks I've eaten way too much of this stuff...thankfully I've started to slow on my sugar consumption

The last two weeks I’ve eaten way too much of this stuff…thankfully I’ve started to slow down on my sugar consumption

Of course we all are constantly changing, and I don’t think I did things that differently 20 years ago, I just did what I did more, and thought about why I did it and what it meant to me (or others) a whole lot less. I was quite impatient, impulsive and in the moment. I couldn’t imagine that, in the shake of a head, I would be 45. And not always so able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.

This Saturday I got to spend the day with these lovely WR readers on a Full Potential training day

This Saturday I got to spend the day with these lovely WR readers on a Full Potential training day

I find the daily routine, the mundane and the, at times, circular nature of motherhood/family life tricky. Yes, I would like to be flying off to new places and races all the time. But I can’t – and few of us can. Yes, I want to focus 100% of the time on the existential, the creative, the sporty, the fun – but that doesn’t get the jobs done and make the machine of life run smoothly. I’m still coming to terms with this part of my personality. It’s a lifelong project.

Took this one to the woods to try and tire her out

Took this one to the woods to try and tire her out

What I’ve definitely learnt a whole lot about in the last six months is understanding and respecting my limitations. Getting cross because I’m ill/can’t train/am injured. Forget that – that was for my 20s me. Now, I find a way around it. Running doesn’t have to be your only best friend, the bike and pool can be too. Don’t get frustrated about what others are doing. Find what works for you – and who cares what the training plans or club mates say? I can’t do long runs and bounce back. I need two days of rest at least after a long run, and ideally I need 10-14 days between each one. So that’s what I did. Just take the start date of your marathon back a month so you can plan this in. Get creative.

‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’
George Eliot

When you learn to work with your limitations, suddenly they are no longer so limiting. Find a positive way to deal with them and they become tools for achieving your goals. Many running limitations are caused by lack of strength training, and since last summer I’ve done more than I ever did before. Give myself a pat on the back, I thought. Until race day. My left leg, from pain in my foot, knee, lateral quads and hips, wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. I had done some strength training on it. But had I done enough? No. The strength endurance of my soft tissues is not enough to last 26 miles. So I am going to double what I’ve been doing, adding weights, which I never quite got round to including up till now. (Read that as: I was lazy)

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This may sounds obvious, but the longer I run, the more I’m realising how incredibly specific my training has to be to me. Both due to my own physical make up and my lifestyle. It’s taken me quite a long time to truly tune in to my needs – or even realise what they are.

Being so busy bringing up three girls by myself, which often meant I wasn’t thinking about myself, or looking after myself properly, to having a few health issues, then turning 45, it’s made me understand better the importance of my daily routine, rituals and rhythms of life. I’ve finally got it that eating healthily (this includes cake), a good sleep pattern and getting some exercise every day dramatically affect my capacity to function efficiently and feel good.

Back on the turbo - it's so frustrating!

Back on the turbo – I try and tell myself it’s not but it’s so frustrating!

So I drink mainly water – one coffee a day (two if it’s a risqué kinda day), very rarely have alcohol (such a shame as red wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures) try to sleep eight hours a night and try and do something physical most days. These are essential to my mental health and perception of life.

This has been a long process for me. It probably started as I thought about divorce, and is ongoing. Before divorce how others saw me was much more important to me. It’s gonna take me the whole time on this planet to work through this one I think! I am constantly working towards being more in tune with my sense of who I am. I get flashes of this, or more like feelings of connection, usually when I’m out on the trails, the hills, the mud – they call me. I think I was just deaf to this call for so long.

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We all try many different paths before we find the right direction, which makes life so deliciously interesting. You’ve got to keep being daring and experimental and eventually you realise you’re heading for the right destination. For me, this destination, in running terms, has to include more and more strength training. Nearly three weeks on from my marathon I’m still injured, so it’s been back on the bike and to the pool for me. I find this so frustrating and feel like I am going to burst!

How has your running evolved over the years? Do you get injuries easily like me?

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11 things a man should never say to a woman training for a marathon

Five minutes before he asked me whether running was making me smaller

Five minutes before he asked me whether running was making me smaller

11 things a man should never say to a woman training for a marathon

1. “Can you just rub my feet, I’ve had a really busy day.” Oh no, really?

2. After your 18-mile long run… “I bought Fifty Shades of Grey today, fancy going to bed early to watch it?”  Think you’re in with a chance? Dream on…

3. “You look tired.” Just don’t go there. Ever.

4. What’re you doing with the kids this afternoon? The rugby/football/tennis/snooker/darts (delete as appropriate) is on so I’ll need some peace and quiet.” Big sigh.

5. “Why do you need another pair of trainers?” If you don’t understand that no woman can ever have enough trainers I’m not even going to try and explain.

6. “If you don’t go for a run today you’ll really regret it.” Err… I think we know that already.

7. “I’m surprised you haven’t lost more weight.” Really? Well, if you had to consume 10 tins of rice pudding a week to replace lost calories neither would you. It’s called marathon fat.

8. “Maybe you could have trained harder this week?” Oh yes, juggling the kids/work/house probably isn’t hard enough. And when did you last do what I do and train for a marathon?

9. “Is that a new top?” The pressure of marathon training often leads to spontaneous purchasing of extra kit. Don’t question it, just accept that utter exhaustion always leads to running kit retail therapy. It will stop after the marathon. For a while.

10. “Jenny in the office said her PB’s 10-minutes faster than you.” OK! So does half the running population of the whole world! Who cares!

11. Five hours after your run… “Are you not having your shower then?” No. I’m tired, I’ve taken the kids out, done lunch, homework, housework and tea. It’s activewear till bedtime. I smell. I don’t care.

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You’ve got to be kidney-ing me

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You’ve got a rare congenital kidney disease, but there’s only a 10 per cent risk of morbidity.”

“What? I can’t die yet!” I have three daughters and the youngest is only nine-years-old.” That was my first thought when my urologist gave me the diagnosis for what was ‘wrong’ with my kidneys. The second thought that poured out of my mouth was: “Is this going to affect my running?” The third – I’m only 44. “I need at least 10 years,” I replied – the youngest will be old enough to fend for herself then.

“Your kidneys have managed for 40 years, there’s nothing to worry about,” he said (he obviously doesn’t know that women with multiple children have three things in common: guilt, worry and the ability to cry at anything, even an advert about chocolate).

“People with this condition – Cacchi Ricci disease (isn’t she an American actress?) – often have problems with absorption of calcium or potassium citrate. We’ll need to do further tests,” the doctor said. I really didn’t care.

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Finding new ways to keep my body strong – and new faces at the same time

All I could think about was how unfair it would be for my kids for me to die when they’ve already been through divorce and all the rubbish this heaped on them. I didn’t give a flying toss about whether I wasn’t absorbing one mineral or another, or the consequences (potassium citrate inhibits the production of kidney stones, so if I’m not producing this I’m in trouble as I’ve got hundreds of tiny crystals all waiting and ready to go/grow).

I suddenly understand though – the reason for the increasingly painful urinary tract infections I’ve had all my adult life, and the kidney pain. And the kidney infections. When the pieces of your biological puzzle are suddenly slotted into place by a deep body scan you are given a gift. Knowledge. This brings relief. So now I know why this happens. Still, I don’t care about it.

But wait, I thought, driving home, I forgot to ask you doc, does this explain why my bladder also doesn’t want to work sometimes? Yep, it’s not just that I can’t sleep through the night without getting up to pee, I can’t sleep for two hours. Oh and what about the leaks – oh yes, I’m getting them more when I run (that’s right, in public where everyone can see me). Especially if I am putting in some effort. Is this going to get better/worse/disappear? And doc, did I tell you I’m only 44? I’m just not ready for this. I need 30 years more to get prepared.

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It’s not all been bad this year, I got a bronze in the England 10-mile championships as part of the third placed ladies team

So now I had the name (though no one else has heard of it and I’m already bored of repeating it), I obviously had the condition, but I knew it wasn’t going to be part of my life. I didn’t own it and tell everyone about it because even though it’s there I don’t care that it is. If I was born with it what can I do? So why make it important to me?

I felt lucky – this was my chance to prove that despite *this* (you get to insert whatever you’ve got into this sentence here) any of us can still knock out a PB if we believe we can and adapt our training. It’s also called bloody mindedness (something to do with having Taurus somewhere in my chart). You tell me I can’t do something. I then try to do it.

The moment when you realise you've got a PB, and beaten the zebra!

The moment when you realise you’ve got a PB, and beaten the zebra!

First I changed my training to one week of effort, one week of slow running.  Next I had to try for a PB. I needed to prove to the disease it’s not going to slow me down. And I mean lifetime PB not age group. The hardest distance for me, as a long distance runner, is 5K. This was my target.

When the next set of tests came back they showed (of course) that my body doesn’t produce enough potassium citrate, so I’ll be taking it every day from now on.

Some weeks I can’t run. It’s like being burnt out, where the flame I need to fire my fuel is so weak that energy is not a by-product. And my kidneys scream with pain. So what. They are extra rest weeks. I’m having to skip lots of training. I can’t compete with those who are knocking out the miles, reps, races. But why would I want to? They aren’t me.

Photo on 30-08-2012 at 17.38

This is how I feel when I run

But every single run I make feels like biting into buttercream. And each one gives me the chance to meditate for a while on having strong, clear kidneys that restore health to my body. The mud that flicks up into my mouth and eyes is the earthy reminder of the beauty of that very moment, right there. The friends who I run with become soldiers beside me who share the fight against apathy and acceptance of what is or what could be. Together in our sweaty march we show ourselves and the world we still can. Despite. Something.

A spring marathon number is waiting for me. With less training and less effort my kidneys and I plan to be at the start, lining up with thousands of others running despite of ‘something’. My two speckled organs won’t care what time we finish in. Neither will my three girls.

I’m not going to die. Well, I am but you know what I mean. I’m starting to feel I don’t really know this body that’s mine (I’d just like to point out to my biological self that travelling through the crooked and weird journey of early menopause was challenge enough for this year). The last appointment I had with my doctor I asked two very important questions: can I still train hard, and is drinking alcohol forbidden? I did get my PB and no I didn’t wet myself when I did it (though there have been a couple of other times this year when this isn’t strictly true). And the answer was a yes. And a no.

One of the reasons I run - I did the GSR after the birth of each of my girls, just to show them you can!

One of the reasons I run – I did the GSR after the birth of each of my girls, just to show them you can!

What are you battling against? Tweet @shewhodaresruns how you run despite something

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It’s time to change your mindset and change your life (and your running of course!)

I’m just as bad as every other runner (and woman!) out there who doubts themselves and questions what they do. Will I be able to finish my long run? How will I ever run a PB again in my mid 40s? Does my bum look big in these shorts/capris/leggings?!

More so in the last five years or so as a difficult divorce knocked my confidence right out of me, heart and soul. For months, and then a few years I could run, then I couldn’t. I started training with my club again, then stopped. I entered races then never made it to the start-line (far too often). So I’ve had a good few years of being demoralised, physically and mentally. But there have been a few glimmers of hope; good days when I felt like I was flying and some good races that I was almost happy with. Running is a constant rollercoaster, and we all go up and down with it, just as we do with life. I’ve found that being able to accept my running for what it is now – regardless of the amount of training behind me, or the speed in my legs – means that I keep going when life wants me to stop, and I feel I’m managed to hold on to that wisdom we all know with running – consistency is key.

I get a lot of motivation from my three girls...what motivated you to keep going?

I get a lot of motivation from my three girls…what motivates you to keep going?

What’s one of the most important ways I do this? Talking to myself of course. More commonly known as Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP. NLP is the art of getting consistent results using the language of the mind to positively influence our attitude and therefore our behaviours. “I’m never going to be able to run that fast/far…” say this no more! “I’m too old to run a marathon…” Stop it right now! “I’m never going to be as good a runner as I want to be…” Oh yes you are!

I’m lucky as at a particularly low point post-separation I visited an Emotional Wellness Coach, Janet Smith. At this stage I was carrying around a lot of stress and anxiety after looking after my three girls on my own for two years. After a few sessions with Janet my whole approach to myself, and my divorce, would transform dramatically.

Anything is possible, if you believe in yourself

Anything is possible, if you believe in yourself

“NLP can improve your performance dramatically,” Janet told me at our first meeting. “How? It provides a series of techniques that assist in changing negative mindsets or removing blocks to performance that have been created through bad habits or as a result of negative past experiences.”

NLP techniques can be used to focus your mind. “Changing limiting self beliefs and negative self talk will increase personal success as a runner and also increase happiness as unresolved negativity is released,” Janet said. “Performance in any sport can be broken down into the components of knowledge, skill and attitude. With running, the attitude or mental approach is often paramount in achieving success. Think of the runners that you admire: what qualities do you notice? It is often attitude which allows that person to put in the dedication to achieve their goals; knowledge and skill become secondary.”

OK I hear you say, but how is NLP going to benefit me?
By working with NLP it is possible to challenge your long standing beliefs through ‘mental modelling’, a questioning paradigm, that helps you to get to the root of the problem that affects performance. “You may also wish to break down your running technique into components which can be looked at individually. Often what we believe about a problem is not where we end up finding the solution,” continues Janet. “We can begin by asking ourselves simple questions such as: What do I believe about my ability to reach my goal? Is there anything that will stop me? Do I commit 100 per cent or do I self sabotage?”

This is an image I hold in my mind when I am struggling with my running. It reminds me of The Dodo Trail I ran in Mauritius

This is an image I hold in my mind when I am struggling with my running. It reminds me of The Dodo Trail I ran in Mauritius

Your success begins with having the right attitude, but it’s important to look at your whole life, not just your running. “It is never just about the running; outside stresses influence our ability,” Janet believes. “Negative emotions and anxiety can drain our energy and cause under performance. Similarly being too relaxed and not focused will lose us ‘our edge’.” In my case, my traumatic divorce bought negativity into all areas of my life – financial, relationships, home, family. It dragged me down into a dark, dark place. Janet made me realise that if I wanted to, I could leave that place.

A really tough race, the Killarney Adventure Race in Ireland

A really tough race, the Killarney Adventure Race in Ireland

To do this, and to reignite my love for running, and reestablish it in my daily and weekly routine, Janet encouraged me to create the best attitude I could around my running. “Begin by thinking of a time when you were off your game and under-performed. What emotions were present? How were your behaviours influenced by those emotions? It is most likely that negative emotions of anger, fear and anxiety were present in some capacity or they even stopped you from going out running in the first place.”

My first marathon, Shakespeare

My first marathon, Shakespeare

Then I had to focus on the feelings surrounding my running that had given me the most joy and pleasure. This was easy. It was finishing my first marathon, and the feelings of sheer disbelief that I had finally achieved something I had dreamed my whole life of doing. The elation was so incredibly it took light years to make my way back down to earth.

We can all raise our awareness of our own peak performance by recognising when we are on our game and things are going well. If we can just stay out of our own way then we will perform to the peak of our capacity! Increasing our self awareness provides us with the motivation to achieve our aims.

“It is believed by numerous coaches that the next big steps in human performance will come from how we harness the mind and this is where NLP will come into its own as we step into the future of sport and competition,” adds Janet.

Whatever it may be that you hope to achieve in your running, or whatever your dreams are, once you start believing you can do this, you will.

So, what is Emotional Wellness Coaching?
“As an Emotional Wellness Coach, I use NLP techniques alongside hypnosis and Spectrum Therapy when working with clients,” says Janet. “By working with a client’s own individual programming it is possible to increase performance by using visualisation and hypnosis. Furthermore, I use Spectrum Therapy to release negative emotions, help people heal from previous past experiences and become more positive in all areas of their life. This can be extremely beneficial not only in bringing about optimum performance but in providing a happier more enjoyable experience whilst running.”

Some NLP strategies we can all do at home
Janet suggests you:

Listen to the stories you tell yourself and others about your running. Do you constantly discuss your fears over a previous injury? Do you play down your ability? Are you frightened of achieving success or failure? Change the stories – change the results!

Focus on what you do want and not what you don’t want.

Ask yourself what do you believe about your ability to achieve your goal? If you believe it is impossible or that it will take a long time, you will be right.

Imagine yourself having the best run of your life, what would need to be happening? How would it feel, look and sound? Use this as a visualisation exercise.

Take time to focus your mind by using visualisation. Relax, breathe slowly, close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goal, is there a colour or sensation connected to it? Now make that colour or sensation more vibrant and more compelling. Do this everday to install new behaviours.

Ask yourself are you literally running away from your problems? How happy are you with your life? Are there negative situations that you should be addressing?

Listen to your inner voice, do not allow your ego to push you towards an injury.

To find out more about how NLP and how Emotional Wellness Coaching can benefit you, visit www.emotionalwellnesscoaching.co.uk.

 

A lifelong addiction

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.

Trapped! My running nomansland

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.