Tag Archives: Anonymous runner

Saying goodbye

noo noo girl running for David

As the London Marathon approaches, I am reminded of an anniversary…..

Can you, during a one and a half hour run, encapsulate a life? Yesterday I cried until my body reached drought levels. Why? I’ve known for months that my oldest friend, Caroline, would be heading off to live, with her family, in New York. We said our farewells, full of hope and excitement. However, when I saw her ‘last’ picture in England, posted on Facebook, I was totally overwhelmed. What I had been avoiding for months suddenly bubbled over, inside and out. My great friend would now be an ocean apart, flying a new trajectory into her future.

For a day I felt stunned. I thought about our 30 years of life; similar yet completely different journeys marked by a spiritual quest, creativity and adventure. When we were kids we toed the line in the school athletics team, Caroline achieving first, second and thirds at the 800m effortlessly, me throwing the javelin, or filling in the spaces where someone was needed. We were the netball and hockey teams – always there, always believing we were going to win! When we were 15 we went running together, then in our late teens and early 20s we hit step classes and aerobics along with every other woman in the 80s. We had a common love of exercise; Caroline excelled in anything requiring rhythm and flexibility whereas I relied on fiery energy.

Today, a new week began and I knew I needed to go for a run, however slow and hard; going out was better than not. And so I steadily warmed-up as I ran past our old school. Madonna’s Immaculate Conception clicked in on my iPod and memories began jumping out of nowhere. I felt suddenly present, jogging past our secondary school, which had been its own warm-up for our lives; we had sat next to each other at the age of 11, 30 years ago. Relaxation set in, I lost the sense of having to run, and my head rose. Get into the groove, the music told me. Caroline and I had ritually humiliated ourselves in the village disco to this song, as well as Bananarama’s ‘Venus’; our endless bobbing up and down on the stage wearing our Port Maid stretchy skirts, dog-toothed tops and white stilettos – we must have been a sight.

As I continued to run I decided to step off the path onto a local trail; how many times had we both stepped off our paths in the last 30 years? We had wanted to move away from our home village, live in London, act, write… unconventional for village girls. And the more I followed the trail, the wetter, muddier and boggier the ground beneath my feet became. Separation and divorce has muddied both our lives, and diverted us down rough roads until we too found our way back to our own paths. Who else, but your oldest friend, would drop everything to listen to your sobs of pain as you sit in your car, on the side of a road, facing the brutal reality of divorce; just listen, reassure and not judge.

No off-road run would be complete without some form of hill; big, small, medium… Today was a slippery, short hill that burnt quickly and brightly. But what of the mountains we’ve had to climb; geographical isolation, unemployment, miscarriages… the toughest of challenges, yet climb we always have, sharing that same innate drive to carry on, succeed, be counted and recognised. The short climb finished me off quickly. It was time to make my way back. As I ran along the promenade a thick, stubborn mist sat heavily on still water. And in times through our shared lives we have both felt stranded in such mist, yet, growing up by the sea, we’ve always known that however long the grey weather lasts, eventually the sun burns through.

Ironically, I even got the proverbial fly in my eye. By then, my fingers were sticky from my gel, and I was incredibly aware of how messy, at times, our lives had been. Yet, whatever happens during a run, when you finish, you have a small achievement, regardless of how hard the run felt.

Caroline and I have many things in common and many things that set us apart. We’ve had to climb many hard hills, and make our way back to our own starts. We’ve gone from giggling together in History lessons to living as far apart on the planet as possible. When Caroline first told me that New York was going to be her new home there was a pause before we both said: “We can run the New York Marathon…”

It is a goal we can work towards from opposing continents. Our lives will continue onwards until we can, hopefully, collide in the biggest marathon on the planet.

Finding some peace

noo noo girl running for David

 

Stop. Breath. Think…or not think. Relax. Rest. Realise. This would not be a normal approach to any part of my daily routine, but taking myself away from the relentless chaos of life, and booking myself into a relaxing Swedish holistic massage last week made me put the brakes on my life. This wasn’t one of those punishing sports massages that you endure to the point of thinking you are going to vomit. This wasn’t timeout to pound the streets or lift some iron. As I eased myself into the moment I realised that it had been many years, over six, since I had indulged in the simplest of pleasures: paying someone to help you relax. I also realised that very rarely do I slow to a pace where relaxation or rest are part of my daily schedule (although I admit that I do both when I finally get to sleep at night). There’s too much to do, isn’t there… work, kids, house, family, friends, pets; the list can literally go on and on.

 

But is this the way to live, truly? Already inhabiting my 40’s I can’t help but wonder, with a slight tinge of fear, where the last decade of my life went. Can someone tell me, please? It’s not just that the years have flown by, it’s the fact that I can’t remember all of them, they were such a swirl of confusion and exhaustion with the advent of children. To take one step sideways, out of the norm, and allow myself to ‘stop’ has had an immediate knock-on effect. The massage was a accelerator. The temporary stilling of my mind has had a curious effect on my daily life. I decided that the pace of my day, and the demands of those who share it, were totally unrealistic. I stopped picking up the hairbands and hairbrushes that colourfully litter my carpets (tens…hundreds…thousands I have picked up it seems over the years). My lower back is so much happier!

 

I have decided work will have to fit in with me; if I don’t get it done, so be it. I have decided that a harsher love is needed to make my demanding children back-off: “Do it NOW!” has replaced the more gentler: “Please can you…” requests to my children that pepper my waking hours. The children are looking at me as if I have become a monster. They keep asking me if I am tired… I would tell them that there has been a sea change and that mummy needs to restore her sanity and some pre-children routines, but they probably would only listen to the first two words off my reply. But most importantly, I have decided that I am going to do some form of exercise every day, regardless.

 

However tired or busy I am, doing some form of workout for myself resets my internal ‘human’ thermometer. No exercise, and I become an automaton, out of control and likely to either collide with the other automatons out there, or worse, accept that everything else is too important. Exercise allows me to put myself first: to admit that when I feel pushed to my limits, I need to release pressure. In the last week, I have gone out for a run at a ridiculously late time, barricaded myself into the living room to do some weights and conditioning, gone for a long-ish bike ride against a hellish wind that never seemed to give up, and, so far, achieved what I wanted to do: I have found some time each day for me. I cannot deny that I feel a little tired, but I also feel a little invigorated, and much saner, too. There may well be some positive health benefits if I can keep up my ‘me routine’, but, as with running, this isn’t my motivation to get on my lycra. Exercise is therapy. My competitive spirit, and mind, are temporarily taking a backseat to my deeper essence, that is calling me back, calling me home.

Looking forward to the Commonwealth Games

noo noo girl running for David

As we look forward to the Commonwealth Games, and wonder about the legacy the games will leave behind, my mind drifts back to how devastating it felt when the London Olympics were finally over….

Life, it suddenly seems, has become dull and devoid of anticipation; the Olympics and Paralympics are over. I watched as much of both games as humanly possible, around summer outings, children, and work. Every night, once children were in bed, I was in a sport-induced heaven. Watching the sportsmen and women strive for, achieve, or maybe just miss, lifetime goals was inspirational. But did you notice how the Paralympians reacted differently to the Olympians? So many athletes crossed the line to a silver, and immediately seemed disappointed and unhappy with their performance. Silver or bronze didn’t seem a high enough achievement; the gold medal was all that mattered. However, the Paralympians openly rejoiced in the opportunity of completing; they savoured each medal with such joy, they congratulated their opponents with genuine happiness (despite their own disappointment), often competing the lap of honour together; only the heptathletes and decathletes display a similar solidarity. They received their medals with immense gratitude and thanks. In short, they were often very contrasting sportsmen and women to the Olympians. I can’t wait until when, in the future, more of these Paralympians cross over into able-bodied athletics as they will not only inspire future generations of able and non-able bodied athletes to believe that anything is possible, but their humble approach to their sports may bring a different dimension to modern day athletics. I can’t imagine any Paralympian behaving like Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake, or refusing to complete unless the price tag is sufficient.

Surely we have all got a lesson to learn from the blossoming of the modern Paralympics on the global stage.When I turn up to my club sessions, I am always thankful and relieved just to have made it on time, with adequate kit. When I race, I have learnt to feel grateful for the experience regardless of the result, even though deep down I would like to run so much better. So many other women, and men, in my club seem to be constantly chasing a PB, or chastising themselves for inadequate performances, missing out on just being present, and seeing that just taking part is the real achievement.

During the summer I was lucky enough to compete in a mixed team event for my club in a local off-road relay, and, despite our team being slower than most others, each one of us gave 120 per cent. Our captain supported us enthusiastically and did a fantastic job of organising us both prior to the race and the day. We couldn’t compete, and came seventh, but we were all so happy to have done the event together. Not coming first was not on our radar; enjoying the day and doing our best was what we individually strived for. Overall times and positions seemed irrelevant at the end. Having a drink together and praising each other, and seeing each other happy was much more rewarding than any PB I have achieved (not that I have done many yet!). This day will definitely be remembered as a highlight of my summer.

Watching the Paralympians gave me greater perspective regarding how lucky I am to get out running, even though I am always overstretched, and how much I appreciate my other club members and their support, friendship and camaraderie. There are many people who don’t have the luxury of running, and would give anything to be able to run, however tired or busy they are. So as we leave behind an amazing summer of sport, and head into the winter, I am going to keep focused on what I achieve in the less clement months of the year, rather that what I don’t. Running, or running well makes me happy, but being part of a team, or with club members, leaves a much deeper sense of fulfilment.

Everything changes

noo noo girl running for David

Some people are predicting a heat wave this summer…. This column, I wrote a while ago, sprung to mind….

On Monday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. On Tuesday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. On Wednesday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. By Saturday morning I was feeling slightly hysterical. We are all becoming increasing au fait with the malfunctioning of the northern polar jet stream, and experiencing first hand what happens when this jet stream meanders far from its usual course: by passing south over Britain, leading to record-breaking rainfall, no sign of summer – and mounting concern for the London Olympics – we have become a new breed of twitchers. Not looking for rare species of birds, but spending anxious hours, days, weeks in search of the rare summer phenomenon known as sunshine.

A summer without much sunshine isn’t the end of the world. Really. However, the weather we are having to combat during our running week is starting to wear very, very thin. This weekend I set out for a long run, after about 50 minutes thought about cutting my run short to get home (exhaustion getting the better of me) then didn’t take the turn: I carried on. Something inside pushed me to not give in to my ego. I’m not going through a good patch with my running, but a few people, whose advice I treasure, have stressed to me that I just have to work through this stage. “It will come back,” they tell me. So despite my slow pace, I just kept going. The road I chose not to divert from led me onwards to the sea, and as the swelling ocean emerged before me, sheets of raining started falling. Mid-summer, and in less than 10 minutes I started to feel cold. The ear facing the sea became so waterlogged with the near horizontal rain that my ear plug wouldn’t stay in, so there I was, running, no, jogging, into a storm front, soaked, in my sun hat and sunglasses (eternal optimist am I), one earplug dancing a merry dance around my head, wanting to cry! It became a battle between me and the jet stream.

I could either give in, instantly divert my route and find safety from the strange summer storm that seems to have been raging for months, on and off, or carry on. My stubborn streak, the fault-line that runs through my personality, took over. I ran on, and on, and on, along the promenade, into the weather, until my trainers were full of puddles and I was ridiculously soaked. Can one woman take on a global weather weirding phenomenon? Yes. Can she win? Of course. Well… umm… I didn’t stop, turn round, detour, hitch a lift or sit down and cry at the ridiculously tough wind that was hurling insults in my direction every mile. I battled on. I must have looked truly pathetic, if anyone saw me – I can’t say I noticed other people out enjoying the weather. And when I got home, my offspring asked me: “Mummy, did you have fun?” My answer? “I really enjoyed it.” I think I did, any way.

The (relative) day of calm that followed my mammoth effort tells me that even global weather systems can’t beat a woman with determination. This summer has left me a much wiser person; I have become more expert at lighting a fire through extra practice; I have learnt that buying summer garden furniture in the spring can be considered extravagant; I have learnt to go out running with sunglasses plus gilet, thus being fully prepared for both real rays of sunlight that I remember can be punishing to one’s eyes plus hideous downpours of rain: the two have become synonymous in our weather-riddled isle; but the wise Buddha that stands beside me during my journey in life, to whom I often ask advice, confirms that the greatest lesson learnt is that everything changes. Our journeys, our running, our summers (remember those endless hot summer holidays of our youth spent sweltering in the presence of the yellow god of the skies?). Knowing that nothing ever stays the same, I predict that the sun must reappear!

Stuff the self-pity

noo noo girl running for David

Being a woman is just so tough! With my race kit methodically laid out on Saturday night, I went to bed in anticipation of a local 10k race the next morning. When I woke up my back was in creaking agony and it felt like someone had inflated a (painful) balloon in my abdomen; yes, my period had started. My first reaction was … “ugh, not today…it’s a mission just to get childcare sorted for a weekend race, get myself sorted and to the race on time, summon the mental energy needed to attempt to run at threshold pace (80-85 per cent effort is as mentally exhausting for me as it is physically!) pull myself together at the end, return home, collect children, then carry on with all the normal Sunday events… without an achy back and stomach”. So my initial hopes of a PB were left on my pillow and a grumpy me slumped down to the kitchen to prepare my porridge. A sorrier sight of self-pity could not have been found in any other house in the land.

Already I was making my excuses; how can I possibly hope to run well when I am in pain; men have it so easy; I don’t think I am up to this; I am expecting too much from myself – if you are a woman, you will know exactly what I mean! I was not doing myself any favours, and I had written myself off before I even left the house. But I didn’t decide to bail out and, in automaton-like fashion, I got myself ready and drove to the event. Everyone from my club, as always, was buzzing, despite of a light drizzle provided from above – the perfect cooling shower for 300 or so runners. Some were nursing slight hangovers but still expected to do well, some were eager to get the race over to get on with the day’s planned events, then there was me… sad me standing rubbing my back and wondering how my body was going to respond when it received the command to run fast.

The gun went off and the faster starters shot ahead. I did not. My legs did respond to my brain though, and after a few minutes I managed to forget my sore back as I concentrated on placing my feet through the hazy rain. The more I thought about running the less attention I could give to my ailments, and the less attention I gave to them, the less they seemed to hurt. Once my rhythm was established, which takes me a good few miles, I surprised myself to be enjoying the cadence, as well as being outside, even though the sun was not in support of us. Running in the rain has a mysticism about it; one is transformed back thousands of years to our ancestors who would have had to run to hunt in all weathers. The rain makes me feel connected to the earth and life, present, past and future, unlike any other running weather.

And then it was done; 10k ran. It wasn’t my day for a PB, but I wasn’t far off. Yet I finished feeling refreshed and invigorated, and much more ready for the day ahead of me than I would have otherwise been. In short, running bought me out of myself and helped me step out of my little puddle of self-pity. If you can get out for a run, despite of, not because of your life, then you have achieved something special for that day. With the ‘life-juggling’ we woman perform, we have to re-focus every so often and remember that every run or race we do is the achievement, whatever the pace, time or pain. Sacrificing one type of pain for another obviously has some benefits.

 

A world of hope

noo noo girl running for David

Not that long ago I was lucky enough to meet the wonderfully creative and talented singer and artist, Jo Hamilton. Winning free tickets to a live BBC World Service broadcast on gadgets, I watched mesmerised as Jo partook in the broadcast with the revolutionary use of an ‘air piano’; by manipulating your hands in space you trigger the piano to play. It was a beautiful experience to share.

Seeing one of your favourite artists performing live, so close you can see their eyelashes blink, in a relatively small BBC studio, was inspirational. Being able to meet Jo after the broadcast was also very exciting! I told Jo how her album, Gown, had come to symbolise my journey through a difficult personal era; especially the song ‘There it is’. This song, somehow, penetrated my subconscious and whether I listened to it at home, or on my iPod out running, came to embody my own personal struggle: Jo’s dulcet, calming tones telling me soporifically that…’climbing into the future… fresh ideas for the picking… intriguing adventures all around…. leaving the map slightly unmapped…and there it is, a world of hope, so make your way, through the undergrowth…..’

Just like that Wham album that embodies your teenage years, Gown has come to represent a time in my life, an emotional era, when there was change in the direction of my thought. Listening to Jo’s eclectic music, less than a year on, makes me feel nostalgic. When I was flailing around in my life, it provided an unbidden rope that drew me back to a safe shore. We all know music can have such an effect on us – instantly transporting us back to a time, a thought, a feeling, not forgotten but unremembered until an external stimulus pokes at our brains to say, ‘Hey, wake up’.

Whilst out running this week my iPod shuffled to Gown; the album is it’s own journey, but listening to ‘There it is’ was incredibly uplifting and motivating. Even though this genre of music would probably not be traditionally labelled running music, I really embrace listening to it on my longer runs. The words alone help me lift my head up and pick up my pace. The music is hypnotic and I feel that I slip into the ‘zone’ effortlessly.

There are such mixed views on listening to music when running. At a local five mile race I recently ran, along a coastal trail path far from traffic or even other non-running people, the entry form informed runners that anyone wearing headphones would be instantly disqualified, as more and more races are now doing. Safety whilst out running has always got to be your priority, even more so for women running alone; however, surely there are times when music and running form a perfect symbiosis. Those long runs when the sun is shining and music of your chosen variety helps transport you away from your tiredness from the night before, heavy limbs that will not comply with the messages sent through your neural pathways, or the mental confusion and chaos that our incredibly hectic lives often breeds.

I don’t like people telling me what to do, who does as an adult, yet I can understand that in road races where the roads aren’t closed and traffic may pose a safety threat, that abiding by a common-sense rule of no headphones is obviously beneficial. Yet, come those runs where I have the time to wander down tracks, along a canal, over fields or up rambling hills, I choose music! When you’ve finished your run, you are washed and stretched, it feels that both you and the artist have shared the running journey.

Jo Hamilton told me after the BBC performance that she also loves to run, especially off-road in her homeland Scotland. Jo, unlike most of us, has her own orchestra, vocals and lyrics floating around in her head when she heads out cross-country. For me, Jo’s music, is a gift that makes a great run almost perfect.

Secret romance…

noo noo girl running for David

I am a married mother of two children, who finds a delicate balance between work, family and personal commitments as I pass through this rich and beautiful journey called life. I know I am, and to know is a blessing. And another thing I know is that running is good for the soul, the mind and the body. But no-one could ever explain to you how the diversions that you encounter on a twice weekly basis can turn you into one of those approaching-middle-age-forty-somethings who suddenly feels a slight flutter of the heart or flicker of the eyelashes when a group of fit men surround you on your jog out to the beach.

There is no way, NO WAY, I would even consider any type of flirtation (however small) with these wonderfully fit men due to the above, but no-one could have prepared me for feeling so uplifted by the ‘other’ men in my life. I pretend that I am not so over-worked, over-stretched (mentally, physically and emotionally) and so over-tired, that frolicking in the bedroom is something to be avoided at all costs as it will a) use up energy I just don’t have, b) mean I have to stay up later which I have given up doing due to hideous 05:30am alarm calls from child number two for the last four years, and c) mean I would have to form coherent speech at a time of day (either end of the day is a no-go, post-natal war zone that I inhibit alone. Step into my zone and I will shoot you dead). Two young children doesn’t seem to equal a healthy sex life.

And yet there is this wonderful 7pm hour where I feel refreshed, re-invigorated, and, without seeming too strange, voyeuristically romantic towards this herd of men that protect me from the wind and shout: “Hole!” back to me so I prevent injury to my delicate ankles. I feel like a Rapunzel surrounded by many princes, even though there is a good chance that I may have snot running from my nose, or spit caught on my arm. I focus on the cadence of our feet and inhale their manly smell and feel DIFFERENT. No fighting over the toilet or bickering over the TV channel on our club sessions for me to referee or defuse.

Surely more women would join a running club if they realised that no-one wants to talk to you about children, what time they went to bed, woke up, what they eat, how they answered you back, argued constantly (with each other and you), whether you’ve got your housework done, how you are going to fit in cooking tea, homework, activities and showers, then finish off the work you should have sent off two days ago. Our club is a positive hotbed of gossip, relationships ending (running away from stale pasts and into fitter, happier futures), new relationships budding (who could be a more perfect partner than one who doesn’t mind five pairs of trainers by the back door and a laundry basket heaving with sweaty black lycra?) and friendships with people who are like-minded, open-minded, seeking challenges and experiences and are happy on the road – or pavement.

Of course, whether we believe it of not, there is the secret romance that we allow to germinate, which we water with breathless laughter along coastal paths, and nurture with a genuine kiss on the cheek after the New Year’s Day hair-of-the-dog run. The objects of our desire will never know our feelings, as they, too, are happily married parents of two (or one or three) children, who also find a delicate balance between work, family and personal commitments as they pass through their rich and beautiful journey called life. And so the silent dance of lesser loves, with the ‘other’ men, or women, is carried on through the seasons, in full tights or short shorts, on cross-country paths or road races. It truly is a beautiful spectacle to behold. Next time someone praises you on your running performance take a millisecond to look deeply into their eyes; they may be trying to tell you something more…

 

Self-inflicted pain

noo noo girl running for David

Please don’t share this with anyone, but I have done something truly awful; I can only partake this information in the strictest confidence. I feel like such a fool. Thinking, and feeling, like I was becoming somewhat ‘used’ to my running, and accordingly believing I had improved considerably from my early running fitness, I decided to go for a long run this week. Hard to believe as our skies are pumping out biblical levels of flaccid post-winter rain, but the sun was blasting out early spring heat and it just lured me on and on, until before I knew it I had run quite a few miles further than I had expected.

In fact five miles more than I have ever run! Carried away I truly was, but with my face freckling with every step, the birds singing to me that I could run as far as I wished and the track hard under foot springing me forever forward, I literally found that for the first time I couldn’t stop myself. I did feel like I had pushed my body maybe a little too far, signalled by a background feeling of nausea for the rest of the day. But the endorphins were pumping in every cell of my body. That’s when I fell down. That evening I felt great. Well kind of, in a ‘I’m completely exhausted but have pushed myself further than I thought I could so feel quite impressed’ way. The day was a normal one in that by the time I had forced my children to bed I felt in need of a sedative, and all I could hear was Mr Red Wine calling my name.

One became two, which tipped into three (purely medicinal, to help me sleep…) glasses, and my Friday evening slipped away until I was cosily asleep, seemingly exhausted, but content. Saturday morning however was pay back. I woke up, was sick (only once, so surely it was a bug or something I had eaten…hmmm) and then spent two days in bed. I am sure I had a bug as they fly around our house as frequently as EasyJet fly from Gatwick, but after 24 hours of bed-confinement-torture I started thinking a hideous thought: ‘Did I do this to myself?’ This spiralled into: ‘Maybe I ran too far, and on top of being exhausted, a few (medicinal) glasses of wine was simply too much for my body to cope with,’ and culminating in horror with: ‘I think I have just made myself ill by being a complete idiot.’ With an extra day in bed to fully contemplate what I had done, my stomach churning like a ferry on the English Channel, I vowed to be kinder to myself, restrict my running limits and learn to put my relationship with red wine on hold post intense exercise.

Running has surreptitiously become incredibly important to me; it feels like it has become my salvation. When family or work pressures are building and I am ready to blow out hot air, running is a safety valve. Thoughts, plans, frustrations, ideas; they all settle when I am out running. I almost feel the physical benefit of my placing one foot in front of the other in a rather fast fashion provides me with a form of spiritual peace. So, tip-toeing along the path of my running journey, I feel there are some issues I need to sort out. What do I want to do more; run, run well and run faster in order to feel happy within, or, use a very tasty but perhaps not as beneficial stimulant that certainly does help me relax, but leaves me with a dry mouth, frequent headache and grumpy outlook? My willpower is strong, I believe, but it’s Friday nights where my mettle will be tested. And how the hell will I survive the holidays?

Learning new control

 

noo noo girl running for David

I am truly loving my running. I can now jog along quite happily, with different parts of my body bouncing at different speeds. My running buddies from my club are already talking about my entering a race – a short one mind you, ‘just to get me used to running at a threshold pace for a bit longer’. The different paces members of the club run and train at confused me for a while, but as I begin to understand their terminology a whole new dimension to my life is gently opening up, just like the delicate crocuses that have dared to peep out of the frozen British soil. Mental stimulation as well as mental challenges are both something I associate with the pre-children ‘me’. Juggling, emptying, entertaining, taxiing, washing, nurturing and educating my children require a finite amount of skill plus an ordering of the mind and each and every day of our lives; it doesn’t require me to really push myself to new limits.

I have a feeling running may fill this lonely space in my self that wishes to be roused into life. This I am happy about, despite of the physical challenge that is probably the easier of the two at the moment. One thing that has shocked me is the (unbeknownst to me) terrible state of my pelvic floor muscles. Despite diligently working my pelvic floor post childbirth the first time round, I was too overwhelmed the second time to even think, or care, about damage limitation on this wonderful sling of muscles that are so vital (your pelvic floor muscles are the broad sling of muscles which stretch between your legs, extending from the pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the rear. Their function in life is to hold your delicate bits in place). Hence, after jogging gently during out warm-up to a stretch of grass to run some 400 metre sprints, I was horrified whilst completing a mini-circuit with super-star jumps that I temporarily had no control of my bladder – in front of 25 other runners. Forwards movement isn’t a problem; jumping up and down has suddenly become something I fear.

This has helped me understand why many women, post-childbirth, are put off from exercising. Luckily, running doesn’t seem to effect my bladder control at all, and after mentioning on the way back from our session to another lady how embarrassed I had felt, she informed me that it is never too late to work your pelvic floor! It seems I am not alone; when she informed me she had once wet herself whilst running a race (“It was OK, it was raining and I was wearing black running tights.”) we both giggled (beware: too much of this whilst running can also lead to little ‘accidents’); I am now practising holding my pelvic floor at my desk, whilst I watch my children during their swimming lessons, even when cooking dinner. All women with a similar dilemma: exercising your pelvic floor muscles can make a difference and can lead to dramatic improvement within a few weeks. Please note: this could have the added bonus of improving your sex life! Running really has taught me so much about my body.

 

A fit woman is a powerful woman

noo noo girl running for David

I know a woman. She’s had a tough few years. Life hasn’t been that kind to her. She’s had quite a few issues to face, and she will be the first to admit she hasn’t always coped with her problems all that well. Don’t get me wrong; she is one feisty individual, and if you were ever (heaven forbid) in some kind of fight, you would want her on your side. Once, years ago now, there was an incident where I live. Someone threatened me, and when you’ve never been threatened before it can feel very scary. This woman said to me: ‘If you are ever threatened again I am going to punch that person.’ I don’t advocate violence, of any type, even if the perpetrator feels justified in solving a problem in this particular way. But I felt protected, knowing that someone was willing to stand up for me, even defend me if they had to. Up until that point in my life, no-one had ever done that for me (and perhaps a few people really should have).

We all know her type; one minute they are up and you are there with them, tagging along like the tail of a kite bobbing in the sky. Before you know it, they have plummeted into the doldrums, and are crashing about, like a grumpy child who cannot get their way. For years I thought, no, I knew that the one way this woman could control her moods and her angst would be to go for a run. I mentioned it a few times, and even tried to arrange for us to go out for a run together. It just didn’t happen; life was always busy and the weeks would disappear before we got round to going. Yet that thought, that maybe some form of intense, energy-fuelled exercise could be cathartic to her, remained, kicking around in my mind.

For this woman the struggles of life are buried deep within her. Her father left when she was only a little girl, and decided to live as far away as you can on the planet, before you start travelling back to where you started from. I don’t think she has ever come to terms with this feeling of abandonment.

Then the time came – and it always does, doesn’t it? The right time to do something to really try and help someone help themselves. However much we, or others, think we know when it’s best to try something, stop doing something, or even wait for the ‘something’ in question to come along, you just can’t force life.

I admit, looking back, that I myself was too busy for years to really help this woman as much as I could have. Half-hearted tries don’t really stand up to the brutal filter of reflective hindsight. She was experiencing some degree of conflict in life; with her family and her friends. Really, she needed someone to step into her life and help her sort out the problems she found too big to contemplate, let alone solve. I can even remember her saying to me once: ‘It’s so hard being in the middle all the time.’ That was when I came up with a plan.

I waited until a weekend then pounced on her. ‘Let’s go out for a run,’ I suggested in as casual a manner as I could conjure up. ‘I don’t want to, and my trainers are rubbish. I’ll be useless,’ she replied.

‘Come on,’ I insisted. ‘It will be fun!’ (I felt a little unsure about saying this knowing how fiery she can be if she has to do ANYTHING she doesn’t like.)

We almost ended up having a bit of an argument, me saying it will be fine, her saying, I’m just not sure. She didn’t have any running kit, just a pair of old leggings and a t-shirt. ‘You don’t need anything,’ I insisted, ‘just your trainers.’ And then we were off, jogging along the pavement, taking it slow, seeing if she enjoyed it, not really talking or thinking about anything. It was a very simple achievement and lasted for less than 10 minutes. We both liked it, and, more importantly, we both gave it another go together. The second, third and fourth times there weren’t any huffing under her breath. ‘You know,’ I thought to myself, ‘I think she is liking this running thing.’

That was last Easter, nearly a year ago, and this woman now runs twice a week. She joined a club. She’s even done a few races. We still try and run together, when time allows. She still says she’s rubbish, but really she’s not. She’s now in control of her life just a little bit more than she was before. She knows that when she’s having a bad day she can lace up her trainers, go for a run, and after, she says, she feels so much better.

This woman is my daughter. She is 11-years-old. She is a little woman. Put a pair of trainers in her hand and she has become a powerful woman.