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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.

Too busy to train? You are not alone!

noo noo girl running for David

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

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.

 

Living with the curse…

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…

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?

Full of the joys of spring

noo noo girl running for David

 

If you’ve watched the film Contagion, based on the premise that if you have a virulent enough set of germs, one per cent of the world’s population (70 million people) may be doomed, it can make you realise how dodging germs is a serious business. More so in a household where children exist. Life can be divided into two distinct periods of germ dodging; pre and post children. Pre children is a simple (and naïve) existence. Exposure to the normal round of germs leads to normal illnesses, recovery and a return to exposure and dodging of other ‘normal’ germs. Children mark the end of this naïve phase, when the normal illnesses are slowly replaced by a host of curious, hitherto unknown health problems: thread worm, head lice, those particularly clever and sadistic germs that produce projectile vomiting.

When I first spotted a head lice jumping around happily in the hair of my oldest child I grabbed it and threw it on the floor in disgust. It was just like that Alien moment when Sigourney Weaver’s character commands the alien mother, hunting down a small girl child, to: “Get off of her YOU BITCH!” Although I lacked the itinerary of weapons to defend myself against alien invasion, I quickly learnt that frequent (expensive) trips to the chemist would now be needed, over a number of years, to wage war against these new visitors to our lives. And so it began. Years of hair checking on a Sunday night, as well cleaning up of various bodily fluids leaves you on permanent alert for the next onslaught. Then, two years of quiet. The children joyfully, unknowingly, brought their new friends to our house, but my body didn’t join the party. Natural immunity, I considered, may have sprung up cunningly along my DNA threads. Two cycles of chest infections, winter vomiting bug and other nasties came and went and I stood standing, not unlike a lone victor in a worthless war.

Yet, this winter we have endured unending cold, and the bugs were assembling, biding their time. The busy Christmas period had me, despite being on full alert for mid-night vomiting episodes or vicious tummy bugs, feeling victorious, even blasé. Then in February I succumbed with a brief period of sore throat, which turned into a fever and crescendoed in a chest infection. For weeks I was unable to exercise, and during this down time I realised that I am a yo-yo exerciser. I get fit, gain some speed, then something will get in the way and I wont get to running for weeks, after which I have to go through the whole process again.

The scary thing is that there are few like me in my club. There are lots of punishers – the types that will push themselves on their 10-mile ‘recovery’ run on a Monday, despite eight consecutive weeks of plus 15-mile runs on Sundays. There are the socialites who always turn up, run the same speed, returning home happy and content. There are the competitives, who train hard, train harder in secret, don’t know what a steady run means, and approach each race like the Olympic Games. The consistents would also never miss a session. They maintain a good standard but realise always being competitive is either a) no longer possible, or b) boring. These special runners neither seek glory nor flattery (they are perhaps the most special club members, to stick with and aim for?). But there are no other yo-yoers. I stand alone.

When my energy is tunnelling through to the southern hemisphere, other runners bounce back from injury, illness, operations, catastrophe. As toxic thoughts of never being able to return to former fitness linger as long as my stubborn germs, I sit and watch other club members pushing themselves as one of our weekly sessions passes my window. I imagine two weeks will be enough to get back to running, but this always turns to four, and sometimes six. It already feels as if a season has almost passed since I last ran, but in truth its little more than a month.

I now have to make my return to running (which will be painfully slow) and to club (where I will be at the back again). Having done this many times I know the process and have to once again embrace the upward journey from feeling like a beginner, to regaining some fitness, to working on speed. If I can just return to this final phase, no germs will be able to catch me, surely.

 

Your dream holiday awaits!

noo noo girl running for David

7.5 ways to get a dream holiday abroad…

The sun is shining, and everything, EVERYTHING, is going well. Yet before you know it, summer slips away, and, well, we all know what awaits us later in the year. And I’m not talking about a champagne breakfast on Christmas Day. Do not fear, I have a plan to make a dream, winter running holiday come true. Just for you.

1. If you saved £50 a month for Xmas presents for the whole year, then told the family that while you were out shopping someone mugged you and stole your purse with the money in; that gives you your first serious chunk towards achieving your dream. Total earning potential: we are talking at least £600!

2. Take all your kids’ toys that measure more than 50cm square, that you/others spent lots of money on and which they have never appreciated and sell them either (in order of possible profit) on eBay, at a garage sale or car boot. Make sure family is not around when you undertake this initiative. Imperative – do not give notice of this to anyone. Suggested: car boot in next town/village/area to prevent possible backlash. If challenged on this one, feign complete ignorance or blame the toy fairy. Potential income? £100.

3. I do not recommend this at all, but some people may well consider this an option. You know your partner has at least three (four, five, or more…) bikes in the garage and shed. In fact so many that you can neither a) get to the tumble dryer all winter or b) get your own bikes out for the daily school run without having to manoeuvre past at least one of these bikes, potentially causing a back injury that could jeopardise your whole running career. Well, if one of these went missing, surely no one would notice? Ah-hum. (Officer it must have been a burglar…) If you don’t tell anyone, neither will I. Potential income? Got to be at least a couple of hundred, easy.

4. For a small, and incredibly reasonable fee, offer to be the driver to all major running events that your club attends for at least a year. If you charge a nominal fee of just £25 per event, both you and your club are on to a winner. You could drive the minibus down to the London Marathon, the car that takes competitors all round a multi-stage, day-long event, even offer to drive at the annual awards night. Come on, if everyone chipped in just £2 each, every time, you would be offering a platinum service at Lidl-style prices. Potential income? £100.

5. Set up a book club. A book club you ask? Yes, a book club! This is one of your more ingenious options. Whether at work, at college, on the playground, whichever universe you inhabit your sole aim will become to convince at least 20 friends, family or acquaintances (even strangers) to join. Create a list of books, then buy them second-hand from AMAZON (for 1p a piece plus about £2:80ish in postage) then sell on to unsuspecting members for full jacket price. You may need to invest in some Tip-Ex and scissors to remove any incriminating ‘Library Copy’ evidence. Twenty times about £3 profit per meeting, every six weeks: total earning potential over one year: £520. (A word of advice – don’t become greedy; once you try and hold the book club every other day, someone may cotton on. Believe me, I know.)

6. By now you are getting desperate. You will do anything to help you achieve your dream. You are going to now need some cunning, and maybe a tiny touch of deception. You need to buy one of those £1 buckets from the, er, £1 shop. Paste upon it a label with very big letters ‘FUNDRAISING FOR THE 2020 OLYMPICS’. Then in very, very, very small (in fact so small that only an owl could read it) letters write underneath: ‘My fund to make my dream come true’. Again, this can be taken to work, to the playground, to the pub, to someone’s house when you go for dinner; where you get your bucket out is entirely up to you. But the more you get out the bucket, the more likely your running holiday is going to become. If anyone asks who the money is for, just say a local athlete who you are sponsoring. What? It’s true, isn’t it? OK… your chances of making any Olympics in your 40s are slight, but we all gotta dream, right? Earning potential: £80-£100 (depending on how long it takes for your spoof athlete to be un-spoofed).

7. Now the crunch: how low are you prepared to go to make that one dream, that one hope, become reality? If you really have left your morals and reservations at the beginners’ course you recently finished, this one is for you. Are you willing to prostitute yourself? No you cry! Well, I’m sorry, but sometimes a woman has to offer the only services she has. Start with ironing… I know, I know, it’s an unbearable sacrifice to even think about, let alone do, but in the words of Dolly, ‘Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman…’ If you can keep this up, you could try diverging into oven cleaning, and if you don’t lose the will to live within a few weeks, there’s even full-time cleaning. Why would anyone ever want to sell their soul in such a hideous manner you ask? Kid, if you want that dream to happen, you just have to lower your standards. Goddamit, some women have to do this to make a living, bless their souls. No child would ever think that when they are grown up they are going to have to do this to survive in this life. Still, one to two cleaning/housework-er-ly jobs per week in your local area, and over the year you will be bringing home £2000 plus. You may hate yourself but think of your cardio-vascular fitness.

The .5? I would never, ever, ever do this, but…Advise all children that it is a fantastic idea for them to ask for cash for their birthday and Christmas presents – from everyone! Two major money-making opportunities per year, and depending on how far you went for humanity, this could be up to six lots of, say, £50 over the year. Total earning potential: £300. Hold on a minute you cry, how do we ‘take’ our children’s money to fund our running holiday? Refer to point 1. (Well, if it works, use it).

So there you have it, there’s an easy £3,500 or so for you to spend on your dream running holiday. Now comes the difficult part, do you choose Club la Santa, La Manga Club, the wonderful French Alps (check out www.chillipowder.com) the French Riviera or the Spanish coastline….so many choices…

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.

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…