Tag Archives: female runners

Man, I slew you!

Ultra running novice Francesca Eyre took on the Manaslu Trail Race in Nepal, a multi-day 220K race, and ended up finishing fourth female

After watching her sister, then brother, die of cystic fibrosis (CF), Francesca Eyres, 44, was determined to find a natural remedy when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010.

2008 and 2009 had been tough years for Francesca. ‘My brother Nick had been very ill due to suffering from CF since birth. Whilst he was waiting for a heart and lung transplant he passed away in March 2009. Our business partner was also very ill and died with me by her side in December 2009. Then the banking crisis hit and we were in a tough financial position with our business.’ Francesca runs a ski chalet hotel in the French Alps with her husband Paul.

Francesca’s body broke down. ‘I started suffering chronic back pain – I couldn’t even put on my trousers in the morning. Then a growth was found on my thyroid, which had to be treated with radioactive treatment, and finally I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2010.

‘I left the clinic that day and have never been back. I looked into a more natural approach to coping with my diagnosis, as I didn’t want to go on medication, and so I changed my diet. I stopped drinking alcohol, came off gluten and dairy and stopped eating inflammatory foods such as potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines. I cut down my meat intake and eliminated caffeine.

Rediscovering my running

‘I had started running when my youngest child, Jamie was a baby, ten years ago. With three children and a hotel to run, I needed some headspace. To make sure I trained I entered a 10K race; I had never done any competitive sports prior to this and I was amazed at the buzz at the race.’

The other massive change Francesca’s diagnosis bought about was deciding to live life to the full and do as much sport as she could, while she could. ‘I needed to add more challenges into my life,’ she says. ‘Running helped my stress levels but hurt my joints too much, so I started trail running. There is nothing more beautiful or more humbling than reaching a summit; running up the mountains meant I could get further, faster!’

During the winter it’s impossible to run in the Alps, so Francesca took up ski touring, where you use skis to run up a mountain. ‘The first ski randonée race I ever did was the Montée du Crot – an 800m run up the mountain over a 4K distance from just outside our house to the centre of Avoriaz. It took the world champion 24 minutes and me nearly an hour.

‘I decided my next big challenge would be the 70K Classic Quarter Cornish Coastal Trail (www.endurancelife.com), in June last year. Even though I had never run a marathon, I smiled the whole way round; the scenery, the people, the terrain was all incredible and when I reached the finish line as the ninth woman, I knew that I had to challenge myself to something even tougher and harder!’

Subhead: I do because I can

Francesca’s motto is “I do because I can”. Feeling fit after her first ultra she wanted to find a race that would give her two points towards the three you need to enter the CCC race (part of UTMB trail race that takes place in Chamonix in August). ‘To gain your three points you have to run in at least two ultra marathons. I scoured the Internet and found the Manaslu Trail Race in Nepal (http://manaslutrailrace.org). This, I decided, would be my next race.’

_MG_8740manaslu trail race

‘It was really hard to find the time to train but a race organiser suggested little and often,’ says Francesca. ‘I tried to run at least 40-80K per week, which doesn’t sound like a lot but 10K over the mountains takes me an hour and a half, depending on the vertical ascent. I entered into a couple of 22K trail races and also did a small amount of road cycling to cross-train and avoid injury.

‘As a woman, mother and someone who has her own business, I put so much pressure on myself re training and I have to remind myself that I’m doing this out of choice. You have to not pressure yourself into thinking that you are a highly tuned athlete whose living depends on it.’

Francesca insists she is just a mum of three that has a competitive spirit and runs the best she can. ‘I have very good endurance, above speed, so if the views are beautiful around me, I am very happy to keep on plodding. I always look around and appreciate how beautiful everything is. I also realised that it is impossible to run the whole distance and that most ultra runners walk up the hills, over a certain distance and incline.’

Feeling petrified!

During the briefing for the race Francesca got to meet the other runners, including many elite athletes. ‘We all stood up to give a short talk about ourselves and the races we had competed in; I told everyone that I was absolutely petrified and wondered what on earth I was doing entering a race like this! I’m 44 and have a business and three kids – what was I thinking?!’

Yet Francesca went on to finish fourth female, and 17th overall (behind Holly Rush in second, in 20.52.48, who represents Great Britain and ran in the Commonwealth Games) in a time of 26.26.08. ‘And through this adventure I raised £6204.56 for cystic fibrosis,’ she says very proudly.

‘Next I’m going to do the UTB (http://www.ultratour-beaufortain.fr) in June, a 104K race with 6400m of ascent. Am I completely and utterly nuts?’

A very inspiring mum of three with a competitive spirit who just runs the best she can.

 _MG_8988manaslu trail race

How tough can it get?

‘The toughest parts for me were running 46K in the heat with a lot of ascending (day 2) and our “rest day” (day 7), a 21K trek up to 4998m to have a picnic on the Tibetan boarder. I had a chest infection and was really shattered that day but knew it was a “one off” that will probably never be repeated, so a must do.  I had also promised a very spiritual friend of mine that I would collect a stone for her from the boarder and promises are promises!  It was worth every step as the views into Tibet were breathtaking.’

 What is the Manaslu Trail Race?

This is a 220K race around the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8163m. You ascend over 15000m, the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest twice. The highest ascent is 5200m. ‘The first stage was 28K; a long slow gentle climb of around 1026m,’ says Francesca. ‘Stage 2 takes in 46.4km with 2156m ascent. Expect 29.6K and 1954m in elevation on Stage 3. Stage 4 involves 24.8K with 1396m ascents, Stage 5 is 30K and Stage 6 is another 12K with 727m ascent. A rest day is followed by two further stages of 22K and 31K.’

_MG_8754manaslu trail race

 

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.

The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race

noo noo girl running for David

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve not been completely honest with you….

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapped! My running nomansland

noo noo girl running for David

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Seen any green ogres out running recently?

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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

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

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

Living with the curse…

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?

Who am I?

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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

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

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

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.