Tag Archives: fitness

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.

 

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.

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!