Tag Archives: motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything is possible, if you believe in yourself

Anything is possible, if you believe in yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

A really tough race, the Killarney Adventure Race in Ireland

A really tough race, the Killarney Adventure Race in Ireland

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

My first marathon, Shakespeare

My first marathon, Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Half marathons abroad

Just how far are you willing to go for a half marathon?
Are you sick of doing the same old races? Would this year see you celebrating your 17th running of the Bumbleton Half? Then it’s time to think about breaking out of the old routine – and considering an overseas half marathon.

There’s definitely something to be learnt from the phrase “a change is as good as a rest”. Looking further afield than the next postcode for your next half marathon race could see you stepping on a plane to an exotic clime, combining a well-earned holiday with some foreign racing or even going to that romantic city you always dreamt about.

‘I did the Jamaica Half Marathon (baby sister to the Reggae Marathon) in 2013 and it was absolutely worth it,’ says Rachel Leach. ‘I had a week of relaxing before the big day, enjoyed the pasta party the night before, then ran the half on the middle Saturday of my holiday. The race was incredible. It started at 5.15am with a torchlight parade; there were steel drums along the route and fabulous support from the locals. At the finish you got a beer, fresh coconut milk and a dip in the ocean.’

‘To say it was pretty warm while running would be an understatement, but this was part of the experience,’ adds Rachel. ‘After the run we had a week of properly letting our hair down (in a lovely all-inclusive resort!), and did lots of touristy things too. It’s one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. We decided to run this because of the marathon initially, but as it turned out a couple of us did the half and a couple did the marathon, but I think that even if we had all done the half we would still be recommending the experience.’

Hopping across the Channel
I myself had a look at the Paris Half Marathon on the Internet and thought, OK, I want to try this. Marathons require a lot of training and so much can go wrong (and often does for me!) before race day. Fitting in a cheeky half abroad, however, as part of a fluid marathon training schedule seemed very appealing. With a record 35,314 other participants, including a host of UK club vests spotted en route, other Brits obviously had the same idea. Unlike a marathon you feel like you are part of some crazy charge to take in a city’s history and culture without inflicting those microscopic muscle tears that a full marathon entails, and you can walk away at the end pain-free!

Run for fun
If you are goal driven, and are wondering what should come next on your running calendar, a half may pull you through training without those daunting feelings of “how am I ever going to do this”. This year Sarah Booker has decided to run in the Riga Half Marathon purely for fun. ‘Every year my company promotes a half marathon for the staff that want to run. It’s always somewhere interesting but this is the first year I’ll be taking part,’ she says. ‘It’s not been too expensive – about £160 per person including flights, accommodation and entry.

IMG_8033

For Sarah, knowing she is taking part in an organised trip means fewer worries regarding navigating a new country or negotiating the language barrier. ‘I’ve not been to Latvia before and we’re going to use the opportunity to explore Riga and try some of the local food – not before the race though!

‘I’m looking forward to doing the half marathon as there’s not so much pressure for me as doing a full marathon. There will be less training involved and I’ll be able to relax more as this will be a run for fun, not for a PB as I’ll have tackled the Thames Path 100 miler two weeks previously!’ she states.

Is there a pattern emerging? Perhaps planning or organising or targeting a big city half becomes more attainable when you place your race within a holiday. This will instantly make it seem less expensive, and you never know, just like Rachel’s Jamaica Half, it may add extra to that holiday experience creating lifelong memories.

‘I’m always open to running outside the UK,’ says Sarah, ‘and will certainly be keeping an eye out for more races in the future. My running friends love the idea of destination races; one has just come back from completing Malta Half Marathon, another is doing Ironman Japan and another good friend is flying out to Mallorca in May to do a Half Ironman.

‘I’ve also got into the habit of planning races into UK holidays too. It’s brilliant, I ask my husband if he wants a holiday then mention offhand that there’s a race in the middle of it. He’s wising up now though and has started asking why I’ve suggested a particular destination!’

Hop over the Channel to do the Paris Half
Hotel: Best Western Allegro Nation Paris, £120 per night for a double (www.hotelallegroparis.com)

Eurostar: Prices start from £69 return (www.eurostart.com)

Race entry: 49 Euros (you may have to pay extra for mandatory medical certificates)

www.semideparis.com

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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!