Tag Archives: running humour

Trapped! My running nomansland

noo noo girl running for David

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Living with 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.

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!

A world of hope

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret romance…

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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

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

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

 

Learning new control

 

noo noo girl running for David

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

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

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