Emma is a therapist, comics nerd and mother of two in her early 40’s. She started running when her oldest child was about 18 months and the need to be healthy became about more than just her. It was basically an existential crisis about staying alive for her kids. OR possibly she just felt really fat and sluggish and needed to do something that got her out of the house for an hour on her own before she completely lost her sh*t. Definitely one of those two things. Now the kids are older, running is her social life, her therapy and the one thing that she never feels guilty about doing for herself. 6 years after first putting on those running shoes and walk-running around Oxford University Parks she has done several half marathons and 10 mile races and recently completed her first full marathon.

Post Marathon Blues

Post Marathon Blues

I seem to have inadvertently started a series of blog posts about things that are a thing, that I didn’t know were a thing, but definitely are. See also taper madness and recovery runs. I grudgingly admit now, that recovery runs are actually a thing. But for a long time I denied this.  I think sometimes when you’re surrounded by friends that run, and some friends that run A LOT, your view on things (like how it’s not reaaallly that common to run marathons – we are the 1% yo!) can get skewed. One of my running club buddies is in the 100 marathon club, at least - I think he’s probably approaching the flipping thousand marathon club soon – ANYWAY he once did a marathon and then turned up at a local club race that evening for his recovery run. I mean seriously, that’s flipping mental even by most runners’ standards, to do the 26.2 and then go out and do a four- mile race that evening.  But I’m going very off topic now, this isn’t about recovery runs and whether they are a very silly idea, or absolute necessity – this is about something that I didn’t realise was a thing, which is post marathon comedown. 

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon, or lived with someone who is training for a marathon, knows that it pretty much takes over your life for a few months. All that training and obsessing over shoes and niggles and nutrition and the huge amounts of anticipation in the build-up to the actual race. And then you go out and do the marathon, and dig deep into reserves of strength and energy you didn’t know you had, and it’s genuinely life changing. And you get your medal and your t-shirt (don’t even talk to me about the fact that the Brighton 2018 t-shirt says ‘competitor’ not ‘finisher’. I mean seriously, don’t talk to me about it, it’s been three weeks and I’m still very much NOT over it). And you’re on a high for a bit (whilst also crawling up the stairs like a demented crab). You’ve collected the charity money and told the hire-car man “I JUST RAN A MARATHON” and put your medal on to get out of the car to use the loo at the services, because everybody needs to know that you JUST RAN A MARATHON (I may or may not have done both of those things after marathons number one and three…). But then... but then… then what? It’s over. You’ve done it.

And I don’t know about you but for me there came a period of MASSIVE, CRASHING anti-climax… All that build-up and focus for months and then suddenly it’s not there anymore. And that can be a bit rough and depressing. One of my training buddies misses the structure marathon training gives his life. I definitely get that; it feels weird not knowing exactly what run you’re going to do when, and basically planning your week/weekend around the long run.

Then there’s the actual “not running” – missing the endorphins and the high that you get from that. If it’s your first marathon, you might also miss the high you get from getting a distance PB every week or fortnight. The high from realising that you’ve just run further than you ever ran before. Or the most miles in a week or something. The realisation that you’re capable of running 45 miles in a week. 

Added to that, there can be body image stuff too which can be tough. During marathon training I can (and do) EAT and eat and eat, and generally if not actually lose weight I can maintain a certain weight and not particularly worry about it. But post marathon it can be hard to stop eating the amounts you’ve been used to. Suddenly there’s a bit of a worry, which I WISH wasn’t there, but it still is, that I’m going to gain a huge amount of weight. Plus the other thing I’ve noticed that happens immediately post marathon is that I tend to get whatever cold my little plague-carrier darling children have picked up at nursery/school and my skin goes to absolute shite. So I’m definitely not feeling particularly attractive right now, which can make me feel a bit rubbish. 

Another thing that happens to me is REALLY missing my training buddies! All that training, all those long hours pounding the pavements with the same friends, really bonds you. I’ve spoken about this before in previous blogs, but there’s something about going on a long run with people that frees you up to talk in a way that can be rare in other circumstances. You get very, very close to your training buddies. Some of my absolute best friends in the world are the people I do my long runs and track and Thursday-night club sessions with. You see them two or three times a week and get to know each other really well. And then maybe you don’t see as much of them for the two-week taper, then this huge (possibly life-changing event), and then suddenly it’s all over and you don’t see them for two weeks while you’re recovering…  Unless you replace the training with drinking sessions, but most of us are too busy catching up with our families and making up for all that time spent away from home to be able to do that. 

So for all of these reasons it can be a crashing comedown.  I’ve said before that running a marathon can be like giving birth (mainly in that you forget the pain of it and sign up for another one pretty quickly afterwards – the marathon that is, not the baby… this is getting confusing, but you do also forget the pain of childbirth and some of us have another one much quicker than the first one… the difference for me is that I KNEW I was done after two babies. And have now done three marathons) ANYway… perhaps the post marathon come down is like a bit of baby blues. Not full on Post Natal Depression, of which I would never make light, but just that you’re knackered and feeling down, even though you’re proud of yourself and your achievement. 

Some people do suffer from this REALLY badly though. I’m thinking of one person I know who should be SO proud of themselves, but didn’t enjoy their first marathon at all, and is now seriously considering giving up running. Which I think would be a huge shame. So be kind to yourself in this time. Don’t do anything rash like swearing off running, or conversely signing up for a 100 mile ultra. 

The plus side is that you get to spend time with the people that you DIDN’T see while you were obsessing over the marathon, non-runner friends and family (yes, I do have non-running friends, although obviously my aim as an obsessive running evangelist is to try to turn all of those people into running friends. Not my husband, however, because he’s knackered his knees playing football, and also if he takes up running who would look after the kids? And I really don’t need him to get better at it than me, that would be no good at all… but I digress).  You should, in theory, have a bit more energy, and be able to go for a drink on a Saturday night without worrying about your long run the next day. At the beginning of my training for my last marathon, I turned down drinks with my PTA whatsapp group and one of my friends wryly said, “Oh. Marathon wanker Emma is back, is she? See you in six months; don’t expect us to save you any wine”.  So that’s nice. I can get wasted with the other irresponsible PTA mums and end up doing shots at the bar when we should REALLY know better. 

You can take a bit of time out to just enjoy running again without any pressure too. Maybe plan your next training block or focus on shorter races. My aim currently is to properly address the niggly hip issue that I had throughout the winter and do some strength training to sort that out. 

And then… what next? After my first two marathons I signed up for the next one within two weeks, because that is another danger of post marathon comedown: going crazy signing up for other races! The only reason I didn’t do that exact same thing for the third one was because I’d already signed up for the fourth marathon before I’d even run the bloody thing. Actually this may sound nuts, but it was a bit of a lifesaver. My third marathon did NOT go according to plan, so knowing I had the fourth one already planned in meant that I didn’t feel quite so low about it. And I’m going to kick that fourth marathon’s ARSE. Yes I am. 

How to mentally prepare for a marathon

Mentally preparing for a marathon

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon

This is something of a follow-on piece from my last blog post, about how I didn’t get my mental game right for my last marathon. This made me think about what we could/should do to mentally train as well as physically.  I genuinely have no regrets about that race now. Maybe I needed to have that one really bad race to learn from that experience, and in my future as a coach I think it will be an invaluable lesson. Sometimes things go wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it. But you can put some strategies in place to fend off your mental game ruining your race completely. So here’s my take on some things you CAN do to prepare yourself for that mental battle. 

I’m kind of dedicating this to three of my friends who are going to do Milton Keynes marathon in a couple of weeks. For two, Sean and Helen, this is their first marathon (I suspect not their last; they are both awesome runners) and Geraldine, whom you may remember as little G whom I trained and partially ran the first Brighton with. She is an AMAZING person and got through that marathon even though she collapsed vomiting from over-hydration and some poor naïve paramedics tried to get her into an ambulance. She was having none of it and completed that flipping marathon. Now Geraldine is one of the runners I admire more than anyone. She’s not fast – neither of us are – but she’s got more grit and guts than most people I know. She doesn’t even know it either; she’s forever putting herself down, and I have to threaten to slap her quite a lot (I never actually have slapped her, I’m not that mean). Helen is the same way – she doesn’t know how strong and awesome she is – and Sean is super calm and laid back. I find him very calming to run with, nothing seems to faze him at all. He just came along and joined us on the training runs to see what he could do, and when it turned out he could fairly easily do a 20 miler, he signed up for the actual marathon. Just like that. Terrible barn- dance partner, though. Doesn’t know his left from his right. 

So this is for you guys, and hopefully will help you not to make some of the same mistakes I did!  

Control the things you can control – take away any unnecessary uncertainties. There’s a lot of stuff you can’t control, which may be worrying you. So make sure everything that is within your control is sorted. All the stuff like trying out your kit, etc, on the long runs, from your nutrition to your bra (not you, Sean), so that you don’t have an additional worry that that new gel you haven’t actually tried is going to turn your stomach at mile 5. Replicate everything you can for the final few long runs, and really try not to worry about the things you can’t control. But do try and think about your strategies for different circumstances (weather, for example).

Positive visualisation – This is such a big one, and one that prior to actually DOING that first marathon I may have been a little sniffy about. Picture yourself crossing the finish line. But not just the finish line – practice in your head finishing strong and all those other bits of the race that will get you to that point where you are crossing that line and posing for your finisher pic (not looking at your watch, or y’know, with ugly crying face. Not that I’ve done both of those things… ahem. Totally have.).  There’s a school of thought that says that when you visualise doing something it sends the same signals to your body as actually doing it – so that if you picture yourself running strong, finishing that marathon, your body will be primed to do it. 

Also think about positive ways in which you might be able to get through the harder bits. This is important. It won’t all go perfectly – there will be darker moments, there will be points at which your brain starts to tell you that you can’t do it, or it feels overwhelming. So picture yourself encountering some of things that might go wrong and overcoming them, whatever your fears are – a mid-race portaloo stop, a shoelace coming undone, or fumbling a drink. Mo had a tiny bit of a problem at the drinks stations at the infamous HOTTER THAN THE ACTUAL SUN London marathon, and still smashed it. 

Mantras: This is also a little cheesy, but it absolutely works. Think of some mantras that will get you through the darker moments. I have a bracelet from my husband that says ‘You got this, girl’ on it (from running bling – link), and for the first marathon I had my lucky buff that I wore on the other wrist (it was hot, so I poured water over it and used it to cool myself down: double whammy) and because I’d worn it a lot on the long training runs it reminded me of my training buddies who believed in me and how hard I’d worked in order to get here. One of my mantras is ‘trust the training’ because if you’ve done the training you can complete the race. Or ‘marathons are tough, but you are tougher’. Some people write things on their hands or on their water bottle, or even little messages stuck to your gels…

Another way to push the darker thoughts out is to have a song you repeat in your head. One of those training buddies uses the song from Trolls (Get back up again), which not only has empowering lyrics but reminds her of her family which gives her strength.  

“I'm not giving up todayThere's nothing getting in my wayAnd if you knock knock me overI will get back up again, ohIf something goes a little wrongWell you can go ahead and bring it on'Cause if you knock knock me over, I will get back up again”

No weasel words! Weasel words are things like ‘Might cross the line’ and ‘If I finish the marathon’. Don’t do it to yourself. Positivity is KEY. This is one thing I really didn’t do at Brighton. The first year I did, one of my mantras was ‘Only positive thoughts’. When negativity started to creep in that first year, I consciously pushed it out and replaced it with positive thoughts. This year, WOW, I wallowed in it. I let the dark thoughts wash over me. As discussed in the previous blog, I did a total character assassination on myself. Not just my inability to complete a marathon, but every shitty thing I’ve ever done or thought! SO, what do I learn from this? You need to be prepared for the bad thoughts to come, and have an actual ARSENAL of positivity to blast it out of the old brain. Love bomb yourself. You are a strong and powerful woman (or man, whatevs) and you WILL complete this marathon in a strong and powerful fashion! 

Reflective space and ritual: Quiet time before the race, or night before. This one doesn’t always happen, I guess. If you’re away from home, sharing a room or whatever, it might be harder to find some quiet time to get your head together and calm down. For me this is the final check of my kit, pinning my race number to my club vest, etc. I use that time to A) make sure I’ve got everything I need and B) the ritual calms me because I’ve done it the night before every race I’ve ever done.

Have an A plan, but also have a B, C and maybe even a D plan! If the A plan doesn’t happen, don’t catastrophise, just move to plan B… My A plan was to get a PB of 5 minutes and come in under 4 and half hours.  When it became apparent to me that this wasn’t going to happen, quite early on in the race – by about mile 8, in fact – initially I totally catastrophised. I got into my own head and actually had thoughts like ‘Well, this is all over now, I might as well give up’ and thought about how I would even do that: ‘turn myself in’ to a martial or what? But then I caught myself on, and thought, no, I just move to plan B, which was to beat my previous PB of 4:36, and then I had to move on to plan C, which was to beat my previous Brighton Marathon time of 4:54, and then it was to get in under 5 hours… and then it became about just crossing that finish line. But one thing I’m proud of was that I finished strong. My last mile was one of my fastest, and I actually enjoyed the last few miles, because that part of my positive visualisation was still intact, and my D plan to cross that line and get that medal was never really in doubt for me. 

Brighton Marathon 2018: Why you need to train your head as well as your legs

Brighton Marathon 2018: Why you need to train your head as well as your legs.

This is a tale of doing everything you can to train for something, and just for absolutely NO reason having a really, REALLY bad day.  Or maybe there is a reason. I’m still trying to process it via writing it down here.

I started off feeling pretty strong. I thought I felt ready, standing at the start. I felt good, I was having a lovely time with my friends and, yeah, we were all there to run a marathon, but it was just a fun weekend away, really! I was more focused on road-trip snacks than mentally preparing myself for running 26.2 miles. This was my third marathon – piece of piss, I’ve done this twice already. Maybe I was even a bit cocky, or just naïve. But I’d done all of my training. I’d clocked up the long runs, the marathon-pace runs, the speed sessions, I’d done it all. I was apparently so breezy and cheerful on the 20-mile run I’d done a few weeks before that I had teetered over from motivational to “now you’re just being annoying” – especially when I got a sugar high from a gel at mile 17 and wouldn’t shut up.  I was an old hand now, dishing out sage advice to my friend Clare, who was doing her first marathon, about how to cope with the darker times (Jesus, little did I know what dark times I was in for).  But hell, I was physically stronger and fitter than ever.  Bring it on. Sub 4:30. Big PB. Let’s go. 

But it was not meant to be. I thought about lying, actually, while I was grinding out the miles, crying, hating it, hating myself, already thinking about what I would tell people about why my time was so much slower than I’d hoped.  I thought about saying that my hip – which had started playing up from a combination of training in the cold and over-compensating for an old injury on the other side – had gone again. Or maybe that I’d thrown up or that I’d had to spend an hour in a portaloo, which no one who saw my Strava splits would believe, but anything seemed better to me than actually telling the truth, which was that it wasn’t my hip, or my stomach. It was my head.  It was ALL in my head. Physically I was, and am absolutely fine. My hip doesn’t hurt any worse than the other bits of my legs, which is a normal amount after running that flipping far.

I did the first 8 or 9 miles with my amazing friend Gemma. We set off according to plan, slowly building up to our marathon pace of 10:15, which we were due to stay at for the first 20, and then give it some extra welly for the last 6. This was the plan. The plan quickly went out the window for me, because pretty early on I started listening to the little voice in my head that tells me I can’t do it. That it’s too far. That I can’t run 20 miles at that pace, let alone have anything left for the last 6. I started doing the body-scanning thing – this hurts, that hurts, I feel really sick. I’m going to BE sick (this after the second gel). So I told, no, FORCED Gemma to go on without me, while I slowed right down and then walked. She didn’t want to leave me, but I REALLY didn’t want to feel responsible for fucking up her race too; bad enough that I fucked up my own. Initially I felt better once I didn’t have to worry about that, but the trouble is, once you start walking, it’s very, very hard to keep going. You’ve set that precedent in your head that you can walk now, and so it becomes really hard to even run a mile without having a bit of a walk.  And this is so completely different from starting off with a controlled run:walk strategy. So even by mile 8 I had to completely let go of that idea of getting in under 4:30. But what the hell, I could still PB, I could still beat my last time of 4:35… Yeah, that didn’t last long either. Then I was thinking I could still beat last year’s Brighton time of 4:56 – then, well, OK, but I could still do sub 5 hours and claim some dignity. You play these mind games in your head, calculating what you could now do. But to be honest, it just all went to shit. My head was spinning. I cried and ran/walked, sobbing from about mile 13 to mile 23, when another friend from the club, Asif, caught up with me and I ran/walked (and in his case this WAS a deliberate strategy, that got him a great PB!) with him for a bit. The chatting and the company cheered me right up because by this point the goal was to JUST. FINISH. THIS. Just survive. The high points were seeing lovely friends on the course, and really, really nice total strangers telling me I looked strong and I could do it. And I actually enjoyed the last mile immensely.  But I came in at 5:06. A full half an hour slower than my PB, and 36 minutes slower than I had planned/hoped. 

And I’m sitting here the next day thinking WHAT THE HELL WENT WRONG?

So I think its a few things – firstly as mentioned above, I was a bit blasé, maybe. I don’t think I went through the same mental preparation that I went through the first couple of times. MARATHONS ARE HARD. And it’s a mental battle.  But thinking back to that first marathon, that first Brighton Marathon, the mental preparation for running that far, for beating that distance was just as important as the physical training. That first time around, I spent a LOT of time mentally preparing myself.  Coach Tony is a HUGE believer in positive visualisation, he drums into all of his athletes how important it is to picture yourself crossing the finish line, and also to prepare some mantras to get you through those dark moments. The first time I took all that on board, did all of that stuff, it DID work, it DID get me through those awful dark moments (you can read about that first marathon here, if you’re not offended by VERY bad language). Tony was one of the friends I was in Brighton with and after we’d all met up for dinner, he took himself back to his hotel room because he said he needed time by himself just to get his head in the game for the marathon the next day. I didn’t really think much of this at the time, but now I realise that that’s what I should have been doing too. He’s done something like 11 marathons and Iron Mans (Iron Men? Iron Mens??) and STILL needs to mentally prepare himself. I was all like “Oh, I’ve DONE this before, I’ll be FINE”. No, I needed to get my head in the game and I didn’t do it. 

The second thing was that I don’t think I’d ever fully taken on board and accepted my marathon pace. During the training we did a lot of runs at that pace. Most Thursday nights we’d do 7 miles on tired legs from the week’s training at marathon pace, and I found those runs to be the hardest runs of the week – because I was SO tired, it was evening, my legs were still feeling the weekend’s long run and the Tuesday-morning track sessions, and my Wednesday-morning running group. I ran every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so I think I subconsciously associated running that pace with feeling knackered.  And if it felt that hard running 7 miles at that pace, how the hell did I think I could run 26.2? I hadn’t accepted and assimilated that I could do it because actually I did run the first 20 miles of Abingdon at that pace, so I HAD already done it. But I hadn’t deep down accepted it and believed it.  And me and Gemma DID run the first 8 miles at marathon pace, after a mile warm up (up an eff-off hill, as it goes), but my brain just hadn’t accepted that I could keep going at that pace, so I didn’t.

The third thing is that Brighton is sold as a ‘Flat Race’. That, my friends, is a dirty rotten STINKING lie, and they should be ashamed of themselves. The first THIRTEEN MILES are all up and down some pretty long grinding hills. Look at the elevation if you don’t believe me. And that takes it out of you mentally and physically. It feels like it’s going on FOREVER. And, YES, I know I’ve run it before, but it’s like childbirth: you forget the pain and just think about the lovely brand new medal. I mean, baby.  I actually blanked out those hills.

I would like to point out that now I am super proud of myself for battling to the finish feeling that bad. I have no negative feelings towards myself at all now. But at the time I hated myself. I felt like I’d totally messed it up, and I’d let myself down, and I’d let Tony and his training down, and everyone tracking me and everyone at the club would know that I messed it up. It felt devastating. I started questioning everything about myself. Around mile 15 I’d done such a character assassination on myself you’d think I was the Pol Pot of runners. I was never running again, let alone running another marathon. I could never show my face at Headington Road Runners again. I was getting a new hobby: going back to crocheting Star Wars characters, playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with those many-sided dice, or making my own cheese or something. I was DEFINITELY selling my place for Abingdon marathon in October… but now I’ve calmed the fuck down, I think I can learn a huge amount from this.

When I got home and we’d discussed it over pizza – because he’s very good like that – Matt (my husband) asked me whether I’d rather get a PB but injure myself, than not get a PB and feel better and fresher afterwards? Well, obviously as a runner (which I still am, not a cheesemaker) my answer was ‘How big a PB, and how bad an injury?’ but it was an interesting question, because I don’t feel nearly as bad today as I have done the last two times. I haven’t even had to go down the stairs backwards. So either that’s because I’m physically fitter, or because I didn’t work as hard. But I think I DID work as hard… you still run 26.2 miles whether you run it in 3 hours or 5. And 26.2 miles is a long way. This kind of reinforces the fact that this was not a physical issue. You can be fitter than EVER and your head can still mess it up for you.

So now I’ve reflected a bit, I’m thinking that I WILL do Abingdon again in October, and I’ll learn something from this experience, and not just physically prepare myself, but mentally prepare myself a hell of a lot better too. I’ve learnt anew to respect that distance, and that whether you’re running your first marathon or about to become a member of the 100 marathons club, you must ALWAYS respect that distance, and you must always prepare yourself for it. Not just through the hours spent physically preparing yourself, pounding the pavements, but all of that mental preparation that I did for the first time. The irony of it being that as a soon to be coach who is also a therapist, I never thought my mental game would be what was lacking. But as Tony also says “Every day is a school day”. He really needs to stop being so right all the time. It’s annoying. 

But right now I’m taking a bit of time to feel really proud, because as many others have said to me over the last 24 hours, it takes a lot more grit and determination to finish something when everything is screaming at you to stop, than when  you’re flying through and it feels easy. And there was no point in those FIVE LONGEST HOURS OF MY LIFE that I ever contemplated stopping. I wasn’t going to go through all of that and not come home with a medal. 

Being an older runner

Being an older runner

Something that makes me really sad is witnessing accomplished runners getting disheartened and down because they can no longer achieve the times they got when they were younger. Particularly when they desperately want that 5, 10K, parkrun, or marathon PB (Personal Best) but realistically it’s not going to happen. MOST people can’t run as fast in their fifties and sixties as they could at 20 or 30. But this got me thinking about the positives of coming to running later in life, or even just being an older runner.

I didn’t start running until my late thirties so I don’t HAVE any PBs of my youth to chase after. I know I was a good sprinter at school but another advantage of being well old is that I can’t remember what my actual times were so I don’t need to be depressed about it. Also they were probably in shillings or something it was that long ago, not minutes and seconds. Although the ones that were carved into rocks with a pterodactyl beak must still exist somewhere…  

Last year, my 42nd on this planet, I got PBs at every distance, which was amazing – my fitness jumped up a level doing marathon training and put through my paces with my club’s coaches at the track. But I’m already aware that it’s not sustainable to keep getting PBs like that. I’m already mentally adjusting to the fact that I did 20 minutes better at my second marathon than at my first. I need to make my peace with the fact that I will never get a PB the like of that again. And whilst I do get that it’s really hard to adjust to not getting the buzz of a PB, maybe it’s time to make different goals. I’ve started doing cross country this season, which is tremendous muddy freezing hilly fun, and actually difficult to PB at (for a noob like me, anyway! I know the old hands know what their PBs are on different courses) because the courses are all so different, so I don’t really worry about it.

So coming to running later in life was a real positive for me because I don’t hanker after my lost speed. I’m just getting faster and more efficient the more I train (or as my husband puts it, the more obsessed I get with it).

The second bonus to starting running when I wasn’t exactly in my first flush of youth is that my kids are a bit bigger and I have a bit more time. OK, so I started running when they were very little, before the boy one was even born, but I’m an ‘older’ mum, so most friends my age have kids who are a bit older. Once they are at school/nursery you can get some daytime runs in; I’ve even been known to rock up to my daughter’s school in full lycra and trainers and go straight from the school run – the headmistress is a runner and I can tell she’s well jel. I am so happy to be able to go back to the Wednesday morning group I initially started my running with, and be able to give something back as a leader. And amazingly I love getting up at 6 to go to a track-training session. Having said all of that, I’m not sure it’s even actually about having more time – it’s about prioritising the time you have as you get older. As a parent you relish that time when some smaller version of yourself isn’t hanging onto your leg and being unreasonable about shoes or smearing mashed potato in your hair. I am so protective of the little time I get to myself, I guard it jealously and I choose to use it for running! We run when we can. We prioritise it, prioritise that self-care. 

Which brings me to my next point, and I may be very much alone here, as the idea that runners are all super-healthy mung-bean eating bores who don’t drink or eat cake is very much bulllllshhhiiiiit. But I’ve kind of gone off booze since I’ve been running. Well, not so much the booze itself as the hangovers that seem to have increased exponentially since I became, well… no longer 20something, especially as a parent. Crippling two-day hangovers after a couple of glasses of wine? Just not worth it. Oh, OK, the last one of those I had was after a couple of BOTTLES of wine, a vodka tonic and… oh, the free shots we got at the bar. Yeah, I’m really mature. It was a PTA outing. Those mums are cray-cray. Anyway, on the whole I don’t really want to do that anymore because there’s no way I’m getting up for a long run after a night on the prosecco and tequila, and I need and love my long runs.  Running has replaced drinking as the thing that my social life revolves around. Also I can’t be arsed with the hangovers when I have to deal with two small primary-school age humans who seem to spend their entire day demanding food and screaming. 

The final advantage I can think of is that as you get older you move up age categories and have more chance of beating club records. I actually look forward to turning 45 because I will go from being one of the oldest and slowest in my age category to being one of the youngest (and possibly still slowest. Some of those ladies are bonkers fast). Although obviously all the women in my age category are aging at the same rate, so the advantage of being the youngest doesn’t last long. And, y’know, I’m really not competitive anyway. Ahem. 

Maybe the biggest thing I’ve gained from becoming a runner at an older age is that I feel so damn healthy now. Apart from that toenail that’s falling off again, and my ropey knees and granny hip… but them’s just runners’ niggles. I’ll run them off.  I mean the glow it gives me. The healthy attitude towards my body. The fact that I’m FINALLY in my forties developing a more healthy attitude towards food.  It’s about so much more than PBs. 

Running and Mental Health

Running and Mental Health

I started writing a post about mental health months ago, in a week when two things happened on the same day: one of the most talented singers ever, Chris Cornell, took his own life, and a few hours later I heard back from England Athletics that I had been successful in my application to become the Mental Health Ambassador for my club, Headington Road Runners. These two things may not seem immediately linked, but it just pressed home to me, what we already know, that if someone as immensely talented and successful as Chris Cornell could be in such mental anguish and feel such a lack of hope that the only answer seemed to be suicide, then it could happen to any one of us.  Depression, anxiety, bi-polar, psychosis, schizophrenia, dementia – these are not respecters of wealth, status, success, talent, passion or hard work. They are not a sign of laziness, or that you just need to cheer up and get on with it. It cemented for me the reason why I wanted to apply for the MHA role: because sometimes people need to know that there is a designated person they can talk to if they need to. No one should feel like they are completely alone, and if I can do that for just one person in my running club then it will have been worth it. 

We runners can be a funny bunch. We have the longest, most amazing talks to people on our long runs and, as I’ve said before, get to know people intimately very quickly. We’ll talk about having the runners’ trots, or intimate chafing, or how many toenails we’ve lost. We’ll talk about our bodily functions in a way that is frankly pretty disgusting, because ‘Runners just get it’. But sometimes I wonder if we can be a bit less forthcoming about how we’re doing mentally. It’s a hell of a lot easier to say that we can’t go for a run tonight because that old hamstring injury is playing up than say we can’t go for a run because we’re suffering from a crushing black-dog depression and don’t want to see anyone and can’t get out of bed.

My other reason for applying for the MHA role was that I wanted to do something that joined my two main interests of running and mental health. So far I have organised one ‘Run and Talk’ with my club. What this entailed was instead of all splitting up into pace groups and going for various distances and speeds, nearly forty of us ran together at a leisurely pace so that we could all talk to each other while we ran. Our standard club practice of looping for those at the back of the pack also served to mix up those forty people so that every now and again we all got the opportunity to talk to different people.  I spoke to some club members that night who I had never met before and some who I knew from a distance but hadn’t really got to know properly. It felt to me as though a couple of people actively sought me out because they knew I held that role and it somehow gave them licence to talk about difficult things.  Afterwards, more than one club member said that they felt more a part of the club because of that run, which was amazing, and it felt like a job well done.  It wasn’t just the actual run either that felt important – I had so many offers of help with this event, some from friends, some from people I didn’t know at all, all of whom thought it was a valuable thing to do, so even the act of organising it brought us closer together.

I always thought my own mental health was pretty much OK. I don’t have any known underlying mental-health issues. I’ve been through some horrible shit, as have we all, and as a female of the species we are statistically more likely to go through certain kinds of horrible shit. This has been highlighted by the recent social media campaign of ‘me too’…  Plus I am a member of that thing known as “A FAMILY” and, well, you know, just being a member of a family, a sister, daughter, granddaughter, wife and mother, sometimes that stuff needs some attention. But through my training as a therapist I had years of my own therapy and got a lot of it straight in my own head.  Some of it I hadn’t even realised was wonky until I had therapy and took it out and examined it, so that it could be put back in straight again. Some of it was hard and painful. Some of it I did not want to take out and examine because it was too painful – as we used to say in my experiential group during my training “cans open, worms everywhere”.  One moment sticks in my mind when my mid-thirties self left a my therapists house and was sitting in the car thinking about what had been said, and in an incredible moment I let go of the blame I had been sitting with for decades and forgave my seventeen-year-old self for something that I knew intellectually wasn’t my fault, but couldn’t let go of until that moment.  It was like a weight of guilt and self blame that I’d been carrying around lifted off my shoulders. So I’m pretty much pro-therapy and think that most of us could benefit from it.

I like to think the experience has helped me become pretty self-aware (although I still sometimes go a bit bat-shit during moments of PMT or Tapering – and recently one memorable pre marathon week when BOTH coincided… brrr).  I have suffered real depression during a couple of times in my life, and have got through a phase of having massive claustrophobic panic attacks during which I thought I was actually dying. That was fun. Still not a big fan of enclosed spaces or massive crowds, but I have coping mechanisms in place for when these things are unavoidable – and I like to think that these experiences might make me a more empathetic therapist/human.

However, as I wrote this originally it was 6am on a Sunday morning in October, and I was waiting for my breakfast to go down so that I could go out in sleety rain and run twenty miles, the first ten of which was on my own.  I will spend £100 on running shoes, and off the top of my head, in our cupboard under the stairs there are currently eight pairs (by comparison I literally own one pair of ‘going out’ heels, and those are the ones I got married in ten years ago).  So, yeah, to some people this is a form of insanity. But actually I feel so much happier and well-adjusted since I started running – and when I was recently injured I realised how much I had come to rely on running, not just for fitness and physical health but for my mental health as well. 

For me running is space: time when I can clear my head and think things through on my own. The physical act of pounding the pavements frees up my head to achieve the closest I will ever come to meditation. I tried meditation a couple of times – it’s simply not for me, I can’t shut down intrusive thoughts like that, and it sometimes brings back those panic feelings – but a RUN, that is my clear head space time. Or it’s just a break from daily drudgery. Kids driving you up the wall? Go for a run. PMT kicking your arse? Go for a run. Hungover, bored, tired, ate all the kids’ Halloween sweets? Go for a run. It’s about loving your body for what it can do, not punishing it or hating it because it’s not some unachievable idea of perfection.  It’s about feeling stronger and fitter and happier with every run. I think one of the most important mental-health benefits for me has been that running has become part of my identity now. It’s more than a habit; it’s more than something I do. It’s part of who I am. My kids and husband know I need it, know that it makes me a happier person, know that I need that time to myself, and I don’t feel selfish taking it mostly! Because without that time I would be a grumpy cow, slamming pots around the kitchen, yelling at the cat, and generally not being much fun to be with.

However, like anything I think there can be a down side. There are people in my running club who absolutely have an exercise addiction. In fact, probably a rather large proportion of them do! YES, it’s a better thing to be reliant on than, say, smack or booze or gambling, but it could be argued that any addiction is a way of escaping something we don’t want to think about, and in an extreme case that could be trauma or abuse or something that we really need to get some professional help with.  

What are we trying to escape from when we run and run and run more than we should? Or really start to panic when we miss a session? Or run through an injury that really should be rested because we can’t face NOT running?  Sometimes there are things that EVEN running can't fix, and that's where additional help might be necessary. There shouldn't be a stigma attached to asking for more help when we need it. We shouldn't think we can out-run all of our problems, because sometimes this can become a negative spiral where we're using running to avoid something deeper that needs to be looked at.

Abingdon Marathon 2017

Abingdon Marathon 2017

 I ran my second marathon last Sunday, my second marathon ever, as well as my second this year. Some might say that this was a foolish endeavour; I’m certainly starting to think that signing up for a duathlon six days later was erm… ambitious (stupid). We’ll see on Saturday whether that actually happens.  Note: It very definitely did not. See final paragraph regarding post-marathon comedown/viral contagion.

This second marathon was a very different experience to the first – which I’ve written a long and VERY sweary account of here. 

One of the main differences was the sheer SIZE of the event.  Abingdon had about 750 runners, whereas Brighton was over 12 and a half thousand. This, and the 5-hour cut off point meant that Abingdon was a pretty serious race –  you don’t see people running Abingdon with a fridge strapped to their back or dressed as a rhino. Although there was one guy who did the whole thing whilst juggling (and in under four hours. I kind of hated that guy).  

So the smaller size of Abingdon meant that in terms of sheer numbers there were far fewer spectators, BUT crucially for me there was WAY more home support. I only live 10 miles from Abingdon, so half of the members of our club that weren’t actually running themselves (and there were a LOT of Headington Road Runners running it too) were out there cheering and waving flags and marshalling. For a local club-runner the atmosphere was fantastic. There were so many friendly faces on the course, mostly from our HRR and friends in Abingdon Athletics Club too, who were out in force marshalling and supporting. A friend from school who I haven’t seen for years came out to see us near the start and got so excited that she decided to come into town to see us on a second pass, AND came to the stadium afterwards to find me. It was so lovely I’ve got tears in my eyes typing this. I feel SO emotional about the whole event actually – but I am VERY tired. 

Another difference was that as the event is small and fast (obviously it was still 26.2 miles - which by the way is a really easy way to annoy a marathon runner: ask if ‘insert name of other marathon’ is as long as London. Go on, try it…) but due to the size of the event, there were some long lonely stretches of road with no spectators and where you can’t even see any other runners. However, I wasn’t on my own for a single second of it. This is the massive advantage of your coach being one of your best friends.  Tony had suggested running with me a couple of weeks previously when he’d got back off holiday and hadn’t been able to complete the long runs he’d wanted to do due to “eff-off hills and heat” in order to go for a sub 4. I’d said to decide nearer the time, as he might feel differently; I hadn’t meant ACTUALLY DECIDE an hour before the start of the race, mind you, but that’s what ended up happening. I didn’t bribe him or anything. One of our Headington team mates said, “You’re running with Emma?? Won’t you be bored shitless?” which was CHARMING. Thanks, Andy. But Tony insisted he thought it would be fun, because he has a very warped idea of fun. Apparently in his case fun is over 4 and half hours of your mate whinging. Actually I only REALLY started complaining when we got to about mile 18, and to be honest by that point I was too knackered and trying to conserve energy too much to really let rip about what a stupidly long way 26.2 miles is to run and who’s idea was this anyway, and what the HELL were they thinking making us go down and more significantly back UP an underpass at mile 25 the sadists… but that was what I was thinking.  But actually offering to pace someone for that long is a big deal. And it does and did mean the world to me not to be doing it on my own. To skip right to the end I got a 20 minute PB, which I am STILL buzzing about two days later, and that is in a large part down to Tony. Not only did he run it with me, but he also put together my training plan for me, which included somehow persuading me to get up at a ridiculously early hour every Tuesday for his track session that I am giving credit for my increase in speed this year.  And once my legs start working again I’m going to bake him a cake or something.  Anyone who has ever done a marathon knows that there are some DARK, dark moments of the soul at some point in it. Even my most impressively speedy marathon-running friends don’t take that distance lightly. It’s HARD and it goes on FOREVER. So to have someone alongside you to say you can do it – and remind you that your family are waiting at the finish line, and no you’re not walking YOU GOT THIS! – makes all the difference.  Obviously I still had to run it, though. With my own legs. I’m not going to give him ALL the credit. 

I don’t remember a moment during Brighton where I properly hit the wall. I had moments where I walked – quite long moments, and I ran it considerably slower than Abingdon. But it was a super-hot day back in April, whereas Abingdon was run during the tail end of Hurricane flipping Brian. (Brian, I mean seriously? As another friend pointed out, if you’re going to be able to say you ran a marathon in a hurricane you want it to be called something impressive like Beelzebub, not BRIAN…). So our intention with Abingdon was to do it in 4 hours 40, which meant 10:40 minutes per mile… we did the first 20 miles at 10:20 minutes per mile. We both knew we were going too fast, and every now and again Tony would say, “Yeah, we’re going too fast, we’ll dial it back for a few miles in a bit” and then we’d get talking again and that wouldn’t happen.  So we ended up doing the opposite: the first 20 miles a bit too fast and then the last 6 miles, erm…a bit less fast.  I had a short-lived wobble around mile 16, felt a bit more dodgy from about mile 18, but then seeing the 20-mile marker gave me a boost, as that was what we’d been aiming for. And the first 20 miles (and I am fully aware that saying this makes me sound like a dickhead) really did seem to go quickly. It just felt like a long run chatting with a mate like we’d done loads of times before.  But at mile 20 things got a little bit darker – we were paying for those earlier faster miles. So from then T gave me little goals: “You just need to get to Gerry and everyone at mile 21! They’ve got Jaffa Cakes!” “You just need to get to that mile 23 marker, remember we saw it on the first loop!” But at mile 24… well, the wheels REALLY threatened to come right off the wagon. And then roll over the wagon. And then back and forth a few times to make sure those wheels REALLY hammered their point home.  My legs just didn’t want to go on. They were hurting like hell and every atom in my body was screaming at me to stop… I think this is what they call hitting the wall. Or bonking. Which just sounds too funny, but really, really isn’t.

This was the point at which running with your coach comes into its own. I wanted to stop. I needed to stop. I actually felt dizzy and a bit nuts, but T did not let me stop. He reminded me that my family were at the finish line, of Evie and Joe’s little faces waiting to see me cross that finish line. So with that encouragement and a flash moment of anger at myself – “FOR FUCK’S SAKE YOU CAN RUN TWO FUCKING MILES, EMMA!” (yes, I am totally pairing up thoughts of my kids with very bad language – and not for the first time) – and then miraculously seeing the smiling face of one of our club buddies marshalling after we’d come up that EVIL underpass, and spurred on by seeing some of the speedier runners coming out of the stadium with their medals and t-shirts on, all cheering and shouting words of encouragement, we made it into the stadium. Up ahead we could see another club buddy who is usually considerably faster than me but her race had not gone according to plan, so all three of us ended up doing the final 0.2 miles in the stadium together.  And joy of joys as we ran around the lap of the track, on the far side of the stadium by the finish line, I could see the bright red coat of my Mum. AHHH MY ACTUAL MUM!  And beside her my Evie, my little Diddy, and knew that somewhere my husband and son and Dad were there too, all of whom gave me strength. But for some reason it was Evie that I really wanted to do this for, because she is just so proud and excited. Joe doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, he’s 3, he just wants to investigate the goody bag afterwards and insist I carry him even though I’ve just dragged the last 2 miles out from some reserve on energy I didn’t know I had… But Evie, my baby girl, she wants to be a runner, and she thinks I’m amazing. She recently wrote me a note which said she loved me so much she wanted to eat me until only my skull is left, which is PROPERLY creepy and hilarious, but also shows the strength of her love for me…  And there she was, and somehow we were crossing the line and we’d done it. And it felt like it passed in a flash and took forever all at the same time.  And despite what T refers to as his dodgy pacing (and what I refer to as us just talking too much) I knocked a full 20 minutes off my Brighton time, came in 5 minutes quicker than our intended time. I did it in 4 hours and 35 minutes.  

I’m finishing up writing this 10 days after the marathon, the buzz and the feeling of pride and elation I get when I look at that medal has continued, and despite having to crawl up and down the stairs for a couple of days my legs actually recovered remarkably quickly. But I am definitely learning something about recovery from this one too.  Because despite the legs feeling OK, I am FLIPPING KNACKERED… it didn’t help that the marathon was the day before half term, so a full week of child- wrangling ensued after, but I also seemed to pick up every little bug and niggle. I had to cancel my much-anticipated sports massage because of a horrendous one-day bug I came down with, and my skin looks like I’m a hormonal teenager. So right now I’m trying to nurture myself. Eat well, get lots of sleep, not eat all the kids’ Halloween sweets “for their own good” and just give myself a bit of a break, because I did an amazing thing! 

So I have a confession to make – I really don’t like shepherding.

So I have a confession to make – I really don’t like shepherding.

Our club has a motto: Running together.  Which is a lovely motto, and the club really does abide by it, it’s important to us. So as a member of that club, “shepherding” runs is kind of a big deal.  More experienced runners always lead/shepherd the Thursday-night groups, and the weekend runs, which means they make sure everyone is OK, and that everyone loops back for slower runners, no one gets left behind, they plan the route, and make sure the pace and distance is reasonably close to what they offered.

So I have a confession to make – I really don’t like shepherding. Well, not exactly ‘dislike’, more get massively anxious about it. I like people: I can and will talk to anybody (much to my children’s embarrassment I will talk to any random stranger on a bus who even looks like they might want to strike up a conversation). I can certainly bang on about running to other runners for HOURS. I’m fine with managing faster and slower runners and quite like yelling “LOOP!” and “BIKE! KEEP LEFT!” and “BOLLARDS!” (not just randomly, although that would be funny, but yelling out about hazards is one of the enjoyable things about leading out a group!).  I like running in groups. I am fine with pacing, and would never take a group who wanted to run faster than I thought I could handle.  None of these things are the problem.

The problem is that I have THE worst sense of direction EVER. I cannot remember routes I’ve done a gazillion times. If you put me in a cupboard and turned me around I would not be able to find my way out again. If you think I’m joking this has actually been done to me. My sister and a friend once put me behind a locked door that was just that: a door, no back or sides, and I was found later crying because I couldn’t get out. Actually that doesn’t prove any point except that my sister was a big meanie (she’s not, she’s the nicest person in the world) and I have a vivid imagination, and because they told me I couldn’t get out, then I couldn’t get out. But I AM that person that walks into a cupboard thinking it’s the toilet, and have ended up in restaurant kitchens looking for the facilities, even when there’s a great big sign.  I have to ask my friends for their postcodes EVERY SINGLE time I go there even if I’ve visited them loads of times before and they live 5 minutes away. Google maps is my BEST FRIEND.  I can’t even picture routes in my head. My dad has some kind of eidetic memory thing going on with maps/routes/directions. He once gave someone leaving their house full directions from Oxford to a town in France including instructions of how to board the car ferry. The friend was a bit overwhelmed; I think he was joking when he asked how to get there from here. Dad makes incredibly detailed route maps that are things of beauty (as are all the things my dad makes). But he can’t quite fathom how he managed to have two daughters who have no innate sense of direction whatsoever.  

“It’s NORTH from here.”

 “Dad, that literally means nothing to me. Do I go left or right after Aldi?”

The right route is an important part of shepherding.  Firstly it needs to be as close as possible to the distance you said it was going to be. The weekend long runs I advertise to the club are at the slower end of things, so we get a great mix of people who just prefer running slowly, or are in marathon training and need to slow things down so they can get the distance in, as well as people who are building up to longer distances for the first time. We often have distance pb’s from newer runners, so it’s really important that if we say we’re doing 8 miles we do as close as possible to 8 miles, because they may only have done 6 before and we don’t want to break anybody.  Often if we’re doing a longer route – say, 15 miles – we will need to build in ‘cut off’ points so that someone can duck back to club at 6 miles or whatever.  If you’re planning to run up three ruddy great hills, you need to tell people you’re planning to run up three ruddy great hills. So these things take quite some planning. 

In September I’m going to be doing my Leadership in Running Fitness Course. I’m doing this so that I can go back to my original running group (IF the boy one gets the nursery place I’m hoping for… EVERYthing crossed for that because I left it ridiculously late, and if he doesn’t get a place I don’t really have a Plan B… oops) as a run leader, and so I can take out groups from HRR. I am really excited about this, but the route-planning thing is freaking me out a bit.  I currently have memorised, in my two memory slots that are allocated to this sort of thing, a 5-mile route from home that I can extend up to 10 by going further along the river, and a 10ish-mile route from club that I can extend with very boring out and backs along the ring road or adding in the odd little loop. Anyone who does a weekend long run led by me from our club will know this route well! And if I add in any other routes of different distances other things I need to remember are going to get shoved out of those memory slots, like my kids’ names (they already get called the first thing that comes into my head – like the cats’ names or ‘Pickle-pants’ or ‘Stink-beast’. I get this from my mother; she once called me ‘Ducky-mousse’. Nope, no idea) or how to make pancakes or lace up shoes. 

Luckily for me there is a myriad of technology available to help me plan routes. If only I didn’t seem to be rubbish at this as well.  So far my plan has been to buddy up with someone who is good at (and some people even seem to LIKE doing this! Weirdoes!) doing routes, and I handle the crowd control and pacing. Particularly on our club-night runs I’ve got away with this so far, and the weekend runs I’ve taken out… well, people haven’t actually TOLD me they are bored of the same old route, and we mix it up and take it in turns so it’s not like it’s EVERY week they have to do the same route. Maybe I will get better at it with practise. Let’s hope so! 

How to upset a runner

How to upset a runner

Call us joggers. End of blog.

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Oh OK, that’s not the only thing, but I’m starting with a joke (ish) because this one is a bit less light hearted than usual. Fewer bum jokes more feminist agenda. Whoohoo, megalols.

At the end of a lovely but exhausting long run recently, a friend and I had split off from the main pack as we are both coming back from injury and didn’t want to push it. So at 8 miles, a mile away from our club and post-run lattes, we turned off our GPS watches and walked back. The sun was shining, we were putting the world to rights; he was teasing me with an enduring joke about how I eat roast chicken during races. This is not true, obviously, but he has almost convinced my daughter that that was why I didn’t get a PB at a recent 10k. It was my longest run in about 6 weeks, and we felt pretty happy. Until, that is, we went to cross a quite busy road less than half a mile from our destination. We were careful, as always, checked both ways, made sure we had enough time to cross and started across the road… and a car that was definitely far enough away when we started across the road actually SPED UP and swerved towards us. Now I don’t think this BMW- driving massive wanker was actually trying to hit us with his vehicle, just trying to intimidate and scare us. And yeah, sorry, I know it’s a bloody cliché, and probably offensive and prejudicial towards BMW drivers, and I do have friends who drive BMWs and aren’t massive wankers, but this guy WAS driving a BMW and WAS a massive wanker. And whilst I’m sure he has a tiny, tiny penis and I should probably feel sorry for him, he seemed to me to be saying that we had no right to be crossing that road. That totally pissed me off, as well as the whole swerving his car towards us thing. You may have read my last post about how running makes me have quite a tolerant hippy vibe sometimes, and that still stands, but I believe that runners have as much right to be out doing our thing as pedestrians, car drivers, cyclists, etc, and that we should all try to be tolerant and, y’know, a bit empathetic and bloody HUMAN about each others’ right to exist and do what makes us happy, and definitely not try to kill each other.

To put the other side, and it’s pretty topical at the moment, I also don’t understand why the HELL that runner tried to push that woman in front of a bus; I’m not sure anyone knows why. This is not runners vs car drivers, or runners vs pedestrians, or pram walkers or anything. People can be knobs. All people. However, in my experience when they are in a car it somehow inflates their knobishness, and also makes them a lot more dangerous.

It’s one of the reasons that I don’t run on my own as often these days. Essentially, it’s problems with OTHER PEOPLE. When I asked a friend what pissed him off as a runner, he said “weather, all kinds” but I actually quite like running in the rain. I run in the snow. I don’t like running when it’s REALLY hot as I dehydrate at the drop of a hat (or silly-looking but necessary sun visor, which makes me look like an 80s aerobics devotee). But OTHER PEOPLE being knobs is one thing that really puts me off.

I have had people yell stuff at me, again usually from the anonymity of a passing car. Sometimes I’ve had road crews or builders (yeah, cliché again, but it’s actually a truism) shout things that I’m sure they think are probably really cheering rather than either plain annoying or downright intimidating, like ‘Smile, love’ or ‘I bet you can go faster than that’, which just have me muttering for a while about everyday sexism and how blokes don’t have to put up with this shit, but don’t usually stay with me for more than 5 minutes. However, a good running buddy of mine, who is WAY slimmer than me and a bloody super-hot yoga instructor to boot, had someone shout “Run, you fat c***” at her from a car earlier this year. It was horrendous, she was really understandably upset and it knocked her confidence for weeks. And to be honest, everyone saying ‘but you’re not fat’ wasn’t the point. Someone abused her from a car when she was just out for a run. For absolutely no reason but to make her feel bad. I’ve been called a c*** and have someone threaten to rape me whilst marshalling a running event (oh, I’m sure he would say he didn’t intend it as a rape threat, but saying you would like to disappear up between someone’s thighs whist also threatening to run them over is rape culture) merely because I wouldn’t let him plough his bloody car into the elite runners who were coming through at that time. Actually, that was an interesting experience afterwards, as all my extremely well meaning, caring, and understandably angry, male friends from the running club said words along the lines of ‘They wouldn’t have said that to you if I’d been there!’ and, no, they wouldn’t, because if a bloke was there, they might have received a racial slur or something else, but they most likely wouldn’t have got a rape threat, or something else that attacked them for their gender. And that’s the point – I shouldn’t need male protection. I shouldn’t have to put up with that, and neither should my friend feel she can’t go out for a run down a busy Oxford street without being called a c***.

Aside from having insults and ridiculous comments levelled at us, sometimes it’s actual projectiles that get thrown out of the passing cars. A couple of times when out in a group we’ve had drinks cans thrown at us, or once someone sprayed some unidentifiable liquid at us – which I really really hope was beer. However, the worst one was a club run one evening in November when a group of us were running through a fairly well-to-do bit of Oxford when some arseholes threw a LIT FIREWORK at our group, catching one of the group on the arm and setting fire to his very nice but highly flammable technical t-shirt. He was obviously very shaken and it looked really nasty but he insisted he was OK. When we got back to the club it turned out that a couple of other groups had had the same thing happen to them, but luckily the other fireworks hadn’t connected.

So whilst I understand the fury levelled at the idiot who pushed the woman in front of a bus, and cannot condone or even begin to understand his actions, I also do not understand why runners generally come in for this kind of treatment. The feminist in me gets outraged at the sexist comments received by me and other women runners, the CONSTANT commenting on our bodies and sexuality. There’s something in the back of my mind about how some Neanderthal men seem to resent women being out in the world just doing their thing, using our bodies for something other than male titillation (see also breastfeeding in public and the outrage that causes in some idiot-holes: BREASTS ARE FOR LOOKING AT, NOT FEEDING SMALL HUMANS, etc) and how we should be at home instead making our husbands a sammich or something instead rather than training for a marathon. Or it’s just male ape breast-beating at passing women. I’m sure there is plenty of research on cat-calling and why it is Not A Good Thing, and why it makes you feel shit, and, no, isn’t a compliment ACTUALLY. But this isn’t just a female issue. The firework was thrown at a mixed group, and hit a bloke (which was lucky in a way, because he’s a TALL bloke and if it had hit one of the smaller women it would have been face height, so there is that…), and the car swerved at me and a male friend. Runners/joggers seem to be targets for a lot of ire at the moment, and we live in Oxford where that sort of shit is usually levelled at students or cyclists. Or tourists, who frankly do get on your tits a bit when they move en masse and will NOT GET OUT OF THE SODDING WAY. See above caveat about how I don’t believe we have any more rights to the pavement than anyone else – but when a group of people 3 or 4 abreast see you coming towards them and just don’t get out of the way, do they expect you to hurdle them? Impromptu game of leapfrog?

Then there’s “THINGS PEOPLE SAY to runners” (Urgh, PEOPLE!):

“Isn’t it bad for your knees?” Urrggghhh, God no, it’s really not if you take care of yourself, and the benefits to your health far outweigh the negatives. Mentally, physically, in every way exercise is pretty much a GOOD THING as far as I can tell.“Oh, a marathon! I couldn’t do that” Well, no, right now you probably couldn’t, but if you did the training you could. What you mean is that you don’t want to. So don’t.“If you’re a runner why aren’t you thinner?” Oh, just fuck off. Cake retention. And don’t bloody comment on my body.“How far is Brighton marathon? Is it as far as London?” YES! YES IT IS. ALL MARATHONS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE 26.2 MILES AND IT’S QUITE A BIG DEAL IF THEY AREN’T!

So runners have come in for quite a lot of stick recently, due to one idiot shoving that poor woman, for reasons that must only be known to himself, but we take quite a lot of crap on the streets too. And really there’s room for all of us out there to do our thing if we’re just a little bit nice to each other. Deal?

How running and being a parent has turned me into a total hippy.

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How running and being a parent has turned me into a total hippy.

I never quite know how much backstory to give in this bit: whether to assume everyone has read previous blog-posts or that this is the first thing I’ve written that you’ve ever had the misfortune to stumble across. I’m probably going to plump for the latter because I’d like to think LOADS of people may suddenly start reading it, like I’ve accidentally written some massive zeigeisty thing (that is a word actually. It is now anyway), and the gods of Mumsnet bloggers network have smiled upon me and I’ve gone VIRAL. Which is something that I never thought would be a good thing… But it’s also entirely possible that I’m just screaming into the void.

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So I’m going to assume you don’t know stuff, even though we’re all really aware that it’s just my friends and family who are reading. Back in April I ran my first marathon – you can read about my experience here. I literally put my blood, sweat and tears into it. The marathon that is; writing the blog wasn’t nearly as painful. Reading it, however… well you may judge for yourself. I raised shitloads of money for Mind, so it was all worth it. And also (*whispers*) I kind of loved every minute of it, even the horrible bits because I’m a massive masochist. It must have been OK because I almost immediately signed up for another one.

Fairly early on in the marathon, and I can’t remember what prompted it (I could go back and re-read the marathon blog to find out but what if I think it’s awful in retrospect? Not worth the risk), I was having a dark moment, and the words “only positive thoughts” popped into my head. And that became a sort of impromptu mantra for the race. I know, what a TOTAL hippy – even the word mantra makes me think of dream catchers and patchouli. Normally I hate that kind of stuff, and get very irritated; I’m not an especially zen kind of person. People who have read the blog will know that I am not exactly a calm soul. As an example, when my daughter (now 7) started talking, I was at some lentil-eating, Guardian-reading (yeah, yeah, I do eat lentils AND read the Guardian…) community garden thing for babies and toddlers – and I said that I thought it was hilarious that one of E’s early words, after the usual Mama, Dada stuff, was ‘NOT!’ because even at the age of one she knew exactly what she DIDN’T want – and this American hippy woman, who looked like she’d knitted her shoes, and was literally holding her newborn over a flower bed and whistling to try to make it wee – said, “Oh that’s just saaaaoooooo negative, man, what a shame it wasn’t yes, you should really try to be more positive around her”. She may not actually have said ‘man’… To which my internal response was the entirely reasonable ‘OH MY GOD, fuck off, hippy’. I can’t remember what I actually said back, I think I just mumbled something neutral, but I didn’t go back to that playgroup very often after that. I was proud of how early my perfect girl was talking, and she pissed on my chips, whilst trying to get HER daughter to piss in a flower bed. I was functioning on very little sleep at the time and did not want to feel judged that I was feeding E shop-bought rice cakes rather than home-grown mung bean dahl or something.

But later parenthood, and more unexpectedly running, has mellowed me right out, maaaan. More recently, I’ve been having more zen-like thoughts about running, and also have been doing some reading on mindful running and all of that stuff, so it’s not completely out of the question that this has come from there. So here goes. My peace and love outlook on running for your delectation:

This came about, as you may have read about in great and tedious detail, when I had a month off running after I tore my calf. It was VERY annoying and frustrating for all involved. But luckily for my own sanity and the safety of those around me, I am now back running again, slowly and carefully at first, but fingers crossed, it is going OK, and that October marathon may still be on. This epic zen moment occurred in that VERY FIRST run, where I was allowed to run for a mere 5 minutes. After a couple of false starts where I didn’t take the injury seriously, I did all my exercises and was finally, finally going to try a little run. I walked the five minutes from my house to the scenic ring road (actually, it’s really near this BEAUTIFUL bit of National Trust land called Shotover, so it actually is scenic, but I was just going to run along the footpath because it is dead flat and I love the smell of lorry fuel while I’m running), and then tentatively began to run. My thought process was as follows: “YAAAAAAAAAYEEEEEE! I’M RUNNING! I’M RUNNING AND NOTHING HURTS AND NOTHING FEELS LIKE IT’S GOING TO SNAP OR FALL OFF! I’M SO LUCKY! I LOVE RUNNING SO MUCH!” And I enjoyed that 5-minute run as much as I’ve enjoyed any run in years. Then I had the recommended rest day, and the day after that I ran for my allowed 10 minutes, and if anything that run was EVEN more fun. It was weeing it down with rain, I got soaked, and when I was at the 8 minute mark, I found myself running along the road, with black streaks down my face because I’d forgotten to put my customary waterproof mascara on (not running, see – does weird stuff to you), and looked very much like the mutant love child of Alice Cooper and Spike from Buffy (no, really – look at the picture), and started laughing. Laughing at the sheer joy of running in the rain, on my own.

It feels as though I’ve got my love for running back. When I said this to a friend, he asked if I had previously fallen out of love with running, and I replied that I hadn’t been aware that I had, but that I had lost something of my reason for doing it. This was about the sheer JOY of it for its own sake, with no thoughts of PBs or pace or training or races, or any of that. That stuff all has a joy to it too – I have detailed in previous posts the satisfaction of putting a gold star against a long run on my marathon plan – but this made me remember how much I love just running. Just the movement of my body. Just being outside and moving. The privilege of being able to do it. Not thinking OK, to PB I need to do this 5K at 8.5 minutes/mile, gritting my teeth and going at breakneck speed (for me, not for an actual fast person) and hating EVERY bloody lung burning, thigh aching SECOND of it while I’m running. Enjoying the satisfaction of the PB and DEFINITELY the coffee and debrief with friends afterwards, but HATING the actual run. Whereas these last couple of weeks, I haven’t cared what speed I’m going, I’ve tried to only look at the time on my watch because I don’t want to do too much too soon, and it’s just been FUN. Amazingly when I do look at the pace I’ve done, it’s not half bad. I don’t seem to have lost all of my fitness. I can’t WAIT to get back to doing longer runs, but just because I love it so much I want to be able to do it for longer! Other friends have said that sometimes they put their GPS watch in their pocket and just go out for a run without the pressure of looking at their pace or whatever, and I think this is something I may try to adopt in the future too.

I know some people that know me will laugh when they read this – but I’m not naturally a competitive person (although some people bring out my ‘sibling’ rivalry, some people who know who they are, who have been threatened with kettlebells before and even though they are nearly a foot shorter and probably about 3 stone lighter than me insist on lifting the same weights because they are SUPER competitive…) but I had recently been caught up in the fact that I was third in my age category for our club road race championships, and I got a bit obsessed with the idea of keeping that position: working out which races I needed to do and getting really genuinely competitive with friends in my age category. It wasn’t actually a nice feeling at all. But having missed a whole bunch of races whilst off injured, that feeling has just gone. Dissipated into thin air. I simply don’t care anymore. I don’t even check the listings to see if I’m still in that position. If I do races it will just be because I want to and because I enjoy it rather than because I feel like I have to keep my position or desperately need a PB. I don’t have to do EVERY race. I know, it’s a novel thought… And my major Fear of Missing Out will be further tested, I guess. I did a parkrun at the weekend, for the first time in ages, and I ran with a friend who is just coming back to running after having her second baby. We ran together at a leisurely pace, chatting the whole way around, in the sunshine. I ‘paced’ her to a post-baby parkrun PB and we both felt pretty good afterwards. Compare that to the last 5K I did, where, yes, the photograph is one of my favourites, and I have actual flying feet, but I really didn’t enjoy it, and could barely breathe let alone talk through that one.

I did my first ‘race’ last week too. But I travelled there and ran with one of my favourite club buddies, and yes, it felt good to have the Headington Road Runners blue and yellow strip on and it felt good to be running, but we were both coming back from injuries, so kept a decent but still fairly leisurely pace round, and even managed to keep talking going up the MASSIVE hill that literally goes on for an entire mile, and you have to do it twice because it’s a double loop. And it was so much fun! We knew half the marshals on the course and encouraged other people who were struggling, and laughed with all of our friends. If I’d been going flat out and busting a gut for a PB I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that.

Something of this applies to being a parent too. Sometimes I’m so busy shouting at my kids for not eating something (or FOR eating something they shouldn’t), and hustling to get hair brushed and teeth cleaned and out the door and on to the next thing, that I forget to enjoy them. My parenting technique at the moment seems to be two extremes: either this nurturing earth mother, hugging them close and not minding reading the same story over and over, or shouting “OH WHAT IS IT NOW?” from the kitchen into the living room and almost reduced to tears over the food battles I said I’d never have with my children.

We stayed the night at my in-laws recently, and the boy, who is 3, was supposed to be sleeping in the same room as my husband and I, on a blow-up mattress (I’m going to stop calling my husband long-suffering by the way; it started as a joke, but independently both of my OWN parents referred to him as such, so they blatantly think for some reason that I’m a pain in the arse, which is obviously untrue as I am a constant joy). The boy decided these sleeping arrangements were a right laugh, and no one got any sleep. At about 3 o’clock in the morning, after husband had fallen asleep on the floor next to the blow-up mattress the boy was supposed to be sleeping on, he (the child, not the husband) appeared at my side of the bed and crept right up to my face and said loudly, “MUMMY! CUDDLE!” So I hauled his little sturdy body into the bed with me where he promptly headbutted my nose, and fell asleep across my neck. And whilst I was knackered and could feel the beginnings of my hangover kicking in (we’d been out for lunch for my aunt’s 80th and my cousins had kept my wine glass very well topped up. I’m the youngest by nearly 10 years, they still think it’s funny to get me pissed), the thought crossed my mind to wonder how long he would be THIS cuddly for. How long do I get this for? So I inhaled his damp hair which smells of mango shampoo and something sort of sweet and wholesome at the same time, like biscuits or bread, and for a moment felt very content to have his little chubby hand twiddling my earlobe like he has from birth. It’s a primal thing sometimes holding your kids – I would literally die for them if I had to, but I need to remember that in the moments when you discover a month’s old grape behind the radiator, or they’ve inexplicably lied about brushing their teeth and you know they have because their toothbrush is still dry, for fuck’s sake.

So, yes, I seem to have turned into a total hippy. Pretty soon I will be knitting my own shoes and eating home-made mung bean dahl. But for now, everybody slow down for a second. Take joy in those moments. With your kids. Out for a run. Peace out, man.

Body Image, Weight and BMI

Body image, weight, and BMI.

So I’m currently, at the age of 42 and bar the injury (see last TWO blog posts if you want to read at length about a grown woman moaning about her leg. Selling it there, aren’t I? link and link), probably the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life. I have two kids, have run a full marathon, am signed up for another, already plotting a third (marathons, not kids), and I can usually churn out a half-marathon distance once a week and not think of it as that much of a big deal any more. I’m now a healthy size 12 on the bottom half, 14 on the top (what are you gonna do? Boobs), when I spent most of my 30s as a size 18. I do not judge my self-worth on my clothes size, but I generally feel pretty much OK about myself. I finally feel alright in a swimming costume. I look at my marathon medal and feel extremely proud.

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HOWEVER. There’s this little voice that says, ‘Yeah, but BMI says you’re STILL overweight and you always will be. According to the BMI you need to lose a stone to get to the TOP of the healthy category, fatty. You need to be thinner. You need to weigh less.’ That little voice needs to fuck off, frankly. I’m NEVER going to weigh below 10 stone (or if I’m really honest, below 11 and a half) or be a size 10 – I’ve got big shoulders, a broad frame, and I’m fairly muscular (it’s well hidden, OK? But it’s there!). And you know what? I wouldn’t actually look good if I was 10 stone and/or a size 10. I’d be scrawny and drawn and I just know it would all come off my boobs, which frankly have suffered enough from breastfeeding two little biters. But there is this pervading DRIVE to be thinner, to weigh a certain amount, even if I’m not healthier, or even look better, and even though no one knows or cares what you actually weigh (except obvs you all do know now, because I more or less just told you).

My husband certainly doesn’t care. I can genuinely say he does not seem to fluctuate in his view of me whether I’m 3 stone heavier or lighter. Or maybe he just hides it well, because he read my last post about how I’m tempted to hit people who say the wrong thing with a kettlebell. He does get a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look about him if I ask his opinion on anything to do with my appearance, like he’s got to the final of Mastermind and has been asked a fiendishly impossible question on physics or something, rather than “Which of these tops looks better?”.

I had a really interesting conversation with a friend recently, who is an amazing athlete, about how she’d put on a little bit of weight since being off running with an injury, and we both said she looks better for it. She really does, she’s a gorgeous woman. But even though she can look in the mirror and KNOW she looks better and feels healthier and even swims better when she is not her absolute thinnest, there is that pressure to BE THIN.

It’s as if BEING THIN is the ultimate female goal. Not being healthy. Not being strong and fit. How fucked up is that? What the hell are we modelling for our kids, especially our daughters? And yes, before anyone gets all ‘but what about the MEN?’, I’m sure they have body image issues too, but I’m talking about my own experience here, and I happen to be a woman. When I was my absolute thinnest, I had been living in a tent in the middle of Holland for four months. I did not get thin through a healthy exercise routine and a balanced diet. And that’s all I’m going to say about that time in my life because my mum reads this. I suppose there was a LOT of dancing in squat raves and clubs in Amsterdam, which is a kind of exercise. But I definitely wasn’t strong and healthy. I didn’t look good; I looked like shit. Mum gasped when she saw me when I got back to England, minus my tent and all my stuff... and it wasn’t a gasp that said, ‘Wow you look great!’ In all honestly it was probably partly a gasp of ‘Where the hell is all your/my stuff? Some of that was off of the sixties, I may have to yell at you but you look so ill I’m just going to give you a hug…’ BUT - I WAS THIN, and my weight was the lowest it’s ever been in my adult life. And through all the later years of punishing myself through Weight Watchers and Slimming World that was the weight I was aiming for, which is actually completely unattainable, and not even that healthy.

That’s my issue with diet clubs. I’m not going to go all Liam from rebelfit here – I’m really not gunning for Weight Watchers or Slimming World, as actually SW really did help me to get part of the way with my initial weight loss, but honestly my main beef with it is that it’s NOT SUSTAINABLE. It doesn’t work long term. I know so many people who are ‘going back to Slimming World BECAUSE IT WORKED LAST TIME’ and isn’t that the clue? It worked LAST TIME, but you put it all back on again. So there you are paying them your money again. Also, for me, as someone who needs and enjoys exercise, it could only take me so far and for me personally, I don’t think it was mentally healthy. I’m someone who can have a tendency to binge-eat when I’m stressed/bored/unhappy, and even after years of therapy for my psychotherapy training I still don’t know why I have had such an unhealthy attitude towards food or my body image. But Slimming World certainly did not address this, it just made me binge-eat different things, and polarise foods as ‘SYNS’ or ‘FREE’ (i.e. GOOD or BAD). Someone with a tendency to binge-eat does not need to be told that they can eat unlimited pasta. Plus my skin went to absolute shit, and I’m pretty sure that’s because I wasn’t eating any healthy fats! And we NEED fat to function as human beings! Fat is not BAD, carbs are not BAD, even sugar and the occasional MASSIVE slab of chocolate fudge cake is not BAD, and it is not that which makes us fat, and making us feel guilty about enjoying good food is NOT going to make us get thin and stay thin, should we even want to.

The only way I really lost weight in a healthy way, was, ironically, when weighing less and being thin for the sake of it stopped being the ultimate goal, and I will elaborate on this later. At Slimming World there’s this weird paradox between being encouraged to eat more vegetables and fruit and lean protein, which is great, but as I’ve mentioned also being encouraged to really see foods as good and bad (Syns? Yeah, sins. You ain’t fooling no one, SW), and to eat unlimited SHITE that has no nutritional value whatsoever. Like Mugshots and Mullerlights, because they are ‘free’. My lightbulb moment was when my 7 year old asked for a Mullerlight, and I thought, “No way am I letting her put that chemical shitstorm in her body”. SO WHY THE HELL AM I PUTTING IT IN MINE, several times a day, just because SW tells me it’s ‘FREE’? And seriously do NOT get me started on the abomination that is ScanBran... That is NOT food. That is cardboard. I do actually like Quark, though. Shh, don’t tell anyone.

More recently I met a friend of a friend at a kids’ party, who had been in my SW group, and she asked me about my running, so I told her, at great length, because, frankly I will bore the knickers off anyone who asks me, ad nauseum… And then she said, oh I wish I could exercise, but muscle weighs more than fat, doesn’t it, and it would show up on the scales in my weigh-in so I don’t. WHAT. THE. FUCK? So she literally wasn’t exercising because she was scared it would make her weigh more. GNNNNN? As an American teenager would probably no longer say, ‘I just can’t even...’ Because aside from that whole premise being total bollocks, the absolute and only goal, the thing you judge your entire self-worth on, is what those scales say once a week. Not even losing body fat, or LOOKING BETTER, measuring yourself with a tape measure or whatever – she was LITERALLY judging her entire self-worth on that one number on the scales once a week. Where is the logic? How did it come to THAT? And if that’s too anecdotal friend-of-a-friend shizzle, another Slimming World contact did question whether I should be running up to 20 miles on the day before a weigh-in because my muscles would be holding on to water and I would weigh more, or some such bollocks – which is also an anecdote but that one actually happened to me.

So yes, it has taken me all of my 42 years to start to come to terms with the body I’ve got. I’m definitely not completely there now. I have good days and bad days. But now I mostly love my body, in all its imperfection. I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m just saying that this is the body I’ve got and I try to love it and what it can do. I’m really fucking lucky to have this body because I have all my limbs and all of my organs (except my gallbladder, but nobody needs that really, and now I can eat cake again) and I’m strong and fit and healthy. This change has come about DIRECTLY from running. Admittedly it’s partly because I lost some weight, but that’s ALMOST incidental in the journey to coming to terms with the body I’ve got, not the idealised version that we’re supposed to, and I did, always want. When I started running more seriously, when I started training for my first half marathon, and definitely for the full marathon, it became more about what I wanted my body to be able to do. And yes, I did want to lose some of the weight to look better, but mostly because I knew if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a hope of getting any more PBs and carrying a couple of extra stone around a marathon wouldn’t be impossible but it would make it a lot harder.

I started wanting to fuel my body better and to educate myself about the affect different foods would have on my training. I think I enjoy food even MORE now that I’m more educated about it. And I recognise when my attitude is getting dodgy around it. Like whilst I was injured and not running, the drive to binge-eat chocolate was really, really strong. And sometimes I do still do it, but nowhere near as much as I used to before. A lot of this healthier attitude is through working with Tony – details of his habits-based nutrition approach can be found HERE . Something HUGE I’ve taken from that is that I finally stop seeing food as good and bad or ‘SYN-full’. There is no such thing as naughty food. A naughty food-related incident would be feeding a Snickers to someone you knew had a nut allergy. But the Snickers itself is not to blame for the attempted murder, the Snickers itself is not naughty.

In my first ever blog post (link) I wrote about how one of my proudest moments was when Evie said how sporty and strong I was, and how that made me feel about a million times better than her saying I was slim or even beautiful. Because it was about who I am and what my body represents to her, rather than some enforced idea of what women ‘should’ look like, and this constant media policing of our bodies. To her I’m just strong and sporty. She also knows what carbs are and that you need protein to help your muscles grow. I’ve never actually said this to her, but she takes it ALL in, like a little 7 year old sponge. She would also take it in if I looked in the mirror and said, ‘UGH I look so fat and disgusting too’, so I try really, really hard not to do that. Sometimes I think it, but I really try not to ever vocalise it in front of her. I want to be her role model, I want her to want to be fit and healthy and to enjoy cake and enjoy vegetables (I REALLY want her to stop complaining about my bloody cooking, and suddenly deciding that she doesn’t like something she declared delicious YESTERDAY, but that’s another issue. I was vegetarian for 27 years and I don’t like onions, so I can’t really talk about being fussy) and not see food as good or bad. My wish for her is that she loves her body and is happy, and preferably grows up without issues around food. But being a girl can be a bit shit, and we’re bombarded with the message that we are never EVER good enough. If anyone out there has the answer please let me know! For now I’ll just try to keep myself mentally and physically healthy and model that for her. I should probably stop swearing so much too, but I try not to do that out loud. Like most parents I go into the kitchen, shut the door and do a silent scream of ‘FOR FUCK’S SAKE’ every now and again. And on that irrelevant note I’ll end it there.

Cross training. VERY Cross training.

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Cross training. VERY Cross training.

I know this blog is supposed be about running, but at the time of writing this I haven’t run for almost a month. At the time of publishing it, I bloody well hope I will be running again*, because there’s a time lag of a couple of weeks (the timeline can get confusing because sometimes I write loads and have a big backlog of posts, as I’m forever in fear of running out of things to write about. It’s like X-men Days of Future Past, which no one understands, and if they say they do they are lying).

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However, as things stand I could either write another great big moany post about being injured, or I could tell you about what I HAVE been doing (or OOH BOTH!). The other aspect of this blog is about being a parent, so that shit is still ongoing, obviously. I do try to hide from them at barbecues and stuff, but they always find me. Mind you, the girl one is getting pretty good at getting me snacks. I’m just wondering how soon I can get her to make a cup of tea, because that’s when kids really start to come into their own…

I went through a week or so of feeling pretty flipping sorry for myself – see ‘I’M INJURED’ and am still struggling when I see all my friends posting about all their runs, that INCREDIBLY still go ahead without me ( I KNOW, disloyal bastards), and races that I’ve had to cancel and transfer my place to other people. But MOSTLY I’m feeling in a slightly better place about it. Although, I mean, SERIOUSLY, my entire Facebook feed today is people talking about a race I couldn’t do yesterday, and one I had a place on but had to cancel today, and the race I’ve had to cancel for next week because I can’t do that either, OH AND the one mid-week that ooh wow, here’s a shocker: I WON’T BE RUNNING. And how fucking brilliant everyone else’s running is going and to be honest with you it’s fucking tedious and I actually hate all my friends right now. (I don’t really. Not completely, anyway.) One of my best friends (you know who you are, and you know I love you) recently told me I was handling it (being injured) badly and compared it to a time she was pissed off at missing a race because she was on holiday. Now this was just a bad example, because she has been badly injured before whilst running and actually does understand, but she is a brave BRAVE woman to say that to me in my current mood. Although I do have to say, I didn’t go to a gym session with her that evening because I was deeply afraid I wouldn’t be able to refrain from “accidentally” twatting her with a kettlebell. BUT I’M FINE, HONEST. I DO NOT HAVE ANGER ISSUES, RIGHT?

At least, if I didn’t have massive PMT, and be mood-swinging like a mofo, and could stay off Facebook, I THINK I would be feeling slightly better about the whole thing this week. This is partly because as discussed in the last blog post, I am trying to re-frame how I think about it. Being injured is FORCING me to have almost total rest. I am going to be soooooooo well rested. But actually, I didn’t really take much time out after the marathon, and immediately went into a series of shorter faster runs and races, club races of 5K and 4 miles, time trials etc., which my body was not used to. And as my old alcoholic room- mate said she wanted on her gravestone: Something Had to Give. The other positives are that the kids have enjoyed having me home more during the weekends and evenings, and being less knackered out from long runs to be able to do stuff all together, rather than Saturday afternoons spent lying around in compression leggings, demanding tea and crisps. I have had more time and energy to do other things too, like focus on a possible new business venture, which I will no doubt write about at a later stage.

Also I am out (fingers crossed) of the phase where I was on a complete exercise ban – after I managed to ping my calf and have it roll up like a roller blind more than once (when you’d think doing that to yourself once would be enough), and have my patient physio buddy manually roll it back down again and strap it into place twice, which was not like being tickled by kittens’ whiskers in ANY WAY (i.e. it fucking hurt – worse the second time because it still felt bruised from the first time), Tristan, the aforementioned very patient physio, banned me from doing ANY exercise for a week. I SUPPOSE this might be because when he said I could do cross-training after the first time I immediately went and did a really hefty kettlebell/gym session, which included quite a lot of planks and stretches, because I AM A TWAT. And in a weird coincidence it pinged again the next day. I know, isn’t that strange? Turns out Tristan (who’s website can be found HERE he’s really rather good) knows what he’s talking about, so I did as I was told this time.

So a week of NO exercise. I was not amused. I was reallllyyyyy quite grumpy, which I’m sure is hard to believe. And I felt silly doing the school run with a bandaged lower leg and having to explain to people that yes I did do this to myself (sort of). Weird thing with exercise-based injuries, people seem to give you less sympathy as they see it as self- inflicted, like a hangover.

But today, I’ve been SWIMMING. Which may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I’ve never really liked swimming, and I’m not very good at it. Pre laser eye surgery I was blind as a bat and mostly completely skeeved out by the idea of touching my eyeball with my own finger to put in contact lenses. So my take home experience of swimming was largely being able to see precisely fuck all whilst in the water. This put me off a bit. But today was super super fun. It wasn’t in a stinky chlorinated pool, although I’m thinking I might start doing that too – with my extremely unnatural hair colours, this may be an error, but hey, in for a penny, in for my hair going really weird colours that everyone will probably assume I did on purpose anyway.

So back to today – today was in an actual LAKE. With weeds and fish and very serious-looking triathletes and other PROPER swimmers! People doing ‘transitions’ from swimming to running – people running round the lake in wetsuits and trainers and then going in and swimming really fucking fast. Me being in this company was quite a big deal. I’m a little bit scared of the water – the proper, OUTSIDE water, not the aforementioned stinky pool. Well, not exactly the water, but what might be in it. And actually, yes, the water itself too – just the agoraphobia-inducing HUGENESS of large bodies of water. I’m of that generation that watched Jaws at precisely the wrong age and have always felt a bit funny about my legs being that far off the bottom of the water, and what the hell might be down there. There might ACTUALLY be something down there that wants to eat me... And at the very least weeds that are going to wrap around my legs and drown me. Or like, pike or something else that will take a chunk out of me. OR OR OR what else? LEECHES! Eep! When in reality the only thing that took a bite out of me was a mosquito or something who fancied a nibble on my tasty, tasty left elbow. Fair enough, it’s one of my best bits. The boy one is very fond of my elbows at the moment, the little weirdo, which he calls ‘elbones’. Cute. But also my armpits, which is really weird. Between the swimming and the boy checking my armpits for ‘pickles’ they are very smooth shaven at the moment. I thought ‘pickles’ were freckles which I thought was flipping adorable, but it turns out he means ‘prickles’… like stubble. Nice. (Ooh, I shoehorned in a parenting bit! Yay! On topic!)

Anyway, whilst being off running, I was eventually persuaded by one of my loveliest friends, K, that swimmers really ARE as nice as runners, and that it doesn’t matter if I don’t have all the gear, and can barely swim a metre of crappy breast stroke, they will be welcoming. AND if that’s not enough, there will be bacon sandwiches afterwards. Bacon, you say? I’m in.

So I got up at 6:30 on a flipping Sunday, which is frankly a BIT rude, but you know, I’ll give it a go. I am desperately missing my weekend long runs and my friends and I’m sure I’ve been murder to live with, so something has got to take the place of the running for at least the time being… I am woefully unprepared for this, but I dug out my swimming costume, which is probably about the most frivolous and non-sporty garment you could imagine – turquoise with pink, black, yellow and white day of the dead skulls and flowers all over it. And a kind of ruffled half skirt. The sort of swimsuit that you buy for lounging by a pool drinking something fancy out of a coconut (or possibly in my case dipping a toe in the seas of exotic Southwold and sneaking a bottle of wine on the pier on your wedding anniversary, but at least let me pretend my life is glamorous..). But this is definitely NOT an appropriate garment for your first open-water swimming experience. Upon telling Coach Tony about this venture, he asked me if I had a wetsuit, which got a derisory laugh and the muttered response, “Yeah, mate…as IF I own a wetsuit.” I don’t even own a swimming hat or goggles**, both of which I had to borrow from K.

But she was RIGHT. About all of it. She was right about how nice everyone was – there were homemade cookies to buy, and everyone was really pleased and welcoming when K told them that this was my first open-water swim, because like runners, they really do want people to get as much enrichment and joy out of this thing they love doing as they do.

We stripped down to our swimming costumes, and I put on the borrowed hat and goggles, which made me feel a bit more ‘proper’ and we carefully made our barefooted way over to the edge of the lake, where a wobbly pontoon was waiting. There was a group of kids in the water all having a great time; I nearly joked about maybe joining them, but realised that would be massively insulting to the kids because they were OBVIOUSLY not first timers, they were a youth triathlon team. And I was a wobbly ‘old lady’ in borrowed goggles who had never put her face in the water... Well, not on purpose.

We made our way into the water, which was actually pleasantly warmer than the outside temperature. And at first I have to admit, I DID feel panicky. It took me a while to get used to the sensation of not being able to touch the bottom, and when K suggested I try putting my face in the water, I very nearly leaped back out again. It felt so weird and I felt very anxious; I didn’t like seeing my ghostly green arms and legs beneath me and then blackness. Just vast nothingness. I also did NOT like swimming through the odd patch of weeds, which got tangled around my ankles and wrists, albeit very briefly. But once I relaxed a bit, I started to enjoy it. K patiently stayed with me at my (water) snail’s pace as we made our way around the lake, and very kindly didn’t tell me what it meant to ‘swim over’ someone until after we were out – which frankly sounds like assault to me, but luckily is utterly frowned upon. And in the end I swam nearly a kilometre, in my terrible breast stroke. And then there were the home-made cookies and the offer of a bacon sandwich, which in a shockingly out of character moment I genuinely didn’t feel like having. So all in all the best way to take my mind of the 10K race I ‘should’ have been doing, and next week we’re going again to take my mind off the 5-mile race that I can’t do either. I just need to stay off Facebook if I want to stay friends with my running buddies until I can re-join them. In the meantime I’m going to get someone to show me how to do the front crawl and work on being able to stick my face in the water and not freak the fuck out.

*INJURY UPDATE: I’m sure everyone is on tenterhooks about the current state of my calf and whether or not I am running again yet. Aaaand the answer is no, I’m not. The old leg is healing but definitely not there yet. I am religiously doing my strengthening exercises, and once I can hop on my bad leg without it feeling weird, I can start running again. Very very very slowly for 5 minutes at a time. So it’s going to be a long haul and may have to re-think my plan to do another marathon in October. We’ll see. Watch this space for more sweary annoying updates.

**I made a trip to Decathlon, and I now own marginally more sensible swimwear, goggles, a swimming hat and a calf sleeve. Because I ALWAYS get carried away in Decathlon. It’s practically the law.

Bouncing Back
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I cannot run and I require ALL the sympathy, and icepacks, and something to put my bad leg on. And ibuprofen. Also chocolate. No, not that shit chocolate, the good stuff. The dark Lindt with seasalt and caramel will do. Well, go to the shop, then! I’m INJURED. And almonds are good for healing. YES THEY ARE. And a cup of tea would be nice while you’re up. Oh forget it I’ll do it myself. AAAAARRGGHH MY LEG! Now you know what it’s like to be married to me, reader. Not pretty, is it? That poor man. See previous post about letting the Wookie win.

Weirdly, I had already had the idea for this blog topic, based on not getting a job I applied for, when I injured myself. The silver lining being that it gave me more material for the blog AND it was actually relevant to the topic! Whoo-hoo! But no, now you ask, it wasn’t worth it and hopefully for my family, friends and waistline this will not be a lasting thing, but I’ll get to that later. I also started writing this with a MASSIVE and extremely rare hangover, and had to cancel a long run I was supposed to be taking out that morning (because of the injury, not the hangover), so I am not a happy bunny.

So, to the job thing, that kicked it all off. I wasn’t exactly looking for a job, but an opportunity came up that was absolutely perfect, and pretty much everyone told me to go for it. Even the outgoing post-holder, who was about to go on maternity leave, told me to go for it and said that she would put in a good word. So I agonized over the application forms, covering letter and my CV that I hadn’t updated for 6 years , got it all sent off and was pretty happy with it. And then after a short wait, found out that I hadn’t been shortlisted for interview. I’ll admit that there was a tiny bit of me that was relieved because new stuff is scary, but mostly I was disappointed. I totally understood why, and I’d had an inkling that I wouldn’t be shortlisted as I didn’t have direct experience, and they needed someone to hit the ground running.

During that weird period between sending off the application, and finding out for sure, I had some good advice from my coach about staying positive, because you might as well stay positive until you know for sure otherwise it’s just wasting energy. But then when you know for sure it’s not the news you wanted, allow yourself a little wallow, and then reframe it. Find a way to think about it differently. So I did, or tried to. In my case, my reframing became about the fact that it had spurred me on to sort out my CV, and start thinking seriously about what I do and don’t want out of a job, and how I will work childcare if and when I do get some gainful employment.

Incidentally, I very nearly didn’t apply for that job at all – on reading the person specification it listed accreditation as an ‘essential’. I have the required qualifications, but because of spending the last few years at home with the now giant, Octonauts-obsessed, nearly 3 year old ‘baby’ demanding that we watch ‘colossal squid!’ for the gazillionth time, I haven’t got accreditation yet (you know, there are worse TV shows that Octonauts for him to be obsessed with, it’s Cbeebies, and therefore I can pretend it’s educational, but WHY is it always the same episode? Kids are weird. He doesn’t like cheese, either; if he wasn’t the spit of me at that age and actually, you know, came out of my uterus, I wouldn’t be convinced he was mine…) So I thought it would be a waste of time to apply for it. Again, the same friend that gave me the advice about reframing told me about something he’d read where women look at a job description and only see what they haven’t got, so don’t apply, and men only see what they HAVE got, and go for it! Well, my feminist sensibilities were not having THAT, so I phoned up the HR person and asked if accreditation was a deal breaker, and it turned out that it wasn’t. Obviously I didn’t get the job, but I very nearly didn’t even put myself in the running – ooh, I said running, therefore pretending this is in any way on-topic… It is, though, I will cleverly loop all of this back to running and injuries and stuff, and it is in no way a self-indulgent wallow about how I didn’t get a job.

So this is relevant to the blog topic because it made me think about how we bounce back after some kind of setback (see!): injury, a bad race, a personal worst, or even just getting older and slower. The same principles relating to the job set-back could be applied to running. As I mentioned above, I am currently nursing an injury. This is new territory for me. I had some problems with my hip when I was training for my first marathon, but that was a gradual thing which built up over time as I increased my mileage. Whereas this was a horrible moment when something went PING and hurt like an absolute bastard (excuse my bad language if you’re not used to it; why haven’t you read my other posts?). I’d had a bit of a tight calf for a while, and had been trying to increase my stretching routine, actually getting friendly with the foam roller that was covered in a thick layer of dust on top of the wardrobe because I have to keep it out of reach of my ridiculous cat, who ate the last one. He’s also destroyed several pairs of flip-flops and basically anything out of that material is like…well, catnip to him. Big ginger idiot (anyone who knows me in real life knows that that cat is my furry first- born, and I love him so much that I actually forgave him weeing in a brand new pair of Brooks Glycerine 14s that I had found in TK Maxx for £40 IN MY SIZE, – one of the actual best moments of my LIFE). But back to the injury – at a club time trial on Thursday night, it was still a little tight, but I warmed up fine, set off at a decent clip (for me, we’ve established I am not the speediest) but got 0.2 miles into the race – and I know it was precisely 0.2 miles because my watch helpfully uploaded the shortest run I’ve ever done onto Strava – when I got a searing pain in my calf. There was no way I could carry on running, there was no question of running through that one, though I did think about it. So I hobbled back against the flow of runners coming towards me all looking concerned (it’s a staggered – no pun intended for once – start, so the faster runners were all behind me. No, of course that wasn’t remotely humiliating… ). But you know what, the reframing started immediately. I got back to the club where I was looked after by everyone, ice packs were provided, advice given, ridiculous innuendo supplied to make me laugh and take my mind off it. No one brought me chocolate, which was a bit of a poor show, but aside from that, I was perfectly looked after. So the positive was the care I received from my friends. Runners (and in the case of my number-one nurse, also cyclists) really are lovely, and they’ve all been there and know what you need (aside from the chocolate, but on reflection I hurt my calf, I didn’t get attacked by dementors).

When I got home, feeling very sorry for myself, limping into the kitchen, having a little cry, I comfort ate an entire packet of parma ham and an avocado, because I really am that effing middle class, and also I hadn’t earned any carbs on a 0.2 mile run… So that was another positive. I didn’t immediately face-plant into something sweet that I shouldn’t be eating. This may not sound like a big deal, but I am really prone to mindless comfort eating, and I was quite proud of myself for that one, ridiculously middle-class comfort food aside.

Fingers crossed it will be a short-lived injury, after several days wearing compression socks (I know, I looked super-hot. I had to put bromide in my long-suffering husband’s tea, because the sight of me going to bed in luminous pink compression socks and an ancient Tank Girl T-shirt off of the 90s would be too much for him to withstand. He’s only human) and icing it seemed to have done the trick. I say ‘icing’ – it was actually a bag of frozen sweetcorn. I know the traditional thing is frozen peas, but I’m a freaking maverick, I don’t subscribe to your rules, stick it to the man and that! The compression socks did cause a dilemma which is not unknown to other female runners – wanting to go on a rare night out (which resulted in the hangover – isn’t it clever and not remotely coincidental how I pull the whole blog post together?!) but not wanting to take off the compression socks. This led to a swift change of outfit as the dress I was going to wear really didn’t go with compression socks and a bag of frozen sweetcorn.

Unfortunately, as I update this a few days later, I am now very grumpily back on the injury bench, having re-tweaked the fecking thing taking off from a standing start, not at a race, or even an attempt to run, but after the Octo-toddler, who was streaking as fast as he could towards the open gate in the garden of the café we were in. Sproing it went again.

So off to see our lovely club physio, who tried to take my mind of the fact that my calf muscle had apparently ROLLED UP, and he needed to manipulate and squish (sorry for using these technical terms) it back into place, and then tape it up properly, the mere IDEA of which makes me do a little mouth sick, by talking to me about comics and running and listening to his excellent rock ballad playlist. I’m not going to lie here, it felt REALLY freaking weird, and not a little bit painful, but hopefully, now it’s strapped back into place it will begin to heal properly. And I can use the extra very useful KT tape I bought at great expense, not to tape up my calf, but to strap Joe into his buggy. Unfortunately the calf tightness is caused by my ropey running style, so I’m going to need to try to sort that out too. This is going to be a long haul kinda thing. But I hope I can run again fairly soon, because THIS, being injured and not being able to run, is WORSE than tapering. Oh yes it is. At least tapering had a marathon at the end of it. And I’m going to end up divorced, friendless and about 6 stone heavier if it goes on much longer. Might be more of a job to reframe that one.

How I stay motivated to run
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How I stay motivated to run

I think I pretty much covered my main motivation for running in the first blog post I did (linky linky). In a nutshell, if you can’t be bothered to read that, it’s “to get away from my kids when they are being really annoying, have a semblance of a social life, and endorphins are good”.

But sometimes the lure of the sofa and Netflix (not Netflix and chill, because who has the energy? ACTUAL Netflix) is too much and one’s arse becomes inexplicably glued to the furniture. I know I should run, I know I will feel better if I run, I know I will regret it if I don’t but only VERY rarely regret it if I do. But. Still. Can’t. Remove. Arse. From. Sofa… Then the excuses come: it’s raining! The cat is sitting on me and he’s really comfy, everyone knows you can’t move a sleeping cat. That hip niggle would probably be better rested. I sneezed! I’ve probably got cholera. Can’t possibly run.

So when this kicks in, I need something else to get me up and my trainers on and out the door. My main one is the knowledge that I always feel better afterwards. I used to have a bright pink post-it note stuck to the wall above my desk at eye level when I was studying that said “You have never regretted a run”. Which is still more or less true. I regretted one Easter Monday run where I tripped on a tree root and faceplanted onto the dirt, bashing up knee and elbow. And I REALLY regretted going out the Easter Monday the following year and guess what? Did the exact same thing but worse, resulting in shoulder physio and a still-scarred knee. This year I did actually still run on Easter Monday because I had a race, and there was no way I was going to let that happen three years in a row. But as per flaming usual I digress. Those were rare, regrettable runs. Under normal circumstances, and going arse over tit notwithstanding, I very rarely regret just getting out there in rain or wind or snow. Because even the really shitty sessions feel good (once it’s over) and I’m sitting back at OxRad, home of the Headington Road Runners, with my mates having a latte. Often that’s the best bit of the run. I love the endorphins, and when I’m training for something it feels good to get that session ticked off the training plan. When I was marathon training I gave myself gold stars for the long runs. Yes, I AM that sad, and yes, I DID nick them off my kids, and yes, I WILL be doing the same thing again.

I have a new phrase written on the chalk board above my kettle now, from the British Olympic Rowers story about when they had to make any decision during the day, such as what to have for breakfast, or whether to do a training session or whatever, they asked themselves the question “Will it make the boat go faster?” I find this quite inspiring. I’ve put on a few lbs post marathon and it was basically to try to get me to stop carb-loading a month AFTER I’d run the flipping thing, but it works as a training motivator too. Also I thought it would be funny to see if it confused my husband. I don’t think he finds it as inspiring as I do, because when he asked me about why I’d written this on the chalkboard he was absent-mindedly finishing off a packet of crisps before 9 am (the other half of which had gone into our daughter’s packed lunch), and when I asked him if he thought that eating McCoys for breakfast would make the boat go faster he replied, “No, but it will make the journey more enjoyable”. He is not on board with motivational phrases, obviously. He also likes to quote Jaws at me when I’m struggling to go upstairs after a long run: “Here’s to swimming with bow-legged women”. Oh, and when we used to play squash (pre-kids obvs. Now we can’t do anything like that together without huge amounts of planning, and frankly I’d rather run on my own and go out for dinner with him if we can get a babysitter) and I was grumbling at him in the car on the way to the courts he muttered, “Time to let the Wookie win” because what angry pre-menstrual woman DOESN’T like to be compared to Chewbacca? And to be fair I may have ripped his arm off if he’d beaten me.

So even with the knowledge of all of this sometimes it’s still difficult to un-glue your derriere from the sofa especially when the new series of Orange is the New Black is about to start, or whatever your own un-missable telly is. I’ve touched upon this above, but one of the motivational biggies for me is “HAVING A PLAN”. I like to have a marathon, half marathon, 10k plan on the go at any one time. And obviously the first part of having a plan is to sign up for races. I signed up for my second marathon a week after completing my first one in an attempt to fend off the post-mara blues. I also foolishly expressed an interest in trying to do a sub-2 half marathon, which I now have to try to have a go at. This will involve knocking a full 10 minutes off my current PB. I’m not sure I can do it, but I will damn well have a go… So, once you’ve signed up for something, you have to have a plan! I feel a bit lost at the moment because I don’t need to start actual marathon training for another couple of months, and I’ve got nowhere to stick my stickers. But when I do have a plan, one of the things that really helped me psychologically to get through my first half marathon or marathon was the knowledge that I’d DONE all the training. I trusted the people who helped me put those plans together: the HRR coaches and my wonderful Garden Café Runners leader for that first half marathon.

I asked about others’ motivation in a health and fitness Facebook group that I’m in, and although most were similar, I was surprised by how different some were to mine. One of my friends – who has a very, very busy life juggling a high-pressure job and kids – schedules in her exercise time like she would everything else. She says that she supposes that the treadmill mentality means that she just does it; if it says gym at ? o’clock it’s because there has been a massive negotiation to work out childcare and work schedules to “let” her do it, so if she wastes that opportunity it’s “more fool me”. I would add to this, as I’m not currently working, but do have the childcare issues, that it’s one thing I don’t feel nearly so guilty about carving that time out to do for myself because it’s good for me and my family in so many other ways. I’m WAY less homicidal after a run than for example a night on the gin. But you know, 80:20 rule. Sometimes we all need a night on the gin, rather than a night in the gym.

Another friend who belongs to a wonderful running club (not mine, but I suppose it’s OK to say other running clubs are available in the general Oxfordshire area. Obviously HRR is the best, though) makes sure she runs as much as possible with other people from her club. A strategy I also employ. She says that she’s much more likely to get out the door if she’s meeting other people. This is SO true. During the winter months when it’s still bloody dark when you’re getting up, I would NOT go on my own out into the cold to run for 16 miles unless I was meeting other people. It simply would not happen. I sometimes go one further and offer to plan a route and take a group (usually with my marathon-training wing-woman little G because she’s great at route planning and I have the WORST sense of direction and am always trying to go the wrong way on routes I’ve done a million times, but I’m good at pacing and like to think I’m good at getting people going and making sure everyone is OK – those are my strengths; the ability to get lost if you turned me around in a cupboard, not so much…), and advertise it to the club several days beforehand so there was no way I could get out of it. And seriously, setting the alarm for 7 on a weekend in January, you NEED something to get you out of bed.

One of the other huge reasons for me, and I know this is something I’ve touched on in previous posts, so I won’t go over the same ground, is that it is the time when I can just be me. Not “MUMEEEEE”, just me. It’s pretty much the only thing I do at the moment which doesn’t revolve around my kids and family life. This will probably change as I think about going back to work in September when the little one will get some free nursery hours. Not sure how that’s all going to work yet. I have ideas about trying to do something that incorporates the two things I’m passionate about outside of my family, which are mental health and running, but nothing concrete yet. However, at the moment, when the big one is moaning that she doesn’t want to eat what I’ve made for dinner and the little one is going through a phase of thinking both biting people and being told off are the funniest things EVER, and all the creatures in the house are trying to sit on me at once (two cats and both kids) and it’s time for a rip-roaring game of “EVERYONE GET OFF MUMMY!” I need no other motivation to lace up my trainers and run away!

Will It Make the Boat Go Faster | Ben Hunt Davis

This Mum Runs – Part 2

Why this Mum runs – part 2

In the comments on my first blog post, one of my friends picked up on the fact that we voluntarily sign up for races, get up before the rest of our families and go out for punishing uphill 18 mile runs in the snow, and like to spend hours comparing aches and pains and whinging about how much our legs hurt, just like that bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy gets Marion to kiss all his sore bits (what? sorry, got totally off track there, that’s not what happens AT ALL, it’s more deep heat and frozen peas on your knees and less getting saucy on boats). But the point is that it’s entirely voluntary. No-one makes us. We WANT to do it

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That got me wondering about why I was so late to come to running and why I didn’t take it up in my teens or twenties rather than my mid-thirties. Our running club has members of all ages; today I ran with a big group of friends ranging in age from 19 to 70. I really admire the older members, NONE of whom look their age, so if anyone tells you that running is ageing, then they are talking rubbish.

I look at women 10-30 years older than me and hope I look as good as them at their age. Frankly it’s unlikely as I don’t look as good as some of them now, but we can dream. However, today I was thinking about the 19 year old I am training with and wondering why I didn’t want to do this at her age.

Weirdly I’ve always loved the feeling you get from exercise, and think I’m actually someone who needs it to keep my equilibrium. But at 19 I was at university in Belfast and the most exercise I got was pogo-ing about to Rage Against the Machine in The Attic at Lavery’s and the occasional frenetic and hysterical game of racquetball where we spent more time laughing about fart jokes than actually playing racquetball (yes, I was immature then, and I still am now. Not sorry, I think it keeps me young).

We did walk a LOT because none of us had cars and I don’t remember ever getting a taxi at University, as that would be money we could have spent on Guinness and disgusting £1 promotional shots of peach schnapps, mad dog 20:20 and Hooch! Ah the early 90’s. Era of Britpop and revolting alcopops. I did NOT enjoy a healthy lifestyle at university, and put on about 2 stone. I was very capable of cooking for myself, as when I decided to become a vegetarian aged 11, my mum taught me how to cook my own meals if I didn’t want what they were having. My Dad decreed it as a phase, and in a way he was right, it just took me 27 years to grow out of it.

However I seem to remember living off toast and pizza at Uni. And the occasional vat of homemade vegetable soup if funds were tight – which is probably the only reason I didn’t get scurvy. One time me and my friend Johnny were given the task of getting shopping for the house. We may have been a little the worse for wear because we came back with 48 out of date tunnocks chocolate tea-cakes (which I still maintain were a MASSIVE bargain) and a large pizza with triple hot extra chilli’s. After our housemates regained their ability to speak, having sat with their tongues in glasses of milk for half an hour after eating the pizza, it was decided that we couldn’t be trusted to do the shopping. EVER. But as usual, I digress.

That, in turn, led me to thinking about why I didn’t enjoy sport at school. I wasn’t bad at sport, I was even quite a good sprinter, and when the first and second fastest in my year were unavailable I even made the school athletics team. But I didn’t enjoy it, apart from the actual running; I didn’t enjoy any of the sort of team spirit that I do now with my running club. The idea of doing exercise for fun was as incomprehensible to me then as I find other people’s stair gates now. It was partly to do with a slightly sadistic PE teacher (yeah, I know it’s a cliché), who, when two of us got told off for talking too much (hard to believe that can happen, I’m such a shy and retiring type now. Ahem. What?) during some indoor PE lesson that involved wooden benches and some sort of circuit-type scenario, made us stand out in the snow in bare feet, shorts and t-shirts, freezing our bits off. Until a nice humanities teacher came along and asked us what we were doing there and dragged us back in again. The PE teacher seemed to want to be one of the ‘popular set’ of girls. You know the ones: pretty, cliquey, lots of hairspray, always fashionable, a bit thick, not very nice, but very, very good at sport. I did NOT want to be one of those girls. I wanted to hang out with my artsy goth and metal loving friends and being good at sport didn’t really fit in with that. Plus I was literally only good at running, and up until laser eye surgery 8 years ago I was very short sighted and had an astigmatism that meant not only could I not catch, and was a danger to myself and all around me if required to hit something with a bat or raquet. I wasn’t allowed to wear my glasses for hockey or netball, so couldn’t even see where the ball was until it was right in front of me. A school friend and I were put in goal together in hockey because she had terrible asthma so couldn’t run and I couldn’t see my own feet, so she used to stand in goal and direct me, and I’d run about trying to stop balls going into the goal.

me the only time I've been on the podium aged 3, second from right.

me and my big sister with our sports day 'medals'

Me left, avoiding sports.

Another friend thinks my new love for running is hilarious, because she used to be our school’s best cross- country runner whereas we used to hide under the bridge while she was running, smoking someone’s dad’s stolen Benson and Hedges… (But if you’re reading this Mum, that definitely didn’t happen, I just made it up for comedy effect). In those days GNR definitely only stood for Guns ‘n’ Roses, not Great North Run.

At university I did go through a phase of joining every team I could, just to try things out because we suddenly realised that there was all this stuff available to us for nothing, or at least extremely cheap (again this was the early 90s, you probably pay a fortune for all that stuff now) that we might never get a chance to try again. So the housemates and I went for one ballroom-dancing lesson, one ju-jitsu lesson, and weirdly the only one that stuck meant that I ended up as the Queen’s University of Belfast Parachute Club social secretary (yeah, I organised one dance. Get me. So being conned into being the chair of my kid’s school PTA wasn’t actually my first organisational gig; I’m still shit at it, though, and any school mums reading this ARE WELCOME TO TAKE OVER), and chucking myself out of perfectly good planes repeatedly over a couple of terms in my third year when I probably should have been studying. I wasn’t actually terribly good at that either, but there’s only so much you can do about it once you’re out of the plane. Gravity is going to take you to the ground one way or another (don’t worry, it was what is called ‘static line’ i.e. the pin releasing the parachute is automatically pulled out – they didn’t trust me not to mess that up, and I never did enough perfect plane exits to get to do one of the ones where you control it yourself, but I did give myself a black eye doing a ‘dummy pull’ where you pull a fake ripcord – which I promptly hit myself in the face with). Right enough, we usually ended up three fields away from the drop site on our bums in cowpats, scattering terrified cattle, but it was great fun.

In my late 20’s I took up kickboxing, for the joy of hitting stuff, but though it seems ironic now, the bit I HATED of the gradings was the running. We had to run 3 miles during the grading for each belt, and I ALWAYS thought I was going to die and it was horrible. But I know now that that’s because I didn’t build up to it at all, and didn’t do any running in between. I thought I should be able to go out and just run for half an hour, without doing any sort of run:walk build up, and got disheartened when I couldn’t. Which is why couch to 5K is so wonderful, it teaches people that no-one can just go out and run for half an hour from a base of nothing, and has got so many people a start in running.

So what changed? I think it was having my daughter. I recently looked at some pictures of us, 6 days after she was born, and I can objectively look at them and think how happy we look. I was, and still am, so proud of this little person I made with MY body. But wow, there was a lot of that body. I was four and a half stone heavier than I am now. I wanted to get healthier for her. When she was about 18 months I was studying for my Post Graduate Diploma and my daughter was at nursery. And alongside the study days and the work placements, I ended up with a tiny window of time where I wasn’t at uni or work, and I didn’t have the baby with me. And I felt enormous and unhealthy. I picked up a flyer for a women-only running group that happened to meet, near me, during that EXACT tiny window of time. It felt meant to be.

So I rocked up wearing a 15 year old pair of trainers, a pair of jogging bottoms that I’d worn while I was pregnant and a Judge Dredd t-shirt with holes in it. Yeah, I know. Hot. That day I met a bunch of women who completely changed my life. Especially the two Sarahs, who organised and ran that amazing group of always interesting, feisty, feminist women. That first day I learned about the idea of run-walking and ran a minute, walked a minute around the University parks in the sunshine, holding up my maternity joggers with one hand and vowing to buy some better kit. But it was so much fun. I found my people, and my love for running began. Five and half years later and one hiatus while I had the boy baby, and another while I had my gallbladder out (shame they couldn’t do me a two for one deal while I was giving birth, but apparently it doesn’t work like that), and I’ve never really looked back. I can’t imagine not running now.

I plan to take my now 7 year old daughter to her first parkrun very soon. I shouldn’t think we’ll do the whole 5K but she loves watching me in races (and always asks if I am going to win, which is an opportunity to talk to her about how it’s not about beating other people but besting my previous time) and is desperate to run with me. I think she’ll enjoy the atmosphere and hopefully she’ll gain a love of exercise for its own sake that I lost somewhere along the way.

The indignities of a female runner

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The indignities of the female runner.

Warning – contains stuff that might make men think ‘ew’. But you are just going to have to get over it, ok? This is what we have to deal with. I’m not going to use euphemisms either. I’m going to say periods.

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1) Periods and PMT

In the run up to my first marathon, I got my calendar out and counted days from the last time I’d crossed out days and came to the conclusion that there was a strong probability that I was going to be on the first or second day of my period on the big day. I swear that I’ve never been so relieved to get my period the week before. My periods are random as hell, slightly better since having kids, but still I can’t predict precisely when they are going to arrive. And the first two days are horrible. Heavy bleeding, massive cramps, grumpy, spotty, everything hurts, bloaty hell. Actually, the week before is fairly similar but without the actual bleeding, but with extra added irrational tearfulness. Then you get a couple of weeks off and it all starts again.

This is a problem when you run. Because you really don’t want to run a marathon, or any race, really, if it falls on those first couple of days. But especially not one where you are going to be out there for, in my case, nearly 5 hours, and you have to factor in where you’re going to carry tampons and how much time you are going to lose in portaloos. Also EVERYthing is sore.

Chafing is bad enough, and I will cover that in more detail, but when you’re on and your boobs hurt like hell and your skin is all sensitive, chafing becomes unbearable. But unless you are one of these smug women who can predict to the minute when their periods are going to descend (you’re not really smug, I’m just jealous, up the sisterhood!) and your periods are unpredictable, what the hell can you do about it? Well, you can go on the pill, or get a temporary pill that puts your period off for a couple of weeks, but you still get a lot of the PMT-like symptoms and cramps, and I personally have a bit of an issue with messing around with my already problematic hormones because my one experience of the pill made me a bit… well… stabby and homicidal.

Yesterday I did a 10k race. It didn’t go brilliantly well. Partly my own fault for taking off with a friend who I know runs much faster than me with ease, at my 4-mile pace. I knew this pace precisely because I’d done a 4-mile race a few days before, which also didn’t help. But I thought, what the hell, let’s try to keep that up for another 2 miles. Yeah, that didn’t work. Got to halfway and my Nana hip (thanks for that phrase, Tony!) started aching, and I started walking. This doesn’t normally happen to me, I might slow down, but I don’t sodding well WALK in a 10K (this rambling anecdote is relevant to the topic by the way, bear with me), but I was just knackered.

Another friend who’d picked up an injury at London marathon (yes, actually running, not spectating like me) a week before, and was taking it easy, caught me up and chivvied me back into action, and actually my time wasn’t awful in the end, and I enjoyed the second half of the race considerably more with his good company and the pressure I put on myself to PB firmly removed.

I got over the finish line and was fighting tears! I felt like I’d completely messed it up. I snapped another friend’s head off who asked how it had gone with the response “HORRIBLE! I don’t want to talk about it”. Five minutes later FINE again. Got cake, felt better. To paraphrase Tyres from Spaced “I’d be absolutely fine if it wasn’t for these ****ing MOOD SWINGS!” This morning I woke up and realised that I’d got my period and that totally explained the tiredness, irrational behaviour, need for cake, bloat and general ‘not feeling it’ of the race. WHICH IS JUST GREAT! Massive eye roll into back of the head GREAT. Because when you’re chasing a PB you don’t want to have to throw in some massive uncontrollable unknown each month which is generally going to make you feel like crap.

See, men don’t have to put up with this shit. Generally, unless there is some underlying mental health issue, depression or anxiety, or OCD or something (or actually, if they are tapering – see Taper Madness… ) then if they are feeling something there is A REASON for it. Someone has pissed them off, or something nice has happened that has made them happy. I have to put up with realising afterwards that I massively overreacted, or cried at a toilet paper advert or an especially cute puppy (or an especially cute puppy IN a toilet paper advert) because I was about to get my stupid period. IT IS VERY ANNOYING.

And when this coincides with ballsing up a race, then it’s DOUBLY annoying.

2) Menopause

Now hopefully I’ve got a while to go before there is any personal experience of this one, as my mum didn’t hit menopause until she was 60 something, so I’m only halfway there. WHAT? Oh ok, I’m 42, but I should still have a while… But talking to other running ladies about PB potential and peri/full blown menopause and wow, that’s a kick in the nuts. If we had nuts, which we don’t because as you may have noticed I am talking about the nut-less gender. But apparently when you hit menopause, not only do you get horrendous-sounding hot flushes, causing you to strip down to almost indecent levels during long runs, you start to lose fecking muscle mass as WELL. So it’s not just aging that leaves those PBs a thing of the distant past, but the actual menopause as well.

Well, that sucks too.

3) Pregnancy, child-birth and breast feeding

Be interesting to know whether I have any male readers left at this point. Other than Tony who HAS to read it because it’s going on his website, and Long Suffering Saintly Husband ™ who also has to read it because otherwise he will be on the end of my hormonal temper (see 1).

Anyway, back to pregnancy, child-birth and breast feeding. And running, before I get too off track (no pun intended). So apparently some women carry on running through their pregnancies. These women are obviously amazons, or goddesses, or, I dunno, just more determined and less pukey than me. As previously discussed, I didn’t get into running until after I had my daughter Evie.

Then when I had the boy one, Joe, 4 and a half years later, I was running, but during that pregnancy I also had gallstones and gestational diabetes. Interestingly, I was way more healthy because I couldn’t eat ANY sugar or fat. But that lack of cake in my life definitely did not make me a nicer person. Just before I got pregnant with the boy I had a miscarriage. I’m not going to discuss that in fine detail because it’s not really relevant. It was horrible, I still feel sad about it, often. But the upshot is that when I was pregnant with Joe, I was paranoid about losing him too. So running was out of the question for me personally. I walked a lot, and was healthy, and I know with hindsight I probably would have been fine to run, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Plus I felt like shit with morning sickness and the absolutely debilitating preggo tiredness. My priority was napping, not running.

When Joe was 6 months I did start running again. I even bought a running buggy off ebay and ran with him in it until he got too big and refused to go in it, and demanded “I WANNA WALKING!” But during those blissful times when he was quite little and not mobile, but robust enough to be bumped along in the buggy, we had some lovely runs, where he just went to sleep and I got to feel like me again rather than a walking/running pair of boobs which needed to be whipped out at the will of this tiny despot.

However, that leads me to another of these indignities, which is trying to breastfeed whilst wearing the cantilevered, flipping scaffolded item that is a sports bra. When your breastfeeding boobs are a FF, they need a LOT of support, which does not make for dignified breastfeeding. The obvious answer is to change bras after the run, in the coffee shop (not IN the coffee shop, in the toilet, obvs), whilst some poor other member of my fortunately ladies-only running group holds Shouty Mc Shoutypants. And I am one of those women who felt quite strongly about my right to feed my child anywhere, that Nigel Farage would describe as ‘ostentatiously breast feeding’.

Slightly off topic but there was one memorable time when I was feeding Joe while Evie was doing an activity in a museum. My mum took her off to the loos and the activity was cleared away around me so I was left in a large open space in front of a massive T-Rex skeleton sitting on a tiny children’s chair with one boob out. That was probably a BIT ‘ostentatious’.


Talking of boobs… ah hello, menfolk, are you back? Sorry but this isn’t going to be titillating (hee hee, see what I did there?).

Another indignity we need to mention is everything around the whole lady chestal area. Right, running clothes are expensive. Trainers are expensive. Runners obsess about trainers and have a nervous breakdown if something changes about their favoured shoe from season to season. But why do we not talk about bras more? Sports bras are ridiculously expensive.

I was reading an article in Women’s Running about which bras were best, and the top rated one was SEVENTY QUID! FOR A BRA! Wow. They need to be replaced annually apparently, just like shoes. And are JUST as important – well, maybe not QUITE as important as the shoe, but I would say probably my second most agonised over piece of kit. And if you get it wrong it can really mess up your run. It’s hard to run when your boobs are hoiked up under your chin, or the reverse, just not contained enough.

I had a sports bra that couldn’t take the strain and actually topped itself whilst I was several miles from home. Actually, I’ve had that happen more than once. The clasp or strap has just given up on more than one occasion. Keeping safety pins in your running belt isn’t just for pinning on race bibs.

And then there’s the chafing. The afore – and oft – mentioned chafing, which personally I find is worst all around the whole bra area. Thank the heavens for the invention of body glide. I suppose at least wearing a bra prevents the only comparable male indignity I can think of: that of the male nip bleeding. Maybe chafing isn’t worse for women, maybe we just talk about it more, and on one memorable occasion a seasoned marathon runner friend waited for the lone bloke we had been running with to leave and then uttered the immortal words, “Ladies, now that he’s gone I have one thing to say to you: ‘chafed vulva’…” which became one of our cheerily inappropriate marathon weekend catchphrases.

5) Oh the glamour!

This particular post is a bit negative, so for a bit of balance I’d like to get on record that I’ve never had such a positive body image as since I’ve been running. Marathon training in particular has given me a newfound respect for my imperfect body. Because as I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’ve come to think of my body in terms of strength and what it can do, rather than in terms of what I look like. And yeah, running does make you look better too, except in one notable area: which is the feet. Runners feet are DISGUSTING. And whilst I realise this is not just limited to women’s feet, I am pretty sure men don’t care quite as much what their feet look like, and ultra-runners of my acquaintance have even been known to brag about how many toenails they are missing. As we get into summer I am looking at my feet, with the one dark purple big toe nail which I’m pretty sure is going to come off, and the callouses on the ends of the other toes, and thinking, yeah, sandals are probably out this year. I could paint my toenails to cover up the black one, but that would just draw attention to my feet and would be tantamount to painting the end of a pigs trotter. So, just no. And I’m grossing myself out just talking about this, because, UGH. FEET.

See also really weird tan-lines. My back is a criss-cross of different running vests and bras, and I have attractive short and sock lines. At least I don’t have the really random white marks that people who had to tape up their knees during the famously sunny Brighton marathon have. But I’m still going to look pretty odd in the halter-neck dress I’m planning to wear to a summer wedding, unless I find some way of sorting out the tan-lines. Suggestions welcome.

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6) Pelvic Floor

I’ve added this section in after feedback from a lot of readers who were in uproar that I hadn’t mentioned it. And by uproar, I actually mean, people mentioned it. And by a ‘lot’ I mean, about 5. My blog isn’t THAT popular. But still it was remiss of me not to put this in, as it is a BIG issue for a lot of women.

A few years ago, I was chatting to a male friend, (who incredibly is still alive and even more amazingly still happily married to the mother of his three children after the comment I’m about to share with you) about how he didn’t make it to the birth of his third child. He said that the labour was quite long with the first one, slightly shorter with the second one, and with the third he didn’t even make it to the hospital it happened so quick because “let’s face it, there wasn’t much tread left on those tyres”. So it is safe to say that during childbirth, the pelvic floor takes some damage. As would that man if he had been my husband. He certainly wouldn’t have been capable of fathering a fourth.

If you’re anything like me, you only have to read the words ‘pelvic floor’ to start kegelling like mad. You’re doing it now aren’t you? Ha, I bet you are. Anyway, I’m very fortunate that this isn’t actually a problem for me. I know, smug cow. You can forgive me that I’m sure, given that I’ve shared all the other things that I DO suffer from. But I guess that’s why I didn’t originally write about it. I’m sur it’s all just luck really, considering my first child took 36 hours to come out, I’m amazed there wasn’t more damage. Second one a mere four, which was a flipping relief. However, I have good friends who, particularly post childbirth have pelvic floors that are not as cast iron as they used to be. And yes, that means that basically when you run, or reach up to a high shelf, or laugh, or cough, or sneeze, or breathe funny, a bit of wee comes out. Oh motherhood is such a constant joy. This is such an issue that it actually prevents one of my friends from running at all, which makes me a bit sad.

So this is some of the stuff that we women runners have to put up with that men don’t. However, at least women are allowed to compete now, and we are able to take part in marathons, etc. For a long time women weren’t allowed in distance races because people (men, grr – don’t contradict me, I’m hormonal) thought that their wombs would literally fall out if they ran any kind of distance. But as with a lot of things in our society, women have had to fight for their right to run marathons and, as with a lot of things I am going to exercise (this time, no pun intended) my right to do this and to keep doing this for those women who fought so I could. Regardless of periods and bras and hopefully right through menopause and out the other side.

Why Should I Join A Running Club?

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Why You Should Join A Running Club

It took me a really long time after taking up running to join my local running club. I thought I wasn’t fast enough, good enough, not a ‘proper runner’. There was also the fact that my university class was on the same night as the club met, but, to honest, even if it hadn’t been the main issue was confidence.

Despite knowing several people who were in that club, who were all lovely, I was convinced that I wouldn’t fit in, that my 11-12 minute mile pace wouldn’t be fast enough, that they would all be gazelle like ultra-runners… And actually there ARE gazelle like ultra-runners. There are runners that are super sleek and run 5 minute miles. But there are also people of every other physical type you can possibly imagine and plenty of people who do 11-minute miles every week.

Headington RoadRunners

I was eventually persuaded to join by my friend ‘E’ who I had told I was running a 10K race. With only 3 weeks training she decided to join me, and then after we did that, E somehow talked me into signing up for Oxford Half Marathon. We trained for that together (I say that breezily; the first time I did more than 10 miles, I thought I was going to DIE. I hadn’t fuelled properly and had a total sugar crash afterwards, thinking I was going to be sick, faint, something else unspeakable if Long Suffering Saintly Husband* didn’t bring me a Solero RIGHT NOW) and caught along in her seemingly limitless enthusiasm, she persuaded me to go along to Headington Road Runners, with the logic that if we had already done a half marathon, then surely we were ‘good enough runners’.

So we, quite nervously, went along. We put our hands up when asked if there were any first timers, and were welcomed with open arms, looked after, chatted to and encouraged. And that was pretty much the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I am evangelical about my running club. I have recently completed my first marathon (you probably didn’t know that, I haven’t gone on about it AT ALL, and you probably didn’t notice the world’s longest blog post about it, but there you go, I have), which I would never have contemplated without the support of HRR.

We had first-time marathoners talks, a detailed, entirely personal training plan worked out for me by the club’s head coach, and endless support from all the coaches. There was always someone on hand to talk about all of this stuff. Discounted physiotherapy sessions when my hip decided it didn’t want to run that far thanks very much, during which comics and heavy metal were discussed in between talking about training. As well as the Thursday-night club runs, there is intervals training, track sessions, circuits, core strength sessions… there is something going on every night of the week and long runs at the weekends.

Towards the end of my marathon training I went for a rare run on my own, and realised that I hadn’t run on my own for three months, despite running three times a week. I didn’t even know where the sports headphones that LSSH had bought me were. I finally found them in my running sunglasses case, because THAT was a logical place to put them over winter obviously. And whilst it is nice to occasionally do a run on my own now that the evenings are getting lighter, I LOVE the fact that I never have to if I don’t want to. I have a massive group of friends in the club and someone is always up for a run. And not just a run; I’ve just got back from taking my toddler to a forest-school session, where we made bread on sticks over a fire, and bashed leaves with hammers (which was AWESOME), with friends made, guess where? Yup, the running club.

I always have other people to endlessly talk to about training, so that I don’t end up divorced because I have become a total running bore – even LSSH has his limits, although he’s just started couch to 5K so watch this space. I’m actually slightly worried he will get really into it and I will have to fight him for who gets to go out running.

The team camaraderie is amazing. Two weeks after my marathon (did I mention that I did a marathon? No? You can read ALL about it here), it was London Marathon. After the general ballot, the club had a complicated but extremely fair ballot for the three places we were allocated, and although I didn’t get a place, the three that did were amazing and deserving people (wow, that was a bit gushy, even for me. Little bit of a mouth-sick there. I feel quite passionate about this topic as you may have noticed).

A total of 17 club members got VMLM places, through the main ballot, club ballot, good for age places and charity places. Seven of them went up on a coach organised by the club, and about 50 of us went up to support. It was such a fun day out, and I cried like a loon when I saw some of my best friends in the world for all of two seconds as they ran, jogged, walked or crawled past us at 6 and 16 miles.

Of course this would not be a fair account if I didn’t detail some of the much more minor disadvantages of belonging to a running club too.

Firstly, runners have a REALLY weird idea of fun. Voluntarily getting up before 5 (IN THE MORNING! YES, there IS one in the morning as well. I KNOW!) to go and run in the mud, snow or dark. OR even more bonkers to get up at that time to go and watch OTHER people run a marathon. Insanity. In fact, the very idea that running marathons is normal behaviour can become the case when actually it’s not something most people would even contemplate.

When I told my 7 year old that only 1% of people ever run a marathon, I heard her going down the stairs singing “Mummy’s showing off again”. But I digress. Not only do runners think 26.2 miles is not all that to run, some of these nutters run hundred-mile ultra races and think this is somehow a ‘normal’ pursuit. Having 8 or 9 toe nails is also apparently totally normal for an ultra runner. Yeah, you know who you are, ‘Nine Nails’…

Your sense of distance gets extremely warped. You judge distances when stuck on the motorway and think “I could just run it from here”. If you can’t run for some reason you get really jealous of other people running. You can recognise your friends from bloody miles away just from their gait. Your non-running friends will think you are mental. Some of your non-running friends will also think runners don’t like cake or beer, which is hilarious. Oh and your running friends will ALSO bankrupt you. If you are anything like me (or the aforementioned E, who gets major runner’s FOMO) and they are all doing a race, you will not be able to help yourself but sign up to it. Which is why I have no non-running shoes. I can’t afford them. I’ve spent all my money on races.

But on the whole, I would say that joining a running club is A Good Thing. You couldn’t hope for more encouragement, support and help, and you will make friends for life. You may end up with 8 toenails and no other social life apart from running and drinking with runners and going to forest school with other runners, but it will be absolutely worth it. On the whole runners are VERY nice people. Unless they are off injured and can’t run, and then they are the absolute WORST. Avoid them like the plague.

*LSSH is what my mother seems to think he is. I disagree. I think I’m an absolute JOY to live with, and actually it’s very good modelling for the kids that he looks after them ALL THE TIME when I’m out running and is forced to sympathise about my horrible runner’s feet and admire my muscles. Welcome to the gun show, baby.

Brighton Marathon 2017

This Mum Runs Marathons

(well, one marathon anyway, for now).

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Warning: Contains fruity language throughout, but especially from mile 19.

As I type this I am sitting on my sofa with my laptop, the day after having run my first marathon. I’m doing surprisingly OK. I mean, my legs don’t really work in the way they are supposed to, my quads and hamstrings and calves – oh OK, basically my legs, my entire legs, let’s not get technical – HURT. And stairs. Stairs are the enemy, I need to move into a bungalow. Or at least evict the spiders from our outside loo so I don’t need to go up those bastard stairs for a day or so.

I have a bit of sunburn – most notably on my back where the combo of a racerback bra and a non-racerback vest have somehow combined to give me an appropriate Nike tick in between my shoulders. And I have a big sore welt of chafing on my lower back that I think is from a seam on my shorts.

My feet are a mess, and won’t fit into normal shoes, so I am currently wearing these weird oversized loafer things I had when my feet swelled in pregnancy with knee-length luminous pink compression socks. I know. I look pretty damn attractive right now.

Oh, and my bum hurts inexplicably. I’ve either got sunburn through my shorts, or the sudden weird and unprompted activation of the heated seats in our hire car burnt my bum. Or it’s more chafing. But I have gone off on a tangent, and I’m entirely sure that if you are reading this you want to hear about my marathon not my bum. Bum. There, I said it again. But APART from all of that, I feel pretty much OK. Better than I did the day BEFORE the marathon.

The day before the marathon I was convinced that I DEFINITELY had cholera. Or dropsy. Or myxomatosis and would DEFINITELY not be able to run. I had a headache. I was having a panic attack and going to be sick in the middle of Pizza Express in Brighton. I was going to faint. My head might fall off. I was FREAKING OUT. It’s weird because I didn’t ever really get nervous about the actual running.

Let me explain that, though. It’s not because I was super confident, I really wasn’t. I just knew I’d done everything I could on that score. I trained – HARD. I did some really tough runs where I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I did 18 miles in the snow, with HILLS. I did a 15-mile run that was supposed to be 16 but I just didn’t have another solitary mile left in me. I got tired and cold and hated it. And I also loved it. I loved the feeling of doing 20 miles… well, OK, not that actual feeling but I really enjoyed having DONE it, and swore and moaned my way from 18 to 20 miles with my fellow first time marathoner wing-woman, G. But my very rambling point is that I did everything I was supposed to do for the training, so there was no point in worrying about that.

Experienced people that I trust said I could do it. So I didn’t actually doubt that if I got to the start line, I would get to the finish line somehow. What I was freaking out about was that for some reason I wouldn’t even get to the start line, and it would be my own fault and everyone who was following my progress and rooting for me, and all those people that had sponsored me would know it was all my own fault. Hence the multiple toilet trips in that Pizza Express and the deep intakes of breath and the conviction that I had some Victorian ailment or had forgotten something vital.

But once me and my other running wing-woman E were in our lovely guest house, with our numbers safely collected from the Expo, and our kit spread out on the bed, I calmed the hell down because I knew I hadn’t forgotten anything that would prevent me from running.

After a night of me and E giggling like teenagers on their first sleepover, and not a huge amount of sleep, four of us were on our way to the start line in Preston Park. We tried and failed to meet up with any of the other people we were trying to see until we got into the actual corrals/pens and met up with C, another first-time marathoner from our club who I had done lots of training runs with.

Me and G were in the pink pen (which we named the pig-pen because we thought that was hilarious, but we were slightly hysterical by then) because we were expecting a slower time than the others, E, S and C were in the yellow pen next to us, so we heckled each other across the barriers and took pictures of each other dancing to the brilliantly cheesy 80s warm- up music.

We talked to the runners around us about their experience or lack of it (one fellow first-timer, and one who had run over 80 marathons), and me and G got hysterical again when the announcer said that the runners were like coiled springs and she said she was more like a Slinky that would only move when someone gave her a gentle shove, and then only very slowly.

But before long the gun went off and the fast runners in the first pen were off! And about 45 minutes later me and G were off too. Crossing the start line felt weirdly anticlimactic because we’d been waiting around so long, but once we got out into the roars of the waiting crowd I felt a wave of happiness. “This is IT! We’re off! We’re doing it, we’re running a marathon!”

As everybody predicts we did do the first mile a little faster than we meant to; just caught up in the moment. I was scanning every bit of my body – “Hmm, my calves feel really tight, that’s not good. Why do my feet hurt? What if I get a blister? Did I put sunblock on my ears? Do I look like a total tit in this visor?” And it was HOT, the hottest day of the year, which became a big problem later on. I found out afterwards that it had got up to 21 degrees in Brighton that day. But the first few miles felt OK. We slowed down, and stuck to our target of 11-minute miles. We’d given up on the idea of doing our marathon pace of 10:40 which would have given us a 4:40 finish time but given the heat we decided that getting in under 5 hours was extremely respectable. We saw the 5-hour pacer ahead of us quite early, and were outraged because we thought she was going too fast.

We didn’t talk a huge amount for those first few miles: just getting our rhythm and warming up, really. At three and five miles we saw Big G – little G’s husband – which was LOVELY. It was such a boost to see him standing there yelling and (as we found out afterwards) not actually getting our photograph because their son had put his phone into selfie mode, so Big G actually got about 10 close ups of his own face rather than pictures of his wife (and me) running our first marathon.

There were more hills than we were expecting, so my swearing started earlier than predicted too. There was quite a long boring out and back with long inclines (and declines which were nicer!) and less crowd support, although the faster runners were coming back the other way so we saw nearly all of our faster pals which was fun. They all looked really strong but the sun was starting to really beat down on us which made it all a lot harder. When we were coming back ourselves we saw a lot of bedraggled sweaty fancy dress runners, many of whom seemed to be regretting their decision to run in a stay-puft marshmallow man costume or whatever.

Just before mile 9 G told me to go on as she was struggling. She said her aim was now just to get through it, rather than try for a specific time, but I really wanted to try to be comfortably in under 5 hours. We had always said that if one of us had a bit more in us then we needed to go for it, and run our own race, and I knew she’d be cross with me if I got a slower time by staying with her, so we split up at that point. Which meant the following few miles were solitary ones – well, as solitary as you can be running with thousands and thousands of other people and as many supporters. But I felt pretty comfortable with my pace at that point and just took in the sights and sounds around me.

It was far too hot, but it was such a glorious day that the crowds of supporters were phenomenal. The people of Brighton were amazing. There were fantastic signs – my favourites were mostly rude or sweary; what can I say, I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have an extremely juvenile sense of humour, so the ones that got big snorty (but always ladylike, obviously) laughs from me were “Don’t trust a fart after mile 20” and “Don’t be shit now”, but also less rude ones like “Hearts and minds can overcome anything” and “YAY! GO RANDOM STRANGER”.

As I was running for Mind, the Mind cheer spots were particularly great for me. But all the random supporters who shouted ‘GO EMMA!’ when they saw the name on my vest were amazing. They all got a big grin, and more than one said “Still smiling!” so I think I must have looked pretty happy. The kids were all holding out their hands to be high-fived and just the sheer excitement they got if you responded when they said your name. The crowds helped in other ways too handing out jelly babies and sunscreen and random food items – the best one for me was slices of fresh orange, that felt so refreshing – and at various points squirting us with super soakers or power hoses, which is bliss when you’re so hot you’ve got dried salt all over your face. One fantastic bit of advice I’d been given was to take a piece of sponge in your running belt and soak it with water at the water stations to squeeze over your neck and face.

One of the hardest points for me was actually the halfway point. There was a big arch at mile 13 and everyone yelling that “You’re halfway there!” I felt like I’d been running for SUCH a long time at that point, that there was no way I could do that distance AGAIN. So at that point the mantras I’d drummed into myself came into play. It sounds cheesy but you NEED something to say to yourself when it all gets a bit dark in there. Because it does for everyone, apparently. Mine were ‘You’ve got this, girl’ which was on a bracelet my husband gave me, (and also, coincidentally, on the back of my anti chafe stick thingy. So nice that my chafe stick believes in me) that I had on next to my watch, so every time I looked to see how far I’d come or what pace I was doing I got a little boost from that. Then the lucky buff on my other wrist from coach Tony, who never doubted that I had this in me, even when I did, and also reminded me of all the other runners from my club and other friends and family who were following our progress on the tracker and rooting for me. I also thought about why I was doing this, and the just under £1500 I’d raised for Mind, and why I’d chosen Mind as my charity.

Pretty soon I was at 15 miles, which I’d thought was going to be difficult for me, because it had been in some of my longer runs. And it wasn’t fun, but I decided to break it into chunks. I just needed to get to 18 miles, because then it was only 2 miles to mile 20 and once I got to mile 20 I’d only have 6 miles to go, at mile 23 it was just a parkrun (of course my jerk brain then said, ‘Yeah but you bloody hate doing parkrun’ but I shoved that thought out too). I had said to G when we were running together that I thought marathon running might turn me into a hippy because every time I thought something negative I pushed it out with the mantra “only positive thoughts”. Then I tried to find a tree to hug, but could only see a ‘vegan runner’ dressed as a pig and he looked well sweaty, so I just kept on going.

Mile 19 got very sweary, so apologies for the following language, but my internal dialogue went something like this: “Fuck this sun. And fucking FUCK that hill. And fuck you idiot-hole man who just told me ‘You’re nearly there!’ cheerfully. SEVEN MILES TO GO is NOT nearly there, arsehole. And fuck that last gel which is definitely NOT sitting right. And oh God fucking fuck my sore legs. And fuck that man dressed as a panda who is probably going to beat me even though he must be cooking in there. OOH water station! Excuse to have a little walk and a drink.” Then I got talking to a really nice chatty Cockney man who overheard me muttering, “Fuck fuck fuck”, and said, “Hot, innit?” and laughed at me. His sister had decided she didn’t want to talk to him any more – he was quite talkative, but I hadn’t really spoken to anyone other than the spectators for about 10 miles and was desperate for something to take my mind off all the things that I was swearing about. Plus it was a very boring stretch of road. And then suddenly it was “Hang on, did that say 20 miles? WTF? How did that happen? I feel quite good now. Thanks, Andy, the Cockney man! I’m going to run through that bit where those kids are spraying power hoses over the runners.” (At which point I got blasted right in the face. Do NOT trust kids with power hoses).

I am not going to sugar coat it as the next 4 miles were pretty grim. Miles 19ish to about 23 were a really long boring out and back part of which went through some sort of industrial estate and round behind a warehouse. The dreaded run up to the power station that I had actually heard about beforehand as it’s legendarily boring. There were no spectators to speak of and because it was an out and back on the way out you were passing all of the faster runners who looked KNACKERED and they were further ahead than us. I saw H from our running club going the other way, and that gave me a little boost, but then he said with a bit of a laugh, “This is REALLY hard!”, and he’s done loads of really fast marathons so I don’t know if that made me feel better or worse that he was finding it hard too, but it was nice to see his friendly and familiar face.

When I was on the other side of that line, I briefly glimpsed G and thought, “Great! She’s not that far behind!” not knowing that she was really struggling by that point, and at mile 21 she staggered, and only a kind runner catching her stopped her from hitting the deck. She had to sit down with the paramedics while she threw up copiously over the sea wall. The paramedics foolishly tried to make her get in an ambulance and give up on her first marathon. They didn’t know that a) she’s a nurse, so a terrible patient, and b) stubborn and determined as hell, so there was no way that was going to happen. She dusted herself off and carried on walk/running the hardest 5 miles of her life, because she is a bloody warrior and now officially the TOUGHEST marathon runner I know. Some people may have run that marathon in under 3 hours, but she was out in that baking sun carrying her medical report for nearly 6 hours. So who has the most grit? G, that’s who.

At mile 23 we got back to the sea front and the crowds started to increase so again so that was a boost. But running through barbecue smoke was not helpful with the nausea aspect. And I started to really resent some of the spectators sitting drinking prosecco in their deckchairs in the shade. Bastards.

But I was 3 miles from that finish line and that medal and most importantly 3 miles from being able to stop flaming well running and get an ice cream. I knew I could do 3 miles. And actually by this point the people that said, “You’re so close!” did not need a slap because they were right. However, it was 3 very, VERY tough miles. My legs felt really stiff and I was walking through every drinks station by this point. And that 5-hour pacer kept catching me up so then I was expending energy by speeding up, determined to stay in front of her. Then I saw a chap I was at school with and it was great to see someone I knew when I felt pretty far from home. At mile 25.5 I caught up with C! It was so good to see her, we were so close by that point we knew we were going to do it. She told me she’d had a really rough race. She’d thrown up from the heat at mile 7 and at mile 10 she’d burst into tears and thought she was going to have to give it up. She’d had a terrible cold/flu the week before and probably still had a temperature, so like G is a bloody tough lady because she dusted herself off and finished that flipping marathon. We ran that last half mile and got to the finish line together (and actually now that’s the bit that makes me feel a bit teary now – I started with one of my training buddies and finished with another).

What a feeling! Crossing that line was so weird. The moment that we’d worked so hard towards, not just that day, but all the months of training and sacrifice and determination all for that second when you cross that finish line. And then me and C had the sweatiest hug of our lives and I may have shed a single noble tear (or a sweaty, salty tear; one or the other). I checked my watch and I had done it. My official time was 4 hours 54 minutes and 25 seconds. I got my sub 5.

So that was my first marathon, folks. I loved it and hated it and if you’ve read to the end of this blog post without falling asleep then you probably deserve an equally big shiny medal, but you can’t have mine. No one is taking that away from me.

Taper Madness – Yes. It. Is. A. Thing.

Taper Madness – Yes. It. Is. A. Thing.

As I write this I have less than a week to go before I take part in my first marathon. Six days, in fact. This time next week it will all be over. Actually this time next week I will be preparing to go over to where my running club is based and use the Jacuzzi spa bath thingy that has been booked for me because I happen to belong to the best running club in the world. Sorry to all the other clubs but I do. Fact. But back to the point – I’m tapering. Tapering like a flipping crazy person. And I AM tapering like a crazy person.

A few weeks ago, while I was still working up my long runs to the legendary 20 miler that had taken on huge significance in my mind, a friend sent me an article called “Taper Madness” (yeah, I nicked the title, obviously). I read it, and laughed, thinking it was really funny. I’ve tapered before for half marathons, and been FINE. You just run a bit less. Easy peasy. Will be a refreshing break from all that obsessive running. It will be NICE to relax after all those long runs for a week or two. I’ll still run, just not as far. I won’t feel that different, really.

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Oh foolish, foolish lady. As with everything else that my more experienced running buddies have told me about this process, TAPER MADNESS IS A THING.

I have been a teensy, tiny bit crazy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a therapist, so I’m allowed to use technical terms like that.

I actually WAS fine for the first week. Then I went to talk at the aforementioned ‘best running club in the worldTM’ about race-day preparation. And as an aide memoire, one of the coaches used a check sheet that he’d printed off about what you need to do when for the 48 hours before the race. And for some reason that completely freaked me out. SHIT GOT REAL.

I had envisioned myself running the race, and especially finishing the race, that feeling of having done it, and even what I was going to say to myself in the darker moments that I know will come. Probably roughly from mile 6-26. Ish. Roughly. But what suddenly freaked me out was the idea of getting ready for the race. The night before. That morning. What if I lose my chip timer, what if forget my number? What if I forget my shoes? WHAT IF I FORGET MY HEAD? And in that moment, taper madness took root.

I am full of nervous energy that I would normally just try to run off and I can’t. I’m really emotional. I burst into tears because I was reading something about people supporting the marathons and my family won’t be there because we agreed AGES ago that it wasn’t fair on the kids to make them hang around for 6 hours on the chance of glimpsing me running past (probably crying). I’m also REALLY punchy. I’ve fallen out with a friend who is also tapering and it’s horrible. I think we’re both really tense and I hope once I’ve done Brighton and he’s done London we will be able to get our friendship back to its usual incredibly silly status that is almost entirely based on bum jokes.

Yesterday I was tracking friends running the Manchester marathon on the app on my phone, and my dad had a right go at me for being on my phone during Sunday lunch – which was actually quite reasonable because it was quite rude. But instead of calmly explaining that I just NEEDED to see if my friends had finished yet and then I would turn it off, because next week that would be me and I know how much it will mean to me to know they are tracking my progress, I just fought back angry tears and went into teenager mode. “OH MY GOD, DAD, IT’S SO UNFAIR. YOU JUST DON’T GET IT. UGH.” And went and hid in the toilet pressing refresh obsessively. I am slightly concerned that none of my friends or family will be talking to me by Sunday.

I am also wandering around the house a lot muttering about socks and chafing and seriously considering packing my bag now even though it’s only Monday. I have already made my pre-marathon breakfast. Don’t worry I haven’t entirely lost the plot, I will not be starting the day with 6 day old porridge, I don’t think anyone would advise that. I will be defrosting the oat and banana protein pancakes the night before. If I actually make it that far without imploding. And I am EATING EVERYTHING and blaming it all on ‘carb loading’. Kit-kats are carbs, aren’t they?

Taper madness. It IS a thing. Next up – things that are NOT a thing. i.e. ‘Recovery runs’. That makes no sense to me - why would I want to run off a run? Madness I tell you.

Emma Smith

Why This Mum Runs
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Why This Mum Runs

By Emma Smith

First of all I love my kids with a ferocity that is quite terrifying. The only thing that takes priority over the insanity of training for my first marathon is my family. But they can be dicks. Yes. The toddler boy one especially and even the 7 year old girl one has her moments. Sometimes my non running friends question the sanity of running.

 So to them, I would like to say that in the last hour the boy one (who is 2 and a half) has accidentally kicked me in the nose, hit me in the eye with a small but heavy toy taxi (the toot toot drivers range, for those that know about toddler toys – most irritating songs ever), tipped water all over himself and a chair, emptied the tupperware cupboard (twice), and put spaghetti bolognaise on his head and the cat. The girl one hasn't done anything (yet) but there was nearly a meltdown over me not letting her watch teenage mutant ninja turtles, and she wouldn’t eat the spaghetti Bolognese but insisted I make her spaghetti and meatballs out of THE EXACT SAME INGREDIENTS. And I did it because I cannot be arsed to argue with her. Prior to having my misfiring gallbladder removed a year ago, I couldn’t even turn to booze or cake. And now I don’t want the booze because I am voluntarily getting up to do a 20 mile training run tomorrow. VOLUNTARILY. No-one is making me.

But I want to go back a bit and think about why I started running. Yes, it is partly to get out of the house and away from the maddening creatures that are my offspring when I’ve been with them all day and the small one won’t stop throwing tomatoes at the bigger one. But it goes deeper than that.

I am a trained psychotherapist, I finished my training when I was pregnant with the boy one. I had years of therapy as part of my training, and then when my training stopped the therapy also stopped. Now running functions as my therapy. There is the freedom I feel when I’m running by myself, and the clarity it gives me if I’m trying to work through a knotty problem. But these days I rarely run by myself. Since joining my amazing local running club I always have someone to run with, and there’s something about being on the open road with someone, with miles ahead of you and hours to fill that opens you up mentally in a similar way to therapy.

I am my real self when I’m running; you can’t afford to waste any kind of energy on putting up any screens or defences. You get to know people with an intensity that belies the amount of time you have actually known that person. Recently a much beloved member of our running club lost his battle with cancer. I had known him for just over a year, but his death affected me (and all of us) like someone I had known my whole life, because of those long runs we did together.

But back to why “Mummy” runs – my daughter is simultaneously incredibly proud of me and loves seeing me at races, but also has been known to cling on to my lycra clad leg and wail “WHY do you have to go running again Mummeeeeeee??” because she wants me at home with her reading The Worst Witch and providing endless snacks. The other day she said to my extremely understanding husband “Mummy is very strong and sporty isn’t she Daddy? You’re not very sporty are you?” - I should point out that he is by the way: he cycles miles to work and back every day with an irritating dedication which meant that even when he had just had a (thankfully benign) tumour removed he was trying to don his bike helmet and cycle off to work two days later - I felt so proud in that moment, like I was modelling something really healthy for her. She said STRONG, not SLIM.

It was about strength and who I am rather than what I look like. Through marathon training and working with Tony, my attitude towards food and weight and body image has become pretty healthy for the first time in my adult life. I see food as fuel and something extremely pleasurable after a long run, rather than the enemy. Exercise is something I need as much as oxygen and water now, I am pretty horrible if I have to take time off running (don’t ask aforementioned understanding husband about what a cow I was during the 6 weeks I had to take off after the gallbladder op – he only survived it by bringing me a constant supply of comics and tea in bed). It is my wish to pass this attitude on to my kids, they see running as something that I prioritise and make time for and love, not as a chore or something to be got through to punish my body. I know that when I cross that finish line in April my daughter at least will understand what doing those 26.2 miles meant to me and how hard it was to get there, and that something like that is worth striving for and making sacrifices for. She will be proud of me, and is my biggest fan and supporter.

That’s why Mummy runs.