Freezing Cold Runnings

Uuuuuuuuugh, January training is the worst. I think I lost my sense of humour in the midst of its terribleness. Let’s review.

A break in routine is a predictable disaster for anyone lacking in natural athleticism. And what I lack in athleticism, I lack in spades and spades. With a break from formal training, I crumbled quicker than mama’s New Year’s Day pie. (Chicken and leek, and v. yum.)

There were no organised sessions for two whole weeks over the holiday season, but you know what there was plenty of? Food. I ate so much food, I started turning it down – an unprecedented call. On the Wednesday after Christmas, I reluctantly went out for my traditional Worst Run of the Year™ and dragged my unwilling feet around a solid six miles before seeking solace in more food, more food, all the food… because it was an awful run, the likes of which I have not experienced since, oh yeah, exactly this time last year.

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New Year’s Day quarter marathon, an error in judgment. 

The thing is, I know that I can’t be running the worst I’ve ever run straight off the back of a string of PBs. I know that rationally. But whenever the momentum shifts in the wrong direction, it’s hard to adjust to. It’s hard to hold onto motivation and fight the tide.

The first session back wasn’t too bad. But the following week, when we returned to the athletics track, the temperature seemed to plummet and the timed reps came back to hit us. In the face. With an anvil. I mean, a 1000m rep at the start and the end? Really? These are not the reps we are looking for. Mentally, it’s as tough a session as I can ever remember getting on the track. I can do 1000m reps (sometimes), but when the longest rep is at the end, it looms over you, casting a dark cloud over even the merciful 400 metres. They call it the scorpion. Sting in the tail.

A week later, we’re back to hills, which – and it should tell you everything you need to know when I say this – now seems like the soft option.

Do I want to spend my evening running up and down a hill, with each run a lamppost further? No, I do not. Ideally, I’d like to spend it eating a perfectly cooked hamburger in 7Bone before bingeing as many West Wing episodes as I can until I fall into a peaceful slumber. However, with Parliament Hill looming, I’m eager to do it. I know it’ll settle my nerves and I’ll feel good about myself afterwards.

Hills sessions never run the same risk of bitter disappointment. It’s just a matter of grimly getting your arse up that hill as many times as you can in either eight or 20 minutes, but I’m not dependently counting. With timed reps, every second means something. A second down can’t be soothed by the next two or three attempts being one or more seconds up. You’ll always be thinking, ‘That one shouldn’t have been down. Why was I off the pace?’ I obsess.

So, in their own unique way, hills sessions are more relaxed. Rather like a trip to the spa.

At least that’s what I was telling myself at work as I counted down the minutes until 5 o’clock. I eventually left work fired up and ready for the session, thinking only good can come of this night. I’ll climb every mountain and ford every stream. Bring it on. #YOLO. All that jazz.

Long story short, on the way to training, I realised I’d left all of my kit under my desk at work. It was 6.20pm. Ten minutes. Given the traffic, there was no time to go back and get it. I was with my dad who also moonlights as everyone’s coach, so I couldn’t just go home. Without a sports bra and trainers, no matter how many people offered to see if they had any extra kit, it wasn’t happening. No hills session for me.

If you’re wondering how I handled this, I would say… hmm, not well.

Much in the same pattern as my training, my parkrun times have only slipped since my Christmas Day run. 23:21 went to 24:11… and then 24:30. That’ll teach you to start thinking about sub-23s, girl. (Don’t get me wrong, these times are nothing to sniff at – but, inevitably, losing ground is a disappointing shift in momentum.)

It’s tough. It happens every year, with spectacular consistency. I’m endlessly frustrated at my impeccable pattern of peaking in December – you know, the one month that really contributes nothing to the championship calendar – and then utterly crashing out in the New Year.

At least January’s nearly over. Hopefully 2017 will warm up soon and so will I.

The only thing standing between me and Feb now is Parliament Hill. No biggie. Except… real biggie. I’ll see you on the other side. Yiiiiiikes.

My Royal Parks Half

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I DID IT. Properly, actually ran 13.1 miles.

Dreamy conditions, peak physical fitness and a full Kennedy entourage came together for one fine day. On top of all that, the race route was heaven: six miles of cinematic city landmarks before what was effectively a seven-mile park run around Hyde Park.

Despite a long, anxious week of build-up involving endless injury paranoia, on the start line I felt very… ready.

We started out roaming the fanciest of all the city streets, heading past Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Churchill War Rooms, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, etc., etc. It’s an endless string of iconic landmarks to captivate you every step of the way. I would still be admiring one as the next began to appear. It was so. much. fun. I kept bounding cheerfully past people – partly trying to make up for the minutes lost in a portaloo queue at mile one, but bounding nevertheless. It was the best feeling in the world. I would compare it to the feeling I imagine Westlife were singing about in Flying Without Wings.

I hit six miles feeling fresh. That was at the entrance to Hyde Park, where a lot of the charities based their support, making that milestone particularly packed with people. There were so many people cheering for so many runners, and I was part of it!!!! Overwhelmed to the max, basically. Then I turned a corner to see my own support team: Dad, Mum, Callum. I flashed a little smile with an ‘I’m KILLING this!’ level of confidence that was both uncharacteristic and magnificent because I absolutely, totally was. (Why do I never feel that fresh at six miles when I’m running six miles is my question?!)

The whole way round, there was an inspiring mix of calls of my name and funny messages – from “May the course be with you” (my #1), to “Tiramisu if you do it under 2!” and “You go, Glen Coco!” I kept wanting to stop and thank people for their support, except also never ever stop. Reading all of those signs, even if they were for specific people, kept me distracted for most of the way. It made you aware of why so many were doing it. Every crazy costume or heartfelt dedication on the back of a t-shirt was a reminder of how meaningful this challenge was for so many. And I got to be part of the fundraising side of the race for once. It was profoundly inspiring to experience.

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Home straight, aka the longest 800m has ever felt.

I reached the finish line in 2:03:05. This may seem odd to non-runners but, proud as I am of my finish time, it was when I saw my splits that I felt really chuffed with myself. I only went and got negative splits! Negative splits on my first half! Every single 5km of the race was quicker than the one before – and only marginally. Taking out the portaloo debacle that must have added about four or five minutes to my first 5km, all of the splits are pretty even. I bloomin’ NAILED that pacing lark.

Apart from anything, pacing it well meant I pretty much loved it from start to finish. At 10 miles the legs started hurting and the miles started to stretch out, but you rationalise the pain at that point; you’ve run 10. I knew at that point that I was going to finish, no question.

And finish I did.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, trained alongside me and put up with me talking about it non-stop for about two months. It was a joy I’ll never forget. And the team I was part of raised a total of £1,425 (£1,661.75 including gift aid) for Together For Short Lives.

Job well done I’d say.

My Half Mad Half Marathon

It’s Wednesday, a day to rest and recuperate from the endless mileage and stopwatches, and I don’t really know what to do with myself. Dare I say it, a night off from running has left me with itchy feet.

Don’t get me wrong, my legs are tired; they’re hanging limply from my hips like I’m a lame marionette, but I’m quite used to that. They usually figure out what do within the first mile. Left, right, left, right – the usual. At this point, they’re so used to running, I seem to have developed autopilot mode. It’s the basic walking stuff that tends to be where the trouble lies.

Somehow, though, on my journey of athletic discovery, I’ve gone from “OH, PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP” to finding the permanent ache of every muscle in my body oddly satisfying. And it’s never been as satisfying as it is right now. Fresh from a lengthy winter-to-spring plateau, I’ve been given renewed motivation and focus.

Aimg_3509 few weeks ago, on an uncharacteristic whim, I signed myself up to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon in aid of Together For Short Lives.

The cause is an incredible one: the UK’s biggest charity providing palliative care to children and young adults with life-shortening or life-threatening conditions – of which there are 49,000 in the UK. Together For Short Lives is there to help these children and their families as they are faced with unimaginably difficult illnesses.

Given that through the training I do with my running club I get to see what a difference health and fitness makes to young people’s lives, it strikes me as a particularly important cause. I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to have the freedom to go out and hit the pavements, or run around a 400-metre track for an hour. Not everyone’s pain is temporary. Not everyone’s struggle finishes on a high.

On a personal level, I’d been in need of a challenge, something to inspire and motivate me to really start pushing myself again. Immediately, once I’d signed up, it started to make a difference. I’ve been running quicker, going further, pushing harder and even eating better.

I’m hoping that soon I might be able to keep up with the entirety of Coach Dad’s Big, Tough Track Sessions, perhaps take on some cross-country kickassery and continue knocking my Parkrun PBs down a peg. For now, though, the priority is getting around 13.1 miles – preferably in a tidy two hours (yikes!) and to raise the all-important £1,200 target for Together For Short Lives.

If you’re able to spare a little cash to make all of those pavement pounding hours worth my while, please support my race and donate here.

Right. Well, I better go and do some core strength exercises. No time for rest!

 

A Love Letter to Parkrun

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I ran 10k to get that hat so you’re damn right I’m gonna wear it.

Saturday. 8am. My alarm, that dreadful marimba tone, interrupts a deep and all-too-brief slumber with determined persistence. It’s almost like it doesn’t turn off unless I wake up and manually swipe it away. In fact, that’s exactly how it is. But usually, somewhere between the eyes opening and the finger swiping, I’ve remembered it’s Parkrun day: my time to shine, or, at the very least, listen to the Hamilton soundtrack for twenty-some minutes without feeling guilty I’m not doing something more productive. My favourite!

I have lived this routine 73 times now (stat courtesy of my Parkrun email alert). Three of those times have been on Christmas Day. I’m still not sick of it.

I distinctly remember one morning when I rather sleepily told my mum I was having a lie-in. It was okay to have a week off, I kept telling myself as I desperately tried to get back to sleep. Then 8:30 rolled around and she went to drive off. I suddenly shot out of my warm, cosy bed and ran out to the driveway in my pyjamas to yell, “Give me two minutes!” Precisely two minutes later, I came back in full kit, still plaiting my hair as I got into the car.

Whenever I travel to East Anglia to visit my best friend, instead of using it as excuse to have a week off, I jog over to the gorgeous Eton Park and do Norwich Parkrun. I can tell she’s always thrilled by me setting an alarm on her morning off.

For running newbies, Parkruns will become your best friend. Other races will come and go but Parkruns are every week at 9am, Poole Park, by the cricket pavillion.

Despite my own abiding love for the 5k, I find that other runners have a tendency to belittle it as no biggie. It’s dismissed as, “Oh, anyone can do it.” But that’s exactly the point. It’s the race distance that’s open to everyone and poses a unique challenge to each individual. For marathon veterans, it’s an opportunity to improve their leg speed. For the kids, it’s an opportunity to go further and perhaps discover a talent for endurance running. For the casual runner, it’s an opportunity to work on their PB without too great an interruption to the weekend.

I don’t run five kilometres every Saturday morning to gloat about it. Most of the time, it doesn’t earn so much as a tweet. It’s for me. I value opportunities to test my limits every now and again, to try new things – longer distances, cross country, track racing – but I always love my Saturday morning Parkruns most of all. A PB feels like magic. After 73 goes at it, to know that I can still achieve the best one yet is a special feeling.

I often hear about people getting into running after setting their sights on a massive challenge. Usually the marathon. But the majority of those who take up the sport purely to train for a single, big race seem to completely stop once it’s over. The buildup is so great, the pressure so immense that when it’s done, they’re relieved. They stop almost entirely. All the fitness that they’ve built up slowly falls away. Given how challenging the beginning is, those first baby steps where you’re trying to drag your arse around a couple of miles, I am strongly in favour of clinging to every bit of fitness I can muster and never letting it go.

Surely a better challenge for someone who is turning to running in an effort to improve their fitness would be to set a goal number of Parkruns for the year? Consistency over bragging rights? Yes, you’re not going to be the guy in the office who did the sub-whatever London Marathon, but doing a Parkrun a week for a year is surely a pretty sizeable personal achievement? If you can run marathon after marathon then more power to you, but really I’m talking about those of us mere mortals who just want to keep in shape. The number of times I’ve been asked, “So, when are you going to do a marathon then?” makes me want to throw my trainers into an incinerator.

Wanting to run and wanting to run a marathon are two different things. I like running. The experience of running. I feel as though there’s a misconception out in the world that it’s not running if it doesn’t hurt so much you hate it, if it doesn’t make your calves scream and your nipples bleed. To quote the great philosopher Shania Twain: “Nah!” It doesn’t have to be about testing the physical limits of your body. It can simply be about fitness. Do what you can do. Do you what you’ll enjoy.

Parkruns aren’t about who’s the toughest; they’re about going out there each week and doing your best. Was that too soppy? I don’t care.

Now I’m On Track

IMG_2749When my dad knocks on my door, it means he wants something. One time it meant we were having takeaway pizza, but most of the time it means he wants something. On Friday he knocked on my door, entered without waiting for a response (!!!) and led with, “I’ve got an idea to run by you.” Never good.

His fabulous idea was for me to go along to the last track meeting of the season in Exeter and run in the 3000m. Do you know how many times around the track that is?! Seven point five. Let me put that another way: too damn many.

Anyway, I said yes. For a few reasons: 1. I’m a little bit stupid. 2. I’m very easily guilted into things by my parents. 3. #yolo 4. Having had the track team help me train for the past year, at no benefit to themselves whatsoever, I thought it would be nice to try and make all their coaching worthwhile – the club was in a slightly vulnerable position within the division and having another athlete finish the race would earn extra points towards avoiding relegation. 5. I saw my brother run 10,000m (25 laps!) a few weeks ago and he didn’t lose his mind along the way, so I knew it wasn’t impossible. And, 6. My dad treated me to some new shorts because my training shorts aren’t club colours. Blue shorts with a red and black vest? No, siree! Gotta style it out.

Before I faced the scary, new challenge that Exeter posed, I had my all-too-familiar weekly Parkrun to best. My Parkrun PBs probably stopped being interesting a while ago, but last Saturday it felt particularly important to have a successful run – something to fall back on if I had my ego totally shattered the following day. I finished it in 24:48, a leap forward from my previous best of 25:24. At last I’m a sub-25er! Hard work pays off, kids.

The Sunday morning wakeup call was 7am. Day of rest, my arse.

The beginning of the day involved a lot of turning to my dad and other important-seeming adults to check this was a good idea. I have never been so nervous before a race. Plus, I would be headphone-less – how was I going to run 3000m without the support of Carly Rae and Tay? While I do some training on the track, racing on the track was never on the cards. It’s far too exposed. The exactness of the times on the perfect flat of the track is better suited to super speedy folk. And there are plenty of those at my club. Except in my age category, I guess (which, by the way, is SENIOR women – when do I get my bus pass?). But this particular model of human was not designed for speed. I went into this race knowing that, barring an upset, I would be coming last; in fact, my dad’s assurance to me was, “Not everyone is going to lap you.” And that’s the best I was hoping for. If I ran well, I wouldn’t be embarrassingly far behind everyone. Terrifying.

One small mercy was that my race was scheduled at 12 noon. I had long enough to prepare, scrounge a banana off my brother and warm-up without having to simmer in low-level panic all afternoon. There were four other Wimborne athletes running the 3000m (in different age/gender categories) at 12 o’clock, so we all went for a jog and a stretch together. I then spent the 20 or so minutes immediately before the race vacillating between needing a drink and needing to pee.

During my pre-race pep talk, Coach Dad informed me that I should be running 115 second laps based on science and graphs or something, and if I could do that, I’d finish in 14:20.

Standing on the start line for the 3000m was one of the more scary moments of my life. I’m used to road races, where the start is usually a crowd of a few hundred people positioning themselves based on how fast the people around them look. On the track, there aren’t enough people to hide behind. Everyone stood along the curved 200m line as I anxiously copied everything my teammate did, pretending I totally knew what I was doing. Then the gun went and we were off.

Once I’d shaken off the fright of the gunshot noise, I settled in. And something funny happened: I remembered I could run. I’d been so caught up worrying about it that I’d managed to convince myself that my legs wouldn’t work. Once I realised that the legs had some speed in them, I suddenly had to slow myself down because my first lap was way under 115 seconds – which, sure enough, I paid for. My split times were a little inconsistent, with the middle laps falling to around 119 seconds before I dug in for the latter stages of the race.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever run with more support than I had during that race. The stretch from the 200m mark to the finish line was a chorus of cheering, with encouraging faces appearing in outer lanes and calling out from the mound next to the track. They cheered all eight times I went past with increasing enthusiasm.

Other than that, the race is a blur. I was running just that fast. My official time was 14:23.74. Not an embarrassment.

Race over, I could eat lunch and watch everyone else’s events, a free woman once again! It was actually a really delightful day out once the 3000m was out of the way. The weather was scorching, and there were plenty of different events to watch – including my speedy little brother in the 5000m. Mostly, it was nice to come along to support the people I’ve been training with now for a solid year and enjoy in the tremendous team spirit that comes from the top down.

Wimborne AC did incredibly well on the whole, placing third. The mission to stay in Division 1 was a success. Job done! Now don’t get any ideas about the impending cross-country season…

Running Away From My Problems

DSC00104I just finished my 58th Parkrun. 25:25. Another personal best. It feels like a miracle after waking up with tired legs and pizza belly. It feels like a miracle for a lot of reasons. It’s now been a year and a half since I first dusted off my old non-brand trainers (unloved even in their best days) and decided to go for a run one autumn morning.

The truth is I took up running in an effort to combat depression.

It was October 2013. Not my worst month, certainly not my best. My mum had suggested running, or physical activity of any kind, countless times in the months prior. Problem was, I didn’t want to leave the house. I really didn’t like leaving the house. Then my counsellor asked me about my fitness; she asked how much exercise did I do during the week? None. The truthful answer was none. I was perfectly happy doing absolutely no exercise, resentfully resisting the suggestion and throwing away some typically facetious reply about how the only marathon I would be doing was the binge-watching kind. So perfectly happy was I.

“You should aim to do 20 minutes of exercise twice a week,” she told me. “You should do something that makes you out of breath.”

Living in a house full of keen runners, running seemed the obvious option. It didn’t require the commitment of a gym membership or buying new kit. I simply laced up my trainers and started running. And then I walked because, damn, running is really hard. But then I ran again…

The first thing that hit me was how satisfying it is to be physically challenged. I can now personally attest to the whole “runner’s high” thing. Yes, endorphins make you happy. We know this because we all watched Legally Blonde. The unavoidable discomfort that had put me off sport for years is now masked by a far greater, almost euphoric feeling of accomplishment. Is there anything better than that moment when you’re four kilometres down in a 5k and ‘Shake It Off’ comes on your playlist and you find just a little more fuel in the tank? It’s as addictive as everyone claims. Not the ‘Shake It Off’ moment specifically, but The Buzz. I’m running to chase that feeling. It is an exact opposite of the feeling I know I’m running away from so I know I’m going in the right direction.

If I’m ever thinking, “I don’t want to run today”, I think about how dropping out might affect my rate of improvement and hastily dismiss the thought. I’ve never known motivation like it. I’m not a serious athlete. I’m not looking to become a serious athlete. But I want to be better than I was last week. So, I go out to feel good. Those aching calf muscles afterwards only serve as a gentle reminder of how great I did. Besides, if I wake up early for a run, go out and push myself, it’s a free pass for the rest of the day. A day when I’ve run is a day when I’ve achieved and, therefore, I can relaaaaax. Imagine Pixar’s Inside Out is the inside of my mind: Sadness takes a nap while Joy (voiced, of course, by Amy Poehler) eagerly repeats affirmations as I unwind with some feminist literature.

Then there’s my long lost friend Vitamin D. Sunlight hitting my skin, warming its colour to a few shades up from its natural vampiric white. I feel like I went years living inside, only venturing out when I had to, for food or education or if a fire alarm went off. I’m a writer. I sit and I write. I’m more relaxed in front of a Word document than anywhere else. Running is a break from that, offering balance to my natural lifestyle. It takes me so many places, exploring my home county one foot in front of the other. I live in Bournemouth. I have the seafront, from Boscombe Pier to Sandbanks, and the New Forest, and the numerous athletics tracks that host club training sessions. Is there a place any more perfect to run? I doubt it. I have my running shoes to thank for showing me my world. I’d never really noticed how beautiful it all is – even if I do try to ignore my mum when she points out all the geese and rainbows and flowers and MUM, I CAN’T TALK RIGHT NOW, I’M TOTALLY OUT OF BREATH. WE’LL TALK LATER.

Getting out more, I’m meeting people all the time – happy, active people. I think I might even be one of them now. At the end of our track sessions, I don’t see a single person looking glum. The stand is always abuzz with proud smiles, people asking, “How was your session?” and “Are you racing at the weekend?”

Running might seem like a lonely sport; it’s not strictly a team sport, after all, but I think if you find the right running club, it does feel like a team. It’s not that there aren’t runs where I want to stick my headphones in my ears and drown everything else out with nondescript dance music. There are plenty and they’re necessary. But going out and having people cheer you on is an entirely separate, valuable experience. Making friends is always a plus, right? We all appreciate nice people supporting us.

And finally, of course, there’s the reason most people want to start exercising: that old “getting in shape” chestnut. While my main motivation for exercising was mental health, I have to admit that the idea of slimming down was an added incentive. The fact that I hated my body was never a big issue but it simmered beneath the surface, perfectly in line with the many millions of women who share that experience and have their vulnerability fed by marketing and the media. I would conceal whatever figure I had underneath baggy grey-tone tops that hung off me, hoping never to draw any attention. Funny thing is, my figure hasn’t really changed, only the way I see it has. I train four or five times a week but my body looks about the same. It’s probably tighter and firmer, but the same size, same shape. Running has merely given me an appreciation of what my body is capable of. The legs I always resented for being too chunky can carry me for miles and miles. My body is strong. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says about it, my body is so great, it can run far away from anyone who says otherwise. I feel oddly powerful, like I could lead the people into battle or catch kids who are trespassing on my land (I have no land). So, now I wear colours and I wear shorts. Sometimes even a cheeky crop top. I don’t care. My body is healthy. I’m happy.

People often ask me, “Why now? What made you take up running?” I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t think they understand the weight of the question. “The desperate need to feel better,” doesn’t seem like the appropriate response, but it’s the truth. And it worked.

A Healthy Obsession

Running-ShoesAfter you get past the first hurdles of taking up running, i.e. you manage to get into a regular rhythm of jogs without giving up, it becomes very easy to develop a preoccupation with stats and goals. I can personally attest to this. PBs, splits, handicaps, etc. all somehow become super interesting once you get broken in a little bit. The stats are addictive. It’s human nature to want to progress and after the initial training wheel phase, it becomes important to set attainable and specific goals to reach that damn fine potential you got going on. Often, pursuing those goals all comes wrapped up in weirdly fascinating personal data.

Runs can be long. Even a 5k, for me at least, uses up nearly half an hour. That’s a long time to keep your head in the game, so to speak. While the body is being tested, it helps to give your mind something to do besides wonder whether that really is a stitch coming on. Naturally, you get to thinking about times, and goals, and pace (and sometimes just what you’re having for dinner, to be totally honest). This is why, at race start lines, you often see a huge number of runners equipped with various forms of wearable technology. It’s the new black. In some cases, it literally is black. Would this be a good time for me to mention that unless the goth-vampire aesthetic is your vibe, I really think it’s boring when people go for black when there’s so much colour available in the market of wearables and kit? Whatever, though, you do you. (But seriously, spice up your life.)

The technology available for tracking training is vast, ranging from fancy gadgets like my mother’s beloved Garmin watch to the free app I have on my phone to boss me about. The reason they’re all so popular? The technology is invaluable. It does wonders for managing health goals. Oscar Insurance, a health insurance company in New Jersey and New York, is just one example of a company promoting and using this kind of technology to help members manage their health and fitness. All Oscar members get Misfit bands that they can use to set personal activity goals, sync with the company’s mobile app to keep track of their progress and then get cash rewards at the end of the month for reaching their goals.

In the case of my Runkeeper app, I can have it set up to give me a playlist and interrupt my music to tell me my pace at certain intervals. It allows me to obliviously listen to the whole TSwift catalogue and the app will let me know if I’m on track, pacing my runs for me while I’m getting in some much-needed music therapy. The times keep pushing me on to race my previous bests while my music offers a valued distraction from the aching in my, well, just about everywhere. It’s a great system. Added to the help it gives during the run, all of my times and splits get logged and recorded to enable a wealth of resources when mapping out future fitness ambitions. It’s perfect.

Alongside the pacing, informing the training is the creation of personal goals to enable steady progress. Those goals have varied from a simple 5k personal best to being able to run a new distance to trying to match up split times, or more recently to get a 8.0+ handicap improvement through the last annual year (check!). Tracking my runs is always integral to that; it enables you to become your own personal trainer. Or, in the cases of some of the technology, the recording of the nice lady announcing your times becomes your personal trainer. I talked in a previous blog about my quick burst of progress through the end of 2014, culminating in my ‘Best Improved’ title in December. This was a direct response to recognising an attainable, specific goal and pushing hard for it. Along the way, I was constantly checking my graphs on runbritain.com, looking to see how my progress was coming along in terms of the statistics. There is nothing more motivating than seeing results, and being able to chip away at my times little by little allowed me to keep my streak of success going strong.

Ultimately, running comes down to what works best for each individual, I think. I’ve been keeping fit through my training for over a year now and, after my initial progress, I found that I plateaued for a long period of time in mid-2014. The best answer to that was goal-setting. By the end of last year, I felt unstoppable, smashing PB after PB and far exceeding the goal I had initially set myself. I think it starts with one attainable goal, and then comes the momentum. Once you have the big mo, you’re set.

Thursday Night Lights

photoVery recently, I started attending an athletics track session to complement the Parkruns I’ve been rocking on the reg. There’s something terribly intimidating about running on the track. The definite white lines and the precision of the stopwatch are harder to hide behind than the absentminded jogging jaunts I’m used to. The fact that the track is located inside an army camp only makes the whole lark a little more intense (like, do I need to worry that if I got too good, I’d get called up?*).

To give some perspective of fitness, if the group I train with were placed in some dystopian YA novel wherein only one can survive, I have two potential paths: either I’m dead before they finish reading out my name, or I’m the reclusive one who survives till the end by sheer fluke, having hidden in a cave for the duration. The latter circumstance would only be possible if the cave had a decent wifi connection (or at least some 3G), otherwise I would get caught while trying to climb a nearby tree for signal. I may have digressed. I’m the slowest is the point. By quite some margin.

However, I declare buoyantly, all I had to do to succeed was complete the session. As with anything you do for the first time, I had nothing to beat. It’s become apparent to me that one of my primary motivations is the intent to avoid appearing pathetic in front of other people. Typically, this requires the presence of other people. While outside of the track I often run with my mum, she’s so used to seeing me look pathetic that this stopped taking effect a while ago when it’s just the two of us. At track, there’s quite a crowd. No one wants to collapse, crying, onto the ground in front of that many people, so I focus my weary head on getting those reps over with sharpish.

The session, intended to work on speed, involves doing several reps of different distances with set goal times per 400m (e.g. 100 second laps). On 1,000 metre reps, I trail 150 metres behind, wheezing my way to the finish line as I wave my hand to gesture that the group should go on without me (either with the next rep or, if I’m feeling particularly winded, life). To any casual bystanders, my attempt to “go hard” would probably resemble anyone else’s recovery lap if it weren’t for the desperate breathlessness and raspberry shade of face. It is not my purpose to compete with anyone else, I just want to improve my leg speed. Week one went exactly as well as it should have. I sucked by anyone else’s standards but rocked by my own. I went. I ran. I conquered.

I think that just about sums it up.

I think that just about sums it up.

The talent of my peers at the Thursday night sessions negates my use of the word “peers” there, and makes it wholly impossible not to look pathetic. As looking feeble (think pre-serum Steve Rogers, right) in the short-term was unavoidable, very quickly I had to decide whether or not I wanted to make the long-term commitment to come each Thursday for my weekly exercise in humiliation with the intent that little by little, I get a tad closer to not pathetic. I know what you’re thinking; I’ve set myself a high bar. But what can I say? I’m a dreamer.

In truth, the benefits of attending the track sessions are hard to dispute. While my body is telling me (loudly and repeatedly) no, my times are telling me yes. Since I began coming at the beginning of September, I’ve seen improvements in my Parkrun time every single week (taking off around 1 minute most weeks), reducing my 5k PB from 33:09 to 28:29. Before I began the track training, I’d set myself a goal to get under the illusive 30-minute mark, and it certainly helped me achieve that.

I started attending track sessions at the beginning of September and my improvement since has been pretty sizeable.

I began attending track sessions at the beginning of Sept and the effect is plain to see.

I guess it turns out exercise is good for you after all. Who knew?

 

*I feel like maybe not but it’s going to niggle.

Sunglasses

I obviously went from chilled vibes to judging you during the course of this little selfie sesh.

I obviously went from chilled vibes to judging you during the course of this little selfie sesh.

In the last month, I’ve bought two new pairs of sunglasses. People seem confused about this. “You have sunglasses already, why do you need two new pairs?” I don’t, is the answer. I don’t need new sunglasses at all. But as I go into shops with a view to picking out some new items for summer, it becomes clear that there’s a problem. Sunglasses don’t make me feel fat. And they’re the only thing.

Recently my friends and I booked our July holiday (huzzah!). Of course, I’ve got ages before I need to worry about preparing for it but I fancied a little shopping, I thought, and the excuse presented itself! The most practical item on the list was swimwear. Having not had need for it for a long time, I have none and we’re going to be swimming a lot. I thought I’d just search ASOS to see if anything caught my eye. When the search results came up, it was no real surprise to see washboard stomachs and teenie weenie bikinis across the board, but I still felt frustrated by it. I’m a pretty standard size – a “perfect” size, in fact (Beautiful South, 1998) – and I’ve never been someone who gets too hung up on their body issues. I have them, sure, but they’ve never been dangerous. As I browsed through the endless two-pieces thinking of the judgmental looks I’d get if I ever wore any of them (possibly resembling mine in the top right picture), those body issues did start to feel potentially dangerous.

I’d innocently and excitedly gone to shop for swimwear, thinking I’d pick out a patterned tankini with no worries. Of the 775 “styles found”, 26 were tankinis and nine of those were maternity. By the time I was looking at my options for swimming costumes, morale was pretty low. I was making calculations about which body issue I could surrender to; would it be worse to have my belly out or my stretch marks on display?

Every sign that I’m not a pre-pubescent child had to be covered up. God forbid anyone confuse me for a grown woman. It’s not like I was intending to impress anyone. I shan’t be parading around in my swimwear; it’s purely practical. I just want to be able to go for a swim with my buddies. Why do I care? Why can’t I talk myself out of this hole? I stayed resolute about wanting to cover up more, and began to look at other retailers. It’s Next and BHS before I see anything resembling the coverage I want, shops that are targeting a demographic twenty years older than me. The items that I show an interest in are given names like “Tummy Tuck Swim Shorts” or they’re only available in bigger sizes, like anyone needed to draw further attention to the motivation behind picking the items. It’s not long before I’m calculating how many more runs I can get in a week, and wondering if my mum would notice if I snuck a look at her diet books. In retrospect, I’m saddened that my brain so quickly took that path. Unlike when I took up running last year, motivated by the desire to feel fitter and healthier, this move was entirely motivated by unhappiness and a dislike of myself.

After a little while of searching through the bikinis, I began to become self-conscious of my thought process. I felt a profound sadness over the effect it had had on me. It took so little for me to get into that mindset and I hate to think of the effect experiences like that can have over people like me, and younger.

I moved my cursor to the sunglasses search. There I find a happier place, somewhere between the meadows of joy and the valley of contentment. “Ooh, heart-shaped ones!”

ccc

2014 Progress Report

I’m okay. Are you okay?

So far my year has been entirely consumed by January exams and two bastard assignments. One assignment was as painful as if each word was drawing ink from my blood, à la Harry Potter. The other was (and don’t tell anybody this!) rather enjoyable – HP versus Twilight: the showdown, as I am referring to it. The exams, though, were both a nightmare. These assessments were so stressful that it put rather a dampener on the Christmas period for me, and made January more enjoyable than December because, really, the anticipation is far worse than the event. I hope T.S. Eliot feels bad about this whole sorry business to be honest. Now I have one of those bad boys out of the way, and another imminent.

Also in Jan: I crammed in a bunch of pre-revision treats, frequenting Prezzo like the pasta fiend that I am. My wonderful, heaven-sent best friend landed us HAIM tickets for a relatively small venue – the kind that they’ll probably not be playing for much longer. And I bought myself makeup treats, my favourite kind of treats, to counteract the revision struggle. Pass or fail, I have some beautiful Real Techniques brushes now so I think I carpe’d the shit out of that diem.

Thankfully, we are hastily nearing the end of the assessment fest and February beckons. February, in all its short and romantic glory, is coming to my rescue. We start new, much more appealing units (i.e. no modernism) and I get to go out, do things, see people. One of the worst aspects of the relentless reading, researching, writing and revising spiral has been my loss of fitness. I have only been running once a week, for the Saturday Parkrun, rather than 2-3 times, and I have really felt the difference. My “motivational” snacking added to the lack of exercise does not make for a healthy equation. I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my usual routine. This hermit-esque revision behaviour is really not a fun way of life, I gotta tell you. I think, also, I’m going to buy myself a new leather jacket and that in itself will give me a whole new lease of life, I’m sure. Fingers crossed anyway.

So, all in all, January’s been fine, February’s going to be chill, March’ll be HAIMtastic and in April, we’ll hopefully see the elusive sun again. I am feeling pretty darn positive about the beginning of the new year.