Sunday, 13 October 2013

Running for my Life...

"How long have you been running?" they ask. 

Well every runner has a running story, a reason, a start line, and I should probably begin with some life-altering, mind blowing intro about how exciting my running story is. But I'll start with an apology instead. I'm sorry it's nothing desperately exciting. 

Three years ago I wouldn't have even run for a bus. But my hatred of running goes further back than that. I hated cross country running day at high school with such intensity that it was not unusual for me to cry the night before. Prior to that, I have a vivid memory of being in primary school (age 10 or 11) and asking a teacher marshalling the cross country run on Sports Day if I was allowed to scream. They said yes. I let out an absolute blood curdler that I don't think anyone was expecting and I'm honestly surprised no-one called the police.

Distance running was absolutely awful. I hated it. 

To further compound my hatred of all things kinetic, in high school we were tortured by "The Beep Test", possibly "The Bleep Test", but either way it was another one of the most degrading and humiliating parts of the entire school year. One sports hall, two lines, fifty pubescent teenagers and a PA system. The "game" is that you have to run from one end of the hall to the other before the cassette plays the beep. The beep gets faster and faster and if you don't make the line before the beep, you're out. 

Now, retrospectively this was stupid for two reasons:
1) The unfit kids clearly need more exercise than the fit kids, but they spend more of the class sat on a bench trying not to vomit on their Adidas poppers and shell toe trainers from over-exertion. 
2) Why would you warm up a room full of kids to then systematically sit them down on a bench feeling like a failure while watching the better kids keep running?

Ok, the second one is a bit of a stretch...but when I look back on the Beep Test it was just a ridiculous way of highlighting who were the fit kids and who were the fat kids. And who were the kids who barely picked up a trot just so they could sit down and watch everyone else bust their ass. 

I digress.

The point is that I hated running. 

Throughout university I chomped my way through copious amounts of panini, student union curly fries and the late-night reduced cheese section at Peckhams which was conveniently close to home. All washed down with a few pints of real ale and a bedtime single malt for good measure. Upon graduating I switched the curly fries for more beer, and lashings of it. 

Needless to say, the weight crept on and I wasn't too chirpy about that. I went on to manage a real ale and whisky bar in Edinburgh, which was great for a while but certainly not what I had planned for myself. I was overworked, hacked off and leading a pretty unhealthy lifestyle, having introduced even more beer and Mini Cheddars to the daily routine. How to get out?

I did the desperately senseless thing and I quit my job. I joined a gym and filled 6 days of my weeks of unemployment with exercise. Full workouts and a swim pretty much every day. My life and my body were changing, and I enjoyed the sense of feeling physically exhausted at the end of a day, yet mentally so alive and enthusiastic. Still, I wouldn't dream of running outdoors though. No, no. That's what those weirdo runners do. I'm not one of those. 

I then got a job in a really lovely cake shop and indulged in decorating biscuits and getting out of bed 30mins before I started work in a morning. It was great as a transition out of shift work and it paid my bills, plus it was great fun. I kept up the exercise and then one evening I got caught in the snow coming out of the gym. It was dark. I was at the bottom of the hill; home was at the top of the hill. I looked to the sky and saw a swirling haze of white snowflakes dancing around above me. 

"I wonder if I can run all the way up the hill without stopping?"

Turns out I could. And I've not stopped running since. 

In 2012 I ran my first Edinburgh Half Marathon, having never run further than 5km before signing up. My fit-pro at the gym, Emma, set me up with an awesome training plan and I stuck to it like glue, being the painfully organised person that I am (it's a blessing and a curse, trust me). I went on to run EMF again in 2013, as mentioned previously.

Last Sunday I ran the Great Scottish Run. The night before the race I was crawling around on the floor in agony with some kind of tummy bug, but there was no way I wasn't running that race. What most (including me on any normal running weekend) would use as an excuse, I used as motivation to push myself even harder. I completed the 10k in 56.16 and made a direct b-line for the train home to my bed afterwards. But I loved it nonetheless.

Today I signed up for the Teltowkanal Halbmarathon in Berlin this November. I can't wait. 

I think this means I'm a runner now? If it does, I couldn't be happier. 
Running taught me self-discipline and routine. It taught me to respect my body and look after it because you only get one go at life. It taught me to set goals and attain them, both in fitness and in the rest of your life. 

I took an opportunity that was on offer to me and it paid off to try my hardest; it lead to the greatest job ever. And honestly, I absolutely love my job. As a corporate fundraiser I get to work with incredibly generous and inspirational people. I work for an amazing charity supporting vulnerable children and young people who have been through some pretty tough times in their short lives, further making me feel incredibly lucky for what I have. Please, never take anything for granted; if your body works, use it. 

Needless to say, I lost some weight while I was at it. Slow and steady wins the race.

Ultimately my ongoing motivation to run is summed up best by this comic strip.

I don't feel like I have much to offer this time apart from one sentiment. If I can do it, if I can change my whole life with running, so can anyone. If you want to achieve something, you can do it. You just have to work hard and take things one step at a time. Currently I'm stepping slowly towards my ultimate running goal...the big 26.2. But each achievement until then will be worth every single second of effort. 

Today's top tip: Take your time. Whether you're on a long run as part of your training, filling in an application for a job, or you're making your first batch of macaroons, just take it easy. It's about the end goal, not how fast and furiously you get there. As Tim Minchin rightly said "If you focus too far ahead you'll miss out on all the stuff that's in your peripheral vision".

The man speaketh the truth. 

This week's reading: Marathon by Hal Higdon
Does what it says on the tin. Best not to ask...

Top tune: Pagan Poetry by Bjork
It almost feels like a cop out to put a Bjork tune in a running blog. But her lyrics and vocals make my heart beat with a painful pounding that reminds me I'm alive. 

...but not like the beep test.


Friday, 30 August 2013

"Does my bum look big in this?"

I spent years and years having a good old whinge about my body. It's not the right shape here, too big there, not smooth enough around here, "these jeans look terrible", "why can't I get my arms that toned?" this all sounding disgustingly familiar?

And yet my poor body has never said a word against me. It functions ok, it's never been on strike for a better benefits package and it quietly heals itself after I've thrown disgraceful amounts of red wine at it on special occasions. 

Granted, that last one hasn't always been without some abject horror but we've always come through it together in the end (See exhibit one, aaaand exhibit two, please note that the Malboros are not mine but the lip balm is).

More recently however, since I took up running, I've lessened this tendency to complain about the shape, size and aesthetic condition of my body. I've lessened the wine tendency too. Everything works, which is more than some people have the great fortune of. Since I made running a regular part of my routine I've been much more careful about what I put in to my body to fuel it, repair it and maintain it. I confess that the past week has been peppered with indulgent treats such as smoked duck and Roquefort, but please don't hold that kind of maintenance against me. More importantly, working with children and young people who cope admirably with severe physical and learning disabilities serves as a regular reminder of how fortunate I am to have a healthy body. I need to just shut up and put it to best use.

I'll not talk about how healthy I feel and give you some good quinoa recipes...we'll crack that open when we're desperate.

No, we're on the topic of aesthetics today. I've found that running hasn't just made me more aware of what's good for my body and what to avoid, but it's made me more confident and rational about the way I view my body and the way I take to heart how other people view me.

Newsflash: no-one in the street pays any attention. And if it's true that everyone at the gym is only looking at your not-pert-enough bum, then they'll never recognise your face...will they? In a nutshell, it's not worth losing any sleep over.

Don't get me wrong, I like to look nice and I firmly believe it's important to...well, be clean for a start. I like to dress smartly for my work because I feel more professional and respected if I look "slammin'", as my friend Kate would say. But there's one sure fire way to guarantee my truest confidence: put me in skin tight black lycra leggings and a sleeveless top, scrape all my hair into the tightest, messiest, frizziest bun imaginable and let me go outside and sweat as much as I can in the time I have. If it's a cold day I might even blow my nose into thin air. Hot, right?! Because there exists in life a state and time when no-one cares what you look like.

Sure, I wish this was the case all of the time. Society has developed this horrible habit of "judging others as we judge ourselves" and it's this wildly distorted self judgement that's crippling people, especially young women and teenagers who have nothing to be concerned about and should be focusing on something far more important than if they'll ever fit into a River Island size 8...

My running gear is akin to full body armour...impenetrable, robust and all in a size 12-14. I can spend half an hour deciding if I look acceptable to go to a meeting (due to Dombulbit/"does my bum look big in this?" syndrome), but I don't seem to have any problems at all heading out in top to toe Nike Dri-Fit that leaves little to anyone's imagination. How can that be?! It must be the action of running, and principally the unabashed smugness that goes along with exercise. I hate myself so hard right now. I'd have been better off going with the quinoa recipe...


Today's top tip: If you're crippled with Dombulbit Syndrome, get some "confidence pants" and get out for a little 10min jog or even a quick walk. Enjoy the liberation of sweating in public without any associated stigma, then come home, put your jeans on and think "at least I'm not in lycra right now". It makes it a whole lot easier to leave the house in a morning with a bit of muffin top. 

This week's reading: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek.
Scott Jurek won the Western States Endurance Race (a 100mile race, folks) SEVEN consecutive times, having grown up with little interest in running. He is a massively inspirational individual and his book is an absolute joy to read. Very fluid writing style, a nice dose of humour and accessible to anyone with an interest in humans and human behaviour. I love it. 

"Every single one of us possesses the strength to attempt something he isn't sure he can accomplish. It can be running a mile, or a 10k race, or 100 miles. It can be changing a career, losing 5 pounds, or telling someone you love her (or him)... A lot of people never do anything great with their lives. A lot of people never attempt it."

Five out of six ain't bad.

Top tune: I cannot seem to get enough of 'Free' by Rudimental. Simple but it does the trick for me.

Love you. x

Friday, 16 August 2013

"Which way am I facing again?"

I'll not lie; I broke myself during that last Marathon attempt. 

It's why I've not mentioned anything for six months. I thought I had everything covered. I was buying new trainers, I had a colour coded training schedule all drawn up, I had the motivation and I was getting out there most mornings without complaints.

But I missed the absolute key to any training plan: INJURY PREVENTION

That's right, folks. It seems glaringly obvious now, of course. 

I started to feel a sharp tightening pain on the outside of my left knee after a morning run one day, and I thought nothing much of it. A bit sore after I'd been sat still for a while, and really "yeowchie" at times like getting up from the table, but nothing more than a bit of a niggle that would pass with dedication and effort, right?


On my way back from a 10mile LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) run I stopped at traffic lights and when I hopped cheerfully off the pavement to cross the road, I thought I'd left my lower leg behind me. The searing pain in my knee was enough to make me shout in pain and I crashed to a halt, both hands hitting the cold pavement in front of me. I fell over?! Oh my God, did I really just fall over? (How embarrassing). Did my leg actually just drop off? It felt like it. I picked myself up, caught a breath, got out of the way of oncoming cars, and started walking the loooooong two miles back home (my leg was still attached).

Note to self: always take enough cash for a cab back to your flat...just in case. 

That "Walk of Shame" was one of the most upsetting 30 minutes I can remember. I cried a lot of the way, and I saw my hopes of crossing a Marathon finish line drift away with each tear. I thought I'd done something seriously bad - I had visions of surgery, long recovery times and eating peanut butter with banana chips, straight from the jar. I felt like I'd put on half a stone just thinking about it.

I made an emergency appointment with a sports physio and it was pretty quickly diagnosed as ITBS, Iliotibial Band Syndrome. A very common inflammation of the long band of tissue that runs down the side of your upper leg, connecting your glutes, quads and hamstrings to the tibia and fibula below your knee. Cause? Too much, too soon. The overuse I'd pounded into my poor legs in a short space of time had caused the IT Band in my left leg to swell, snapping at the outside of my knee joint and causing a pain that can only be described as feeling like someone is tightening a screw into the side of your knee. 

Prognosis and treatment: six weeks of foam rolling/deep tissue massage, a lot of quad/glute/hamstring strengthening and stretching, all teamed with lots of intensive core work to improve the strength and stability in my hips. No running, no swimming, no cycling...lots of rest. Every runner's worst nightmare "No running. Rest."

I was missing the bright side - I would run again. 

And I did. About four weeks after my physio appointment I was out running for between 7-12minutes at a time, and I built things up from there taking plenty of rest days in between. I knew however that my hopes of Marathon glory were out of sight for 2013, and this was the cause of great heartache and many, many tearful episodes on the shoulder of my very patient partner. I felt like I'd let everyone down, and my spirit was crushed.

Unwilling to be deterred though, I completed the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 26th May in 2hrs 7mins. Five minutes slower than my 2012 time, but at least I crossed the finish line pain free. Straight to the beer tent, oh yes.

Since then, I've been keeping up the foam rolling and core work and I've not even felt a niggle of ITB pain. I'm back up to running for over an hour, out several times a week, and I'm making sure to factor in a strict regime of injury prevention, rest days and dedicated stretching time. 

My weeks currently look like this:

Monday - 1hr Pilates 
Tuesday - 30mins hills intervals
Weds - 30mins sprint intervals, plus 1hr weights
Thurs - Rest day
Friday - 35mins pace run
Saturday - Rest day
Sunday - 1hr+ LSD run

Gradually that will increase, but with a couple of 10k races and a November Half Marathon in the pipeline, I'm gently easing myself into the longer mileage to avoid any chance of injury and I'm focusing more on my speed and technique.

Additionally, I've been working a lot on adjusting my running style and form. I bought the new trainers...I got some New Balance Minimus 10v2 Road shoes, with Vibram soles. They are very colourful. And yes, I'm slowly making a move to minimal/barefoot running, though don't expect to see me in my bare feet any time soon. The minimal style is just fine for the time being. Plus, people tend to enjoy smashing bottles and vomiting on pavements in Edinburgh...that's before the seagulls swoop in to eat leftover kebabs. I'd rather keep my shoes on, thanks.


After reading Born to Run, I was unbelievably inspired to up my game and get back into long distance running. Nothing makes me feel like a run can. I've never been as happy...running is my drug of choice and (for a change) it's good for me. Well, it's better for me than peanut butter and banana chips. Hopefully I can inspire more people around me to try running as not only a means of keeping fit, but also as a way of maintaining a healthy mind and taking time out to spend alone with their thoughts. It's time I spend thinking about myself as opposed to other people, which everyone needs to do from time to time.

I had the great pleasure of meeting the wonderful Barefoot Ted earlier in the summer, while he was on a very brief stopover in Edinburgh. Having been so inspired by Born to Run, I was delighted to be able to go for a run with Ted and several guys from Footworks in Bruntsfield. Typically it was the hottest day of the year so far and I practically melted myself into oblivion running to the top of Blackford Hill with a lot of experienced, fit, male runners. But never one to back out of a challenge, I got there, and it was a great privilege to hear Ted speak of his journey and experience of barefoot running. 

I usually run around the other hill in the background - it looks so small!! 

Anyway - that was a truly great day and again it was really inspiring to spend time talking with other runners and sharing our stories. I'm so happy to be part of such a warm and vibrant community.

I was also directed to a great website that night by one of the guys we were out running with - the principles of Natural Running are fairly simple, but by factoring in a few of these aspects every time I go out for a run now, I'm certainly feeling more like that "Navajo on the hunt" that Chris McDougall talks about! In the past, people used to move out of my way when they heard me coming from 20metres I'm having to politely body check people off pavements. If such a thing exists. I am a stickler for manners, after all. 

Anyway, that's more than enough drivel for one day. I shall leave you with the regular tip and tune, a wee book recommendation, and sign off until next time...

Today's top tip: Take a day off.

If it wasn't already clear enough, I've become a true believer in the power of rest days and appropriate amounts of sleep. Once you're running a lot, it is entirely justified to allow yourself a day to put your feet up and have a wee afternoon snooze where possible. It's a fact that distance runners will need more sleep and that regular rest days (though not too many in a row) will ultimately make you stronger and more resilient as you progress on your running journey, whatever it is you're aiming for. Whether it's 5mins without stopping, or a full blown marathon, rest days are key in preventing injury. You can either listen to me, or you can listen to your miserable whimpering when you hurt yourself from overuse...tough love today, folks. I learnt the hard way. 

Today's top tune: Fireproof by The National

A real beauty for that peaceful rest day. From the album 'Trouble Will Find Me' - listen online here. 

This week's reading: 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by Haruki Murakami.

"I'm running on sheer willpower and the finish line doesn't seem to get any closer. I'm thirsty but my stomach doesn't want any more water. This is the point where my legs start to scream."

Lovely. I can't wait...

Until next time,
TN. xx

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Taking Bulls by Horns, etc.

Over 100 views of my first attempt - thanks, friends and family! Now the pressure's on!

This one's been inspired by my wonderful, amazing, brilliant and beautiful friend, Tully. I met Tully in my first week of University in Edinburgh while she was running an open mic night at Medina. Now she's in the final stages of getting a phD from Harvard and works at UCLA in sunny California (honestly, it sounds delightfully warm there). We've been chatting on Skype about the dreaded runners' injuries, the price of trainers, and how 9yrs ago we'd never even have dreamed of running for a bus.

My latest imaginings to get through the miles have included everything from "pretend your entire lower body is wheels" to "if ultrarunners in the desert can run four Marathons in a day, surely I can manage one". Belittling the task in hand is my latest strategy but in honesty, with 113 sleeps to go until Marathon day, I'm starting to feel the pressure. Mainly on my knees. 

It could go two ways: 1) Bull in a china shop. 2) Bull by the horns. 

Either way, there's a bull involved and there'll no doubt be plenty of red-rag-rage on the long journey to the finish line...via the checkout. Because this weekend, I'm buying new trainers.

I mentioned that I've been reading Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall, and I wanted to treat you to this beautiful description of running on a treadmill. Anyone who's been to Run 4 It for their trainers will be familiar with this ordeal. So might anyone who's caught a glimpse of their reflection in the window of a Chinese restaurant while drooling their way past on a long run. 

Our writer has gone to see a doctor about why his foot hurts when he runs and why he's generally a bit pants at running. We join him sitting in horror as the good doctor plays back the video of him running on the treadmill...
"In my mind's eye, I'm light and quick as a Navajo on the hunt. That guy on the screen, however, was Frankenstein's monster trying to tango. I was bobbing around so much, my head was disappearing from the top of the frame...while my size 13s clumped down so heavily it sounded like the video had a bongo backbeat. 
If that wasn't bad enough, Dr. Davis then hit slow-mo so we could all settle back and really appreciate the way my right foot twisted out, my left knee dipped in, and my back bucked and spasmed so badly that it looked as if someone ought to jam a wallet between my teeth and call for help. How the hell was I even moving forward...?"
This image, teamed with the blood-curdling-scream inducing thought of parting with extortionate amounts of cash for a pair of paper light shoes whose only fate is to get brutally trashed by my own blistering feet, is precisely why I'm putting off my visit to Run 4 It. 

My knees are still begging to differ.

I have perfectly good shoes. But if I go to this shop and tell them my knees hurt a wee bit, I'm terrified that I'll get all weak willed and I'll cave and buy huge bunch of expensive high tech crud like gloves and ear warmers and nothing remotely related to my knees. I'm every salesperson's dream. I can't even bring myself to tell anyone how much I spent on a pot of moisturiser at the Clinique counter on my lunch break this week. And I thought running was supposed to be a free sport anyway? It was for the Tarahumara. So while I come to terms with having to spend my hard earned cash, I'll leave you with my most recent top tips...

Tip of the week: Intervals, Intervals, Intervals. 

I cannot emphasise how amazing interval training is. The science behind it is solid, and you can find out all about it online. Basically it's travelling at Scout's Pace, and it's also known as fartlek training if you like a bit of a giggle. 

I do hills intervals every Tuesday and speed intervals every Wednesday. I run up and down a hill for half an hour (for now)...up the saaaame hill about 8 times (for now). And most people dread running up that hill once! My fitness is noticeably changing each week. The run up the hill is getting quicker and easier (for now). As for the speed intervals, you run your socks off for 2mins, then jog for 2mins. This can start with walking and jogging if you're a beginner, but by golly, it works. You'll notice the results (on your fitness, not instantly on your waistline) within a couple of weeks, which is one of the most encouraging feelings ever. It keeps me motivated when I can run that extra minute at full thwack, or that my recovery pace is that little bit quicker. 

We're getting there. Intervals are AWESOME. 

Top tune: Black and Gold by Sam Sparro. 

Always makes me think of my great friends Maya and Gig because they loved this one. It was on my Half Marathon playlist last year and it's a great pace keeper.

Lost a cheeky 2lb this week too. Bonus. ;) xxx

Monday, 28 January 2013

"Run Like You're Dancing"

My first attempt at Blogging.

A bit of a brain dump about how my marathon training and fundraising is coming along and the exciting things you can get involved with over the coming months to support me in raising loadsa moolah for Aberlour! I'm also going to list my personal top tips on how to keep moving when your legs feel like dropping off, and I'm keen to share some helpful running tunes too.

So...the post-Christmas crawl back into some semblance of regime surrounding exercise. It was tricky after eating my own body weight in mince pies and having developed a keen old taste for mulled wine (it should be an all-year-round thing), but I'm getting into the swing of things again and it's entirely worth it. I'm feeling fitter and more confident already, aside from when I though I was going to be attacked by a parking meter at 6.30am on Friday morning. It certainly speeds you up.

I'm going to use my recovery days to get the blogging underway. My JustGiving page is up and running (no pun intended) and at present I'm up to day three of yet another sneeze and snot-fest, though it's not stopped me from pounding the pavements.

Then I get home and attack the Spanish deli meats in case I start wasting away. 

Aside from multi-vitamins and a heck of a lot of fruit, if any fellow runners have tips for keeping these niggling colds at bay while spending so much time running in Edinburgh's fair climate, I'm all ears (and one red nose).

So, let's start the party...

Today's top tip: Run Like You're Dancing. 

That's right, folks. If you're dancing your socks off, be that in a club, your kitchen or someone else's kitchen, and a killer tune comes (say, Easy Lover by Phil Collins) on there's no way you sit down half way through that song. So, when running up a hill, envisage a group of your friends at their sweatiest, raising the roof to the blinding beats, and pretend you're dancing. If you struggle with this imagery, just treat your run like a ceilidh dance...if you sit down half way through, you don't just let yourself down, you let EVERYONE down. That's the tough love angle. If you're still struggling, invite me round for cake and we'll do some mentoring in the kitchen.

Top tune I didn't know I loved running to: Hold On by Hot Chip 

If the song doesn't do it for you, just pretend you're being chased by Jools Holland.

This week's reading: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. 

Watch this space for some great quotes. 

I promise I'll take some pretty photos of Edinburgh soon. But in the meantime, please be sure to visit my JustGiving page and support my fundraising with a small (or large!) donation. 

Lots of love,
TN. xx