Tuesday, 25 March 2014

"That was the week that was"...

I don't think I'll ever have a week in my life quite like the week commencing Monday 3rd March 2014.

On the Monday afternoon I secured a title sponsorship deal for Aberlour's corporate fundraising event taking place in September. I was so overwhelmed I was shaking with excitement. I came out of the meeting and went straight into House of Fraser to buy myself a Radley travel thingy that I'd had my eye on for weeks. The spirit of Karen McMurrich lives on, fundraisers...

But, no time to celebrate, for that evening I had to get home and prepare for a presentation and interview the following morning...one which would secure a promotion if it all went well. It did. I got a killer promotion. But again, the wine was going to have to wait.

By the Tuesday evening, my head was lodged so thoroughly up my own ass I didn't know what was going on. I was surprised, excited, tired, inspired, grateful and nervous all at the same time. And this was before I'd even packed for going to LA...the following day.

So yes, I took my lovely man for a birthday dinner at Sushiya (along with Kan Pai, best sushi in Edinburgh) and tried my best to stay awake throughout Monuments Men. It was an entertaining little ditty and it distracted me from all the many butterflies I was experiencing. Meh.

That night, at 3am, I bid Handsome Man farewell and left for Los Angeles on my lonesome.

Needless to say, LA is amazing. Not only was it immediately 25degrees warmer than Scotland is in March, but it was big, new and brimming with incredibly beautiful people. My first port of call was Marmalade Cafe for a kale-tastic lunch so I was happy already. I arrived at my gorgeous apartment and by the Saturday I had been joined by my two best friends who both live on a different continent. I rarely get to see them, so this was an emotional and wonderful treat.

Then we got down to business...to the Race Expo! We piled into Tully's car (affectionately known as "Sugarmama" - and honestly, that baby bounces) on Saturday morning and headed to the Exhibition Centre in Downtown LA. Asics did an amazing job of kitting out the space and the DJ was churning out some tunes to get everyone pumped. It was working, because the atmosphere was just awesome. They had a lot of discounted stock too...ahem...

After buying about $300 worth of running gear (everyone knows it's easier to run when you're wearing a marathon t-shirt, right?) we went to Abbot Kinney in Venice for lunch. This is where the true ridiculousness of LA came to light for me. Obviously I was running a marathon in less than 24hrs time so it was definitely carbs-o'clock. No doubt. But getting carbs in a place like Abbot Kinney is a challenge not to be sniffed at. When I asked for a portion of bread with my spinach salad you'd have thought I'd asked for a human head with my spinach salad. Confusion abounds. But I took what I could get...two tiny pieces of toasted "bread" that had likely never seen wheat in their life. But don't get me wrong; it was all delicious and to be honest I was perfectly happy watching all the beautiful people walk past the window. :) Shame you can't carb load from doing that.

So then I went to Ralph's and bought a box of wholewheat pasta which I promptly cooked and devoured.

And then I set up my gear for race day...

The clocks went forward an hour, just to piss us all off and keep things really interesting, and at 4am my alarm chimed and I kitted myself up for the awesome drive through LA in Sugarmama to the Dodgers Stadium. The Rocky soundtrack was blaring away in full force, and the girls dropped me at the stadium feeling PUMPED UUUPPP. They then went to Target and drove a mobility scooter around the place, stocking up on flourescent card and helium balloons. But that is a story for another day...

Needless to say, the start line was also amazing. What an atmosphere and I was part of it. Sap, sap...yes, I know...

A whopping sixteen minutes after the gun went off, I crossed the startline with some other 25,000 runners, but having said that, the corrals worked really well for feeding runners in to the start line. At this point it wasn't too hot and I was just enjoying the route (perhaps not enjoying some of the very curious smells in Chinatown at 8am, I'll admit) and soaking up the sound of rubber vs tarmac. Now, within the first 3miles we'd encountered four preachers with megaphones - I was nervous about how much of a theme that was going to become, but by Mile 6 they'd made way for some absolutely incredible crowd support that just wouldn't quit, right up to the finish line.

I can't believe I'd never heard the phrase "You got this!" before. It was a bit of a mantra by the time Mile 10 approached.

I'd expected a wall at Mile 22ish...so I was devastated when I had to walk through an aid station at Mile 15. All that hard work in training and I was walking already?! I can't describe that disheartening feeling, knowing I still had 11miles to run and the sun was getting higher in the sky with every step I took. Walking. I mean I'd pick up a run for the most of each mile, but it's the mental punishment that you serve yourself when you walk that is tough to shake. By Westwood and Century City, it was a toasty 28degrees and there was barely a sliver of shade. Breeze? You must be joking. It was hot. I was feeling quite sad and wanted to have done better.

So thank God for my cheering squad at Mile 19! I spotted Maya with balloons and banners and we all jumped around making a variety of shouty/screamy noises, not unlike how I imagine teenagers sound when they get Prom Queen...or whatever. I was pep-talked, hugged, doused in water, blinded by the salt that ran into my eyes with said water, and sent off on my merry way again...but not before a quick photo op:

The Support Crew at Mile "Nineteen for Nikki"...

After that, the miles flew by and I really settled into the race and my slower than usual pace of about 12mins per mile. But I barely cared at this point and I concentrated on just enjoying it all. I got into a routine of walking through the aid stations to refill my water bottle (let me tell you, best thing I ever did was take that with me...nothing worse than needing water and having to wait for an aid station) then as soon as I passed the last water table I picked it back up into a run to the next mile marker, and so on.

Arrowhead had provided water at every mile, and I couldn't fault the nutrition that was available. I took my own gels and tabs, but it was great to see Gatorade, CLIF and Arrowhead all out there along the route to keep runners fuelled up on such a hot day. Those volunteers were all amazing and everyone was so friendly and polite - they did a fantastic job and should be so proud of themselves. We couldn't have done it without those hundreds and hundreds of generous volunteers. 

The last 5miles were a joy and with the finish line in sight I ran as fast as I could (well, it felt like sprinting) and crossed it in a reasonably respectable 5hrs 31mins. A good 40mins slower than I really wanted, but pretty good for a first attempt in SURFACE OF THE SUN style weather. 

I was given a space blanket immediately (Seriously? I was ON. FIRE. by this point. Why?!), and offered bagels (I went with the blueberry one, seemed interesting) along with a range of intriguing salty, cheesy, salty, salty biscuity fish shaped things in bags and loads of bottles of water (THANK YOU AGAIN, ARROWHEAD). My girls were all there waiting for me and then it was "feet up a palm tree" time. NB: waaaaay better than "feet-up-a-wall" or "feet-up-the-side-of-the-fridge" time. 

Alongside the personal achievement I ran to raise some awareness and funds for SA-YES, an international befriending organisation. This is my sponsorship page and tells you a bit more about why. It was great to hear people shouting "SA-YES, YOU GOT THIS!!" along the route, all thanks to my super running vest made by Kustom Clothing. Although I'm short of target with the fundraising, I'm not disappointed or deterred and I'm grateful for the kind support shown to me by friends of SA-YES and Julie in the events team. Here's to your great organisation crossing the finish line of the 2014 LA Marathon - I'm proud I could be the one to carry it those 26.2miles...

Trotting past Whisky a Go-Go

AWFUL finish line shot - thanks for that terrible angle, Marathon-foto!

With my prized bling and Santa Monica Pier in the background. 

What else can I say about the LA Marathon? The route takes in all the LA hitlist including Dodgers Stadium, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood and Vine, the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, House of Blues, WeHo and Santa Monica, finishing with the Pacific Ocean, eyes right. After looking at a lot of international marathons, it's a tough one to top. As I mentioned, the Asics expo was great and the branded running gear on offer was of equal high standards. The volunteers and aid stations were amazing, and the crowd support was unlike anything I've ever, ever experienced before. I'm wondering if I can hire people to cheer me on while I walk to work in the mornings..? I GOT THIS!

I didn't see the post-race village, I was too busy with my feet in the air to get there. But I'm sure it was all sorts of aces.

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is a surreal experience. I never thought I'd be the person to do it, but here we are. And today is the first time I've felt a twinge of the famous post-race come-down. In the space of a week I got a major sponsorship deal, a promotion and I ran a marathon on the other side of the world; that kind of emotional high definitely leaves you susceptible to a pretty major come-down.

People are asking me if I'll run another marathon. I don't know yet. Maybe. But nothing will ever feel like that week felt. Having my best girls around me, cheering me on and having total faith in me, was something I'm not going to forget. I wonder what I can ever do to thank them for being part of the best day in my life so far.

But GO to LA. Seriously. It's good fun...

All my love and thanks to everyone who has listened to my endless running chat, encouraged me when I was tired, comforted me when I was stressed and celebrated with me when I got back home to Edinburgh. It's been the journey of a lifetime and I hope at least one person reading this is inspired to go out and live their dream too. 

If you work hard, it'll come. 

TN. xxx

Friday, 28 February 2014

Anxiety's Greatest Hits...

Anxiety's Greatest Hits are thus. 

Dreaming about:
1) Lateness
2) Public nudity
3) Loss of bearings

They don't have to be in that order, and I'm not quite sure why number two is even a thing (and I can assure you it is), but it would appear that these are my top three favourite things to dream about the week before a marathon. 

I have everything in hand, especially my race day clothing, so I can't really explain why I am feeling so surprised all of a sudden that race day is a mere nine days away. According to my Hal Higdon book this is all natural (although he doesn't specify "naked in public" dreams) but if I'm honest, the anxiety has definitely made way for nervous excitement now. It's been a long and nervous taper.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned that I cannot WAIT to get to LA and run that race. I got an awesome running vest made up by my fabulous friends over at Kustom Clothing and I've been into Run 4 It almost every evening on my walk home from work, just to check that my trainers definitely aren't too worn out for 26.2miles next weekend and to keep my shit together by talking to other people about running. I like to buy a few extra energy gels and the odd pair of socks every time I go in too. It's almost as if that shop is my comfort, my happy place. 

Speaking of happy places, Hal's book presents a whole host of tips from experienced marathoners about how to get through those tough back six miles. Going to your happy place is a classic. But my favourite tip was to dedicate each mile to somebody and during that mile you focus entirely on them, the memories and conversations you've shared, and what impact they've had on your life. I haven't trialled it on any long runs and I'm sure that when my calves are screaming and my hips are about to give out (don't even THINK about making me slow down or change direction in the back 4miles) I'll be lucky if I can think about anything else. Having said that, I absolutely love this idea and I'm going to give it a try. I'm starting to draft my Miles 20-26 tribute schedule and instead of dying as I hit "The Wall", I'll be crashing into my own wall...of fame. All will be revealed post-race...but if you want to make it in to the "Tatty Narja Wall of Fame" get inspiring me asap.

Sponsorship has started, under the radar. Select friends have received the link - avid readers and people who keep finding the little pieces of paper I am leaving around Edinburgh are already on the donation list there. Thank you all so much. Check out my amazeballs branded running vest...and overexcited expression. NB no, it's not printed backwards; that's a mirror, smartarses.

Folk are now asking me if I'm feeling ready. I felt ready after my 21mile run three weeks ago...I'm positively chomping at the bit now. But interestingly since I've been tapering I've stopped bitching about how much I have to run and how tired I am. The past couple of weeks, the past four days in particular, have reignited my passion for running and my overall enjoyment of getting up at an ungodly hour of the day to run a lap of the Meadows before work. 

Maybe that's got something to do with the daylight, but whatever it is I'll take it. 


Also this week I went to see Dallas Buyers Club with a couple of the girlfriends. What a great, great film. I didn't even recognise Jared Leto at all and his performance was so moving and really captured me - he did an incredible job and it's one of my favourite performances in any film I've ever seen. Ever. The topic isn't one I knew much about at all - emerging AIDS and HIV treatments in the 1980s. Though I was obviously aware of the social stigma surrounding the virus, and sadly not much has changed in many parts of the world. 

One element of the film I found particularly compelling was the personal journey that Matthew McConaughey's character went on. He was a heterosexual man living in a largely homophobic society and because of his diagnosis he was projected into a community predominantly comprising gay men. It was so interesting and enthralling to see his character develop over the course of his illness and I loved every scene of this beautifully shot movie.

Please go and watch it - it deserves to be seen.

Now, please don't think me rude by taking off like this. But it's carb o'clock and I need to do some eating, stat. Nom nom...marathons are worth it just for this. ;)

Tatty loves you. xxx

Monday, 17 February 2014

Yo, shorty...

I saw this video and it made me cry. My legs feel like two buckets of sand and I want to sleep for approximately 15hrs...but I am as determined as I am nodding off... 

And in case you were wondering, this is how running 21 miles makes you feel:

With this in mind, please sponsor my efforts on JustGiving. Thank you.
Love, TN. xx

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

"I never thought I'd see the day"...

I never thought I'd see the day when a 15mile run felt like I was getting off lightly. But it's arrived before I've had chance to properly process everything. Pardon the following incoherent brain dump...

I have to write this down and get it out: I'm running a Marathon three weeks on Sunday. In LA. Yeah, I'm not doing anything by halves this time around. I haven't wanted to mention anything on my Facebook page until after the race. When I decide to put the link to this blog on Facebook, it will hopefully accompany a photo of my big, cheesing face in front of Santa Monica Pier, holding a finisher's medal. 

But this is the penultimate chapter of my Marathon journey, so let me fill you in on what I've been up to since the new year. 

I've been doing a lot of running. 

You seem disappointed that it's not been more exciting than that...

Whatever, tough. My first 15mile run felt treacherous. Everything hurt, a lot, and I'd really mucked up taking my energy gel (note, singular...should have taken more of them) far too late in to the run. It was hilly, my head wasn't in the game and the isotonic energy gel gave me a stitch that harked back to the days of being a lazy-pants and running to catch the bus. I realised then that I needed to get my shit together. I started trying a variety of gels and working out the right times to take them. Not like it says on the gels "15before, every 45" or anything...(it does).

I got that down to a fine art and then started upping my mileage every week on the long Sunday run. I kept my week day and interval training at the same level to avoid injury, as on the long runs I noticed I was developing pain in my hip not dissimilar to the symptoms of ITBS again. Aaaah, my old friend. But it's much more bearable and easier to stretch out than the knee pain was, and I'm managing it well so far. 

On Sunday past, I ran 21miles, which is surprising considering how exhausted I've started to feel lately. Running on tired legs all the time really takes it out of you and I've started to get impressively stupid in the evenings. By a Friday afternoon at work, I'm struggling to piece a sentence together properly. Anyway the weather on Sunday was shocking - I was facing horizontal sleet, -7 degrees chill factor and 30mph head winds throughout the back 10miles. Edinburgh is also mighty hilly, so tackling a few steep climbs at miles 16, 17 and 20 was also a real test of my resolve. Having said that, I have never felt so proud to have not given up and to have completed a long run without taking any short cuts to get home. The old calves were screaming towards the end, and I was running out of water having necked four Gu gels, but I kept to the plan and I went the whole distance. I just can't believe I ran that far. 

As soon as I got home I whimpered my way into the living room to prop my legs on two freezer blocks. 21 miles does not make you that tough and it was at the end of my longest week of mileage ever.

I think it was only after that long run, with the reality that I'd finally reached the holy grail of "tapering", when it really sank in that I am actually going to run a marathon. Very soon. I am going to run a marathon. (I can't wait until I can say "I ran a marathon".) The more I think about what I'm about to do, the more emotional I get. Just looking at the LA Marathon website makes me well up and I find myself stealing little moments every now and again to consider what I've achieved already. I've changed my lifestyle, made personal sacrifices, remained disciplined even if no-one would know if I had a cheeky bottle of wine on a Tuesday night, not cut any corners and tried hard to take good care of my injury. And I'm still trying my best at work and getting on with the normal household stuff too (I baked a sourdough loaf last night and made a batch of homemade energy bars loaded with hemp seeds and cashew butter). I'm also trying to be a good girlfriend, but poor Neil has become somewhat of a "Sports Widower" of late.

Am I allowed to feel proud of myself? Is that allowed?


People keep asking me if I get bored when I'm running, but I really don't. It's hard to get bored of Edinburgh's beauty - I run around Arthur's Seat (yes, up that hill), along Portobello Promenade, through The Hermitage, around the Meadows and along Innocent's Railway to name a few highlights. What's not to love? I have taken to running without music too, because my pace is more regulated and I like being able to hear my breathing and what's going on around me. It's more peaceful and I feel more relaxed, funnily enough. I never thought I'd be able to run without music because I love the stuff so much, but here we are, almost ready for race day and the headphones are relegated to the drawer.  

Another question I get asked is what do I think about. Hmm, lots of things I guess. I tend to just indulge in daydreaming.

And on that note, I'll leave you with some much loved things. 

This week's top tip: Always be honest in your efforts because it's only yourself that you let down otherwise. If you never try, you'll never know; believe in your abilities, and you'll surprise yourself with what you're capable of. 
If you put in enough hard work and you stay true to your efforts, you can achieve some pretty awesome stuff. I am slightly overweight and certainly not built like a natural marathon runner, yet for some reason I can run reasonably happily for upward of 4hrs on a Sunday afternoon. 

A colleague who does no running at all told me this morning "I could go out and run a marathon today. I'm really f**king fit". This entertained me hugely, as well as irking me slightly. I would love to see him try. I would just love it. I'd love it so much. I really, really, really want to take him with me on a 15 miler this weekend just for a laugh. What I'm trying to say is that nothing happens overnight and it's laughable and slightly insulting to belittle a marathon, but with a bit of self-belief and a lot of patience you really can push yourself to do pretty impressive things. 

Top tune: Easy by Son Lux
Do yourself a favour and don't listen to this through crappy laptop speakers. Put your headphones in or better still, get it hooked up to a sub woofer. Then say goodbye to your inner ear for a week. I'm properly excited beyond all imagination about going to see Son Lux and San Fermin while I'm in LA. I think this trip is going to be positively stonking!

This week's reading: The Ascent of Rum Doodle by WM Bowman. 
A Christmas gift from a wonderfully lovely friend who has just swanned off to Oz for 3 weeks to work on a vinyard. Really charming book about a fake mountaineer with a mightily enjoyable foreword by Bill Bryson. It may have to be put to one side for a little while as I work my way through the Tapering chapter of my marathon book...I was trying not to tempt fate when I started training, but now here we are.

Love you for reading this far, thank you. I can't wait to share my finish line joy with you too. And yes, I'll be collecting sponsorship...

Friday, 3 January 2014

To just getting on with it...

I'm not so great at this blogging business because I rarely find or take the time to indulge in sitting down with my laptop, blabbering on about what I'm up to. Instead I spent a lot of time over the festive season indulging in things like mince pies and mulled wine, blabbering on about what I'm up to. 

I'm going to do the obvious and highlight a few 2013 things with a view to encouraging others to see every step back as a potential spring board. Things might not have gone as you planned in 2013, but I firmly believe it can serve as a boost into 2014 and the rest of your short or longer term goals.

I have completed two more Half Marathons and a 10k race in 2013, including my first destination run (which is already becoming an expensive hobby). I went to Germany at the beginning of November to run the Teltowkanal Half Marathon, a really small race that was three laps of a beautiful circuit along the huge Teltowkanal in the very southern part of Berlin. Firstly, wow...what a beautiful place to be. 

Challenge number one was information gathering. I speak absolutely no German (not out of being lazy and British, I have to add...I absolutely loved my French and Spanish at school), so the registration process was interesting to begin with. To gather details of the race I looked at all the photos on the website, as one does. How very Sherlock Holmes of me. Everyone was happily trotting away on tarmac, so I trained away on the pavements of Edinburgh and took my eenie weenie road running shoes with me to run the race. 

Challenge number two was navigation, because I have to mention that getting to Teltow was equally interesting. Long story short, we took a tram, the S-Bahn, a bus that never arrived and eventually ended up speeding through the streets of Berlin in a taxi with a driver who didn't speak any English and had only lived in the city for TWO DAYS. None of us knew where we were going or if we were ever going to see another bratwurst again. I've never been so happy to see so many people wearing lycra as when I spotted those runners.

As for the challenge of the race. Oh, it started off so well...

Three laps of a 7km (tarmac?) circuit. No problem, she says.

3.5km in we crossed the road bridge and came back...bottlenecking along a muddy, narrow tow path. What the-? A dirt path scattered with tree roots, stones, mud, cobbles, wooden slats, mud, grass. Did I mention mud? And to top it all off I had to haul my ass up about 10 HEUGE great whacking stone steps to end each circuit and get back up to street level from the canal. Then go round again. Clearly this part had been omitted from the photo gallery. Blaaaaaaah...

It wasn't what I had planned and by the end, my soles felt bruised. But I finished it, because that's just what I do. I have to thank my wonderful friend Bryony and my lovely boyfriend Neil for cheering me on at every lap, because when you're starting to feel like you really don't want to go round again it's such a boost. Needless to say, I was so delighted to cross the finish line and receive my meda-...what, there's no medals?! No medal in this race? What about a certificate? No?! It's ok though, there's bratwurst and mulled wine - the greatest post-race grub imaginab-...what? We're not staying for bratwurst and mulled wine? We're going to a...restaurant? A nice one?! I've just run 13miles in these clothes. I don't need a restaurant, I need a shower and knitwear.

But, God love Berlin, I not only went to a swanky restaurant (and foolishly ordered myself the teeniest, tiniest bowl of bouillon on the menu - linguistic breakdown number 101) but then ran for a bus back into town, missed it, walked a few more miles, eventually caught a bus and went straight to a performance of Faure's Requiem in a church, all while dressed in my hi vis running "geddup" that had seen me round the toughest Half Marathon to date. When I re-tell it it sounds more traumatic than it felt at the time. No-one batted an eyelid at me munching away on my cereal bar and someone else's bottle of water during the Sanctus in Eb Major. 

Not what I had planned, but it was a beautiful, refreshing and uplifting experience to wander around a city completely un-judged...no-one cared what I was wearing, they just cared that I was there. 

I absolutely loved being there. Go to Berlin - it is a humbling, inspiring and welcoming place to be.

And then for the really unplanned part. Just prior to my trip to Germany, we very tragically lost a great friend, our mentor, and perhaps the most inspirational woman I've ever known. Not many people can say that about their boss. Those close to me know that I seeeriously love my work (arguably too much sometimes), and much of that is down to the motivation, encouragement and kindness that was shown to me by our lovely boss Karen. I've never been in a job where I've felt so compelled to bust my ass for anyone like I did for Karen, and I still do now for my team. She had a unique warmth in her encouragement and always recognised and praised our efforts and successes. She knew the secret of making her team go the extra mile for her, every time, and was the most generous person I have ever met. One night over several gins, I sat with Karen and asked her to tell me all about how she got to where she is; I'm so glad I did. I was inspired to the point of complete emotional meltdown. The gin probably had something to do with that.

Karen's death was untimely, very sudden and a huge shock to our close knit team. We are all still grieving the loss but have had great support from friends of our charity and friends of our own. Thank you to everyone who has sent us kind words and made donations to Aberlour in Karen's memory. It has been a really sad time but we are doing ok because we have each other. 

That wasn't what I had planned for 2013, but I'm more motivated now than ever before to realise Karen's vision and achieve all the things she saw I had the potential to achieve. And here ends the blog about life throwing you a multitude of curve balls, but the key is to use them all to an advantage, push yourself harder, and you can do things you didn't think were possible. 

Case in point...

Onto a more positive (musical) note, one record that has taken me through the highs and lows of the past couple of months has been San Fermin's debut album of the same name. Easily my album of the year, it's been a really long time since I've been so enthralled by a collection of songs. I'd go as far to say it's my favourite album since Statues by Moloko, and that was ten (eleven?) years ago and they are one of my favourite bands ever! 

To me, San Fermin is a story book, one that's impossible to put down and makes you use your imagination and your own emotions and memories to evoke a very real reaction. Whether that reaction is to sing out loud and throw your arms up in the air to Sonsick, to shed a tear to Methuselah or to squeeze your eyes closed at the final few seconds of strings in Alltogether Changed (not advisable while driving), it's...well I'm lost for words now about how amazing it is. Just go and buy it and find out for yourself. The more you listen to it from start to finish, the more wonderful it becomes. I've been banging on about this album to anyone who'll listen...but for a very good reason.

So, to end on a running note - I have just started using energy gels and my newest and best friend is the GU Blackcurrant gel with caffeine. That stuff has you seriously focused, my friends. It might even be good for sitting through the new Hobbit film. I've tried lots of energy supplements over the past few weeks (isotonic gels, blocks and bars), and this one's my favourite for the runs longer than 12miles. Porridge 2hrs before setting off, gel 45mins in, happy days. 

Boring, isn't it. 


Happy New Year, everyone.