Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Tatty Tumbles...

Just a quick post today to remind you all why I'm putting myself through so many early morning wake-up calls and sacrificing so many Sunday roasts, all in the name of running...and a funny story after that. One that involves me lying on my back in the street before I've even had anything to drink...and I wasn't even in Leith...

In the time it takes you to read this post, roughly three people will have developed dementia. Yup. 225,000 develop dementia every year, and it can happen to anyone. As you all know, it happened to my Grandads. Currently there is no cure, but Alzheimer's Society work tirelessly to support people to live well with dementia today, and fight for a tomorrow without it.

There are over 3,000 community based services around the UK providing all kinds of support. From information and hands on help to research and campaigning, further details of all their amazing work can be found on the website, here. I've spent a lot of time on the Alzheimer's Society website over the past couple of weeks and I have learnt so much more that I had no idea about...and it's made me even more determined than ever to raise that £1,000 this summer. My heart and soul are in this with me.

Please, please, please take a peep at my JustGiving page. With payday just around the corner now, even the cheekiest of £5 donations will make all the difference. I am so grateful for all of the support and sponsorship I've received so far - huge thank yous to everyone who has already donated...there will be some special thank you gifts coming your way in due course, all of which themed on memories we have shared personally together.

So...marathon training. Where are we up to?

Well I spent some time in the pub this weekend with my friend AC Muir who is a 2hr 24min London Marathon finisher. That's VERY VERY FAST AND AMAZING. And even though I am nowhere neeeear that kind of caliber, AC has very kindly spent time talking through my training schedule and demonstrating the perfect set of strides outside the pub, before too many pints of cider were consumed. 

He was also on hand to offer sympathy via Twitter today, following my epic tumble while out on my short recovery run this morning. I tripped myself up on some uneven paving and properly flew like a good'n, complete with a comedy sound effect that epitomised my thoughts of "OH MY GOD I AM IN THE AIR AND I AM GOING DOWN AND THIS IS HAPPENING AND WILL PROBABLY HURT AND WHEN DID THE GROUND GET SO FAR AWAY?!"

And I went from travelling at pace to travelling at no pace at all in about half a second. In four an a half years of running, this is the first time I've ever fallen over - so I'm glad I could throw in a full-blown commando roll while I was at it. And yes...people saw me. And two dogs, wagging their tails with gusto. Cheeky buggers. 

As far as falling over goes, I totally nailed it. I've not had scabby knees in about 20yrs, so I thought I might as well just do a proper job. 

I didn't get as much mollycoddling as I'd hoped from the flatmates. Luckily (for them), I too appreciate how amusing it is to see me sat with two sandwich bags of ice on my knees while trying to solicit sympathy.

Anyway - that's what I get for being so keen. 

Running chat: at AC's advising, I've incorporated some threshold runs into my training plan, running a solid 30mins at a comfortably hard pace and incorporating four sets of 80m strides. The strides feel a bit unnatural at first, but I really enjoy the sensation of really picking up the pace and striding out for short bursts - anything more and I'm dying, honestly. I'm also doing some split timings, but that's for another day.

I'm looking forward to getting the mileage up over the weeks to come. It's a far cry from training in the winter for LA Marathon. Waking up at 5.30am to natural daylight is just blissful, and although it's not particularly warm and sunny in Scotland just yet, it's a damn sight more pleasant than pitch darkness, regular sleet and dangerous patchy ice. 

Special love also goes out this week to my bff Laurence - she listens to all of my boring running chat and puts up with me admirably and I'd be lost without her. So cheers to this gorgeous little bird. 

That's all for now - in addition to planning for Berlin Marathon I'm currently obsessed with the following things:

Thanks for sticking with me, muckers. 

Nikki. xxx

Saturday, 23 May 2015

One hundred years of memory...

Marathon training update - yes, I've been doing my homework everybody. I enjoyed a nice 5miler along the canal this week, followed by a strenuous set of hill-sprint reps up and down the Links (trying not to get hit by any golf's like a gauntlet out there!). Today has been a stunner of a Saturday so I pounded out a leisurely-paced 9miles, or thereabouts, in the sunshine. Distances are a smidgen up on the training plan, but I can't promise I'll keep that up - it all depends on how far the mood takes you...and how many pints you had the night before. 

Thankfully, I have been very sensible of late. 

But on to more important things...

Today would be my Grandad Frank's 100th birthday, so I wanted to tell you a bit more about this person I am fundraising and running in memory of, and why he was so special to me and such a great character to have had in our lives for those who knew him. I'm hoping we can raise £1,000 for Alzheimer's Society - I think he'd be quite chuffed with that...

Francis Gandy was born on 23rd May 1915 and was the middle child of five Gandy reprobates! I only say that because he was the one who told me he'd earned the nickname "Knocker Gandy" as a kid, chapping the doors of the Gandy empire to collect rent money! He told so many stories about his home and growing up in an area of Widnes called West Bank, which is right on the River Mersey beneath the Runcorn/Widnes Bridge. 

"St Pat's" Primary - Front row, second from the left...looking cheerful as ever.
Special shout out to the poor kid with a broken arm on a stick at the back.
Widnes was a heavily industrial town and West Bank was famed for being the home of Gossage's Soap Works, part of which still stands now as the Catalyst Museum, an industrial museum about the local industry and area with an awesome glass roof terrace and amazing views. I remember taking my Grandad up there not long after my Nan had died and we walked around the building and around West Bank too. He showed me his house on Mersey Road, pointed out all the shops that used to be there, told me about the families that lived in each house along those streets. Pointed out an area where he said there used to be a graveyard and where some of his brothers and sisters were buried who died when they were very young. 

I later looked this up on historical maps of the area and sure enough, there was a small graveyard which is now worryingly close to a housing estate! Further to that I did some census record research and found that he did indeed have two siblings who died in infancy...our family had never known any of this before. It was amazing. His memory, despite his dementia, was crystal clear with vivid stories about his childhood and it was so special to share them with him that day because it was like they had been locked away before this time. 

He told lots of stories about "my big sister Kitty" (or Elsie as she was christened) and big brother Tom, along with his younger sister Rita who I treasured as a Great Aunt and have so many fond and funny memories of too. He also had a younger brother called Les who I believe died when he was young, but no-one seems to know much about Les at all. I guess this highlighted another side to my Grandad, one that was very private and quiet, and kept himself to himself. Never made a fuss.

Grandad's father was a roofer. I remember drinking tea in the kitchen with my Grandad one day (this was not unusual!) and him telling me about the time his Dad marched him up to the school and told them that he was no longer going to be attending because he was old enough to be working. That was his 14th birthday, and after that he learnt his trade for life...building.

"What health & safety!?"
Grandad helping his Dad, up on the rooftops of Widnes and Liverpool
He became a bricklayer and was one very busy guy from what I can tell. During the war he worked on Reserved Occupation, building bomb shelters in Liverpool - he used to say they couldn't even knock 'em down when the war was over, they were so strong. All the bants with Grandad, see. Then in 1941 he was called for Active Service with the 51st Highland Division, as part of the Royal Army Service Corps. He drove a truck and my God was he proud of it - he was responsible for transporting all sorts of things - ammo, supplies, folk and so on. He used to ask me ever since I was really tiny, "What's yer number?!" and I used to have to say "Ten sixty nine, ten seventy nine, 51st Highland Div"...that was his number, and neither of us ever forgot it. 

Speaks volumes...
The 51st Highland Div were a support unit to the 8th Armoured Division, the Desert Rats. Grandad spent a lot of his time in the desert in North Africa and though he never ever spoke of what he saw there, by all other accounts it was pretty fucking horrible. During his time in the Army he was in Belgium, Sicily, Germany, North Africa, France, and probably some other places too. His unit were the first into Bergen-Belsen after it was liberated and I can't even begin to imagine the horror he must've witnessed. Sometimes I wish that those were the memories he lost in his later years...though I very much doubt it. 

As I said, he never ever talked about any of this. We have put these pieces together from the very little we know. Most of it came from one incredible source...

One day, when my Dad was undertaking the MAMMOTH task of clearing out the out-buildings at the house in Runcorn, he came across something buried in the wall, tucked away like a time capsule. It had obviously been there a long time and was falling apart...

He opened it up to investigate...and realised he'd found my Grandad's bag from the war, and that it had been tucked away there for many years. Hidden? Perhaps...

Everything was still in it and in tact...letters from home, photos of his first nephew Geoffrey, his reserved occupation card, his letter calling him up for active service, his toothbrush, his sewing kit, kit badges, leaflets about all the different places he was going. Maps, albeit very very basic ones with very little detail obviously, documentation about getting your identity back after you'd been taken Prisoner of War, pristine Belgian francs, photos of people we don't recognise at all but who are probably friends of his, from when he was my age, away from home, no Whatsapp to check in with family, no way of knowing who was safe and where your loved ones were. As a generation we take far too much for granted, but I have always counted my blessings when I think of what my grandparents' generation experienced and lived through. We should all learn something about patience and perspective. At least we know where our loved ones are and that they are safe and well.

On a happier note, after the war he met this stunner. 

Hot stuff
That's my beautiful Nan, Mona. Enjoying the sunshine in Bournemouth in 1947. Look at that hair though! 

They met at the dance - got married in 1950 and my Dad was born in 1951. Grandad kept the receipts for the engagement and wedding rings he bought for my old romantic, maybe...maybe just keeping his bases covered (lols), or possibly just a hoarder, because I also found the receipt for their fugly brown velvet three piece suite in the same box. 

Grandad and Nan, with my Great Grandmother "Nanna Gandy", my Great Auntie Rita and her husband Jack...the cheeky one at the back!
With my Dad on holiday adventures around the UK
Anyway, whatever the reason, The Last of the Great Romantics was married to my Nan for the rest of his long and generally healthy life. They look like they had plenty of good times and I have nothing but wonderful memories of the 12 years I spent living with them as a child. 

It wouldn't be fair to post this blog without also highlighting the love my Grandad felt for a bonfire. He bloody loved burning things, the pyromaniac. The fire brigade turned up at my parents' wedding because they thought the hill was on fire, but it was just my Grandad burning stuff. Thankfully my Nan was on hand to dish out tea and hotpot to the firemen, what a schmoozer! 

Why our neighbours hated us...
People speak of my Grandad with such admiration and respect. They talk of how fair he was in his business and what a gentle person he was; sure enough we still have people in their older years phoning the house to see if there's anyone we'd recommend to help them with building repairs, etc. It speaks volumes not only about how much people valued my Grandad's good work, but also about the fact that people can feel so vulnerable to being ripped off or taken advantage of in their later life. Again, perspective.

This is the last photo I have of them - they lived all their married lives together, latterly in their beautiful little bungalow in Winsford. Though my Nan was frail, she always had all her faculties and wits about her. Sharp as a tack, so she was, and incredibly house proud. My Grandad's memory was failing him by this time, but he was physically fit and healthy at the ripe old age of 91! They were a force to be reckoned with and were very independent. 

Though I'm glad they had each other for balance, there were certain things going on that we never really knew about. Grandad had a few "funny turns" over the previous couple of years, one of which I witnessed by chance because I was off school with flu. After Nan died it became clear that these weren't just down to old age, and we found he'd been having a series of mini strokes which lead on to him eventually being diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Grandad's life with dementia wasn't as tormenting as many other people's can be. He liked routine and was generally very healthy, getting himself up and going through the motions of getting washed and dressed, making his tea and toast for breakfast. But then he started doing this at crazy times of day. He used to seriously tell my Mum and Dad off for staying up late (I LOVE that, I love it so much, it's brilliant), and had a real struggle committing anything at all to his short term memory. 

He loved going for a walk every day - but then he started getting lost. He recognised this, which was part of the heartbreak, and eventually he just used to walk to the end of the drive way or a little distance along the road, but he never lost sight of the house because somehow he knew that he wouldn't be able to remember how to get home, or remember his address, or even who he lived with. He used to pocket handfulls of leaflets and pencils from hotels for some reason, and we're pretty sure he was shoplifting screws like an absolute trooper because unopened packs of B&Q's finest used to turn up in his coat pockets on a regular basis! 

Perhaps the saddest part for me was when he'd ask me how long I was visiting for...or the time he looked my Mum Margaret straight in the eye at the dinner table and asked her "where's Margaret?"...I remember the day he told me "my memory fails me sometimes" after asking me "and who are you?". I just used the word "Grandad" as many times as I possibly could so he knew who he was to both of us could experience the love and connection for a moment, even if he wouldn't remember it. 

I said goodbye to Grandad at the bottom of our drive way one sunny day in 2007. He offered to walk me to the train station but that was a can of worms I was not going to be responsible for! I'm not sure if he knew who I was, but he was kind, warm and friendly. That is a lovely memory we shared, but one that I have to keep safe for the rest of my life, because sadly I knew that he couldn't. That was the last time I saw him - a choice I made because I wanted to have that lasting memory of him, nothing else. Several months later he died suddenly, following a massive stroke at home on an otherwise entirely normal day. 

More than anything else, I have indescribable respect for Grandad - I will never take for granted what I have, because without the sacrifices he made and the difficult experiences he lived through, our lives could have all been so different. We have a lot to be thankful for. Lest we forget. 

Now, I shared all this for a reason...please head to to make a donation to Alzheimer's Society. I need to hit that £1,000! Not everyone is as fortunate as Frank was to have caring company around him during this confusing and unnerving time living with dementia. What's more, it can happen to anyone and there is currently no cure.

I'd also encourage you all now to share a memory about someone you have loved and lost. Share it in person with a friend, share a photo on Instagram, share a few words on Facebook, but share the memories because they are important and your loved ones will be grateful that you are taking such great care of those memories you built together. 

Lots of love and thanks, 
Nikki. xxx

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Let me jog your memory...

Here we go again then.

After an eventful post-Marathon year, I decided to sign myself up for another really reeeeeally long run in September.

Whatever the reason, it's on.

At the end of last year I had to rest up good and proper, so this is my first foray back into the longer distances. Reasons = twofold. Firstly, I ran the Sure Run to the Beat in London in September and managed to do this:

That's one delightfully messed-up foot, including a squiffy cuboid and a couple of mashed metatarsals thrown in for good measure. It was sore and annoying, and took what felt like forever to heal. 

Secondly, for completely unrelated reasons, I had a small surgery and was written off running, swimming, cycling, lifting [read: no fun, not ever, none, just go forth and eat HobNobs, they said] for "four to six" weeks. So...four weeks then? 

But heal I did and my initial runs after a good 3 months went without incident, aside from gasping for dear life at the top of the Links hill and battling with some excruciatingly tight calves. Let's just say I've got loads of catching up to do. And the calf strain has been a bit of a pain to get rid of for some reason. But we're getting there. Nightmare. 

Since LA, I've run Edinburgh Half Marathon again, this time just for a bit of fun on a Sunday in torrential rain, and came in 17s from my PB. That was a bit annoying too, but at least I was reassured that I could still keep a decent time after very slow paced, long distance training runs for LA. 

Run to the Beat in September was great fun and again I had a fantastic group of people around that day which makes all the difference and is one of the main reasons I love running at events so much. 

The most fun I had at a run this summer though, Color Me RAD in Edinburgh. A great way to engage people with a running event that is ideal for all ages and abilities. I was so excited to see a fitness event that was so much fun and so inclusive. I hope that it is a great starter for people who will come along and see that running can be a great laugh and a great Sunday activity with friends. 

(See, the sun does shine in Scotland)

So after all this resting and a few little tentative forays into double figure mileage again earlier in the year, yes, there's obviously another Marathon on the horizon. Here's a little bit more about what I'm doing, and more importantly why...

Several weeks ago I forked out a reg fee and plotted out my training plan for the Berlin Marathon - but I don't really know why I'm even thinking about the running when I now have ALL THE FUNDRAISING to do. 

...*cue facepalm*...

Having "decided" that I don't do enough fundraising in my day job (woo, Aberlour!), I have opted to raise a whopping £1,000 for Alzheimer's Society, by myself, by running 26.2 long miles around Berlin. So, if I take care of all the running, I'd be so super grateful for your creative thoughts, donations and general support in reaching that fundraising target. 

Initially I wanted to run this marathon for the British Heart Foundation, especially this year as my Dad is facing a shedload of abject horror undergoing a triple heart bypass, aortic valve replacement and having a pacemaker fitted all in the same surgery. To say he's not looking forward to it would be an understatement. I also wanted to run it in memory of my beloved Nan who passed away 9yrs ago this summer and also underwent the same battle against coronary heart disease. 

I lived with my Nan and Grandad until I was 12, and my Nan was my first bff. The epitome of the ultimate bff: we baked, we dressed up, we ate cake. Nan also liked playing bingo. 

Everyone who knew my Nan will tell you how very special she was. So when her big, generous and beautiful heart finally stopped beating in July 2006 it was a massive loss to our tiny family. Thankfully I have many wonderful memories and I am reminded of her every single day. 

But unfortunately the British Heart Foundation spent two weeks ignoring the three emails, three phonecalls, Tweets and comedy Instagram selfies I sent them in a desperate attempt to get SOMEONE from the mahoosive fundraising team to get back to me and say "YES! We'd love you to fundraise a thousand pounds for our wonderful organisation!"

But that never happened. So they received another cranky email which has also been ignored. Just by the by, I find being completely ignored quite RUDE and a bit unnecessary. OH, and I also made a donation alongside my initial request for info, which was also duly ignored and I haven't had a jot of thanks. I pointed that out to them too. Get that on yer complaints return...yeah.

Shoddy. Let's hope their dedication to saving lives has a bit more urgency...

But then I gave the Alzheimer's Society a call and they were LOVELY. Very enthusiastic, welcoming and warm, and they gave me a marathon place right there and then on the spot.

This means I'm not only going to put myself through another round of marathon training...

...but I'm also committed to raising vital funds to support the amazing work of Alzheimer's Society and their partners right across the UK. I've done the miles for a marathon before (see previous blogs), and I'm telling you, it's hard work and takes a lot of sacrifice and will power. And yes, I fundraise for a living, but this is very very different and it's going to be hunners o'work to reach my target. 

I picked Alzheimer's Society because both of my grandfathers suffered with dementia in their later life. My maternal grandfather Ken passed away when I was little, and my Mum endured the long and upsetting process of losing her wonderful Dad countless times towards the end of his life. 

And then there's my grandad Frank, my old pal!! 

Look at hiiiiim, being all brilliant.

We only really noticed Grandad's dementia after my Nan died...they'd functioned so well as they grew older together, and they'd spent all their married life together in the same home. So as frustrated as my Nan used to get with him about his "ignoring her all the time", neither my parents nor I really understood what Grandad was going through until my Nan wasn't around to be the yin to his yang, if you know what I mean.

I am an only child, so is my Mum, so is my Dad, so was my Nan. I have no grandparents left now, I've never had aunties or uncles, no cousins, no nieces and nephews, just me and my folks. We were all with Nan when she passed away, and as I walked along the hospital corridor linking my 91yr old Grandad's arm afterwards, he stopped in his tracks and said to me "So, is she gone?!" - I explained again...yes. "Well, who's going to look after me now?"

It broke my heart to see this quiet, fair and lovely old man panicking, recognising that he needed someone to take care of him but only now having to confront and communicate that to us for the first time. They'd both grown old so gracefully, but in that moment I realised that my Grandad was very scared of being alone.

Needless to say, he wasn't alone - he moved in with my parents and my Mum accompanied him to many doctor's appointments until he finally gained a diagnosis of dementia in 2006. During this time he got up most nights to go looking for my Nan...eventually we started telling him that she had gone nextdoor and had said for him to just go to bed and she'd be back soon. It was gentler than watching him lose her over and over and over again.

But not everyone is as fortunate as to have people around them at this stage in life. 

In addition, caring for someone with dementia as they deteriorate is hard, and it can be very lonely without any wider support. So that's one of the reasons why the Alzheimer's Society is so important to me - more families need the proper guidance, support and recognition to remind everyone affected by dementia that they are not alone. It was a really tough time for my folks.

With this in mind, I'm going to need as much support as I can get from you guys so here I am kindly asking for your help in the shape of sponsorship and joining in with a summer of fun. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? 

I'll be hosting a variety of retro/memory themed activities and events over the summer, including a bbq and some live music - and I'll be encouraging lots of you to "Jog Your Memory" with me in Holyrood Park...all will be revealed!

In honour of my Nan's love for a good old cream cake, I'll also be holding "Nana's Afternoon Cream Tea Party", and calling on all of you who have businesses to buy a patch on my running vest (trust me, marathon runners spend a LOT of time reading the back of other runners' vests), oh, and carting my trusty sponsorship form to the pub on a regular basis. Just the price of a couple of pints will help me on my way - and most of all, you will have my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your support. I know and understand that we are all asked for sponsorship on an unbearably frequent basis, but I promise I won't ask again - this is the one. This time.

You can sponsor me now, here.

As you can imagine this is a really personal challenge for me, and I hope that you lovely people will be so kind as to dig deep and help a sista out. I'm not adverse to acting as a taxi service on nights out (I am cheaper than CityCabs), I will cook for you, bake for you, I'll take you to COSTCO if you name it, I'll (within reason!) do it for a donation to my sore legs fund 2015. 

That's enough for one evening. Thank you already. I love you. Leave the (majority of the) running to me and I'll try my best to make y'all proud.

For now, I'm sending all my love,
Nikki. xxx

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