It’s the Final Countdown!

DooDoo Doo Dooooo! DooDoo Doo Doo Doo! It’s the Final Countdooooown!!! Yes, I did just sing the opening bars to Europe’s The Final Countdown. Let’s all take a moment to thank Joey Tempest and his gang for this 80s classic (my tongue is firmly in my cheek). It seems the most appropriate opener to a post about my final week of Couch to 5k – week eight!

Before I begin, a quick content note: I’ll be mentioning the effects of menstruation on running performance, and I will also be referring to the tragic event that occurred in Manchester here in the UK this week. If either of those things are going to make you feel uncomfortable, please stop reading now.

I began my final week of C25K with feelings of excitement and anticipation – the previous week had gone so well and I felt that I had learned and achieved a lot from it. I couldn’t wait to get started on week eight and finally be able to say that I can run for 5k! Unfortunately, a few other things happened during this week too. Firstly, the weather suddenly became very warm and humid. For my part of the UK, called the Moorlands, we don’t get a lot of hot weather – summer is usually about three weeks of sunshine, which happen to occur at different points over the summer months. The rest of the time, the weather tends to alternate between rain, fog, and ‘general meh’. So on one hand, it’s great to be able to get outside and run in the sunshine but on the other hand, it really takes some adjusting to! The heat and humidity brought with it all sorts of new considerations for me – I was going to sweat a lot more, I was going to expend a lot more energy, I was going to need hydration whilst running for once, and it was generally going to be *harder*.

The next thing that happened was the arrival of my period. My monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Shark Week. Call it whatever you like. In the past, I’d always tried to continue with physical activity throughout menstruation and even on my heaviest days. It’s never been ideal but I’ve never had to stop what I was doing. I’d notice that fatigue would affect how well I could exercise and my cramps would worsen afterwards but I never stopped. I thought it would be the same with running, but oh how it wasn’t! Yet again, I would have new considerations and adjustments to make.

The final thing that happened was the tragic event in Manchester. An act of atrocity carried out against an arena full of people enjoying themselves and having fun. I will not give any space to the who or the why here. Instead I will mention how members of my online running group were directly affected – they lost friends, relatives, and colleagues and could include many others amongst the injured. One member was actually in attendance and leaving the arena with her children at the time of the blast. Although they were all thankfully uninjured, they did have to literally run for their lives through the carnage and the aftermath and will be forever scarred by what they witnessed. I was not personally affected but reading the stories of members of the group, hearing more about what happened that night, and being part of how my group responded to the attack did influence my running during this week.

So on to my runs for the final week of C25K and how all of this comes together! Week 8 Day 1 took place on Monday. A very humid day. Also the second day of my period and the first day of heavy flow. Like the genius I am, I decided to do this run in my running jacket. I still had some hang ups about body image and my physical appearance and hadn’t been able to not cover up yet. I learned the very hard way that this was a giant mistake. HUGE. The non-stop run section was for 28 minutes. I was relieved when I saw this as my last run of the previous week had been for 25 minutes and I had *nailed* it. This will only three minutes more! So off I set. All was well for the first half, if a little more tiring than usual, but the problems started during the second half. I began to feel very, very hot. Sweat was pouring down my face and into my eyes. I felt very light-headed and dizzy, and suddenly completely exhausted. My head and my feet became hot – I could actually feel the heat evaporating from my face and head and my feet felt like they were on fire. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I kept going for as long as I could but once I reached 19 minutes it was a FULL STOP. I could not carry on. I was so SO disappointed in myself. I chose to walk for one minute and gather my senses. Of course I unzipped my running jacket and I like to think that for anyone watching, it would have looked like someone opening the door to a sauna. I felt really defeated, given how well the previous week had gone. Instead of letting those head demons back in again, I decided to be kind to myself – everyone has bad runs. Everyone. I am still learning – this is all a new experience for me. Learning curves aren’t always a single curve – sometimes they undulate! Learning comes in waves and progress can ebb and flow. So how could I handle this? Firstly, I would listen to my body and take a break by walking for a minute. I would do what I could to cool down and gather myself. Then, and only if I felt able to, I would start to run again at a gentle, easy pace. So that’s what I did. After a minute of walking, I finished the remaining eight minutes by running. I slowed down and told myself that if I needed to stop again, then I would and there would be no shame in that – I was doing the best that I could on that particular day. I got back home, drank a bottle full of electrolytes, showered, and continued to hydrate. By this point I was developing a pretty bad headache, so I knew that over-heating and lack of adequate hydration had been a problem here. I also researched what effects my period could have had, and I asked other members of my running group if they experienced anything similar when running at the time of the month. I got a resounding YES in reply. Pretty much everyone said that they don’t run on their heaviest days. That dehydration in far more likely (especially in hot weather) as you’re losing more fluid than usual. Reading online was also enlightening. The first half of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase and when oestrogen is the dominant hormone. You have more energy during this phase and you will always train and perform better. For a standard menstrual cycle of 28 days (obviously not everyone has these), ovulation occurs halfway through and then the body enters the luteal phase. This is when progesterone becomes the dominant hormone and training and performance can slack off as a result. So as you approach menstruation, your body is already having to work harder. This was one of those Lightbulb Moments. I was going to have to put a lot more planning into my running, instead of just assuming “oh I’ll be okay- let’s just get on with it”.

The second part of my run took place on Wednesday. By then, the tragedy in Manchester had happened and everyone was reeling from the shock and horror of it. My running group rallied together. Around 1,000 of us (that number has most likely increased significantly by now) decided to take part in a virtual run for 22 minutes. We would all complete it (by running, jogging, walking, mixing it all up) in our home locations for 22 minutes (one minute to honour each life lost) over the next two days. So I chose to do mine on this day. I knew that I had struggled on my previous run but I had a new, if poignant, perspective. I was lucky that day – lucky to be able to go out for a run, lucky to have my children safe and well, lucky to be in the position to be able to pay my respects. I was determined to run for at least 22 minutes as my way of honouring and remembering those who lost their lives. The non-stop run for Week 8 Day 2 was for 30 minutes. The weather was even hotter and more humid than before. I took water with me and left my running jacket at home. Again, the first part of my run was fine and as I would have expected and again, it was during the second half that fatigue began to set in. I kept going. I kept pushing myself to run that bit further and I managed to get to 22 minutes of non-stop running. Again I stopped and walked for a minute, this time with tears in my eyes. After a minute of walking, I started to run again and completed the final seven minutes of my run. Not only was this progress and an improvement on my previous run, I had also managed to pay my respects to those who died in Manchester. Along with the many hundreds of other women in my running group.

By Friday, I was ready to do my final run of C25k – Week 8 day 3! The weather was still hot and humid and I really wanted to get this run down. I had spent the week making sure that I was drinking plenty of water. I included electrolytes too. I also cast my body issues to one side in a small way. I chose to put aside not only my running jacket but also my leggings. In their place I wore a pair of shorts and a loose fitting, sweat wicking vest. I don’t think I’ve ever left the house with so few clothes on unless it’s been to go to a beach (which only happens one week every year). There had been a thread in my running group where the issue of body confidence was discussed, and why so many members talked about feeling that they should cover themselves when running for fear of judgement and negativity from others. I thought about how much my body has changed over the past eight weeks. It may not look any different and my physicality may not have changed, but I am certainly stronger and fitter and healthier than I was at the beginning. I’ve been guilty of covering up because I’ve been more concerned about what other people will think (the judgement of complete strangers) than my own comfort and wellbeing. I decided that my focus should be on how my body has improved in terms of fitness and strength rather than appearance. Women are, I personally think, conditioned to view their health and fitness in terms of size – the emphasis is always on being *smaller*, never stronger or fitter. You only have to casually glance over a rack of women’s magazines to see the bold headlines proclaiming ‘How to Drop a Dress Size in a Week!’ or ‘The Six Week Diet That Will Help You Shed Three Stones!’. The emphasis is always on being smaller in some way, whether it’s your weight or the size of your clothes. I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to gauge my value or progress in terms of how much less space I’m taking up or how much I have shrunk myself. Instead, I’m going to look at my thick thighs and think about how strong they are and how they can pound through the rain and make me feel like a superhero, and how they can run for further than I ever thought they could, and how I’m going to keep them running for longer and further and they *will* do it. That’s my goal now. So here’s a picture of my pale sturdy legs with their completely non-gapped thighs in all their glory. This is what anyone who sees me out running will get a load of from now on. And if they don’t think “Good on you, keep it up, you go girl!” then their opinions don’t count for anything.

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Now back to my final run of Couch to 5k – the point which I doubted I would ever reach, that I thought would be too difficult and beyond my ability. Yet here I was actually doing it. I was kitted out in my new attitude – fewer clothes for comfort and practicality, water for hydration in hot weather, new found knowledge and experience, and a fresh determination. The non-stop running section today was for a full 35 minutes. I set off early in the morning before the temperature climbed too high. I took an easy pace, focusing more on the distance that I wanted to achieve than the time I was going to achieve it in. I listened to my body and took sips of water when I needed to. I stayed out of my head by listening to my playlist and focusing on the music. And I did it. I only went and bloody well did it! It was a moment of pure joy when I got to the end of my run. I may have been dripping with sweat from my tomato red face but it was a face filled with HAPPY. I am a 5k runner. I can run for 5k. I am a runner. I can run.

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Here is my final badge from the C25K app that I used, along with a certificate. I’ve certainly felt motivated by receiving these badges as I’ve progressed through the programme and the final certificate is a particularly nice touch. So now what do I do??

Things I’ve learned this week:

  • Learn the easy way! Use your common sense and take account of your environment and your physical wellbeing. Don’t think “oh I’ll be okay – I don’t need to fuss or make a deal out of anything, or I can just carry on as usual”. That’s called learning the hard way.
  • There are different ways to measure progress. Do the best that you can do on that particular day. Think about how your body feels and performs rather than how it looks.
  • Comparison is the thief of joy. Every run is different. Every runner will have bad runs and good runs. Don’t be hard on yourself when you experience a dip – there may well be external factors that had an impact.
  • Appreciate what you have and what you can do – so many others don’t have what you have, or face losses far greater. Be thankful.
  • You can always do more than you think. I’m proof of that. I couldn’t run for a bus eight weeks ago and now I can run 5k. If a middle-aged mother of four can manage that, so can you.

This weekend has been spent thinking about how to consolidate this achievement, build on what I’ve done so far, how to take it further, and what to do next. But this post has been long enough as it is, so more about that another time. 🙂

Happy running! x

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Heavenly Seven?

So here I am, finally at week seven of Couch to 5K. After this, just one more week to go in order to complete the programme. I have a mixture of feelings about this – I’m proud of the progress I’ve made (especially when I look back at those first few weeks when I could barely manage 90 seconds of non-stop running), I’m glad that I’m doing this as I can feel the benefits already, but also apprehension. I’ve yet to reach the magical distance of 5k and knowing how the programme can present you with big step-changes that completely kick your bum, who knows what’s in store?

Well lemme tell you what was in store! I’ve done two of my three runs for week seven now and I needn’t have worried. Both of my completed runs comprised a five minute warm up walk, a 20 minute run (yes TWENTY minutes!), and a five minute cool down walk. When I clocked this as I started my first week seven run, I had my usual reaction (“I’M GOING TO DIE!!!”) but by now, I have learned how to deal with that initial reaction. I know exactly what to do to quell that panic and those fears. I know how to ignore those brain demons and get RUNNING. I simply put my headphones on, hit shuffle on my running playlist, and get going. I barely look at my app and I hardly clock watch now. Instead I’m listening to songs and inventing dance routines to them. I’m thinking about the park runs I can join when I complete the programme. I’m looking forward to the virtual races I’ve signed up to in June and July and earning the blingy medals that come with them. I’m contemplating taking part in actual runs, with other people, that take place all in one go. There are so many plans I can make. So many things I can do, now that I am running. Now that I know I can do it! And I did do it. I ran for the full 20 minutes without stopping and I did exactly the same again for the second run of the week. My apprehension was completely unfounded. The only obstacle or difficulty was the thought that I couldn’t do it. Yet here I am, having done The Thing I Thought I Couldn’t Do. Again. There’s a lesson in there, isn’t there.

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This is me at the end of my second run of week seven. It rained A LOT, which is why this is easily the worst I’ve ever looked in a photo but also one where I’m feeling the best. Why? Because I thought it would be rubbish to run in the rain. I thought I’d hate being cold and wet through and having my hair soaked. I imagined all those lorries and vans speeding past me and spraying me with dirty water. I considered putting my run back a day so that I could do it in dry weather. But then I went out and ran. Yes I was cold (only at first) and wet through, and yes I looked like a drowned rat, and yes I did get sprayed by passing traffic but the weird thing was that I didn’t care. In fact I enjoyed it. Running in the pouring rain made me feel like an invincible badass! Does that make me a runner now? I think it might. So here’s my giant red but beaming face at the end of my run.

At the time of writing, I have one more run to do before moving on to the final week. I have been thinking more about my distance and pace, specifically how I’ll hit the magical distance of 5k. So far, my runs have all had total distances of either just over or just below 4k (mostly just below). I can see that my splits are improving and I can see that my pace is also getting faster but I’m still worrying slightly about whether I’ll be able to finally reach 5k. Even though I’m running non-stop for the required lengths of time, am I too slow? Should I be covering more distance? Will I find myself completing the programme but NOT getting to 5k? What on earth do I do then?! Luckily, my C25K app has a little feature that is meant to motivate and reward you – it presents you with badges you’ve earned as you’ve progressed through the programme. For example, you get a Lionheart badge after your first run because you’ve been brave and you’ve taken that first big step (I think that might be my favourite badge). So after my second run of week seven, I earned a new badge and I would really like to think that the app developers applied some clever and enlightened psychology to this one because I could not have received a better badge at this point. Here it is:

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Why is it the best badge I could earn right now? Because it tells me that at this point, I should be a 3k runner, that I should be hitting the distance of 3k by now. In other words, I am spot on for where I am in the programme. In fact, there are some runs now where I am even ahead of where I should expect to be in terms of distance. That what I am doing is an achievement in itself, even if I’m not at my final destination yet. YET. This was an opportunity to remind myself of what I have achieved so far, what I have been able to do, instead of worrying about getting to where I want to be or think I should be. This must be what they mean when they say ‘Live in the Now’…..

Week seven has both reinforced old lessons and taught me new ones. In summary:

  • You are capable of more than you know. The only way to find out what you can do is to try doing it. I know now that I can run non-stop for a much longer time than I would ever have thought I could. I know now that I actually like running in the rain. I know now what it’s like to feel like an invincible badass. And so can you.
  • Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t assume that you’re not progressing as far as you think you should have. EVERYTHING is progress – you’re always moving towards your goal, whether it’s a straight route, or a meandering road, or you encounter a few roundabouts and obstacles in your path. It’s all progress. Chances are you’re doing better than you think you are anyway. But it doesn’t matter – look only at your own journey and how far you’ve come since you started it and  know that you will get to where to where you want to be. And then some.

Happy running! x

Week Six of Couch to 5K…

…and day two is in the bag!

Week Six is here already and as you’d expect from an eight week programme, it’s kicking my behind. There have been moments where I’ve sounded like a set of spectacularly discordant bagpipes as I’ve wheezed towards the end of my running sections. But I’m still here, my lungs are still intact and my legs still work.

So far, warm up has been followed by two 10 minute runs (the runs on day one were separated by a five minute walk and on day two, a three minute walk). As I’ve been finding so far, the first day of each new week seems to take me by surprise a little bit. This week is no exception. Ten minutes of non-stop running is easily the longest I’ve managed for MANY years. Seeing that section pop up on my screen for the first time caused a thought process along the lines of “WHAT? OH NO I’M GONNA DIE! ……….But hold on, you can totally do this. Come on, DO IT!” And I did. It’s the second run of each week’s first day that gets me! After five minutes of walking, it was time for another 10 minute run. I’d already done it, right? So I could do it again, right? With only 30 seconds to go, my legs did that old trick of just stopping all by themselves, regardless of what my brain was telling them to do. It’s quite the phenomenon! I repeated my mantra of No Blame, No Shame – I’d pushed myself further than I’d been before and I kept going and going. Next time 10 minutes, next time.

Back home and post run, I thought about why those 30 seconds had eluded me. I decided that it would be worth trying a little mind trick – a distraction. Something to make me think about anything other than how long I’d been running for. I realised that looking down at the screen and seeing what my app had in store wasn’t helpful. The first thought that pops into my head is “OH NO” and no matter how much I tell myself to keep going, my brain is still counting down and making me check the app as I run, telling me things like “There’s still six minutes to go – but you’ve been running for AGES! AGH!”

I needed to stop looking at my app as I ran, I needed to stop clock watching. I needed to think about something other than how out of breath I was or how tired my legs were. The solution was simple. I created my own running playlist and invested in Bluetooth headphones to listen to it on. Worth a go, right? I spent a couple of hours ploughing through my iTunes and picking out all of those songs that I knew would power me along, get me pumping, make me think about dancing and jumping around rather than running.

Day Two saw me hitting my route, playlist on shuffle, with a spring in my step. You know what? It only worked. Instead of thinking “Agh! Ten minutes of running non-stop!” I was thinking “that’s only two and a half songs – I wonder what they’ll be….” The distraction technique totally worked. I found myself listening to songs that fired me up, and like any true RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, I started imagining lip syncing to them. Whole routines with high kicks and hair whips and perfect lyrical renditions. Suddenly, the Nice American Lady’s voice was be telling me to slow down and walk again. I managed to complete BOTH ten minute runs and I didn’t even think about it, really. The highlight of today’s playlist was Deap Vally’s Gonna Make My Own Money. An absolute anthem and if that doesn’t get your blood pumping, nothing will! You can listen to it here:

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Above is the Map My Run analysis of Week 6 Day 2’s run. Strangely, I’m back under 4km, even though I ran non-stop for 20 minutes in total. I’m guessing that as the walking interval was shorter (at three minutes instead of five) less distance was covered overall. I’m beginning to see an improvement in my split times though! I know they are still a snail’s pace for most people – especially experienced runners – but as long as I see those times getting faster, albeit slowly, that’s progress. My progress is my own and I don’t compare it to anyone else’s.

So I continue to learn and discover new techniques and ways of handling things that I would have considered an obstacle previously:

  • No Blame, No Shame! Yep, still this! It’s my mantra – I know that I’m pushing myself, that I’ve taken on a challenge, and each time I do it I’m doing it better. If I don’t nail it first time – that’s okay. There will be another chance to, and another. If I have to have an extra 30 seconds of walking, that’s fine – I’m still out there doing The Thing and improving every time I do. It’s all progress and it’s all onwards and upwards.
  • Distractify yourself!! Yes, I know that’s not actually a word. I like the way it jingles in my mind. If you’re an over-thinker like me, if you fixate on potential hurdles or difficulties before they even look like they might be a possibility, find a way to get out of that habit. Find a way to take yourself off that train of thought by replacing it with something much more productive and enjoyable. For me that’s music. For you it could be an audio-book, a podcast, anything. Just don’t clock watch or constantly check your app.
  • Once I master running, I’m going to take dance lessons. Fun street dance style ones. Specifically so that I can actually put my lip syncing fantasies into action. Strictly within the comfort and privacy of my own home, obvs. ; )

Happy running! x

Back in Black

….or bright yellow, to be more precise. As that’s the colour of my awesome new running jacket.

After ten full days of resting, my calf was finally fully healed and I was ready to put my running shoes back on after what seemed an interminable lifetime of being cooped up indoors (that’s something I never thought I’d find myself typing). Lo and behold, a new quandary arrives in my brain!

My first run in ten days – will I have lost the progress I’ve made so far? Would it be wise to redo week four of C25K? Should I at least go back to the last run I did and do that again? Or do I just go full pelt into week five? This was one of those occasions when I found myself seeking the advice of more experienced runners.

One of the good things about Facebook (there aren’t many, I know) is that sometimes you will find a group set up for people with a shared interest or pastime and depending on how well that group is set up and the ethos it adheres to, it can be the most supportive and motivating source of advice and information you will ever come across. I’m lucky to have found such a group that shares my burgeoning enthusiasm for running. It’s a group for women runner who are primarily (but not limited to) parents based in the UK. The group comprises of runners of all levels and ability. There are many like me who are starting their running journey with C25K, and the membership goes all the way up to seasoned marathon runners, triathletes and beyond. Considering the huge range of members the group has, with all of their different backgrounds and life experiences and personalities, the group is *incredible*. There is nothing but genuine support and encouragement for all members – so much positivity in one place, it’s hard not to get carried away by it all and start signing yourself up to many, many races.

Naturally I turned to this group for advice on how to get back in to C25K and they didn’t let me down! The consensus overall was to just get straight back into it where I left off – that there was no sense in going backwards unless you *really* have to following a serious injury or similar. To go at a steady pace and not push myself, to listen to my body, and if my calf started to hurt again – slow it right down and walk more than planned. All excellent advice which may seem simplistic but for me, it gave me clarity and almost permission to say “yeah, I can still do it – I don’t need to go backwards!”

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So off I went, calf firmly enveloped in a Tubigrip bandage (which I think will become my new best friend) and a calm sense of “it’s all going to be okay”. As you can see from the pic above, I did it! Not only did I do it, I got back to over 4k again, my split times have decreased (even to below eight minutes, which is a PB for little ole me!), and I completed every running section in full. I don’t know what I was so worried about….

This experience (which I will force myself to remember and will read this post should I pick up more injuries in the future) taught me the following:

  • Be patient. Resting an injury may seem like a total drag and a complete ball-ache but it’s necessary. Especially if you want to get back out there without further complications, which will only serve to hinder your healing and lengthen your wait even more.
  • Listen to your body and support it! Do what you need to do to help yourself, whether it’s wearing an unflattering compression bandage or slowing your pace right down in order to make your run more manageable, just do it. No blame, no shame! Look after your body and it will look after you. It doesn’t matter if every other runner you see is bounding along with their hair flying free in the breeze like a majestic horse or something – you are on your own journey and you make it the best journey for you.
  • You can do the thing! Let others tell you that you can do the thing too! Don’t be afraid to take advice from others. You’ll most likely pick up some very useful tips that will serve you well. Learn from both your own experience and that of others. One day it will be you passing your tips on to someone starting their journey.
  • Bright yellow running jackets are the best for making you feel positive and energetic. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Happy running! x