New Tricks

Training has been all about new approaches and methods just recently, it seems. I took a little (enforced) break from running for a week whilst on a family holiday. We stayed in Devon for a week and had lots of wonderful days at the beach and out and about. I say that my break from running was enforced purely because of the location of the cottage we stayed at – out in the sticks of rural Devon reached by those narrow roads that can barely accommodate one vehicle at a time and lined on both sides by trees and hedgerows with not a footpath in site. We’ve been holidaying in Devon and Cornwall for many years now and so I’m all too aware of how often vehicles travelling in different direction can reach a tetchy impasse, with both waiting for the other to reverse back along the road to find a passing place. I also noticed a few tractors careering along the local lanes, with tyres only marginally able to stay within the confines of the road. Safe to say, no room for runners! I had all of my running gear with me but it was sadly unused, as the thoughts of being mowed down on a narrow road or death by tractor really didn’t appeal to me. So instead it was a week of family time and lots of fun with my boys.

budleigh salterton

Above: a holiday snapshot for you. The pebble beach at Budleigh Salterton with moonlight shining across the sea as night falls. A very pretty coastal town with pastel coloured beach huts and delicious gluten free and locally caught fish and chips!

Once we were back home, it was time to get back on track with my training programme. As soon as the beach towels were washed and drying on the line, I had my gear on and was ready to get going! This is where the new tricks come in. Since I’ve started running and have joined running groups online, I’ve read a lot of comments about concepts such as interval training, splits, switches, and tapering. I have to admit that I did no more than skim read the comments, as I assumed it was all ‘proper marathon runner chat’ and that it wouldn’t have any relevance to me. That’s still true to a point but as I work my way through my 21k training app, I’m beginning to not only understand more about these methods, but also implementing them too. Which is kind of making me feel more like a ‘proper runner’.

The ‘new trick’ I’m enjoying the most is interval training. My programme has just started to include one day of it each week. It’s fairly gentle so far, starting off with a five minute run and then I’m instructed to “run slightly faster” for a minute before walking for two minutes. This is repeated six times and ends with another five minute run at a normal pace. I have to admit that I really got into it – whilst I wasn’t running at full pelt, I did do more than “run slightly faster” and I really enjoyed it! There was just something exhilarating about picking my pace up and going faster – I’ve had this nagging feeling that my pace is too slow and I am more of a determined plodder than a runner but I’ve tried to keep my focus on building up my endurance and fitness and focusing on completing my training sessions with distances in mind rather than speed. This nagging feeling has fermented in the background though, planting worries in my mind that I’m too slow and will take too long to complete distances. Interval training is helping with that! I am beginning to see and understand how the jigsaw pieces of training are fitting together: the runs I have been doing so far have been all about getting me up to a certain level of endurance where I can run for longer and longer periods without stopping. That’s the foundation of the training – the corner and outside pieces of the jigsaw from which all the other pieces fit and stem, if you like. Interval training is where pace and speed is worked on and waiting until now to introduce running for pace makes perfect sense – the foundations have been laid and now it’s time to start adding to them.

As well as really loving intervals, I have noticed that they’ve had an immediate effect on how I run. The runs I’ve done following interval training have all been at an increasing pace. Luckily Strava can show me how my runs are trending faster so that I can see it for myself! Weirdly, I’m also feeling less tired – again I’m telling myself as I run “I can do this. I’ve got it in me” when my legs tire and my hips start to feel a little achey and I always seem to tap into a reserve of energy at that point and I keep going. My splits are evening out too. I had a pattern of slowing down during the last couple of kilometres but now I’ve noticed (again, thanks Strava) that my times for all kilometres are evening out and my pace is staying within a much smaller range of times now. So all of those worries about being too slow and a plodder? Pffffft! Not any more. I’ve got this!

interval badge

Above is my Interval Runner badge – I’m on my way to winning, apparently.

One more new change to my training has been that my recommended runs have increased to four a week now. My programme comprises two pretty standard runs that I’m used to now, and interval training session, plus one long run at the end of the week. Again, this is something I’ve read about in online running groups: extending your training to include a long run at the end of each week. There was a time when this would have panicked me and I would have worried about whether I could do it but those times seem to be gone now. Instead, I’m really enjoying it – I’m looking forward to that extra run each week. I want to see how the rest of my training is developing me and doing that long run will allow me to do that. I want to see just how far I can push myself and how far I can go. I want to know how much I have improved and see it for myself. I want to finally accept that I’m less of a determined plodder and more of a proper runner!

Looking forward. I’ve had a quick skim through my training programme for the coming weeks and I’ve noticed another new addition – strength training. The seventh day requires 25 minutes of strength training. This is something I’ve been thinking about as I know it’s incredibly beneficial to runners. I’ve always held back on it so far because I haven’t wanted to over-train and risk injury at this stage. Now that my programme is going to start including it, will I still hold back? Hell no! Bring it on!

So, in summary:

  • Patience is key. Everything gets there in the end. If you’re working on one thing like distance or stamina, don’t worry about how your pace and speed should be coming along. They will come along eventually.
  • Tackle one thing at a time. As above, focus on one element of training and don’t panic about all the other things you feel you should be doing. This only leads to frustration and feeling overwhelmed, as well as unnecessary worrying. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Rise to challenges! You’ll end up loving them and being glad that you pushed yourself. Good things are worth working hard for.

 

Happy running everyone xx

Player One – Level Up!

My determined plod towards the Birmingham Half Marathon continues and I definitely feel like I’ve levelled up! I have now completed the 5-10km training app I was using and I have really noticed a lot of progress in my running. The biggest change for me has been the increase in my confidence as a runner. For example, there were plenty of times during C25K when I would open my app as I left my house to run and ended up sighing and feeling doubtful at the programme in front of me (“run for 20 minutes non-stop?! I’ll never do that!” and so on). That all changed as I progressed through the 5-10km programme. I’d open the app, see that it wanted me to run for 45 minutes non-stop that day and I’d think “yeah, I can do that – bring it on!” and off I’d go. I wasn’t phased by the time spent running any more, as I’d proven to myself time and again that I can do it, that I’ve got it in me. I may not be fast or a natural runner but I’ve got the determination to do it. By the time the final run of the programme arrived – which was a 60 minute non-stop run – I was itching to get going, run for the longest I’d ever run non-stop in my entire life, and allow myself to feel proud for completing the programme.

So, on Saturday just gone, I got ready, drank my electrolytes, charged up my earphones, and got out there. It all went perfectly. No aching or pains anywhere. My breathing stayed nice and even. It was sunny but not hot. I ran my usual route listening to my running playlist and not even thinking about the fact that I would be running for an hour – I was enjoying doing it too much! I kept an eye on my running apps to monitor the distance I was reaching. Although I was able to run the requisite amount of time non-stop, I only reached 8.2km doing so. Pace is something that’s always been at the back of my mind – that I perhaps should work on getting a little faster – but I’ve paid attention to the advice given to me by experienced runners; to focus on distance first and then the pace will come along later.

I made a decision there and then – the hour of running was up but I hadn’t got to the magical 10km mark yet. I felt fine and more than able to continue running, so that’s what I did. I carried on running, determined to get to the 10km milestone. And I did it! I had to extend my running route a little to accommodate the extra distance and in doing so, I ran past the local playground that’s just down the road from my house. My two boys were at the playground with their friends, scooters in tow. They spotted me running and so, for about the last 500m of my run, they joined me on their scooters shouting “come on mum! You can do it!” It was a really wonderful moment to finally hit the 10km sweet spot – with a really good and positive run and my two boys scooting alongside me at the end of it.

10k run pic

Me at the end of my first ever 10km run – red, sweaty, and very happy.

Now the next phase begins. I’ve already downloaded my 21k training app and done my first run (it was 45 minutes non-stop, so I felt that I eased into it nicely). I feel like I’ve got my eye on the prize now as the app’s programme takes me up to the date of the Birmingham Half so it’s all finally leading up to the big day. I know that it will be challenging and I will have to dig into my reserves of determination but I’m not deterred by that – I’ve got through two running programmes so far, got over a minor injury and rest period, and when I started this journey, I couldn’t run for a bus. So I know I’ve got it in me.

21k pic

On the left, my badge for starting the 12k programme: I’m a 21k Candidate! On the right, my first ever 10k run! I did a proud.

I also still feel that I need to look at my pace a little bit more now, but in a way that’s complementary to my training app that doesn’t put too much pressure on me. So I’ve joined a local running club. I was really unsure about this at first as one of the things I love most about running is the fact that I can do it on my own. Plus I’m really very socially awkward! However, it would be useful to have a gauge for my running and to be able to benefit from the experience of other runners as the half marathon draws closer. Luckily my local club was taking on new members as part of a C25K programme. When I explained that I had already done this, they allowed me to join a sub-group of new members who do a 20 minute non-stop run while the C25K run takes place. It was a really useful experience! They ran at a much faster pace than I usually do: MapMyRun measured the pace as a consistent 7:17 for each of the three KMs we ran. My usual pace is between 8:00 – 8:30, so this was quite a bit faster! I stayed at the back of the pack and made sure that even though I was keeping up, I wasn’t overdoing it. It wasn’t easy but I stayed with the pack, despite puffing and panting like an old steam train. It wasn’t the easiest 20 minute run I’ve ever done but I felt so much better for it. Especially when I went for a long run the next day and did the best pacing I’ve ever done (Strava recorded seven PBs for that run!), so I think that additional 20 minute faster paced run every Wednesday night will be a beneficial addition to my training. We shall see!

In conclusion then:

  • always take on board the advice of experienced runners. They’ve been where you are and can share their insight.
  • your mind set is a powerful training tool. When you see the run that’s planned for you, don’t be overwhelmed. Think back to where you were when you started and note how far you’ve come. Relish the opportunity to go even further.
  • Get red, get sweaty, get puffing and panting – it’s all good! What you look like when you run is insignificant – it’s what you do when you run that counts!
  • always be proud of every run, even if it hasn’t gone the way you wanted. You still got out there and did it! And there will be more of those feel good milestone runs to follow – be super proud of those!

Happy running! x

Reasons to be Cheerful…one…two…three

It’s been a while since my last post. Real life hasn’t afforded me much time to do all the things I’ve wanted to do, plus family life has been busy. Illness has been a recent feature too: run of the mill gastroenteritis for me and an alarming occurrence of an illness known as Transient Global Amnesia for my husband, which resulted in him being rushed to A&E in an ambulance. A very, very scary experience but thankfully all is well now and he has made a complete recovery (although he has no memory at all of the night it happened).It got me thinking though – that life can be as abrupt and changeable as it can be steady and predictable. It sounds clichéd but it’s true; you really never know what’s around the corner. Appreciate what you have while you have it.

Running-wise, things have also been a little up and down. I had my first experience of ‘mojo loss’ – after the illnesses and a period of feeling quite down and despondent, I began to really doubt my progress and what I’m doing. I began to worry that I had bitten off more than I could chew by entering a half marathon. What was I thinking?! I had a bad run too, and that seemed to cement the idea that I couldn’t do it in my head. Sounds familiar, huh? After talking this over with friends who run too, I now know that having a bad run every now and then is the norm. That losing your mojo occasionally is also fairly common. That it happens to pretty much everyone and the best way to handle it is to a) give yourself a break. Ease up on your expectations and be kind to yourself and b) when you’re ready, get back to it. Go easy and see what happens. It’ll all come back to you.

So that’s what I did and by golly it worked, which won’t come as a surprise to just about everyone else! My worries about being race ready in time for the Birmingham Half have been somewhat assuaged. I’m on track with training and have given the Strava app a go. I quite like it! The data it’s given me so far has been encouraging – it works out my times for various distances and also records Personal Records for me. I find that really motivating. I’ve been trying to ignore things like pacing and split times etc., focusing on distance and stamina instead as that seemed more important as a novice runner – it seemed more important to hit those distances without dying in the attempt! I realise now that that’s more of my long term goal and that I need to have smaller, achievable short term goals to act as stepping stones along the way. So now I’m surprising myself (via Strava) by seeing that my 5k time has already improved and I’m now doing sub 40 minute 5ks, that my overall pace is improving and that I’m actually being pretty consistent. This is all of the feel good factor that I was missing before and that’s what lead to my loss of mojo – instead of there being this huge daunting end goal looming over me, I’ve got a path littered with lots of positive milestones taking me there.

strava PRs

Check it out – my Strava stats from my most recent run (yesterday). Three Personal Records, including my fastest 5k so far. Now I know these stats aren’t going to impress anyone who’s been running for a while and who might be half my age but for me, they represent progress and good progress at that. They are my reasons to be cheerful.

As usual, here are my learning points:

  • appreciate what you have when you have it. Allow yourself to be happy in the moment because it doesn’t last long and things can change in an instant.
  • we’re only human. All of us. We all have good days and bad days, and good runs and bad runs. The trick is to not fixate on the negative and don’t beat yourself up over anything! Be kind to yourself and try again when you’re ready. As the always wise RuPaul once said (sang): “And If I fly or if I fall, At least I can say I gave it all.” You’re trying, you’re doing it, and that’s what counts.
  • short term goals are as necessary as long term ones! It’s easy to forget them when you’re focusing on what you want to ultimately achieve. Don’t forget that that’s what you’re working towards and every time you run or train, you are making other achievements along the way. They need to be noted and celebrated too – allow yourself to bask in your accomplishments a little!

Happy running x

The Rhythm Is Gonna Getcha!

What’s that, Ms Estafan? The rhythm is gonna get me? Well, if you mean the running rhythm, IT ALREADY HAS! It’s been a little while since my last blog post – mainly because there’s been so much going on that I haven’t had much time to sit down and write, partly because my last post was a touch tl;dr, but also because I’ve been thinking over stuff that I wanted to post about. Apologies in advance if I go a bit tl;dr all over again.

Running has it’s ups and downs, doesn’t it. That’s the main thing I’ve been thinking about. Most things in life have ups and downs but not all of them will keep you coming back for more. In the short time I’ve been running (three whole months now….) I’ve already experienced the setback of a – thankfully minor – injury. It felt rubbish at the time but I got over it and was straight back into running in no time at all. Down and then back up. I’ve also had a couple of crappy runs – runs where my body just did not want to do what I wanted it to do. Runs that I really struggled to complete in the way I wanted to. Runs where I got home feeling deflated and doubtful. After each of those runs, my lovely Facebook running group provided me with the support and advice that I needed – everyone has bad runs, they happen to us all regardless of experience, fitness, level etc., and you always come back from them. They were right. I picked myself up and took myself out for my next run and it went exactly as planned and hoped for. Ups and downs and ups. I’m learning things from running all of the time and this experience of having setbacks but always coming back from them is a new one. I’ve had sports related injuries in the past, as well as training sessions that drained any joy and positivity from me and they were extremely difficult to bounce back from. Analysing it now, I think that’s because there was so much outside pressure from other people. Team mates, ‘coaches’, worrying about how your place on the team will be affected, how attitudes will change towards you, and all the politics that go along with team sports. Even remembering how it used to make me feel is making me shudder and grimace.

This is where I have found running to be completely different. I am in charge of my progress. There is no ‘coach’ or team mate telling me that I’m not good enough or that I can’t do it. I know that I am and I can, and I have dominion over achieving it. It’s been an enlightening realisation. Recovering from an injury or moving forwards from a bad run is solely in my hands. My Facebook running group is an invaluable asset here. There is nothing but positivity and encouragement and support coming from it. The advice that I’m given is always constructive and when I follow it, good things happen! I’m now actually really doing what I thought I could never do and I’m loving it, even when it doesn’t go to plan. Downs and ups and UPS!

So this brings me on to my new plans. I have decided that in addition to taking part in virtual runs in my own time, I’m going to take part in real organised races. GULP! A wonderful friend of mine works with Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid and together we will be taking part in the Birmingham Half Marathon to raise funds for this awesome organisation. It’s happening on 15th October and I’m all signed up and registered and everything. LOOK!

birmingham half

Sarah (my wonderful friend) has set up a super cool fund raising page and linked my blog to it so that anyone who might be interested can read about my progress from couch potato to half marathon runner. If I can do it, so can you! I’ve also got a few other plans in the pipeline to help with my training for this. Firstly, entering some official 10k runs so that I have experience in taking part in organised race events prior to the half marathon. There’s one I’m definitely going to do, which is set in the grounds of an RAF museum. The race course takes in the hangars, the airstrip, and the museum itself with all of its iconic aircraft. You even get a Spitfire themed medal. So that’s top of the list, while I look for other 10k races to add to it. Secondly, I am going to get in touch with a local running group to see if I can do some training with them. An actual real life running group with people that I would run alongside! That’s a big deal for me, believe me. It will be a good way to become used to running with other people and it’s a chance to pick up some knowledge and tips from people who have been where I am and can give me the benefit of their experience. I’m finding both of these things really scary, by the way! Again, that’s something else that running is teaching me – that I can do the Scary Things. I can go out of my comfort zone and still be okay.

So, to summarise my progress so far and what I’ve learned, I would say:

  • You are the master of your progress. You control it and you are responsible for it. No one can tell you that you can’t do it and if they try, you can go out there and prove them wrong. There are no politics or social dynamics to stress over with running – just you and what’s inside your head.
  • After a Down, there is always an Up. Setbacks happen but you can bounce back from them. And yes, it really is true – everyone has bad runs now and then. It’s not a reflection on you or your ability or your potential.
  • You can do the Scary Things! You’ll reach a point where in order to progress, you have to push yourself outside of what is comfortable to you. Whether that is taking part in organised runs, joining a running group filled with lots of strangers, or trying a new training route that might challenge you – you can do it. You CAN do it.

There’s lots coming up on the horizon now, so brace yourselves: there may be a few tl;dr posts to go with them. 😉 Happy running! x

Can We Dig It? Yes, We Can!

I’d like to start this blog post by sharing something with you that I completely forgot to mention last time. It’s about one little moment in time, one tiny event – something fairly insignificant in itself but because of circumstances and timing, it became a little bit magical.

As I completed the cool down walk of my last run of the C25K programme, I walked past a lilac tree growing in amongst some elderflower bushes. At the time I was feeling very happy to have completed the programme – I remembered those first few weeks of feeling as though my lungs were on fire as I forced myself to run for a minute non-stop. I felt pride at how far I’d come and at not giving up. Just at that moment, a breeze shook through the lilac tree and the elderflower bushes and sent a cloud of beautifully fragrant and delicate petals up into the air, which then descended on me. Getting covered in those petals felt like my own little victory parade on my route back home – a route that started out with cherry blossom trees in bloom and ended with lilacs. It was just a moment in time and a coincidence of course but it helped me to realise that every milestone of a journey should be celebrated, whether it’s by patting yourself on the back and saying “look how far you’ve come already” or reading too much into a swirl of petals.

Now it’s time to look forward again, and to plan the next stage of my journey as a runner. I’m lucky in that I have friends who are thoughtful and encouraging of my progress, and they’ve given me tips on how to start training for marathons and what to do next. Running a marathon feels like a big ask right now though, and the thought alone is a little overwhelming! At the same time though, it feels like the right goal for me (if that makes sense). It feels like something I do want to work towards and aim for. But! Knowing how my brain works, I don’t want to set myself up for failure by giving myself an immediate task that’s too big for me at the present time. I think the key is to approach this in smaller and more manageable chunks. This is where planning and looking for useful tools comes in!

Since I’ve been running, I’ve found myself finding tools that really help me. In the past, I’ve tended to just throw myself into things and exhaust myself trying to make it work. I’ve never really looked at planning out my progress and identifying what I can do to help me along. For example, I used to play roller derby. I used to love it with every fibre of my being – it can be a tough and relentless sport but it was also so much fun. Sadly, for every bit of joy it brought me, it also brought me misery. There were times when it sucked every bit of confidence I ever had out of me, and made me feel so worthless and inadequate. I quite often felt like a complete and utter failure. The physical demands of the sport were difficult enough to deal with, but then there was also the ‘team sport’ element to it and all the social politics that go along with that. For an introverted and socially awkward individual like me, that was incredibly difficult to deal with and ultimately became an insurmountable barrier. It became too much for me and I abandoned a sport I had once loved and dedicated so much of my time to. Roller derby will always be something of a dichotomy for me – I managed to be physically fitter and stronger than I’d been in a long time thanks to training and playing but my confidence levels and emotional well-being were hugely depleted; I met some lovely people along the way who have remained trusted friends even now but I also experienced the worst kinds of behaviour from others (bullying, harassment, discrimination, and just general bitchiness). After walking away from roller derby, I knew I still wanted to do something physical, something challenging, something to help me regain my fitness levels but not at the cost of my emotional and psychological health. Below is me, one of the few times that I actually got to play:

old derby

This is where running has saved me. I only have myself to rely on to a) get on and do it, b) measure my progress, and c) find ways to improve. It’s been a bit mind blowing! Instead of having a team mate or ‘coach’ tell me that I’m not good enough or I can’t do something or I’m too old or I’ll never get on a team, I only have myself saying “look how far you’ve come! You can actually do this! You’re getting better all the time! Let’s try something that will help you to improve even more!” This way of thinking probably comes naturally to a lot of people but for me it’s been a revelation. A very positive revelation! Now I have a list of objectives that don’t feel impossible and I have identified how I will work towards them, and what will help me long the way. So here is my plan!

  1. To consolidate what I’ve achieved so far by keeping at it! I’m now able to say to myself “I’m just popping out to do a 5k run, maybe even a bit more” and I just go out there and do it. I’ve spent the last week repeating the final run of the C25K programme just to cement that both physically and mentally. I can now accept that I am a 5k runner. Here I am in all my red sweaty realness having returned from my longest run to date (5.75k):

sweaty realness

2. The next logical step after completing C25K is obviously the 5k to 10k programme. The app for it is now firmly installed on my phone, and the C25K app has been removed. This is about looking forward and moving on to what I can achieve next. I’ve had a sneaky peak at my first run (which I’ll be doing tomorrow) and I’m looking forward to it: 20 minute run, three minute walk, 20 minute run. It sounds good and I never thought I would something like that about running, never mind running for 20 minutes non-stop TWICE!

3. Taking part in more structured runs and events. My Facebook running group has been an invaluable source of information and through it, I have discovered two things: virtual races and parkrun. Virtual races are running events that you can complete on your own and in your own time, usually combining a number of runs to meet a target if necessary. They will be themed, have different targets, raise money for charities, *and* you get a medal if you complete it! So far I have completed one – ‘Run 22 for Solidarity’. This race was a response to the tragic recent event in Manchester. All proceeds will be donated to charities assisting those affected. The run intended to show solidarity through runners joining together to walk/jog/run for 22 minutes as a mark of respect for the date of the tragic event and the number killed to date. I was especially pleased to be able to compete this run as my first. I have two more virtual runs to complete, the first I will start on tomorrow! It’s called the Bricktastic Virtual Challenge (the medal is Lego brick themed!) and the aim is to run as many km as possible from the 1st to the 30th June. I want to do this run because my kids will love the medal and also because it will provide me with a good benchmark. It’ll take place over my first month post C25K and will give me something to gauge future months against, so that again at some point in the future I’ll be telling myself “look how far you’ve come….” The other virtual race I’m signed up for is called Wonder Runner July Challenge, and again the aim is to complete as many km as possible throughout the month of July. The best bit about this race though is the Wonder Woman themed medal. It’s amazing!! Who wouldn’t want to earn some Wonder Woman bling for their medal collection?? I’m aiming to join a virtual race as often as I can throughout the year, preferably month long ones so that I can track my progress as I complete them.

The other tool I mentioned was parkrun – here in the UK, there are runs set up and managed by volunteers that take place in public parks all over the country (usually on a Saturday morning) and all are welcome to join. They are 5k in length and they can be walked, jogged, or run! I’m lucky in that there is one that takes place about 20 minutes drive from where I live, so I have registered to take part. It’s free and open to all and family friendly. Your times are logged via your own personal bar code and you receive official confirmation after each race, even receiving special alerts when you hit a PB. You’re also given your place result. Again, this will be something that will help me to measure my progress especially in terms of pace and time.

4. Additional training! Yep, I run three times a week but I also want to add other training/workouts to that in order to build on my strength and fitness levels. It’ll help those split paces improve! This follows on from a tip I read in a very excellent post from Cat H Bradley’s blog – she shares how strength training has really helped her and noticed just how much when she recently completed the Brooklyn half marathon. Her blog is fantastic overall and I recommend that you follow it: http://cathbradley.wordpress.com/

My favourite workout has to be HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the queen of HIIT is my eyes is Jillian Michaels. I have done a few of her workouts over the years and I love them. They are always challenging, demanding, and they make you work HARD! When I’ve tried other workouts, they’ve never seemed to push me as much as Jillian’s. So it was to be expected that I would turn to Jillian’s DVDs to find something new to complement my running. And here’s what I chose:

double jillian.jpg

Just look at those workouts! I think they will *all* make me feel like I’m dying! There’s certainly enough choice for ways to make me sweat….. I’ll be trying out a few of them to see which works best with running. So far Killer Abs has been a hit. It’ll help me to target an area that running doesn’t focus on exclusively, and core strength is good for many things in addition to having a smaller tummy. If you have a strong core, everything else builds up around it. Your overall fitness improves and you are less prone to injuries going forward. A strong core also means improved posture, and this is something that will help me – I envision great runners as having poise, confidence, strong strides, low shoulders, loose arms. This makes me think of the importance of a good posture and maintaining it while running, even when you’re feeling tired. Killer Abs is just 30 minutes long though, so I’m thinking of combining it with another 30 minutes workout on those days when I’m not running. I’m considering  Yoga Inferno, as one of those workouts is specifically for resistance training. So that’s what I’ll be starting out with. If it doesn’t work as well as I hope, at least I have lots of other options to try out!

So finally, what have I learned at this point?

  • Celebrate every milestone and achievement. You’ve worked for it, you’ve earned it, so give yourself that big pat on the back!
  • Set out a plan. Even if it’s only in your head. Give yourself something to work towards and think about how you’re going to achieve it.
  • Look for tools! And use them! Consider what you can do to complement your running and measure your progress regularly, whether it’s small weekly races or taking part in month long challenges, or taking on extra non-running training that will build your strength and fitness levels.
  • If you have a Big Overall Objective, map out a path to it that’s filled with smaller goals. For example, your big objective could be to run a marathon – plan your way to that target with lots of smaller goals. Parkruns or other 5k runs, virtual running events, 10k runs, half marathons. Anything that’s realistically achievable without being overwhelming. Smart targets! This will keep your overall objective in your sights and your progress towards it more constructive. And you’re way more likely to achieve your objective in the end!

Happy running! x

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.

pow legs.png

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.

5k finish double.png

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

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.

rainyrun.png

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:

3k badge.png

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:

wk6d2

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!”

week5day1

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