When the Anxious Athlete Takes Over

As it’s World Mental Health Day today, it seems like the best time for me to talk about my anxiety around running.

At least, it used to be just around running.

Earlier this year, I found that the sort of anxiety I used to have on start lines – you know, the fidgeting, wondering if I had time to make it to the toilet (AGAIN), generally being so tense I could have snapped, occasionally crying – had started to worm its way in to my every day life. I would go for a walk at lunch only to find that I would suddenly have to rush to the toilet (apologies to the person working in Paperchase who I literally ran away from as she tried to serve me). I started having panic attacks on the train which resulted in my holding up an entire 8-carriage to London. As someone who has to commute by train every day, the mere thought of simply getting to work would fill me with dread and I stopped wanting to leave the house.

I no longer felt like me.

I don’t really know what triggered this all. At the start of the year I had some stressful things going on and it’s possible that they just accumulated to breaking point, and I’ve always carried stress in my gut. But what I was certain of was that this situation couldn’t continue. I’m nothing if not proactive, so back in March I had some tests done at the doctors which all came back clear, and so reasoning that the problem was more mental than physical, I booked an appointment to see Dan Regan, who as well as being a fellow runner, is also a hypnotherapist. A friend had had a really positive experience with him and couldn’t recommend him enough, and his testimonial page was full of faces that I recognised from the sports scene in Ely. Thankfully Dan does free consultations so there was no massive upfront commitment, but as soon as we’d had that initial meeting I knew I wanted to work with him.

When it comes to picking a therapist of any kind, you have to be comfortable with them, and Dan and I got on immediately. Plus having shared knowledge of pre-race anxiety meant that he knew exactly where I was coming from. Over the course of 6 sessions he taught me coping mechanisms (some worked for me, some didn’t), gave me audio recordings to use at home and of course we had the hour long session to talk things through and do some hypnotherapy.

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Smiling when running!

And you know what? It really worked wonders for me. Don’t get me wrong, IBS is still a part of my life (I wasn’t expecting Dan to cure that!) and I still have situations that make me feel uncomfortable, but –  bar the odd wobble – the sheer panic I used to feel in that situation has gone. Instead I focus on my breathing, or tense the muscles in my legs or play word association games in my head. Even when it comes to races, even though I still get nervous (don’t we all, to some extent?), I don’t let it overwhelm me to the point of terror. If my stomach decides it’s not going to play ball I just accept it, and refuse to let myself despair over it. Instead, I focus on what I’m about to do and make sure I’m near those people who know what I’m dealing with and know how to help me through it.

And that’s where I need to say some thank yous. As well as to Dan, I need to thank my ever patient husband who went out of his way to try and minimise stressful situations for me, to Justin for being an epic sounding board on the way to races and to Pete who would try and distract me with games on the train and who was the one who purposefully blocked the train doors with my bike so that I wouldn’t get stuck and find myself going all the way to London.

Seriously Pete – who knew giraffes weighed that much?!

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I still consider my anxiety around my stomach issues to be a work in progress, but I have Dan’s audios to hand, an amazing support network around me and I’ve recently been enjoying pacing other people rather than putting myself under pressure to run super quickly. That’ll come back with time though. For now, it’s enough for me to be finishing a run with a massive smile on my face.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you can find a number of resources available here.

The Bedford Half Twilight 10k – My Review

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I absolutely hate 10k as a distance. I find them so difficult to pace, often blowing up at around 6 or 7k, and as such I’ve avoided them like the plague in the last couple of years. But then I decided that this was the year to (occasionally) go out of my comfort zone, so I’ve so far done the Ely Runners 10k handicap race, and the Marcus Gynn 10k (which was surprisingly held on the surface of the sun). And then this weekend it was the turn of the Bedford Half Marathon Weekend‘s Twilight 10k.

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I’ll be honest – it was the photo of the medal that first convinced me to sign up for this race. It was obnoxiously huge and shiny, which appealed massively to my inner magpie. I keep all of my medals and am always pretty disappointed whenever I do a race and find my goodie bag only has a couple of flyers and a revolting gel in it. Plus one of my favourite running buddies was going along, and we decided (ok, I basically told him) that we would run it together.

When Chris, Sarah, Justin and I arrived at the running village after a bit of a schlep from the car (parking was a good mile and a half away but I didn’t mind this too much) the atmosphere was just brilliant. They had a massive welcome sign (perfect for a group photo!) a big stage with a DJ, lots of food stalls and a variety of pop up stalls including Up & Running and a local sports physio company offering massages (so I was a tad disappointed not to have any cash on me)! On Running were also there, and I visited them after I had finished the race only to find that I could have borrowed a pair of their Cloudflyers (which I’ve had my eye on for some time) to run the race in. I did do a little sprint in them (and they felt AMAZING) but it would have been great to trial an entire 10k in them, especially as they’re quite an investment pair of trainers. The event also had lots of hay bales dotted around for people to sit on, and most happily of all there were LOADS of toilets which made this nervous runner feel a bit calmer.

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Me, Justin, Sarah, Chris, Shaun and Emma – thanks to Chris and Sarah for the lift!

The start of the race was probably the only negative part of the whole thing (other than Emma and I not being able to locate halloumi fries). They had split the (potentially 3000 runners, but only 1846 completed the race) into 5 waves, and Justin and I were in Wave 1 which was due to start at 5:30. So we got there at around 5:25 only to find they had already sent Wave 1 to the start. Cue a mad dash with little or no direction to find our way to the start which ended up being where we had just come from! I think in future they should just start Wave 1 at the actual start and have the other 4 waves in the holding area. But still, at this point I got to meet the awesome Laura Brine who I’ve been following on Twitter for some time (but only realised it was her when searching for the race hashtag on Instagram on the way home!) as we all pegged it to the start.

The start of the race was a little congested, and at first I thought maybe the organisers had got their wave splits completely wrong. But as it turned out, they had it pretty spot on. The largest group was those who had put their finish time as 1:00 – 1:09 (553 finishers), and our group (sub 54 minutes) had 379 people finish in that time. Of course I can’t tell how many people may have started in the first wave but finished slower than they had expected, but overall the splits seemed fairly sensible. You just have to be like Justin and be willing to scuttle past people and overtake them when the opportunity presents itself, and after the first kilometre or so this becomes easier.

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Chris, Kojak/Justin and I

The course was gorgeous – there was woodland, lakes, bridges, the riverside – there was so much to look at which I found brilliantly distracting. Plus the course offered a variety of surfaces and the odd little incline which stopped my legs from getting too “bored”. The marshals were also brilliant, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. They also had a great goody bag – the medal of epicness, a technical t-shirt that doesn’t completely swamp me and snacks like bananas and biscuits. All of this for a race entry fee of around £25 for both the 10k and the half marathon which takes place on the Sunday.

I honestly don’t think I could recommend this race enough. I enjoyed it so much that I had already signed up for next year less than 24 hours later. I’m even contemplating making like Laura and signing up for both the 10k and the half in 2019, but I’ll see how my foot holds up to the St Neots half marathon later this year. So what are you waiting for? Get signed up for 2019 here – you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That Time I did 5 Races in 16 Days

I love racing. I’m always SO chill on a start line, taking selfies, having a laugh and generally putting everyone around me at ease. I’m an utter delight to be around.

Are you laughing yet?

I am the absolute worst when it comes to races. I panic, I whinge and I infect everyone around me with a general air of dread. You know – the kind of feeling you get on a long haul flight and the person with questionable hygiene who you spotted eating cheese and onion crisps in the check-in queue heads down the aisle towards the empty seat next to you.

But for some unfathomable reason, I managed to find myself looking at my race calendar and working out that I had managed to somehow schedule 5 races across 16 days. During a heatwave. My days looked like this:

  • 28th June: Girton 5k
  • 1st July: Marcus Gynn 10k
  • 5th July: Ely Runners Mile Handicap
  • 12th July: Kevin Henry 5k League Race
  • 13th July: Wibbly Wobbly Log Jog

You know what it’s like. You see a race in February and you’re like, “ooh, that sounds fun!” So you check you’re free, and if you are you sign up and pop it in your diary. And if you’re an idiot like me, it doesn’t even occur to you to check if there are any races already in your diary, say, the day before…

But anywho, I was signed up and despite the heatwave that made me feel like my brain was expanding out of my ears, (see my thoughts on summer running here) I committed to each and every one of these blinking races. Here’s how I got on.

GIRTON 5k

It was the Girton 5k that first introduced me to Ely Runners so it will always hold a special place in my heart. However, it was really toasty the first time I ran it in 2015 and 3 years later it was no different. I also didn’t learn from my previous experience and forgot to plonk myself at the front of the group, which meant that not only did I get tangled up in runners, I also got tangled up in the race markings when a larger chap in front of me swerved at the last minute and I ended up having a disagreement with a pole and some tape. Elegant. Throw in some narrow paths and runners who stopped dead mid-race due to the heat meant it wasn’t a speedy race, but it is an immensely fun one. I came in at 21:30 and was second in my age category so I was pretty pleased with that one. I’d recommend the Girton 5k to anyone looking for a fun, sociable 5k with some difficulty to it.

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MARCUS GYNN 10k

Now the Marcus Gynn 10k is an important race because it is named in memory of the wonderful Newmarket Jogger Marcus, who sadly passed away on the 11th February 2016. Marcus was a school friend of my husband’s and the original running blogger in my life, so I was damned if 30 degree heat was going to stop me from running for him. Had it been any other race I would have bailed without a second’s thought as I know how badly the heat affects me, but not this one. And it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I stopped at both water stations to properly take on fluid and found myself having to drop to a walk on the final hill but I still crossed the line as 7th woman in a decent time for me of 45:43, maybe 2 minutes over what I could manage on that course if it wasn’t being scorched by Satan himself. Most importantly of all I got to meet Marcus’ beautiful nephew, who was one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. This race is a seriously special one, and body willing I will do it every year.

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ELY RUNNERS MILE HANDICAP

Nothing instills fear in the Ely Runners gang like the mile handicap race. We’re all long(er) distance runners and rarely train for speed over such short distances. Pre-race we all cluster together beneath the trees on Amherst Field next to Ely Train Station like a bunch of meerkats under threat, wondering how we’ve managed to make such bad choices in our lives. I was especially irate when I realised I had been given the same handicap (6 minutes dead) as a fellow ER who had been a good 70 seconds faster than me at our 10k handicap back in June. Also, I found myself in the “fast” group for the first time (anyone with a handicap of 6 minutes or less) and this meant that I would be at the back of the group, watching everyone run away from me. As it turns out, I prefer this to being chased. If I know that statistically I should be at the back of the group then I won’t panic. If I know that statistically I should be at the front of the group and I falter, that’s guaranteed to make my mental strength wobble. I ended up managing 6:04, so although I missed my handicap, it was 1 second faster than last year. I’ll take it!

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KEVIN HENRY 5K LEAGUE RACE

Despite the nerves they produce, the Kevin Henry league races are my favourites. I’m much happier running in the evening than the morning, and the support from my teammates at these runs is incredible. Everyone is so pleased when you show up, as EVERY runner wins a point for their club, just by being there. It really is a race for everyone. I had planned to pace one of our juniors during this run, but 5 minutes before the start I found out she was ill and I found myself having to run my own race, which I really wasn’t prepared for. However, something magical happened that evening and I managed to beat my 2 year old 5k PB by one second, coming in in 20:18 (20:16 if Strava is to be believed)! It was just one of those runs where everything came together – the course is flat, the weather was good and I managed to settle in to my pace. Don’t get me wrong – it flipping HURT – but after thinking that 20:19 was the best I was ever going to achieve, there were some tears when my time was finally confirmed. Now I have decided that I’m going to try and push for a sub-20. I know it may not happen, and if it does it won’t be easy, but this run has set a fire in my belly and made me want to see if what I thought was impossible could in fact be a reality.

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WIBBLY WOBBLY LOG JOG

I’m not ashamed to say that the name of this race is the reason I first signed up to it in 2016.  I mean, how could you not? The first year I did it I LOVED it. It was my first proper trail run and the novelty of it meant I was so busy taking it all in that speed was secondary. The second year I did it on EXHAUSTED legs and tried to run it hard. I hated it so much that I was swearing at squirrels and trees. So I was slightly reticent turning up to this year’s run the day after my 5k PB race. And to be honest, it really was hard, and I was so incredibly tired by the time we hit the last mile. But Pete and Rob, my fellow Ely Runners, dragged me to the finish, and I managed my fastest time there by 5 seconds in 38:49. It also produced one of my favourite ever Ely Runners group photos.

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All in all, I am so, so proud of what I achieved in these 16 days. A 5k and 1 mile PB, and course PBs both at Girton and the WWLJ. Plus I got to run for Marcus, which is something I hope to do every year. I’m not sure I would recommend squeezing in so many races in such a short space of time, but who wants to bet I sign up to all of these again next year? Just please, PLEASE let it be cooler in the summer of 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

How I’m Coping with the Heat – A Runner’s Guide

Spoiler alert – that was a proper click-baity title. Because I’m not coping with the heat. At all. I am one of those British people who moans constantly as soon as it gets above 20 degrees. I need to move to Shetland.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a winter girl through and through. As well as being a Christmas monkey (yes I will share Elf memes from around September until you mute me), I love the feeling of icy air in my lungs when I run, not this hideous soup-like substance I’m having to breathe through every time I step outside. I’m the girl who went out when it was so cold that her eyelashes froze together, and when she warmed up resembled Alice Cooper as her mascara ran down her face. Plus I am incredibly fair. My version of a tan is looking ever so slightly less blue in the summer. I am losing hours of my life to applying factor 50 every day, and am sweating from my knees for crying out loud. And don’t even get me started on just how terrifyingly red my face is capable of going.

HOWEVER. I am still managing to run and there are a few tiny things that I am doing that are making life that little bit more bearable. For me at least. Sorry for my husband/officemate/friends/fellow train users/everyone I come to contact with who is having to deal with the worst version of me right now.

FIND A WHINGE BUDDY

When you find a fellow hater of heat it is a glorious thing. Take for example my running buddy Serena (check out her awesome blog here). We spent a lovely time on Saturday morning discussing the futility vs necessity of showering in this weather (shower, get sweaty dressing, repeat until the four horseman of the apocalypse turn up and ask if that thing they can smell is you) and how much we miss running in the cold. We knew we could offload on to each other without risk of a judgey eyeroll and someone saying “what do you mean? It’s lovely out there!”. Try telling that to the grass you lizard-human hybrid.

ARM  YOURSELF

Due to my dependence on our often lacklustre summers, I had (somewhat accidentally) found myself with 5 races in the calendar within 19 days during this heatwave (at time of writing I’m 3 down, 2 to go).  This has meant that I’ve had to arm myself mentally and physically for these challenges. Physically, my water intake has gone up, especially in advance of a race. I sweat A LOT in these conditions so I have to make sure I’m well hydrated. During my 10k last weekend I stopped at both water stations to properly drink and pour some water on my head. I’ve also dug out my O.R.S Electroylte Hydration Tablets, something I’ve only ever used during half marathon training before. In addition to this, I’ve been stocking up on Ronhill Visors from my local independent sports shop. These are super lightweight and have been an absolute game changer in this heat. If there are none left in Ely you know who to blame.

Mentally, I’m trying to make sure I back off slightly in races. This isn’t easy when you’re competitive, even less so when you’re racing against people with a much better tolerance of the high temperatures, but it’s an absolutely necessity. People have been collapsing on runs in this weather, and I don’t intend on being one of them. I’m finding that I’m coming in around 2 minutes over best race pace on a 10k, and around 40 odd seconds on a 5k. I can deal with that, mainly by reminding myself that this is excellent training for winter.

NAP LIKE A CHAMP

I’m usually a pretty sound sleeper. I can drop off quite easily, and generally if I wake up in the night I don’t tend to remember it. But in this weather I can find myself taking at least 30 minutes to drop off in my bedroom, which has been sitting at around the 26 degree mark since this heatwave hit. So I’m grabbing power naps when I can in an attempt to simply top up my energy levels which have really dipped over the last couple of weeks. I’m also a big fan of the Mama Mio Liquid Yoga Spray, which I use on my pillow to help me to try and relax.

ICE LOLLIES, CONSTANTLY

I’ve recently discovered Rowntree’s Watermelon Ice Lollies and the thing I never thought would happen has happened. They have knocked Twisters off their decades long spot as my favourite ice lolly. Get yourself down to your local supermarket and thank me later.

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A Fit Trip to Heppenheim

Ok, so let’s make this clear – I don’t go on holiday just to work out as much as I do at home. I feel like that would defeat the point somewhat. However, if there are chances to try out some new things as I visit my friends G & J and stuff my face with pretzels and Süsse Frühstück at Muse Chocolat (one of the FINEST breakfasts you will ever find), then obviously I’m going to try them out.

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Not the Süsse Frühstück, but the waffles from Muse Chocolat. Yes, we went there twice in three days. Don’t judge me.

For those of you who don’t know, Heppenheim is a small town near Heidelberg, which is a University city twinned with Cambridge. Heppenheim is also overlooked by Starkenburg Castle, which is a fun hike up the 295-metre-high Schlossberg Hill if you’re so inclined (we weren’t on this trip, but we’ve done it before and it’s a gorgeous walk). Heppenheim is also the birth town of Sebastian Vettel for the F1 fans among you.

My friends G & J moved to Heppenheim a couple of years ago, and they’ve been discovering the fitness opportunities it has to offer ever since. The newest addition to the town is the Venice Beach gym, which opened last year and is only a 5 minute walk from their house (the lucky blighters). This new gym is frankly gorgeous – it’s a huge open plan space with massive windows that offer views of the hilly landscape, a glass studio for classes off to one side, a women’s only gym space and the most opulent changing rooms you’ve ever seen. J and I did a total body workout class which included weight based exercises and an aerobic routine using a step. It was super easy to follow, and the instructor was the ideal balance of tough but pushing you with a smile on her face so you can’t really hate her.

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Yes, that’s a chandelier in the changing room.

At the other end of the age spectrum, something that has been going in Heppenheim for some time – since 1931 to be exact – is the glorious open air swimming pool. This is the sort of thing that I would kill for round here if only we had the weather to justify it. The set up has a 50-metre swimming pool, a non-swimmers’ pool with slide, teaching pool with a 25-metre slide and a paddling pool for children, and it opened for the first time for the season the weekend we visited. Admittedly getting in to the pool for the first time was like doing the ice bucket challenge all over again (hello 2014!) but once we were in it was just awesome. It’s made me want to think about trying some more outdoor swimming this summer, but whichever venue I make the effort to get to, it won’t quite be the same as a 6 or 7 minute drive around the corner.

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Not as warm as it might look…

Regular readers of this blog will know that for the last year I’ve been falling in love with bouldering, and G & J have not one but THREE bouldering centres within a half hour drive. Their favourite one is actually the closest, and that is Studio Bloc in Pfungstadt. This place is HUGE – around 3 or 4 times the size of Rainbow Rocket in Cambridge, and it is an absolute climber’s dream. This place is serious – it even has its own shop within the centre where you can get all of the climbing gear you need (including expert advice on your shoes) and all of the necessary accessories. We spent a happy 90 minutes here, and we still didn’t come anywhere near to trying all of the routes we were capable of. Sadly my hand gave out after one particularly ambitious reach tore a callus off my hand (TMI?) but I cannot wait to go back there next time I’m visiting.

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Well hai there…

We were only there for three days, and there were other things I would have liked to try including the Neckarau parkrun near Mannheim (a 30 minute drive away) and a visit to Heidelberg to take the 315 steps up to the Castle, something we’ve not done for a few years.

If you’re considering a trip to Germany I’d thoroughly recommend basing yourself in this area and visiting Heppenheim for the day. It’s well connected by train, has some great places to eat (we visited Back und Brauhaus in nearby Lorsch) and let’s face it – you’re not going to get bored! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to message G & J and see when they’re next up for some overly energetic visitors…

The Addictive Pain of Spinning

When I was about 22 years old, I don’t think anyone would have described me as fit. I was a member of my local LA Fitness, but that usually involved maybe 30 minutes on a cross trainer once a week and the occasional Body Pump class to the strains of Car Wash (the Christina Aguilera version. This was 2004 after all).

But then one day, my gym buddy suggested we try a spin class. I was young and optimistic back then, so I said “Sure! What’s the worst that could happen?” It looked like quite good fun with the disco style lighting and easy on the eye instructor, plus it was just cycling right? At this point in my life I was getting the park and ride bus to work and probably hadn’t been on a bike for a good 6 years but you know what they say about learning to ride a bike…

Oh how wrong I was.

About 3 minutes into the class I knew I was in trouble. The instructor was like some kind of hyperactive giant toddler with rage issues who liked to go up to individuals in the class and scream at them in a faux American accent to “PUSH! PUSH!” like the worst birthing partner ever. The music was insanely loud but maybe it was trying to drown out the sound of my sobs. At about the 10 minute mark I was desperately trying to find a way to sneak out of the class unnoticed, but I knew that my legs were not going to support any attempts to extract myself from the devil machinery. I was stuck with it. And I hated every last miserable second of it. When I finally stumbled from the bike, sore in parts of myself that I didn’t even know existed, I vowed to NEVER spin again.

This vow held firm for 13 years (yes I’m 35 – you may gasp if you’re so inclined) until I joined Elyte Fitness to find new ways to stay active during my very stubborn bout of tendonitis. My husband basically made me promise that I would do some form of cardio, as I think he was genuinely concerned that I might eat his soul if I didn’t do something to replace running. So I reluctantly turned up for one of Elyte’s incredibly popular spin classes, and again I hated every last miserable second of it.

I’m hooked.

Now let me explain. This isn’t a self-flagellation kind of deal. It’s just that an insanely tough spin session has the ability to give me the same high I get from a good run. Yes it hurts. Yes you’ll be sweatier than any human has any right to be. Yes you would throw your water bottle at the instructor whenever they tell you to add a gear on if only you had enough strength to lift the bloody thing. It hurts. A lot. But man alive has it kept me fit.

When I started running again I was genuinely concerned that my 5k times would have taken a huge battering. But somehow I’ve managed to come back just over the 21 minute mark, only ever so slightly slower than I’d been before. I’m gobsmacked.

Plus spin at Elyte is nothing like my experience from the early noughties. All of the instructors at Elyte (of which there are many, which means you get a lot of variety in teaching styles which keeps things interesting) are so very good at what they do. There’s no insane shouting that makes you feel like a fitness failure. Instead there’s encouragement to push yourself as you follow the Spivi interactive software they use in the studio. This adds a competitive edge as you cycle through simulations of snowy or sunny landscapes and try to edge out your classmates. It’s a welcome distraction from the pain in your legs. Plus if you’re really lucky, this will all be done to the soothing sounds of a Disney soundtrack…

Now I just have to deal with the fact that every time I go to a class my husband says “but I thought you hated spin?”

I do. It’s just that I love to hate it.

 

 

Mountains and Moire – A Review of Bump, Bike and Baby

BBB_Cover

Recently I was contacted on Twitter by Moire O’Sullivan, who asked me if I’d like a copy of her new book, Bump, Bike and Baby to review on my blog. The 300 page publication charts her journey from mountain race runner to mother of two and back again, and after a very quick Google of Moire I rushed to say yes. I’m an avid reader anyway and am always on the lookout for kick-ass women who inspire me to push myself just that little bit harder.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to go a bit fan-girly.

To give you a bit of info, Moire is a bonkers tough mountain runner and adventure racer. As she brought up her two VERY young children, she went and won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series. Three times. And that’s an adventure race series – not just a single race. I repeat – THREE TIMES.

Adventure racing isn’t something I’ve ever given much thought to. Being from the Fens mountains are few and far between. My legs nearly went into shock after doing the Parliament Hill Cross Country run. But Moire does events that involve cycling, running up a blinking great mountain and then back down again. Then cycling some more. Then a bit more running. Ooh and let’s throw in kayaking and then a swift 2k sprint to the finish. She’s usually moving for about four hours. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweaty, but this is Moire’s life blood, and her passion is more than just a little infectious.

DAR 2016_Bike Mass Start

Her character comes across so strongly in this book and never wavers. Moire is unapologetically stubborn, determined and competitive. She is upfront about the fact that she was never especially maternal, and the desire to have children had mainly come from her husband Pete. As a result, she is completely committed to staying at the top of her racing game during and after pregnancy, whilst learning to become a mother to two boisterous and demanding boys. The book covers living in Cambodia, cycling with a 6 month bump, running with mastitis, Pete regularly having to travel with his work and hospital stays. Throw in Moire’s strict adherence to her training schedule and it’s a recipe that on paper shouldn’t work. But it does, and the resulting family dynamic is all kinds of wonderful. Plus they have a cute dog. What’s not to love?

Quest Glendalough Podium 2016

This is going to be one of those books that I can see myself recommending whenever anyone asks me about my favourite running books. Moire is a natural storyteller, and this is going to appeal to athletes and new parents alike. In the book she talks about thinking of her fellow mountain racers digging deep when things get tough, and I can see myself thinking of Moire’s mental toughness next time I find myself flagging on a run. She makes me want to be a better athlete.

Bump, Bike and Baby can be bought from Amazon amongst others, and you can follow Moire’s blog here. Thanks to Moire and Sandstone Press for asking me to be part of the Bump, Bike and Baby Blog Tour!

_Bump Bike and Baby Blog Tour

 

The Glorious Pain of Parliament Hill

I don’t consider myself a cross-country runner. I’ve always been more at ease on the road, more sure-footed when I don’t have to worry about rabbit holes, grasping thorny hedges and routes mangled by tractor tyres (a sure fire way to get me turning the air blue on a run). Each time I’ve done the Ely Runners Christmas run I’ve stacked it with considerable flair, and have found the terrain really bloody tough.

So why, dear reader, did I agree to sign up to run the National Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill? Because I am a blithering idiot who gets swept up in the enthusiasm of others. Plus the blighters got me at a weak point. At the start of the year I knew that the Cambridge Half Marathon was going to be a no go – getting back up to 13 miles was just too much pressure to put on me and my foot. But a 5 mile trot around Hampstead Heath? Well that sounded just peachy.

I knew I was in trouble when I told my sister that I had signed up to the race and she laughed. When I told my coach he looked genuinely concerned. Naturally neither of these reactions filled me with confidence. And then in the days leading up to the run I stupidly clicked on links people were sending me of videos of the race, which basically showed a never-ending swell of runners taking what seemed like FOREVER to power up the boggiest incline you ever laid eyes on. In the end, I forced myself to buy my train ticket to London 5 days in advance as I knew I’d be far less likely to bail if I’d already spent £20 to get there.

This video will give you some idea of the scrum you get at the start of the race

After a rather convoluted train journey to London on Saturday 24th February (thanks to engineering works on the line that added nearly half an hour to our journey) we ended up reaching the event a little later than we had planned. Add to this the hunt for the registration tent, the need to change into trail shoes (don’t even get me started on the runners who asked me if I had spikes – of course I flipping didn’t. I couldn’t have been more clueless about this race), and the queues for the toilets, and Celine, Beth and I found ourselves with 3 minutes to get to the start, whilst frantically trying to pin our numbers on. Huge thanks to the fellow runners who helped us as we fumbled with our safety pins whilst simultaneously telling us over and over that we were going to miss the start. Talk about giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Whilst Beth powered to the start (the girl is an epic cross country machine), Celine and I made it with seconds to spare, and I was still tucking my shoelaces in as the klaxon went. I had been advised by various sources to wrap duck tape around my shoes, but there was no way I would have had time for that. As it happens people are split on whether taping shoes is a help or a hindrance, but I was extremely nervous that I was going to lose a trainer as we set off up the hill right at the back of the pack.

And so I started what was without doubt the most bonkers run of my life. That first hill NEVER seems to end, and being at the back makes things even worse as you try and dodge the crowds and their pointy elbows (more than 1100 runners took part in the senior women’s event). But that hill isn’t even the worst bit, because then you enter the boggiest pits you’ve ever seen, interspersed with a gajillion inclines of varying degrees. By the end of the race my Garmin had clocked more than 60 flights of stairs. It’s a full blown mudbath and apparently it wasn’t even all that bad this year. The course is so unutterably bonkers that you just have to go with it and pray that your trainers don’t get sucked into the real life bog of eternal stench*.

At around mile 4 I really thought that I was going to keel over and earn myself a free mud facial. I told myself that I would never, EVER do this again and when I hit the final decline and saw the finish line in sight I seemed to summon all of my inner demons and powered to the finish.

And then the weirdest thing happened. After we had all completed the race Celine asked me if I would do it again. And I said yes without even skipping a beat. Despite how much my legs burned, and how exhausted I felt from the extra muddy weight on my feet and the effort of having to lift my knees higher than I normally would, I had actually seriously bloody enjoyed it. Part of it may have been the sheer joy of running again, and the fact that the weather couldn’t have been better (would I have been so chipper a week later running whilst being battered by the Beast from the East?), but I just loved the challenge. It felt like I had been part of something really special, and next time the run takes place in Parliament Hill I’ll be sure to tie my shoelaces a little tighter, get to the start in plenty of time and maybe wiggle a little closer to the front. Because the competitive arse in me is steaming that I got 40:03, just 4 seconds off getting a time starting with a 3.

And in case you’re wondering, no. I still haven’t cleaned my trainers.

* If you don’t get this reference, go and watch Labyrinth and educate yourself immediately.

Why I Love my Leggings

So in the last few days I’ve been seeing a lot of chat around an article from the NY Times written by the “does-she-or-doesn’t-she exist” Honor Jones. The title of this piece (of garbage) is “Why Yoga Pants are Bad for Women“.

Are we getting paper cuts from the price tags?

Are they releasing chemicals that we’re absorbing into our skin?

HAVE THEY BECOME SENTIENT?!

No – they’re bad for us, because we’re all wearing them to look sexy, and this is NOT OK AT THE GYM.

First of, what a load of utter, utter bobbins. While I can’t speak for everyone, I have never once put on leggings (I can’t quite get on board with calling them “yoga pants”) with the purpose being that I want to look alluring at the gym. Anyone who has seen me with sweat dripping from my face knows that really isn’t a primary concern of mine when I work out. I put them on because – for me – they are the most practical item for an exercise session. If I’m sweating on a spin bike or trying to do eagle pose or a standing split in yoga, of course sweat-wicking, flexible clothing is the way to go. If I wore sweatpants (which often seem to come in a shade of marl grey that show off sweat patches to their absolute best) I would be a sweaty mess within minutes, and I guarantee they would snag on the first bit of machinery I tried to clamber on to.

And as for her statement that she got funny looks when she got on the elliptical, if it even happened maybe it’s because she came in looking like a sour-faced harpy giving the stink eye to every woman wearing lycra. Oh and FYI – sweatpants fit OVER leggings. That’s why I wear mine on the bike ride to the gym to protect my ankles from the cold and remove them once I enter the sweatbox.

Most women at the gym are there to get fit. They’re not there to compete with other women, or to make them feel bad, or to treat it like a fashion show. I love wearing brightly patterned (and sometimes obnoxious) lycra because a splash of colour can make a tough workout just a little bit more fun. But I’m sure as HELL not going to judge other women on their sartorial choices at the gym. Unlike this blithering idiot who says “It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress” and then goes on to do just that. Every woman is capable of deciding which items of clothing she’s comfortable in when she’s working out, whether that’s sweat pants, tiny shorts, crop tops or anything else in between.

Was my Injury Actually a Good Thing?

Did I mention that I’ve been injured?

Megalolz. I’m only messing you with you. If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve been lucky enough to find yourself within earshot of me within the last four months you will have heard me banging on about my “posterior tibial tendonitis” (try saying that after a few drinks). This has been without doubt the most stubborn injury I’ve had in the last few years, and I’ve had some really low moments during the seemingly endless weeks of stretching, physio, osteopathy, acupuncture, yoga, foam rolling and self medicating with cake.

But now that I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe this happening was a good thing. Yes I may have missed some of my favourite races and my preferred running season (trust me to be fit and healthy in the summer when trying to run outdoors is akin to running in soup) but I’ve been forced to be more creative with my fitness and as a result have seen my perspective shift in some interesting ways.

First of all, there’s the bouldering. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve found a real affinity with clambering up walls (despite being sweaty of hand and afraid of heights – go figure). I’ve reconnected with friends over climbing, have seen my shoulders develop in a way that makes me want to flex like the hulk whenever I walk past a mirror, have spent time with my niece and nephew at the climbing centre and have enjoyed the encouraging vibe between other climbers. It gives me an adrenaline hit but in a more controlled way than the adrenaline I feel on a start line of a race in a sometimes unfamiliar environment. Having said all this though, being on the verge of tears, stuck at the top of a route with my feet on a hold that looked disturbingly like a large pair of testicles was not one of my finest moments. But the good of climbing massively outweighs the bad.

Look! I’m a GIF! Thanks Oli…

Secondly, when I was deciding how on earth to find something that would get my heart rate up as much as running and Zumba (another exercise form that seemed to be aggravating my injury), I decided to wander into Elyte Fitness and see if maybe they were the gym for me after feeling less than inspired by the other local facilities on offer. Within 10 minutes I was sold on the sheer passion of the owners Lewis and Dawn and I signed up on the spot. I’m so glad I made this decision, as they are full of ideas and plans for the gym, and they’ve built an amazing fitness community. Every time I go there I feel like I’m with old friends and I’ll be writing a separate post on my Elyte journey so far as there is so much I want to say about it.

Because I was finding myself feeling so down about the state of running, I also decided to fire up my Headspace app again.  I’ve flirted on and off with Headspace for some time, but never seemed to manage more than 5 days in a row. Even though they always say not to worry if you miss a day, I would always take that as a sign of failure (competitive, moi?) and end up walking away for another month or two. But I’m currently sitting at 21 days straight of at least 10 minutes of meditation a day, and I am feeling slightly calmer in a general kind of way. I’m not going to claim that I am in some kind of zen like chilled perfection of existence (no one would believe that), but I think the clearest sign that I’m more relaxed and able to see “the bigger picture”, is the fact that I decided to transfer my Cambridge Half place, and I felt completely ok about it. Even though missing races you love sucks, setting back a recovery that has taken 4 months for the sake of one medal is madness. I would have spent the next 6 weeks fretting about building up from 4 miles to 13 miles, constantly wondering if my tendon could take the strain and I would have become unpleasant to be around. So to me it just seemed like such an obvious thing to do.

Another positive to come out of all this is that I feel like I know my body better, and I have a new found respect for it. I’m still making time to stretch and foam roll, and I try and do a little yoga every day (I manage it about 80% of the time). And as a result of my injury I’ve been told by my physio and my osteo that my foot functionality and balance is the best they’ve ever seen (proof that putting the effort into your rehab works!). And really, I’m just so excited to be running again, and am looking forward to getting stronger and building up to my best again. I’ve done a parkrun and a track session and loved every minute as you can see my inane grinning face above. Feeling my lungs fill with that gorgeous icy air is the ultimate tonic to me, and I’m just so grateful to be out there again. It’s lovely to be back with my running family, and I’m going to take my time and build up my distance slowly, and maybe look to do an autumn half marathon. Then again – maybe not? Maybe I’ll just keep doing whatever I like whenever I like, with no pressure, and no expectations.