How I’m Staying Active in Lockdown

So I wasn’t originally planning on writing a post about how I’ve been trying to stay active (and sane!) during the Covid-19 lockdown, because let’s face it – every fitness blogger will be doing the same. But thanks to a stitch-up by (friend and radio host) Richard “Spanners” Ready, I’m compelled to share my fitness tricks and tips! Hopefully some of these will be useful to you or someone you know.

ONLINE CLASSES

There are frankly hundreds of available classes online at the moment, many of them for free, and others for a nominal fee to keep fitness instructors – who have found their income severely affected – financially afloat. To be honest, the amount of choice has been a little overwhelming at times (I’ll be on Instagram and suddenly get alert after alert of gyms and fitness influencers going live) but I’ve found a few that have really worked for me, especially in a small space.

@DanceFitnessWithLily – my friend Becky put me on to Lily, and I’m so grateful that she did! Lily is a professional dancer and choreographer based in London and she has the most infectious energy. She is offering 5 classes a week using Instagram Live, and she saves them to her story afterwards so you’ve got 24 hours to give them a go. They usually last 30-40 minutes, and they’re easy to do in a small space. Lily clearly loves what she does, and when she talks along to the songs with perfection pronunciation you can’t help but smile. An absolute tonic during these tough times. You can also follow Lily’s main account at @lilymaemcgregor.

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Runderwear – Underwear company Runderwear are doing a #60DayChallenge at 10am every day, which you can either do live with them on Facebook or do at your leisure by watching the video back. It’s usually no more than a 15 minute workout, based around bodyweight exercises such as lunges, squats etc. You can sign up to get a daily email reminder and a breakdown of the exercises here.

Magda Dawczak – Magda is an Ely resident and friend of mine who I met when she taught me Zumba. She usually teaches classes at the Hive in Ely, but that has obviously temporarily closed. Despite not having her regular income, Magda has decided to ask anyone who would like to attend her online Zoom* classes to donate money to the NHS using the 70085 number. Magda is one of the strongest women I know, but don’t be scared – her classes are based around cardio, core work and Zumba, which are accessible to everyone. You can find her on Instagram as @happy_fit_uk.

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Jo Hopkins – Jo is another local instructor who I know from the classes she teaches for Sweaty Betty Cambridge. She is an absolute human whirlwind, and not even a pandemic can change that. Jo is running – get this – 4 or 5 classes A DAY, including stretch and mobility classes, daily 30-minute lunchtime family exercise sessions and Saturday night dance parties! You can get involved for £5 a class (paid via bank transfer) or for £15 a week you can do as many classes as you like! Jo is also using Zoom for this, and you can find her on Instagram at @johopkins.moveit. She also has an incredible plant-based food company, so you can follow that at @josvivakitchen for foodie inspo!

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Helena Everdell – Helena is one of my yoga instructors and owner of one of the most soothing voices known to humankind. She’s sharing great little 5 minute videos on Instagram focusing on different body parts such as neck and shoulders, abs and a full body burner, so you can slot these into your WFH days whilst the kettle is boiling. Plus if you’re lucky, her dog Pablo makes a cameo, and we all know that cute dogs make everything better. You can follow her at @helena.everdell.

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Elyte Fitness – it’s not too late to join a gym! My amazing gym, Elyte, has moved to online classes for all of its members, so for me it’s just brilliant to be able to check in with all of my workout buddies and still get my sweat on with them. Elyte even offered for members to borrow equipment so that they could use them in their own homes, including the spin bikes. This goes above and beyond, and reminds me why I’m a member at the best gym round here.

LEARN A NEW SKILL

Ever wanted to be able to do a headstand? Learn to hula hoop? Do the splits? Try couch to 5k? Do a press up? This is your chance. Don’t waste it.

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MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR ALLOTTED OUTDOOR TIME

Whether it’s walking the dog, getting out for a run or jumping on the bike, please make the most of your chance to get outdoors while all of this is going on. We all know how much good vitamin D and fresh air does for us all, and although it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that’s happening, changing your scenery (in a socially distant way of course) will make such a huge difference to your day.

TRY MY WORKOUTS!

If this isn’t enough for you, I even wrote a couple of challenges for my running buddies that you can try at home! Fancy giving either of these a go?

1000 Rep Challenge

You can do this either as it’s written, or by breaking it down into 5 rounds:

50 x mountain climbers
50 x press ups
50 x burpees
50 x jump lunge (per leg)
50 x sit ups
50 x tuck jumps
50 x plank up downs
50 x plyo star jumps (hands to the floor)
50 x squat jumps
500 x skips (or high knees if you don’t have a rope

7 Minute EMOM

And EMOM means you start each exercise every minute on the minute. When you’ve finished the exercise, you can rest for the remainder of the minute. Repeat 4 times (28 minutes total).

10 burpees
40 flutter kicks
20 squat jumps
20 leg raises
10 surfer burpees
40 russian twists
20 squat thrusts

Let me know if you try either of these, and if you’ve discovered any other online gems I’d love to hear about them!

*Zoom is a video conferencing programme that has become INVALUABLE during this time. You can get the app and sign up for an account for free, and then people like Magda and Jo send out the link to the meeting (class) to attendees who have signed up and you’re good to go! Just remember that if you turn your camera on all of the attendees can see you, so think twice before doing a class in your underwear.

That time I represented my county

So, a few hours after representing Cambridgeshire for the first time at the Inter Regionals Cross Country event in Loughborough, I think my disappointment at my performance has finally settled enough for me to get my thoughts written down.

Holy mother forking shirtballs that was hard.

I knew stepping up to this level was going to be tough. I knew I would probably be near the back. I knew the terrain would be unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I knew, I knew, I knew. And yet I didn’t.

After a little over a 2-hour drive with my clubmate (and constant source of inspiration) Gemma, who would be running in the under 17s girls’ race, and her mum Sue, also an Ely Runner who is one of the most committed representatives (and cheerleaders!) for the club I know, we turned up about 90 minutes before my race and located the Cambridgeshire flag so that we could get our numbers. This was when the first disappointment struck – 2 of the women weren’t coming, which meant we didn’t have have enough senior women running to field a scoring team. We needed 6, but we only had 4. In some ways it felt like the pressure was off, but in another, I was so disappointed not to be able to score for my county. I had said to Gemma in the car that the worst thing that could happen was if someone bailed, as I was then travelling 80-odd miles each way, to do a race that was so far out of my comfort zone that it was practically a dot on the horizon, and for it not to make a difference.

But after chatting with my teammates Kayleigh, Elisabeth and Sarah, we all agreed that we could at least enjoy it and treat it as a training run. And I genuinely planned to do the former. Honestly. I really, truly wanted to.

But I hated nearly every second of it.

The course was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Half the course was deep, boggy mud that gripped onto my ankles like a drowning man grabbing at a buoy, sucking at my shoes and succeeding in taking one off a couple of miles from the end (I wasn’t the only victim of this judging by the abandoned spikes littering the course), losing me valuable time as I battled to shove it back on. The gaps we had between the boggiest sections offered little in the way of respite, and knowing that I had to do two laps meant that I wanted to quit time and time again, certain I couldn’t possibly make my legs fight through that mire again.  And I barely could. I lost count of the number of times I had to stop to walk up the inclines, the fight to keep tears back as I felt like I was letting myself and the county down by losing the mental battle cross country represents.

The worst part was when my watch buzzed the 6 mile mark and I realised that the run was going to be significantly more than the 10km it was meant to be. This is when the need for the RunEqual campaign really hit home. It’s hard enough to qualify at 5.8km for a 10km race but for a 11.25km race? That’s nearly double. At least if we had qualified at 10km that extra 1.25km may not have been so daunting (although how British Athletics over-measured by that much I’ll never know). Come on Cambridgeshire – how can you expect to field a strong senior women team if the discrepancy between what we’re doing at a local level and the county level is so huge? THIS is why we need to be equalising our distances.

I did at least manage to finish strong, but that’s what desperation to end a nightmare will do to you. After a successful Frostbite XC at Huntingdon last week I had honestly thought I might be able to do something special, but instead I crossed the line in 56:41, 205th runner out of a field of 254, managing an average pace of around 8.07 per mile. I was devastated.

BUT – this isn’t all doom and gloom. It takes a chat with your best friends/sister/partner to give things a bit of context. Firstly – I’ve never run 10km (or 11.25km!) of cross country before. I’m a 5km road runner through and through. Also, I was only 4 minutes behind Kayleigh and 2 minutes behind Sarah, both senior women while I’m (ahem) a veteran. And I didn’t quit. Despite EVERYTHING in my body telling me to, I made it to the finish. Not everyone did. I think the thing I’m most gutted about is the fact I had to stop and walk numerous times. I lost the mental battle, and I need to work out what I can do to stop that from happening again.

I may never compete for Cambridgeshire again. Let’s face it – the older I get the less likely I am to be considered. So I’m disappointed that possibly the one time I don that blue vest the result is not what I wanted or what I believe I’m capable of. But at least I was there, and at least I have that vest and a story to tell. And perhaps more importantly, a few lessons learned.

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Hormones and the Female Athlete

Ok, so I’m going to start off by stating that I’m no medical expert when it comes to the science behind hormones and the effect they can have on female athletes. But I have recently taken a seriously personal interest in this and have been researching the subject quite extensively as I feel like it really needs a continued discussion. If you’re not comfortable reading around the subjects of periods (although this is more about female hormones than that) then feel free to give this blog post a swerve. Or maybe read one of my other ones? They’re pretty awesome.

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To give you a bit of background to me and my reason for taking an interest in this subject, hormones and I don’t get on very well. My body generally overreacts to them (what a diva, right?) and around the age of 15/16, when I first started my periods (yep, one heck of a late bloomer), my body decided to have a series of seizures. A moderate response I’m sure you’ll agree. Two such memorable examples of this include one when I landed face down on a carpet the day of my drama GCSE exam and had to go in with mild burns on my face (I still got an A), and another in the bath which involved my dad kicking the door down, and me being blue-lighted to Addenbrooke’s in my David Beckham nightie. Sweet.

Since then, it’s been a bit of a battle. Many years of being on different versions of the pill, dealing with crazy hot flushes, and not really having periods for about 10 years after I switched to a progestogen-only mini pill. But towards the end of 2018 I started getting incredibly frustrated that I never really knew what my body was going through month to month. I’d find some training sessions so unbelievably hard and couldn’t understand why I was so lacking in energy.  I had no way of checking just how hard I should be pushing myself week to week, and worst of all my overheating issue was getting out of control especially at night when I would be sweating so much that it was like having a fever. Every. Single. Night. I was exhausted and felt disgusting. So in January 2019 I moved away from hormones (hopefully) forever and had a non-hormonal coil fitted. But this meant that after never having run with a period, I needed to get my head around my body potentially feeling very different. Hence the recent desire to read around the subject.

Now I know, I know – what’s the big deal? People run with periods all the time. And that’s just it. It’s NOT a big deal, but we all know that until recently, people have failed to talk about it. There’s a reason why tennis player Heather Watson felt the need to call it a “girl thing” when she was suffering with hers during a match in 2015. There’s a reason why it made headline news when Eilish McColgan actually used the word “period” last May when discussing how starting hers was one part of a bad day on the track. And there’s a reason why people are losing their minds over the sight of a tampon string in the latest This Girl Can advert (god only knows what these people do when they see all the rope on the Captain Birdseye adverts. They must be irreparably damaged). People are still uncomfortable talking about the fact that women can have periods and do sport.

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We all know that girls drop out of sport in their droves at school. There are many reasons for this – prioritising study, peer pressure, fears of how they look while exercising – but periods, and the associated shame, play a huge part. Back in 2017, Betty for Schools carried out research on 2000 women, where 46% stated that they had used their periods as an excuse to skip PE classes, even when they felt well enough to take part. The top reason given for this (39%) was a fear of leaking, with 18% stating that they felt too tired or in too much pain to take part in exercise, suggesting that embarrassment rather than physical concerns were the major barrier to participation. Take a look at their eye-opening article here. And to be fair, I totally get it. It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this post as it felt like a really personal thing to share (it was a DAVID BECKHAM NIGHTIE for crying out loud) but if we don’t talk about periods young girls will continue to think of them as something to be ashamed of in the sporting arena. Plus I’ve realised at a lot of races there are only portaloos, and trying to change a pad or tampon or – god forbid – rinse a mooncup can be an exercise in flexibility and staying calm under pressure. Perhaps if we continue to talk about these things race organisers might take this into consideration somehow?

But there are other things to consider too. Research by Inger Jacobsen from the University of Lulea in 2006 suggested that women are more prone to injury at certain times in their cycle. It was not exactly clear why this might be the case, but an increase in relaxin (the hormone that helps relax the uterus in childbirth) around the time of menstruation has been cited as a cause, something that has been backed up by other studies. Published work has shown women perform worse on a skill called joint position sense – judging the position of a limb joint, such as the extent to which the knee is bent (flexed) or straight (extended) – around the time of their period. So we need to encourage our female athletes to feel like they can speak about their periods so that their coaches know not to push them during certain training sessions if they’re at a certain point in their cycle. To help me understand this on a personal level, I use the FitrWoman app, which tracks my cycle and lets me know when to push harder, when to prioritise recovery and how to optimise my performance in each phase of my cycle. I thoroughly recommend it.

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So for me, coming off the hormonal pill and letting my body find its natural rhythm again has been invaluable. Yes, sometimes it means there are more logistics to consider, and occasionally I’ve had to interrupt training to pop home and make adjustments, and sometimes training has just been an utter slog that leaves me wondering why I’ve bothered. But that’s not a new thing. It just means that now I understand why. I find this whole thing fascinating and will be continuing to read up on the subject. If you have any insights or suggested reads to share, please let me know!

Why we should all be Running Equal

Women being able to officially compete in longer distances is a surprisingly recent development. At the 1928 Olympics some women who competed in the 800m collapsed at the finish line (a not uncommon sight today), and the New York Times said that “even this distance makes too great a call on feminine strength”. It led to women not being allowed to compete at distances longer than 200m in the Olympics for the next 32 years.

Unbelievably, it then wasn’t until 1972 that women were allowed to “officially” run the Boston Marathon, after trailblazers like Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer were breaking the (ridiculous) rules by running without registering or entering using only their initials so that the male organisers wouldn’t realise they were female and start worrying about uteruses littering the course. The women’s marathon wasn’t introduced into the Olympics until 1984.

But it’s 2020, so this has all been consigned to the history books right? With people like Jasmin Paris winning the 268 mile Spine Race, there’s no way women would be running lesser distances than their male counterparts. We know our uteruses can cope (the plucky little blighters).

And on the whole, this is the case. Just not in the Cross-Country sphere. In XC, women are generally running shorter distances than men. Case in point at the recent Cambs AA XC Championships, where women run around 5.8km, and the men run 10km. This is even less than the National recommended standard of 8km for women (which is bad enough). But for those women who then get called up to run for the county at the Inter Regionals, they will find the distances equalised, and be expected to run 10km when they’ve qualified at only a little over half the required distance.

The IAAF have equalised the distances run in the World Cross-Country Championships, and Scottish Athletics have done the same for their national championships. So what gives for the English counties? My friend and clubmate Charlotte has been giving her all to the RunEqual movement for some time, including writing open letters to gather signatures from local clubs, and some of the reasons she’s been given by Cambs AA for not equalising the distances have been gobsmacking. They have tried to argue that the timetable won’t allow for the change (whilst ignoring the idea that everyone could perhaps be equalised to 8km – the time saved on the men’s race would allow for the extra time needed for the women’s) or that a longer distance race would mean fewer entries and would increase costs to participants.

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But what I saw in the lead up to the Cambs AA (where Charlotte was threatened with disqualification if she went through with her plan to peacefully run the men’s distance in protest with myself and some clubmates) and what happened at the County Championships race really showed how bad the attitudes of these associations can be. Charlotte had received confirmation ahead of the Championships that it had been agreed that from 2021, work would be done to ensure women are given the opportunity to run the same distance as men, should they wish. It felt like a huge step forward and we were looking forward to racing with this news in mind and our RunEqual ribbons pinned to our tops. But the attitude on the day did not give this impression at all.

It turned out that Cambs AA had done little to communicate to local running clubs that there was an intention to look at equalising the distances. So it was quite a surprise to the majority of the senior women who, as they lined up for the start of the race, heard one of the officials start telling them that at the end of the run, they would all be given a token to put in a pot to decide whether to keep running at 5.8km or step up to 10km. The tone of this announcement was very much along the lines of “you may be aware that the women’s race is going to be increased”, like it was a decision that had already been made thanks to a small number of “meddling women”. There was zero mention of equality.

Sad little voting pot

This goes massively against the RunEqual movement in so many ways. Firstly, it’s not necessarily about women running longer. It’s about either opening up both distances to both genders or choosing an equal distance. Maybe men run a little less. Maybe women run a little more. Maybe women run quite a bit more. On a fundamental level an open conversation needs to be had to see which option is the best for all concerned. Secondly, if there is going to be a vote, it should be opened up to all athletes, not just women. And thirdly, if you ask a bunch of women who have just given their everything on a tough, muddy XC race if they would like to run further, of course a lot of them in that moment will say no – they’re knackered and very few people would relish the idea of running further the second they’ve just busted a gut sprinting for a finish line.

And the icing on this misogynistic cake? The moment when the official, speaking about increasing the women’s race to 10km, uttered the immortal words:

“But you don’t want to do that, do you ladies?”

FFS.

What does this sort of attitude tell our young female athletes? It’s bad enough that the senior male race is ALWAYS before the women’s race and treated as the main event. And it’s bad enough that the officials on the day forgot to give out or even announce the winners for the 2nd and 3rd place veteran women’s teams, and again treated me like a “meddling woman” when I asked about it. Both Norfolk and Suffolk counties have managed to equalise their distances, so we know it can be done. But sadly, many of the Athletics Associations are boys’ clubs, run by people who are set in their ways and have never been made to feel lesser because of their gender.

And it goes beyond counties too. The attitudes of the English Cross Country Association representatives on Facebook are fist-gnawingly bad on this matter. Speaking of the recent Home Countries International in Stirling they snarkily said that “the Senior Men ran a little shorter than most are used to, running 8K as the Senior Women also did” rather than perhaps just stating that the seniors ran the same distance. They then began to attack anyone who spoke of the RunEqual movement, with one choice comment saying “we would prefer that you did not use our posts to further your cause, which generally is a minority view, judging by all the research that has been undertaken.” All the research? Please, let’s see it. Because until 2 weeks ago I certainly hadn’t been asked my opinion on the matter, and the only reason my opinion was asked on the day is because Charlotte pushed for it. If this is the attitude coming from the national association, can we really expect things to change on a county level?

I’m not sure how things will look at the 2021 Cambs AA XC Championships, but I will continue to support Charlotte in everything she does to make change happen. She has already offered to lead a working group on the matter to no avail. And if that change doesn’t come, perhaps we’ll both be running the men’s distance in 2021 anyway, proudly wearing our RunEqual ribbons. It’s not quite on the same scale as Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, but this is our Boston marathon.

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Sprinting to put my token in the 10k pot

A Decade of Running

First of all, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but sometimes real life has to take priority so GirlRunningLate had to take a back seat while I dealt with what life decided to throw at me.

In the last couple of weeks lots of folk have been looking not only to a new year, but also a new decade. And of course with this comes the question – what have you done in the last ten years?

So I had a think and the first thing that I came up with was, I got married. Then I quickly realised that nope, that was the PREVIOUS decade, and I am quickly becoming ancient and I had a minor existential panic that I had achieved exactly sod all in the last ten years. But thankfully I soon realised that I kickstarted something brilliant in 2010.

I became a runner.

Now I know to some people that might not seem like much. So what? I pulled on some trainers and realised I could move my legs a little faster than a walk like hundreds of thousands of other people probably did in the same decade. But it has caused so many changes in my life. I’m going to try and break them down by year but let’s be honest – my memory isn’t what it used to be so you’ll have to excuse any gaps in the narrative…!

2010 – my first ever run outdoors

I started running on an absolute whim back in 2010 – a hotel gym, a treadmill, an awesome charity looking for runners for the 2011 Bath Half Marathon and my habit of signing up to things with little thought all combined to my becoming a runner nearly 10 years ago. You can read about my running beginnings in more detail here.

2011 – my first official event

11 months after I first started running I ran the Bath Half marathon for CoppaFeel! with my friend Hannah. Fearne Cotton was there, as were many, many boobs, and I remember it being so cold that I feared my legs would never get going. But I did, and I exceeded all of my expectations by finishing in 1:53:26. The feeling of crossing that finish line was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I was HOOKED. I used to think runners were bonkers, but I had truly embraced the madness.

Fearne Cotton, boobs, finish line elation.

2012 – my first ever parkrun

I ran my first ever parkrun on the 7th January 2012 at Milton Country Park. I came 115th overall and was 11th female in a time of 24:20. But then for some reason – and I don’t really know why – I didn’t do another parkrun for 3 years. Oh those wasted events. I could have had a green t-shirt by now. 2012 Lauren, ya big eejit.

2013 – began working in Sport and became a LiRF

In 2013, I finally left a job I hated to start work as a Sports Marketing Coordinator at the University of Cambridge, and I have no doubt that this role, and my boss Karen Pearce, really ignited my love of sport. It was Karen who encouraged me to do the England Athletics LiRF (Leader in Run Fitness) course so that I could help runners who joined the Sports Centre. I started trying new classes such as Metabolic Conditioning and Circuits, was lucky enough to have colleagues with a wealth of fitness expertise and I started to realise that feeling strong was seriously awesome. I think this simply continued to build in 2014, as nothing else of note happened that year (that I can remember…)

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Me outside CamUniSport. Such fun times. I still miss my officemates!

2015 – joined Ely Runners and started GirlRunningLate (busy year!)

I can’t quite believe this blog is nearly 5 years old, but I started it in April 2015. And it was the second best thing I did in 2015. The first was joining Ely Runners.

My friend Pete (regularly featured in this blog) had joined Ely Runners a couple of years earlier, and had benefitted so much from doing so. In separate conversations, he and Laura Hill (another ER) convinced me to try it out, and the rest is history. So much of my joyful running memories are thanks to ER and my clubmates, and I would be utterly lost without it/them. It’s hard to imagine that without ER I wouldn’t know people like Justin and his amazing frittata skills and constant supply of Double Deckers/Toffee Crisps*.

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2016 – Injuries, anxiety and self-belief

2016 was a tricky year. I had to drop out of the Cambridge Half Marathon, was injured on and off throughout the 12 months, and was finding the mental side of competition really tough to handle. But it had its highs too – I won first place in the Waterbeach Running Festival 10k, did the Wings for Life World Run in SCORCHING heat and loved it, and pushed myself way outside of my comfort zone. I think this was the year I really started to see myself as an athlete.

2017 – Cambridge Half Marathon sponsored athlete and a new PB

At the end of 2016 I found that I had won a prize to be the Saucony sponsored athlete for the Cambridge Half Marathon. I remember being SO scared about getting injured or my nerves getting to me so much that I would bail on the run and let everyone down, but working with physiotherapist Lauren at Progress as part of my prize was one of the BEST things that ever happened to me. As well as working on my strength and running technique she was just so no-nonsense about all the ridiculous thoughts that crowded my mind. She just told me to remember why I was doing this – because I love running. I ended up smashing that half marathon in a time of 135:37, 106th woman out of a field of 3163, and experiencing a moment that I will NEVER forget.

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2018 – peak parkrun obsession

Although I dipped in and out of parkrun between 2015 and 2017 (13 runs in total over the three years!) I became fully committed to the cause in 2018 when Littleport parkrun launched. Even though I always really enjoyed parkrun, driving for at least 30 minutes to run for around 22 minutes, and then driving another 30 minutes home just seemed like SUCH a waste of time. But being able to drive just 10 minutes down the road (or even cycling/running there!) meant that I became a fully fledged devotee, roped in my dad to volunteering duties and became a Run Director myself. I flipping love it.

2019 – CiRF and the elusive sub-20 5k

Ever since I joined Ely Runners I nursed a dream of the sub-20 5k. I had managed some low 20 minute ones – 20:19 and 20:18 – but they had nearly broken me and it just seemed like too much time to shave off. But at the Waterbeach Running Festival I didn’t so much as shave the seconds off as hacked off a chunk of them. I managed to run a 5k in 19:48. I just re-read my blog post about it and could feel the tears starting again. I am just so, so proud of myself.

I also completed my CiRF (Coach in Running Fitness) this year, and I’m so excited about where that’s going to take me. I want to become a really good coach, to learn from other coaches and to hopefully help more people to fall in love with running. I want to keep this mad and wonderful journey going.

When I started running I never imagined I would join a running club, or compete, or sometimes get first lady at a parkrun or win a handful of trophies. I’ve surprised myself in more ways than I ever dreamed I would.

I wonder what my blog post about the next decade of running will look like? Here’s hoping it includes a green t-shirt…

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My favourite running photo of the last 10 years. The finish straight of the Waterbeach 5k.

 

*I couldn’t do a write up of my decade of running without a mention of one of my running besties somewhere! I want to make sure I keep getting fed…

 

 

 

 

How I’ve Managed my Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis. Two words that send a shiver up the spine of any runner. As dirty a pair of words as shin splints. And exactly what I’ve been dealing with for the last few months.

I’m not going to lie. It’s been miserable, and painful, and I don’t have a quick-fix, miracle cure for you. And just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. But I thought I would share with you what I’ve done to try and get over this miserable affliction effectively, because if just one of these helps with your recovery, that’s got to be a good thing, right?

REST

First and foremost I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to lay off the running. But you knew that didn’t you? You just didn’t want to hear it. I feel you.

If there is pain, don’t run on it.

It doesn’t matter what races you’ve got planned or how long you’ve been training for them- I had to miss out on 6 different events from 5ks to half marathons whilst dealing with this injury – it’s better to take 3 months off now, then run on it and end up having to take double that off (or worse). There are other sports you can do instead. For me, that’s been spinning and swimming.

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GET DIAGNOSED

If you’ve got pain that is mostly in the heel, and it’s at its worst first thing in the morning when you get out of bed, chances are it’s plantar fasciitis. But the root cause of the PF could be due to tight calf muscles or any number of things, and it’s best to get a professional to take a look at you so that they can help with the best course of action. I worked with Megan from the FAST Clinic, and one of the best things she did for me – other than be endlessly patient and tell me that yes, I will get out running again – was tell me that it’s not enough to just rest tendons – they need to be strengthened as well.

STRENGTHENING

Once Megan and I had established that mobility and flexibility weren’t the issue for me, she gave me a few strengthening exercises to do at home. One was standing back from a wall and falling towards it with my hands out to catch myself whilst keeping my legs straight and my feet flat. But the ones that I feel made the greatest difference for me were adapted heel raises. Rather than just standing on a stair and going up and down on my toes (dropping the heel below the height of the step as far as I’m able), I was going up on both toes, but only down on the bad foot. I also had the toes of the bad foot stretched upwards on a rolled up towel as I did this. After a while, I started adding weights, first with a few plates (around 4kg worth) in a rucksack on my back before moving to kettlebells up to 10kg (you’ll need a hand free to hold on to a rail, otherwise you WILL stack it). Once my foot had become used to being loaded up again (when you run the force through your foot is considerably more than your body weight) it was time to think about running again.

REHAB

Most people who have had PF will tell you that you should roll out the fascia (essentially the mid foot area) on a tennis/golf/cricket ball, and I’ve found this to be great advice. My ball of choice is a lacrosse ball as it’s a good size but smooth on the skin, and I got mine off Amazon. You can also roll your foot on a small bottle of frozen water as ice can help with the inflammation.

I also went to see a sports massage therapist in Ely called Becky Case-Upton. I know Becky from my gym, and she has this infectious energy for life, and a serious appetite for learning about the human body, and after Justin from “You’re Running What” had raved about her I knew I had to see her, and I am so, so glad I did. Becky is a phenomenal therapist, and I feel like seeing her was the final missing puzzle piece in my recovery. I’ve been recommending her to everyone, which I may live to regret further down the line when I next need to see her and find she has a waiting list from hell, but if you’re struggling with an injury she should definitely be someone to consider seeing.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

I tried a few different other things to help with my PF including a boot to wear at night which I ditched after 3 attempts as I decided that even if it did help my PF, I still wouldn’t be able to run as I’d be too exhausted from waking up every time I rolled over when I wore the horrible thing. Others have found these to be useful though. Instead I’ve just been going to bed wearing a support sock on my foot. I’m not sure how much difference this has made to be honest, but it certainly hasn’t hurt.

I put innersoles or heel inserts into all of my shoes, and I was lucky enough to be gifted a pair of OOFOS recovery sandals that I have been wearing around my house non stop since they arrived around 5 weeks ago. Usually I potter around my house in flat slippers, but the general consensus with PF is to avoid being flat footed wherever possible. Although flip flops are generally frowned upon if you want to look after your feet, OOFOS are flip flops in looks only. They are so, so comfortable, and as their website says better than I can,  “their patented biomechanically engineered footbed helps to increase circulation and provides superior arch support”. I’m planning to get a pair of the rose gold ones to take on future travels.

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PATIENCE

I’m sorry, but with PF, you’re going to have to be patient. It’s not an easy injury to recover from, especially if you want to recover from it well, not just manage it enough so that you can keep running. I first started struggling with this in June, and now in mid September I’m finally getting out there again, starting with just a mile at a time.

I’l be honest – I’ve had some really down moments, none more than when I had to pass up my place in the Round Norfolk Relay – that was the one that caused tears. But I had more time to blog, I visited my local lido more, I supported my friends by acting as bike support on their long steady runs or cheering them on at races and I kept busy by trying new things. There are positives that can be found from being injured, including getting into good habits and being more aware of your body. And those last little runs I’ve done have been absolutely amazing.

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If you’re currently struggling with PF I really hope you find this post useful, and I hope my recovery will make you feel a bit more optimistic that you’ll get through it too. Let me know how you get on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddle Boarding in Milton Country Park

As I’m still in a state of running MOBOI, I’ve decided to look at the positives of being injured. For starters I’ve been posting far more often on here, as a lot of the time I would be running I’m spending on writing instead. Secondly, with every injury you learn to understand and respect your body a bit more. I know what I need to do to strengthen my body to try and prevent this injury from recurring and I know that when I get back to running I’ll love it even more and fully appreciate my body for what it can do. And lastly, I’m trying out new sports and experiences in the hope of temporarily replacing running. Step forward paddle boarding!

In an attempt to try and get the CambMeetUp bloggers together a bit more, I had put a poll up in our Facebook group to try and find an activity we could all do together. Whilst bouldering was a popular choice, it couldn’t beat the appeal of paddle boarding in Milton County Park. After a bit of work to find a date we could all do and the brilliant efforts of Bethany from Cambridge Sport Lakes to be really flexible with us, Rachael, Claire, Jen, Kelly, Jess and I all turned up on a chillier than we would like Saturday morning to get out on the water.

Now Claire (group photographer extraordinaire) had tried paddle boarding numerous times before, and assured us that we would all be fine and standing before we knew it. But as we stood at the sides the rest of us all thought that there was NO WAY IN HELL WE WOULD EVER BE ABLE TO STAND.

How wrong we were. Led by our brilliant instructor Penny we all knelt on our boards and paddled to the far end of the lake (I had one keen eye on the swans). She then showed us how to stand (it involves getting into a crouch in the middle of the board) and one by one we all wobbled up. Penny then wasted no time in making us all play “world domination” (although most of us dropped back down to our knees for this!), all picking a country and trying to be the first to whack everyone else’s board and turn their country into ours. I can’t take credit for my choice – Ireland – winning. It was definitely due to whoever I had managed to tag first as I must have changed country four times.

We were all really nervous at the thought of falling into the cold, very weedy water, but for the 60 minutes we were out there only Jess took a tumble. Penny had warned us that getting back on the board could be really hard, but before I’d even had time to turn around (admittedly my turning circle was pretty large!), Jess was back on like an absolute pro – the sign of an open water swimmer!

It was a pretty windy day and it took some effort to make sure we didn’t drift into the trees. Claire assured us that this meant our efforts were even more impressive and that on a still day – should we want to try it again – we’d find it a lot easier. We even attempted some yoga (they offer classes in this!), and I was pretty happy with my attempt at one-legged dog, although I quickly realised that trying tree pose on one leg would be a step too far.

After an hour passed in no time at all, I reluctantly got off the board. I was both euphoric at how much I had enjoyed the experience and devastated that I had left it so late in the season to try it out. There are now only two weeks left before Milton County Park stop offering paddle boarding. However, I nabbed the last place on the 2.5 hour Adult Level 1 BSUPA Born to Ride session this coming weekend, which will allow me to hire a board and paddle independently at any accredited centre in the UK. Now I just need to find £700 for a board and I’ll be paddling up the Ouse before you know it…!

If you’ve ever considered paddle boarding go for it. You won’t regret it.

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Are you in a state of MOBOI?

Everyone loves an acronym right? FOMO, YOLO, OMG or my personal favourite, FFS…

So I hereby bring you MOBOI – missing out because of injury. And it’s a real state of LOLs I can tell you.

Injuries are going to happen. I’ve had a few in my time – ITB syndrome, posterior tibial tendonitis, piriformis syndrome and now plantar fasciitis. Those are some fun party conversation starters right there. And while I’m getting better at listening to my body (and to the common sense instilled in me by the professionals that I see) and know that rest is key when the problem is at its most acute, that doesn’t stop me from raging at the world when an event I had signed up to rolls around. So far with my PF I’ve missed out the 5th Kevin Henry league race, the Ely Sprint Triathlon and this weekend the Bedford Running Festival double (10k Saturday evening and half marathon Sunday morning). And every single time it has sucked.

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Sad little unused race numbers

While it’s tempting to sit and wallow at home when you know your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feed is going to be full of happy runners posing with their well-earned medals, I’ve been trying to focus on doing the things I usually complain that I don’t have time to do. I’ve gone back to Jesus Green Lido (whilst kicking myself for not making the most of it earlier in the season as it closes in 3 weeks), have caught up on my reading, have kickstarted this blog again (hooray!) and have acted as bike support for my running buddy Pete as he trains for his first marathon. I even went on a 16-mile bike ride today just for the “fun” of it, something I always swore I would never do because as someone who needs to commute by bike, voluntarily doing it at the weekend has never appealed, but I really appreciated the peace and quiet on the country roads and a burn in my legs that was very different from what I experience on a fast run.

And the best thing? Every injury I get makes me a better athlete as it gets me into good habits. I learn to listen to my body so that the niggle doesn’t become a chronic long-term problem (I’m 6 weeks into PF and am almost ready to run again). I learn specific strengthening and stretching techniques to add into my usual routine and I learn to appreciate and wonder at my body even more when I get back to running again.

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Around 15 miles into his 20 miler

Sadly I don’t have a cure-all solution for how to deal with MOBOI. I am constantly envious of everyone’s race bling and do sometimes find myself in a Strava spiral looking at folk racking up segment PBs, but I’m taking solace in the fact that I’m clearly growing as a runner by not attempting to come back from injury too quickly, and perspective is a useful thing. My injury is (hopefully) only temporary, and those events I’ve missed out on will come back round next year. Plus it’s great to support your friends either through marshalling at parkrun, liking their latest race selfie or singing “Dance Magic Dance” as they find themselves flagging on their 20 mile long steady run (you’re welcome Pete)!

Upshot is, MOBOI sucks, but take the opportunities it offers you and use them to come back stronger.

BRB.

 

Molton Brown Evening with Sweaty Betty plus Giveaway!

First of all, I’m being a crummy blogger this year aren’t I? One blog every 6 weeks is not what I hoped to achieve, but I’m injured and grumpy so writing about running hasn’t exactly appealed. But being injured is part and parcel of being an athlete, and I’m finally inching into the acceptance stage of my injury (denial was fun), so let’s kick things off with a write up of a Molton Brown bloggers evening that I was lucky enough to be invited to back in July.

Usually I go along to blogger events to network with others in the area, but I rarely write about them because I’m not a beauty/lifestyle blogger. However, when I heard that Sweaty Betty were going to be at Molton Brown’s, it meant that I could write about it as everyone knows that my Sweaty Betty habit is out of control. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m a Molton Brown mega fan as well…

When we turned up at the event – and there must have been about 20 bloggers there – we were treated to a personalised goodie bag that had been tailored to our own individual tastes based upon the character Sonny and his team had gleaned from our social media accounts. They got mine spot on, with some of my favourite fragrances included (hello rhubarb and rose)!

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We were also treated to gin cocktails from gorgeous local tapas bar La Raza, and hand and arm massages from Sonny and his team. After much deliberating, I chose the Caju and Lime fragrance, which was beautifully uplifting. I’ve been using Molton Brown hand lotions for years, and I’ve long been a bit fan of gifting Molton Brown products to friends and family, as people rarely treat themselves to luxury shower gels and body lotions. I picked up a bottle of the new Bushukan shower gel (citrus with a hit of black pepper) for the other half’s birthday, and a hand cream that I’m giving away to one lucky follower (see details at the end of this post)! I was devastated however to hear that my favourite fragrance, violet and vanilla, was limited edition! It’s still available on some sites but not easy to come by…

And now on to Sweaty Betty, who were showcasing their beautiful new AW collection. What’s fascinating about the fashion design world, is that they have to be predicting trends SO far in advance. I’ve been told that Sweaty Betty are looking ahead about 18 months, and so back in early 2018, they chose to be inspired by South Korea for AW 2019. They headed over to Seoul, where they were inspired by the “incredible juxtaposition of futuristic buildings and blazing neon alongside traditional architecture and old palaces”. In addition to this, they focused on women in South Korea who were “pushing against the norm. South Korea is very driven by a specific type of beauty, so [it was] amazing to see some really cool women rejecting labels, including the long boarder, Ko Hyojoo.”

Mary-Beth, the store manager at Cambridge, also told me about an underground tattoo scene in South Korea that inspired some of their new prints. Fascinatingly, although it’s not illegal to have tattoos in South Korea, it is illegal to be a tattoo artist if you’re not also a qualified medical practitioner, which is why the underground tattoo scene has grown. This inspired my favourite pair of leggings from the new collection, their new Super Sculpt 7/8 leggings in black cherry (a key colour in their AW collection) with a rose print “tattooed” mesh insert. Also, I couldn’t help but LOVE these retro 80s styling of these running shorts, inspired by the 1988 Olympics in Seoul:

And so on to the competition! As I MASSIVELY failed to celebrate my blog’s 4th birthday back in April, I’m doing a giveaway now instead! You can win this Sweaty Betty and Molton Brown bundle over on my Instagram and on my Twitter (yes you can enter via both to double your chances of winning)! Good luck!

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A Piece of Cake 10k

No, I’m not being an arse and getting cocky about running a 10k. Everyone who knows me knows that it is my least favourite of the longer distances as it can be so hard to pace. Go off too fast on a 5k and you can probably hang on or at least tell yourself that it will be over soon. Do it for a 10k and it can be agony knowing you still have something like a parkrun left to run.

So the Piece of Cake 10k is so named because at the end of the run you get a slice of cake! And not just any cake – one made by Ian Cumming, GBBO finalist from 2015. You can see why it was an easy sell to me can’t you? My Instagram bio has said “fuelled by cake” for as long as I can remember.

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I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ian a couple of times when he’s judged my work bake off (let’s not discuss my 2018 entry*) and we’ve always chatted about running (he ran the roasting hot 2018 London Marathon in a storming time of 3:09:17). So when he got in touch on twitter to tell me about a new event he was setting up in the super picturesque Cambridgeshire village of Great Wilbraham, I told him he could absolutely count me in.

On a far hotter than I would have liked June 29th, running buddy Justin and I hopped in the car and drove the 30-odd minutes to the race. Although it ended up being 40+ minutes as we drove around in circles trying to find the school where the event HQ was based, only to ask for directions when we were directly opposite it (it’s not that hard to find – we were just being muppets). We said a quick hello to Ian who was setting up his cakes (the beaut above was chocolate and salted caramel) and proceeded to pay our £15 entry fee (you could pay £10 if you didn’t want a medal but Justin and I are very much in this game for the bling).

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Now this was a small, informal event, where you signed up by registering your interest on Facebook, and there was a good reason for this. Ian is still very much in the process of building this run and learning what does and doesn’t work in terms of the admin and the course itself. It wasn’t chip timed, and there were only 56 runners taking part in what was being billed as an “advanced test”.

So with the thermometer sitting pretty at around 26 degrees, and with about 3 layers of suntan lotion on my pasty skin, we all barreled off down a nice gentle decline to start what was one of the prettiest 10ks I’ve done. I’m a big fan of being distracted by views as I run, and this route, through fields of wheat and barley and past windmills ticked all of the boxes for me. There was very little shade, and I was pathetically grateful when I hit a small patch of it, but the course had a water station that you looped past twice, once at around 3.5 miles and again around 4.7. They also had a little one with a hose, who was quite frankly the best thing I’d ever seen as she cooled us all down mid-run.

Piece of Cake 10k Sprinkler

When starting this race I had no anticipation of being first lady (running in the heat is really difficult for me), especially when I saw one female runner, Helen Barry charge off at the start, running the first mile in what must have been a little over 6:30, but when I found myself gaining on her around the 7k mark I realised that a win might be on the cards. So around 8k I made the decision to overtake Helen and see if I could stay ahead of her and somehow, I managed it. The run was slightly long (I measured it at 10.08km) but I hit the 10k mark (according to my Garmin) in 44:59. Not even close to a PB for me, but a time I was thrilled with in the heat.

So would I recommend the Piece of Cake 10k? In a heartbeat. The mostly-flat course is beautiful, the vibe is so, so supportive and friendly (I hope this wouldn’t change if the event grew) and the cake was PHENOMENAL. I had the strawberry and elderflower and it was delicious. And the medal was shaped like a little slice of cake, a lovely addition to my collection. Plus all the money raised went to the primary school. You can read the local summary of the event here.

I really, really hope Ian continues to develop and establish the event. If he did I would happily make it a repeat event in my running calendar. And not just for the cake.

*Ok. So I made a cake, attempted to cycle to work with it and promptly dropped it on the pavement on Ely’s riverside. It flipped 360 degrees and landed in a smoosh pile. I submitted this photo as my entry. I didn’t win.

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