Inspiration overload

I’ve been into this running thing for a while now. In fact, in a couple of months it will be the five year anniversary of my very first race. So naturally, I’m friends with, I run with and I connect with a lot of super amazing bad ass runners. People who run crazy distances week in, week out. People who run ultras, people who do triathlons, people who run ridiculously fast. All of them are doing wonderful stuff. And then there’s me.

Obviously I am in awe of all these people. They show grit and determination and a whole lot of something I don’t have. I just don’t have the bother. I really like running, but in five years I haven’t got a whole heap better. I’ve taken 11 minutes off my 10k and 14 minutes off my half marathon time, which to me is still the same ballpark. Not a massive step forward. And most of the time, that’s fine by me. But recently, for the first time, I have felt the balance of being inspired and enthused by those around me tip in favour of feeling overwhelmed, and frankly, completely inadequate.

Mostly because I’ve stayed still, just circling around myself for so long.

I also found myself questioning my decision not to run another marathon (at least not for a while). Then thinking screw marathons, why aren’t I running ultras? Everyone else seems to love running for hours on end through the countryside, why don’t I? Maybe I should get swimming lessons, everyone on my Twitter is in a wetsuit these days, after all. Perhaps I should’ve bought a sportier bike, and then I could go on longer rides at the weekends.

But then I remember. I don’t want to do any of those things. Running halves and having a modest time goal. Going to yoga and yet still not being able to touch my toes. Pootling around London on my sexy red bike. These are things I want to do.

Sure, these things aren’t the most inspiring; relative to some accomplishments they are pretty mundane. But I’ll keep doing them and writing about them. I’ll keep posting about them on Instagram. If just one person like five-years-ago-me goes for a run because of it, then that’s inspiration enough.

strong versus skinny

This photo of myself was taken exactly a year ago today.

Other than the devastating fact that this was taken in Mallorca (rather than the rainy London I find myself in right now), the next and slightly bigger blow this photo gives me is that I no longer look like that.

This photo was taken ten days into my first (and so far only) round of Whole30. Whole30 is a very quick and very effective method of achieving quite dramatic body composition results (if that’s what you’re after). You can find the reasons I took on the original challenge here, but looking at that photo I would say that my body is in the best aesthetic condition it’s ever been in.

But like I said, it doesn’t look like that anymore. I’m not saying I am now overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but in the past year my body has changed more than it ever has done before.

A couple of weeks ago, one hot afternoon (I think we’ve had at least one hot afternoon so far this summer), I came home and changed into my favourite pair of denim shorts. Or at least I tried to. I’ve lived in the same pair of stripy Abercrombie & Fitch denim shorts every summer since I bought them in California five and a half years ago. They are (or rather, were) perfect – short, but not too short, slouchy but not too boyish, light but far enough away from white. And now I can no longer do them up. They fit like hot pants and the button does not do up. I could have cried.

Last week, I did an online Nike order that included a pair of training shoes, a vest and some jogging bottoms. The trainers fit (thank GOD), but the clothes to which I’d just waved an “I’m always a small in Nike” to the laptop screen were tight. Later that week I begrudgingly made the trip to Oxford Circus to swap both items for a medium.

The final nail in the coffin for my hope of still being a size 8 came in the form of a carrier bag full of clothes from my friend Felicity. There have been many a time where I’ve raided Felicity’s far-more-stylish-than-my-own wardrobe, but not one single item in the stash would fit me now. And the clothes were so nice *cry face*

Now, I’d much rather own clothes that fit than clothes I don’t feel comfortable in, and I think the idea of owning something you’ll ‘slim into’ ridiculous, but it’s all just been a bit of an odd realisation.

I wrote about feeling body unconfident in September 2011, and I hate to admit I sort of feel the same way again now.

I really shouldn’t. In reality, my body is the strongest it has been in a long time. I cycle everywhere (as my thighs can verify), I’m running consistently good times at parkrun, I go to 1Rebel, strongdem and yoga regularly and tomorrow I genuinely believe I have a very real and very achievable chance at a 10k PB.

So I’m annoyed. I look at this photo of my improving toned arms and I’m proud. I’m confident about a race I’m running tomorrow and I’m glad. I look at my strong cyclist legs and I like them. I’m going to classes I never would have dared set foot in.

But the fact I have half a drawer full of crop tops that won’t be making reappearances this summer still gets me down despite all those things and I am really annoyed about that. Being strong and fit and healthy really should be enough.

London marathon training update: 2 weeks to go

To say my training hasn’t gone to plan would be an understatement. The furthest I’ve run in the last few months is 15 miles, I’ve probably averaged less than 2 runs a week and ever since my knees started hurting in the last couple of miles of the Brighton half back in February, I’ve been confused as to how some runs can be awesome whilst others leave me crying in pain. 

If it wasn’t for a brilliant run at the Berlin half a fortnight ago, the likelihood is I wouldn’t even be contemplating trying to attempt a marathon on such shoddy training. But it was such a good race and I’m feeling a massive confidence boost from how strong I felt throughout. I definitely finished with more to give… how much more that could have been I have no idea. 
Having missed so many of my training runs, I’ve (sort of) made peace with the fact that running London isn’t going to be the speediest or most pleasurable experience. My knees will hurt, I’ll feel knackered much earlier than I would’ve liked and I may well have to call on the offers of help I’ve had from friends. 
I was never going to set any records, I mostly just want to keep up my New Years resolution to always run happy. I’m going to try and remember this for as much of the race as possible. I keep going back to the feeling of how lucky I am to have a ballot place in one of the world’s greatest marathons. 
The next two weeks are all about ensuring I am as well as I can be on race day. Being well rested might end up being my biggest asset – it sure as hell won’t be being well trained. Good food, lots of sleep, no booze and some gentle miles are in store over the next fortnight. Keeping calm in the face of growing hype all over my social media feeds will be enough of a challenge as it is. 

A running debate: City vs Country

It only dawned on me as the train pulled into Dorking for the start of the Bacchus half marathon last September what I had signed up for. “Oh my god, we are actually in the countryside”, I said. “Yes, it’s in Surrey… on a vineyard… 48 minutes out of London, what did you expect?” was the response. Oh.

As much as I loved running it with so many friends, in fancy dress, in the summer, with loads of amazing food and wine, it still wasn’t my favourite race. I just can’t seem to fall in love with running through woods.

I love walking in the countryside – when there’s stunning views and the feeling of clean, fresh air filling your lungs it is fantastic. But running? Urgh. You don’t have time to appreciate the views because you’re too busy looking at the floor trying not to trip over tree roots. It’s really bloody hilly in the countryside (unless I’m running in my native Norfolk in which case it is just too damn flat). There’s no interesting buildings, no tourists to dodge, no street signs to help you navigate.

Despite the fact that I had come to the conclusion that country running is not for me, I asked two lovers of hitting the trails to try and convince me otherwise. Admittedly their photos are speaking just as loudly as their words…

Justin says…

I was once like you, eschewing dirt for Tarmac, worrying about even the dust of the Tamsin Trail in Richmond Park ruining my sparkling white trainers. But after training for my first marathon I wanted a break from the roads and tried a trail half marathon.

As it was actually longer than a half marathon, and I wasn’t quite recovered from the marathon, I took it easy and stopped regularly to take photos. It helped that it was a beautiful day in Devon but even so, you might be able to see the appeal.

Justin’s photo

Since then, I’ve sought trails as much as possible. Not only are they easy on the eye but they’re also good for your running. Invariably there are hills which provide a great workout and the uneven surfaces force you to use muscles that normally wouldn’t get used. My weak ankles are now a thing of the past.

Justin’s photo

I can’t recommend it highly enough. And depending on where you are, you might even see a bear.

Justin’s photo (…an actual bear!)

You can follow Justin on Twitter @JustinBateman and visit his website

Rebecca says…

If you told me I had to choose between city road running or not running again for the rest of my life, it would be a relatively easy decision to hang up my beloved-but-muddy trainers and find another sport. Now maybe that means I just don’t love running enough, but a huge part of the joy of it for me is that it takes me out into the countryside and green spaces. It helps that I live on the edge of Winchester, with access to some amazing trails and forests.

Rebecca’s photo

I didn’t start running that regularly until I was in my early thirties and had had a baby – I tended to favour trails just to minimise the impact on my knees and hips, but found as I got stronger that I just prefer to run in the green. The benefits of being in the countryside are well documented and in Japan, they even have a word for a therapeutic visit to a forest – Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing). As well as enjoying the beautiful views, I find that running on trails and tracks means I’m thinking about where my feet are going which distracts me from concentrating on pain or tiredness.

Rebecca’s photo

The peace and solitude is pretty special too (and especially important to me as a busy working mum), some days I might only have the birds or an occasional dog walker for company and on one memorable run, a family of deer ran alongside my husband and I. As ultrarunner Jenn Shelton said “That’s what I love, just being a barbarian, running through the woods.”

Rebecca’s photo

Don’t get me wrong, I love the buzz of a big city race, but since the majority of my running time isn’t spent racing, I’d rather be training on a beautiful forest trail, next to a river on a springy path made of pine needles, rather than slogging it out on tarmac next to duel carriageway being splashed by inconsiderate drivers!

You call follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebeccajohns

So, join in and tell us – what do you prefer, dodging bollards or dodging branches?

When the panic rises

This morning I ran to and then did Mile End parkrun for the third week in a row. Habits don’t stick easily with me, but this is a good one and one I’m intending to keep up.

This is despite the fact that halfway around today’s second lap, I had a panic attack. Only a really little one – relatively short compared to most – but it happened all the same. I couldn’t mistake the building hyperventilation which rose in my chest, resulting in shallow, squeaky breath and tears forming in my eyes.

I’ve been asked in the past if I’m not just mistaking a panic attack for an asthma attack. Although the symptoms sound similar, they feel completely different. The best way I can describe it is that one is a result of the physical (usually cold, damp weather if I’m running) and one is absolutely the result of what’s going on in my mind.

I don’t know why today’s run would be worse than any other – I guess if I knew that it wouldn’t happen. Every so often, I just get all up in my head and the doubt swells and entirely consumes any other thoughts.

As soon as I was brought back out of the negativity and reminded why I was there, it was immediately okay.

You might think that if running makes me feel this way, maybe I shouldn’t do it. This has happened several times before. Times like the Great North Run training run along the canal in Nottingham which resulted in my then boyfriend having to come and collect me. Like the night run in Manchester last year with some of my favourite people. Like at kilometre eighteen of the Copenhagen half in 2013.

But for every run where this has happened, there are at least fifty others where I’ve enjoyed myself, run faster, run happy or – at the very least – not had a panic attack.

And really, it just makes me want to continue running even more. I know that I am stronger than an occasional overwhelming sense of panic. Just like building endurance, building knowledge or building confidence, building mental strength is just another part of the training process and another challenge to overcome. One run at a time.