Step up to 2017

While inspirational quotes and motivational sound bites seem to be endemic on social media, there are the odd occasions when one of these really strikes a chord. I recently had such an experience on seeing an image emblazoned with the words ‘surround yourself with people who get it’. After a really positive start to 2017 – a blissful New Year’s Eve gathering with wonderful friends, a yoga retreat with my sister-in-law, some lovely runs with my fabulous running pals, lots of luxurious time with my husband, and plenty of good books and inspiring podcasts – these words really resonated with me.

It’s amazing how the process of surrounding yourself with inspiring people and good influences can penetrate into your everyday ways of being and feeling. While there is so much going on in the world at the moment that is far from ideal, being around people who ‘get it’ can help to remind you that, even when it appears that your are at odds with the status quo, there are people close at hand who are on the same wavelength as you. That isn’t to say we should encase ourselves in an echo chamber of consensus that leaves our views unchallenged, but rather, by pulling together with similarly-minded people, we can create positive ripples across our spheres of influence, and the more we are, the bigger the initial splash and the greater and more impactful the waves that follow.

So what does this mean in practical terms? How can we reach out to, connect with and be inspired and lifted by those people who get it?

Start with an escape

After the amazing weekend away at The Orange Tree yoga retreat in January last year, my sister-in-law and I immediately booked in for another new year’s escape. Returning to The Orange Tree for the first weekend in January was the best possible way I could have started my year. The retreat reinforced many of the good habits that I had cultivated on my first trip – meditation and mindfulness, regular yoga practice, syncing my movement and by breath – as well providing the perfect opportunity to meet and spend quality time with the most wonderful people.

It was so enriching and nourishing spending quality time with interesting and inspiring people – enjoying rich conversations free from our mobile phones, TVs or other digital distractions – as well as devoting plenty of time to our own headspaces during meditation practices. When we weren’t practicing yoga or meditation we enjoyed lounging in the hot tub, which overlooked the Yorkshire countryside, reading our books by the fire, chatting over delicious vegan food, and enjoying massages and other indulgent treatments. Having the time and space to really engage with the inner workings of your mind is incredibly enlightening and while meditation isn’t the easiest of practices, it is certainly one of the most rewarding.

More details about visiting The Orange Tree are available on their website and to get inside your own head try out the Headspace meditation app.

Move away from materialism

If you have read my recent post on minimalism you will know how much this movement appeals to me. This week my devotion to living with less sunk a little deeper as I finally got round to watching two documentary films that had been on my radar for a while: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, which looks at a variety of takes on minimalism, from tiny houses to the stripped back 333 wardrobe, and The True Cost, which examines the fashion industry and its impact on the environment and the workers who make the clothes that we wear every day.

If you haven’t watched these films then you really must take the time to do so; they will change the way that you look at your possessions and, in particular, your clothes, for good. The way that garment makers in developing countries are treated is truly abominable and the impact that the now-52 season fashion industry has on the environment is devastating. Watching these two films in relatively quick succession really fed into my desire to move away from a consumerist way of being and forced me to look at the possessions I have (and where they were made).

One of the interesting takeaways from these films was that while in some ways we are more materialistic than ever, at the same time we have no interest or respect of material objects at all. We buy things to fill other voids in our lives and engage in a fast-fashion culture, which sees us wearing a piece of clothing one day and casting it aside the next.

My sister-in-law and I are toying with the idea of playing the minimalist game, but our biggest concern is, if we are disposing of our things, where will they go? I’ve signed up to free-cycling to pass on domestic appliances that we no longer use to those who need them and we are planning a clothes swap party to recycle fashion among friends. If you have more ideas, websites or companies that can help to recycle or re-use sustainably I’d be really interested to hear more and hope to have a post on sustainable living in the not too distant future.

For some more upcycling inspiration see the beautiful Upcyclist website and move away from fast fashion and be inspired to make your own clothes (or commission a friend to do so!) with Thumblenina.

Listen up for inspiration

I’ve been enjoyed a feast of inspirational podcasts lately and wanted to share a couple of the best with you here.

If you want something to feed your soul listen to Rich Roll’s interview with Guru Singh. I enjoyed listening to this over a series of runs and came back from each feeling so enriched and warm inside. To boost your body confidence, Tina Muir’s interview with Lanni Marchant is amazing. Marchant is such an incredible athlete and inspiring spokesperson and really makes you think about how you connect with your body and appreciate what it can achieve. Similarly, Rich Roll’s interview with Kerri Walsh Jennings, Olympic beach volleyball champion, is so uplifting I found myself smiling all of the way through. If you need a boost then this ‘six feet of sunshine’ is exactly what you are looking for.

Finally, for training inspiration listen to Josh Trent on the Run to the Top podcast. One of the key takeaways from this episode for me was having an overarching reason ‘why’ behind your training programme. Are you aiming to get faster, go further, lose weight or improve your cardiovascular health? While each training session will have its own purpose, it is important to know what your overall objective is so that you feel motivated to stay on course. I was listening to this episode while running in the cold and rain and took a moment to pause for thought on this. I realised that I run to really connect with my body – it is one of the few times I feel like my mind and body are totally in sync and it forces me to listen to, engage with and respect my physical self. It was an enlightening process really examining the question of the why and I really think it is something worth taking the time to do.

Get on your mat

Starting on 1 January Adrienne (of Yoga with Adrienne fame) launched a new free online yoga series called Yoga Revolution. The series consists of 31 yoga session of approximately 30 minutes, which work to help you engage, gain balance, tone, relax, strengthen and sculpt. If you’ve not encountered Adrienne before you can jump straight in with this, or else start with her 30 Days of Yoga series, which I equally loved. The best thing about the series is it’s easy to fit in sessions before work or in the evening before bed and all you need is a yoga mat and something comfy to wear. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes having the opportunity to get onto my mat every day and just take the time to breath and engage. So join the revolution and check this out today!

Write about how happy you are

For Christmas I received a ‘Happiness Planner‘ from my sister-in-law. Each day there is a space to write down what you are excited about, what your main focus is, your to do list, what you are grateful for, the good things that have happened and what you hope for tomorrow. Each section only has space for couple of lines so it’s not a daunting task to complete, but it does really make you think about all of the little things that bring a smile each day. Whether it is meeting friends for a cup of tea and a chat, going on a run in the winter sun, lazing in a bubble bath, getting lost in a good book, or indulging in a glass of red wine after a busy week at work, just taking the time to reflect on these things makes you appreciate them all the more and definitely adds a bit of additional happiness and contentment to your day.

I hope that this all leaves you feeling inspired and ready to take on 2017.

Until my next,

Namaste

‘Running is a solitary sport but the strength is in our numbers.’

This quote is taken from a recent interview with Chris Heuisler on the Run to the Top Podcast. I was listening to Heuisler’s interview on my (run) commute home last night when I realised how perfectly these sentiments chimed in with the blog post I’d been writing about a recent surge in running community love, experienced following a race last week.

Last Sunday I ran the Derby 10 with my lovely pals Katie and Ant. Having never run a 10 mile race before I didn’t have a target time in mind, and although I had a vague idea of what sort of splits I’d ideally like to do, knowing that I’ve not really been training properly post-holiday, the pressure to do a PB was totally off. While in the end it wasn’t the fastest 10 miles I’ve ever run, it wasn’t the slowest either, and it was certainly one of the most enjoyable.

It was a freezing but bright morning and despite multiple layers of jumpers before the race, by mile four I’d stripped down to my vest (albeit with my headband and gloves still firmly in place). I had initially been nervous about motivating myself as this was my first official no-headphones race, but I have to admit that I rather enjoyed running music- and podcast-free. Rather than switching my music on and my brain off (which I’m often guilty of doing) I used the time to really think about my posture and running technique, focusing on not dropping into my hips and on breathing down into my belly.

I also really enjoyed spending some of the time chatting with the other runners around me.

One of my absolute favourite things about races is being surrounded by so many like-minded people. I love hearing about the running achievements and goals of others, helping and being helped by strangers to pull through the tough miles together, or flying side-by-side through the easier stretches. Running with someone else is such a fantastic shared experience; even running with a stranger you find that you form a sort of bond as you enjoy those endorphin highs together. As Runner’s World writer Tish Hamilton observed, when you share a run with someone you are more likely to open up to them as you’re not looking them in the eye and you’re throwing it out into the wind; it is almost like entering a sacred space where you suddenly find yourself over-sharing with a total stranger!

Derby also reminded me that running in an event doesn’t have to have the sole purpose of aiming for a PB. As Heuisler noted, we train for weeks and weeks on end for an event, but what is amazing is when you reach the start line and you are surrounded by hundreds, or even thousands of fellow runners, you suddenly realise how many people have all been through the same things that you have. When you are out running on your own it’s easy to think that you’re the only person training, but on race day you look beside you and realise there is a unique comradeship that makes the training worth while and which makes running so special.

Moreover, surrounding yourself with fellow exercisers certainly makes taking regular exercise easier. Listening to other people talk about their training regimes, or seeing them participate in various activities, normalises the act of exercising, making it easier to follow similar practises yourself.

I often find that the more time I spend with my running pals, the more I want to run; when I hear that one of them is entering a race or heading out for a long training run I am motivated to lace up and get out myself. I am one of the worst people for struggling with FOMO, but when it comes to exercise I find I can use this to my advantage; if one of my pals is training for a race you can bet your bottom dollar I am too!

img_8519I think it is no coincidence that my mum was a runner and it’s no accident that my nephew has started to run junior park runs. It’s unsurprising that my husband has as many trainers and as much running kit as me, or that weekends with some of my best friends often involve walking, yoga, swimming, or running a ten mile race on a freezing November Sunday morning.

So whether you’ve got an event coming up, or you are just trying to get yourself out of the door on a chilly November evening, remember that you are part of a bigger whole and that while running is ostensibly a solo act, you are part of a larger community and someone else is forcing themselves to lace-up and get out too!

Happy running.

Brain Pickings: On thinking fast and running slow

Last week I struggled with my long run. The issue was not so much physical as mental. I found myself counting down every kilometre, my mind jumping from fatigue, to boredom, to hunger (I’m still running fasted, although with my distances mounting I think I’m reaching the tipping point at which I can do this) and, although my splits were no different than usual, each kilometre seemed to go on for twice as long. I pushed through 25 kilometres, as I’d planned, and while it wasn’t a bad run, it was just that little bit tougher than I would have liked. I chalked it up as good marathon day practice – a reminder of what a run with my head in the wrong place could feel like – and resolved that this week I would work as hard on my mind as on my limbs to prepare me for my long run.

In the week I listened to an interview with the Runners Connect coach Jamie Dodge, in which she had placed emphasis on enjoying the journey while running, both during training and in races. She noted that many runners, when they cross the finish line, are more keen to tell the stories of the various things that happened during the race – the people they met, the spectators cheering them on, the scenery, the route – than to obsess over their final times, and I count myself within this group. Listening to her made me realise that the journey really is the important part for me; I love being able to go out and just run. I like being able to escape on a run, listening to podcasts or music as I go or to run and chat with friends as we pound the pavements together.

It was with this idea of just enjoying the journey in mind that I set out on my long run this Sunday. I was slightly anxious about keeping my mind on course, but as it was I needn’t have worried. I had downloaded a series of podcasts and within seconds I was totally engrossed in the first: an episode of Radio Headspace featuring an interview with Maria Popova.

brainpickings

You know the feeling when you hear, read or watch something and you suddenly feel like you want to share that thing with everyone? That was how I felt listening to Maria Popova speak. She is the creator of Brain Pickings, a website which began as an email newsletter to seven friends and which now has over seven million visitors each month. As Georgie Okell, presenter of Radio Headspace described it, Brain Pickings is an ‘online archive of interestingness, inspiration and meaning’.

The idea originated out of, on the one hand, Popova’s idealism of what learning could be and, on the other, a dissatisfaction with her college liberal arts education, which wasn’t the edifying experience she had hoped for. In search of something more, she supplemented her classes with long visits to the library, reading and reading some more, dipping into different disciplines from neuroscience to philosophy, and allowing the cross-pollination of ideas from one subject area to the next. In this way, Brain Pickings became a permanent online record of her own thinking and personal development, while at the same time becoming a source of inspiration for her readers.

I would urge readers here to explore the site and to listen to the interview, but before you do I wanted to touch on some of the points that really resonated with me.

On communication 

Popova’s comments on communication really struck a chord as they outlined behaviours that I often find myself guilty of. To read and write and truly engage with the material that goes into Brain Pickings, Popova noted that she has to close her inbox and cut herself off from the constant beeping of emails, text messages and social media updates. She observed that communication today has a sense of immediacy which creates a false sense of urgency, and while we know that this sense of urgency is a fictional product of the technological environment we live in, we all still find ourselves buying into it. We live in a world of reactivity, where people are so quick to form judgements and to act on those judgements, reacting rather than reflecting and responding. It is important to recognise this and to take a step back when we can, to allow our mind to explore our thoughts and ideas properly, and to observe and listen to the world without the need to trigger a response.

On writing

This sense of immediacy of information and the urgency to react extends beyond emails and text messages to much of the content we encounter online. The list-like content and catchy headlines of many articles and blog posts demand our attention, promising instant information requiring only minimal engagement. We are attracted by so-called ‘click-bait’; short-form material engineered to catch our eye rather than to generate appreciation or understanding. The result is that many people ‘mistake attention for appreciation’.

Popova aims to move away from this approach to writing and her site includes more and more long-form pieces where, as she explains, ‘there is an opportunity to explore nuance, clarity and context’.

On meditation 

One means of extracting ourselves from this culture of urgency and immediacy is through meditation. Popova observes that ‘the beautiful thing about meditation is that it’s a reminder of how to be in yourself and in the world without this compulsive reactivity.’ It is important to give yourself the space to take a step back and make an internal investment to be more reflective.

On reading

By reading and engaging with the experiences of others we are able to feel a resonance between our own experiences and emotions and those of others, across different times and spaces. Reading about emotions of love and doubt, hope and fear experiences by those around us, we may discover deeper meaning and a greater understanding of ourselves, and in doing so may feel less alone in our experiences.

On finding your path

Sometimes, when we encounter particular philosophical teachings, or learn from historical narratives, read about science and linguistics, literature and mathematics, something in our minds just click and we find ourselves exploring new paths or taking our lives in different directions. Sometimes it can be something as small as having a particular conversation with a person, or going on a retreat, or even listening to a podcast or radio show.

For some readers, Brain Pickings has acted as this apparent catalyst for change, of which Popova observes:

‘I’d be a fool to believe that I had catalysed whatever change someone has gone on. People are on their own path, and there are things that may help them to clarify that path, but I think they would have arrived anyway. But there is some reassurance in seeing things playing out in other people’s lives to act as a point of reference – in the lives of people that we as a society see as successful…People step into what they already are, they just find a context which makes it easier to access what is already in them.’

On purpose

One of the most profound comments from the piece was on finding your purpose in life. On this, Popova affirmed that you find your purpose by doing. She quoted the book Conversations with Picasso, in which Picasso observes that  ‘in order to know what you’re painting you have to begin to paint’. A lot of people are misled by the ‘fetish of finding their true purpose’ and it makes them afraid of going down the wrong path. The result is that instead of doing everything, people end up doing nothing.

Allowing yourself to accept that your life may not have one sole purpose, and that the one thing you deemed so important at 21 may not be the thing that matters to you as much at 31 or 41 frees you to ‘just live, with attentiveness and awareness of the world’, and discern from that what it is that gives you a sense of purpose.

‘If you come at everything with too much of a fixed plan you could cheat yourself out of so many things because you can’t envisage you future self’s values and how you will develop…Keep checking in with yourself, what brings you happiness and nourishes you.’

***

As you have probably gathered from this post, my mind was so active going over all of Papova’s words that my long run flew by; I will certainly be downloading some more Radio Headspace for my run on Sunday.

Happy running.

Embrace your bad runs, listen to your body and other wise words from the Runners Connect Podcast

Runners Connect - Run to the Top Podcast
Runners Connect – Run to the Top Podcast

This weekend, while I was searching for an audiobook to get me through my long Sunday run, I stumbled upon the Runners Connect Run to the Top podcast. Curious, I downloaded a couple of episodes while I had my pre-run cup of tea. Tea consumed, I pulled on an extra running top, laced up and headed out into a very chilly day, pressing play as I began my 12 miler.

The first episode was entitled Why it’s important to welcome bad runs. Like all runners, I’m all too familiar with bad running days; days when my legs won’t cooperate and when, despite feeling like I’m putting in my usual effort, my splits remain embarrassingly snail-like. In fact, I had had one such day that Saturday, and I was hoping above hope that my Sunday run would progress with the pleasant ease of that the previous week, rather than the huffing mess of the previous day.

As it was, I found myself so utterly distracted by the podcast that I didn’t notice the first few miles go past. While the audio quality wasn’t the greatest and the production was by no means as sleek as an episode of This American Life or Serial (my usual long-run podcasts of choice), the content was rich, interesting and engaging, and the presenter, the British elite runner Tina Muir, was endearing and instantly likable. After a slightly long and nervous introduction, the interview really got going. She was interviewing the CNN journalist, runner and author of My year of running dangerously Tom Foreman, who was one of the most inspiring speakers about running that I’ve heard, and I think may be one of my new running gurus!

'My Year of Running  Dangerously', Tom Foreman
‘My Year of Running Dangerously’, Tom Foreman

Back in 2010, while in his 50s, he got back into running in a big way, agreeing to join his 18-year-old daughter to train for, and run, a marathon. From marathon success, he continued his running journey, racing in multiple half-marathons, marathons and eventually ultramarathons.

Throughout the course of the interview he reflected on various aspect of running, from injury, to combining being a good runner with being a good family member, work colleague and friend. I don’t want to give away everything he said – rather I would compel you to please go and listen to the interview for yourself – but there were some particular titbits that have stayed with me which I wanted to include here.

On injury:

Having covered so many miles, what was surprising was how little injury Foreman had incurred. However he said that he ‘took very seriously the idea of incremental increases’, only gradually upping his distance to let his body adapt. His mantra was ‘the run that counts is tomorrow’s run’, meaning that you should never run so hard one day that you are either unable or unwilling to run the next, (race days are of course an exception to this rule!). He urged listeners to take every hint of a problem seriously; to be aware of twinges, to look after your joints and muscles, to be attentive to the possibility of getting injured and to reflect on the difference between discomfort – fatigue or a build-up of lactic acid – and injury.

He vaunted the importance of listening to your body; even when you think you should push through, the most sensible and valiant thing to do is to pull up slightly, keeping in mind that the aim is to get from a to b, and if that means going slightly sideways for a little while that is better than being forced to stop completely due to injury. And if you feel a twinge or a problem weeks before a race, you have to seriously ask yourself ‘how valuable this race to me?’ Because it may be that pushing on for that race will write you off for the next six months, so it is important to be realistic and think, is it worth it?

On bad runs:

In the interview, Foreman recalls a conversation he had with the Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones, who, on his first day at art school was told by his art instructor ‘each of you has 10,000 bad drawings in you, so let’s start drawings and get them out now’. Foreman observed that similarly, we all have an awful lot of bad running days in us and while some days you may feel exceptional and running feels like the best thing in the world, other days you may feel truly awful. On those awful days, however, it’s important to remember that as a rule of probability the next run you do is likely to be better, and rather than worrying about feeling heavy or tired, what you need to think is ‘thank goodness I’ve got that out of the way’.

It’s important to remember that the best athletes out there still have painful, awful days, but what makes them the best is that they accept that such days do not define their ability, they are just painful, awful days which they put behind them and move on to the next run to see if it’s any better.

On running a marathon:

Wisely, Foreman observed that a marathon is too long a race to do for anyone but yourself. You have to really want to do it, and to commit to it for more than just the time, or the medals. While those things are important to some extent, the essence of your drive should be the thought that ‘I’m out here to deliver the best I can, to engage the physics of this race as a human animal and deliver the best I can…the real goal is to reach that state that I’ve just run a beautiful race and expressed my human athleticism in the best way I could.’ And remember, in a big city marathon, like New York or London, there are over 50,000 people running and only one person gets to win, the rest of us have to run for something else.

On getting outside:

A man after my own heart, Foreman stressed that time outdoors matters. He observed that it is easy to look back on you days and realise you were never effectively outside. Running, however, gets you outside of the house and outside of your comfort zone. There is something very invigorating and freeing about being in a situation where it’s not the perfect temperature all of the time, or when that cup of tea or biscuit isn’t arm length away. Rather, running, in a range of weather conditions, allows you to engage with the bigger human experience.

On skipping training runs:

This little nugget was one which really resonated with me: on skipping runs, Foreman used the following rule of thumb: ‘If you are really busy or you have a family commitment and you really want to run but there just isn’t time, then it’s ok to skip that run. The run you can’t skip is the one you just don’t want to do, that’s when you have to go. You can’t give into that part of you. You are always better off for going for a run. Sometimes it takes a mile, sometimes it takes five miles before you feel better, but invariably, by the end, you will feel better.’

On balancing your running with the rest of your life:

Foreman advises, don’t worry about what people think of your running ability, if you are going to worry about anything worry about how your running impacts on you as a friend, colleague or family member. Foreman insists that ‘you have to make sure work as hard at your life as you do at your running’, and that’s not always easy. As his daughter observed in the book, ‘the challenge is not running a marathon, the challenge is running a marathon and not letting your life fall apart’. You need to strive for balance and make sure your workplace sees your running as something that makes you a better employee and that your family sees it as something that makes you a better family member.

This advice really struck a chord with me, as I know sometimes, when I’m deep into my marathon training programme, I can get slightly cagey about weekend activities, or protective of my evenings, and I just have to remember to try and make up for this when I’m training for shorter races and not to be too uptight if I have to tweak my schedule to fit a shorter run before work or over lunch.

While I’ve written more here than I had intended, as you can see, I was particularly inspired by this episode and will now be buying Tom Foreman’s book, My Year of Running Dangerously! Since I heard this episode of the Runners Connect podcast on Sunday, I have listened to 5 or 6 further episodes and would particularly recommend the episode with motivational speaker and marathon runner Dick Beardsley as well as the one with sleep expert Dr James Maas. Do check out the podcast as there is lots of really great content there and lots to keep you inspired on all of your runs.

Tina Muir also writes a blog about her running which can be found here.

Enjoy these and happy listening, reading and running!