‘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.

Advertisements

November running

With the clocks going back last week and the cold, dark evenings drawing in it could be tempting to bed in for the winter months and let your running routine lapse. While I have been struggling to get back into training post-honeymoon, with a hectic social schedule combined with a case of the cold weather sniffles conspiring against me hitting my weekly mileage targets, I honestly think that early November is the best time to run and thus get back into the running groove.

In London the air has developed that sharp, crisp edge, reminding you that winter is on its way, and while it’s certainly chilly enough to warrant an extra layer on leaving the house, by the end of mile one you know you will be stripping down to a vest or t-shirt. A run in November leaves you with lovely rosy, pinched cheeks and a healthy glow, without the salty dryness that follows a run in the September sun. Early in the morning you can jog under cover of darkness, returning home to sunrise and a well-earned cup of tea. A midday jaunt gets you outside on those days too chilly to just sit in the park with a picnic and while it may be harder to get out on a dark evening, that only makes the return to the cosy warmth of home all the lovelier, and a hot post-run shower all the more indulgent.

What is more, the world just looks that bit more beautiful in the autumn sun. The trees are all in varying states of undress, some still clinging to green leaves, while others are in reds, yellows, oranges and browns. The air smells like a mixture of wet leaves, bark, smoked wood and fires, and as the sun sets every building you pass looks so warm and inviting.

So while you may have been writing off a run this weekend, just remember that post-run glow and how rewarded you will feel afterwards. I’m very much looking forward to the inaugural Derby 10 with my pals Katie and Ant this Sunday and I hope you have lovely Sundayrunday plans too.

Until my next, happy running.

5 Little changes that could just make your life that little bit better

I often find myself naively drawn in by articles promising the secret of an infinitely better life: 5 steps to total mindfulness, 3 intense fat burning workouts, 10 steps to the perfect relationship, that sort of thing. Unsurprisingly, what I regularly find is that these articles just offer a series of commonsensical points, which often align with the things I’m already doing, and I’m left a little disappointed that I’m no closer to secret of perfection in mind, body and spirit.

So rather than promising 5 revolutionary hacks that will give you the ultimate life, I’m offering a series of little adjustments and lifestyle tweaks that I’ve found work for me, and which have made my life just that little bit better everyday.

1. Morning yoga

IMG_3576I’m not really sure how I got into my morning yoga routine, but now I can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s amazing how getting up and showered and then spending between 15 and 30 minutes on my mat can transform my mood and the way I approach the day. I’m certainly no bona fide yogi, but spending some time stretching out my limbs, syncing my movement and my breath, doing a bit of core and arm work and playing around with headstands, bridges or shoulder stands wakes me up (even if I’ve had a glass of something I shouldn’t the night before) and puts me in the right headspace for the day.

Some days I’ll listen to classical music and follow my own yoga flow routine, other days I’ll watch Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and follow her, but either way, no matter what my day holds, I try to corner off at least 15 minutes of my morning to dedicate to my practice.

2. Lunchtime exercise

IMG_5074The realisation that I could kick the 3:30pm slump by just going out and doing something physical at lunchtime was a revelation. My lunch run often negates my need for that dangerous afternoon coffee, which I know will play havoc with my sleeping patterns, or for the 4pm mindless snacking, often undertaken out of boredom or a need for a distraction rather than real hunger.

I know that I’m really lucky in this regard – that my boss and colleagues are very understanding of my need to get out in the fresh air and run off any stresses – but I also know that getting the oxygen circulating around my system makes me so much more productive in the afternoon and in a better mental place to respond to those emails that require a bit more thought or diplomacy.

Moreover, on the days I get to meet my running pal Lou for a quick dash around Kensington Gardens it’s a great opportunity for a catch-up or a space to vent and, come 6pm I’ve already done 5 miles and I can take the evening off guilt-free if I fancy.

While I know running isn’t for everyone, taking a lunchtime walk, or making the most of the summer sunshine and doing some yoga outside are also great alternatives. If you have a work gym you might even sneak a quick HIIT session between meetings.

3. Walking or running part of my commute

IMG_4349About a year ago I made the decision to add 4,000 steps to my day by walking to and from the tube station, rather than jumping straight on the train that leaves from practically outside my house. A year on and I’m still doing it, now less for the extra steps and more for the pleasure. In the morning getting just ten minutes of fresh(ish) air (this is London after all!), natural light and, in recent weeks, a vitamin D hit in the sunshine, really sets me up for the day. In the evening, having chance to decompress after a day at my desk is invaluable and strolling back the long way through the park rather than cramming myself into a train is definitely the best way to do this.

On the days I want to sneak some extra exercise, especially while the weather is good, I’ll walk the full 4 miles home, or, if I’ve not had chance for a lunch run, I’ll jog home, either directly or via Regent’s Park to add an extra 3 or 4 miles to my route. It’s not just the exercise but the benefit of being outside in the world that never fails to boost my mood and allows me to arrive either at work or at home smiling.

Living in the city where we are set up for walking and cycling a commute I know this is easier, but even elsewhere you could consider parking your car a little further from your house or office, or using public transport for part of the trip and walking or running the rest. Making exercise a functional part of your day – i.e. a means of getting from a to b – makes you more likely to do it on a regular basis and it also means that you have plenty of free time to spend with friends and family rather than squirrelling yourself off to the gym.

4. Tuning into my appetite

IMG_1619Like many people, I’ve been through phases of eating too much, not eating enough, eating through stress, through boredom and through sadness. However, recent GI issues have forced me to take a more careful approach to eating and there have been many benefits to this.

Slowing down my eating, selecting foods mindfully, with an eye to what will nourish me without causing stomach upset, pain or sluggishness, and eating in line with my hunger, rather than unconsciously nibbling throughout the day, has vastly improved my approach to and enjoyment of food. I now focus on three meals a day, or two on a Sunday/my long run day, without snacking in between (if I can help it!). If I’m doing a double workout – a lunchtime run followed by an evening swim for example –  I might add a banana or nectarine in the  late afternoon to keep me going until I get home, but otherwise I hold on until supper.

Following this routine I’ve found that I will naturally feel hungry at around 7:30am once I’ve finished my yoga, and again between 1 and 2pm in the afternoon. Evening hunger usually strikes around 6:30–7pm so I know if I’m going out for supper later than this and don’t want to over-eat because I’m famished I’ll have a more substantial lunch or eat a little later. I also make sure I stay well hydrated throughout the day so I don’t confuse thirst and hunger. I have moments of weakness of course – on weekends I could keep on munching through oats, granola with berries, avo on toast, smoothies and coffee indefinitely if I don’t make a conscious decision to stop and in the evenings if there are nibblies in the house, like grapes or cashews, I am often tempted to them. But knowing when these moments of weakness come I’m learning to avoid, resist or keep them at bay.

5. Accepting I’m not a night owl

IMG_3388I’ve spent years in denial and harboured a lot of guilt around this point, but the fact is, I like my sleep, and I like it at night. I tend to rise early regardless of my time to bed, which means late nights leave me exhausted and grumpy.

Accepting that I’m not going to be the last man standing on a night out, or that I’d rather head home than out to a night club without feeling guilty has been a long time in coming, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly at peace with this fact. I’ve started scheduling breakfast dates and lunches over late-night drinks and I try to arrive early to longer events so that if I duck out before last orders I’ve still had plenty of time to catch up with my pals. Just like not everyone gets up at 6 to fit in a pre-work yoga workout, breakfast and blog writing session, not everyone can keep their eyes open and enthusiasm up past 11pm. And that’s ok.

Accepting yourself doesn’t have to just relate to sleeping habits and I’m sure we all have traits that we try to fight against. Just take a moment to reflect on how good or bad these elements of your personality really are and if they are essentially harmless maybe it’s time to embrace them.

Catching up: Mind, Body and Spirit

I realise that I haven’t written for a while; a combination of mood, work and wedmin, sunshine and social engagements have made me reluctant to sit in front of a screen when not absolutely necessary of late. I’ve even been eschewing my phone in favour of books and magazines in a bid to escape the dreaded pull of the blue light, which connects you to a million things that you could or should to be doing.

Still, lots has been going on so I wanted share a quick(ish) update with you here.

Mind

a life without limitsLast week I finally finished four-time World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography A Life Without Limits. I’d been listening to this as an audiobook following a recommendation from the Twins in Trainers and, as with finishing any good book, having reached the end I suddenly feel like I’ve lost a close friend.

I found Chrissie and her story beyond inspiring and it both entertained and spurred me on through countless long runs. This is an incredibly story of an athlete discovering her athletic capacity relatively late in life and trading a phenomenally successful career in international development for a brutal  training regime and killer races.

I really can’t recommend this book enough and although my reaction to Chrissie’s story hasn’t been to sign up for an Ironman (as I know one of my Twin pals has been tempted to do) if you are looking for something to get you out on a run, swim or cycle, look no further.

Body

IMG_4497Talking of getting out to train, today I enjoyed my first swim in the Hampstead ponds. This has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time now and with the sun shining on London this weekend posed the perfect opportunity. It was just a quick dip today (as my friend Ariana and I were taking it in turns to guard the bags while the other swam) but it was utter bliss and I will certainly be making a return visit.

My favourite part was swimming alongside a duck and her little ducklings, all seen for the first time at water level. This was my first non-sea-based open water swimming experience and it was no where near as scary as I had feared.

I’ve also been enjoying (more traditional) weekly swim sessions in the St Pancras pool. Alongside my morning yoga ritual, these serve to stretch out my limbs and have proven good alternatives to running in the hotter weather. I have a back list of sets to share, which I promise I will do soon.

As for running, I’m back to a steady ebb and flow of weekly runs ranging from 3 to 13 miles. I really feel like I’m in a pretty positive place with running at the moment and despite a niggling pain in my lower right shin, I’ve been feeling good and, most importantly, really enjoying each run.

IMG_2875R and I enjoyed our first run in Epping Forest the other week and I can’t believe we’ve not ventured out there sooner. It was so beautiful and the trails are great, especially for practising hill running. It’s always nice to try a new route and to test the limbs on different terrain. Even better though, is its proximity to our friend Mark’s cafe Hucks, where we went afterwards for peanut-buttery crumpets, amazing coffee (with all of the non-milky milks) and live music. Basically the perfect day.

I’ve entered a few races in the autumn months but until then I’m just embracing running (and gossiping) with my pal Louise on our lunch runs, or avoiding the tube with my commuter jogs and just heading out on my long Sunday routes without any agenda.

Finally I also got down to the climbing wall for the first time in an age last week. My arm, chest and back muscles certainly benefited from an hour or so of bouldering (even if my feet didn’t thank me for being squished back into climbing shoes!) and although my climbing isn’t what it was, it was so nice to get out of my head and onto the wall for a while.

Spirit

IMG_4010Another new experience since my last post was my first trip to The Sunday Assembly in June.

With the tagline ‘Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More‘, The Sunday Assembly was started by two comedians who decided that they both wanted to start something that was like church but totally secular and inclusive of everyone, no matter what their beliefs. The resulting group offers inspirational speakers, moving talks, music (and singing by the ‘congregation’), cups of tea and the opportunity to chat with lots of like-minded people.

I hadn’t especially thought that I had a Sunday morning void in my life (in fact my Sunday’s are strictly dedicated to the Gods of the Long Run), but I admit that there was something so uplifting and enjoyable about belting out songs with like-minded folk, as well as listening to inspiring short talks and feeling like a part of something bigger than myself.

The Assembly gathers twice a month, on the first and third Sunday’s, with the next London group on 7 August and I intend to be there.

That’s all for now but more soon I promise. Until the next, go out and enjoy something new this week!

 

 

The path of true love never did run smooth

After a brief hiatus following a stint of over-training and a series of injuries, my love affair with running has resumed with a vengeance. Having dropped my weekly average mileage to around 25 miles, I am finding that when I do run I have more strength and energy, that my times are gradually improving and, perhaps most importantly, I am enjoying every run.

Last week I ran my first Park Run in months and although I had misplaced my barcode and didn’t get an official time (something which actually helped remove the unnecessary and nonsensical pressure I put on myself every time I run anything even resembling a race), unofficially I was pretty close to my 5km PB, and that was with something left in reserve as I crossed the finish line.

In fact, now I’m focusing on enjoying each run and ‘running not racing’ I am finding that I’m performing better and this showed again this weekend at the Bedgebury Forest 10km trail run, part of the Runner’s World Festival of Trail series.

IMG_2844I had decided to approach Bedgebury as a social run with friends rather than as a ‘race’ per se. Four of us had signed up to run and we’d planned to drive down together and then follow the run with lunch and drinks.

The thing I love most about trail running is that the terrain precludes any hope of a PB over the distance – with muddy tracks and hills, the run is more about enjoying the scenery and atmosphere that hitting split times, which takes the pressure off from the outset.

Despite promise of rain it remained dry and the weather was actually perfect for the race – a little chilly at first, but with bursts of sunshine and, once we were running, the ideal temperature. We arrived in good time to get our numbers, drop off our bags and do a quick pre-race warm-up. Due to a busy week at work I hadn’t run in a couple of days (which even on my reduced mileage is pretty unusual) and I was a little nervous about how my limbs would feel, especially as I knew the first kilometre or so was up hill. However, once I started running my body embraced the familiar movement and I felt surprisingly strong and light.

The first three kilometres passed pretty quickly and although I turned some music on briefly for kilometres three to six, I actually found that, for the first time in a long while, I preferred running without my headphones, listening to the birds instead and focusing on my breath. In regard to the latter, I am working on improving my breathing technique (as odd as that may sound!), attempting to fill my lungs properly by dropping my diaphragm and expanding my belly. This is not a breathing style I find easy or natural, but I have been promised it will revolutionise my running so I’m persevering, even though I find myself slowing down considerably as I concentrate on tilting my hips forward and allowing my stomach to inflate as I take long, deep breaths, rather than the chest-heaving, shallower ones that I’m used to.

Throughout the route I loved running on the uneven and muddy terrain, jumping puddles and skipping between pathways to avoid the squishiest of the mud. Focusing on where I was stepping rather than on the effort of running was a fun and welcome distraction, and something which kept me ever-present throughout. I actually found, having run a few cross-country races last year, that I was less afraid of the irregular pathways than I would have been previously, and discovered that I was able to ‘let my legs’ out on the down hills, passing people who were pulling up, holding back to avoid the mud and puddles.

IMG_2840I had mentally prepared for the final kilometre, which I knew was uphill, with a killer final few hundred metres of really steep incline to the finish. However, I found that by keeping my head down and my steps short, I was able to run the whole way, and although I felt a little nauseous at the top I didn’t stop until I crossed the finish line.

When the results came out I discovered that I’d knocked over three and a half minutes off my time from last year and had gone from 56th to 17th in my category. More importantly however was that I enjoyed the experience from start to finish. I loved going to the run with the girls, warming up together and having people to share the experience with. I loved being present and engaged during the run, getting out of the city and into the fresh air, listening to the birds and embracing the environment. And I loved having the girls there at the end of the race, collecting our medals and goodie bags together and relaxing post-run with Aperol and nibbles in the garden.

What this run has taught me is that I can just let go and enjoy ‘races’ without worrying about my times or putting unnecessary pressure on myself to perform. I’m never going to be a super-speedy runner and my times will never matter to anyone but me so there is no sense in piling on the pressure to do anything but the best I can on the day.

IMG_2857 (1)I’m so pleased that I’m in love with running again and that even with the pressure on our relationship can stand up to the strain. Despite slightly achy limbs from the hills, I couldn’t wait to get out again today and allowed myself a gentle 11km to stretch out.

I’ve got plenty of fun running to come and my next ‘race’ is my home-town of Stoke-on-Trent, and the Potters ‘Arf, which I’m running with my brother-in-law in June. I know it is a hilly course so again I’m writing off any hope of a PB, but I’m really exciting about running with Georg again and to having my sister and nephews there to cheer us on!

Until the next, happy running.