Getting better

My long run this week was 11km!

It’s not that long ago I couldn’t manage 1.5 km without a walk or two in the middle to get my heart and breathing rate down.

In the meantime all those sessions where I’ve decided to run every hill but bumped out and walked them. All the time spent feeling pretty down about the figurative mountain I’ve set myself to climb. Those runs have been making a difference. The 11k tells me.

When changes are occurring slowly it’s often not that obvious.

Like kids, when they inexplicably grow out of various trouser leg lengths while remaining the same sort of size – then one day they appear in a doorway and block out all the light!

Those changes are still happening though, even when we don’t see progress in the day to day; and as with growing kids it’s cumulative.

Pausing for a moment to take stock and appreciate progress must be as important as looking forward and up.

Sans Plan

It’s funny how things develop. I’m writing this blog mainly for myself, so expect a bit of navel gazing.

Trying to order my thoughts to write posts has led inevitably to thinking about how far back I should go, or whether any of this is really relevant….

After much pondering I now recall some parts of why I decided to put a bit more effort into getting fit – the point is that it wasn’t initially for any of the reasons I now want to maintain and develop fitness, and a recognition that these motivations change over time.

I was planning a skiing trip with family who were a great deal fitter and more active than me. There’s a strong drive in me to not stand out for being the worst – being the best is wonderful, but takes alot of effort and of course the only way is down 😆 (and as far as alpine skiing goes – that’s often the only way, and terrifyingly so)

It does require stamina to stay out all day everyday and I intended to do just that!

I absolutely love skiing – it creates the same sense of freedom and well being in me that coastal and offshore sailing does – there’s something about being disconnected from everyday stressors, being in a very different and beautiful natural environment. I find it uplifting. The inherent risks these activities involve and the need for skill and concentration create a sense of self reliance and a recognition of the impact of our actions on survival.

I started on the treadmill to get my aerobic fitness and strength up, determined not to let low endurance hold my skiing back.

The new found fitness began to pay off earlier than anticipated. At the airport I got hauled for a search and we had to run for the closing gate.

The last gate in a huge long line of gates.

I was simultaneously grateful for being able to (mostly) keep up a brisk trot with a rucksack on, and regretful that I was wearing hiking boots and a ski jacket for the duration of the run. Pity my fellow passengers when I made it to the plane 😉.

So anyway – a fabulous week of skiing later, I lapsed in my levels of activity a bit.

⏩several months to a shoulder injury. It cut right down on my usual strength-based (with a cardio warm up and warm down) return-to-fitness gym programme which I’ve always found highly effective when deployed at key moments (like post baby); so I hopped back on the treadmill instead.

While having a general grumble to the fittest family member about the all pervading feeling of futility generated by running on a moving band of rubber in still air, listening to music while watching TV (an early circle of hell), and the possible comparisons with small furry animals (actually that might qualify me as an RUS – rodent of unusual size?), he says brightly, ‘Parkrun then, next Saturday, see you there at oh-eight-forty’.

Backed myself into a corner, hadn’t I. Damn. Parkrun it was. The beginning of getting out there. Outside. Doing It Properly.

Next thing I know, while I’m still crushed and sore from running further than I ever had, in a race (with sodding hills) he’s announced that I need a goal. That’s when I signed up for the Eden Half.

It looks alot like I’m not taking responsibility there doesn’t it? I am really. I am allowing myself to be moved into situations I wouldn’t have actively sought but actually would love to go.

I have noticed a pattern with these things – each one seems like a bloody stupid idea until I actually achieve it, which, since I haven’t done it yet for the Half, is currently the case. Part of training is to develop the belief that you can go the distance (or provide some evidence to counter the disbelief at least).

I think that’s partly the point – we don’t really know if we can achieve something until it’s done.

In reckless moments I think I might be able to, and end up signing up. It’s a good thing, really!

On looking back, events that have developed as twists and turns, based on impromptu decisions and grabbed opportunities, tradeoffs and negotiations, start, in hindsight, to look like it makes sense.

Of course that wasn’t the case, at all. I’m interested to hear how others got started doing something new – was it as haphazard as mine?

Dream v Reality

I had great expectations – visualising crossing the finish line of the London Marathon (now I know I should’ve fantasised about Boston, but you live and learn), probably slightly out of breath but otherwise graceful and composed.

Yeah right!

I don’t know about you, but 10 minutes into any aerobic exercise, I turn an unflattering shade of glowing tomato red, and all users sharing the immediate environment also get to enjoy hearing the puffing noises my efforts produce.

Am I painting a picture here?

No need to go on.

I also spent time imagining the beauty and romance of running around the Cornish coast path, carefree and fleet of foot, looking out across the Atlantic and dreaming of records to come.

Maybe that needed thinking through too 😂

Take the coast path, for instance, a fabulous path around the coast 😉, gorgeous views, cafes and toilets (I’m learning). It’s lovely. It’s got beaches, cliffs, and everything in between.

It’s those bits in between I’d not really factored in. The bits between the beach and the cliff inevitably involve an awful lot of up, or a great deal of down. That was a surprise.

It’s also gets pretty busy heading into summer, and anyone who negotiates narrow(ish) cliff edge paths while trying to go faster then every single other person (or in my case, most other people) using that path, will appreciate how mentally tiring that gets. So the coast path will have to be saved for winter days, where I shall endeavour not to get blown or washed off!

So having debunked the fantasy, but benefitted from its effects in setting me up with a goal of sorts, I’m finding that lacing up and getting out there involves getting over a few things – the first one was getting outside in the first place and starting to run.

The whole puffing tomato thing is not new, and neither is a general desire not to be looked at while in that state.

Past 3000m the treadmill is intolerable – I get bored; it takes ages (because I am slow) and, since my gym has no climate control, there’s a sense of being slowly parboiled.

Not a motivating combination. It was either stop running or take it outside.

But….

I worried about being seen and judged by people I did and didn’t know, not knowing how far and how hard I was pushing myself, wanting to stay safe and crucially, how to fit it in.

I’m guessing I am not alone in this?

Hoof hell – looking after heels

I completed my first and so far only Parkrun this year. Down along the river was soft and slippery to run on, but nothing compared to the splashy sloping field on the hill to the finish. I went home and started looking for trail shoes.

Three online returns later, and utterly befuddled by the variations in size coupled with inconsistent translation to and from UK, EU and US sizes, I had a pair of shoes that I could get into, indeed they were pretty wide, and which appeared to have lots of tread. They also felt low around the heel, but apparently that helps avoid chafing up the tendon when running downhill.

Now I had, I thought, done my homework reasonably well, and looked up various articles and a review post to find which were good shoes. What I hadn’t done was try any in a shop, being afraid of looking a fool trying to buy specialist shoes before even starting the sport (although it doesn’t seem so illogical now somehow). What is a running shop anyway? No sports shops I know have treadmills.

Rookie mistake #1

I can’t say I wasn’t warned, every article on the subject I’ve read before or since says GO AND GET PROPERLY FITTED.

There’s clearly a difference between reading advice and actually putting it into practice 😤

So in the meantime, while buying and returning various sizes of the trail shoe of choice, I carried on pounding around in some general gym trainers, racking up the kilometres (they look like more than miles😂), and hoping it was doing me good.

Another week of hoofing around, now in the new trailies. I did a 30 mile two day hike and missed my weekend runs, so I used my rest days to catch up on missed mileage.

Rookie mistake #2

Something started to feel very wrong.

I’m following a 20 week Half marathon training plan and 3-4 weeks in, having tried to cram that missed mileage into rest days, I started getting a contraction feeling in the achilles tendon area from the calf to the heel during my run, a sensation of swelling followed by a prickling and then a stronger pain which frightened me a bit if I’m honest – I took notice of that and walked.

I got some advice as well as scouring t’internet, and rested. No running for two weeks, lots of physio and strength work on calves and tendon at the end of the two weeks, but 1st time out, it happened again. I was starting to get pretty worried, thinking I wouldn’t be able to keep running, until I came across an article which clicked right in. I’ve since found other similar explanations which reflect my experience.

Neutral shoes can be a factor apparently, as can a transfer to toe striking. Mmm. Thinks back to description of trail shoes.

Now, as it happens (you may be ahead of me here…), I’d just bought really quite neutral (4mm) trail shoes, and had been conscious of my tendency to heel strike for a while, so the explanation rang some bells. People who are slow – ahem – do tend to heel strike more, and it isn’t in itself a bad thing. This article delves into more of the dynamic mechanics of running and I found it really useful.

I added gel heel inserts to the trail shoes and set out again, determined not to have to ditch the new hooves.

It seems to be working so far; I’m getting heel lift in them, which is annoying, but no blistering as yet, and if I feel my calves blowing up I now try to resist the urge to stretch them.

All lessons learned; but it was back to the beginning on the half marathon plan. I’d had a few weeks spare so I can still do the 20 weeks run in, but this time I’ll remember that missed runs are gone, and that getting shoes fitted is not just for the fast.

Running Outdoors – Breaking down Barriers

Feeling selfconscious

Self consciousness can be a tough one to get over for many women in starting to exercise; it was a real barrier for me.

The combination of how we feel about ourselves and the concern about how others may see us create some powerful effects – like not getting out there and doing it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I’ve found a few helpful strategies to feel less self conscious when exercising, although now I have moved from super-self-conscious to really-don’t-care, and hope shortly to arrive at don’t-give-a-flying-****! 😂

I started by staying off road, that way no drivers I knew would recognise me and I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.

You could go running with a friend or in a group to build confidence and feel less exposed.

Wearing sunglasses and full length/ capri leggings, with a long, loose, sleeveless running top that reaches down to cover my backside with a band at the hem to stop it riding up was helpful too (LA Gear and Mountain Warehouse have both been known to produce such a top).

How far and how fast?

There are apps you can run from a phone to give information, but I found that my phone has some GPS quirks and makes a number of strange assumptions at times!

I wanted to know exactly where I’d been, plan where to go, and have an idea of progress and of my heart rate and possibly even pace. I found that the addition of a fitness watch with inbuilt GPS and associated apps made a great difference to my motivation. Using a watch lets you keep a record of what you’re doing, and an at-a-glance on totals, patterns etc depending on the features of your watch and app.

It also made a difference to me getting out onto footpaths and trails I never knew existed, as I can plan a route beforehand to work out distance and how much up it involves!

Staying safe

Another barrier particularly for women getting out there and enjoying the scenery.

Being aware of who is around is important, and for that reason I tend not to use headphones while running, particularly on trails and paths.

Carrying a charged phone and letting someone know where you’re going is also a sensible precaution. I use a money belt to keep my phone, some tissue and a glucose tablet in. That way it doesn’t bounce around (I find putting the phone on my arm interferes with balance), so the phone stays out of the way. The phone is handy when I get lost as well.

I don’t mind running in public now, that self consciousness has worn off a bit and I can concentrate on getting each foot on the ground in turn. I’ve found that other people don’t seem that interested, which is ideal!

Being out there, whether on city streets, country lanes or on trails, certainly beats the mirror and the gym TVs……did I mention that you create your own cooling breeze as you run?

#womensrunning

#thisgirlcan

First Off – or not

I did some running in school, athletics, cross country, probably the same as lots of us did, and haven’t really run since, but as I head for 40 it feels like I’m arriving at some kind of a beginning.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Mike Stroud’s excellent ‘Survival of the Fittest’; he notes that 40 does tend to be a point of re- evaluation, how lots of people face their future in the knowledge that they’ve burned up their 20’s and slobbed out their 30’s, and a developing sense that something needs to change to make life a healthier place to be. That’s not why the book is insirational BTW – but I’d certainly recommend it if you haven’t already – it’s as good for armchair athletes as for seasoned adventurers.

Now perhaps I’ll not admit to either burning or slobbing (!), but in going public with this blog and setting a goal I selfishly hope I can support myself to keep up health and fitness in the longer term.

This is for me and for those of you who may be on a similar path, looking for better health and fitness and perhaps, like me, wondering at times how to fit it all in with already full lives.

That path will play out in my local area, on the footpaths and roads around Cornwall, with some thoughts and reflections on the challenges and hopefully the good times, because it’s not for punishment, or pain, amazingly this running lark is about having fun and enjoying life …. it is …. (sometimes I think that only after I finish the run, it has to be said)!

The real beginning is surprisingly hard to identify – looking back into the dim and distant past (could be somwhere in early 2017) to try and see what led to signing up for a half marathon in October 2018 I struggle to put a date on it or think of any one event that made me think I could even contemplate 13.1 miles at more than a walk. One for another post.