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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Running makes me a better person ...

Running is lots of small victories. It’s fighting the little things, the inconveniences, the blisters, the weather and the tough speed session. It’s pushing myself and my boundaries. Showing that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.

It’s only about proving it to me. A battle to race myself, to go further, faster. But it comes across in little ways. I hold my head higher and am more sure of myself. I know that I am worth something, that I can achieve things. Even if they are the small things, they give me more faith in myself. A sense of strength. A sense of worth.

Plus a freaking AWESOME medal collection and enough race t-shirts to swaddle a baby elephant.

I am an ordinary person who can do extraordinary things. I have run a marathon. 26 miles. And I ran the whole way! I am SO proud of that.

I have gone out in the rain and run 6 hard miles when the wind is blowing so hard it’s bringing tears to my eyes and my ponytail is whipping around. The rain has been hitting my face in cold lines. But I’ve run. I’ve completed my run and returned triumphant. It’s me Vs me. I’m not sure which one won. But I’m a stronger person for the battle.

When I run, the world dances, the sky is bluer.

Everyone is special. But runners are a little more so. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Big Grovelly Wovelly Post ...

Can't quite believe it but 'Dreaming of Footpaths' has been shortlisted for a running blogs award! (shocked face!!)

It seems that you all enjoy reading about running, poo and mis-adventures more than I thought! Thank you!! If you'd like to add your vote, I'd be really grateful (and I might get a free dinner!)

All you have to do is go to The Running Awards site here
Go to 'Online', 'Blog' and click 'Dreaming of Footpaths.'

Please. Do it for my free dinner.  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The First Rule of Swim Club ...

First rule of swim club is ‘Remember your knickers’. I had. I hadn't yet got into the pool and I was already winning at swimming.

I hadn’t been swimming for years but had been talked into coming to a swim coaching session. Lozza, a good friend and triathlete, was being coached by Dave Akers, an ex-competitive swimmer (his own words!) and the Masters Coach of Long Eaton Swimming Club and someone who swims crazy distances for fun. 40 kilometres in one go, anyone?

Having had no need for a swimsuit before this lesson, the 2 hours prior to getting in the pool saw me dashing around Sports Direct in search of a swimsuit that didn’t make me look as though someone had stuffed a handful of frogs into a condom. Things weren’t going well. Having declined out of hand swimsuits with chains, cut away sections and pictures of animals, I was left with 2 possibles.

One of these possible swimsuits had legs. Actual short-like legs. I was sure that I’d read somewhere that proper swimmers had legs on their swimsuits. However, after a fruitless search for a straw hat and a fake moustache I decided that I may have got this mixed up with photos glimpsed of Victorian gentlemen in their swimsuits.

After the obligatory trying on in changing rooms where the curtains don’t quite reach across and the lighting is strobing akin to that in a school disco, I decided that while swimsuits-with-legs may be good for Victorian gents, they were not my friend. I looked like a cellulitic sealion. I just needed a ball on my nose to complete the look.

Thankfully, the second possible, a purple and black swimsuit appeared to be hiding all my lumps and bumps (or possibly that was just the poor lighting) and I was now a swimmer. Well. I owned a swimsuit.

I’d remembered from when I was younger that it was easier to get changed into your swimsuit before the session but after several hard-learned lessons as a child – one involving a windy day and the forgetting of Swim Club rule 1 – I had also packed underwear and my towel.

I was also the proud owner of one magic hat. Rach had decided a while ago that swimming was to be something I should try. I had accepted the hat unsure that it would ever be used, but apparently the magic had been working on me. The colours shone like a rainbow and I was resplendent like a swimming-Joseph in my hat of many colours.

Apparently there’s a trick to putting your hat on. Lozza showed me but it was like she was doing some strange hand movement because it didn't get my hat on my head. Putting hands inside and stretching over your head. It was like some strange moist magic that didn’t work for me. I grabbed the edges and stretched it over my head, giving myself a strange Essex facelift when it sprang back. Stupid hats. All my wrinkles were now at the top of my head though.

And goggles. Apparently I had to wear goggles. I had visions of myself looking like a cool swimming Morpheus. I didn't look like a cool swimming Morpheus. I looked like a turtle. A very surprised turtle. With a rainbow coloured head.

However Swim Coach Dave was lovely. He didn’t have a shouty voice OR a whistle. Instead, he gave clear instructions that made sense even to me with my I’d-LIKE-to-have-a-memory-like-a-goldfish-but-my-memory-isn’t-that-good memory.

We swam lengths of front crawl up and down the pool so Dave could make an assessment of us and decide the best way to start making improvements. And possibly check to make sure we didn’t need armbands and a demotion to the kiddy pool.

Quickly he spotted that I was holding my head too high to breathe, which meant that my breathing was awkward and threw the rest of my stroke off balance. To sort this out Dave told me to look down at the bottom of the pool and to try to move my head with my body to breathe. It was such a simple change, but one that immediately made the swimming flow more smoothly.

To correct some further problems, Coach Dave gave me some drills – simple, repetitive exercises which exaggerated how I should be doing things to demonstrate the principles. Great for me with my 5 second memory and exercises I could use if I decided to swim again.

The first drill was to rotate on to one side, kick 4 times, then rotate to the other, take 4 kicks and repeat. As Dave explained it, this encourages a long stroke and getting used to placing your hand as far forward as possible to get the maximum out of your pull.

Picture by Anna Langova

I kept sinking. But I would rather have sunk and bounced gently off the bottom of the pool than fail at my very first drill. I managed a couple of lengths of the pool like this, gaining confidence and trying to remember that even if I DID sink, I was wearing my Hat-of-Many-Colours and someone would be sure to spot me and rescue me.

Dave explained the importance of keeping your elbows high and gave me a second drill to lengthen my stroke that he called 'catch up'. This entailed keeping one hand out in front until you tagged it with the other hand. This was a fun exercise and I was getting more used to being in the water now. I was managing to avoid both sinking and drinking the pool water. Things were looking up.

The next challenge Coach Dave gave me was to put everything I'd learned today together and make it feel fluid. It was great to feel the difference to my swimming from the beginning of the session, now I just had to try and make it natural. More focus, less flailing.

I practised a few lengths and it started to feel much smoother. Dave timed me for 2 lengths while I was concentrating on technique and then again when I was trying to go as quickly as I could. I was surprised to learn there was only 1 second time difference although the effort levels felt very different. It was a good lesson and emphasised the importance of good technique and low effort vs attempted speed and windmilling at the water until you get to the other end of the pool by sheer force.

It was a great coaching session and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I hadn't been to a pool to swim properly for years but I suspect I will be back again … and very soon. With my multicoloured hat and amazing lump-hiding-swimsuit. If you see me sinking, please don't worry, I'm only practising my drills. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Full of the Joys of Spring ...

I was full of the joys of sunny Spring days and was off out for a nice muddy lunch time run.

I’d run 22 miles the day before which had been hard. And hungover. But I had a 5 mile run in the training schedule for Saturday which I couldn’t do. So I’d decided to run this lunchtime and had been expecting heavy, sore unresponsive legs.

But rather than the wooden legs and feet of clay, I felt light and bouncy! My body was eager to run!

I ran the roads of Brackmills hopping the kerbs and sprinting the underpasses and into Delapre Woods, jumping the ditches and leaping over tree roots with a big grin on my face. I probably looked completely ridiculous. But I felt AMAZING!

A perfect run, most miles sub-8 despite the mud and having to stop to push an overenthusiastic terrier off my leg. I sprinted the last couple of hundred metres on the pavements back to work, arms out, aeroplane-ing around office workers on their lunch breaks, smiling at everyone. I ran down the grassy slope outside the office, caught my foot in the paving slab at the bottom ...

And faceplanted into the office flower beds. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

DON’T FOLLOW ME! New Running Routes & Knee Deep Cow Pats

I’d had enough moping around. Flu? Pah! I spit (and snot and cough) on your Max Strength tablets and tissues. Today is the day I get out of bed, put on my shoes and run.

Well. Crawl out of bed, drag self around house in attempt to locate running shoes and crawl wearily out of the door. I was as strong as a week old kitten and had the smooth running gait of a Day of the Dead zombie.

I’d missed 2 races, a week of marathon training and a rock concert. Stupid flu.

Enough was enough. So I decided to try a gentle trot, just to see whether I was up to running again.

A few years ago I’d bought a flimsy paperback book from the library entitled ‘Walks Around Rugby’. I’d always meant to try these walks – but run them of course! - but had never quite got round to it. So today was the day the book was going to earn its 35p outlay.

There was a route in the book that ran within a mile of my house. I knew the first part of the path and it would be good to discover some new footpaths and trails. It would be a nice 5 mile run and I could take it gently as I’d be navigating as I went so there’d be no time pressures or strict paces to maintain.


It's a bit muddier than I'd expected ...

Learning Points
  • Just because someone has written a book about a walk does not mean they have in fact done the walk. Or seen the walk. They may have in fact only been half-listening while someone else told them about *their* walk.
  • The countryside is MUDDY. Ridiculously muddy. I didn’t need trail shoes, I needed wellies. And waders.
  • Sheep chase you.
  • Cowpats are EVERYWHERE.
  • Mud is always deeper than it looks.
  • When an instruction talks a concrete pipe, it does in fact mean you will have to go down a concrete pipe. And this is an ACTUAL footpath.
  • It is possible to cover 3 counties while out for a 9 mile run.
  • My Garmin said 9 miles due to me forgetting to un-pause it after stopping to decipher undeciperable route instructions. It *may* have been 10 miles. It *felt* like 15.
  • After 3 showers and 2 baths I may still smell faintly of cow pats.

Where are my running wellies?

Good points
  • All the mud seems to have scared the remnants of the flu away.
  • Have discovered lots of new footpaths.
  • Have found a route NOT to take my 4 year old daughter.
  • Had quite a lot of fun splashing around in the mud.
  • Sheep don’t know what to do with you when they’ve caught you.

That little circular pipe high on the hill CAN'T be the footpath ...

Oh … it IS the footpath (Note the yellow footpath sign on the right)

Oh GOOD. More mud. 

I'm lost. There is mud surrounding me in EVERY direction. Meh. May as well take a photo.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

10 Reasons Not To Date a Runner

1. Their trainers smell. In fact they smell revolting. It's like roadkill has mated with some Dorset Blue Vinnie and the mutated offspring has sprouted laces and rubber soles.
Solution: Ban them from the house. Ban the trainers too. They'll HAVE to give up running when you won't let them in the house to get at their Garmin charger.

2. They will keep trying to make you run too. And they’ll have had more practise so they’ll probably be quicker.
Solution: Get used to losing. Or hide all their left trainers. You might be able to beat them if they have to hop everywhere.

3. They’ll expect you to inspect their mangled toes, missing toenails and blisters.
Solution: Say you've developed an allergy to toenails and manky feet. Every time they threaten to take a sock off make gagging noises and throw up on the sofa.

4. You’ll find yourself booking your holidays around their races. And their races will take priority.
Solution: Relax. You’ll be able to go exotic places and enjoy them. You'll be at the pool and spending your time in the bar while they're rushing around getting all hot and sweaty. Well done. You've just won at 'holidays'.

5. You'll worry yourself frantic when they go missing and then when you're about to phone all the hospitals and check the cemetery plot is still free, they’ll bound through the door saying “I just extended my long run a bit. That’s ok right?”
Solution: Insist on putting them on a retractable dog lead before they go or a run. If they've been longer than they said they would press the 'retract' button. They may complain but their Garmin stats will look amazing and if they don't get a PB from being dragged home on one of these, they never will.

6. You’re always late for things as they tried to squeeze a run in first.
Solution: Tell them you’re going out an hour before you actually are. Then they’ll be ready almost on time. Alternatively lock all the doors and tell them they have to run laps around the living room instead, then when it's time to start getting ready you can tempt them into the shower using a trail of energy gels and jelly babies.

7. Marathon training takes hours and hours. Be used to being on your own.
Solution: Find a new TV series to get into. Or a new partner. Preferably one that doesn't like running.

8. You're pulling your hair out as they want to tell you ALL about their run. In detail. Including mile splits, weather, strange twinges in their knee and whether carrying loo roll should be mandatory on long runs.
Solution: Encourage them to write a blog, then you can lie and say you read it. Alternatively encourage them to tell you at bedtime and say you're listening with your eyes closed.

9. They think it's normal to wear bin bags, carry loo roll everywhere and to have feet which would have the average leper beaming with pride.
Solution: Keep showing them pictures of Mo Farah. Keep saying “I bet HIS toenails don't shed twice a month” and “I don't see Mo running with a roll of loo roll in his running belt.” They'll appreciate your helpful comments and your sudden interest in running. And will definitely not try to smack you over the head with a trainer.

10. The washing basket is never empty. The hall smells permanently of old trainers. There are medals hanging on door handles. The food cupboard holds at least 4 types of different kinds of gels. Every time you open a cupboard a race pack falls out. There is an entire screen on their phone taken up with running app icons.

Solution: Start running. You're not likely to cure them and who knows, you might start enjoying the smell of well-worn trainers ...