Six Week Challenge – The Results

Last month I wrote a post about the importance of diet and talked a bit about the challenge I was embarking on – for six weeks I would cut out all processed food.  (Well, mostly.  Life is too short to say no to the occasional piece of cake, bacon sandwich or slice of pizza).

A variety of measurements were taken before starting the challenge, at the half-way point and again at the end of the six weeks, including weight and body fat (the body fat was measured using calipers, which generally seem to be one of the most accurate ways of measuring body fat).

I’d like to add that I had no ambitions of weight or fat loss before starting this challenge.  I was intrigued as to how a better diet might improve my running (or not!) and see for myself if there were any other benefits to cutting out the processed crap.  I was already at a healthy weight and had no interest in reducing any numbers.

Typical Day

To give you an idea of the kinds of meals I was eating, an average weekday looked something like this –

  • breakfast – pancakes (made with coconut flour), with a banana, greek yoghurt, honey and home made granola or an omelette with plenty of mushrooms/bacon and vegetables
  • mid-morning snack – piece of fruit
  • dinner – chicken with rice and veg
  • afternoon snack – handful of nuts (soaked overnight) or some greek yoghurt and fruit. Maybe some 90% dark chocolate too.
  • tea – grass fed steak burger with mash and vegetables

I varied my meals to keep things interesting and I added/reduced snacks depending on the volume of training and generally how I felt.  On some days I train twice (crossfit in the morning and running in the evening) so I had to take care to ensure I got enough carbs – this really made me think about how much I used to rely on refined foods for carb intake.

Never went hungry!

Never went hungry! A typical evening meal

Stats before the challenge

weight – 48.2kg     waist – 65cm     hips – 74.5cm

body fat (mm) abs – 14, suprailiac – 13, tricep – 16, thigh – 29
body fat % – 21.4

Stats at week 3

weight – 47.6kg     waist – 64cm     hips – 72.5cm

body fat (mm) abs – 11, suprailiac – 12, tricep – 16, thigh – 25
body fat % – 19.5

Stats at week 6

weight – 47.1kg     waist – 62.5cm     hips – 68cm

body fat (mm) abs – 10, suprailiac – 9, tricep – 13, thigh – 20
body fat % – 16.6

To say I’d actually increased the amount of food I was eating, I was really surprised at the results.  Although I was disappointed to lose weight I was glad that it wasn’t a significant amount (one kilogram over the whole six weeks) and I can safely assume that I put on some lean muscle as my body fat dropped by a whopping 5%.  I really wasn’t expecting that and to be honest I’d like to put a % or two back on as I feel that 16% is quite low for a woman (just my personal opinion about my own body).

Was the challenge difficult?

At first, absolutely!  My typical day used to consist of toast for breakfast, a sandwich and crisps/biscuits for dinner and pasta for tea.  During the six weeks I couldn’t have any of my usual meals.  I had to spend a lot of money on new ingredients (coconut flour – I felt like a right wanker buying that) and I had to spend a lot of time planning meals and generally getting organised in that first week.  I was craving bread and honestly nearly jacked it all in after just a few days.

But after that, it got significantly easier and by the third or fourth week I barely had to give it any thought at all.  After the initial big spend on new ingredients, my food bill reduced and I was no longer visiting the local shop or bakery for that almost daily treat of a cake/sausage roll/bag of crisps.

 Were the any other benefits?

LOADS!  The numbers on a scale or a tape measure don’t really matter to me, the big difference was how I felt.  I had bags more energy and just generally felt less irritable.  My skin cleared up, as did my patchy eczema and I loved cooking different meals and trying new things.  My body shape changed quite a lot (even though I didn’t alter any aspect of my training) and *gasps* even my abs started peeking through.  No, don’t worry, I won’t be posting a picture of that!  After all, my core is not any stronger than it was six weeks ago, the layer of fat that insulates them is just a little smaller.

But what difference did it make to running performance, if any?

Now you’re talking!  But trust me when I say that topic deserves a post in it’s own right *spoiler alert* it made a BIG difference.  More in the next post.  I’m such a tease.

Now the six weeks is done and dusted I’m very happily continuing with the changes I’ve brought into my diet.  I definitely won’t be as strict with it as I was in the first six weeks (Easter is coming!) and I won’t hesitate to tuck into treats and take-aways every now and again.  But the next challenge for me is to try and maintain bodyweight (or even increase it a little) without eating crap.  It’s easy to pile on the pounds with junk food but putting on lean muscle is surprisingly difficult.  Shout up if you have any tips!

Why Did The Chickens Cross the Parkrun?

…..because they were being chased by a fox, obviously!

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Photo credit: David Belshaw

So this picture probably warrants some explanation.  It was my Dad’s 60th birthday and so the most obvious way to celebrate someone’s 60th is to dress up as chickens and run a 5k.  Isn’t it?  Well, it seemed logical to us.

Unfortunately it was a freezing cold day and despite the dry forecast, the moment we were released from our coop and embarked on our 5k chicken run, the heavens opened! We didn’t let the weather get us down though and we thoroughly enjoyed our time being free range.  There was a bit of fowl play when the fox kept nipping at our heels but we didn’t let him ruffle our feathers too much.

 My friend made my Dad the best cake ever….

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Rolling forwards onto the next weekend and I was determined to tackle the very muddy and hilly Pendle parkrun.  I’m lucky enough to live close to two different parkruns but more often than not I attend the Burnley one – whilst not completely flat and still containing tricky terrain, it’s a significantly faster course than Pendle (my best time at Burnley is sub-20 but at Pendle it’s 22:17).

Unfortunately if the course wasn’t tough enough the weather conditions ensured that we all had a really tough run!  Bitterly cold strong winds and incredibly muddy fields made for a difficult morning.  I really didn’t help myself by only wearing a t-shirt for a top layer – I was desperate to wear my new personalised parkrun t-shirt but I really should have put a baselayer on underneath!

I was desperate to get warm to set off at a decent pace.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the 3 miles but as long as it got me warm I didn’t care!  As predicted, the second and third mile become more of a slog with every step but I was just so desperate to get to that finish line.

Trying to get warm! (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

Trying to get warm! (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

Official time – 22:28.  Well pleased!  My course PB at 22:17 was run in the summer months in excellent conditions so I was more than happy to be just a little more than ten seconds slower.

The weekend after brought with it some perfect conditions.  The course was still very muddy but it was significantly dryer than previous weeks and the weather was just about as perfect as you could wish for – cold (but above freezing!), dry and perfectly still.  I was a bit concerned about the state of my legs though, having completed an hour’s personal training a little more than twelve hours earlier and improving my deadlift PB by more than 20kg!  But more on that in another post.

In any case, I wasn’t about to waste the perfect conditions.  Although a little heavy, my legs were holding up much better than I anticipated and so straight from the off I decided that this was my day for a new course PB.  No excuses.

My 'going for a PB' face. (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

My ‘going for a PB’ face. (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

 I tried not to get too obsessed with my pace and checking my watch and instead just run a constant hard effort.  This was made a hell of a lot easier when my garmin battery died by the second mile!  A couple of other chaps and I worked together, always trying to pull each other along.  I had no idea of my time but I really hoped I’d done enough to beat that 22:17.  As I wailed that my watch had died as I crossed the line, the run director yelled to me, “21:44!!” and the follow up text confirmed it.

Admittedly, I feel a bit of a fraud for getting PBs when my running training is at best, sporadic.  My focus has definitely been leaning towards crossfit over recent months and my mileage is pretty much half what it used to be.  I feel like my luck will run out soon enough but whilst the PBs are still coming, I’ll let the results do the talking.

Cruising to a new PB at Pendle (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

Cruising to a new PB at Pendle (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

Winter Warmer 10k

Despite enduring a not-so-enjoyable race just two weeks earlier, last Sunday everything felt different.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I was starting to feel some serious benefits to the overhaul in my diet.  As well as feeling stronger, I also felt lighter – a definite advantage when faced with a steep, two mile long hill at the start of a 10k race!

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Not the easiest of starts!

Not only that, but we’d been treated to some seriously motivating words from the one and only Ben Mounsey the previous evening (if you’re into running in any way, shape or form, you MUST read his blog).

He’s such a top bloke and it’s so refreshing to see someone who is at the top level of their sport to be so down to earth and personable.  I’ve always been of the stance that it’s hard graft that gets rewards.  Yes, genetics will play a part up to a certain point but nothing comes close to time and effort.  It was great to hear him reinforcing this and made for an incredibly inspiring night.

Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny

Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny

When I arrived at Witton Park on the Sunday I still had Ben’s words ringing in my ears.  “There is no talent here, this is hard work.”  This is why, some mornings, I’ll throw myself out of bed at 4:45am to do hill reps in the middle of a storm.  Why, at the end of some long days at work, I’ll throw a coffee down my neck, pull myself together and throw heavy shit above my head at crossfit (it’s a bit more sophisticated than that but you get the idea).  And it’s why, some evenings whilst everyone else appears to be settling down in front of the television, I’ll make myself do some yoga – and this is a big thing for me because I am really shit at yoga.

But that’s what it takes.  Your effort.  Your time.  Your energy.  And it’s all worth it as you pass runner after runner up Buncer Lane, climbing 500ft in the first two miles and loving every step.

Photo credit: Suzanne Schofield

Photo credit: Suzanne Schofield

I felt entirely different to how I felt in the race two weeks ago.  I felt light and agile.  I felt speedy.  I felt strong.  I stress that it could be entirely coincidental but I’m definitely continuing my bread and pasta free diet for the time being.

There was a strong headwind on the way back into the park but I was still making good ground, continuing to pass people.  I was really surprised on the descent – this is where I normally hold myself back as I just didn’t have the leg strength to push.  But crossfit seems to be making a difference and I found myself gaining a few more places where I’d normally lose them.  Back on to the track and it was just a case of the 400m to the finish.  I absolutely love a track finish and was sure to relish this one.  If anything, I should have given a bit more effort in the first half of the race, as my last .23 miles at 5:20 pace suggests I had a bit more juice left in the tank!

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Photo credit: David Belshaw

I’d never done the Winter Warmer 10k before but I’ll absolutely be returning.  It was so well-organised and there was an abundance of cheery volunteers out there on a very cold and windy morning.  Sincere thanks to the Blackburn Roadrunners.

After a quick refuel and wrapping up in some layers we hung around for the presentation where I was over the moon to receive a gift voucher for 2nd lady (although please know I was a long way behind the first!).  But most importantly I felt a different person in comparison to the previous race.  And that feeling of satisfaction and pride will see me get out the door at 5am and off running into the dark for at least another month or two.  Because there is no talent here, this is hard work.

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Diet – How Important Is It?

I’ve seen infographics, memes and ‘motivational’ posters plastered all over the internet about how ‘abs are made in the kitchen’, how you ‘can’t outrun a bad diet’ and how fitness is ‘20% exercise and 80%’ nutrition.  And I’ve always scoffed at them.

For one thing, I couldn’t give a crap about abs (having a six pack is not a symbol of good health and not having one is not a symbol of bad health).  I value my body much more for what it can do as oppose to how it looks.  And fitness is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition?  Bullshit.  I ran 50 miles off pork pies and crisps.  My regular diet consisted of bread, pizza, pasta, biscuits and crisps.  I still did a lot of home cooking with fresh ingredients but I can’t deny the sheer volume of beige coloured ‘food’ that went into my mouth.

But I could run.  And dare I say it, run pretty well.  I was fit.  I was a healthy weight for my height.  I was hardly the epitome for health and fitness but nor was I was the poster girl for ‘you are what you eat’.  (As far as I’m aware, nobody has called me kebab face, pasty arse or pie girl.  Not to my face, anyway).

But I’m about to eat my own words.  For the past three weeks I’ve been taking part in a nutrition challenge (run by a registered nutritionist) and I’m pretty shocked about my experience.  In short, the challenge is to cut out all processed foods.  I guess if you had to put a label on it, ‘paleo’ would be the closest.  I always thought that paleo was about meat, meat, meat and no carbs.  But rice (preferably wild rice), potatoes, sweet potatoes and fruit are encouraged – personally I’d stay clear of any type of diet that cut out whole food groups.  But any type of bread is out.  Pasta is gone.  Refined sugar out the window.  Fine, I thought.  I can do this.

Three days in and I realised just how poor my previous diet had been.  I was ready to kill for a piece of toast!  I wanted spaghetti and garlic bread.  I wanted pies.  I needed a sandwich.  I was just about ready to throw in the towel when a few of the other participants urged me to hold on.  I was assured the first bit was the worst and I’d soon start feeling the benefits if I could stick with it.

I did some food shopping and planned some meals.  I had a big cook off at the weekend and I also made ALL the snacks (unprocessed, of course).  If nothing else I was determined to go a full seven days without any type of bread, just to prove to myself that I could do it.  A week passed.  I noticed small differences in how I felt so I decided to keep going.

I wasn’t bloated anymore.

I had energy to rival the duracell bunny.

My ‘teenage’ skin was clearing.

My patchy eczema was completely gone.

Cravings for sweet things reduced dramatically and my need to snack greatly reduced.

I was happy all the time!

I genuinely couldn’t believe how good I felt.  More than that, I was really enjoying cooking with new ingredients and learning new recipes.  It was no longer about what I wasn’t allowed but more about learning what tasted delicious and was nutritionally superior than stuff that came out of a packet.

I’ve always avoided mackerel but I have discovered that it’s the tastiest thing ever when mashed up with Greek yoghurt, lemon, mustard and dill.  I’ve learned that prior to a race, I feel so much better eating a banana than I do eating a bagel.  I’ve learned that after a race I recover quicker by eating a baked potato with tuna than I do with a protein shake and a packet of crisps.

Good quality steak burger, coriander rice and fried peppers and onions with a cider vinegar dressing.

Good quality steak burger, coriander rice and fried peppers, courgettes and onions with a cider vinegar dressing.

Epic salad with chicken, cheese, avocado and toasted pine nuts.

Epic salad with chicken, cheese, avocado and toasted pine nuts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that absolutely nothing processed has passed my lips over the past few weeks.  I’m a big believer in balance and a bit of what you fancy does you good.  I’ve had a bacon butty, some cakes and the odd biscuit.  I’ve got a pizza in the freezer that will be used at some point next week.  If I go to a friend or family member’s for tea, I’ll happily eat whatever is put in front of me with gratitude.  I think the moment you become obsessed with labelling foods as ‘bad’ you’re on a slippery slope.  But if I can get rid of the processed crap for the most part then I’m in a much better position that I was before.  (We’re also supposed to be cutting out cow’s milk on this challenge but I’ve made the decision to continue drinking it.  I have no qualifications in nutrition but I feel there’s a big benefit to whole milk and I’m happier sticking with it than cutting it out.)

After a shaky start, in just three weeks I feel infinitely better.  My body feels stronger and I do think that this has affected my performance.  I ran the East Lancs Hospice 10k when I had just started the challenge and was really struggling with the withdrawal from processed foods.  I didn’t feel great.  I finished in 43:13 and didn’t enjoy the run all that much (apart from the high 5s at the end!).

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Stuggling to keep up. (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

Fast forward two weeks and on an arguably tougher course in tougher conditions I ran a 41:29 (race report to come!).

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Feeling great! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

Of course, this little challenge is far from scientific.  Three weeks is not a significant amount of time.  There could be dozens of other factors that affected my race performances and I’m not going to assume it’s all because I’m eating better.  For now, I’ll take it with a pinch of salt.

I’ll be honest though….it’s hard to ignore.  The challenge continues for another three weeks and I’ll be keeping an open mind but I’m pretty sure the relationship between me and supermarket bread is toast.

Fast Food – Pancakes

I hate the term ‘protein pancakes’ or ‘paleo pancakes’ and I feel uncomfortable replacing products containing gluten with gluten-free options when I am not allergic to gluten.  However, I must confess that is exactly what these pancakes are and they are so delicious, quick and easy to make that I’m going to forgive them.  It’s all natural ingredients and these tasty things are actually pretty damn good for you.  Winner!

Ingredients (makes 1 hearty pancake):

  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • butter for frying (proper butter, no margarine rubbish)

That’s it! Plain pancakes are a bit boring though, so here’s some suggestions for toppings:

  • Greek yoghurt (not the low fat kind – avoid like the plague!)
  • honey (local, if you can get it)
  • bananas
  • fresh berries (or frozen, just allow plenty of time to defrost)
  • granola

Method:

  • Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan.  Meanwhile, whisk together your eggs and coconut flour.
  • Pour your batter mixture into the pan and let it cook for a few minutes on a low to medium heat.  Have a quick peek underneath to check the colour on the bottom.  When it’s lightly brown (or however you’d prefer it), turn it over.  I prefer the traditional pancake toss but it doesn’t always end well.
  • Give it a couple more minutes and when it’s nicely coloured on both sides, it’s done!
  • Top it with whatever you fancy

If you don’t have a lot of time in the mornings (I don’t) I find these are perfectly fine cooked the previous evening and put in a tupperware (keep your toppings separate).  I add my toppings at work and find them surprisingly tasty cold.

Running Form – How Important Is It?

I think if you asked this question to your running buddies you’d probably get a different answer from every person.  To some, it matters greatly.  Others, not so much.

If you’d have asked me this question six months ago I’d have probably taken the ‘not so much’ stance.  My form is far from perfect (when I get tired it can get very sloppy) but I’ve never felt like it’s done me any real harm.  Nothing hurts when I run, my form has never caused me an injury and most importantly, I’m happy and comfortable with the way I run and I sit very firmly in the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ camp.

But for the past few weeks I’ve been working with a running coach and I’ve started to understand the difference good form can make (I was lucky enough to win a free month’s coaching as a prize from winning a local race series).  My form from my hips downwards isn’t too bad but my tight shoulders and my flailing arms are far from graceful…..and just downright inefficient.

Looking back on race photos, I was shocked to see just how many showed me running with my elbows pointed out to the sides like I’m trying to do the funky chicken….

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Just minutes into my track assessment with the coach he brought up the issue.  He explained that I probably lost half an inch to an inch of distance with every single step as a result of the inefficiency of swinging my shoulders the way I was.  An inch doesn’t really seem worth worrying about, right?  But think about how many steps you might take over the course of a 10k race – maybe somewhere in the region of 9,000 – 11,000?  All of a sudden that inch starts to make a big difference.

Here are some tips that have helped me the most in the last few weeks in making my arm swing more efficient:

  • Pump your arms forward and backward in line with the direction of movement. The arms should not swing across the body and the elbows should point backwards, not outwards. (Every now again during a run, I’ll just repeat to myself elbows in, elbows in).  Also, if your arms cross over your chest, you’re more likely to slouch, which means you’re not breathing efficiently. Imagine a vertical line splitting your body in half — your hands should not cross it. (I imagine myself wearing a running jacket with a zip and I mustn’t let my fingers cross over to the other side of the zip).
  • Keep your hands at waist level about where they might lightly brush your hip. Some runners have a tendency to hold their hands way up by their chest, especially as they get tired (that’s me!). You may actually get even more tired by holding your arms that way and you’ll start to feel tightness and tension in your shoulders and neck.
  • Rotate arms from the shoulder, not the elbow. Keep the elbows bent and really try to focus on driving them backward.  Think of your arm as a pendulum, swinging back and forth at your shoulder.
  • Hold the elbows at about a 90-degree angle. Allow the elbow angle to fluctuate slightly during the arm swing, but don’t stray too far from 90 degrees (70 to 120 degrees is a good range.)
  • Swing the arms powerfully through a full range of motion. Your hands should move from your hip (or a bit further back) to your chest. When sprinting or running uphill, your hands should move from your back pocket (or a bit further back) to your chin.
  • Keep the shoulders and hands relaxed. The shoulders should be down, not tight, and the hands should be relaxed but stable, not clenched in a fist, hyper-extended, or flopping around.  (Try shaking out your arms every mile or so – this will help to relax your shoulders and release any tension).

This won’t be a quick fix by any means.  It will take a long time before these improvements to efficiency will become natural.  I have to constantly remind myself and do a ‘body check’ whilst I’m running – “what are my hands doing?”, “are my shoulders relaxed?”, “are my elbows in?”.  But if you keep putting the effort in you will start to notice a difference.  My running already feels much smoother – less shuffling and more gliding!

Smoother running at last weekend's trail 10k (Photo credit: Ann Osborne)

Smoother running at last weekend’s trail 10k (Photo credit: Ann Osborne)

I have to confess that the above picture was taken early on in the race when I was still feeling good and relatively fresh.  My form definitely deteriorated as the race went on and it didn’t take too many miles for the pointy elbows to make a return!

Photo credit: Ann Osborne

Photo credit: Ann Osborne

I’m determined to stick with it though and I’m hoping it will start to feel more natural in the months to come.  I still had a big grin on my face and mud on my legs so it can’t be all bad!

Of course, you should never feel pressured into altering the way you run.  If you’re pain-free and happy in your stride then that’s the most important thing.  Some of the best athletes in the world have ‘unusual’ form and it clearly doesn’t do them any harm.

There are some instances though in which all thoughts of efficiency and technique should be wildly abandoned – namely when you are blessed with a group of enthusiastic youngsters at the side of the road in the final section of a race.  Yes, you would probably shave 5-10 seconds off your time if you focused and sprinted for the line.  But when I look back on a race I rarely remember how many hours/minutes/seconds it took me to finish.  I always remember receiving exuberant high fives that make me feel like a rock star….

Photo credit: Adrienne Olszewska

Photo credit: Adrienne Olszewska

Fast Food – Baked Eggs

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite weekday post-run breakfasts and is ridiculously easy (and cheap!) to make.

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Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
  • handful of spinach
  • 1 or 2 free range eggs
  • seasoning – salt, pepper, chilli flakes to taste

Method:

  • switch the oven on to 200C (180 fan oven)
  • pop your spinach in a colander and pour freshly boiled water over it from the kettle (why not make a cuppa at the same time?). This will nicely wilt the spinach. Squeeze out any excess water and put it in the bottom of an oven proof dish.
  • Season your tomatoes (anything goes but I really like chilli flakes in mine with a dash of salt and pepper) and give them a good stir.  Pour it into the dish on top of the spinach.
  • Make a small well (or two) and crack your egg(s) into them.  Place in the oven for about 15 minutes – just enough time to shower and change and your baked eggs will be ready!

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This dish is wonderfully versatile – try adding your favourite herbs, add some cooked veggies or chorizo to your tomatoes or maybe grating some cheese on top.

 

Review of 2015: Soar

You may remember (but probably not) that at the beginning of each year I like to pick a single word that will hopefully help carve out the year ahead.  2014 was ‘progress’ and this year it was ‘soar‘.  There’s been ups and downs but generally I do believe that I’ve managed to soar this year.

After working hard to gain myself a championship spot for the London marathon, I’ve finally achieved my childhood ambition of running the London Marathon.  I also managed to make it a double whammy by completing it in under 3hrs 15minutes, another ambition ticked off.

Pain, joy, fatigue, happiness, the emotion of seeing my family and the sweet relief of seeing the finish line. A moment I'll never forget.

Pain, joy, fatigue, happiness, the emotion of seeing my family and the sweet relief of seeing the finish line. A moment I’ll never forget.

After recovering from the marathon and taking a bit of time out I entered my first ultra marathon, completing 50 miles in one day.  I had so much fun, but to be honest I think I was more interested in all the snacks!  But after that I got my head down and really focused on speed.  I trained hard and I trained consistently for a couple of months.  The end result was smashing my target of a sub40 10k – what a day that was!  I also completed my 50th parkrun this year, grabbed my first sub20 pakrun time and even had a go at an obstacle race and managed a podium finish.

Photo credit: Martin Pearson

From September onwards I put running aside and joined crossfit.  It brought more fun and variety to my training and whilst I’m still very new to it, three months in I’m really starting to make some progress.  I’m gradually increasing the weight on the bar and my confidence is growing in the gymnastic movements.  I also gave myself a little challenge of mastering double unders by Christmas (a skipping movement in which you have to whip the rope around twice whilst only jumping once).  I just made it, completing thirty unbroken double unders on the 19th December.

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I’m just at the point now where I’m enjoying bringing the running back into my regular routine and so far managing to keep up the crossfit too.  Although let’s face it, I’ve had a lot more spare time with having two weeks off work over Christmas and it might be a bit more of a challenge come January 4th!

Fitness stuff aside it’s been a pretty great year.  I sold the first house that I bought alone at the age of 24, went on an incredible trip to Mexico, turned 30 without having so much as a minor meltdown and the chap that I want to grow old with asked if he could be my husband.  It’ll be a hard year to top but I’m pretty sure that 2016 is going to contain some very special moments indeed.

This just leaves to say a sincere thank you for reading this year and I hope you’ll stick with me into the next one.  I’ll be jumping into it feet first….

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The Turkey Trot 2015

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all through the house…..it was total chaos as we were gearing up for the annual Turkey Trot!

This is, without doubt, the best race of the year.  It started off a few years ago with mostly fast club runners and the occasional santa hat and bit of tinsel.  More and more people of all abilities have got involved and with the majority opting to wear fancy dress it’s turned more into a social event rather than a race.

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Photo credit: Tony Kipax

This year I took part in a group outfit – the nativity scene.  As the only female in the group I got to play the part of Mary, although I may have said a few choice words when traversing the waist deep puddle that Mary definitely wouldn’t approve of.  I also lost baby Jesus for about half a mile but we’ll just quickly gloss over that one.

Photo credit: Darren Horner

Photo credit: Darren Horner

We splashed through puddles, fell over in mud, sang carols and generally had a merry old time.  It didn’t even feel like a run at all!  I think the highlight of my day was being over taken by a man wearing stilettos!  (I’ve no idea how you ran the whole way in those, Andy, but kudos to you sir).

As well as putting on an epic race with an amazing atmosphere, the organiser also raised a hefty sum for the Cumbria flood appeal.  So many of us runners flock to that area for some stunning fell races and it only felt right to try and do our bit.  Donations were taken, runners were allowed to enter on the day with the cash being put into the charity bucket (it’s normally pre-entry only with a strict limit) and there was even an auction for a week long stay in the Lake District to ensure that money is put back into the area.  The whole charity aspect of it just made the day even more special and left us all warm and fuzzy inside.  Although that could have been the post-race beer…..

The prize giving was the best yet, with winners encouraged to gamble their prizes for whatever may be inside a secret envelope, prizes for fancy dress as well as fast times and even spot prizes just being literally thrown at people.

Spot prize! A big pie and some mulled wine = a happy Mary! (Photo credit: Martin Pearson)

Spot prize! A big pie and some mulled wine = a happy Mary! (Photo credit: Martin Pearson)

There were so many fantastic outfits and I can’t mention all my favourites, but special credit has to go to Michael for his original costume….

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Thank you, Chris and your merry band of marshals.  The pressure’s now on to think of new costumes for next year!

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

nativity - woods

 

N.B. Special thanks to Ann who tirelessly made all of our nativity costumes – you are an Angel!

Fairytale of London

This was, is, and as far as I can say for the future, always will be a running/fitness blog.  Let’s face it, ‘tinyrunner’ would be a crap domain name for a fashion blog (not to mention my total lack of style).  But every now and again I’ll post about something that has absolutely nothing to do with those topics (like today), either because it affects my running or simply because it’s my blog and I’ll say what I like and and and I have exciting news that I want TO SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!

A little under a fortnight ago I was handed a suitcase by my partner and told to fill it with warm clothing and a bikini (yes, I was confused too).  My 30th birthday was coming up and he was treating me to a surprise trip away.  However – that was all the information I was to be given and the rest would be done on a ‘need to know’ basis.  I cannot tell you how excited this made me and I spent the whole of the next couple of days trying to guess what would happen.  I was given red herrings such as Blackpool Sandcastle, a submarine and Iceland….the supermarket!

On the Friday morning I was chauffeured to work and was told I would be collected and our trip would begin.  What I did not expect was to be collected by a car that had smoke billowing from under the bonnet and a very strong smell of burning rubber!  We were forced to dump the car at a local garage, grab the suitcases out of the boot and run to a local taxi base (in the pouring rain).  A quick conversation with the staff and there wouldn’t be a taxi free for at least half an hour.  Undeterred, we grabbed our cases and set off running in the opposite direction to a bus stop!  At this point I was very glad of all those crossfit sessions.  Anytime my partner asked if I was still okay with my suitcase I just responded, “Yep, I lift!”

We eventually reached the train station where I learned we were London bound!  We’ve been to London together twice before (one of the trips involved a bit of a run) and we’ve always had such an amazing time.  But the surprises kept on coming when I found out where we were staying (studio room in a luxury hotel).  I was treated like a princess and yet I still stuck to my Lancashire ways in bringing a pot noodle into the hotel.  Well, it was an M&S pot noodle.

We were so lucky with the weather and got to visit lots of places we just didn’t have time for in our first couple of trips to the capital.  After a fun-filled day and a quick shower and change I was told we were going somewhere nice for tea (dinner to you southerners 😉 ).  I am clueless about London restaurants but when we got off the tube at South Kensington I knew it was going to be special.  I may have screamed a little when we walked into this place….

dinner

“Dinner by Heston Blumenthal”

The whole experience was second to none and I kept pinching myself expecting to wake up from this wonderful dream.  But the surprises were far from over for the night……

We had a short walk over to Hyde Park which, unbeknownst to me, is turned into a winter wonderland at this time of year.  There were roller coasters, bierkellers, live bands, German markets, mulled wine and I LOVED it!  I love the Christmas markets at Manchester but this really was something else.

winter wonderland

We’d had such a brilliant day and I was more than ready to just hop on the tube and go back to the hotel for a loooong sleep.  But when Martin suggested one last moonlit stroll along Westminster Bridge, how could I resist?  We got off the tube a stop early and took in the sights of the London Eye and Big Ben at night for one last time.  But as we were admiring the view and the ‘bong’ of Big Ben chimed for 11pm, he got down on one knee, got a ring from his pocket, said something beautiful and romantic that I cannot remember for the life of me because I was dumb struck at the ring part and asked me a very important question….

ring

I said “yes!”

 A few tourists cottoned on to what was happening and clapped and applauded, with one lovely lady running over and giving us both a massive hug.  I later learned that the majority of my friends and family knew what was planned – even my hairdresser knew before I did! How they all kept quiet I’ll never know.  Even my boss has known since April?!?  Everything about the weekend was just magical and even the bits that went wrong (broken down car, problems with train tickets etc.) were just more adventures, meant we had more funny stories to tell on our return and ensured that that fairytale in London would never be forgotten.

Thank you for indulging me in this non-running related post.  I’d just like to reassure you that whilst this is such a special time for me and my partner and a few close friends and family, I realise that nobody else really cares – and rightly so!  I don’t have much interest in other people’s weddings (aside from close friends and family) and appreciate therefore that others will not be interested in ours.  So aside from the initial excitement of the proposal, I promise not to turn this blog or any of my social media accounts into a wedding frenzy.  I’m sure there’ll  be the occasional mention (let’s be realistic!) but I will not be instagramming bridesmaids dresses, facebooking about whether to have chicken or beef on the menu and it definitely won’t have it’s own hashtag.  But don’t follow me on pinterest because I am pinning the shit out of that!

I’m still running and crossfitting and after taking a two week break to enjoy some celebrations and have a bit of a rest, I’m back training again.  There are some exciting running plans for the new year and I’m looking forward to getting stuck back in.  Going by others’ experiences I’ve a strong feeling that the stress relieving endorphins I get from a good run will be much needed over the next year!

laughter

I might be 30 but I still pride myself on my immaturity!

Red Rose Cross Country – Bolton

As I gripped one hundred parkrun tokens in my bare, frozen hands, all I could think was, “please don’t drop them, please don’t drop them….”

Marshalling in bad or cold weather conditions can be a bit grim but nothing comes close to being on finishers’ token duty at parkrun when the temperature is below freezing (as it just happened to be this Saturday……when I was on finishers’ token duty…….).  It’s impossible to wear gloves as you just can’t pick up the tokens individually but if you go without gloves then of course your hands get cold very quickly, especially if you’re a Raynaud’s sufferer.  The job becomes very tricky indeed when you no longer have use of 80% of your fingers!  It goes without saying that if this is the only medical condition I have to whinge about then I am very lucky indeed, but I was still very happy to jump back in the car at 10am and blast the heater on.

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I was in heaven when I got back home – I got all wrapped up, put the kettle on and plonked myself on the sofa.  The very last thing I wanted to do was go back outside in those freezing temperatures.  Only there was the small matter of the cross country race I’d committed to going to in an hours’ time.  Oh tits.

It really did take all of my willpower to drag myself upstairs and get ready.  I shuddered at the thought of running around in tiny shorts and a vest.  I shuddered even more at the thought of hanging around the start line, stood still in aforementioned tiny shorts and vest.  But as I contemplated wussing out I reminded myself that I always enjoy every event I’ve gone to, especially when I didn’t really fancy going in the first place.

A car full of team mates kindly arrived to give me a lift and I squeezed in the back…..even if I wanted to there was no ducking out now!  We spent the journey chatting about how much we were dreading the race and our spirits sank even further when we arrived to a field of crying children.  Pretty much all of the juniors that had taken part where now wet, muddy, cold and upset.  I’ll be honest, I really did feel like joining in with them and turning on the water works and asking for my mum.

2015-11-21 14.21.37

 Normally I like to have a bit of a jog around the course, just to see what’s what.  But that wasn’t happening on Saturday.  I stayed warm for as long as I could and then quickly stripped off, attempting to keep the curse words to a minimum on account of the juniors being present.  Unfortunately the start was delayed (which may have released a few curse words muttered under my cold breath) and so ensued the typical ‘pogo’ start line dance in an attempt to keep the blood flowing to the extremities.

When the gun fired it was the usual charge.  I’d not really warmed up properly and so despite starting pretty near the front I soon found myself mid-pack and jostling for position.  It was a tough course with lots of ups and downs, some steep contours, a river crossing and a hell of a lot of mud.  But do you know the faintest sign of a grin started etching it’s way across my mush.

After the first mile I was feeling lovely and warm and I was really starting to enjoy splashing around the route.  I worked hard and did my best to keep overtaking.  The support out on the course was fantastic with the majority of men from all the local clubs opting to come and cheer their female counter parts on whilst waiting for their own race to start.

The smile got a bit bigger after the first lap as I now knew what was waiting for me the second time around.  My confidence grew and I gritted my teeth.  It was hard to control your breathing, especially on the more exposed parts of the route where a bitter wind would slap you in the face every now and again.  But I was loving it.  I loved knowing that most people would be at home sat on the sofa and here I was, having a whale of a time galloping around a freezing field.  I felt like I was six years old again, although this time I could run for a lot longer and maybe a little bit faster.

Photo credit: Ann Osborne

Photo credit: Ann Osborne

The race was over far too soon and I stayed out on the course as long as I could to support everyone before I had to rush back to the tent to put some layers on (and stuff my face with cake and coffee).  I later learned I’d finished in 12th place out of a strong field of 135 ladies and that definitely put the cherry on top.

So if you have the chance, make sure you have a go at a cross country race this winter.  I promise you’ll have more fun than you think.  And remember the worse the weather conditions are, the more satisfying that post-race hot bath is.  Unless you’ve just washed your spikes in there.  Then it’s just minging.

2015-11-21 17.20.26

Assessing the Situation

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been a bit all over the place recently in terms of training.  I’ve still been enjoying running (although doing markedly less of it) and I’ve really been enjoying crossfit classes.  My mileage has more than halved and when I am actually out training, I often feel it’s a bit pointless as I’ve been aching so much from strength training.  Honestly, I was starting to get a bit de-motivated by it all.  Yes, I was enjoying it (and for me that’s the most important thing) but I was finding it frustrating to feel like my fitness level was going backwards despite putting a lot of time and effort into training.

My long runs have just ceased altogether.  I like to do these at weekends and the past 6 weeks has seen hen do’s, birthday celebrations, weekends away and weddings galore.  This not only means no training but means I also feel like crap for a few days afterwards due to all the eating and drinking I like to do during aforementioned activities!  Yes, I could decide not to drink and to eat sensibly, but seriously, where’s the fun in that?

Cheers!

Cheers!

But despite all this I had an epiphany on the track last week.  I’d not actually been down to the track since September when I was training for that sub40 10k……that race feels soooo long ago now!  I’d lost my speedwork mojo as my legs just seemed to be aching all the time, whether it be from a ridiculous amount of attempted pistol squats or some heavy deadlifts.  And let’s face it, if I’m not in the mood for speedwork then I’m certainly not going to pay £3:40 to stand outside and whinge for an hour.

But last week the all too familiar feeling of heavy legs and a literal pain in the bum was notably absent.  Wanting to make the most of this rare situation I happily ran to the track from home, using the journey as a good warm up.  Once there, I discovered the session was to be 5 x 1200m with 400m recoveries.  That’ll do nicely!

Once we started the session, the running just felt effortless.  I didn’t really understand what was going on and fully expected the coach to announce some seriously slow times.  But it turns out I was running the first 800m of the 1200m reps faster than I would normally do an 800m rep and then keeping this speed up for the remaining 400m.  The remaining reps were all consistent, with the last effort done a wee bit quicker.  I felt strong.  Normally my form goes to shit towards the end of a speed session but I was holding myself well, even on the run back home.

Yes! I thought to myself on the way back.  This is it….I’ve finally reached the point where all my strength training is starting to improve my running.  I felt like my love for speedwork had returned and started to feel really positive about winter training.

You can feel the impending sense of doom, right?

Sure enough, over the next few days I was struck down with a horrible virus and all forms of exercise came to a complete stop.  I just wasn’t myself and all I wanted to do was lie down in a dark room and not speak to anyone.  Just in time for my friend’s wedding!  You’ll be pleased to know I soldiered on and had a great time, but you know there’s something seriously wrong when I end up giving away my sticky toffee pudding because I just didn’t feel like eating…..

But now I feel like I’m back to square one.  No running or crossfit classes for over a week and despite being rid of the virus I still feel tired and sluggish.  I went out for an easy run last night as a bit of a test run.  I felt okay but the average pace on my watch told a different story!  So not the best position to be in for this weekend’s upcoming Leeds Abbey Dash.  It’s a big event, with some seriously fast runners leading the way.

abbey dash

Add to that the weather forecast (heavy rain and gale force winds) and I seriously considered dropping out.  Wait, wait, hang on a minute.  I’m embarrassed that I actually contemplated wussing out of a race I’d paid quite a bit of money to enter because I knew I wouldn’t get a PB or run a decent time (for me).  If I ever get to the point where I refuse to race because I know I won’t do well then it’s time to hang up my trainers.  So I’ll be there on Sunday, rain or shine, fast or slow and I’ll just see what I can do.  Just like the state of my sweaty face after all of Saturday night’s (fever) dancing, it won’t be pretty, but racing never is.

And I know that if I keep working hard the fitness will be back before I know it.  That feeling I had on the track where everything clicked…..I’ll feel it again soon.  And whilst every race can’t be a PB or a season’s best, wouldn’t it be lovely to see that 39:36 just be a little bit smaller before the year is out?  Watch out Ribble Valley 10k, I’ve got my eyes on you.

me & martin

Mind Over Matter

Ready for a new level of pathetic?  At the end of next month I’ll be 30 years old and I have never been able to do a handstand.  Not even against a wall.  I was always the little girl in the playground that stood back and watched as my friends did handstands and cartwheels on the grass bank.  I enjoyed watching them but I would have given anything to be able to join in.  But every time I lined up and got ready to throw myself at that wall I chickened out.

 What if I bang my head against the wall?  What if I topple over and hurt my neck? What if my arms give way underneath me?  What if…what if….what if?

Trust me when I say that doing a hand or a headstand against a wall requires little to no athletic ability whatsoever.  Okay, when you start to do free standing ones then yes, absolutely –  that’s when a strong core, good shoulder mobility, balance and wrist strength come into play.  But when you’re using a wall, all that stands between you being upright and upside down is fear.  Or, more importantly, lack of it.

I’ve thrown myself out of a plane at 14,000ft and I’ve found the courage to leap off the edge of a crane towering over a lake attached to a bungee rope.  I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve raced my heart out over marathon distance and I’ve found both the physical and mental strength to run 50 miles in one day.  But did I have the courage to throw myself at that wall to have a go at something most six year olds can do?  Nope.

Until now.

Last week at a crossfit gymnastics session it was time to practise hand stand push ups.  Believe me, those things are hard enough even without the crippling fear of doing a hand stand.  I mentioned to the coach and those around me, with a little embarrassment, that I’d never actually been able to do a simple hand or headstand.  I expected a little laughter, maybe some pitying looks and to be told to ‘sit this one out’.

Instead I was met with support, guidance and a hell of a lot of encouragement.  They reassured me that nothing bad would happen and they would be right there if I started to topple.  I took a deep breath and went for it.  I can’t tell you how chuffed I was to do it!  It was nothing special (in fact it was very clumsy and you could barely call it a headstand at all) but I did it.  And then I did it again.  And again.

The only thing that held me back all these years was in my head.  A simple case of mind over matter.  And that can be applied to so many things.  At the end of last week’s gymnastic session we had a ‘plank off’.  The aim: to hold a plank for as long as possible in the 4 minute time limit.  Then have 2 minutes rest and again hold a plank for as long as possible for a 4 minute maximum.  So, for example, if you could hold a plank for 3 minutes in the first round you would get 3 minutes rest before planking again.

'Plank off!' (Photo credit: crossfit pendle)

‘Plank off!’ (Photo credit: crossfit pendle)

At first I balked at the idea of getting anywhere near 4 minutes just once, let alone twice.  But then I gave myself a good talking to.  “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”.  I was going to hold that plank for as long as my body would physically let me.  We got into position and away we went.  The first couple of minutes went by quite quickly but after that the pain started to kick in.  There weren’t many of us left planking after two and a half minutes and we didn’t have an easy time of it with the coach constantly watching and making sure we were keeping good form.  But despite my initial doubts I held that plank for the full 4 minutes.  The 2 minutes of rest were gone in an instant and I couldn’t bear the thought of doing another plank.  But I got into position and went for it again.  For one minute, for two and then three.  By this point I was the only person left planking and I had everyone shouting support and encouragement at me.  My whole body was shaking but I refused to give in.  3:58, 3:59, 4 minutes!  I collapsed in a heap on the ground with a huge smile on my face.

I’ve applied ‘mind over matter’ so many times in running, especially in those big milestone races and in my first attempt at an ultra.  But why limit it to sport?  Next time you catch yourself saying “I can’t do this”, think again.  Take a deep breath and just go for it…..you might just surprise yourself.

IMAG1869_1

N.B.  If you want to improve your handstand skills, I’ve found this website to be really useful.

Freezing Cold at the Fire 10k

I did really well all last week to fight off the bug that my partner had been struck down with.  I avoided the headaches, the coughs and splutters and thanked my immune system for doing a top job.  That is, until the moment I finished work on Friday and then all the symptoms came on at once, typical!

After an early night I awoke on the Saturday not feeling too bad.  The usual ‘head cold’ symptoms were there but my chest was clear and so I thought I’d go along to parkrun.  I’d originally intended to run there and back too but thought it wise to drive instead.  I started off at the back at an easy pace and allowed myself to do a progression run as long as I was still feeling okay.  I really enjoyed it and that final mile blast felt exactly what I needed.

A foggy finish at Burnley parkrun! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

A foggy finish at Burnley parkrun! (Photo credit: David Belshaw)

 Saturday was spent mostly relaxing and then we took a trip to the cinema in the evening to see Everest.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s excellent and I’d highly recommend it.  It’s certainly put me off ever wanting to climb it!  Watching it did nothing for my cold though……the constant scenery of snow, ice and high winds left me chattering throughout the whole film!  I knew I wasn’t well when we stopped off at a pub on the way home and I couldn’t even taste my wine.  Sad times.

On Sunday I’d planned to attend a local, hilly 10k.  I’d enjoyed a great run last year and whilst I knew I wasn’t at full fitness I was still eager to have a go.  Again, my chest was clear and there was no breathlessness, I just generally felt a bit rubbish and struggled to get warm.

Photo credit: David Belshaw

Photo credit: David Belshaw

The first half mile or so is a nice downhill start and I set off like a woman possessed!  That wasn’t my intention at all and when I saw that the pace on my garmin started with a 5 I immediately backed off.  The long drag soon appeared and I settled into a comfy pace.  I pushed myself on the steep inclines but I seemed to just relax a bit too much on the flat.  I just didn’t have the will to push on and I was hardly breaking records so I didn’t give myself a hard time.

The uphills are all done with by mile four and it’s a gentle downhill slope all the way to the finish.  A quick glance at the watch confirmed I was indeed slower than last year but that was to be expected.  I actually felt physically better for doing it and I soon warmed up when the whole family went for a curry in the afternoon!  And the icing on the cake was the fabulous prize – a new pair of trainers of my choice!

Photo credit: Martin Tattersall

Photo credit: Martin Tattersall

My training is still a bit ‘all over the place’ at the moment and I’m learning the hard way that strength training and running are hard to combine.  I’m determined to keep at it though as I enjoy each discipline so much.  However I have a much bigger problem at the moment.  It’s the next cross country event this Saturday and I have no idea what to bake…..

Why I’m Trying CrossFit

AMRAP.  HSPU.  GTOH.  Hang power snatch.  Clean and jerk.  Workouts with ladies names.  Knee sleeves, wrist wraps and special shoes.  All done in a box.  It really is a different world….but one I think I’d quite like to be a part of.

I’ve heard terrible things about CrossFit but I’ve also heard some pretty great things about it too so I thought I’d go along to my local box (that’s what they call the room they do CrossFit in) and make up my own mind.

My running (whilst still going well) is all a bit directionless at the moment.  The two things that I am certain that I’d like to achieve over winter though is to have a good XC season and to get physically stronger and a couple of friends have said that CrossFit will help me do just that.

I’ll be honest – it can be very intimidating for a newcomer and I was so nervous when I went along to my first session.  There were heavy weights everywhere, muscle-clad blokes bounding about the place with their tops off and equipment that looked as though it had come straight from the set of 50 Shades of Grey.  But luckily for me, my local box (sorry, I just can’t call it that, let’s stick with gym) were incredibly welcoming and supportive.  Everybody kept an eye on me, helping me set up the things I needed and explaining anything I was unsure about.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that they value form over weights.  5 squats done with a low weight and good form are worth so much more than 1 squat with lots of weight and your knees all over the place.  In fact, for the majority of the lifts I’ve been sticking to an empty bar whilst I get the hang of  things (although an empty bar still weighs 15kg!).  And absolutely all of the exercises can be scaled down to an easier version so there was always something I could do.

I’ve only been a member for a couple of weeks now but I am loving it.  I’m trying out all the classes they have to offer including spinning, mobility and beginner’s gymnastics and really enjoy the variety of the workouts.  The big question for me is how is it going to affect my running?  I’ve no doubt that getting stronger will definitely give the edge at XC.  In fact, just last week I felt so strong and explosive at the first meet of the season.

Photo credit: Nick Gaskell

Photo credit: Nick Gaskell

But lets be realistic, I’ve only been attending for a couple of weeks and I don’t think it could have made that much difference.  Maybe it was all in my head, but telling myself that I was strong and I could push on had such a positive effect.  If I can bench press, do pull ups, ring dips and box jumps then I can do this no problem!  I felt great and this was reflected in my finishing position, crossing the line in 5th place.

But a big issue for me is the training.  If I complete a hard class at CrossFit then I’ll be aching for a good couple of days afterwards, which in turn affects my running.  If I do a tough speed session or hill reps then I can’t give it my all at CrossFit.  I’ve no doubt that strength training will benefit me but I just need to iron out the details.  It’ll be a case of trial and error at first and just seeing what works for me.

But I’m so excited to get stronger (and hopefully faster).  I’m being sensible about it and I’m careful to add extra rest when I think my body needs it.  I’m still sticking with my number one rule: hard days hard, easy days easy but if ever I’m tired or achy as I enter a training session, I’ll be sure to leave my excuses at the door and just do the best I can.  I already feel like my body is adapting and I’m determined to get those double unders mastered by Christmas.  I’ve got a good feeling about this winter……bring on the mud!

Photo credit: Nicholas Olszewski

It’s Never Too Late

What?  I can’t do that! I’m FAR too old to start…..”

I hear that excuse all the time.  And that’s exactly what that sentence is – an excuse.  I’ve seen so many people take up running well into their 50s and 60s and unless you have medical problems that physically prevent you from running, it is never too late to start.

I’ve spoken a lot about how lucky I am that both my brother and my Dad took up running shortly after I did and subsequently joined my local club (my Dad starting with his first tentative jog at Burnley parkrun at the tender age of 58).  Well, allow me to introduce the latest member of the Howard running pack…..

Go mum, go! (Photo credit: Jamie McIllvenny)

Go mum, go! (Photo credit: Jamie McIllvenny)

My lovely mum.  My mum who has asthma and who has struggled in the past with dodgy knees.  My mum who has stood by the side of the road in rain, hail and high winds for untold hours to try and catch a glimpse of me as I race by.  My mum, who is my biggest cheerleader and most loyal supporter has just successfully completed couch to 5k.

I have only helped out at a few of the couch to 5k sessions but every time I went I was amazed at the amount of effort given – both by the voluteers who lead the group and the participants themselves.  It was a joy to be surrounded by such enthusiasm and determination.

Last Saturday was the group’s final session, in which they would run 5k over difficult terrain and with a few decent hills thrown in for good measure.  I was so proud running alongside my mum (and she was rightly proud of herself too).  I just couldn’t believe that nine short weeks ago she’d barely run a step  – unless it’s a race to the bar before last orders (sorry mum).  And now there she was, making it look easy.

She’ll be the first to admit that whilst she’s running, she hates it!  But she loves the feeling of satisfaction she gets when she’s finished and she loves stepping up to the challenge that learning to run poses (so that’s where I get it from!)

I’ve purposely tried to not get too involved with her running (it was my mum’s own decision to start the couch to 5k and I was shocked when she said it!), as I don’t believe that running is a sport that everyone will love and I think it’s important to do it for yourself – because you want to – not because everyone else will like it if you do.  But it was a joy to be at that final session and I’ve no problem admitting I felt quite emotional.  Not just because of my mum, but witnessing everyone cross that home made finish line and seeing the look of pride on their faces was….well, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

So whether it’s running or swimming, learning to speak a new language or going back to school to study – it’s never too late.  Just ask my mum.

"I did it!" (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

“I did it!” (Photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

N.B Interestingly, my mum’s dodgy knees are no longer dodgy since she started running.  Please do not believe the myth that running ruins your joints – it actually strengthens them.

N.N.B  It’s always good to get the advice of a health professional before you begin a new physical activity.  If you ask me, the whole world would be a better place if everyone ran, but I ain’t got no PHD.

The Wigan 10k 2015

Are you ready for the briefest race report in the history of blogging?

Woke up at stupid o’clock.  Put shorts on back to front.  Had coffee.  Realised and corrected shorts error.  Travelled to Wigan.  Proper sunny.  Loads of humbugs.  Buzzing atmosphere.  Ran dead fast for over 6.3 miles.  Got a bit gutted when 40min pacer breezed past me but I knew I was pacing it right so trusted my own judgement and carried on.  People of Wigan are cheery.  Team mate ran past me and yelled at me “Come on Autumn, don’t be shit!”  I wasn’t shit.  Chip time 39:36.  Ecstatic to get my goal on a long course.

I could ramble on a little more (well, a lot more) but if you follow me on any form of social media you’ll already know how the race ended.

I think the single biggest thing that helped me on the day was the atmosphere.  Seriously, the people of Wigan need to give themselves a massive pat on the back.  It was like a mini London Marathon but with more space to run and a lot more smiles.  The Trawden contingent were also out in force; they all knew what my goal was and they helped me to make it happen.

But the best moment of the day was just after the race.  I hung around close to the finish line to wait for my team mates.  I saw my Dad cross the line and rather than catch his breath and get some water he ran straight up to me to ask if I’d got what I wanted.  I shrieked that I did and we just hugged and had a bit of a cry together.  He knew how much it meant to me and he was made up that I’d done it.

But he’d had a stellar run himself and whilst he was a bit disappointed that he was about a minute behind a PB, the fact that he’d won his vet category more than made up for it.  Winning your category in a field of over 3,250 runners is not to be sniffed at!

Receiving his prize from the lovely Jenny Meadows (photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

Receiving his prize from the lovely Jenny Meadows (photo credit: Jamie McIlvenny)

 We made the most of the post-race party atmosphere and celebrated our achievements in style.  The sun was shining, the beer was flowing and the bands were rocking.  And every now and again I’d glance down at that medal and grin.  I did it.  All the disappointment of the announcement of the short course on the last attempt had been completely wiped out.  In fact, right at this moment, I’m glad it happened.  It gave me even more focus and drive to succeed and made that final victory all the more sweet.

A lot of people are asking me “what’s next?”.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t know.  I think I’d like a break from ambitious goals for the time being.  Having a target, announcing it to the world and then working hard to try and achieve it has been massively rewarding but it also takes a lot out of you.  So I’m just going to run for the pleasure of running for a little while.  I’m not too sure whether to focus on shorter or longer distance events right now and I’m in no rush to make a choice.  I’m certainly not going to stop setting myself targets but I think for now I’ll just let the goal find me in it’s own time.

Photo credit: Martin Pearson

Yes, I am that short!  Photo credit: Martin Pearson