Last weekend we went camping in Dorset which always makes me happy. As many of you know we lived in Dorset for five years and so take the opportunity to return whenever we can. Our camping is a motorhome – yes, dear readers, we are motorhomers! Although I like to call it a campervan. And now we have finally succumbed to buying a tent (a Vango Idris II Tall Driveaway Motorhome Awning) to attach to said motorhome and are waiting for a non-windy day to attempt its first erection!
But first we will practise at home in the studio (another blog?) We are novice tenters…It could end in tears.
We stay in silent, peaceful, small as possible, seaside campsites mainly – last weekend was just glorious. It offered freedom and very long coastal walks with the dogs. And it didn’t rain!
At home I can hear the nearby dual-carriageway every day, all day and often through the night. I hear aeroplanes, cars revving and voices, sometimes shrill and continuous, dogs barking, mowers, drills – in the campervan we hear just silence, the odd bird tweeting, a moo or a neigh, a mumble or two from our camping neighbours. But generally it’s a silence I don’t experience at home.
However, it’s not all complete peace, the husband has a habit of banging his head, tripping over one of the dogs and throwing hot tea over me and therefore shattering the peace by swearing loudly. And snoring.
When it rains it can be a bit tippy-tappy on the roof of the campervan and there is a hammock-like rocking in a gale! But actually there’s something quite life-enhancing about being outside (albeit in a tin can) surrounded by the elements.
At home when I can’t sleep, which is frequently these days, I get up, walk around, stick my head out of the window or read. In the camper I feel trapped, I can’t move. Mainly due to one of the dogs sleeping on my head if truth be told!
This is when I write though. Get ideas. Hold a conversation with the husband who actually listens because he’s contained in a small space and can’t walk away! I forget make-up, don’t look in the mirror (eyebrows are usually half-way down my face when I get home which is terrifying…) slob around in the same clothes, don’t speak to anyone, breathe, forget Brexit and appreciate what a truly wonderful environment we are in. I find myself free of work stuff, without routine, timelines, to-do lists, tv/distractions. Nothing beats it.
And I wish I could stay forever in that bubble.
I recommend it.
British weather could be better though.
Kathrine Switzer is a fearless and inspirational woman who runs – she won the New York City marathon in 1974 and has completed 39 marathons to date. But in 1967 when she ran the Boston Marathon it was still commonly believed that women weren’t capable of running such a distance.
Early on in the race she was attacked by an official who tried to prevent her from running at all and although humiliated and shocked by the sudden hostility, she continued and completed the race.
In 1967 the 800 metres and the 1.5 mile cross country races were the longest race events for women in the Olympic games!
Totally unbelievable to me as I sit here typing this blog!
The Boston Marathon remained a men only race until 1972 when women who could run that distance in 3 hours and 30 minutes or faster (in my dreams) were finally allowed to officially enter it. Nowadays though, according to Kathrine’s website www.kathrine.switzer.com 53% of the race participants in the USA are women and I expect it’s pretty much the same here in the UK.
261 was the number on Kathrine’s bib when she ran the Boston Marathon – the bib that a race official tried to rip off her chest in an attempt to prevent her running on, declaring the race to be men only. The number 261 has come to represent strength, power and fearlessness…
‘Women from around the world have been wearing the number 261 on their outfits, bibs and body because it makes them feel Fearless in the face of adversity, whether it is a tough marathon, a difficult business presentation, or coping with the many challenges of life’.
As Kathrine says, “Running will wonderfully change your life. Let it. We invite you to join our fearless community”
Pure and simple.
Ask any runner.
From the moment your trainers are laced up the spell is cast. Our bodies hypnotised by the rhythmic freedom of a run. The wizardry of a marathon event whose spell was cast months or even years previously, hooks us in. Or the Parkrun – what Saturday mornings were obviously created for – has now spread its magic nationwide. Every weekend there’s an event or group-run whose alchemy subtly draws us in.
It’s all hocus pocus to non-runners.
But magic to us.
Hills and forest trails, riverside towpaths and lakeland fells, all unknown before the running spell was conjured. I wonder if we would have explored and fallen in love with these life-enhancing places without that conjuration?
Along the many routes we meet people full of inspirational, motivating and magical stories of how and why they started to run. Many needed a special kind of sorcery to run despite incredible adversity. Always making it to the end of a race to receive their well deserved magical and spellbinding bling. A talisman to be proudly displayed. They generously pass on their magic moments by telling stories and casting their own spells further afield, touching the hearts and souls of others who soon become entranced. Encouraging non-runners to be part of the secret by putting them under a spell. Before they know it they’ve bought the trainers and joined a group and wonder how they got there. No sleight of hand here. We know how it’s done.
Running magic works on every level. Mentally, physically, spiritually, always enchanting us, even in our adrenaline fuelled post-run dreams. Often changing the colour of our daily moods and always making our lives better. The spell is so strong we don’t even have to make a wish.
Every time we race we pin our numbers (they’re all magic too) on to our chests or belts. The design sorcerers seduced us with their funky visibility kits, waving their magic marketing wands to make us all part of the same magical running world.
Post-run black toenails, aching limbs and blisters are the secret symbols of our magic circle, shared only with other runners who understand the significance. Endorphins sparkle around our heads (only runners can see these by the way, but then if you’re reading this you probably know that). Our feel-good magic potion helps us to fly, light on our feet, through the air, up the hills or splodging through the magic mud, nothing equals the experience or even comes near.
The elements are sent to try us but in our magic bubble we can’t be beaten. Running in all weathers and all distances is in the book of spells. We usually find the right one and battle on, often to be heard muttering metaphysical mantras (special magic spells) to get us through the thunderbolts and lightening sent to try us by the couch potato goblins.
Running magic is contagious.
I believe in it.
As many of you know I’ve been writing a book on Pilates for Runners. It’s now with the publishers, Bloomsbury, ready for the copy editor and design team to do their stuff. All very exciting. But nobody told me I would have to grapple with an Excel sheet (hardly appealing to my creative isms) inputting every single photo or generic image that needs to be in the book and cross referencing them to the manuscript.
Steam coming out of ears doesn’t come close. How does anyone do this for a living? Respect!
Not only did I overdose on caffeine, which didn’t help the concentration – infact it made all the numbers, boxes…cells.. whatevs…jump around even more. But in the two days (two whole days, not bits of days, but whole whole whole days with nights involved) I put on 2 stone because I developed a Hobnob habit. Oh and now I have RSI.
Anyway, stage one is done. With possibly quite a few spelling mistakes due to brain cells not waving but drowning in caffeine.
We have a photoshoot ahead. With real sporty models.
I wonder if Idris Elba is free? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind demonstrating the plank for me…
Which is silly and self-induced.
Starting with hurty brain games. Little London Marathon gremlins who sabotage with negative self-talk. Over and over. Wittering on.
And then it gets easier as you realize you’re actually moving at a reasonable pace. You feel motivated. So you smile at the lovely supporters and high-five children with melted jelly-babies and snot stuck to their palms.You think to yourself how lucky you are to be able to do this. That your legs work and you are breathing and alive. Life is good. The London Marathon is just an extraordinary experience.
Then somebody elbows you in the tits, not once but twice and suddenly it’s a hateful bloody race with too many people invading your space and tarmac and smelly deep heat and body odours and no cows, sheep or mud. So you decide this is the last marathon you will ever run. And you start to feel better because you’ve made a sensible decision.
Now all that’s needed is to get to the end.
But you’re only at mile 5 and there’s another 21 to run. Have a gel. Distract yourself. Grab some water. Try not to choke as you run and attempt drinking at the same time. Or gag on the gel. Or Face-plant. Daren’t stop or will be trampled to death.
That’s better you think. More energy. Ooh look nearly 6 miles. And wow how does that man run with a bloody fridge on his back? Respect.
The sun comes out and the gentle heat cheers you up, someone shouts your name so you look into the crowd to see who it could be and become impailed upon a rhino’s large horn. You apologise because you love rhinos. But the rhino just bounds off into the crowd ahead.
You hear some wild drumming and a steel band is jamming under the flyover. The beat carries you and you decide that you like drums. It makes you want to dance.
Elvis gallops by in his white and gold lycra – the crowd goes bonkers, you’d think he was the real thing. Superman and a semi-naked leprachaun trot beside you in deep conversation. You try to eves-drop. And fail.
After what feels like forever, you’ve counted your steps, backwards, forwards, in French… Tower Bridge looms large like a film set. You grab your phone and take a picture. Except you only manage to get the back of someone’s sweaty head. So you try again. When home you realize all your photos are of white lines and feet and somebody’s handbag.
Crossing the bridge is awesome although you hope you won’t be grabbed by the BBC for an interview because you’re not sure that anything would come out of your mouth other than dribble.
The crowds are louder than ever. Louder than you remember. Too bloody loud. You want them to shush! There is no doubting the extraordinary support – the balloons, banners, flags cheering on big bird, monkeys, penguins, the eiffel tower all sorts of unrecognisable wild life. If you like that sort of thing. Which you don’t. You like silence. And meditative running. So why are you actually running the race? Oh yes, for charity. That’s it. Raising much needed funds. Good. That’s okay then.
You need a wee. But you put it out of your mind.
A boat with red indians floats by. Well it doesn’t really float. Because they are running. The supporters start making red indian noises. The runners don’t look happy. You drunkenly grin at them and look around and once again try hard to take in the atmosphere and forget your need to wee which you were only imagining anyway.
Then your hamstrings cramp and you stop smiling. Never before has this happened. You stretch. But every time you stop to stretch somebody behind the barrier yells in your ear that you’re doing fine, keep going, nearly there…Which makes you limp on and swear.
You need a poo. But you put it out of your mind because this is totally unacceptable.
More music lifts you up and carries you forward. You like the live music. A spray of cold water hits you in the face, it’s refreshing. Somebody is making loud grunty noises behind you. A camera ahead makes you grin and lift your arms in the air because you are, after all, a poser, despite the grumpiness. A dinasour shaped penis strides across in front of you. Or is it a penis shaped dinasour? This keeps you occupied for all of two minutes as you try to work out what it is trying to be.
The miles are passing slowly. The cramp is cramping quickly. You realize a pb is not within your reach. Was it ever? You realize too that actually you are not going to run anywhere near the time you reached when you last ran the race. But it’s not a race you remind yourself. It’s an ‘experience’. Hrrrrmphand buggerit say your gremlins. So you walk run. Head down and get to the end. Remembering to lift your heavy head, smile and point your finger to the sky as you cross the finish line.
Because you are One in a Million.
You collect your bling and through the post-marathon brain-fug-silly-walk-drunkfunk, work out where to go to collect your bag. Only determining the bag numbers corresponding to the correct lorry takes you a very long time. Then you sit down on the gravel with a thud and think thank F**k for that and eat your body weight in chocolate.
You take a selfie and tell everyone on Facebook how truly wonderful the London marathon is.
Until the next one.
This time next week I shall be lining up with over 38,000 (yikes) other runners, rhinos, supermans and jolly people at the start-line of this year’s London Marathon. This will be my 4th time of running it and 8th marathon overall. But right now it is taper-time. The time that every runner dreads because we have to cut down on our running to rest our eager-beaver bodies in order to be ready to run 26.2 miles. That .2 is a killer by the way…
Psychologically it is hard; being a running addict I am dependent on my running to keep me sane. It makes me feel happy and strong and not old. So please don’t ask me to stop. Or cut down.
So this week the doubts about ability that started small begin to loom large. Withdrawal symptoms include delusions about weight gain, irrational and ungrounded fears of knee problems that I already visualise starting as I cross Tower Bridge and the sudden need for a hip replacement before next Sunday. Not to mention the fear of an unexpected urge to poo mid-race with no portaloos in sight. All neurotic symptoms of this mad marathon non-training period.
The hard work has been done. But suddenly it feels as if having a week or two of less running means that we’ll be lucky to drag ourselves as far as mile one.
But it will be be fine! Of course it will.
And then it will be over. The endorphins and post-race adrenalin will be coursing through our weary bodies and we’ll head straight to the internet with our medals still hanging around our necks to enter another marathon. Even though we said this was the last, the first, the only one this year…
Madness. All of it.
But nothing beats it.
See you on the other side.
I love the peace I feel when focussing totally on my breath and encouraging my body to feel strong. The only sounds I hear are the birds and distant traffic noises, interrupted by the occasional quack or squawk from the water.
If I could, I would run like this, off-road, every day of my life because it grounds me, makes me happy, confident and is totally and utterly life-enhancing.
You should try it.
‘The word confidence means to be self-assured about one’s qualities. Both running and meditation give us this feeling. In both activities, confidence naturally ensues because we are experiencing self-assurance. Runners know this, because running is an optimistic sport: fundamentally, we believe in the power of the body. Meditation is also an optimistic tradition: fundamentally, we believe in the power of the mind. In Tibetan, confidence is known as ziji. This word can also be translated as ‘brilliance’ or ‘to shine’. Ziji expresses how confidence feels and looks: mentally we shine, and physically we glow, Both running and meditation bring out our radiance’. Sakyong Mipham ‘Running with the mind of meditation’.
‘Ageing is changing. Governments, health service providers, insurance, leisure and construction industries, even the United Nations are addressing not just a growing older demographic, but also the value of an increasingly active and healthy senior population. And yet, in the media, the over 60s are still more likely to be portrayed as infirm, immobile, silly, redundant, sick, spent and sad’.
Alex Rotas’ recent photos are of veteran sports women and men – it’s wonderful to see these positive images challenging the stereotypical view of older people. They remind me that age really is just a number and gives me hope that the negativity surrounding the ageing population is perhaps changing. We all get old and none of us like it. But we have no choice, so to find a positive and active way to live our later years needs to be encouraged. And Alex Rotas is flying the flag.
Let’s keep on running into our eighties…and nineties..
Take a look here at more work from Alex Rotas: http://alexrotasphotography.co.uk/#about
Possibly not a regular habit?
Unless you attend one of my Pilates classes of course, where you are subjected to much footy fun during the warm up.
Whether you run, walk or sit all day I think we take our feet for granted. But think of the impact they endure as we walk, run miles and miles, wear unsuitable shoes (some) or boogie the night away – they need TLC if they’re to last intact and pain free for our lifetime.
So what can you do to keep your feet in good shape? Apart from sensible footwear, which is probably far too boring, regular exercises that are quick and easy to do are the way forward.
So here are a few of my suggestions….
Ideally performed in bare feet – when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or brushing your teeth, slowly raise yourself up on the balls of both feet, hold for a second and then slowly lower your heels back down to the floor.
The ‘slowly’ is always the challenging part. It’s not easy but will strengthen your Achilles tendons.
When you’re sitting at your desk or flopped on the sofa watching tv, rotate your ankles first one way and then the other. Draw a circle with your toes so that your ankle joint is rotated through its full range of movement.
Finally, another simple exercise that is easy to fit into your daily routine and that will improve flexibility and blood flow – again, whether you’re prostrate on the sofa, at your desk working at your computer (and in bare feet) scrunch/curl up your toes and then relax – repeat several times. You could even try picking up a towel off the floor or try using your toes to pick up a pen!
Your feet will thank you!
Today’s inspirational running blog interview is with the lovely, very funny (as in humorous) and wonderfully honest Fiona O’Donovan who is running the London Marathon this year for the charity Variety – if you need motivation to keep going, this is it!
When did you start running and why?
I started running twice.
In 2010 The Penn 7 made Aces Wheelchair Basketball Team the beneficiary of their race. My son plays for Aces and absolutely adores the sport. It’s given him the chance to compete, to burn off the energy small boys have and to make new friends and learn new skills.
Anyway…it was felt that some people from Aces should enter the run, show appreciation and support. Trouble is none of us were runners. Clare Strange (now Griffiths) was coaching one night and set about rounding up some victims. She got to me and asked if I’d run it and I explained that I couldn’t run. She asked why not. Well, the truth of it was I probably could, in theory, run. My legs do work, I am able bodied. So..ye-eees I suppose I could run. ‘Excellent! she said, at which point I realised what was happening and bargained her down to the 5k Fun Run as opposed to the 7 mile race. Phew, That was close.
I sort of trained, in as much as I wheezed and lurched round a 5k loop a few times. I bought ridiculously expensive trainers which did absolutely nothing. No jet packs, no wheels, NOTHING! I could have got a taxi for a fraction of the price. I started the race, I ran/walked the course and I made it to the finish. Despite my glowering, swearing and muttering I admit to a little moment of triumph when I crossed the finish line. Clare gave me my medal and I thanked her and told her I was never EVER running again. Ever. Ask someone else next time. If they were having a wine drinking competition I was in, but no running. She grinned and didn’t look at all apologetic. Rude.
I got home, threw my trainers to the back of the cupboard under the stairs and forgot all about dreams of athletic prowess and podium moments. Stupid running.
That New Year there was the usual alcohol consumption, the usual memories popping up on Facebook. I was on Facebook as some lunatic had given my husband a new computer game for Christmas and he had been locked in an on-going battle for survival since Boxing Day. Facebook, ‘Your Year in Review’ Wine…somehow ended up in me entering The Great South Run the following year.
I woke up to 2011 with that sense of impending doom, never a good way to start a year. I groaned, groped for my phone, and my fears were confirmed. I’d entered AND Facebooked it. Crap. if you’ve put it on Facebook, you have to do it. It’s the rules. I have a feeling Harri was hoping for inspirational reasons. Sorry H, it’s guilt and alcohol.
How did you start?
The first time I did it on my own. For the GSR I plucked up the courage to join Handy Cross Runner’s beginners group. It had been advertised on Marlow Parents and sounded ideal.
Join a beginner’s group. Whether it’s part of a running club (they’re not all full of budding Olympians and good friendships can be made). It’s scary as hell going along the first time but you will benefit, I promise. I don’t know if it’s different now, but when I was at school we weren’t taught how to run. There was nothing about pacing or gradual increases in distance. You just rocked up on the field (or those who hadn’t perfected their Mum’s signature did) and ran until your lungs were bursting and you could go no further. The naturally athletic did fine, it wasn’t an inspiring process for me. You have to learn how to run, how to go slow and build gradually. Blazing off the start line will leave you exhausted and trying hard not to puke on your own shoes in a very short distance. A group with a good coach will teach you how to be able to run further and faster in your 40’s than you could in your teens (assuming you weren’t one of the athletic crowd). You’ll learn that the start is the very hardest part, the first mile when your body is just warming up is hard for everyone, but once you settle into it you get to chatting with your group and nosing at the houses you don’t see when you’re in the car, your fitness will build with you barely noticing.
Every time you run you’ll improve. And, whilst you are out running you are not avoiding eye contact with the ironing pile, finding the 67 millionth thing your children have lost, trying to get a field of mud out of football boots or staring into the fridge for nutritional inspiration that the kids will actually eat.
You’re running the London Marathon in April for the charity Variety – tell me a bit about why you chose this charity.
My son PJ is a wheelchair user, the NHS provide rubbish wheelchairs. I love the NHS, I do, but they’re crap at wheelchairs. So, we found the chair that would best suit my active son. Then we all fell over at the price tag, £2300, and set about finding help. Keep in mind that children outgrow wheelchairs like they outgrow everything else. This is a huge, and ongoing, expense. Variety stepped up quickly and offered to fund the whole amount, just like that.
If I tell you that this chair is what allows PJ to be himself, and to lead his life as independently as he does, you can understand my gratitude to Variety. PJ hates being pushed, I really wouldn’t recommend ‘helping’ him unless he’s asked you, you might lose fingers. You’d get a similar reaction if you tried to take the hand of any other 12 year old as they walk down the road, the intention is kind but they won’t thank you. His Ti-lite chair is light, strong and very easy for him to manoeuvre. The frame is also adjustable so it should last him a couple of years. I know Variety help, and we want to help them help more children. Despite all the negative press surrounding disabled people it really is true that, given the tools, most of them will go on to achieve and contribute as much to society as any able bodied person. Possibly more, these kids have been pushing themselves to keep up and fit in from Day 1. They are dedicated, hard-working and have endurance I can only marvel at.
You’ve recently started attending Pilates classes – are you noticing anything different in your running or how you feel as a result?
I am a convert! I feel lighter and more supple at the end of a pilates class. I admit to being very sceptical of the benefits of lying on the floor and waving my limbs about (that was my perception of pilates, not what actually happens) I think a mix of TRX and pilates might be the ideal runner’s class, but I am no expert. I’m happy to do both, but despite buying a trx system I admit to not using it much at all. Just go to a class, then you will do it. Shhh about this bit (men should avert their eyes – that includes Mr Tania)but pilates totally fixes your pelvic floor. Honest! You won’t need to worry about leaks, even on the downhills. Take it from me who ran 26.2 accompanied by Tena (you do not want to hear about the chafing). Pilates is like the best plumber ever. No leaks.
You were injured last year, how did you cope with your injury.
Hmmm…I got stroppy, drank wine, ate cheese and moaned. A lot. Then I listened to you and stretched, and got back into it. I know now that I need to warm up. I spend a lot of time dashing about, dropping my children here and there, getting to work etc etc. I then just go headlong into a run on catch-up mode and inevitably something pulls or tears. I have zero patience or tolerance when it comes to myself, everything should just work. Except…it doesn’t, a bit of respect and care is required.
This is tricky. I love a group so long as I don’t feel I am holding them back. That worries me, that I might hamper someone else’s run, spoil their training. I get quite stressy about it. My favourite run of the week right now is your improver’s group, they help me with my pacing and, hopefully I help with their distance. I am useless at running solo, I either procrastinate until it’s too late or go out sprinting and run out of steam. The only thing I have found that works is to start a long solo run on a downhill, a nice warm -up and no way will I turn for home when it’s all up, and having a good audio book takes my mind off the miles. Then I can run long on my own.
I love to laugh and talk on a run. It’s a social thing that hopefully keeps me fit. I like to use the time to have fun. We all have so many demands on our time that it’s important to get what you want out of your own time. That could mean improving your distance and times to a set goal, or just enjoying being out there. None of it is wrong, just do what is right for you. Just do something. Sitting still and not moving is not good for the endorphins.
Thank you so much Fiona! If you feel you can sponsor Fiona her Fundraising page is here: https://www.justgiving.com/Fiona-O-Donovan4