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
I’ve been running for many years but sometimes my enthusiasm for the sport can wane and I lose my mojo. Often it’s because I’ve been overdoing things, work has become very busy, everyone wants a bit of me and suddenly going for a run feels like it’s taking up precious time that I could be using more gainfully. Which of course is rubbish, as anybody who runs knows.
But the best thing you can do when your brain is frazzled and life stuff is interfering, is to go for a run! Because afterwards everything feels so much better.
When you’re feeling knackered a run is possibly the last thing on your list. Phone/text a running mate. Meet up. Go for a short trot, nothing more, and you’ll suddenly feel the magic return.
Discuss your loss of running love with your friends who run. Runners are a tightly knit group and very supportive of each other. There’s always somebody who can pick you up and encourage you to run. And don’t forget to chat and laugh too. You’ll feel so much better.
Did you know that you could save money, earn points and vouchers by exercising regularly? No, neither did I! But apparently you can…
Free to join – and Bounts turns all your exercise into points that can be exchanged for vouchers. Tracking your activities via their app whether it’s running, cycling or walking is easy and will earn you their ‘Bounts’. These can then be swapped for M&S, John Lewis, Pizza Express or Waitrose vouchers to name but a few high street stores who are part of this scheme. Pretty good incentive to get off that couch I’d say!
RUNNING HEROES https://uk.runningheroes.com/
Running Heroes is another exercise incentive driven app to get you moving. This time it’s aimed at encouraging you to run (well, obviously…) and when you do, rewarding you with points to spend at various sports stores. Companies who offer discounts for points earned include Ashmei, Polar, Buff and Sis. But there are many others too. So get your kit on, sign up and redeem your points!
EARTH MILES http://earthmiles.co.uk/
Likewise, Earth Miles too encourages you to be healthy and fit by using their app to log your excercise which they will then reward you for. Their rewards all come from healthy, responsible companies who care about the earth and your wellbeing. You can exchange them for discounts at places like Planet Organic or Embody Wellness, or on products like Nakd bars, Clearspring Organic foods and Primal Bars. There are even discounts on kit from Runners Need and Tiny Fish. I like this app the best – it’s environmentally conscious and encourages a holistic approach to fitness and health. So come on, what are you waiting for!
How did you start running and when?
I started running when I moved to New York years ago. I was working for the Australian Consulate and some of my colleagues were training for a marathon. I picked up a training sheet from the NY Cardio Health Board and was impressed by the fact that they started with a 3 minute walk and then a 3 minute run and began and ended with a 5 minute walk. Slowly but surely they built you up to 5 mile, 10 mile races and then half and full marathons. I had always thought that running was an efficient way to keep fit – you can do it anywhere, don’t need equipment (except good shoes) and you can do it alone or with company. I couldn’t afford to join a gym at that time so it seemed like an easy way to start looking after myself. I also thought I would lose weight! I then got married and moved to San Francisco and discovered lots of wonderful places to run and I took part in my first 10k race. I also joined a gym and started to use the treadmill too. I adore running outside but the treadmill was a good alternative when I missed my opportunity to run in the daylight.
My weight has fluctuated all my life because of the craziness of the 60s and 70s when we all indulged in grapefruit and egg diets and living on thin air. I discovered that running for me is a joy and keeps my fitness level high – now it is no longer a means to reducing my weight but instead a way to clear my head, lift my energy levels and keep me healthy. Lately, I’ve been injured, suffered a couple of problems such as adrenalin fatigue and I let the running slide away. I miss it so much. Yes, it was hard to actually get myself up and out there again but when I did it, the feeling was simple euphoria. Like meeting up with an old friend again. I am busy building up my miles and time again and it is great fun. I will not even run with my dogs because running is MY time!
When you are doing as I am now, and building up my miles and times, or when you are training there is nothing better than working on the core muscles and feeling your strength supporting you as you run. That is where Pilates is irreplaceable. You can hone in on tension spots and really stretch out any problem areas whilst at the same time maintaining and improving your strength.
How often do you attend a Pilates class?
Not as often as I want to or should! I like to go to one class a week but two would be superb. When I am on holiday or don’t have access to a class/gym, there are plenty of exercises that I feel confident to do on my own.
Yes, I do! I love the camaraderie and the atmosphere and the sense of achievement. I am quite determined to enter another half-marathon very soon. I am not a marathon runner. I trained for it once but the training became a chore and was taking the joy of running away from me. I am also scared as I am not a young slip of a gal anymore!
How do you motivate yourself to get outside and run when it’s cold and wet?
Well, I grew up in Glasgow so cold and wet is par of the course for me! I suffer more in the heat. I simply look forward to the lovely warm bath or shower that I will get at the end and that wonderful tingling glow that I’ll feel when I’m bathed and dressed. I also verbally insult myself if I have second thoughts!
I am and since I have not been with that group I’ve felt quite bereft! When I said earlier that I was injured and had some ‘health’ issues, I was also very unmotivated and hid myself from the group because I thought I couldn’t keep up. Since then I’ve turned things around, the welcome from the group, the support and the laughs has made me realise what a twit I was not to have just gone along anyway. I also help out with beginners – Sarah B.mentioned in one of your previous interviews that she ran at the back with me and I was thrilled to bits that she remembered that! When I see beginners take off with their running it’s so rewarding and thrilling! And it is also nice to have familiar faces running at the back with me – nothing wrong with that!!
Yes, I feel that it’s always good to have an alternative form of exercise and Pilates and Running do go together like that old horse and carriage!
It is never too late and running keeps me young – another great advantage of being in a group is that if I’m racing sometimes people will hold back and run in to the finish with you or wait for you and give you a big cheer. And we all need a great big cheer now and then!
We do! Thank you Valerie!
And I really, really love to laugh. It is so important in this life of ours. Without a sense of humour, I feel life must be a tad dull. Being amongst people who laugh or make you laugh is life-enhancing and so necessary.
I’m lucky I come from a family with an outrageous sense of humour. So it’s in my genes. When I was a child my brother could make me cry with hysterical, uncontrollable laughter (just thinking about these times make me smile) and actually he’s still the funniest person I know. Next to my husband, who after very many years of marriage, still makes me laugh.
Lucky for him.
Anyway, moving on…
According to a Dr Lee Berk from some odd sounding Public School of Health in California, laughing reduces stress hormones…We can all benefit from a bit of stress reduction in our lives I’d say. Dr Berk also says that laughing can reduce blood pressure, improve cardiac health and it stimulates the immune system.
So, like running, laughter also produces those addictive feel-good endorphins that I for one certainly crave. Also, people who laugh were found to have a more positive outlook on life too.
So here’s a joke:
I cleaned the attic with my husband the other day. Now I can’t get the cobwebs out of his hair.
Why did you start running?
I had run a bit in the past but life had become very hectic at work and home so it was always the thing I let slip. My weight ballooned and three years ago I decided enough was enough. I had seen The Pink Ladies around town and inquired about joining but I put off the day until January 2013. When I weighed myself, I wasn’t surprised but I was horrified. I knew I had to commit to exercising regularly and simply get on with it.
How did you start running?
I joined HRT on 6th January 2013 in the 3 mile Saturday morning group. I felt petrified but well supported.
Valerie “ran” the three mile route with me and I struggled with every step. I was at the back of the group and had a light-bulb moment. I simply decided I didn’t want to be at the back anymore in any aspect of my life. I wanted to find my own space and achieve something. My eldest son wrote me some rules which included running every week and running on my own to improve my self motivation
How does running make you feel?
Running makes me feel so many things, it’s hard to sum up. Initially, it gave me space to work a lot of things out in my mind (and it still does). It makes me feel completely liberated and happy. I love the rhythm of running, the conversations I have with the friends I’ve made and the supportive network I’m part of. But, I also enjoy running on my own and exploring the wonderful area we live in. Seeing the season’s change is magical. I also run wherever I travel and my HRT vest has been to Australia, France, Italy, Majorca, Scotland and numerous places in England!
You’ve lost a lot of weight since you started running more, how did you do this?
I combined running regularly with halving what I used to eat. I cut out nearly all sweet things and replaced meat with fish whenever possible. As the weight started to come off, I could run faster and further and this helped bring my weight down more – a virtual circle! I accepted plateaus and didn’t panic if my weight stayed the same for a month or so. I lost 3 stone in that year and have lost another stone since. My weight fluctuates about half a stone now but it’s under control which feels great.
What difference has the weight loss made to your running and how you feel generally?
The weight loss gave me confidence to enter races and take on challenges I never dreamed would be possible!
In terms of how I feel generally, I feel like the person I used to be. I’m about the same weight as when I got married – a bit heavier. People who haven’t seen me since then don’t think I’ve changed. People I haven’t seen for a few years don’t recognise me!
What do you feel is your greatest running achievement?
Running The British London 10k for a charity close to my heart. I was part of The Compassionate Friends’ team and set myself a goal to run under one hour. I think I did 58 minutes and raised £1300 for a very worthy cause.
Why did you decide to enter the London Marathon?
I ran the Reading Half in March and was thrilled with my time but vowed I would never run a marathon. Then I thought, why not? A work colleague ran it last year and said it was the best day of her life. She bought me the book “Running Like a Girl” and messaged me when entries were open. I didn’t get a ballot place but applied to a few charities I support. I’m now part of #teamprincestrust and training is underway. I’m excited and terrified in equal measure! Any support is welcome but I’m not actively seeking sponsorship until I’ve run 18 miles…
Anything else you think might motivate others to give running a go?
I wish I had discovered my love of running earlier. It has changed my life and if I can do it, believe me, anyone can!
Thank you so much Sarah for this fabulously motivating interview and good luck in the London Marathon.
Do you fancy joining us? http://www.runwithharri.co.uk
On April 24th this year I will be joining zillions of others who have spent the previous months pounding the streets and trails in preparation for the 2016 London Marathon. This will be my fourth time of running it. My first was in 2007 and I never in my wildest dreams believed that I would ever run it again. Ever. But I did. And I’m doing it again. This time for Gorillas.
Throughout my life, the welfare of animals has always been important to me. Compassion and love for them. As a child I plastered my bedroom walls with pictures of animals. No popstars. Just animals. And the one that featured the most was the Gorilla. Actually it was a white, albino one. I had a childhood fantasy of living alone on a mountain, somewhere hot, surrounded by animals – no humans. Hippos featured quite a lot as did wild cats – not sure how either would live on a hot mountain – I obviously hadn’t thought it through!
I was a member of the RSPB and RSPCA and the WWF from an early age. I became vegetarian and later (recently) vegan. So this year I am running the marathon for the Gorilla Organization who work internationally to protect the world’s last remaining gorillas in their natural habitat in central Africa. They work closely with local communities to actively deal with threats such as deforestation, the effects of climate change and poverty.
These extraordinary, beautiful, creatures could soon be extinct. It breaks my heart. We have to save them.
So if you feel you could sponsor me I would be very grateful, thank you. Fundraising page
As someone who advocates and embraces a plant based diet and who doesn’t drink alcohol, I haven’t given anything up for January. Yay!
But I take my hat off to those of you who are making positive health changes this month. It’s not easy. I know, I’ve been there.
When I became Vegan last year I lost weight without even trying. This was like a small miracle to me! Although weight loss wasn’t my primary reason for changing my diet.
I had more energy and felt that I was finally doing something positive for the planet and animal welfare – two things very close to my heart. If you think this is something you might like to try, have a look at Veganuary, nearly 13,000 people have signed up and everything you need to get started is on their wonderful website: Veganuary
Brad Pitt, Sarah Pascoe and Romesh Ranganathan are all publicly giving it a go too – so you’ll be in good company!
Throughout the year I hold Fitness Days here in Marlow, Bucks where my clients get to sample Vegan food and discover the benefits of plant based eating – if you fancy knowing more, take a look at my website: Pilates and Running Fitness days
I gave up drinking alcohol 6.5 years ago. However, this New Year I broke with sobriety and had a glass of fizz. I wanted to see if I would immediately need to drink the whole bottle, which I would have easily done in the past. Thankfully I didn’t. And I didn’t enjoy the fizz at all, it made me feel ill. Which I have to admit was really, really disappointing at the time!
But in the long term I am relieved. I really don’t need to drink any more.
Giving up alcohol for a month was not something I could ever have considered when I was drinking. I am a bit of an all or nothing person. One glass was never enough. So good luck if you are staying dry for January – your body will thank you. And given today’s news about Britain facing a ‘timebomb’ of serious illnessess such as dementia, brain damage and liver disease caused from alcohol abuse, now might be a good time to stake stock!
And if all this comes across as a bit preachy, I don’t care!
As midnight strikes on the 31st December, do you make a list of all the things that you’re going to change in your life?
Or do you just shrug your shoulders and carry on as before because you know from experience that resolutions frequently fail.
But a new year can be a good time for a fresh start. Just turn the page. And begin. The secret is to make your resolution for the right reason and make it achievable.
If you want to lose weight, be realistic – losing a stone in a week only happens in our dreams. Most resolutions fail because we set ourselves such impossible tasks! Change that desired weight loss to a smaller goal and you will be successful.
However, I have an achievable task that you won’t fail at…
Howsabout taking up Pilates in 2016?
Pilates is a funny sort of exercise though. And I know for some it still conjures up images of the grey-rinse brigade who have nothing better to do with their time but lie around in lycra doing odd looking leg-raises and occassionally farting.
My classes are full of all sorts of different types of people. athletes, runners, cyclists, Tae kwon do‘ers, walkers, highflyers, home makers, superstars, world leaders, you name it – they’re in my class. Okay, maybe the last two aren’t true… And not all are women. Pilates is for everyone. And I mean everyone. It’s an amazingly powerful form of exercise that can be life changing on all sorts of levels. And the secret to getting the most out of it, is understanding it.
But to understand it you need to practise it…So what are you waiting for?
Come and join me in 2016. Make it your new year’s resolution and I’ll help you stick to it!
If you need some motivation to start running in 2016 then here’s some!
A recent study published in Gerontology claims that older women (hmmmm, I’m one of those I think…) who have strong legs tend to fare better when it comes to the ageing brain – Dr Claire Steves studied 324 healthy female twins over a ten-year period from 1999, measuring various health and lifestyle predictors.
‘Thinking, learning and memory were measured at both the beginning and end of the study and it was found that leg power was a better predictor of cognitive change than any other lifestyle factors tested. Generally, the twin who had more leg power at the start of the study sustained their cognition better and had fewer brain changes associated with ageing measured after ten years’.
So that means more hill running and squats and evil intervals in 2016 for Harri’s Running team then!