Friday Finds – 13th January

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

We’re well and truly back into the grind now and nearly half way through January! How did that happen? It barely seems a moment since Christmas! Still, plenty of finds for you this week if you’re needing something to distract you from the post-holiday cold and gloom…

Are you one of the many taking part in Dry January? I have to say, I’ve never really seen any need to do it, but then I don’t really drink alcohol terribly often. At this time of year I’m marathon training and it’s nice to have a glass of wine to look forward to on a Sunday night! But if you are a “dryathlete”, can you expect any performance gains from your decision? According to the findings cited in this article from Outside online, the results are pretty inconclusive:

I don’t know about you, but I found the gym pretty busy this week with new or previously lapsed members valiantly trying to fulfil their resolutions, and last weekend parkrun saw a huge number of first timers. An interesting question is whether or not there is a massive difference in benefit between those who work out almost daily, and those who save it for the weekend. Here, The Guardian reports on the results of a study which suggests that the weekend warrior can reap near enough the same health benefits. I would suggest the type of exercise is probably an important factor though as to my mind the quality of the session must be important. What do you think?

Less positive news this week came in the form of a survey by England Athletics which revealed that a third of women – A THIRD – have been harassed while running. Sadly this is not the first time I’ve come across this kind of report and I fear it won’t be the last. Fortunately it’s not a prevalent problem where I live, but I know it does happen more in bigger cities. What tends to irritate me about it (other than the fact that it’s happening at all) is that the usual reaction is to give women advice about what they should to to keep safe. I don’t mind advice that would apply to anybody, regardless of gender, but do find it objectionable that the default solution is to suggest that women should have to change their behaviour because of a minority of men . And that’s why I was drawn to this article in the International Business Times, which covers that same point. I’d love to know what others think about this.

One place harassment is unlikely is the treadmill, but regular readers of this blog know I’m not a fan. Yes, it has its place and for many with much harsher winters, the treadmill is a necessity, but for me it just always feels like some kind of torture device. Which of course it is, tracing its roots back through the prison system. What did surprise me was the news that the treadmill will be 200 years old this year. 200! And in this article from The Guardian, Vybarr Cregan-Reid examines ways it might be updated for a modern age.

And finally, I was captivated a few months ago by the story of Gobi, the stray dog who followed runner Dion Leonard through a gruelling ultramarathon last summer. Unwilling to be parted from her, Leonard began a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to bring Gobi to the UK, but the tale took an unpleasant turn when she went missing. Fortunately, after an exhaustive search, Gobi was found and now the story has finally reached its happy ending as Leonard brought Gobi home to Edinburgh. And yes, they have already been running together!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Week in Review – Hello 2017!

It’s been a while since I wrote a series of training updates and so, with a spring goal marathon in my sights, I thought that I would go to the opposite extreme from my last, secretive, training cycle and aim to write a weekly recap of my training for the Paris marathon and my goal of setting a new PB this year. I also thought it would be fun to link up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL¬†as part of their weekly linkup, so this will be my first post as part of that.

2axmzdpMy main goal as the new year got underway was to make sure I recovered properly from the madness of the New Year Triple last Sunday then make sure I maintained the consistency of my workouts to set me up for the weeks ahead. I was also taking part in a virtual event, clocking up my miles from the 1st-8th to start the year on a positive note and earn this fantastic medal that doubles up as a magnetic chalkboard!

Photo from Virtual Runner UK Facebook page

Photo from Virtual Runner UK Facebook page

The pattern of my training at the moment is:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – PT session plus ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest day
Saturday – parkrun plus hatha yoga
Sunday – long run

With the past week still being a holiday, not all of this happened, but I still put in a solid week of training and am happy with what I’ve done.

Following Sunday’s exertions, Monday became a rest day. We had family commitments that day as it was Steve’s brother’s birthday and our first chance to really toast the new year and indulge in some party food after being very well behaved on Hogmanay. It was great to spend time with family and friends, and we played a great game which I liked (because I kept winning!). What a laugh when my brother-in-law said he hadn’t realised I was so competitive!!

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But it was business as usual on Tuesday as I headed to the gym in the late afternoon to complete a set of intervals on the bike. I have been doing a 10 minute warm up followed by 45 seconds hard at a high intensity then a 15 second rest. This was my last session at my current intensity level, so I had 20 reps to complete before a 10 minute easy cycle to cool down. This is a tough workout, but I know it has been benefitting my running as it boosts my fitness without the high impact of running and keeps my legs turning over at a reasonably high cadence. I listen to podcasts to give me something to focus on when it gets tough, then treat myself to a nice sauna once I’ve stretched and done some mobility work.

On Wednesday I was out first thing (or as “first thing” as I get when I’m not at work!) for my hill reps. Again, this was the last session in my current cycle and it was a warm up of about a mile followed by 20 reps. I have been using a hill close to our house and measure my reps point to point. It takes me around 30 seconds to run hard up the hill, then I have a 1 minute rest interval to jog back down and “reset” for the next one. After the last rep I enjoy a nice cooldown jog home.

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Yes, Santa DID bring me that New Balance/J Crew running top I asked for!

Thursday got off to an exciting start when my new parkrun T-shirt arrived. I ran my 50th parkrun in early November, but had to wait for new stock to arrive before I could claim my free 50 club milestone tech tee. I was so excited to finally be able to get mine!

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I then headed off to Steve’s studio for a PT session where we did some core and mobility work using the core momentum trainer. It’s a great piece of kit, but using it does make you sound like you’re playing the maracas! My yoga studio was still closed for the festive season this past week, so I used the remainder of the day to relax and get my head ready for returning to work.

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Friday was my rest day and it’s always really tempting when I’m not at work to have a really lazy day, but since I want to maintain my streak of reaching my step goal, I decided to walk to the gym to relax in the jacuzzi and sauna for a bit then walk home, taking in one or two errands along the way. Steve and I always go to a nearby pub to eat on a Friday night rather than getting a takeaway as your weekly treat, so by the time I had done all that I had reached my 10,000 steps.

Of course Saturday is known around here as parkrunday and this week was no exception. It was a rather foggy, murky looking day, but I still had great fun volunteering as a pace runner. You can read more about that here. My hatha yoga class doesn’t start again until next week, however I had some errands in town and I wanted to get a few things organised before the new term begins, so I was kept pretty busy!

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And Sunday was a return to a more “normal” routine. The last few Sundays have been a bit out of the ordinary what with the Santa Dash, festive trip to Edinburgh, Christmas Day and New Year. In the weeks before that, Steve and I enjoyed some fantastic trail runs, but it’s now time to get back out on the road and prepare our bodies for the marathon. This week was a gentle solo 10k which I really enjoyed. It feels like a while since I headed out on a Sunday morning with my podcast to run at an easy pace, and it felt good to finish knowing I could have carried on. I know it won’t feel like that every week!

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Overall a nice, consistent week with a bit of room for some final festive celebrations. Now it’s time for a return to work and a return to normality (whatever that may be) while I tick off my training in my exciting new training journal. Right now I feel refreshed and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.

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What are you training for right now?
What has been the highlight of your week?

Parkrun Pacing

It’s no secret that I love parkrun: I ran my 50th a couple of months ago and one of my goals for this year is to reach my 100th run (helped immensely with the boost of extra parkruns at New Year!). As well as running, I do try to volunteer at my local parkrun regularly, as I’m acutely aware that it just wouldn’t happen without the support of volunteers. When I was injured this time last year, I was down there with a stopwatch in my hand practically every week and when I’m taking time off after a goal race, I help out in whatever way is needed. But this weekend I thought I’d try something new: pacing.

I’m not sure if all parkruns operate this in the same way, but Perth parkrun has a pacer run on the first Saturday of every month. It has now become a volunteer role to run as a pacer, probably at a pace well within your capabilities, to try and complete the course in a particular time. This helps runners of all abilities to set a new PB or improve their current times. Steve volunteered in this role throughout 2016 and I often said that I should give it a go, but never quite got around to it. The start of a brand new year seemed like an ideal time to put myself forward, so when a call went out for more pacers, I volunteered to run at 28 minute pace.

One thing to note is that I have NEVER been a pacer before, and I know that a lot of people are put off the idea as they’re worried they won’t get the pace right. I tried not to let this worry me as having observed previous paced runs, I knew that more often than not the pacers were a little too quick (better than being too slow I suppose!). Since this is a run not a race and nobody is a “professional pacer”, no one is likely to complain as it’s made clear that the pacers are going to try and run at that pace. So I looked up a pace calculator, reset my watch to kilometres (so I would get more lap alerts!) and crossed my fingers.

We arrived a little earlier so we could get organised before the run (like with other volunteer roles, we had to report to the run director). When the paced runs first started, the pacers were given a laminated sign with their goal time on it and this was pinned to their backs. The downside to this was that it was too was too easy to forget about it and go home with the sign. Steve is now synonymous with 26 minutes as that sign lived in our house for months! Now, we have yellow vests like the other volunteers wear, which have a time printed on the back so we can be clearly spotted among the runners.

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You can just spot my nice new 50 club T-shirt through my volunteer vest!

I donned my 28 minute vest and lined up with the other pacers as part of the run briefing. None of us were sure if anybody would be using us to help pace as there were lots of first timers (unbelievably, 10,000 people registered on the parkrun website in just ONE DAY earlier in the week – must be all those resolutions – and we had around 40 first timers in our field of 259, our biggest turnout ever after the inaugural run!). But just because someone isn’t running alongside you it doesn’t mean you’re not helping them to reach a goal time, so I intended to stick as close as possible to my pace, regardless.

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When the run started I tried to concentrate on holding back and not dashing off at my usual pace. I had tried a short jog beforehand to try and get used to what the right pace would feel like, but it’s still tricky to lock into it and not naturally fall into the pace you usually run. The calculator I had used came back with 5:36 per kilometre (or about 9:01 per mile) so when the first lap split showed 5:35, I was pretty happy!

Throughout the first couple of kilometres I enjoyed chatting with other runners who passed by or who were running alongside me. It’s a completely different experience to be taking it easy and not running hard, although this is all relative as plenty of people around me were running hard and I felt a little guilty that my breathing was pretty easy!

I managed to stay on an even pace through kilometres two and three, but at a pace of 5:30 so I had speeded up a bit. I thought that would be ok as the grass section was rather muddy so I anticipated a slower fourth kilometre (it clocked in at 5:37 so on balance I thought I was only about 10 seconds too fast).

But this is probably where it went a little wrong. Once back on the path, I usually try to speed up again for the last part of the run, particularly the last kilometre or so (which includes a brief downhill portion). I did try to keep my pace in check, but apart from my natural instincts to “race”, the GPS signal wasn’t updating enough and I was convinced I was running too slowly so ended up speeding up too much for a final kilometre of 5:20, crossing the line in 27:34. Oops!

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Still, it wasn’t a total bust as while I was standing in the funnel waiting to have my barcode scanned a woman turned to me and said thank you. I must have looked a bit puzzled as I knew she hadn’t been running with me, indeed I only came across her in the second half of the run. It turned out she had a PB of just over 28 minutes, so when I passed her it gave her the motivation to dig deep and run hard to the finish for a massive new PB of less than 27:30. Amazing work! I later discovered that another runner I knew had kept me in her sights to get a new PB also, so although the pacing didn’t go entirely to plan, I still made a difference for people, and that’s the most important thing.

I found this to be a really enjoyable experience as it taught me a lot about how to pace myself better and is something I can work on in future. I’ll definitely volunteer as a pacer again and am looking forward to helping more people to reach a goal. If you have the chance to do the same, then I would definitely recommend it.

Have you ever paced someone else in a run or race?
Have you benefitted from the help of a pacer, official or otherwise?
Parkrunners – what’s your favourite volunteer role?

Friday Finds – 6th January

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

And just like that, it’s 2017! Happy New Year! I hope the first week of 2017 has been a good one for you and you’ve made some positive steps towards achieving your goals for the year. To help, this week’s finds are all about motivation and inspiration to help you get there.

First, Ed Whitlock. I know I’ve mentioned him before as he recently added another record to his impressive collection. At 85, Whitlock continues to perform phenomenal athletic feats (and can run a faster marathon than I’ve ever done!) which really challenge our belief that age is a barrier to what we want to do. What I find so interesting in this article from The New York Times is the results of various scientific tests Whitlock underwent a few years ago. His VO2 max, muscle physiology and attitude to life all far surpass those of his contemporaries, and scientists are now reassessing what this means for ageing and performance. For me, Whitlock is a fine example of not letting age stand in the way of achievement and reminds us all that it’s never too late to take on a new challenge.

On a similar theme, did you see the story of Robert Marchand earlier this week? Marchand set a new record for the furthest distance cycled around a velodrome in an hour, and while his distance of 14 miles may not sound all that impressive, that changes dramatically with the added information that Marchand is 105!!! He already held the record for those over 100, and now adds the over 105 to his collection. Like Whitlock, Marchand has a fantastic attitude, saying, “I am not here to be a champion. I am here to prove that at 105 years old you can still ride a bike.” Hear, hear!

Now, if you ever wondered about the New Year’s resolutions of elite athletes, wonder no more as Athletics Weekly has you covered. This piece confirms for me that other than athletic prowess, the elites are no different from the rest of us as the common themes in their resolutions are about making opportunities count, making more time for themselves and working hard to get what they want. Probably very similar to your own goals and resolutions for 2017.

If one of your goals was to get more serious about your running, then Runner’s World has provided some great advice about what you might have to change or prioritise in order to improve your running. Lots of sensible ideas here, with the benefits and potential risks set out clearly. I, for one, know that rest and recovery is something I need to pay more attention to and I will be trying to prioritise rest in the months ahead.

And finally, something heartwarming for you this week. A German film student made a 100 second ad as part of his course and this is the result: an ageing marathoner struggling to come to terms with life in a retirement home fights back against the deterioration in his body (and confines of his home) to run again. It may not be an official advert, but I’m still sure it will bring a smile to your face and perhaps even a tear to your eye. So in the spirit of Ed Whitlock and Robert Marchand, enjoy!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Would You Rather…

Back in December I came across this great article from Women’s Running. I come across a lot of great articles during the week and this is what feeds my Friday Finds posts, but this time I thought it would be more fun to devote an entire post to this one find.

In the season of games (surely it wasn’t just me who dug out the Monopoly board for the annual family competition on Christmas Day?) this particular article is based around the popular party game “Would You Rather…” and poses a number of running-based dilemmas to choose between. Having read the article, I thought it might be quite good fun to play, so in this post I’m going to give my answers (and rationale behind them) and invite you to play along too…

Would You Rather…

1. Run with someone chatty or silent?
I think I’m going to choose someone chatty. I don’t often run with others, but if I do it would be for a long, slow run so it would be nice to have a bit of a catch up. Even if I didn’t end up saying much, just listening to someone else can help to keep you going and give you something to focus on in tougher moments.

2. Run with no socks or no sports bra?
No contest. Apparently when a woman runs a marathon her unsupported boobs cover close to 5k in the amount they move! There’s no way I’d run without my sports bra (and if I did I wouldn’t get too far!) so I’m going to have to choose running without socks. It might invite a blister or sore spot, but overall I’d find that far preferable to lots of uncomfortable bouncing around!

3. Run a mile naked or in a snow suit?
Another easy one. I don’t think you could pay me enough to run naked, so I’m going with the snow suit. It might not be the most comfortable run ever (and rather toasty!) but it’s only a mile and despite looking a bit odd it would spare my blushes and maybe even provide some bonus warm weather training!

4. Run in the freezing cold or sweltering heat?
Ooh, a bit harder now. I love the the warm weather and have had some great experiences of running in Florida, but overall I think I perform better in cooler temperatures so I’m going to choose the freezing cold. When it comes to running kit, it’s much easier to keep adding layers to stay warm than to find ways to keep cool once your kit is at the bare minimum, plus you get to look forward to The Greatest Shower Of Your Life when you get back!

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5. Run with an empty stomach or a full bladder?
Neither is ideal, but I cope much better with feeling hungry than I do with needing the loo. I might start fantasising that my water bottle is filled with hot soup, but it would be much easier to keep on going with the promise of food later than to be constantly looking for a loo or debating a quick pitstop behind a bush!

6. Run a hilly 5k or a flat marathon?
Hmmm. I do love to run marathons but I think I’m going to choose the hilly 5k as despite the added challenge, it would be over much more quickly. Because of the terrain where I train, I’m used to hills and find overly flat courses a bit boring. I like changes in elevation and if there’s a hill to climb, there’s also an excellent chance of a corresponding downhill section afterwards ūüôā

7. Run without music or without a GPS watch?
Strava or it doesn’t count! While I know it’s great to leave the GPS at home sometimes and just run for the sheer enjoyment, I do like to record what I’ve done. Often I start my watch then largely ignore it other than to check in with my mileage from time to time, so I don’t feel I’m an absolute slave to the watch. When it comes to music, I tend to save it for parkrun or races ¬†(where allowed), preferring these days to listen to podcasts while I run, but I can just as easily go without and simply enjoy the scenery and some time with my own thoughts. So if I have to lose one, it would be the music.

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8. Run the New York City or Boston marathon?
A very American-based question here. I know for many runners Boston is the Holy Grail of marathons and I would love to have the chance to do it one day, but if it has to be one or the other then I’m going to pick New York for that chance to run over the Verrazano Bridge and see every borough of The Big Apple. It’s a bucket list item for me to run in Central Park too, so that would help me to check this off my list.

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9. Run as much as you want on the treadmill or only once a week outside?
Ugh, the “dreadmill”. I try to steer clear of there as much as I can. Yes, it serves a purpose for returning post-injury or if it’s dangerous to run outside, but fortunately the winters in Scotland are not as harsh as the winters some of my American friends endure, so it’s rare for me to be unable to get outside. For the sheer joy of running in the great outdoors, I would make the sacrifice of only getting to run once a week.

10. Run a beer mile or a colour run?
Ooh, intriguing. I’ve never done either, but I think the beer mile might have the edge here. I’m not sure I would enjoy all that coloured stuff getting fired at me all the time, and despite the very real danger of throwing up, there’s something kind of intriguing about the beer mile and every time I hear about it, I wonder how I would get on…

11. Run on a trail or on the road?
I’ve always been a road runner and love to meander around the country roads on a sunny day. That said, I’ve recently been enjoying some trail runs, so that complicates my choice. I think I’m going to stick with the road though, as for me it offers the opportunity of running where it’s busy when I need to or heading out of town for some time alone. I do love the trails, but remain reluctant to run there by myself, whereas there are plenty of places I feel safe enough to run alone when I stick to the roads.

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12. Run in shoes that are too big or too small?
I’ve run in shoes that are a bit too small and it was NOT a pleasant experience so I’m going to pick running in shoes that are too big. My feet might slip around a bit, but at least I could use the laces and/or extra pairs of socks to improve the fit. Sadly nothing could be done about the too small shoes other than cut the ends off to make a novel pair of “running sandals” lol!

13. Eat a slice of pizza mid-race or drink a milkshake?
Neither of these sound like overly good ideas as they would be sloshing around my stomach for the remainder of the run. That said, I know those in the ultra running community tend to eat more “proper” food when they run, so maybe the slice of pizza would be ok so long as the next part of the run was fairly slow. I’m not a milkshake fan at the best of times, so I’m going to choose the pizza.

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14. Run in the rain or snow?
I live in Scotland so probably get more than my fair share of chances to run in the rain! Actually, once you’re out there the rain can be quite nice, but for me running in the snow would be a real novelty and I have great memories of Steve and I heading off in the snow during the Great Thundersnow Adventure of 2010, so in the name of variety, I’m going to pick running in the snow.

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15. Run alone or with a big group for the rest of your life?
Alone. Most of the time I train by myself so this wouldn’t be overly different to what I do anyway. It’s nice to run with others, but I like to do my own thing.

16. Run the same outdoor route every single day or run on a treadmill every single day?
See question 9 for my thoughts on the “dreadmill”. Constantly repeating the same route is not exactly ideal as you’re repeating the same stresses on your body over and over, which can lead to injury (I also wouldn’t recommend this approach in the winter/dark as it creates a pattern that can leave you vulnerable) but there’s NO WAY I would want to run on the treadmill every single day, so would much rather cover the same outdoor route if that was the only way to get outside.

17. Have a personal chef or a running coach?
At the moment I’m lucky enough to have a built-in running coach in the form of my husband, however I’ve probably been running long enough now that I could cobble together some kind of passable running plan myself if I had to so that I could have a personal chef. I love my food and all the running tends to make me hungry, but finding time to prepare healthy meals can be tough. It would be great to have someone take care of that for me so I could come in to the perfect meal after every training session.

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18. Get free running shoes or free race registrations for life?
SHOES! Always the shoes! I rotate my shoes and have different pairs for different runs (if I run three times a week then I will need three different types of shoe. Heck, I ran three times on New Year’s Day and wore a different pair of shoes for each run!) so I’m bound to spend more on shoes during the course of a year than I spend on race registrations. Actually, I think I might be a bit of a running shoe addict…

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19. Do only gentle yoga or intense boot camp classes for cross training?
Intense exercise has its place, but too much of it can have a negative impact on performance and, for me, lead to injury. It has to be the yoga for this one as I’m really loving my yoga classes. Yoga makes me feel flexible, strong and relaxed. Ideal cross training if you ask me!

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20. Run in your favourite outfit every day but only wash it once a week or run in clean clothes that you hate every day?
Smell pretty ripe or look an absolute state? I have to say, I just don’t think I could cope with wearing clothes I hated every single day, so I think I’d have to go with only washing my favourite kit once a week (don’t judge me!). Those who take part in multi-day events or long adventures can’t exactly change their clothes every day or their backpacks would be enormous, so it’s not like it would be that unusual. I’d probably just give it a spray of perfume or something to take the edge off. Besides, even the clean kit would be smelly before the run was over!

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Now I’d love to know your answers (and not just to check if anyone else would join me in sticking with the smelly, unwashed kit!). Either pop your answers in the comments below, or turn this into a link up by writing your own post and linking back to me. If you do write your own, add your link in the comments as well. Have fun!

Tunes on Tuesday – Rise

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

Rise – Katy Perry

As our lives begin returning to “normal” and reality hits us hard after the festive season, it’s easy to feel bit down. Not only does work have a little less shine to it without the tinsel festooning every last inch of the room and the dulcet tones of a certain Mr Bubl√© filling the air, but the festive excess is probably catching up a bit. So to help us along as we try to get work/life/training back on track in this fresh, new year, here’s a song I find uplifting and motivational. Hopefully it will give you a boost too.

This particular track is a newer addition to my playlist. I first came across it back in the summer when US broadcaster NBC used it prominently throughout their coverage of the Rio Olympic Games. At the time it was shared prolifically on social media and I remember it featuring in one or two blog posts I read. And while there is an official video for the song featuring Perry herself, I much prefer the promotional “Olympics” version at the top of this post as it pays tribute to a variety of athletes including some very familiar faces such as highly decorated swimmer Michael Phelps, extraordinary gymnast Simone Biles, speed demon Usain Bolt and Team GB favourites Chris Hoy and Mo Farah. Even now, watching some of the footage from London 2012 included in the video brings back fantastic memories of being glued to my sofa during those historic moments (I had to be forcibly removed on Super Saturday to get some fresh air!), and a lump once more takes root in my throat seeing the pride on the faces of the athletes. This is what makes me feel inspired to keep training hard to improve my own performance. I won’t ever be going to the Olympics, but I can still become fitter, stronger and faster than ever before.

It’s the sort of track that really epitomises my ideal running/workout track, with its slow build, strong beat and lyrics which speak of victory, rising above an opponent and triumphing in the face of adversity. I like to choose upbeat, motivational songs, songs with a good tempo and which speak to me through their lyrics, particularly themes of survival, thriving, not letting others define you, fighting back and toughing it out through difficult times:

“When the fire’s at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
They’re whispering, “You’re out of time,”
But still I rise”

If this track comes on during a race or training run, it helps to give me that focus to keep working hard, push on and try my best. It reminds me why I’m out there and what I’m striving for. I might even have been known to imagine myself as an Olympic athlete during the chorus!

“Oh, ye of so little faith
Don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Victory is in my veins
I know it, I know it
And I will not negotiate
I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it
I will transform”

Just writing about it gave me the motivation to get today’s workout done, so if you’re in a bit of a slump about returning to work or worried you’ve bitten off more than you can chew with your goals for this year, let Katy Perry and this fine selection of Olympians help to set you on the path to success.

“I won’t just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive”

Let 2017 be the year that you Rise

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

New Year? Make Mine a Triple…!

…Triple RUN that is!

That’s right, The Running Princess got 2017 off to a¬†flying running start…

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After ending 2016 with a Hogmanay (or New Year’s Eve for my readers outside of Scotland!) parkrun, I was keen to begin 2017 as I mean to go on – by running! Steve began 2016 with what we refer to locally as the “New Year Triple”, and after being forced to watch from the sidelines with an injury, this year I wanted to put that one last piece of unfinished business to bed, while also getting a real handle on where my fitness is right now. The idea of a New Year challenge appealed to me and taking on three runs in the same day is something I’ve never done before (I’ve done two in a day on more than one occasion though!). With challenges like this the difficulty is less in the distance, and more in the stopping and starting whilst trying to keep warm so the legs don’t seize up!

And so, rather than take up the invitation of New Year drinks with some of our neighbours, we had a quiet, alcohol-free night at home, going to bed at our usual time ready to attack the 1st of January head on.

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First up, a New Year’s Day parkrun at my usual event in Perth. I had taken it easy at the Hogmanay event, thinking in terms of endurance rather than speed with three runs ahead of me the following day. For me, anything between 24:00 and 24:30 would be my average time (sub-24 if I’m in really good form and I actually managed one of those a week before Christmas!) so given the strong winds and somewhat squelchy conditions on the grass section, I thought something in the 25:XX region would be fine. Finishing comfortably in 25:05 was therefore perfect and the ideal setup for the New Year Triple!

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Last (park)run of 2016!

Arriving bright and early on New Year’s Day it was clear that it was going to be a busy parkrun, with lots of visitors from other nearby parkruns also looking to complete a double (or triple!) run. We wished friends a happy new year, listened to the briefing then got ready to run. I had my “endurance” head on again and was keeping an eye on my time to make sure I didn’t go any faster than the day before. It had been cold enough for frost overnight so the grass section was a bit firmer, but there hadn’t been a hard enough frost to really make much of a difference.

I slotted into a comfortable pace and kept it nice and even for the first two miles, but found myself naturally speeding up a bit in the third mile after the grass section. Then, as I got nearer to the finish, I became aware of a guy running right on my shoulder. He looked pretty done and despite the two further runs I had ahead of me, my competitive brain just couldn’t resist speeding up a bit for the last 0.1 to the finish to see what he had left. Yes, I dropped him, but after crossing the line he thanked me for keeping him going. Turned out he was feeling pretty done and ready to quit, but was hanging on to me to get to the finish, so I shook his hand and congratulated him on a good run. Me? I finished in 25:14 (an average of 8:09 per mile) and was happy that I paced it about right.

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First parkrun of 2017 – Perth

We left fairly swiftly to allow us a bit of time for a pitstop at home (the toilets in both of the parks we were visiting were shut because of the festive hours) which presented me with a few additional comfort options: I changed everything on my top half so as not to have to spend all day getting cold in sweaty kit, picked up the shoes I wanted for the other two runs (different terrains = different shoes; my podiatrist must be so proud!) and popped some other bits and pieces in a bag (change of socks and gloves to keep my extremities warm, change of running tights in case I wanted them, a hoody to keep me cosy and a couple of things to help tidy myself up a bit post-run!). Then it was time to set off for Dundee and parkrun no.2 (re-timed for 11:30am on this occasion).

The most exciting thing about this for me was that I’ve NEVER been to a different parkrun. Steve has been to three other parkruns (Dundee plus two in England) but despite friends and colleagues often suggesting I go to their local parkrun, I had never yet indulged in any parkrun tourism. That was all about to change…

Dundee parkrun takes place at Camperdown park, and while I may not have taken part in the parkrun there before, I do remember running in the Stroke Association Resolution Run there back in 2013 which used near enough the same course. Back then I was not long back to running after an injury and remember finding it tough, so I had it in mind to be pretty conservative since this was the filling in my sandwich of New Year runs.

Again, there were loads of people about and having glanced at the route map on their website I thought I’d best listen to the first timers’ briefing so I would have a rough idea of what to expect. After that, it was the regular briefing where the run director (in a kilt) welcomed everyone and, to a cacophony of barking from representatives of a local cani-cross club) asked, deadpan, if there were any dogs taking part! ūüôā

I was having an issue with my wireless earphones so decided to forget about music and just enjoy the run since I was in a new environment. Camperdown is much more of a trail run than Perth, and is a lot more hilly. The run director had suggested that speedy runners from Perth could expect to add on about 1:30 to their time, and less speedy runners at least 2 minutes. Since I wasn’t planning to run hard, I estimated I’d be about 2 minutes slower than my run in Perth a couple of hours before.

The route began with a lovely (but all too brief) downhill stretch on a cinder path before turning off onto a trail. I got a nice splash of icy, muddy water as someone went by me but I soon warmed up as I carried on through the trees towards an uphill climb (the bit that saps the 2 minutes away from your time!). The course was then briefly flat before a short downhill, rejoining a parallel trail for the return with a lovely(?) uphill finish on part of the same cinder path we started on.

Despite having already run, I soon realised the benefit of all that trail running in November and early December as I was able to pass people on the hills and run strongly through the trail sections with my trusty new trail shoes. The uphill finish was a bit energy-sapping, but I still finished in 27:18, pretty much spot-on with the suggested +2 minutes and I felt that my effort levels were about the same. Two parkruns down, one more run to go!

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Second parkrun of 2017 (and my first ever parkrun tourism!) – Camperdown, Dundee

Back in the car I removed my top layer, put on my warm hoody, took off my shoes and donned a pair of cosy socks for the half hour journey to Blairgowrie. The last thing I wanted was to get cold and my muscles to seize up before running again!

We, along with a few other lunatics who wanted to do the triple, were heading for the Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run which has now been taking place for over 30 years! I took part in this event in 2014¬†when I had the most awful toothache, so my expectations weren’t exactly high, but I do remember thinking it was a great event. For the bargain price of ¬£2 you get a 6k run then warm up with some delicious soup. There are usually 200+ runners even with the variable weather conditions at this time of year and there is now the option of a walk as well (which heads off half an hour before the run).

With all of the logistics of getting from one event to the next, we knew we would be a little tight for time. We parked the car and walked up to the town hall where the race begins, with enough time to register (there’s no advance entry for this event) and nip to the toilets (indoors – luxury!) before everyone started to assemble for the run. I put on a different top layer and took a gel since there events were all too close together to really eat anything and I was getting hungry. I can confirm that taking a gel before a 6k fun run does get you some funny looks!

There were a few announcements from the organiser but I couldn’t really hear them properly since there were so many people bestowing new year greetings on others, so I figured I would go with starting to run when someone said, “go”, following the straightforward route and stopping when I got to the end. Foolproof! I suspect the announcements were telling us to run on the pavement since the roads were open, but since the pavements were quite busy most people ran on the road anyway for much of the route.

I’d sorted out the issue with my earphones and decided I would listen to some music on this one so that I would have a distraction if it got a bit tough! But as we set off on the main road out of Blairgowrie, I felt not too bad. I was surrounded by familiar faces so knew I was in about the “right” position and just kept on going, enjoying the experience.

After about a mile there’s a left turn onto the road going past the golf course, and despite a bit of an incline here I still managed to run a fairly even first two miles. At the top of the road we make another left to follow a roughly parallel road back into Blairgowrie, finishing right by where we had parked the car.

It was in the second half of the run that things started to get a bit harder. My legs felt much better than I had anticipated, but I was still on my third run of the day and there was a pretty brutal headwind on the way back into Blairgowrie (it had been raining when we arrived and I don’t think Mother Nature was quite done yet!). I gritted my teeth and tried to keep catching up with some runners in front of me.

The finish of the run is a bit deceptive, particularly if you don’t visit Blairgowrie much, as you make a sharpish left turn onto a side street and run towards the finish. I remember being caught out by this the last time when others began to speed up but I didn’t realise how close I was to the end. This time, I did a little better, but still had it in mind that I had to run a bit closer to 4 miles rather than the 3.8ish actually covered by the route. The third and fourth miles were affected a little by the headwind, but I still managed to run them pretty evenly, finishing the run in 30:54 (an average 8:09 per mile – exactly the same as run number 1 in Perth that morning. I’m nothing if not consistent!). There were prizes for the top ten males and females, and although I knew that wouldn’t be me, I overheard the organisers putting together their list and was surprised to realise that I wasn’t that far off the pace as the tenth female finished in 29:XX (they only take times for the top ten, so my timing is purely from my own watch). After three runs in one day, that’s really pleasing!

Third run of 2017 - Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

Third run of 2017 – Blairgowrie New Year Fun Run

In many ways I felt that this was my best run of the day as despite being weary from my previous endeavours, I still managed to maintain a consistent pace that’s faster than my proposed marathon pace. Yes, my legs got a little weary but that’s more due to having the gaps between the races than the overall distance, so in terms of fitness I feel in a good position to embark on my spring marathon training.

Post-run we had some soup followed by a bit of shortbread and a small chocolate bar before heading back to the car to drive home. We were both really hungry so as soon as we got in we had some Christmas cake and I warmed with a cup of tea before a nice relaxing Epsom salt bath.

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Definitely a day for the Wonder Woman mug!

I also had a laugh at the scene by the back door – 4 runs in 1 weekend meant 4 pairs of shoes drying out!

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As for the rest of the day, we pretty much put our feet up and enjoyed a well-deserved break before an enormous and guilt-free plate of steak pie, potatoes and veggies (no photos since we inhaled it so quickly!) and a glass of fizz to finally toast the new year and celebrate the successful completion of our challenge. We were exhausted, but content after a great day of running and feeling like we were part of something as everyone who took on this triple-run challenge became a bit of a team. An example of the running community at its best and a great way to challenge yourself to start the new year.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!!

How did you spend New Year?
Anyone else go for a parkrun double?

Monday Motivation – Running Through the Winter Months

Perhaps you’ve resolved to start running in 2017; perhaps you want to run off some festive excess; or perhaps it’s time to start taking your spring marathon training seriously. Whatever your reason for running, there’s no getting away from the fact that we’re deep into winter now and battling through some of the bleakest days of the year. The good news is that getting out into the fresh air and exercising will help to lift your mood, but how do you motivate yourself to get out there in the first place, and how do you keep yourself safe? Since it’s the first Monday of the year, I though I’d bring you a bit of a Friday Finds-style roundup to offer some motivation to get the year off to a great start and begin/maintain your running habit whatever the rest of the winter brings.

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As it happens, I’ve written a couple of previous posts with my own tips for running in the winter and you can catch up on them here and here, but many of my usual go-to sources have also put together their tips, and that’s what I want to bring you today.

First, some advice from Outside online, focusing mainly on running in the snow. We’ve not seen much of the white stuff around here this winter, but I know some of my readers in other parts of the world might have seen a bit more snow, and to be honest running in the deep snow of late 2010 is one of my favourite running memories (I mentioned it in this post recently) so these tips might be useful to someone:

It’s often said that “winter miles lead to summer smiles” and nobody knows this better than elite athletes who continue to train year-round. To reinforce this, Outside online also shared the thoughts of some elite athletes about what winter means to them. Yes, some of them do train indoors some of the time, but that’s usually based more on the type of workout required and judgements about safety rather than avoiding the cold! Personally I’d rather run outside than hit the treadmill, but I also won’t take any risks so if it’s too slippy for a quality run, I’ll change to an indoor workout instead. It may be dull, but definitely beats an injury!

Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, Gabriella Boston is out to convince you that with a bit more planning, winter running is for everyone. I have to say, those Washington winters sound much tougher than what I’m used to!

If motivation to get out the door is your problem, then Runner’s World has you covered with their tips to help you embrace running when it’s dark and cold. My winter training is usually goal-focused, so that alone helps give me the motivation to get out there. Maybe one of the other tips will work for you.

A lovely complement to these tips comes from Trail Runner magazine. Sometimes when the weather is really bad, getting off-road is the ideal solution. Whatever you decide to do, these commandments should help see you through:

And finally, there’s a great chance you’ve seen this video before, but it definitely needed to be included here. To be honest, it seems like exactly the kind of thing crazy thing that Steve and I would get up to in heavy snow, but the ending provides a cautionary tale about watching your footing!

Now get out there and get running!
The Running Princess

7 for 2017 – My Goals for the Year

It’s that time of year again. If you’ve been with me for a while then you’ll know I don’t hold with all that “new year, new me” stuff as I believe that pinning all your hopes for change on one particular day (a day when, let’s face it, many aren’t feeling at their best!) is doomed to failure. If there’s something you want to change, change it now. If there’s something you want to achieve, start taking steps towards it straight away. Why wait? Too many people try to make massive and unsustainable changes on the 1st of January then feel miserable when they fail. Surely it’s better to change one small thing at a time or develop habits that have already been created than to try and completely reinvent yourself? So rather than resolutions, I prefer to set myself goals – things I would like to achieve over the course of the year that will help give focus to what I do and bring me one step closer to where I want to be.

I’ve already shared my final roundup of my 2016 goals and was, for the most part, pleased with how those went. I am aware, however, that a couple of them weren’t SMART enough in that they lacked clear cut ways to measure my progress, nor did they all have tangible deadlines to work towards. Those that I achieved tended to have something very clear and time-focused to strive for, so this year I’m going to try and address that a bit more.

And following the example of Sarah Williams at Tough Girl Challenges, I’m going to have 7 goals this year. Sarah has been encouraging the members of the Tough Girl Tribe to create and share 7 for 2017, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. As ever, sharing those goals and sharing my progress throughout the year will help to keep me accountable and make me reflect on how I’m getting on. So here we go…

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  1. Set some new race PBs
    The last time I set a big running goal, I kept it quiet. Not this time. This time I’m putting out there exactly what I want to achieve, and I want to achieve the big ones! This year I want a new marathon PB. My best currently stands at 4:05:07 from Paris in 2014, and in 2017 I want to better that. Ideally, I’m going to FINALLY achieve my dream of a sub-4 hour marathon, and that’s what I will be training for. I’m entered into Paris again, so that will be my primary target, but I’ll keep the idea of an autumn marathon in reserve just in case!
    As well as that, my half marathon PB has stagnated at 1:56:35 since the autumn of 2012. I find half marathons tough as they’re somewhere between the speed of a 10k and the endurance of a marathon, and I never quite get my pacing right. I think I could get closer to a 1:52 and this year I’m going to have a go at achieving that. I don’t yet know what my target race will be, but hopefully something will work in well with my marathon training.
    And in for a penny, in for a pound, I also want to have a go at breaking 50 minutes for a 10k. I ran 50:14 in the Great Scottish Run 10k in 2015, so I’m within touching distance. Let’s see what 2017 brings there…
  2. Run my 100th parkrun
    A very tangible goal. I ran my 50th parkrun at the beginning of November, and have continued to participate regularly ever since. Assuming my New Year’s Day goes as planned (I’m writing this in advance!) then I will be sitting on a nice round 60, leaving me the whole rest of 2017 to complete 40 parkruns. Even factoring in a post-marathon rest and being away on holiday, this is still achievable. I just need to keep myself as healthy and injury-free as possible.
  3. Maintain my step goal streak
    Back in the summer I set myself a mini-goal of achieving the step goal on my fitness tracker every day throughout my summer break from school. For an added challenge, I allowed that goal to increase incrementally and finished the summer feeling so much better for being away from my car for so long, getting more fresh air and walking everywhere. Unwilling to stop once the new school year began, I reset my step goal to a fixed 10,000 steps per day and came up with some creative ways to fit extra walking into my daily routine. The end of 2016 saw me reach a whopping 183 days (or 6 months) in my streak and there’s no way I want to stop yet. While I keep setting myself interim goals (100 days, 150 days, to the end of the year…) realistically I’ve come so far now that the only thing that I could really allow to stop my streak is to be incapacitated in some way such as illness or injury. My mini-goal right now is to reach the summer and make it 365 days, but what I would really love is to get my 10,000 minimum every day of 2017. Watch this space!
  4. Read at least 30 books
    One of my most successful goals in 2016 was to read more books, and I used the annual challenge on Goodreads to help me out. My goal (based on a bit of guesswork!) was 15 books, but I finished the year with 27 completed books so I’m making my minimum target for 2017 a nice round 30. I’d love for more of these to be running/cycling/adventure books as well as an assortment of fiction. I’d love your recommendations!
  5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
    I’m terrible for being on the go all the time. Work is busy, there’s training to do, and I often don’t find time to sit down and relax until about 9pm. Steve and I have worked together to create a training plan that has my longest workouts at the weekend, and I need to manage my work commitments a bit better to allow me to have a little more time to myself. I’d love to be sitting down (in my pyjamas!) a bit earlier in the evening, and if I can do that then I should be able to find more time to read, watch tv or even write more for the blog. I might even try getting to bed earlier on weeknights to help me rise earlier and achieve more in the early part of the day (a tough one since I’m a natural night owl) so will work on that in the new term.
  6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
    2016 was the year I finally started going to yoga. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I really love that time out in my week to help me stretch, settle my mind and get stronger. At present I go to two yoga classes each week – a midweek Ashtanga class to really complement my other training and a weekend Hatha class to help me stretch and unwind. Now I think the next step is to commit to a more regular practice outside of those classes. That may be as little as once more per week, even just 10 minutes to help me unwind in the evening. There are plenty of online videos to use and I also have the Hit Reset book by Erin Taylor from¬†Jasyoga, so will use these to help me on my journey.
  7. Blog more consistently
    I’m hoping that success in my other goals will help me with this one. In 2016 I committed to the WordPress challenge of a post per week, which I have achieved, however there were times in the year when I felt like the blog was limping along on nothing more than a Friday Finds post per week. And while it never fails to amaze me when people tell me how much they enjoy these (by their nature they invite less interaction) I’d prefer to put out more of my own content – training updates, life updates, thoughts on various running/fitness topics – and connect with more people. In 2017 I’d like to try and publish a post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. You may notice a flurry of posts whenever I’m not at work, so what I’d really like to do is even things out a little bit and find some more time to write posts in advance so I can schedule them for specific dates or have something in reserve if I know I’m not going to have much time to write. I think this is going to be a challenging one, but I really want to give it a go and see if I can grow my total views in 2017. Any tips from more prolific bloggers than me would be gratefully received, as would your comments on any topics you’d like to see covered.

And that’s my 7 for 2017. Stay tuned for updates throughout the year to see how I get on.

What are your views on resolutions?
What are your goals for the months ahead?

2016 Goals – The Final Verdict!

It hardly seems a minute since I first published my 2016 goals, yet here we are at the end of 2016, looking back over what has, in many ways, been a most strange year. I’ve checked in with my goals throughout the year (in March, June and September) so now it’s time to round things off with one final post to sum up my progress.

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  1. Overcome injury and return to running
    Overall, this went well. When I wrote my goals I was unable to run thanks to a stress fracture in my foot (I promise to stop going on about that now!) and was worried about being able to train for the Paris Marathon in the spring. But with a sensible return to running and some adjusted goals, I was still able to take part in the marathon and had a blast. I continued to run well through the summer and although I hit a little obstacle in the path in the autumn thanks to an irritation in my hip, backing off for a couple of weeks and taking my time over reintroducing running has meant that I could finish the year strongly. I even sneaked in a sub-24 parkrun a couple of weeks ago, which is always an indication of being in good form.
    Another reason for this goal was that I felt I missed out on a lot at the end of 2015, but have since laid those demons to rest with my participation in this year’s Santa Dash and continued presence at parkrun. Given how things were this time last year, I am thrilled with everything I have achieved. Result – goal achievedIMG_6510
  2. Work on learning the front crawl
    I’ve been a bit up and down on this one. The positive is that I have been to the pool almost every week and worked on my stroke. The negative is that the one time I had an opportunity to test out my progress, I panicked in the pool and had a terrible time. I did make a point of getting back in the water within a couple of days (otherwise I might never have returned!) and I do feel that the experience taught me a valuable lesson about keeping calm in the water, but I’m not convinced I’ve made as much progress as I would like. Realistically, swimming was not, in the end, as much of a priority as I first thought, and I know there is still some work to do here. In recent weeks I have felt a bit more comfortable in the water and have felt like I’m establishing more of a rhythm, so this goal will likely be continued into 2017. Result – working towards goalimage
  3. Get out on my bike more
    I’m not sure I ever really got to grips with this one. Yes, I did get out on my trusty steed Trixie a few times, but heading out on my bike just never became a habit this year as I always prioritised my running or other workouts that would benefit my running. It’s a shame as I actually do enjoy riding my bike, but I know I’m very much a fair weather cyclist and given the choice of going for a run or going for a cycle, I’ll always choose the run. Perhaps another goal to continue into 2017? Result – working towards goal
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  4. Be more organised
    This has been an interesting one. Moving house early in the year made me feel anything but organised as I regularly forgot where I had put things and had to establish new routines. By the summer, things were much improved and I was able to get a bit of a handle on life, but staying on top of things outside of work as the term goes on continues to be a problem, resulting in the first couple of days of any break from school being a flurry of sorting and organising. That said, I do think there have been many improvements such as planning our meals for the week (since we no longer live across the road from a supermarket!), planning not just my workouts but also how to achieve my step goal every day and finding some time to write one or two blog posts in advance. Since this is the kind of goal where improvement rather than perfection is the aim, then I’d say I was successful. Result – goal achieved
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  5. Read more books
    Of all my 2016 goals, this may be the one I feel the most proud of. This time last year I was conscious that while I read news articles, blog posts and pupil work every single day, my time spent actually sitting down with a book was getting more and more curtailed, to the point that I actually had no idea how many books I could read in a year. It was time to publicly declare a goal that would make me more accountable and, with improvements in my time management, find more time to work my way through the ever-increasing pile of books to be read. To help, I set up an account on Goodreads and joined their 2016 reading challenge with a target of 15 books (I based this on managing one per month plus some extras on holiday in July) and by the time I got back from my holiday, I had already achieved my target. So to keep me focused, I turned my attention to the sub-goal of a reading challenge I had saved at the beginning of the year, and in my last update I had embarked on the final book of the challenge – a book that intimidates you. For sheer intimidation in size, I opted for War and Peace and worried that I might not finish it on time, however with some post-Christmas free time I was able to spend a bit more time with this literary behemoth, finishing it with a few days to spare. I’m now reading something much lighter (both in physical weight and content!) and will likely have one more completed book to add to my tally before the year is over. Definitely a massive success! Result – goal achieved
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    And for anyone interested, the books I read for this this part of the challenge were:
    *A book published this year – Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
    *A book you can finish in a day – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan
    *A book you’ve been meaning to read – Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
    *A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    *A book you should have read in school – Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    *A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF – Start with Why by Simon Sinek
    *A book published before you were born – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    *A book that was banned at some point – The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    *A book you previously abandoned – One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
    *A book you own but have never read – Last Bus to Coffeeville by J. Paul Henderson
    *A book that intimidates you – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    *A book you’ve already read at least once – Persuasion by Jane Austen

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcomes of my goals this year. Yes, there is room for improvement, but if they were all things I could easily achieve then there wouldn’t have been much point in setting them as goals. To me, a goal should be something that presents a degree of challenge and may take time to achieve. I have made clear progress in each goal I set and have definitely moved forwards in the past year. I wonder what 2017 will bring…?

How did you get on with your goals in 2016?
What has this year taught you?