Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/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.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about female participation in sport, especially since the last three days have been the annual activity days in my school for the junior pupils (seniors are on study leave for their exams). After accompanying a trip on Wednesday, Thursday saw me in school supervising some health and wellbeing workshops. Just after 9am, I found myself in the hall with a huge group of girls who had opted for a body combat session. Entering the hall, I noted them all standing around the perimeter of the room, trying to shrink out of sight. There were smiles, some waved nervously to me, and they glanced warily at the instructor who was finishing setting up. As he beckoned them forward to find some space, there was the usual hanging back that comes with being at an age when self-consciousness is prevalent. The girls watched the other staff present pulling up chairs to sit and observe, then the eyes all fell on me: what was I going to do? Well there was no way I was sitting this one out – I’d worn training kit and was ready to get stuck in! Just as the girls hoped, I headed for the middle of the floor and they quickly joined me.
From that point on, I was conscious that I had to set an example. Fortunately, I’m not one to hold back when it comes to exercise classes, so with Beast Mode fully engaged, I got stuck right in! Just like in the This Girl Can campaign, I wanted the girls to see that working hard, increasing my heart rate and getting hot and sweaty are good things and things that I was prepared to do. They know that I run, but are more used to seeing me smartly dressed at the front of the classroom discussing literature than sweating it out in a gym class, so I hoped that my participation might encourage them. I was pleased to see lots of girls working hard too and felt that I had done my bit. I had great fun and was amused to be told by some of my pupils that I’m “a machine”! They’re obviously easily impressed 😉
So this week, I want to focus on a bit of Girl Power. I feel really strongly about encouraging more women to have a go at sport and I know I am not alone. We have plenty of fantastic role models, but as this article published in The Guardian highlights, there are inequalities in the pay, opportunities and attention given to women’s sport. I’m pleased to see the author, a male, making a case for equality and noting some of the advances that have been made, however there is still a long way to go and some sports are lagging far behind others, as the article points out.
A great role model for women’s sport is Jo Pavey, who consistently proves that age and motherhood are not barriers to performing at a high level. Earlier this week, she once more proved her tenacity by winning the London 10k despite being unwell the night before. I read recently that Pavey will miss the World Championships in Beijing in order to balance her focus on qualifying for the Olympics in Rio next year with her commitments as a mum. She also understands what is best for her body in order to prepare well and peak at the right time, something we could probably all pay a bit more attention to!
But as I’m always keen to point out, great role models and inspirational figures don’t have to be elite athletes, there are plenty of everyday people doing amazing things all around the world. One such woman is Haneen Radi, an Arab-Israeli woman who has been fighting against tradition in her hometown to allow women to participate in a marathon. Feelings and conservative religious traditions run deep and plans for a marathon have resulted in a great deal of conflict. For now, Radi is taking a step back, however she is keen to continue promoting women’s running as she knows how much better she feels when she is able to run.
Another inspiration is Helene Neville who, since 2010, has been systematically running around the perimeter of the USA in solo, unsupported stages. As a cancer survivor, Neville aims to inspire others to “rethink the impossible”. I know my idea of “impossible” has changed since I started to run, and I hope Neville can inspire the same change in others.
Finally, this article from Total Women’s Cycling reminds us that in endurance events, age is no barrier to achieving great things. This rundown of women who took up cycling later in life serves as an excellent reminder that anything is possible, whatever our age!
The Running Princess