The Daily Post – Volunteer

What’s not to love about parkrun? The free, weekly, timed 5k has become a staple part of my week since I first went along at the start of 2015. Since then I’ve earned my 50 and 100 run milestone T-shirts as well as my T-shirt for volunteering on 25 separate occasions. And while one of the wonderful things about parkrun is that the milestone achievements are inclusive and can be reached by everyone whether they run, walk or jog their Saturday morning 5k, this post is not about taking part in a parkun, it’s about the crucial role of volunteer – after all, no parkrun event can run without the high-vis heroes who set up, marshal, time, hand out finish tokens, scan barcodes, manage funnels, tail walk, pace, take photographs and clear away in parks up and down the country (in fact, around the world!) every week.

IRVvVcWyTVysW1q5x7JbogBeing a volunteer at parkrun is an awesome job. It gives you the opportunity to interact with all the participants, not just those you normally run/walk beside. It gives you the opportunity to feel appreciated as those taking part smile, wave, nod and say thanks. And it gives you the opportunity to give something back to the parkrun community. Most parkruns have enough participants that if each one volunteered just twice in a year, the whole operation would run smoothly (and give the poor run directors much less stress in the days before the event!).

Yet it can be all too easy for some to overlook the opportunity to volunteer. For those new to parkrun, being involved in the running of the event might seem intimidating. For those suffering an injury, watching others run might be torture. For those who want to run every week and not “give up” a run to help out…shame on you! EVERYONE can find a couple of occasions in the year to help out, and there are a number of jobs to be done that would still allow you to run – I’ve known some super-speedy types to finish their run then grab a scanner and start scanning barcodes, so there really is no excuse not to do your bit. I always sign up to volunteer on the two Saturdays right after a marathon so that I stick to my recovery plan and avoid the temptation to run sooner than I should. I also take on the role of pacer on a number occasions throughout the year. Others volunteer the day before a big race when they want to make sure they are rested. And although turning up to a run when you’re injured sounds tortuous, it’s actually a great way to stay in touch with the running community and still feel involved. I spent much of the winter of 2015/6 volunteering when I had a stress fracture in my foot and I really enjoyed it as I still felt like it was part of my routine and I was getting the chance to catch up with my running friends.

IMG_3972So what do the volunteers actually do? In a nutshell, they make sure that parkun happens every Saturday morning. It’s the volunteers who set up the start/finish areas, stand at assigned marshal points to ensure everyone goes the right way, time runners crossing the line, hand out the finish tokens and scan the all-important barcodes to make sure you get your time later. There are also volunteers who check out the course beforehand, who act as pacers to help others reach a time goal and who take photos of all those grimacing smiling faces striving to do their best. The roles are all really straightforward, and you would only ever be asked to do something you feel comfortable with, especially if it’s your first time. I had only run about 10 times before I volunteered for the first time, and there are plenty who start out by volunteering, perhaps if a family member is a regular participant and they want to get involved too. In fact, if you’re considering going to parkrun but are feeling a bit anxious about trying something new, volunteering can be a great way to see what it’s all about first.

My favourite role is probably pacer. I love taking time away from worrying about my own times to run at an a easy (for me) pace to help someone else reach a new time goal. It’s incredibly satisfying to have someone say thank you and tell me they got a new PB or ran faster than they had expected because they were running with me or keeping me in sight. I also love barcode scanning as I get to be one of the first people to chat to runners after they finish, to ask about how their run was, congratulate them on taking part/getting a PB and help out with any queries.

UntitledFeeling tempted? Then getting involved is dead easy. Either speak directly to the team at your local parkun (they will be delighted to have you on board) or opt-in to the volunteer emails via your event’s website or the option within your weekly parkrun email. You’re sure to love the experience.

How often do you volunteer?
What’s your favourite role as a parkrun volunteer?

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Rise/Set

Another photo prompt caught my eye recently, this time inviting us to share our favourite sunrise or sunset. As a night owl, you would probably expect me to share a sunset photo. For me, there is nothing more stunning than a Florida sunset filled with beautiful, vibrant colours. But I actually shared a photo of that last time so today I’m going to share a sunrise.

2010 was a big year for us: I ran my first marathon, we got married and Steve celebrated a milestone birthday. So to mark our special year, we made a decision to begin it a little differently. Getting up early, we walked to the top of a nearby hill in time to watch the sun rise. There had been snow on the ground since the end of November, giving everything a crisp, wintery feel and although there was some cloud in the sky, the colours were wonderful. Everything was peaceful and it was lovely to watch as the light spread and our big year began. The perfect start and worth the early alarm call!
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Weekly Photo Challenge – I’d Rather Be…

Today I thought I would respond to a Daily Post photo challenge. As this busy term rumbles on and winter continues to keep a tight grip, it’s easy to find myself wishing to be somewhere else, doing something else. But what?

To answer the question, I considered two things – WHAT do I like to do and WHERE do I like to be?

  • I like to run
  • I like to read
  • I like to practice yoga
  • I like to be in Paris
  • I like to be in the sunshine

So to respond to this photo prompt, here are some pictures that demonstrate the above things I enjoy (and would definitely rather be doing), sometimes in combination!


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UntitledWhat would your answer be…?

The Daily Post – Controversy

In a world full of controversy, sometimes it’s something seemingly innocuous that becomes the subject of debate. And that’s exactly what happened this week with the topic of “yoga pants” (also known as leggings and/or tights depending on where you’re from). Yes, that comfortable lycra (spandex) leg adornment popular with just about every female I know (and often worn by men too) has got us all fired up after the publication of this op-ed in The New York Times. Normally I roll my eyes, tut and mutter in a very passive-aggressive and overly-British fashion about such things, but this time I feel compelled to add my voice to the debate.

Of course there’s an excellent chance that the topic was chosen for the very reason that it would stir up debate and by reacting we simply fan the flames, yet for me there are just too many points raised that I feel obliged to respond to – after all, I’m a big fan of the garment I will refer to as “yoga pants” for the purposes of this post.

First on the agenda, the title – Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Women. Fairly typical of the “click-bait” trend and so, of course, I clicked. I wear yoga pants all the time and so wanted to know if I was causing myself some kind of damage, but rather than scientific or medical facts, all I found was the writer’s vitriol against those who choose (that’s right, choose) to wear yoga pants. Even more bizarrely, her biggest gripe seemed to be with those of us wearing them for their intended purpose – yoga!

Yup, that’s right: the writer has an issue with women wearing yoga pants to practise yoga. What? Does she also have an issue with any other activity-specific attire? Thought not. Personally I find the suggestion that we should switch to “sweat pants” (joggies/trackie bottoms, etc) ludicrous. The clue is in the name – SWEAT pants! Why would I want to wear something that will make me even more sweaty and uncomfortable by clinging on to every drop of moisture that leaves my body, thus rendering the material heavier and me colder when I stop moving? The purpose of those garments made of “velour or terry cloth” that she references is surely to keep you warm before and after you exercise, not to weigh you down, cause you to overheat and make your chosen activity harder? I prefer to run in tight clothes as I can’t stand loose material flapping about me, and when it comes to yoga I want to feel that I am free to move without having to pull up my trousers every time I want to twist, fold or stretch. I also want my teacher to be able to see the position my body is in so that any adjustments can be given that will keep me safe and help me to progress.

And yet the writer of this op-ed appears oblivious to this, stating:

“But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can’t go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?”

Um, yes! Well maybe not throttle me, but having tried yoga in looser-fitting clothes I definitely felt much more encumbered and lacked the freedom of moment that I associate with my practice. I think I spent most of my time fearing an unseemly rip! Besides, a loose-leg would surely just end up riding up around my knees every time I moved into any kind of inversion such as a shoulder stand. How would that be helpful? Yet it carries on:

“We aren’t wearing these workout clothes because they’re cooler or more comfortable. We’re wearing them because they’re sexy.”

You read that right: we’re wearing yoga pants to look “sexy”. The crux of the writer’s argument seems to be that women are somehow being “forced” into wearing yoga pants to work out in the same way that society has conditioned us to wear high heels to look good or tight/low-cut clothing to feel attractive. Sure for some that might be part of the reason behind their choice, but for most women I would imagine they are looking to feel comfortable and able to move in any way they wish. As someone who is not always the most graceful, I hate to imagine what would happen if I tried to twist myself into a pretzel whilst also battling loose and wafty clothing – misadventure would be sure to follow! Who is she to decide what I should or shouldn’t wear for my yoga practice? And how dare she presume to know why I make the choice that I do? I own looser clothing and it would be the last thing I would pick for a yoga class.

Somewhat laughably, the piece also contains the following statement:

“It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress”

Pardon? Is that not exactly what you are doing in this article? For years women have been told how to dress, felt ashamed of their bodies and been reluctant to go to gyms where they might find activities that would make them fitter, stronger and more confident. Why, when women are fighting back against various injustices in the world, would you write a piece like this which has an undercurrent of shaming women for their choices? Would anyone presume to tell a man what to wear in the gym? Didn’t think so. Nobody needs to wear yoga pants to exercise, but most of us choose to. And when we wear them in other walks of life? Maybe we actually do just want to be comfortable. I can wear a tunic or dress to work with leggings underneath (often far warmer and more comfortable than tights/panty hose, an abomination made by the devil himself!) and still look smart; I can wear yoga pants to lounge around the house and feel comfortable without my underwear becoming lodged in places it has no business being; I can wear my running kit to run errands, with messy hair and no make up, when the last thing on my mind is to look “sexy” (because why should I conform to some imposed “ideal” of how I should look when I’m only nipping out for a couple of quick things on a day off?). And if I’m getting on a long haul flight, when my choice is yoga pants/leggings or some constricting garment that will cut into my flesh for hours and restrict my circulation, then I’m picking the yoga pants – they might even help ward off DVT if I pick a compression pair!

The only part of the article I might have any sympathy with is the writer’s assertion that studio classes aimed at women are pricey, but it’s the price I take issue with rather than other aspects of the classes. There’s so much research which shows too many women reluctant to exercise due to fear of judgment, that the last thing we need is a woman feeding that fear by passing judgement on other women. Such classes may come with a hefty price tag, but they are also places where a sense of community is fostered, where women feel like they belong and where they feel comfortable getting their sweat on (in comfortable, sweat-wicking yoga pants!). Women should be supporting and lifting each other up, not cutting each other down with criticism – God knows there’s enough of that in the world already! If we run the risk of turning working out from “a healthy thing you might do twice a week into a Way of Life” then surely that’s a good thing. We’re all being encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle all the time, so why discourage those choosing to do just that by commenting on the sartorial decisions they make that may very well be helping them get out the door to that fitness class in the first place? If a pair of yoga pants is what it takes to help just one person adopt a healthier lifestyle, then I’m all for them.

And so, I will continue to wear my yoga pants for yoga, for running and for any time I wish to feel comfortable. Last I checked it was my body and I’m free to dress it in whatever way I please, even if I am a little north of that 30 barrier lauded by the writer as the last time I should have done so. Frankly, I’ve not felt so insulted in a while!

“Women can, of course, be fit and liberated. We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?”

If she wants to wear sweat pants, she should (and nobody should judge her for it). Heck if she wants to turn up to the gym in her pyjamas then she should be allowed to do so and nobody should bat an eyelid. You do you Ms Jones and let everyone else do what works for them. I, for one, will be in my favourite yoga pants, dimples and rolls included.

0gBdxuz1THC0i%7irQg7hQWant to read some more? Here are some other responses to this op-ed piece that I’ve enjoyed:

Now I’d love to know your thoughts…

The Daily Post – Friend

Friend (noun): a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.

These days “friend” means many different things. There are the friends we’ve known since childhood, the friends we make through our interests or work and the “friends” we make online. But what does true friendship look like?

For me, a true friend:

  • is there for you no matter what
  • listens without judgment
  • gives unconditional love
  • knows when you need comfort
  • shares mutual trust and respect
  • is loyal
  • is good fun
  • makes you happy
  • helps you to be your best self

True friendship is a beautiful thing indeed, and perhaps it doesn’t only come from our human friends but our furry/four-legged friends too.

Morven was my best friend. For over 17 years she was by my side. Many believe cats to be aloof, yet I knew she loved me unconditionally, trusted me to the extent that even while in pain at the end of her journey she let me handle her, and she always knew just how to make me feel better when I was sad or sleep when I was tired. I have so many wonderful memories of the games we played, the moments we shared and the “conversations” we had. It’s hard for me not having her around and I’m trying to adjust to the hole she has left in my life.

Not everyone can understand the bond we share with our pets, but those who do know that they are a big part of our lives, a member of the family. When we lose a pet we grieve in the same way we would if we lost a member of our family. That grief is hard, yet I wouldn’t trade in all the years of love and companionship for anything. No matter what other cats come into my life, Morven will always remain my special girl, my first cat, and nothing can ever change that.

Run free my special girl. I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge when the time is right.

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The Daily Post – Shelf

This past Thursday was World Book Day, and while I would love to have posted this on Thursday, it just didn’t work out that way. Still, it’s given me a great opportunity to finally write this post based on a Daily Post prompt I saved about a year ago!

The prompt “shelf” really got me thinking. As an English teacher I have A LOT of books, in fact it was the main thing everyone commented on when we moved house last year as we roped in loads of friends to help us and the least popular job was lugging my boxes of books around! I’m one of those people who finds it hard to give books away, although I have had one or two clear outs whenever I’ve moved. Still, I just can’t help myself and permanently have a pile of books waiting to be read, a Kindle loaded with titles I’ve spotted on offer and some hefty wish lists on a well-known internet retailer! Safe to say that I’m a bit of a book worm…

For me, my passion for books goes right back to childhood. Bedtime stories were a real highlight for me and I ALWAYS knew if someone got it wrong despite not actually being able to read for myself yet! Visiting grandparents were regularly treated to a big pile of books I expected read to me and my reward for good behaviour during the weekly shop was a book, usually one of the Mr Men or Little Miss books. And I loved it!

Once I was able to read I was one of those children who would be constantly getting a telling off for staying awake too late to read, so sometimes I would read under the duvet with a torch instead (great for helping to feel safe during “scary” parts!). I loved mysteries, adventures and school stories, with a particular penchant for Enid Blyton. I still have my Enid Blyton collection and went as far as to buy a small bookcase to shelf them in my spare room (they’re double-stacked so there are more behind!).

IMG_0931My more “grown up” collection is a feature of our living room and still tends to draw comment, usually “have you really read all these?” Yes. Yes I have. There are a couple of shelves where I keep the books I’ve not read yet (behind my comfy chair), but all the rest have been read. When I moved into Steve’s flat there wasn’t room for all of my books so about half were put into storage and I really missed them. What can I say? I took an English degree and pretty much spent 4 years reading books in order to achieve it. And as an English teacher, I’m not going to stop any time soon! I read every single day and my favourite time to read is when I go to bed. It relaxes me and gets my mind ready for sleep. I’m often so tired that I only manage a couple of pages, but I would never even contemplate getting into bed without a book to read.

IMG_0904I have one more book shelf in my house and that is actually built in to the frame of our bed. Buying a new house we had to be quite clever with storage, so found this great bed frame that had shelves on the headboard. Genius! Mine, of course, has one shelf dedicated to books. This is where I keep all the books about running, cycling or people taking on awesome physical challenges that I’m still to read. Above that, one or two other books – usually ones I’ve just purchased or that people have lent to me – that I plan to read soon, with my current title on top so it’s easy to grab when I get into bed. I even keep a spare pair of my reading glasses on a shelf below that so I always have my specs to hand ready to read!

IMG_0903For me, my book shelves are really important. Each title represents a new world explored, an adventure experienced vicariously or an inspiration to try something new. Some books are an anchor to a moment in time that I can remember clearly and re-reading that book would evoke that moment for me once more – a bit like hearing a song that you associate with a particular experience. I long ago accepted that I’ll never read everything I want to, but I’m prepared to give it a damn good shot. I do my very best to transfer that enthusiasm to my pupils and hope that by discussing books, reading together and showing them what reading means to me, I might inspire them to further their reading journey.

Of course as a cat owner, there are also times when one of my shelves actually just looks like this:
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And true to the cat code, she sees it as her civic duty to regularly stuff herself into the empty shelf I’ve kept for my collection to expand into. Typical!

Reading over this post, it seems that “shelf” really was an interesting idea to consider. Somehow I’ve managed to encompass my love of books, my love of running and my love of cats into one post. That’s pretty good going!

But now that you know what “shelf” means to me, I’d love to hear about what it means to you in the comments below…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Achievement

When I saw the theme of this week’s photo challenge on the Daily Post, I knew it was one I wanted to take part in.

As we get closer to the end of the year and I reflect on the challenge I took on, the only way I can interpret the theme of achievement is to look back over some of my highlights from the last few months and remember the feeling of achievement I experienced on each of these days…

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The Paris Breakfast Run

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The Paris Marathon

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The Great Women’s 10k

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EMF 5k

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An epic weekend at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival!

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Taking on my first ever triathlon…

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…and my first ever cycling event.

It’s been amazing and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store!
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