Week In Review – Fun! Fun! Fun!

It’s been an unusual week – another day out of school for exam marking duties, a couple of more unusual days in school and a full-on weekend of fun events to round it all off. Plenty of training in there too (including a massive leap out of my comfort zone!) so here’s what I got up to:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike @ the gym + swim
Wednesday – sports massage
Thursday – run + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun + SUP yoga
Sunday – beach race

The week began pretty much as normal, but with the weather still beautiful I spent some time marking in the garden before going to my yoga class – got to make the most of the sunshine when it puts in an appearance in Scotland! It was the first yoga class in a block that will see us right up to the summer holidays and due to it being a UK bank holiday (not a holiday for me) and the weather being so nice, it was a quiet class but I don’t mind that at all. We worked on a new posture and it was fun to try something different and see how far my body could progress into it right now. It will give a great measure as I continue to work on it.

Tuesday was also pretty straightforward. Work then right to the gym. With my exam marking duties I wanted to be fairly swift so went with a steady cycle for about half an hour then headed down to the pool for a few lengths. Already my swimming felt so much better than last week and I enjoyed being in the water to cool off a bit.

cIUb%3rGQQ2xPg+vPKmIMQIt was from Wednesday that things were a bit more out of the ordinary. First of all, I was out of school for an exam meeting. I was back on the early train to Glasgow and heading to a different hotel for the day (no overnight stay needed this time). It was a beautiful morning and Glasgow is always lovely in the sunshine so I opted to walk to the hotel. A few people had raised their eyebrows at this, but with the logic of a runner, I knew it wasn’t that far since the venue was at the far point of the Santa Run course which is a 5k loop from right by the station I was arriving at. I therefore knew it would be a little over 1.5 miles away and probably only a 30 minute walk. I had plenty of time and really enjoyed the walk.

fQ0BbwrYRl+W8NE2Qgib0w
H5+roKLuT5+I+BM+7d9rigSince it was so nice I headed out with a friend from the marking team for a walk at lunchtime and everything looked amazing.

8vKvDuouRb2H3GvTSZlVGAThen after the meeting I walked back to the station for my journey home. By the time I got back I had walked a fair distance but still had a run on my schedule. However I also had a sports massage booked and realised I wouldnt be able to squeeze a decent run in before heading along there (it was 6pm and the massage was at 7pm) so began to wonder if I could possibly get up early and run in the morning. I actually laid out my running kit and mentioned to a couple of people that I might do this as that would keep me accountable…

…and I did it! Out the door just before 5:30am for a 4.5 mile run. Waaaaay out of my comfort zone to be running so early but I felt so energised afterwards that I began to wonder if I could do it more often, but as a natural night owl it’s not really best for my rhythms. Still, I know it’s there as a possibility if I need to fit a run in again in future.

fullsizeoutput_2580
DRnwc0c2TQa+T9UnpLfPQgI rounded off my Thursday with Ashtanga yoga. I was feeling good and surprised myself by managing TWO full rounds of Wheel for the first time. Now I can tick that off as something I have progressed to in the sequence, next up is to keep working on my headstand as I’d love to be able to do this unsupported.

By Friday I was exhausted from 2 early starts and a tiring work day on Thursday and Friday as the pupils were off timetable for our health/activity days. I took a rest day and caught up on myself a bit ahead of a busy weekend.

Saturday was pacer day at parkrun and I had picked the 28 minute slot this month. It was a pretty humid morning so I was pleased not to have to slog it out for a faster time. I also got my first opportunity to wear my new 25 volunteer T-shirt which had finally arrived.

2GUQXPpNTCqdMajUjZRblQI had a group running with me, some of whom were looking to run a faster time than they had been of late, and at least one who was hoping for a PB. I always find it so strange to run along with a group bunched around me – like having an entourage! Despite the heat and the group working hard, we managed to smile for the photographer so it looked like we were all having fun!

34201958_1794687760625242_8411694200835276800_nI came in at 27:52 so everyone wanting sub-28 was fine and there was definitely a PB in there for someone. It’s always so nice when this happens. The runner has put in the work to get that time, but it’s nice to feel like setting a steady pace has helped them to reach that goal and seeing how pleased someone is to run a new PB is fantastic.

Y98W47jTRS2KUjcaIDe3SwPost-parkrun I got myself organised for another session of SUP yoga. It was feeling warm and I was in two minds about the wetsuit but just couldn’t face the idea of going in the water without it so decided to sweat it out in the wetsuit. It was a fantastic session and I was able to stand not just in Mountain pose but in Warrior this time (I only managed this for about a millisecond last time!) so I know I have made progress on the board. Towards the end of the class there were a couple of people in the water so I decided to slide in off the side of my board as I was conscious that I needed to get in the water to overcome my fear of falling in. It felt really nice and I loved just bobbing about with my floatation device on. Now I’ve been in, I’m less scared of the thought of a fall. I’m, also considering buying a “shorty” wetsuit for warmer days as I know I can borrow Steve’s full length one if I need it.

On Sunday I headed to St Andrew for the Chariots of Fire beach race. I’ll write a separate post on this one, but it was a great event and although they suffered a couple of hiccups on the day, I would happily go back again as I really enjoyed it. I mean, dressed in all white, running on the beach to the strains of Vangelis, what’s not to like? A great day out!

g0lx95HSTS+THhuBgfhcvQI do love this time of year when I don’t have anything imminent to train for and can keep my training up but without too much pressure so there’s room for a bit of fun. With all that exam marking to fit in, it’s a welcome distraction!

Do you like early morning runs?
Ever run on a beach?

Advertisements

Week In Review – Wickedly Good!

Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks off running, this week it was time to re-introduce some easy running to my week. I would only ever start running again on the basis that everything felt good and there were no obvious tight/sore spots remaining. I also make sure to take things easy for a couple of weeks since I know it can take up to a month for the body to be fully recovered from a marathon. Here’s how things shaped up:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike @ the gym
Wednesday – short run
ThursdayAshtanga yoga rest
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun + SUP yoga
Sunday – 5ish miles

Monday’s class was the last in the current block of Hatha classes. Next week my teacher is on holiday but we’ll be back the following week for the final 5 week block up to the school holidays. When you say it like that, it makes it sound like there’s not too much longer to go this term, but I know there’s still plenty of hard work ahead too! The class itself was great. It’s always such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and I love working through the various postures to stretch my body out.

4Kl8iWWlRHOiWWORqJN9kw

Trying out my new leggings which have cats on them!

On Tuesday I took myself back to the gym for a cycle. Still no intervals just yet, but I did want to work a bit harder than last week. In the end I was only on the bike for a few minutes longer but covered a greater “distance” in that time so will have a think about how I’m going to develop that next week. Once again, I followed it up with a visit to the hot tub and sauna. Well, my membership gives me access so why wouldn’t I?

All day Wednesday I was keen to get home and into my running kit as this was the day I was FINALLY going to head out for a run. It was a lovely evening and definitely time for the running shorts. The plan was to keep things easy, but for the first few minutes I didn’t pay enough attention so was going too fast for where I am right now, but soon reigned it in. It felt great to be out again, even though starting again always feels so hard. I chose a loop I like that’s around 3.7 miles, starting uphill but with a lovely long downhill later on. The only thing that sullied the experience was a slightly grumbly achilles on my left side towards the end of the run, so when Steve got home I had him check out my movement patterns and guide me on the exercises I needed to do to help it settle down again – no way I want to be on the injury bench if I can avoid it!

cN1hG%ESRs2ZZMSe+6JYrQOn the plus side, Steve came home with another pudding-based gift from a client. This time bread and butter pudding. Yum!

+TKMXJEQQ9C65Mmfeh0vPAOn Thursday my achilles was still bothersome, especially on stairs, so I tried to do the exercises as often as I could. I had hoped to get to my Ashtanga class that night as I thought it might help, however a work commitment meant I just couldn’t get there in time – even with my mat and kit in the back of the car so I wouldn’t have to go home. It was disappointing, but not unexpected so I opted for a home practice instead. I didn’t have much opportunity to do the exercises for my achilles through part of the afternoon so made sure to work on it plenty in the evening and did notice the difference.

When I got up on Friday my achilles felt much better. Literally overnight I had gone from thinking I maybe wouldn’t be able to go to parkrun, to thinking it might still be a possibility. I kept up the exercises to give myself the best possible chance.

It was an exciting day because it was the day I was at long last getting my Christmas present. Steve had got us tickets to see the tour of Wicked in Edinburgh (yes, it involved a decent level of hinting again!) so as soon as we were both home and changed we set off and got the car parked near the venue. We weren’t sure where we were going to eat but knew there were plenty of quick and inexpensive options in the Omni centre next door. In the end we picked Tony Macaroni, a chain I had never visited before, and I was promptly faced with the dilemma of what to order from a menu where EVERYTHING sounded good. After some deliberation, we both opted for pizza. Mine had a bbq base and was topped with bbq sauce, bacon, spicy ‘nduja (I didn’t know this one, but Google tells me its’s a kind of spicy, spreadable pork salami), paprika, mozzarella, rocket and FRENCH FRIES! Ok, so I ordered this one because I was fascinated by the idea of french fries on a pizza. One or two people have said it sounds wrong, but having taken one for the team and tried it, I can confirm that it was delicious!

jnvES40+TBiO+qZLqhi2OAI was, however, a little confused by the couple next to us. They split a pizza between them (literally they were each brought a plate with half a pizza on it) and NEITHER OF THEM FINISHED IT!?! What on earth? That is just so strange to me (and a waste of good pizza!).

The show itself was incredible. Steve got us tickets the last time Wicked toured to Edinburgh as I had been desperate to see it for year, having been obsessed with the soundtrack for a while. I do love a musical and this certainly didn’t disappoint, particularly the finale to Act 1 which is Defying Gravity. There was a great audience too, cheering and clapping, which really added to the atmosphere. A later night, but totally worth it.

Oi8QnnJbR0KyKD5U7ZxN8AI was tired on Saturday morning but I also knew I could go to parkrun as my achilles was no longer bothering me (although I’ll keep going with the exercises for another few days to be sure). I had seen a suggestion earlier in the week that people might want to wear something to mark the royal wedding, so I decided this was the perfect time for this Running Princess to try out her tiara hairband (my sister picked it up for me at the Disney Princess Half Marathon expo at Disney World earlier this year and I really wanted to wear it but was never sure when I could without looking a bit odd!).

IMG_6630I actually love how it sits up like a tiara, and yes it did attract some attention!

zsDR8CorR4GzdeDP0C5ntQI had no expectations for this run as I knew running faster would feel hard. For the first couple of weeks when I start running again I know I need to let go of all expectations while my body gets used to the idea again, after which it will feel a lot better. I therefore expected to be somewhere around 25 minutes.

or1V4SH9R024SVp%MSrEEQObviously, I ended up running faster than was probably sensible, but although hard I still felt I could maintain my pace and with splits of 8:05, 7:59, 8:03 and a last nubbin of 7:00, I ran the the bulk of it pretty steadily for a 24:32 finish. I usually think of 24:30ish as being an indicator that I’m in reasonable form, so to return at that point is pretty pleasing and I know in a few weeks I’ll be able to start bringing that time down a bit again.

IMG_6682Post-parkrun I had my second session of SUP yoga. This time I borrowed Steve’s wetsuit and headed down to the activity centre in the glorious sunshine. This time my goal was to stand on the board (probably briefly before falling off!) and I did manage to stand in Mountain Pose feeling fairly steady (Warrior II was less graceful with only a millisecond in the posture before I wobbled too much, but I did stay on the board). Lying in savasana in the sunshine just felt lovely and I could have floated around out there for hours if I wasn’t melting in the wetsuit – probably should have let myself fall in to feel more refreshed!). Next time, I want to try and stand up to paddle, so still a decent chance of a dunking!

Q9pQRb8eT5GoCBIAOS45kg
IMG_6697One of my favourite moments was when my teacher’s husband took their dog onto the board with him. The dog is a rescue and he’s brilliant. When they first got him he was scared of his own shadow and they’ve done so well to get him settled and trained. He loves to swim in the water and run about with endless energy. He was a little unsure about the board, but did stick it out for a minute or two.

IMG_6700I really like everyone in our group so it was great to have lunch with them again afterwards. The cafe at the activity centre is really nice and since the weather was good we sat outside. I had the same type of sandwich as last time since it was so tasty and we all had a good natter until it was time to head home.

+91dE%NPQrue+RVlQyJFzgI rounded my day off by taking a blanket into the garden to sit and respond to some messages in the fresh air, then headed back in to finally watch the royal wedding which I had recorded. My first childhood memory is of watching Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding and I found myself thinking of that as I watched her son marrying the beautiful Meghan Markle. It looked like a lovely day.

I also got a bit carried away and entered a couple of races – a 5k at the start of June and an autumn half marathon. I’ll need to be half marathon fit for Disneyland Paris, but have no intention of racing so I thought I would enter another race a couple of weeks later to capitalise on that training.

Sunday meant a “longer” run and a chance to get back into my usual routine. I did sleep a bit later after a couple of tiring days then got myself ready and headed out. I thought somewhere between 5 and 6 miles would be ideal right now and settled upon a loop I knew would be somewhere in there. I’ll admit it did feel hard, even at a slower pace, after running faster at parkrun, but I also know this is part of the process of my body recovering from a marathon and getting used to running again. Generally I have a couple of weeks like this then I feel much more settled with my running so I’m happy to ignore my pace and just enjoy being out in the fresh air with my legs turning under me, especially now the weather is a bit nicer.

IMG_6708I’m now looking forward to getting the consistency back into my training and feeling that moment when things start to click into place and I feel strong and ready to build through the summer.

What events do you have coming up?
Do you like musicals?

When You Wish Upon A Star: A Magical Announcement…

Now that my spring goal race is in the past, my thoughts inevitably turn to what’s next. No longer do I race for the sake of it, preferring to make races work for me rather than shoehorn them into my schedule, but I do like to have both a spring and autumn goal to work towards. Spring is usually a marathon, but in the autumn anything goes – another marathon, a half marathon, going for speed over a shorter distance – the possibilities are endless.

But this autumn is going to be special. Those of you who know me in real life, or follow my Facebook page (and if you don’t, feel free to join the conversation) may already know why as I’m so excited about it…

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday (I’ll keep which one to myself!) and that was one of the drivers behind my decision to make this The Year of Me!!! I wanted this year to be about the processes, not the outcomes; to add positive habits and value to my life; to have exciting experiences. And that’s exactly what this autumn will bring.

By some miracle Steve managed to pick up on my subtle hinting (i.e. tagging him incessantly in relevant posts and sending informative emails about what I would like to do to mark my special birthday 😂) and, due to some questions of logistics, he recently revealed to me what we will be doing…

I’M GOING TO DISNEYLAND PARIS TO RUN THE HALF MARATHON!!!

Yup, shouty capitals because I just excitedly shouted that at you. The number one item on my running bucket list has long been to take part in a Run DIsney event. My sister and both of my parents have taken part in events at WDW in Florida but I have never been able to as they all fall during term time, one of the drawbacks of being a teacher. So when I heard a couple of years ago that there was to be an event at Disneyland Paris I knew it would be my chance to fulfill that dream. For the last couple of years we were committed to the Loch Ness marathon on that same weekend, but this year it’s finally going to happen. (Did you really think I was going to go a whole year without running in/near Paris???).

Greetings from 2005!

Despite the fact that I have a Florida trip coming up in just a few weeks, I’m already thinking ahead to DLP. I have visited there once before but it was waaaaay back in 2005 in what I now refer to as “another life” and I know it has changed a great deal since then. We have a package which includes our race bibs, accommodation, park entry and race photos. It will be a whirlwind visit as we’ll be flying over on Friday evening and returning Sunday evening to fit in with work (a random Disney weekend in the middle of term!) but I know I can make the most of it and will be tapping my sister for tips on must-do attractions since she has visited more recently and, as a former WDW and DCL cast member, is bound to have some good advice! As for the race itself, Steve has grand plans to be competitive and is hoping for a good time. Me? I fully intend running a half marathon personal worst as I’ll be stopping for lots of photo ops, enjoying the scenery and soaking up the atmosphere. I’m fairly certain it’s the kind of thing that will make me want to cry tears of joy as I run along Main Street and round by the castle. It actually gives me goosebumps just thinking about it and there are sure to be A LOT of photos – I’m even thinking it’s time to purchase that Go Pro I’ve been wondering about…

I’ll be doing THIS!!!

The weekend will begin with a visit to the Run Disney Expo to collect our race packs and spend a fortune on stuff (oh the stuff I’m going to want – best start saving now!) but for the moment the most important consideration is to sort out my costume. Much like wearing ears in a Disney theme park is a rule, there’s absolutely no way on this Earth I’ll be taking part in a Run DIsney event without dressing as one of my favourite characters. I already have some ideas but will keep the details under wraps for now. Instead, I will leave you with a video which gives a taster of what’s in store for my greatest birthday gift EVER!! (Life goal = meeting a tracksuit-clad Mickey Mouse).

Have a magical rest of your day!

Have you (or would you like to) taken part in a Run Disney event?
Any Run Disney or DLP tips for me?

Documentary Film Review – Skid Row Marathon

IMG_6565I don’t normally include reviews of films, but after seeing a screening of Skid Row Marathon earlier this week I feel inspired to share a few thoughts.

I first heard about this film last year on the Marathon Talk podcast as host Martin Yelling had been instrumental in bringing the film to the UK for a screening in London. Sadly that was a bit too far for us to travel, but we were both really keen to see it so when we heard that selected cinemas around the country would be showing a one-off screening this month, we made sure to get tickets.

The film follows four runners from LA’s Skid Row who, under the guidance of criminal court judge Craig Mitchell, rise from the streets to run marathons around the world. We see them battle their demons, form friendships and, ultimately, find dignity as they strive to fulfil their potential.

Those of us who run already know how empowering running can be, how life-changing. I know for me running, and marathon running in particular, changed everything I previously believed about myself and made me stronger (both mentally and physically) and more confident: if I can run a marathon, I can do anything.

When Judge Craig Mitchell was approached by a defendant he had previously sentenced and invited to visit the Midnight Mission, a homeless shelter which was helping him back on his feet, he decided to start a running club. The judge hoped that by getting these people running, he could help them to get their lives back on track through applying the lessons learned from running to their personal lives. The premise is simple: stay clean and out of prison, and Judge Mitchell will take his runners around the world to take part in marathons. Indeed we are shown scenes of him calling contacts to raise the massive amount of funds required for this undertaking. The fact that so many are willing to support the endeavour is truly heart-warming.

The runners followed throughout the film have all been homeless, were former addicts and one had committed murder in his youth and served many years in prison. One of the incredible things about the way filmmakers Mark and Gabriele Hayes have put this film together is that we ultimately side with the runners. We want them to succeed in their goals and can see the difference being part of the Midnight Runners (the name of the running group) has made to them. If we were being honest, would we really say that we would feel that way had we been told of their past history separately to the running? Sadly I suspect we would not, we would cast judgments and assume they had no potential. Yet a theme which was prominent in this film was that no single act defines a person and that everyone deserves a second chance. This was certainly true of the runners featured in the film and is a lesson we should all embrace.

Yes, this is a film about running, but not the physical act of running, this is about the transformative power of running and the psychological battles. When former addicts are faced with a challenge, do they have the strength to spur themselves on or will they be defeated? Finding the inner strength and community support to make the right decision is what sparks change and gives them new hope.

Sitting in the cinema I truly ran the gamut of emotions: I cried, I was shocked and I even laughed as there were light-hearted moments which, in a cinema full of runners, generated a lot of laughs e.g. runners smoking or vaping before and after runs, or the scene where two of the runners were getting vaccinations ahead of travel to Africa and were told to stay away from the monkeys – their reactions were priceless!! But at the end of the film, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe how inspiring, uplifting and empowering the film had been. I found what Judge Mitchell had done extraordinary and was both moved and humbled by the scenes of the runners taking part in marathons for the first time. For one-time addicts and homeless people to be running marathons in Africa and Italy was amazing. It was a real reminder that everyone has goodness within them, and that the act of running wields powers of redemption, empowerment and transformation.

In addition to the main film we were also treated to a 10-minute short focusing on that transformative power of running and featuring running luminaries such as Jo Pavey, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, Vassos Alexander and, of course, Martin Yelling talking about what running means to them, how it has shaped their lives and provided inspiration. It was a wonderful start to the evening and the short film ended with a fantastic poem written and performed by Molly Case which you can listen to on her website.

Sadly this was a one-time screening, but hopefully the film will become more widely available soon. If you have seen it, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t, I really hope you get the chance to. It’s the sort of film that everyone should get the chance to see.

You can read more about Skid Row Marathon here.

Race Report – The Stirling Scottish Marathon 2018

If you’ve been following along with my training since the beginning of the year you will probably know that I didn’t specify a time goal for this race. I was tired of constantly putting pressure on myself to achieve a time and then coming nowhere near it for a variety of reasons including injuries, weather and, for my last marathon, the stress of a very poorly cat and an emergency visit to the vet the day before. This time I wanted to enjoy the process (it is The Year Of Me after all) so my goal was simply to train as well as I could and then do my best on the day. That meant adapting to the circumstances and adjusting as I went rather than burning myself out chasing a time.

But I’m a runner. I had lots of data from my training so had an idea of where I might be and the last thing I wanted was to not do myself justice. And so I set myself “standards” rather than specific goals, benchmarks I could consider once I had a finish time rather than an extra pressure on the day. I wanted to have fun, to enjoy the race I had spent time training for rather than limp across the line ready to chuck my trainers in the bin.

  • With a PB of 4:05:07 from way back in 2014 (and I’m not getting any younger!), my “unicorns are smiling on me creating rainbows in the sky” 🦄 🌈 goal had to be a PB. And if the stars really aligned 🌟 a sub-4 has long been my ultimate goal. I didn’t honestly think this was realistic just yet.
  • Since setting that PB the absolute closest I’ve come is my time of 4:18:10 from my last race – the Loch Ness marathon in September. Everything else has been in the 4:30/4:40 region so my B goal 🏅 was to beat that time. This was the one I thought was most realistic and anticipated something between 4:10 and 4:15.
  • Finally, my “the wheels have totally come off and everything has gone to 💩” goal was to finish smiling. I was going to be running on a beautiful route and I do love marathons, so why would I want to make myself miserable? I knew I could finish, so just had to make sure that whatever happened I chose to enjoy it.

Within all of that I had one sub-goal: no walking other than to take my gels (it just works better for me to walk for a moment then carry on running). In the past I’ve lost the mental battle a bit and allowed myself to walk in the latter stages of the race, especially once I knew my time goals had gone. This time I wanted to eliminate that and run my best time, whatever that may be. I knew I needed to keep my pace under control at the start so I would have a bit of energy for later then dig deep in the latter miles to the finish. To help me with all this, I changed the settings on my watch so I could see my average pace and make sure I kept it steady at the start. My basic plan was to keep it steady to 20 then see how I felt (wiped out, obviously, but if there was anything left to push on then I was going to try and push on).
2017-09-29-cm-Stirling 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 19.30.43The night before I got my kit organised. Since I was fundraising I had my charity vest and paired it with my favourite Under Armour running skirt that I usually save for marathons as well as a couple of special extras. I had ordered a pair of bespoke trainer tags from Lucy Locket Loves, one featuring my blog name and one with the name of my 2018 charity challenge Miles for Morven. I had also ordered a beautiful silk wrap from Run Bling by Nicky Lopez. I had asked her to engrave it with Miles for Morven and add some paw prints and I was so delighted with it. I wanted to keep my reason for running close by and have something to inspire me simply by glancing down at my wrist during the race.

KcAAk30YTEShARkyD8rauw
X9UxGR3zQzKYcV0yPWM5Mw
S1a70fuwSTK66ERWetx1MgRace day dawned and the weather was exactly as expected from my stalking of the forecast all week: dry and cool. Perfect. All my kit was ready so I got up, had my porridge, got dressed then had a second bowl of porridge just to make sure I was well fuelled. After a quick coffee we hit the road for the half hour drive to Stirling.

jeZ6wZPYSi+Ht3H1I3DK4QWe parked in the event car park (basically some empty land) with Stirling Castle in the background and walked from there to the start area. This was well set up with lots of toilets and the baggage buses. I actually got straight into a toilet (unheard of!) then reluctantly removed my layers, put my bag on the bus and, since there were now queues, waited to get into the toilet again.

We had to make our way a short distance from there to the actual start line where one of those god-awful mass warmups was underway. We were both in the red (front) wave and there were officials shouting at everyone to get into the pens, but sadly they didn’t actually tell us HOW (this is my one quibble with the setup). There was no obvious way to get in and lots of people waiting so we did what many others were doing and scaled the barriers! I’m not a fan of doing this since I’m terrified of hurting myself right before the race is due to start, but I took my time and as I turned to step into the start pen, I felt the steady hands of another runner help guide me safely there. Runners are nice like that.

By this time it suddenly dawned on me that we were getting underway. I hadn’t switched my Garmin on and still had my throwaway top on (it was cold and I knew these were being collected for charity) but I miraculously got it all sorted out just as the countdown began – no hanging around at this race!

Despite all that I didn’t feel stressed or worried (although I did miss out on a start line selfie). I was calm and ready to settle into my pace, soaking up the atmosphere through those first few miles when everyone is in high spirits and there are conversations going on around you.

I settled into a comfortable pace, holding back so I wouldn’t go too fast and use up all my energy. I was steady and enjoying the first few miles, legs feeling good. We passed by the entrance to Blair Drummond Safari Park at the 4 mile mark, where we were greeted by this fun cheer squad:

IMG_6530

Photo from Blair Drummond Safari Park on Facebook

The next landmark was Doune Castle which is generally known for being used as a film location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as, more recently, Game of Thrones. I did catch a glimpse of the castle and it looked really pretty.

Through Doune the crowd support was brilliant and I was still feeling good. I remember laughing at a sign saying, “If you collapse I will pause your Garmin” before heading back out onto the country roads towards Dunblane. There was a bit of a climb in this section, then a glorious downhill stretch through Dunblane (where Andy Murray grew up). I had really wanted to see the gold postbox that marked “Our Andy’s” Olympic gold, but I missed it. Steve thought there were people standing around it hence why I didn’t see it even though I was looking.

20x30-SSMJ2693

I can’t remember where this was, but I really like the photo.

From Dunblane we followed the road towards Bridge of Allan and there was another nice downhill stretch before things levelled out. I was still averaging around 9:05 per mile and felt comfortable. The temperature was ideal, I was happy with my electrolyte drink and my gels (I actually didn’t use any of the on-course drinks or gels), there was a nice mix of sections with great crowd support and quiet sections where I could just enjoy the scenery and think my own thoughts (I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck, but hadn’t yet bothered to listen to anything even as I went through halfway). It was simply a lovely Sunday morning run.

On the other side of Bridge of Allan is the University of Stirling where my sister studied for her degree. The route took us on a loop around the campus, starting with a bit of an uphill slog before a nice downhill run back out. That uphill felt tough, but as I left the campus and rejoined the road at around 16.5 miles I was doing ok and knew I would get my next gel at 20 miles so that was my target. It’s funny how these things become quite exciting during a marathon and I find myself strangely looking forward to the next gel, especially the double espresso one with caffeine I take at mile 15 – like having a mid-race coffee!

About a mile later, things felt a little harder but I was prepared for the mental battle this time. I had thought that I might put a podcast on when things felt tough, but instead I did something different. I had said that I was running this one for Morven and that when things felt hard I would remember my reason for running, the funds I had raised and the people who had supported me. My thoughts turned inevitably to Morven and I felt like I was drawing on her and the strength she had when battling illness in her last year. I know it’s hard for people who have never had a pet to understand, but Morven and I had a very strong bond so there was a lot of emotion tied up in this for me. As I ran, I developed a positive mantra which I kept repeating to myself in time with my foot strike and it helped to keep my cadence up. Before I knew it I was another mile in and gaining on a runner I knew from parkrun. I kept the mantra going until I took my gel at mile 20 then decided that I needed to get outside of my head for a bit. The weather had changed and it was raining so it was finally time to start my podcast to see me through the last 10k.

IMG_5348By this point, of course, I had no real clue where I was geographically. There was a sort of loop that we ran that took in some kind of bike path then we rejoined the main road and I remember a corner where there was lots of crowd support and I got a boost from a runner I know from a social media group giving me a shout. Since I had no on-course support with me, it was so nice at one or two points along the route to see people I knew and to get a shout from them to cheer me on.

From here, the road was on a slight incline. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been too bad but at this stage in a marathon it felt quite tough. I spotted a race photographer so made sure to try and look like I was still running strong for the photos I would see later!

20x30-SSMH5842

Trying not to look like I’m dying (and probably doing a better job than the guy beside me!)

I always break the last 10k into “2 parkruns” with an extra gel in between. I opted to take my last gel at 23 miles then told myself I just had to keep moving forward through the last parkrun to the end. My average pace had been stubbornly drifting outside of my PB pace, but not too much so I was feeling confident that I could comfortably achieve my B goal by some margin.

At last the route brought me into Stirling and the final stretch to the finish. My legs were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle but I was still running. The hardest part was through the centre of Stirling (which reminded me very much of Inverness) as there were cobbles. People often express concern about the cobbles in Paris but I’ve never been bothered by those as they are actually pretty smooth and even. In contrast, the cobbles of Stirling were uneven and there were big ruts in some sections that made it difficult for weary legs, but I knew I had to be close to the finish as my watch had been fairly accurate to the course signage throughout and I was trusting that information.

Steve’s cousin had told us she would be at a cheer point for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau not far before the 26 mile mark and I spotted her leaping out to give me a big cheer as I turned a corner to be faced with what looked like a mountain. Yes, someone thought a 600m uphill finish would be the perfect grand finale to the route! I was willing my legs to move faster but I think the Central Governor had taken over long before and was refusing to let me go any quicker until an actual finish gantry was in sight. I could hear everyone around me react to seeing the hill and we were all exchanging a few words and groans about it. I had stopped my podcast when I got into Stirling as there was a lot of crowd noise and that meant I could soak up the atmosphere in the final sections of the race.

As I got closer to the finish I began to spot some familiar faces from Perth in the crowds and got a few shouts then, praise be! The finish gantry! The Central Governor relinquished control and my legs began to move again. As I ran into the finishing straight the opening bars of the YMCA began to play over the loudspeaker and hilariously both the girl ahead and I saw fit to join in with the actions as we ran along. I could hear a roar from the crowd each time we flung our arms up into the ‘Y’ and I just loved that atmosphere as I ran to the finish.

20x30-SSMC3090Crossing the line I had the usual wave of emotions, but managed to keep it together as I exchanged a few words with the girl who had been ahead of me as I had been using her as a kind of pacer for the last part of the race. I was grinning ear to ear from a great race and keen to get my official time as I knew it would be a few seconds faster than my watch.

I was handed my goody bag which contained my T-shirt, medal and assorted other bits and pieces, including a packet of spaghetti!?!

KMc6yjxlS9mV00k%yfyrFQ
jR1NmIv%R5+J7jGWZKh59gSteve was waiting at the end of the finish funnel and he had already collected my bag from the bus so I didn’t have to shuffle across the field to get it. The sun was shining so I fished my disposable poncho from my bag and spread it on the ground so I could sit down, have my recovery drink and gather my thoughts. I even managed to get up again all by myself (thank you yoga!) to get a couple of photos.

IOkyOUlBR4WkiB+zNkOm8w
YDBkbIBmRMW9SVArj30AGAAnd that official time? In case you’ve somehow missed my shrieking about it in my last Week in Review or all over social media, it was 4:05:40. A mere 33 seconds outside of my PB, making it officially my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and well inside that B goal I had set myself. I’d say that’s a good morning’s work. One or two people have asked if I’m disappointed not to get a PB and my honest answer is no. This race was never about a PB, it was about a process. It was about seeing how I would run when I listened to my body and removed the pressure of time. To run that time whilst still enjoying the race and never feeling like I was really struggling or that I couldn’t do it is testament to the training I have done and the approach I took. I also met my sub-goal of no walking other than to take my gels whereas in the past I would have taken walk breaks as soon as I realised the chance of meeting my A goal was gone. When I reflect, I truly believe that in many ways this is my best performance ever even if it isn’t my fastest result. It doesn’t always have to be about the time on the clock, but it should be about the time you have.

fullsizeoutput_252cOverall I really loved this race. I used to only want to run big city marathons but this was a wonderful experience for me and I would happily sign up to this race again in the future. It’s well-organised, has a fantastic route, great support and, crucially, is close to home. I do love the opportunity to travel for a race, but nothing beats home comforts when you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles.

Stirling marathon: you were great.

IMG_6499
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Week In Review – Here We Go!!!

Yes, indeed. Race week has rolled around once more, and with it a whole new level of maranoia in which my Pocket Bac was attached to me (because the germs wanted to hunt me down), I thought my calf hurt (it didn’t), I thought I was getting a cold (I wasn’t) and I generally wanted to be enveloped in bubble wrap and shut off from other people 😂

IMG_0497Sadly, that wasn’t possible so I had to go to work as usual in the germ factory of many many young people (hence the Pocket Bac lol!) as well as complete my last, gentle workouts ahead of the marathon:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – RACE DAY!!!

For me, taper weeks are all about continuing with the routine of my workouts but dialling down the volume a bit as the race gets nearer. That way I don’t go totally crazy but make sure I feel fresh and ready to go on race day. All my key workouts were in place this week, but the running was much more minimal so as to save my legs for the big day.

I began the week with my Hatha yoga class, which is always a gentle stretch out but with options to add a bit more intensity or work on strength. I often do choose different options, but I imagine my class the day after the marathon will see me choosing all the easiest options there are. Maybe spending the whole class in savasana?

On Tuesday I headed for the gym straight after work. My bike reps have been increasing in number by 2 reps per week up to 20 before changing the resistance level of the bike, and this week was 20 reps at my current level as a finale to this cycle of training. While that sounds like a lot, it was still early in the week and was a non-impact workout so it was fine to do this given that the rest of the week was going to be pretty gentle. There was something very satisfying about completing this set and rounding off all the hard work I’ve been doing – 20 reps at an intensity level I would barely have managed 1 at back in January (and for those wondering, yes I did get the bike I like!).

7qb9STY4RamPdw43%andpwI usually alternate form drills and hill reps on a Wednesday, but this week stuck to the drills. Last week I did 10x 1km so this week dropped it back to 6x 1km. Including my warm up and cool down that gave me less than 6 miles so was an ideal workout to keep my legs ticking over and allow me some sections of faster running to satisfy the urge created by having fresher legs. I’ll admit the first couple of reps felt a little hard, but they were mainly uphill and it was a bit windy so I felt great after that.

IMG_6423Even better, I got home to find that one of Steve’s clients had baked him a carrot cake. Cake = carbs so I had a slice with a cup of tea after I ate. It was delicious!

cGywJN0HSxSBqGpdRjhe7w
ABzSp9IJQySiLBgFpMFEeQThursday was Ashtanga yoga. I was pretty last-minute getting there thanks to some unusually heavy traffic, but soon settled in and enjoyed the class. I was super careful not to overdo things and asked for support in my headstand as I didn’t want to risk taking a tumble, but I really wanted to stretch things out and clear my head so this was ideal.

By Friday a rest day was in order. I had as restful a day as possible then did a short Yoga with Adriene video so I would feel like I had a little activity. We then headed out to eat as usual and I decided I fancied the curry this week. Yes, that is a beer you see but I always have a beer on a Friday and it’s important to do everything the same in the days before the race, right?

P5pvTi1RQPmx0I77c4JftgBefore I knew it, parkrunday was with us once more. I knew I shouldn’t do too much so drove there, paid for a parking space at the park rather than walking/jogging from a free space further away and treated the run as a shakeout run. I decided that averaging out around a 9 minute mile would be good and so a time absolutely no faster than 27 minutes (but probably nearer 28 minutes) would be ideal.

FGQ085t1R%e4eGff68rjAg

National Superhero Day = Wonder Woman leggings

I positioned myself a bit further back behind crowds of people with the strict instruction to myself not to weave about, then tried to settle into my pace. I felt fresh and ready to go, so the taper had done its job. I actually managed 9:08 for the first mile (well done me!) then caught up with someone I’ve not spoken to in a while so ran with her for a bit to have a chat. This took in the grass section (yes, we were FINALLY back on our main route!) and kept my pace down to 9:20. I did speed up a little in the last mile to 8:50 and allowed myself to kick it up for the last tiny bit for a faster finish, but overall I did get my planned average with 9:03 and a 27:55 time. Perfect!

IMG_0498

Photo from Perth parkrun facebook page. No, I didn’t spot the photographer 😂

I spent the remainder of the day sitting down/relaxing as much as possible and got all my kit sorted out for Sunday morning as I knew it would be an early start so wanted to be as organised as possible.

KcAAk30YTEShARkyD8rauwDinner was carb loading with some of Steve’s amazing pizza (he used to be a pizza chef before he trained as a Personal Trainer – useful!).

GQ0+1AHHTuyAIak76RHv6QThen I had a nice bath to help me relax and sleep well. It felt so strange actually being at home the night before a marathon. Almost like I wasn’t really doing it, which was good as I felt relaxed.

N4LTpq5eQGaRUjfbpkyidQI’ll write a separate post soon on the race itself, but anyone who follows me on social media or knows me in real life will probably already know how it went. My main goal was to do the best I could under whatever circumstances presented themselves on the day. Turns out my best was 4:05:40. That’s only 33 seconds slower than my PB (set in Paris, a much flatter course than Stirling!) and I really wasn’t expecting that. Had you twisted my arm last week I would have suggested between 4:10 and 4:15 as my likely finish time so I’m absolutely thrilled with this. I guess it just goes to show what’s possible when the pressure is removed and you trust in the process. More on that in a future post.

IMG_6499Post-race it was nice to be home quite quickly, showered and enjoying some food. Chinese really hit the spot!

fullsizeoutput_252d
M+nb6+u1SfyoL8KQLkNQCwThen we shuffled to the pub down the road for a celebratory beer before heading home so I could have a nice hot bath with epsom salts before bed. Rock and roll!

GZWjyRJaReSMVaGBhJ1X4Q

BcpZ%rW9Q4Srma1ur8YyCg

Rehydrating like a pro!!

As marathon weekends go, it was a great one!

8wkBqBnaR86Qh+sG9Dr0mAWhat’s your favourite post-race food?
Would you prefer to be in a hotel or at home the night before a race?

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Week In Review – Music And Excitement!

Oh what a week it’s been! It may have been the first week of a new school term, but from Thursday to Sunday everything was so exciting it was like Christmas for me! It was also the second week of my taper, the one when I tend to start noticing that sluggish feeling creeping in, but there was still a decent week of training (and some extra “rest” to combat a busy week). Here’s how it all looked:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – rest
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – rest

A new term at school meant a new block of my Hatha yoga class. Although I have cultivated a decent home practice this year, I still enjoy going to my classes and miss it when it’s not on or I can’t go. It was so nice to be back on my mat in the lovely studio and I marked the occasion by giving my new leggings a whirl. I had a “whale” of a time! 🙄

ekUjbTiQQwqC5YKWYSe7tgTuesday had me back on the bike at the gym. Someone was on the bike I like (surely not just me that has preferences?) so I had to go on one I’m not so fond of. I know technically the bikes are all the same, but I’m sure the tilt of the seats differs a bit and the resistance doesn’t always feel the same even at the same setting. I’m still not sure if my workout felt tough because I was on a bike that feels “harder” or if I was just feeling a bit sluggish and tired. The important thing is that I got it done, event though my legs and my mind were telling me I couldn’t. Tenacious is my middle name!

Then on Wedensday I had a set of form drills to do. This time it was 10x 1km and I definitely felt sluggish. My calves were weary and my right hip was bothering me a little (it’s fine now, just a mobility thing I had been working through and a bit of phantom taper tension). At one point I thought I might bail out early but felt better as the run went on so completed the set.

3tRee26CTCeyXgtH1B4kSQIt was a super-quick turnaround as I got in the door at 6:30pm, showered, changed, ate and was ready for my sister to pick me up for an orchestra rehearsal that started at 7:30pm. Someone in my section had seen me out running and was most impressed that I had managed to juggle everything. To be honest, squeezing in a rehearsal at this point wasn’t ideal, but it was a one-off due to our concert from early March being postponed because of The Beast From The East. I figured I could manage one rehearsal plus I knew I had factored this into some extra rest and recovery at the end of the week to balance things up.

Thursday was probably the absolute highlight not just of the week but of my year so far. Back in October it was announced that GARY BARLOW would be performing in Perth as part of his solo tour and, since everyone knows he is my favourite, there was no way I was going to miss this. My sister sorted the tickets out and I was prepared to forego Ashtanga yoga for one night in order to see my beloved Gary (although I did some at home before I went). Oh boy was it worth it! I don’t think my sister really appreciated how good it was going to be, but there is just something so special about an artist who usually commands massive stadium audiences and huge venues to be in a far more intimate venue. We had seats but I was on my feet throughout and managed to notch up around 2000 “steps” just dancing and waving my arms about at my seat! I LOVED it!

IMG_6477

Yes, we bought the same T-shirt!

KmkFcREmRFu0oZGdEd3+Ow
RQkmvdw+SJyKHx+YPn1jYQ
fGA90h7vSwWCCFAfe7pTIwEven better, I appeared on Gary’s Instagram. Sort of😂:

fullsizeoutput_24be
fullsizeoutput_24c1Of course this meant that I probably had the least amount of sleep I’d had all week, despite being home at a reasonably civilised hour, yet I felt amazing on Friday with songs going around my head and still on a high from the concert buzz. I took a rest day and went to get my nails done all ready for the race next weekend.

oZ8+52z2R+6Jshu4A7+hIA

All about the bling!

Originally my plan for the weekend had me doing parkrun on Saturday then 8 miles on Sunday, but since I was so excited about watching the London marathon, I knew I would need to move things around a bit. I contemplated getting up early to run my Sunday miles before the TV coverage started, but with the concert on Saturday night (and an afternoon of rehearsals beforehand) I knew I would want to rest so decided on getting some solid miles in on Saturday instead. I duly ran the scenic route to parkrun, took part in the run, then rook a different scenic route home. 10 miles total for the day.

Fb%Cfn5jQTGlNRBJB3giRAI definitely felt better than on Wednesday, but felt like “marathon pace” was about all I could manage on my run down. Perhaps because in my mind I was running much further, or because I was listening to Marathon Talk, my standard “long run” podcast, I just didn’t seem to have much more oomph. I really expected to run about 26-27 minutes for parkrun, but rallied a bit to get a 25:15, having been getting gradually faster throughout. I’ll take that!

Steve and I ran home together (he had left before me to go down as he wanted to do some drills) and at first my legs felt a bit heavy form the faster running, but I soon settled in and felt comfortable by the time I got to my front door (which I ran past twice to make sure I got my 10 miles – runner problems 😂)

I spent the afternoon rehearsing on the same stage Mr Barlow had been on two nights previously. Sadly no evidence remained of his presence, but it was still cool to think about it like that. Then after a short break to go home and eat, etc, it was back for the concert. We played a great programme including some movie music – The Magnificent Seven, The Jungle Book, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Great fun!

Choosing a rest day on Sunday meant I got a decent sleep then transferred myself to the sofa in time for the coverage to begin. What an incredible morning of racing, despite less than ideal conditions for it. Now I’m feeling inspired to go out and do my best when it’s my turn next Sunday.

IMG_0496In case you weren’t aware, I’m running for the charity I got my cat Morven from back in 2000. I still miss her tremendously after saying goodbye back in January and decided to do something positive in her memory. When I find myself in a rough patch, I will be remembering Morven and using this to help me push on. If you would like to help, you can read more here. Every penny makes a different to the lives of cats without a fur-ever home.

Did you watch the London Marathon?
What was the last concert you went to?
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

A Runner’s Alphabet

As I get closer to race day (and spring marathon fever tightens its grip) I find myself more and more obsessed preoccupied with running and all it entails. Soon, I’ll be running 26 (point 2) miles once more, and by a happy coincidence for this post there are 26 letters in the alphabet. So just for fun, here’s a (marathon) runner’s alphabet.

The Running PrincessA is for Athlete. Because that’s what you are. It doesn’t matter if the pinnacle of your athletic achievement is parkrun or the Olympics, if you are taking active part in an athletic endeavour (i.e. running) then you are an athlete. End of story.

B is for Blisters. We’ve all had our fair share of these and somehow the marathon always seems to result in at least one of the little blighters for me, even when none have raised their heads during training. Gah!

C is for Chafing. Again, we’ve all been there. Often we don’t know we’ve chafed until we get in the shower and then the full extent of the chafe is unleashed. In a word, ouch!

D is for DNS/DNF. Never letters we want to see next to our name. You’ll certainly find DNS (Did Not Start) in my marathon history, but so far I’ve always been able to finish every race I’ve started. Let’s hope that continues *touches wood.

E is for Electrolytes. When we sweat, we lose salts so it’s important to replace them, especially in marathon running. My choice is to add electrolyte tabs to my drink as taking too much water on board is not a good idea thanks to its tendency to dilute those all-important electrolytes.

F is for Fartlek. If you can say the Swedish word for speed-play without sniggering, then you are definitely a runner! Playing around with different paces and effort levels is a great way to improve fitness and speed. If you want to run faster, then you have to run faster!

G is for Gels. Ah yes gels, my sticky marathon friends. Our bodies have enough energy for around 90 minutes or so of running, so anything longer than that needs a top up. My preference is gels and I’ve found the ones that work for me, but it’s always best to experiment in training so that any “issues” can be avoided.

H is for Hills. Speedwork in disguise, these short, sharp battles against gravity help to make us fitter, stronger, faster and improve our form. Hard work but worth it for benefits like those.

I is for Injury. If you’ve not suffered an injury at some point, are you even a runner? A high percentage of runners will be sidelined with an injury every year. My advice: don’t ignore it and hope it will go away, seek advice from an appropriate professional (not Dr Google or strangers online!).

J is for Jogging. According to TV, the activity being done by someone who finds the body. For me, jogging is the easy-paced effort you might do to warm up. It is NOT a word to be used to describe someone giving it their all and running – just because they’re not moving at world record pace doesn’t mean they’re not trying just as hard. Rant over.

K is for Kudos. The validation we hope to receive on Strava after our run!

L is for Laps. You might run laps of a particular route in training, you might run laps of the track as part of your speedwork and you might ultimately run laps of a course during your race. This is not my favourite kind of race.

M is for Medals. It’s all about that bling, right!

N is for Niggles. Often the precursor to injury. Best not to ignore!

O is for Off-Road. Hitting the trails is a great way to build a solid base. The terrain can be kinder on your body, the changes keep you alert and also help to strengthen your ankles. I recommend a pair of specific trail shoes to get the most out of this.

P is for Parkrun. Oh I do love parkrun, A weekly free timed 5k that’s open to all and happening in a park near you this Saturday morning. Great to test yourself over a short distance and a good way to sharpen up before a race.

Q is for Quicker. What we all want to be. Even just by a second!

R is for Race. A chance to test yourself out over a measured distance. Also how we earn T-shirts, medals and free bananas.

S is for Strava. The social network for athletes. If it’s not on Strava, it doesn’t count!

T is for Training Plan. Something worth having to structure your training, but make sure it fits your life rather than you trying to fit around it. And while a training plan is important, you don’t have to be a slave to it. Flexibility is key when life (or Mother Nature) gets in the way.

U is for Undulating. Runner speak for hilly as f&@#

V is for Variation. Vary your terrain, vary your shoes, vary your training. It is the spice of life after all.

W is for Watch. You don’t need to have a fancy GPS watch that does everything bar make your post-run smoothie. But as soon as you start to take this running lark seriously, it’s top of the shopping list! Just don’t get too obsessed with the data.

X is for X-Ray. Ignore the niggles and injuries and you might just find yourself needing one of these to figure out what’s going on.

Y is for Yoga. Great for runners as it stretches muscles, builds strength and improves flexibility. I definitely think yoga has improved my running.

Z is for Zzzzz. Ok, ok, but you think of something else that starts with Z!! Sleep is super-important for runners as it’s when we rest that the adaptations from our training take place. Sleep resets our minds, heals our bodies and boosts our immune systems. We should all get more of it.

What would you include?

Book Review – The Pants of Perspective

“When I ran, I ran for pleasure. I didn’t run for times, to win, to impress: I ran for me. When I ran my bum cheeks rubbed together, so much so that if I was going on a long run I’d have to ‘lube up’. I maintained that I was not a ‘real’ runner – I just liked to run so that I could eat cake.”

Anna was never anything like those ‘real’ runners on telly – all spindly limbs, tiny shorts and split times – but when she read about New Zealand’s 3,000-kilometre-long Te Araroa Trail, she began to wonder… perhaps being a ‘real’ runner was overrated. Maybe she could just run it anyway? Travelling alone through New Zealand’s backcountry for 148 days, she scrambled through forests, along ridge-lines, over mountain passes, along beaches and across swollen rivers. Running up to 52 kilometres in a day, she slept wild most nights, and was taken into the homes and hearts of the kiwi people in between. The Pants of Perspective is a witty, colourful and at times painfully raw account of a journey to the edge of what a woman believes herself to be capable of. It is a coming-of-age story which will lead you on a roller coaster ride through fear, vulnerability, courage and failure. For anyone who has ever dreamt of taking on a great challenge, but felt too afraid to begin – this story is for you.

Back in the summer of 2017 I decided to explore the trails of the world vicariously. Whilst basking in the Florida sunshine I traversed the Appalachian Trail with Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woods, joined Cheryl Strayed on her voyage of self-discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail in Wild, and finally I took to New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail with adventurer and “mischief maker” Anna McNuff in her book The Pants of Perspective.

I first came across Anna McNuff when she was interviewed on the Tough Girl Podcast. I was drawn to her sense of fun and adventure, the way she wanted to speak to school children and inspire them to go after their dreams, so when I saw that she had written a book about her New Zealand adventure, I was quick to grab a copy and devour it straight away.

And I certainly want disappointed. Anna (it somehow feels right to use her first name rather than be all correct and write”McNuff”) is such an engaging writer. I mean, even from the title and cover art we can tell that she is going to have a sense of humour. There are certainly times when the going is tough, but we are rooting for Anna all the more because her warmth and enthusiasm come through on every page, fostering a connection with her. Reading the book almost feels like a catch up with a good friend.

We join Anna as she undertakes a 148 day run from Bluff, at the southernmost tip of New Zealand, to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, 3000km away in the north. Yet this is not really a book about running, per se. For me, it’s more a book about the journey (both literal and metaphorical) that Anna undertakes and the unforgettable “trail family” she creates along the way. Despite her taking on what feels like an overwhelming challenge, Anna is very “real” and somehow makes the whole thing seem so much more accessible. We are shown that even with some oversights in planning, taking on an adventure like this is possible and through the cast of characters she bonds with along the way, we are reminded of the inherent good in people when complete strangers look out for each other and provide support.

Yet Anna also lays bare some of the low moments, the times when it is a struggle to keep putting one foot in front of the other because she’s exhausted, or hurt, or the weather is awful (or all three!). We are inspired by her mental strength and fortitude when fear takes hold, and we celebrate her successes along with her. At times I almost wished I was there, sharing a slice of cake (there’s quite a lot of cake/chocolate consumption) before hitting the trail once more in a pair of ludicrous leggings.

Yes, the leggings (or “pants”, used in the US rather than UK sense). We’re around half way through the book when the significance of the title is revealed to us:

“Setting my empty coffee cup down beside me, I rummaged around in my bag until my fingers found what I was looking for. Pulling out the mess of brightly coloured Lycra material, I laid it flat so I could see the entire pattern. Moments earlier, over another morning’s serving of cold porridge, I had remembered something. I’d thought in spending over five months on the trail that perhaps, just perhaps, I was going to have one or two days when I didn’t want to get out of my tent and run, and instead I might just want to curl up in a ball and cry. For this situation, I had packed myself a secret weapon – a pair of magic Lycra pants.
One leg was adorned with a unicorn, the other with a robot. Both were engaged in a fierce battle and above them was a star-spangled night sky. Naturally, across the sky was a bright rainbow.”

Basically, the “pants” are Anna’s mental safety net. She may not have planned every other detail to perfection, but she had recognised the importance of mental strength in undertaking a challenge like this and had found a way to give herself a boost when the going got tough:

“Everything around me, the facts, so to speak, would indicate that I should be miserable, but it was scientifically impossible to be miserable whilst wearing these pants. They were a sheer act of defiance, flying the flag of ridicule in the face of what should be a serious and grave situation. I laughed, and immediately felt more like me.”

I loved this idea, and as someone with a penchant for more “unusual” leggings, the discovery that I could buy my very own pair of THE pants via Anna’s website was fantastic. Yes, I did buy them (and got a very lovely email from the lady herself as part of the process!). As such, I can confirm that Anna’s right – you really can’t be miserable whilst wearing these beauties!

IMG_5334If you haven’t already read this book then I highly recommend it. Not only is Anna easy to relate to and engage with, but she is also a very good writer. Sometimes books about adventures can have a “detached” feel about them, or they read a bit like a series of notes. But not this one. This one takes you along on the journey (whether you have the pants or not!) and leaves you feeling like you’ve made a new friend. I believe Anna has been writing a new book about one of her other adventures and I, for one, can’t wait to read it.

You can find out more about Anna McNuff here.
You can watch Anna’s TED talk here.

Friday Finds – 30th March

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.

Hello! I hope Good Friday has been good for you. The weather here has been pretty miserable, but a day off work was definitely welcome! So as you relax into your (long) weekend, here are some bits and pieces for your reading pleasure…

Last week I included a piece with the startling news that caffeine might not make everyone run faster, so to counter that here’s an article from Runner’s World to remind us of all the benefits having a coffee. Just don’t drink it too late if you want to get a good night’s sleep!

Also from Runner’s World, the results of a study into the effects of stopping exercise on our mental health. Certainly any runner who has ever been sidelined by injury can attest to how their mood changes, but up until now there has been very little research done on the subject. Unsurprisingly, the study notes changes almost immediately in many cases, but what was most surprising for me was that females seemed to be affected much more. Perhaps that explains the way I have reacted to past injuries compared to Steve! I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

If you’re needing something uplifting after that, then I have the very article for you. Sometimes the person who finishes last in a race is the most inspiring of all, so here are the stories of 8 runners who found themselves doing just that.:

This week’s near-obligatory article about Strava is a cautionary tale for those who pore over the data too much – but perhaps not in the way you think. Most of us (read: me!) like to geek out over the copious amounts of data the app provides, but for one user the only data she was interested in was who her partner was working out with. Can you guess what happened next…?

And finally, the tagline tells us that “America runs on Dunkin'” and now we can take that literally as Saucony’s latest running shoes to celebrate the city of Boston have a Dunkin’ Donuts theme. It may seem an odd partnership, but there’s something appealing about running shoes covered in sprinkles 😀 If you could design a pair of running shoes featuring food, what would you choose?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess