Book Review – This Mum Runs

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Jo Pavey was forty years old when she won the 10,000m at the European Championships. It was the first gold medal of her career and, astonishingly, it came within months of having her second child.
The media dubbed her ‘Supermum’, but Jo’s story is in many ways the same as every mother juggling the demands of working life with a family – the sleepless nights, the endless nappy changing, the fun, the laughter and the school-run chaos. The only difference is that Jo is a full-time athlete pushing a buggy on her training runs, clocking up miles on the treadmill in a cupboard while her daughter has her lunchtime nap, and hitting the track while her children picnic on the grass.
Heartwarming and uplifting, This Mum Runs follows Jo’s roundabout journey to the top and all the lessons she’s learnt along the way. It is the inspiring yet everyday story of a mum that runs and a runner that mums.

Quite frankly, I loved this book. In recent times I’ve become captivated by the fortunes of Jo Pavey, particularly in her quest to qualify for the Rio Olympics, so when I saw that her book was suggested for The Runner Beans Book Club I was thrilled as it gave me just the excuse I needed to order a copy and get stuck in.

The book begins fairly recently with Pavey’s race at the 2014 National Championships – dubbed the ‘Night of the 10,000m PBs’ – which was a trial for the European Championships in Zurich that summer. I enjoyed this as an opener for the book as it set the tone perfectly – Pavey juggling her running around being a mum (and the occasional spanner in the works thanks to family life!). What follows is a history of Pavey’s running career, from her earliest days with Exeter Harriers, right through to winning gold at the European Championships in 2014.

Throughout the book Pavey comes across as down to earth and humble, but perhaps what resonated the most with me is that her career has not been straightforward. Pavey has battled through injury and on many occasions has wondered if she could ever truly demonstrate her potential. That certainly sounds familiar to me! And interestingly, her greatest successes came from taking a more unconventional approach to training such as when she and her husband took time out to go travelling or, as a new mum, fitting training in around the needs of her children. Perhaps something for us all to consider when we’re obsessing over our latest training plan!

She also writes very humbly about the mass participation nature of running, offering advice for those who might want to take up running for the first time and writing of how privileged she feels to be part of a sport where the elite and the amateur can line up together. She heralds parkrun as a great weekly event (I definitely agree with her there!) and mentions her enjoyment of the camaraderie of running, the family-friendly environment and the experiences that have enriched her life. Reading this book feels like a chat with a friend, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

And as such a relatable writer, there is much we can learn from Jo Pavey:

  1. Resilience. Despite being plagued by injury, she never gave up. There may have been disappointments along the way, but Pavey bounced back and focused on what she could do to improve her running for the next race.
  2. Determination. Whatever she set her sights on, she did everything she could to make it happen. Even when injured Pavey continued to train in any way she could, whether through pool running, strength training or running on different surfaces. She was prepared to travel great distances for the facilities she needed and wouldn’t let anything stand in her way.
  3. Learn from experience. Albert Einstein reportedly said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Pavey and her husband Gav (who is also her coach) use the knowledge and experience they have gained over the years to know what works best for her training. Although she says she wishes they’d known some of this when she was younger, I guess there’s sometimes nothing for it but to learn things the hard way, make the training mistakes and come out the other side stronger.
  4. Age is just a number. Yes it’s a cliché and Pavey acknowledges it as such, but it’s certainly true for her. Pavey may now be considered an “older” runner (in fact she jokes that since turning 40 she may as well have a double-barrelled surname as she is always referred to as “Jo Pavey-forty” in the media!) but she is still running phenomenal times, with some of her greatest performances taking place over the past few years. She is a little older than me (although I’m catching up rapidly!) and the older I get the more I thrill to see Pavey showing the world that “older” female athletes can still give the next generation a run for their money (pun intended).
  5. Find balance. It is since having her children that Pavey seems to have found the key to successful training for her. By training whatever way she can around the needs of her family, and feeling much more relaxed than previously going into competitions, she has been able to perform really well. In addition, she has been much better at listening to her body and prioritising rest, as she knows she needs to conserve enough energy to run around after her children. It’s clear that family life is important to Pavey – indeed the title of the book This Mum Runs prioritises her kids over her running – and that seems to have unlocked fantastic potential. Whether you have family or not, there is always a balance to be sought between work, training and life in general. It’s something I’ve been working hard to find as well.

Of course there are darker moments in the book, and I don’t mean the sections describing the disappointment of injury. Pavey devotes a chapter to the doping scandal that broke late in 2015 and we see the heartache caused to those who missed out on medals due to the cheating of others. It’s not just about the loss of a podium finish, but everything that goes with that: the disappointment and anger at missing out on a victory lap, of a moment in the spotlight; the impact on an athlete’s confidence as they struggle to comprehend how they can match up to others putting in phenomenal performances; the risks they may take in training in order to “catch up” to others. Since publication of the book Pavey has called for those who have since been awarded medals that were robbed of through cheating to be given the opportunity to have the ceremony they missed out on at the time, something that is now going ahead at the World Championships in London this month.

Reading this book was a really enjoyable experience for me and it was great to find out more about an athlete I’ve come to admire greatly. If you think being an elite athlete is easy, then I encourage you to read this book and see that the “elites” are really just like the rest of us.

You can read an interview with Jo Pavey and an extract from the book here
You can read more about Jo Pavey as an “older” runner here
You can watch an interview with Jo Pavey here

7 For 2017 – Half Way There!

Wow! Halfway through the year means it’s time for another check on my 7 goals for 2017 to see if I’m on track and what progress (if any!) I’ve made since my quarterly check back in the spring. Theoretically I should now be half way to achieving my goals…

  1. Set some new race PBs
    At this point in the year progress on this one tends to be at a bit of a standstill. I already have my new half marathon PB under my belt from the Inverness Half, but have only run in one further race since the Paris marathon (and I didn’t really race that one). My main target remains a marathon PB and I will be taking on the Loch Ness marathon at the end of September to have another go at this one. Hopefully my marathon training will also result in a new 10k PB later this summer as well…
    Progress: 1/3 achievedIMG_7263
  2. Run my 100th parkrun
    This one is all about consistency and I have been really consistent with parkrun this year. The only weeks I have missed have been planned (one when we were in Paris and the two following weeks while I recovered) and I have now completed 82 parkruns. That means I have to run 18 in the second half of the year to reach my goal which, so long as I continue to be injury-free (cross your fingers!), is achievable even with further missed runs whilst on holiday and after Loch Ness. As a bonus, my monthly pacing duties also have me on track to earn my 25 volunteer T-shirt before the end of the year as well 🙂
    Progress: On Track
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  3. Maintain my Step Goal Streak
    I set two goals here. First, I wanted to reach a full year of meeting my daily step goal target (a mini-challenge I set myself during the summer holidays last year then continued with when the school year began). As of the first of July, I achieved that. Next, I wanted to complete a full calendar year of hitting 10,000 steps per day. With over a year of meeting my goal (initially it was less than 10,000 per day) under my belt already, this looks achievable. Getting my 10,000 steps per day is now a daily habit and I’ll write a separate post soon with some of the details of how I achieve this.
    Progress: Partially Achievedfullsizeoutput_1e8a
  4. Read at least 30 books
    According to Goodreads, where I am tracking this goal, I am 3 books behind schedule to reach my target. However with the school holidays upon us I know I’ll read lots more – especially when I’m away on holiday – so will easily get ahead of this one again. I am currently reading my 12th book of the year, and it will be interesting to see where I am with this one by the end of the summer.
    Progress: Needs Attention
  5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
    I actually did quite well with this one during the first quarter of the year, however in recent weeks I’ve probably not given this as much attention as it deserved. A combination of marking exam papers and trying to finish everything off before the end of the school year meant I often found myself pushing on through when I should really take a step back and rest. This was abundantly clear when I found myself needing a 2 hour nap one Saturday afternoon, and I’m certain the niggling tightness I’ve experienced in my right leg recently has been my body’s way of getting me to slow down and take a break. The summer holidays will give me a great chance to recharge, then I will need to make sure that I prioritise rest right from the start of the new school year so that I remain well-rested rather than playing catch-up when it all gets a bit too much.
    Progress: Needs AttentionIMG_1870
  6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
    I’ve finally taken control of this one and thanks to my Tough Girl 100 challenge to complete at least 10 minutes of yoga or mobility work every day, I’m finding some time for a bit of yoga each day. I still have my Ashtanga class on a Thursday evening (Saturday morning Hatha is finished for the summer) and on the other days have been using a mixture of Jasyoga videos to help “reset” particular parts of my body that feel like they need attention, and Yoga with Adriene videos which I have found enjoyable. I’m looking forward to spending even more time on this over the summer to help create a useful daily habit.
    Progress: Much ImprovedIMG_1992
  7. Blog more consistently
    My target was to publish at least one post per week in addition to my Friday Finds post as I was conscious that in busy periods of 2016 there were a number of weeks when Friday Finds was all I produced. But in 2017 it’s so far so good. I’ve actually managed to publish all my Friday Finds posts on Fridays (no late ones so far) and have published a Week in Review post every Monday. Most weeks have had one further post, although this did tail off a little towards the end of term. Now that I’m on holiday, you can probably expect to see a bit more from me and I’ve plenty of ideas in my drafts ready to work on…
    Progress: On TrackIMG_1529

Overall I’m pretty happy with my progress towards my goals so far. One or two things have lapsed a little recently, but the next few weeks should allow me to sort that out and get everything fully back on track.

How are you getting on with your goals for the year?
Any yoga video/app recommendations for me?

7 For 2017 – Quarterly Review

At the start of this year I set my 7 goals for 2017 and at the end of March we were already one quarter of the way through 2017! But am I a quarter of the way towards achieving my goals? Today I want to check in with them and see what progress I’ve made.

1. Set some new race PBs
I’ve only raced twice so far in 2017 and achieved a PB at one of those races (the Inverness Half Marathon) so I guess that’s a 50% record. My main target when it came to this goal was a new marathon PB, but the hot conditions in Paris put paid to that one. Watch this space for my future plans as this is one goal I’m not ready to let go of yet!
My second target was to finally better my 2012 half marathon PB which I achieved in Inverness. I wanted to get a bit closer to 1:52:XX and with !:53:03 I came pretty close over a hilly course, so that’s definitely a big tick!
Finally I thought I might have a go at breaking 50 minutes for 10k. That one is more of a summer/autumn goal when I tend to enter more 10k races so that will be on the backburner for now.
Progress: 1/3 achieved

IMG_72602. Run my 100th parkrun
To achieve this I simply need to be consistent in participating in parkrun every Saturday. So far, this has happened. I missed one parkrun while I was in Paris (I did the Breakfast Run instead) and am currently taking a couple of weeks off to recover post-marathon so am missing a further two, but with 73 parkruns under my belt now I still have a little leeway there to achieve 100 by the end of the year so long as I can continue to be healthy and injury-free. Fingers crossed!
Progress: On Track 

IMG_72953. Maintain my Step Goal Streak
At the end of 2016 I had a step goal streak on my activity tracker of 6 months straight, so my goal for 2017 was to take that initially to 12 months, but to ideally take at least 10,000 steps per day for the full year. As I write this I’m on day 292 so am closing in on the milestone of 300. Getting my steps has become habit for me now and I incorporate extra walks into my day which really make me feel better, so this one is currently looking good.
Progress: On Track

4. Read at least 30 books
I have this one set as a challenge in Goodreads so I can keep a close eye on how I’m getting on. In 2016 I managed 27 books (but one of them, rather ambitiously, was War and Peace!) so 30 should be do-able when I consider I’m likely to read several books during my relaxing summer holiday. At the moment I’ve read 8, which Goodreads tells me is 27% of my total and puts me comfortably ahead of the quarter-way mark.
Progress: On Track

5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
This was one I knew I had to really work on as I’m a natural night owl but have to rise quite early in the morning. During marathon training I got better and better at getting to bed early, and I’m trying to be a bit more conscious of going to bed when I feel tired rather than sitting downstairs longer for no good reason. On Saturdays I’ve become used to an afternoon nap, and I even had a short nap after one of my long runs as I felt too weary to eat! What I learned in this last marathon training cycle is to prioritise rest and early nights much sooner in the process. For the first month or so I was quite busy but since my runs were still fairly short, I felt ok. When the accumulated training load started to take effect, I really noticed the difference in how tired I felt. Next time I’ll make sure I’m well-rested from the start.
Progress: Much improved 

6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
Perhaps the one I’ve done least about. I have continued with my two yoga classes per week and not only have I noticed the difference in my flexibility and strength from this, but my Ashtanga teacher commented that she could see the difference in the way my body moves. Both of these are really positive for my running. Unfortunately I’ve not done quite as much outside of these classes as I would like. I’m still to work through my Hit Reset book from Jasyoga, but I have incorporated one or two things from the associated videos into my post-run routine, most notably lying with my legs up the wall for 10-15 minutes which I am convinced is making a difference to my recovery. I also include some mobility work in this routine and my gym routine, however I’d still like to find a place for more frequent yoga practice in my day to day life. Perhaps now my marathon training cycle is complete I can turn my attention to this one.
Progress: Working on it!

IMG_13287. Blog more consistently
To develop from my 2016 postaweek commitment, in 2017 my aim was to write at least one post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. So far, this has gone well. Friday Finds has actually gone out on time every week and I have published a Week in Review every Monday. Many weeks have seen other posts go out too, so to date I’ve met my goal on this one and still have plenty of things up my sleeve which I’d love to write about. I have gained some new followers along the way (hello to you all!) and since I’m fond of statistics, it will be interesting to look at my stats at the end of the year and see how they compare to 2016.
Progress: On Track 

IMG_1461When I sat down to write this post I wasn’t actually sure I’d made much progress towards my goals at all, but writing it all down has given me a great opportunity to reflect and realise that I have. Several of my goals require long-term commitment, and that commitment is there. I’ll check in with them again in the summer to see how things are going.

How are you getting on with your goals for 2017?
Any book recommendations or topics you would like me to cover in a post?

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…

Book Review – Start With Why

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Why are some people and organisations more inventive, pioneering and successful than others? And why are they able to repeat their success again and again?
Because in business it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it.
Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King have one thing in common: they STARTED WITH WHY.
This book is for anyone who wants to inspire others or to be inspired.

If I’m honest, this is not normally the sort of book I would choose. It’s largely aimed at a business market – from the big multi-national to the small one-person enterprise – and I feel like my working life operates in a rather different way. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable lessons for me to learn from this book, so when Steve selected it as “a book chosen for you by your spouse” as part of my reading challenge last year, I was interested to see what I would get from it as it’s a book he returns to again and again, recommending it to anyone and everyone!

Based on his 2009 TED Talk, Sinek’s premise centres around what he refers to as the “Golden Circle”:

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Using Apple as an example, Sinek explains that every single company in the world knows WHAT, they do, some explain HOW they do it (usually by giving information about their USP), but very few clearly explain WHY they do what they do. Yet it’s the WHY that people buy into. If our beliefs are the same as those of the company, we will buy their products even if they are not necessarily the “best” on the market by other measures. WHY is about building trust, sharing values and stimulating emotions rather than simply appealing to the logic centres of our brains. When the WHY is clear, loyalty grows; when we lose sight of our WHY and focus instead on WHAT, failure is more likely. Throughout the book Sinek charts this through examples of success, failure and comeback, linking each closely to how firm a grasp a company or leader has of their WHY.

So what can I take from this either in my working life or as a runner?

In teaching, I need to have a clear sense of WHY: why am I teaching this topic? Why am I taking this approach? Why is this pupil not meeting their potential? and so on. Young people frequently ask WHY, they need to understand the reasoning behind what they are being asked to do, particularly if it is a task they find challenging. If I lose sight of WHY, then learning and teaching in my classroom will suffer.

Sinek also devotes a chapter of the book to trust, something which I consider important in my classroom in order to build positive relationships and make behaviour management easier. Teachers are leaders of learning, and leading means creating an environment where others willingly follow (as opposed to being a leader which is the status of holding the highest rank). How can I possibly get a room full of teenagers to follow my instructions and advice if the trust is not there? My pupils, like everyone else, base their trust on the sense that someone else is driven by something more than their own self gain. If the WHY is clear, the trust emerges and hard work happens.

And this is also true in running. It’s all very well to go for a run, sign up for a race or set a goal; knowing WHY these hold importance leads to a much more positive experience. WHY could be the difference between positive training and junk miles, between racing for the sake of it and targeting an event, between meeting a goal and sitting on the injury bench. Sinek’s clear message is that if you don’t know WHY then you can’t know HOW. That make sense to me: it’s all very well knowing WHAT my goal is, but knowing WHY it’s my goal gives me the added motivation to overtake it. If I know WHY then I can work out HOW to make it possible – the workouts I need to do, the paces I need to hit, the timing of events, etc. Knowing my WHY will lead to great success than simply knowing WHAT.

WHY is also important in thinking about those we surround ourselves with. We have evolved to form groups, or cultures, who come together in a shared set of values or beliefs, that’s why in times of great debate we don’t always see both sides of that debate reflected in our social media feeds as those we follow tend to believe what we believe. In business, this means employing people who share your WHY and will be inspired to be productive. In running and other sports this means surrounding ourselves with people who will be positive and encouraging. When I picked up an injury in training for my first marathon, I lost count of the number of people who told me it would be impossible to complete the race on the mileage I had completed, but I chose to listen to those closest to me who believed it was possible and adapted my training because I was clear on WHY I wanted to achieve this goal. The result? I completed the race and got the marathon bug!

These days I prefer to train alone, but I still find those who share my values and beliefs through social media. WHY is the reason I believe so strongly in the message of Sarah Williams of Tough Girl Challenges. She wants to motivate and inspire women and girls by sharing stories of women taking on incredible challenges, fighting through adversity and achieving amazing things. I became a member of her closed Facebook group the Tough Girl Tribe because I saw the opportunity to connect with other women who share my WHY. I may never meet many of those women, but I know they are joined through a culture of support, encouragement and positive belief. Our WHYs are in line with each other and that will help us all to succeed in whatever personal challenges we set.

If I’m honest , I did become a little frustrated by the book as I felt the point became a bit repetitive. Perhaps as a business leader I would feel different, but for me it just became a few too many examples of the same thing. That said, I still think it had a positive message for me and as a result of reading this book I do think about WHY much more often, both in work and in the rest of my life, and have a much greater awareness of those who also consider WHY. I may not be a leader in the sense of a CEO of a huge global organisation, but I am a leader in my classroom and a leader of my own life. Both of these can be much more successful when I remember my WHY and use it to influence HOW I approach things. And that is where the magic happens…

You can learn more about Simon Sinek here
You can read a useful summary of Start With Why here (although I would really recommend reading the whole book).

Friday Finds – 10th February

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.

After a sleep special and a mindfulness special, this week it’s time for something much more firmly rooted in the act of running. As winter continues to hold us in its icy grip and all those goals set with such optimism just a few short weeks ago seem so far out of reach, I thought I would bring you some finds all about inspiring people who will hopefully lift your spirits and provide some motivation.

First up, the recent news that legendary runner Ron Hill finally ended his running streak…after over 50 years!! I know lots of people commit to running streaks for a variety of reasons, although I must confess it’s never seemed like something I wanted to do as I know that running too much, for me, tends to lead to injury. I’ve known people take on running streaks throughout December and by the end of the month they’re exhausted and looking forward to a day off, so it’s with real amazement that I consider Ron Hill’s achievement. It’s quite incredible to think that for over 50 years he was never once too ill or too injured to manage his run, and that’s a real testament to his commitment. That commitment only ended due to a health issue (and he still made sure to complete – and time! – his last run) so I wish him well in his recovery.

Another runner who has earned a day off is US Olympian Ryan Hall who recently completed the World Marathon Challenge of 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. Yup, you did read that right! This endeavour was Hall’s farewell to running and, in a poignant symbol of closure, he left his marathon shoes on the finish line of his last race. I read several stories about this event over the week it was taking place, but what I really liked was seeing Hall’s Fitbit stats which he published at the end of the challenge and which show a grand total of over 308,000 steps. That definitely blows my 10,000 per day out of the water!

Closer to home, I was thrilled to hear that Scot Callum Hawkins set a new Scottish half marathon record in Japan last weekend. Having recently heard that the record time he thought he had run at the Great Scottish Run in the autumn would be discounted since the course was found to be short, setting a new record was the perfect response and continues to show the strength of elite Scottish athletes right now alongside fellow record-setter Laura Muir and speedster Andy Butchart. I can’t imagine I’ll be troubling their records anywhere other than in my dreams, but it’s inspiring to know that Scotland can produce world class athletes and that as a nation we have a bright running future.

But enough of all these men, now it’s time for some inspiring women. One of my first book reviews on the blog was of Alexandra Heminsley’s Running Like a Girl and I’m excited to read her second book which focuses on her journey as she learned to swim and took on a mammoth challenge. All this set against the backdrop of IVF treatment and heartbreak. In this edited extract, published in The Guardian, Heminsley demonstrates the resilient spirit and mental strength needed not only to face her swimming odyssey, but to take on everything life throws at her. It’s a longer read, but well worth it.

And finally, if body image is something that holds you back, then why not look to Kelly Roberts aka Run Selfie Repeat for the inspiration to embrace a strong body rather than a “perfect” body. Kelly’s blogs are always honest and are never hidden beneath a veneer of “perfection” for a social media world – if she’s having a tough time, if workouts are hard or a race doesn’t go as she would have liked, she shares it. That’s so refreshing and reminds us that (as I often tell my pupils) it’s ok to find things difficult; it’s not ok to not even give it a go. Earlier this week the Run Selfie Repeat Podcast was launched and I’ll be having a listen to get more of that trademark honesty and reality. In this article, she tells us more about the #sportsbrasquad which was such a big hit throughout last summer.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Book Review – Your Pace or Mine?

*Updated Feb 2017*

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Lisa Jackson is a surprising cheerleader for the joys of running. Formerly a committed fitness-phobe, she became a marathon runner at 31, and ran her first 56-mile ultramarathon aged 41. And unlike many runners, Lisa’s not afraid to finish last – in fact, she’s done so in 20 of the 90-plus marathons she’s completed so far.

But this isn’t just Lisa’s story, it’s also that of the extraordinary people she’s met along the way – tutu-clad fun-runners, octogenarians, 250-mile ultrarunners – whose tales of loss and laughter are sure to inspire you just as much as they’ve inspired her. This book is for anyone who longs to experience the sense of connection and achievement that running has to offer, whether you’re a nervous novice or a seasoned marathoner dreaming of doing an ultra. An account of the triumph of tenacity over a lack of talent, Your Pace or Mine? is proof that running really isn’t about the time you do, but the time you have!

One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 30 books (an extension of last year’s goal to read more books, which evolved into a goal on Goodreads of 15 books in the year) so when I saw that Charlie Watson aka The Runner Beans had suggested an online book club, I jumped at the chance to be involved. What a brilliant opportunity to read some great books, share my thoughts and connect with others. After a vote (which I found a bit tricky as I wanted to read just about all of the choices!) the first book was chosen as Lisa Jackson’s Your Pace or Mine?. I knew about this book as Jackson is a contributing editor to Women’s Running and I also listened to her on a recent episode of the Running Comentary podcast, so I had an idea of what to expect.

The book is divided into 11 chapters. The first 9 have intriguing titles beginning, “What Running Taught Me About…” followed by a chapter focusing on what Jackson can teach us about running and finishing off with one final chapter for readers to use as their own running record book (although I read it on my Kindle so would have to keep my record elsewhere!)

What I enjoyed about this book is that Jackson highlights the sense of community among runners. She’s not an elite who was running fast times practically from birth, she’s a “real” and inspirational runner who found running a bit later in life (as did I, indeed I was a similar age to Jackson when I ran my first marathon) and who prides herself not on her finishing times, but on how good a time she has at each event she goes to. And that makes a world of difference. Jackson’s trademark is to run each marathon is some kind of fancy dress or crazy headgear, and while there will be an elitist few who might turn their nose up at her “chat-run” approach, there’s no taking away from the fact that she IS a member of the 100 marathon club, she HAS run Comrades (more than once) and she HAS run the Boston marathon. How many of us can say the same? The over-arching message is that you don’t have to be fast to run a marathon, you just have to be prepared to give it a go.

“St Francis of Assisi summed it up perfectly: ‘Start by doing what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And suddenly you’re doing the impossible.'”

Throughout the opening chapters we learn more about Jackson and the supporting cast of characters around her. We learn of her triumphs and setbacks. Most importantly, we learn about the amazing people she has met along the way. As a confirmed “chat-runner” (her term for it) Jackson has come into contact with all manner of people, all taking on the same quest as her – to cross that finish line and have an experience that will change their life. She has picked people up in their toughest moments and kept them company to the finish, dished out chocolate to keep spirits up and laughed her way to many a finish line, sometimes long after the official cut off which doesn’t bother her at all. She’s even run naked (and for once I don’t mean leaving her watch at home!).

Each of these chapters also finishes with stories from the runners she has met along the way, and while inspiring, this is probably my only issue with the book. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading what these people had to say, but I felt that it interrupted the narrative of Jackson’s running journey. I think I would have much preferred that these were collated as a chapter of their own or an appendix at the end so that I could read them AFTER I had read everything Jackson had to share. Given Jackson’s conversational, community-focused approach there is definitely a place for these stories, I would just have liked them organised differently. But perhaps that’s just me.

And what can Jackson teach us about running? Actually quite a lot. For the beginner, the debunking of many a common running myth that may halt running dreams in their tracks before they really get started. For the more experienced, a reminder that there’s so much more to running a marathon than how long it took us, that time only tells part of the story. And as I discovered on my “tourist run” of the Paris marathon last year, sometimes taking your time and soaking up the atmosphere leads to a far more memorable experience than pushing yourself to the limit in your quest for a specific time. For all of us, Jackson provides the inspiration to never give up, to pursue our dreams no matter how ridiculous they might sound to others. If we can dream it, we can do it.

“My headstone isn’t going to say: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. She watched every hot new box set. Twice.’ It’ll read: ‘Here lies Lisa Jackson. Marathoner. Trailrunner. Triathlete. Ultrarunner. She’s reached the final finishing line – and this time, she isn’t last!'”

This was also a book peppered with comedy moments, from Jackson’s stories of mid-race mishaps to the list of T-shirt slogans that have made her smile. I may not have taken quite the same approach as Ms Jackson to my running, but I know the experiences and memories I have make my running story all the richer. Jackson clearly revels in being part of a running community, and the affection the runners she has met hold for her is clear. Running can be a solitary pursuit, especially if, like me, you train alone, so feeling like part of a community though my blog, social media groups and good old parkrun are really important to me, and when I think of it like that I can understand why Jackson takes the approach she does.

Overall I really enjoyed this book (slight bugbear about the arrangement of the stories from others aside). It was an easy read and I felt a connection with Jackson through her conversational style (hardly a surprise for a writer who is also a chat-runner!). I could relate to so much that she wrote, particularly about starting out and refusing to give up, messages I’m always keen to promote to my pupils. So if you have any interest at all in running and are looking for an easy read for these dark January evenings, then Your Pace or Mine? might be just what you’re looking for.

You can read more about The Runner Beans Book Club here
You can read Charlie’s review of the book here
You can read more about Lisa Jackson here

***Update Feb 2017 – here is what Lisa Jackson herself shared with me about the structure of the book. I completely understand and to be honest, my comments were entirely based on personal taste – I was enjoying her story and wanted to stick with it for longer before reading these other stories. What I find really interesting, however, is that since writing this review I have seen a paperback copy of the book and the stories from other runners seems to work so much better in this format than on the Kindle. The Kindle is great for quick access to content and is brilliant for travelling, but sometimes there is just no substitute for a real book!***

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7 for 2017 – My Goals for the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Goals – The Final Verdict!

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

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

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

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

Friday Finds – 9th December

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.

You’ve probably realised by now that I’m a big fan of running data. Despite somewhat questionable mathematical talent, give me some times, distances and running-related stats and I’m a happy Running Princess. So when I came across an article in a recent issue of Runner’s World about Ken Young, running’s Mr Big Data, I read with interest and was stunned to learn that so much of our data-based knowledge of running comes from his tireless work. It’s a fascinating story of one man’s passion and commitment and I recommend giving it a read.

One of the main pieces of data I’m interested right now is how much sleep I’m getting. It’s been a busy, stressful time at work and one thing I’ve learned is that I need to prioritise rest in order to protect my body from injury, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been conscious that I’ve not been getting quite as much sleep as I would like. This piece from Athletics Weekly was therefore a timely reminder of why my body needs plenty of quality sleep in order to help me be a better runner.

Moving away from data, I often find at this time of year when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, I’m more likely to have non-running friends commenting on my sanity in continuing to run when I could be sitting in my nice cosy house with a hot cup of tea and a cuddly cat on my lap. While that can be tempting, I know that running will always make me feel more energised and that cup of tea so much more enjoyable. But explaining that to a non-runner can be tough: why do I run? That’s exactly what Martin Fritz Huber, writing for Outside online, examined in the article below. Are his reasons the same as yours?

Many people run because it makes them feel good about themselves, it gives them confidence and boosts their self-esteem. With that in mind, I love this article from The New York Times about America Ferrera (always Ugly Betty to me!) taking on a triathlon and working to silence that negative voice inside her which said she couldn’t do it. We all have that inner critic, it’s what we do to silence it and fight back that’s important. America Ferrara explains how she managed just that.

And finally, if the dark nights have you longing to curl up with a good book of an evening, you might be in need of a bit of inspiration. Why not check out this list of 100 must-read books about running and see if anything takes your fancy? I know I’ll be adding a few to my wishlist now…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess