Friday Finds – 19th May

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.

It’s been a funny old week in the world of running and fitness. The biggest spring marathons are naught but a distant memory, the Breaking2 experiment is still generating some comment (more on that in the promised separate post soon!) and with the (mostly) better weather people are getting their summer training schedules kickstarted. For that reason it really is a bit of a mishmash of finds this week.

I’ll start with a story from the world of triathlon. You might remember Jonny Brownlee’s dramatic finish to the World Series finale in Mexico last September when his brother Alistair carried him over the finish line. Back in action for the first time since then, he once more demonstrated his grit and determination when a crash in the bike leg rendered his bike useless. Rather than give up, Jonny picked up the bike and ran barefoot to the transition a mile away so he could still head out on the run. Despite being almost 7 minutes behind the winner, he still finished the race, saying, “I had not come all the way…not to finish.” What would you have done?

While Jonny Brownlee may not have had quite the comeback he was looking for, what about the rest of us? Taking time out of training for any reason inevitably means a lot of hard work to regain previous form, something I’ve noticed even from taking a little time off after a marathon. With that in mind, I found it really interesting to read this piece from Outside in which a number of high-profile athletes discuss their approach to a comeback and what they learned from it. Some even went on to perform better than before!

At the other end of the scale, what happens if we run too much (yes, it is possible). This is a topic I’ve come across a few times recently, both in print and on podcasts, and I think it worth highlighting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only running because it makes us feel good, but it’s important to find a bit more balance in our workouts in order to be create the strength we need to support our running and to be a bit more resilient. Getting the balance wrong is a fast track to injury, as I’ve learned to my cost, and if I could give myself as a beginner one piece of advice then this would probably be it. In this post the writer discusses how easily our running can become an obsession, and what we should do about it if that happens.

Possibly the coolest thing I’ve come across this week comes from Nike. The sportswear giant, fresh from their Breaking2 endeavour, has created a running track shaped like a running shoe. What’s so cool about that? Let me tell you. The track is also lit by LED lights and is integrated with a sensor worn on your shoe (a bit like a timing chip) which then allows you to race against your own virtual avatar. If you’re anything like me then as soon as you’ve watched the video you’ll want to give it a go. Shame it’s so far away!

And finally, here’s one for the ladies. Posts on social media lamenting the struggles of putting on (and taking off!) a sports bra are a regular occurrence (and a struggle our male counterparts will never know). For those in the know, this tongue-in-cheek set of instructions for putting on a sports bra is sure to raise a smile:

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 12th May

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.

To be honest, it’s been another week full of Breaking2 news, however I intend to write a separate post on that in the next few days, so instead I’m bringing you a selection of other bits and pieces I’ve come across this week.

The 8th -14th of May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and mental health is something I’m growing more interested in. I now come into contact with so many young people who are struggling with their mental health and while I do what I can to support them, I always wish there was something more. For me, running is what I turn to in difficult times to help clear my head and refocus. I’ve also found yoga really beneficial in helping me feel calm and settled through the controlled breathing and slow movements. So it was with interest that I read of Matthew Rees, the runner who shot to fame after his selfless act at the London marathon, and how he has used running to help combat depression.

An interesting take on the mental side of running is covered in this article from Outside which deals with boredom and how we might channel that into improved performance. In this day and age people find it increasingly difficult to just “be” and accept boredom as something that might drive creativity. Instead, we tend to reach for our phones as a distraction. Perhaps as runners we can use it to our advantage?

Stories like those of Matthew Rees gain most of their traction these days on social media, and runners are particularly guilty of sharing everything about their runs, sometimes to the irritation of their non-running friends! But why are we so obsessed with sharing every run be they good, bad or indifferent? The writer of this next piece shares her theories and I have to say it makes sense to me. These days I tend to keep my running chat for my blog’s Facebook page or dedicated running groups so I know my ramblings (and photos of me leaping about like a loony!) will be seen by those who are interested in running and simply “get it”, but I think I’m still driven by the same factors suggested here:

Of course social media last weekend was all about Eliud Kipchoge and the Breaking2 project, but in the days afterwards another speedy runner came to light, this time in a half marathon. 18 year old Benjamin Pachev ran a 71 minute half marathon. That’s speedy, but not pushing any boundaries…until you learn that he did so whilst wearing Crocs. Yes, Crocs. Those funny shoes with the holes in them that are often the butt of jokes. Not being a Crocs wearer I’ve no idea how he kept them on his feet and am impressed not just at his speed but that he did so in footwear far from traditional. I can’t see Kipchoge looking to race his next marathon in them though 😉

And finally, you may remember me sharing the quirky story of the crossword compiler who challenged himself to create a clue for each mile of the London marathon. For the crossword fans among you, here’s the finished puzzle (for the impatient, the answers are in this post about the process itself):

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Tunes on Tuesday – Could it be Magic

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

Could it be Magic – Take That

It was only a matter of time before a Take That track made its way into Tunes on Tuesday. There are actually a few in my playlist, but I’ve picked this track today because I do have a story to tell around it.

For my readers not in the UK, Take That is a pop group formed waaaay back in 1990. I guess you could say they were one of the 90s “boy bands” and were created out of a desire to emulate groups like New Kids on the Block in the US. The band split in early 1996 while I was in my final year of high school and teenagers around the country were bereft – there was even a telephone helpline set up to help fans deal with the announcement! 10 years later, in 2006, the band reformed for a reunion tour and have continued to produce new material (and tour) ever since. To date, they are the most successful “boy band” (more of a “man band” now lol!) in UK chart history.

Basically, I’m old enough to to have loved Take That the first time around, but never got a chance to see them live until 2009 when Steve surprised me with concert tickets. In fact, the video above is taken from that tour. If you had told my teenage self that one day the band would get back together and I’d still be getting to see them live at my age then I’d have laughed in your face!

The song I’ve picked today is their cover of the Barry Manilow classic Could It Be Magic, the track which gave them their first big success. Not only is it a great song, but it has gained its place here thanks to the last time I saw then tour back in 2015.

The day after the concert, perhaps not feeling my most rested, I took part in the Tayside Challenge, a cycle event which I was using as a warm up for the Etape Caledonia the following week. My head was, unsurprisingly, still full of Take That songs so it was a bit like having my own playlist as I pedalled, but without the inconvenience of earphones (something I never use when cycling as I’m so conscious of safety). I was cycling with a friend, but at one point I was alone on a downhill stretch. We had been talking about the concert so as I swept down the hill, enjoying the sense of freedom, I began singing away to myself. Loudly. The song I picked? Could It Be Magic. I was having a great time, so it was only marginally embarrassing when another cyclist overtook me, no doubt having heard me singing to myself like an absolute madwoman! Oops!

The song itself featured on Take That’s first album which was released in 1992 (yes, I am that old!) so this year they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. The original lineup of 5 may now be reduced to 3, but my favourite (Gary Barlow) is still there and what better way could they have found to celebrate than to go out on tour? So on Friday of this week I’ll be heading through to Glasgow to see my “boys” performing live for the 4th time. Frankly, I can’t wait!

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

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

The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Tough Girl

Back in the summer of 2015 I spotted a tweet from double Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist Liz Yelling sharing a link to a new podcast she had been interviewed for. Thinking it sounded interesting, I downloaded the podcast and loved it. I immediately subscribed and downloaded the handful of previous episodes so I could catch up. I was hooked and have remained a huge fan ever since. What was that podcast? The Tough Girl Podcast hosted by Sarah Williams (I wrote a bit about this in my Podcast Picks post last summer).

Everything Sarah wants to achieve through her podcast, website and social media channels really speaks to me. Her core aim is to motivate and inspire women and girls, to provide positive role models of women pushing boundaries and taking on challenges. Whether that’s running, cycling, swimming or something completely different like climbing, rowing or powerlifting, the chances are there’s a podcast episode to suit you. Nor does it matter how old you are – Sarah has interviewed guests from 17 to 70 – and age should never be a barrier to trying something new. These are the very things I feel passionate about. So many women are put off participating in sport or taking on challenges for a variety of reasons, and I want to try and help break down those barriers, perhaps even be a positive role model, and show that we can all do ANYTHING we put our minds to. For me, this podcast was perfect and listening to all the incredible women on it made me feel part of something special.

Such was my passion for Sarah’s mission, I found myself getting more and more involved. First, I became part of a team of volunteers helping her with some of her social media commitments (you can follow her Facebook page here and female listeners can become part of the Tough Girl Tribe, a closed group of supportive and like-minded women). More recently, I decided to financially help support the podcast by making a monthly contribution through Patreon. For me, this was important as Sarah puts so much time and effort into everything she does and produces some fantastic free content. Support on Patreon is really the only way she can earn an income from that work right now, and while the content is free there are all sorts of costs involved in producing a quality podcast, maintaining a website and so on. I get value from the podcast and wanted to do my bit to help out.

A week ago I was lying on the floor of my Paris hotel room with my legs up the wall to start my post-marathon recovery. I’ve done this after every long run this year and like to use the time to catch up on social media posts. On marathon days there are always loads, but one in particular caught my eye. One of the awesome members of the Tough Girl Tribe had put up a post inviting other members to write positive, inspiring messages for me to read after the race. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed one from Sarah asking me if I would like to be a guest on her daily podcast, a short daily update she has been producing to help keep her accountable during the preparations for her next challenge. I have been listening to these podcasts and been struck by how honest and real Sarah has been – not every day can be completely positive, regardless of what social media might have us believe, and sometimes we have to acknowledge our struggles and be honest about how we are feeling. It was listening to these episodes that motivated me to become a patron of the show.

I’ve never been on a podcast, nor have I vlogged or shared video/audio content of myself on any social media platform, but I agreed to the podcast interview as I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss my running and perhaps inspire someone else to give it a go. I feel like I know Sarah having listened to all her podcasts and having a previous conversation with her, so I knew it would feel like a chat between friends. The interview took place via Skype on Wednesday and the episode went live on Friday morning (I got a bit over-excited and shared it just about everywhere!). It’s not long, only around 15 minutes, but I’d love for you to have a listen. If you don’t already subscribe to the Tough Girl Podcast (or Daily Podcast) then I highly recommend it. I listened to the latest instalment of 7 Women 7 Challenges during the Paris Marathon as I wanted to be inspired by the awesome women involved and their words will forever be linked in my mind with different parts of that day.

I was delighted to be interviewed and so wanted to share it with you today. You can access the show notes for the episode and listen via Libsyn here (or if you prefer to use your favourite podcast directory, search for Tough Girl Daily Podcast). Alternatively, you can listen via the YouTube link below. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah Williams, check out this interview she did for another blogger or visit her website.

And remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Friday Finds – 7th April

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.

I can’t imagine it will be much of a surprise that I’m going with a marathon-centred Friday Finds this week! Due to travel timings I’m writing this (quickly!) in advance so it may turn out a little shorter than I normally like. C’est la vie!

First up, some breaking news from the elite ranks and the disappointing information that the 2016 Olympic champion (and defending London marathon winner) Jemima Sumgong has failed an out of competition drugs test. I remember watching her stunning comeback to win after suffering a fall and hitting her head during the London marathon, so am saddened to hear that this has happened.

Next up, another piece of disappointing news, this time about participation. I was thrilled to learn that women would be able to compete in the 2017 Tehran marathon for the first time, however the sting is that it has now been announced that female participants may have to compete on an indoor track rather than outdoors with the male field. This seems to be a move forward from a previous announcement that women would not be able to participate at all. It’s clearly a difficult ongoing situation, but I’d love to see women having an equal opportunity to participate.

Moving on to a much more positive story, I have been quite intrigued of late by Nike’s plans to try and break the 2 hour barrier, however in this next piece from Outside, consideration is given to the female equivalent. The record is, of course, held by my great favourite Paula Radcliffe (remember that time I met her?) with her 2003 time of 2:15:25. And now it seems that science and maths (not my strongest subjects outside of running topics!) suggests that the equivalent marker for women is 2:16, meaning that for we women, that “barrier” has already been broken! As they shout along the route in Paris, allez les filles!

While the less elite among us may not have our sights set on quite such speedy times, in all likelihood those of us with a spring marathon ahead will have a time goal in mind, but working out a reasonable estimate of what we might achieve is very difficult. The marathon is full of pitfalls and no matter how well training has gone, anything can happen on race day, especially after 18 miles. Ian Williams of Fetch Everyone has used the data available to him on his website to come up with a formula which might help.

And finally, one of the things we can’t control in a race is the weather. I’m expecting warm conditions on Sunday in Paris, which will be tricky, but I think participants in this recent 14k race in France had a much tougher time with some very different conditions. I recommend watching the video to get the full effect!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Tunes on Tuesday – Marathon

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

Unsurprisingly, I’m in a marathon frame of mind this week and this song seems ideal to capture the mood. I really have no idea how I first came across it, but it’s a great one for a marathon training playlist and one I look forward to hearing during a long run.

I have to say, Rush is not a band I would usually listen to, but this song ticks the box of having lyrics that I find meaningful or motivational, one of the criteria for making it onto my playlist. On the surface the lyrics describe how someone would feel while running a marathon, however the deeper meaning of the song uses the marathon as a metaphor for life: just as a marathon is an extreme challenge undertaken to fulfill a goal, so it is that life is full of obstacles and is all about achieving our ambitions. Indeed, in an interview the lyricist Neil Peart said, “Marathon is a song about individual goals and trying to achieve them. And it’s also about the old Chinese proverb: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.” A marathon may not quite be a thousand miles (although it feels like it somewhere round about mile 18!) but it does begin with just one step, whether that’s a runner’s first run ever, the start of a training cycle or the first decisive step over the start line of the race. Whatever way you look at it, a marathon is certainly a journey in both the literal and metaphorical sense, an idea that this song captures perfectly.

“It’s a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race”

And as a track dating back to the 1980s, with a lot of synthesiser and guitar, I guess it sounds a bit like my childhood and the kind of music around as I was growing up. Listening to it now, however, I’m transported to all those Sunday long runs preparing for spring marathons and completing mile after mile with my music for company. The lyrics help to provide the focus and motivation to keep going in the tough moments, particularly the chorus which I find particularly powerful (in an 80s kind of way!):

“From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment’s high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky”

With these lyrics I can visualise myself running the race, a process that’s all the more vivid when it comes to Paris as I know the city and the race so well. They remind me of what I’m trying to achieve and spur me on to strive for my goal.

“It’s not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat
More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash”

On Sunday I will once more be running those 26.2 miles around my favourite city. I’ve been working towards this goal for such a long time and striving to achieve that goal will be the ultimate test of my will. Hopefully the training I’ve put in, the atmosphere in the race and songs like this one will be just that something to fire the light that gets in my eyes, just like the chorus says.

Bon courage.

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

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

Tunes on Tuesday – Cut, Print… Movin’ On

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

Cut, Print… Movin’ On – Katharine McPhee (Smash)

From some of my previous Tunes on Tuesday posts you have no doubt got the idea that I enjoy a bit of musical theatre, so a few years ago when I learned that NBC was making a TV show based around musical theatre I was thrilled. Not only was it going to be full of catchy show tunes, but it had a stellar cast of established names and rising stars. What wasn’t to like?

I loved Smash right from the start and followed avidly the tale of the ingénue battling the experienced actress for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a new stage musical. I watched every single episode to see the coming together of a Broadway show and how the cast must balance their personal lives with the demands of that show. I watched the competition, the desire and, in some cases, the playing dirty to achieve a dream. When the show was cancelled after 2 seasons I was devastated. How come my favourite shows are alway cancelled? (I’m looking at you Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).

For a musical theatre fan, this show was jam-packed with exactly the kind of music I like, with the added bonus of some songs being included time and time again as part of the journey from page to stage. The song I’ve picked for this post comes from the start of the second season. The show, titled Bombshell, has had a successful test run in Boston and now the team is heading back to New York to try and fulfill their Broadway dream. The song reflects on the time spent in Boston, the memories created, the hard times experienced and the need to now move forward in order to achieve a dream.

I could be twee and suggest that this is a bit like running: we create memories, we have struggles and sometimes we need to draw a line under things and move on. Realistically, I just like the up tempo feel of this song as it rises to a crescendo with the lines that will always stand out to a runner:

“Get up cause the rat race never ends
As life is a marathon
And I plan to run
So much more than a sprint”

What can I say? An uplifting, “you can do it”, “we’re in this together” or “let’s get on with it” musical theatre number will get me every time. I actually don’t have many show tunes in my running playlist, but I love it when one pops up as it makes me feel a little bit like I might be part of the show as I run along.

Hmmm. I wonder what a musical about marathon running would be like…?

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

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

Friday Finds – 17th 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.

There was sad news earlier this week with the announcement that legendary runner Ed Whitlock had died. I included Ed Whitlock in a Friday Finds post earlier this year as well as last autumn when he set a phenomenal record for his age with his sub-4 hour marathon time. Since the announcement of his death from prostate cancer, my news feeds have been filling up with tributes to him, and I wanted to include some of them in my post this week. Goodbye Mr Whitlock. You were a truly amazing example of not letting age be a barrier to achievement.

So what does it take to have the sporting longevity of someone like Ed Whitlock? According to Brad Stulberg, writing for Outside, it’s all in the attitude, and what’s interesting is that the attitude we adopt later in life is largely developed when we’re young. Those more able to embrace sport for the love of participation rather than agonising over results cope much better with seeing performance change with age. My favourite part of this article is the reminder that sport is, “every bit as much about personal growth, community, and having fun. Aging may slow you down but it need not take your identity as an athlete.” Wise words indeed.

Of course we can all expect to see changes is our performance as we get older – after all, no magical fountain of youth has yet been found to stop our bodies ageing – but what exactly can we expect to observe and what does that mean for the way we train? Studies show that we will use oxygen differently, our muscle function will decline and we will need longer to recover from hard workouts. But that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. With sensible adjustments to training we can continue to participate for many years, perhaps even remain competitive, we just need to make sure we hold on to the motivation to do so! Personally, my hopes are high: my dad still runs and can still beat me over 5k (but I’ll beat him one day…!)

Some good news for our running performance as we age comes from a new study which suggests that while elite athletes tend to peak between the ages of 25-34, those of us who are a bit less elite may continue improving until around 50. Yes, we will be subject to the same bodily changes that come with age, but since we won’t have trained to the same intensity as elite runners, we still might have something left in the tank to perform well for longer than was previously thought likely. The point about adapting training still holds true, but there is certainly no excuse to be using age as an excuse. And that’s something Ed Whitlock would definitely have approved of!

And finally, if that isn’t enough inspiration to set a positive attitude, embrace the joy of participation and set the foundations for a long and healthy life of sport, then here are some other remarkable athletes showing us that age is no barrier to taking on challenges and pushing limits. Maybe one day we will be just like them.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 10th 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.

With Wednesday being International Women’s Day, I’m feeling inspired to make this week’s Friday Finds all about women, whether that’s articles about inspirational women or the challenges women still face when it comes to sport. Funnily enough, I’ve found plenty!

Let’s start with this article written by Kelly Roberts (of the popular blog Run Selfie Repeat) for Outside online. In it, she addresses the pernicious idea, popularised across social media, that women have to look slim and toned in order to be considered strong and to feel confident. Last summer Roberts overcame her own insecurities about running in just a sports bra and encouraged other women to join her in embracing their bodies and being proud of what they could achieve rather than how they look, hence the #sportsbrasquad was born. The clear message (also shared by Anna Kessel in her scathing piece for The Guardian a few months ago on #fitspo)  is that strong isn’t about looking a certain way, but about feeling a certain way, and that’s a powerful message to share.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, even more horrifying is the fact that so many women are harassed, heckled or made to feel intimidated whilst out for a run. There has been much in the media in recent times about this issue, and though I’m fortunate enough not to have really encountered this problem, I know it is a very real issue in some places. And while offering safety advice to women is all very well-meant, the fact is it just shouldn’t be necessary for a woman to alter her behaviour just because of her gender – the root of the problem has to be addressed. One of the best reports I’ve read on this came in a recent issue of Runner’s World and that, along with a similar piece from The Guardian, is below:

Another issue has been in the coverage of women’s sports and female representation on the boards of various sports. To coincide with International Women’s Day, the charity Women in Sport released a damning report highlighting the number of governing bodies in sport which are not currently meeting government criteria about the number of females on their boards. This has led to suggestions of sexism which, whatever the position, will need to be addressed in order to move forward. Interestingly, when it comes to coverage of women’s sport, the (female) head of sport at the BBC sees things a little differently and believes that positive change is underway. I really hope that is the case, as girls and young women need to see more positive female role models and increased coverage of women’s sports provides just that.

Fortunately, there are plenty of inspirational women out there showing the world what can be achieved. This year marks 50 years since Kathrine Switzer first ran the Boston Marathon and became a catalyst for change in women’s running. To mark the occasion, Switzer will run the Boston marathon again. Also running will be another runner who has made history – Rahaf Khatib – who first came to the world’s attention when she became the first hijab-wearing runner to feature on the cover of a US health & fitness magazine. She will be running as part of an all-female team selected because they continue to push boundaries and inspire others. Fantastic!

And finally, I want to finish on a more inspirational note with some links to videos which (I hope) will lift your spirits. The first, following on from the last find, is an advert from Nike which features Muslim women exercising in a hijab. It has courted some controversy, but sends a powerful message about defying societal norms. The second is a short film from ESPN Women which encourages women to move, meet their potential and challenge those who say they can’t do something. I, for one, love it. The last, released on Wednesday for International Women’s Day, features Serena Williams reciting Rudyard Kipling’s poem If – but as an ode to women. Powerful stuff.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess