Friday Finds – 20th 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 don’t know about you but I am gripped by marathon fever. Since last Friday we have had the Commonwealth Games marathon, the Boston marathon and, this weekend, the London marathon. I’m so excited and pretty much have marathons on the brain right now. Unsurprisingly, that means this week’s Friday Finds is a marathon special.

I have to start with last Sunday’s Commonwealth Games and Callum Hawkins. As a Scot, I was backing Callum to perform well, so was shocked to see the footage of how his race ended when I awoke on Sunday. Quite the controversy ensued, however I found this piece by Tom English for the BBC worth a read:

Soon, news feeds were taken over by the Boston marathon on Monday. It was the coldest on record (I think), with wet conditions to boot and the results were, in some respects, unexpected. While the eyes of the world were on the US women challenging for the win, there were several surprises thrown in along the way, which is exactly why I love marathons. Here are some articles I enjoyed to round up the key stories:

Of course now the London marathon is right around the corner and there have been plenty of articles looking forward to the big event on the UK sporting calendar. The BBC really summed it up with these compilations:

I for one will be comfortably ensconced on my sofa with a cup of tea taking it all in – the stellar elite fields, the possibility of records being broken, the icons  – whilst willing those I know towards the finish line. But if you need just a little more cheer this evening, then here’s a video of a therapy dog supporting runners in Boston. You’re welcome!

Happy reading. And if you’re racing this weekend, happy running!
The Running Princess

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Book Review – The Pants of Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Finds – 6th 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.

April means spring marathon season is upon us with highlights including Paris, Boston and London in the next few weeks alone. My feeds are jammed with stories of elite competitors, epic challenges and incredible inspiration, so I think that’s where the focus will be this week.

An interesting feat is Loren Zitomersky’s aim to run the Boston marathon backwards. That’s right, backwards! Personally I find it hard enough to cover 26.2 miles facing forwards and imagine I would probably fall over if I tried to run more than a few steps backwards! What I hadn’t considered was that in this endeavour the runner facing backwards will be actually facing other competitors (assuming they are not dead last!) and will be treated to all the strange looks sent in their direction for the duration of the race. I bet he gets a few interesting comments when he’s training too!

But in this day and age it seems the marathon is becoming “too easy” for some and bigger challenges are being sought. Thus the stratospheric rise of the ultramarathon. But what is it that’s driving more and more people to take on huge distances, inhospitable terrain and epic multi-day events? Adharanand Finn asks that very question in this column for The Guardian.

Sometimes, of course, that challenge isn’t an organised event but an individual challenge from someone brave enough to not only dream up the idea, but to make it happen. One such idea comes from Peter Thompson who this summer aims to run the Tour de France. That’s 30 miles per day for 70 days with the aim of finishing before the cyclists begin. That’s some challenge!

A very different kind of challenge is to continue running for years to come and inspire others. When centenarians Orville Rogers and Julia Hawkins set new records earlier this year they became an instant sensation, so here’s some of their advice to enjoy a long and healthy relationship with running.

And finally, whether you’ve got a spring marathon coming up or have been through the process before, here are some reminders of the weird and wonderful quirks of marathon training. I’ll admit to number 5. What about you?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Weekly Photo Challenge – Rise/Set

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

2010 was a big year for us: I ran my first marathon, we got married and Steve celebrated a milestone birthday. So to mark our special year, we made a decision to begin it a little differently. Getting up early, we walked to the top of a nearby hill in time to watch the sun rise. There had been snow on the ground since the end of November, giving everything a crisp, wintery feel and although there was some cloud in the sky, the colours were wonderful. Everything was peaceful and it was lovely to watch as the light spread and our big year began. The perfect start and worth the early alarm call!
IMG_2677IMG_2680Tell me abut your favourite sunrise or sunset…

Friday Finds – 30th March

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 23rd 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.

Did you miss me? I’m afraid scheduling meant there just wasn’t a way to get my Friday Finds post written and uploaded on time this week so for one week only I’m bringing you Saturday Stories instead…

Let’s start with coverage of an event I definitely wouldn’t want to take part in – an indoor marathon. That’s right, 211 laps of a 200m oval track (with a change of direction to break up the monotony!). It would probably be pretty interesting to watch, but what a lot of mental strength it must take. Nevertheless, both male and female world records were set at the most recent attempt, however – and this is my favourite part of the story – neither of the victors ran a lap of honour!

On the subject of world records, I also came across this piece which considers the importance of figures like the late Roger Bannister whose historic sub-4 minute mile provided the inspiration for more runners to reach the same mark. It seems to be true that once one person achieves a big goal like this is the running world, the belief that it’s possible leads to a flood of similar achievements and I’ve no doubt that once someone runs a sub-2 hour marathon there will be several more soon after. It just goes to show how powerful the mind can be, proving the adage “the body achieves what the mind believes”.

When wanting to run at our best, many of us try to caffeine for a little extra boost. It definitely works for me, but it seems that there are some people for whom caffeine actually leads to slower times. Here’s Alex Hutchinson to explain the science:

Another topical issue concerns plastic – both the amount of it in our oceans and the way it is used in races. Adidas has been trying to make positive use of ocean plastics by recycling them into shoes, and it seems that they have been popular:

And finally, if you love getting out in nature and following your feet then you might enjoy this new music video from singer-songwriter David Rosales. An ode to trail running which really captures the highs of getting out there.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 16th 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.

Ah, Friday! What a time it’s taken to come around this week! Things are still pretty busy for me at work, but I hope you’ve had an awesome week and are ready for some Friday Finds to kick off your weekend…

This week I’m going to start with a bit of inspiration in the form of Ida Keeling. Miss Ida (as she’s known) is 102 years old and, having only started exercising at age 67, now holds a world record in the 100m for her age group. Life has thrown a great deal at her, and her resilience and positivity is astonishing. I LOVE her advice to younger runners “Stay strong, love yourself, and do what you need to do, not what you want to do” and hope that if I live to 102 I can be as inspirational as her. Best start drinking cognac 😉

Let’s follow that with a bit of Strava-related humour. I’ll confess to having found myself diverted by my times over certain “segments” before (there’s one in particular near my parents’ place in Florida that I once had the top spot for but have since lost it and only have one two-week window per year to try and contest it again!) but it seems that getting even more carried away with the quest to claim the crown is possible. Here’s what happened when one Outside columnist set out to do just that:

Now a different topic: the always controversial “running with music”. Personally, I like to use my running time to listen to podcasts but am equally happy without my headphones (unless I’m pretty deep into a reeeeally long run and then I want something else to focus on!). I actually ran the first 10 miles or so of my last marathon sans headphones and wouldn’t use them on a trail run, but I know plenty of runners who always prefer to run without music/podcasts and focus instead on their own thoughts and the sounds of nature. Here’s one runner explaining why:

Like the writer of the above piece, I would DEFINITELY want my headphones if I was running on a treadmill (something I try to avoid!) but I think perhaps I would ditch them if the treadmill was like the one created by Nike to promote their latest running shoes. Located in a pop-up shop in Chicago, it looks like great fun and waaaaay more exciting than the treadmill at the gym!

And finally, interesting news for those who, like me, have a penchant for leggings. I hadn’t previously been aware of how the UK Office for National Statistics calculates the cost of living, but it seems they create a “basket of goods” which “reflects contemporary habits and technology to calculate the changing cost of living, as measured by the inflation rate.” This year, women’s leggings have been added to the basket and, given the further addition of action cameras and last year’s selection of speciality gin, this is increasingly sounding like a basket of goods I would rather enjoy! What would be in yours?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 9th 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.

Friday again and what a difference a week makes when it comes to the weather! After last week’s epic snow there’s now just a hint of spring in the air – perhaps I’ll be back in my running shorts again soon…

However it was a sad start to the week with the news that running legend Roger Bannister had passed away. His historic breaking of the 4-minute mile was a pivotal moment in the history of the sport, so unsurprisingly many articles have been written about him in recent days. I thought I would share a few of them:

As the week drew to a close there was news from another running legend, this time much happier. As if I wasn’t already excited enough about watching this year’s London Marathon, it has now been announced that pioneer of women’s running Kathrine Switzer is to take part in the 2018 event. This will actually be the first time Switzer has taken part in this iconic event and I can’t wait to follow her progress on race day.

Moving to a different topic now and one close to my heart – food! We’ve long been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and now Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science is here with a bit of scientific evidence to prove that our energy is better when we shift more of our calorie consumption to breakfast time. Sounds pretty good to me!

Next up, as an injury-prone runner I really connected with this piece from Motiv Running. Having an injury that prevents you from doing the thing that you love can really affect how you feel about lots of things, and I remember back in 2014 I struggled with a lengthy injury and began to wonder if I would ever be able to run again. What did that mean? Could I still call myself a runner? Who was I? These are the kinds of questions examined by Hillary Allen in her meditation on life as an injured runner.

And finally, always a sucker for a story featuring cute animals, here’s a great one about how rescuing a dog helped one runner to find the motivation to run again after one injury too many. I’ve never tried running with a dog but it looks like such good fun!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 23rd 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.

Thank goodness it’s Friday! It’s felt like a pretty long week over here and I’m definitely ready for the weekend. Let’s kick things off with some Friday Finds

At the start of the year I highlighted a piece from Bloomberg in which the Brooks CEO made some comments about runners which to me were a little confusing and which, in the running community, provoked some controversy. As a follow-up, Women’s Running examined the article in full and spoke with the CEO to gain a bit of clarity. Here are the conclusions they drew:

Next up, some thoughts on the brain’s role in performance. I recently listened to Sweat Science columnist Alex Hutchinson on a podcast discussing his book on this topic. To me, what he said made sense: if we believe we can (or can’t) do something then that is the likely outcome. Remove the barrier of “can’t” and who knows what might happen. In this extract from the book, printed in Outside, he explains in a bit more detail and it seems like a fascinating read.

I’ve often thought that running teaches us a lot that we can apply to other aspects of our life, for example not giving up on things, and there are certainly a number of lessons that we can take into our working lives. Here’s Monica Zent, writing for Inc, to explain further:

Regular readers will maybe remember that this year for me is all about processes rather than outcomes. I want to think about adding positive habits rather than striving for impossible goals. I recently listened to a podcast interview where the guest pointed out that if you’re in a race with hundreds (or thousands) of other people, every one of them will follow the same path to the finish line. But every one of them has also followed a completely different path to reach the start line. That simple thought really resonated with me and the same idea appears at the start of this next piece which encourages us all to give greater thought to our own journeys. I really enjoyed it.

And finally, if all that talk of endurance and battles for the win has got you thirsting for more, here’s Runner’s World with 25 exciting race finishes for you to watch. Time to get those elbows sharpened!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 9th 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.

Friday! And a most welcome one at that after another loooooong week! Time to get the weekend started (at long last) with a few bits and pieces I’ve been reading this week.

I’ll start with a rather philanthropic story my sister sent me. I knew that many races collect up the throwaway clothes runners use to keep warm before the start of the race – a practice particularly true of marathons – launder them and donate them to charity. I never really thought about how much they were actually collecting until I read this, though. I suppose I always imagine it to be a few bags, but with thousands upon thousands of runners in some bigger races, there’s massive scope to collect a hefty amount. And that’s exactly what is being reported about the Walt Disney World marathon weekend. Across all the races that weekend over 13,000lb of clothing was collected! To be honest, I had no idea what that really meant but the ever reliable internet tells me that it’s not far off 6000kg! That’s a massive charitable donation, but I wouldn’t really fancy being in charge of the laundry!!!

Also catching my eye was this piece from Canadian Running magazine. Of late I’ve been changing my use of social media to avoid having my precious time sucked away, yet when I do log in it’s generally to interact with select groups I am involved with. The writer of this piece seems to share my view that while there is a lot of time wasting content out there, there is also value to be found…so long as you are selective in who you follow! What do you think?

In a similar vein (and from the same source) comes this short discussion of coach Mario Fraioli’s philosophy on training. This really resonates with me given my goals this year to focus more on the process and prioritise rest and self-care.

But I also couldn’t resist including something a little more inflammatory this week. I have been getting excited over the field for this year’s London marathon and the prospect of world record attempts, however Martin Fritz Huber, writing for Outside, takes issue with the use of pacers. It’s an interesting debate, and perhaps his idea to have different records for paced and unpaced records has some merit, but for now I’m simply excited to see some of the best in the world fighting it out along the streets of the capital.

And finally, I recently found myself quite excited to try a couple of new flavours of energy gel (marathon training is thrilling that way 😂) so was amused to find I’m not the only one obsessed with the flavours. Step in Runner’s World who have “selflessly” tested all of the flavours from prolific brand GU to create the definitive listing of the best (and worst!). Based on some of these flavours, perhaps it’s time I gave this brand a go!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess