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

International Women’s Day 2017

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, and in a world where progress towards gender parity has slowed in many places, this year’s theme was #BeBoldForChange. A few years ago I marked the day with a post about women I find inspirational in the world of sport, and I’d like to to something similar today.

Personally, I marked International Women’s Day with a run. Nothing unusual there, but this week my Wednesday run was also my entry to an IWD virtual race organised by Women’s Running magazine. Perhaps it was the thought of all those inspiring women who have helped make it possible for me to vote, travel freely and yes, run marathons, that helped to power me up that hill multiple times, but I felt strong and now I can’t wait for my medal to arrive:

Photo from Women’s Running Facebook page

My run also gave me a chance to think about the women who inspire me NOW and why their words/actions are so significant.

Jo Pavey
I recently read Jo Pavey’s book This Mum Runs (review coming soon!) and was struck by what a trailblazer she is. Jo Pavey is only a few years older than me, and while I may joke about being “ancient” to my pupils, I certainly don’t think of myself as old – I know I’m fitter and stronger now than I’ve ever been. But when it comes to competing in major competitions such as the Olympics, Pavey can easily find herself twice the age of some of her competitors, yet this just drives her on to achieve more. In a world where women can still feel sidelined due to being older than others in their field or because they become mothers, Jo Pavey has used experience and the balance found from family life to perform better than ever before. She is a fine example of a woman continuing to chase her dreams no matter what, and for that I applaud her.

Laura Muir
One of those younger athletes is Laura Muir, a Scot currently creating quite a stir on the track as she breaks record after record. Not only is she putting in fantastic performances on the track, but she is working hard of the track as well as she studies veterinary medicine at university. I have watched Muir as she has fought to find the form she is in now and have cheered as she has dominated recent indoor events, but what is really drawing me to her is the confidence she is showing. Rather than being coy about her plans for each race, Muir is now setting out her stall very firmly, even going so far as to make clear that in one particular race she was looking to set a record and nothing less would do (and she got it!). For me, Laura Muir is a great role model as a woman who knows what she wants and will do everything she can to achieve it.

Serena WIlliams
I may not have the most encyclopaedic knowledge of tennis, but I do know that Serena Williams has redefined the women’s game with her strength, speed and athleticism. Not only that, but she has challenged the “norms” of what has traditionally been a predominantly white sport. Most importantly, she knows what she wants when it comes to women’s rights. When described as one of the “world’s greatest female athletes” she countered with the strong and considered argument that she would prefer to be described as one of the greatest athletes, with gender being removed from the discussion: “If I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago…I think if I were a man, I would have been in that conversation a long time ago. I think being a woman is just a whole new set of problems from society that you have to deal with, as well as being black, so it’s a lot to deal with—and especially lately. I’ve been able to speak up for women’s rights because I think that gets lost in color, or gets lost in cultures.” She may ruffle a few feathers from time to time, but that’s exactly what’s needed to effect change in the world.

Sophie Radcliffe
If you haven’t heard of her, Sophie Radcliffe is an adventurer, endurance athlete, blogger and speaker. She’s the only person in history to have climbed the highest mountains in the eight Alpine countries and cycled between them, climbing five times the height of Mount Everest in 32 days. She’s  cycled 300km from London to Paris in 24 hours on nine occasions, completed multi-sport adventure races around the world, raced her bike coast to coast across the USA, completed 100km ultra-marathons, and is a two-time Ironman finisher. All very impressive, and Radcliffe’s mission is “to empower you to feel invincible and as though you can do the most badass, inspiring and challenging things that scare and excite you in equal measure. To explore what your body and mind can do through the world of adventure and endurance sport.” Radcliffe believes firmly in her motto one life, live it and she doesn’t let anything stand in her way, hence her appearance in the media when her application to feature on the tv programme World’s Toughest Army was rejected because of her gender. She responded with dignity, in reiterating her belief in equality, and for that I continue to admire her.

Sarah Williams
Sarah Williams is the founder of Tough Girl Challenges and host of the Tough Girl podcast. I listen to the podcast every week, and more recently have become a patron of the podcast as I believe so strongly in Sarah’s message of motivating and inspiring women and girls. Working with young people day to day, I see more and more the need for positive female role models to show women and girls that they can do whatever they want to do, that they don’t have to be defined by their appearance or restricted in what they can do because of their gender. Each week the podcast provides examples of women who have taken on a variety of fantastic challenges, and this year is also following the journey of 7 women as they prepare for and take on a challenge of their own. And Sarah doesn’t just talk the talk, she (quite literally) walks the walk. Having completed the Marathon des Sables in 2016, this year she will be thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 100 days! I think what Sarah is doing in creating change is so important, and her drive and enthusiasm motivated me not only to become a patron, but to join her team of volunteers and support her by helping to manage her Facebook page and closed group The Tough Girl Tribe. Together, the Tough Girls can continue to motivate, inspire and support. We have Sarah to thank for that.

We are surrounded every day by strong, inspirational women who embody the spirit of IWD, these are just some of the more high-profile ones who inspire me. I also find inspiration in the girls I teach, the women I watch juggling work, family and all the other facets of their lives, and every other woman who goes out there day after day and tries to make the world a better place. Change has to start somewhere…

#BeBoldForChange

How have you marked International Women’s Day?
What women inspire you?

Tunes on Tuesday – Defying Gravity

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.

Defying Gravity –  Kerry Ellis

I do love a show tune, and this one I find particularly inspiring! Back in December I shared a Tunes on Tuesday post on that omnipresent behemoth Let it Go sung by Idina Menzel and the song I’m writing about today is probably better known for being sung by Menzel when she formed part of the original cast of hit musical Wicked. I love that version too, but this version by Kerry Ellis lends itself so well to running that this is the one I keep in my playlist.

My relationship with musicals goes back a long way. When I was a child we used to always take a family trip to the local pantomime at Christmas time, but as my sister and I got a little bit older our parents started to take us instead to Edinburgh to see whatever big musical was on there. I can remember seeing Cats, Chess, Barnum, 42nd Street, Jesus 
Christ Superstar and soon enough any road trip meant show tunes in the car with my sister and I singing along. I’m sure my parents loved that :-O And I’m pretty sure we only wanted rolled skates because of Starlight Express!

Since then I have always loved going to see a musical whether locally, in a bigger city or somewhere more “exotic” like London’s West End or, as part of one very fortuitous school trip, on Broadway! I find it hard to pick my favourite – Phantom of the Opera which I’ve seen several times, Miss Saigon which always makes me cry, or Les Misérables which stirs such powerful emotions. Perhaps it’s one of the newer shows like The Lion King which was truly amazing, or something I’ve not even seen yet like Hamilton which gets such rave reviews. Wicked is certainly in the mix…

I first became aware of Wicked not long after it opened. I was given a copy of the soundtrack and, with the advent of wondrous modern technology, was able to watch some clips online. To help me piece the storyline together I read the original novel by Gregory Maguire and dreamed of the day I would finally get to see the show live.  Listening to the soundtrack endlessly, Defying Gravity soon became my favourite track thanks to some of the lyrics about throwing off constraints and forging your own path:

“Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!”

Later, the song encourages us not to accept limits others impose on us and to fight for what we want, something else I really believe in:

“I’m through accepting limits
’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!”

Exactly how I feel when it comes to taking on a challenge or striving for a goal. And I especially love the sentiments of the chorus:

“It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down!”

So why not pick the original version for my playlist? I think because the version by Kerry Ellis focuses more on the lyrics rather than worrying about some of the dialogue that is also set to the music. I also love the rock guitar sounds, played by Brian May from Queen! Overall it just feels slightly faster and is a better fit for the kind of song I like in my running playlist. Hearing those opening chords and anticipating those uplifting lyrics never fails to put a spring in my step!

I still love the original though and was thrilled to finally see the show (sadly without Idina Menzel) when it finally toured to Edinburgh at the end of 2014. It’s coming back next year though, so I’m already dropping hints…

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…

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