Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas running

After seven straight hours of cooking (remind me again why I love Christmas?) I had a choice. Do I put my feet up for an hour, enjoy the fact that for the moment things are under control and the children are with the grandparents and watch some mindless festive TV? Or do I pull on my trainers and drag myself out for a run?

Perhaps because of the prospect of eating my body weight in all the food I have been busily preparing, and that of the house being stuffed to the gunnels with relatives for the next day or so, but I was surprisingly eager to get outdoors and running.

As the hyper organised result of a painfully scatty upbringing I was shocked to see how busy the shops were mere hours before the big day. As I dashed past Waitrose and the local florist they were still teeming with shoppers desperately hunting down those last minute necessities.

I cannot understand how anyone can leave buying a tree till the night before Christmas, but perhaps that's because I was scarred by a childhood spent scouring the garden centres of rural Essex for the last threadbare tree left standing as the minutes ticked by till closing time on Christmas Eve.

However, I digress, although I was pleased to be out and on my feet, I have to admit it was not my greatest run. I think I am all out of synch what with the holidays and all the disruption they bring. I was tired and a stitch kicked in from early into the run, which I never managed to shift. It is surprising to me the way that running never really seems to get any easier.

I mean in the grand scheme of things it does as, ask me a year ago if I would just breeze around a 45 minute run and I would have laughed till I challenged my pelvic floor muscles, but I still find there are moments when all I really want to do is stop and walk the rest of the way. I never do, but I would like that feeling that it's just too hard to leave me and I imagined it would have done by now.

My father-in-law who was a bit of a runner in his time says it's simply because you get faster and push yourself harder so it never gets any easier. I hope he is right as I do want to progress with my running, but sometimes I feel as if I have simply plateaued and will carry on plodding around the streets at a single pace forever.

Perhaps I should make it my New Years Resolution to try and step up my speed training and actually get a bit faster. But for now I am just glad that I have burned off a few calories before the gluttony ahead (although my post run snack of one of my mother-in-law's rather delicious mince pies probably didn't help). I intend to throughly enjoy a day off and eat until I can do so no more. Bring on the Quality Street and a Happy Christmas to one and all.

PS Anyone fancy a run on Boxing Day?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Winter Skin

Thank goodness the name of this blog is Run WOMAN run, or I don't think I would get away with a post like this, although I am sure male runners must suffer from the same problems, they are probably far too hardy to mention them. Thing is while I love running outdoors when the weather is as inclement and brass monkeys freezing as it is at the moment my skin really pays the price.

I have chapped hands courtesy of my poor running glove choice (you will be glad to know I have now upgraded with a lovely cosy pair from the lovely Sweatshop in North Finchley) and my face is dry and flakey. Not a look that I am particularly fond of, so I have decided that at the grand old age of 40 I perhaps need to look into some more effective moisturisers to keep the cold and wrinkles at bay.

To this end I am testing out a few lotions and potions to see which works best against the arctic conditions. So far I have uncorked Skin Doctors Super Moist SPF30+ Accelerator, though after a single use I don't think I am quite ready to comment, but I think that even in the cold weather my battered skin could do with some sun protection as even it doesn't keep me warm, it plays havoc with the wrinkles.

I am also trying out a couple of hand creams to undo the damage I have inflicted on them. The sad thing is that no matter how well you take care of your face, your hands tend to betray your age, especially if they are red raw with the cold. I am crossing my old lady fingers that Skin Doctors Younger Hands fufills its promise to make my hands look 10 years younger in just six weeks. We shall see.

Also giving Weleda's Calendula Weather Protection Cream a go, it's meant for babies so I am a bit out of it's age range, but apparently it can still help the more mature woman and to be honest I need all the help I can get.

So apologies for a post that has precious little to do with running and a whole lot to do with my vanity. I hope fellow female runners will appreciate the report back from the coal face of cold weather creams, and even if they don't hopefully I will have less chapped and dry skin, so it's a win win situation, something you don't often get with running.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The trouble with training

Last August I did me first 10K at the Resolution run in Finsbury Park for the Stroke Association. While Finsbury Park isn't the most spectacular location (indeed during the post race cool down I had to physically restrain my two-year-old from playing with the used condoms littered around the post I was using to stretch out on) it was a great run. A few undulations made it challenging for a new runner, but it was flat enough to offer plenty of scope for recovery.

What this event really did for me was to make sure that I was well and truly bitten by the racing bug. Oh dear. I immediately entered another 10K, the Women Only Shock Absorber run in Richmond Park. That was a delightful race despite a freezing day and I managed a PB of under 50 minutes (OK only three seconds, but who's counting?).

Next up is the 8.2 mile Whole Foods Breakfast Run in Kingston on 1 April and then I have my first half marathon in my sights in July, The Down Tow, Up Flow half along the Thames. Really I would have liked to run one sooner, but my other half wasn't too pleased by the idea of being left in charge of childcare in the depths of winter while I trained and therein lies the rub.

I really wish I had had the foresight not to waste my 20s in pubs, clubs and bars and had instead got a marathon or two under my belt when I had all the time in the world to train, and indeed a younger body to do it with. Now training has to be squeezed in between ferrying my sons to their own activities and parties, making time for my beloved and doing all the general household chores that accompany being a mum of four.

I cannot a long run that I didn't do with a guilty conscience perched on my shoulder. It is not my desire to improve my PB that drives me ever faster, it is the need to get home and relieve my husband of his domestic duties. Bless him he rarely complains, but he has put his foot firmly down about doing a marathon until the kids are older and easier to manage (we hope).

I suspect is the same for all running mums. I have a friend who gets up at the crack of dawn so she can get her long run in before her family surfaces at the weekend. She has also immensely upped her time on her usual route as she speeds through it to get back home to her role as wife and mum. Others have simply given up now that the dark, cold days have curtailed the running window of opportunity so much.

It is a shame that my responsibilities make achieving my goals that little bit harder, but I am not sure I would have remained so determined if I didn't want to prove what you can do no matter what your circumstances. I am often tempted to run in a shirt that says "Yes, I might be slower than you, but do you have four children aged under 10?"  I can't tell you the pleasure it gives me overtaking younger, less encumbered women too. I really am that shallow, but on race day I say whatever it takes you to drive you to the finish.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A weighty question

As you can probably already tell from this blog I love running. Well not always. There are always those runs where you wish you had never pulled on your trainers and the sofa beckons the whole way round, but I have found that the fitter I have got the less they have happened. Even if I start a run badly, by halfway round I have usually cheered up and the endorphins kick in to make it a joy to be out and on my feet.

But being vain, while I love having strong and fit legs I want my top half to match, which brings me to the vexed question of weight training. I know others love pumping iron. My wonderful on and off personal trainer Andrea is a huge fan, but I just can't get into it. To me it is a necessary evil to tone up the old bingo wings and strengthen the core.

I have tried all kinds of different approaches to strength work from classes to free weights, machines to boxing. I will admit I do love a punching session but unlike running it's no fun on your own and it still doesn't give me quite the same buzz.

I have been giving a new gym a try this week and had a routine drawn up for me by one of the trainers there.  It's a combination of free weights and a swanky weights machine the name of which escapes me as I write (will update after my next visit). It was fun as it was something new, but even as I entered the third round of the circuit I was beginning to get a bit distracted.

Perhaps that is the problem. When you run getting distracted makes everything flow much better. If you can let your thoughts drift off and puzzle away at some psychological knot you forget the ache in your hip and the fact that your legs were feeling like lead about a kilometre ago. I think this suits my butterfly mind which is forever darting off in a new direction.

Weights on the other hand require concentration and a dedication to 'form'. It is no good simply slinging the barbell around and hoping for the best, you  have to keep the mantra of 'keep your shoulder blades back and down', 'keep your elbows close to your body', 'keep your hips up', 'keep your core tight' constantly flowing as you also attempt to lift the barbell in a graceful and effective manner.

This whole process is so much easier with a professional at your side reminding you how to do things, but when you are on your own it is too easy to find yourself drifting off only to realise that your shoulders are far from back and down, more like up and all over the place, your hips are floppy and your core flabby. Running is just so much easier.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cool running

Moving swiftly on from night runs to winter runs. Although this week's training has been a bit upset by the seasonal interferences of a bout of ill health and general festive family commitments I did make it out for a good session on Saturday morning. Normally I love a morning run, the earlier the better as the deserted streets are far easier to navigate than dodging pedestrian and vehicular traffic, but this morning it was freezing.

Luckily while I was away in New York I invested in a winter running jacket. I opted for the Brooks Utopia Thermal Hoodie, if I am honest mainly because I liked the colour, but also because I was hoping it would deliver warmth without the sweat factor. Because I am a relatively novice runner I have made several kit errors, including a horribly hot running fleece which heats up like a sauna the moment you break out of a walk.

The problem is that on a super cold morning the first 10 minutes of a run are so freezing that all you want to do is wrap up as if you were venturing into the Arctic, but as soon as your body begins to heat up you begin to swelter unless your clothes are smart enough to regulate your temperature as you get warmer. Thankfully my new hoodie did the job admirably. I was a bit cold at first, but 15 minutes in I was toasty warm, but not drenched in sweat. Clearly this purchase was not one of my rookie mistakes.

The same cannot be said for my running gloves which, while they are swanky with reflective paint to ensure that my hands are highly visible at night time, are totally useless at keeping my hands warm. I think I may have to revert to my skiing gloves if the cold snap continues as the skin on my hands is beginning to resemble sandpaper it has been so abused by the frozen temperatures.

But despite being preoccupied by kit thanks to the chilly conditions, once I had got over the shock of leaving my warm bed for the frozen streets I was able to really enjoy the run. Perhaps it was because I had had a few days off and felt pretty strong, but it was one of those runs where you feel as if you could go on forever, rather than wheezing your way around longing to be back home again.

I do love watching my breath stream out in front of me like steam from an engine, I love the crunch of frosty grass under my trainers and the stark beauty of the black branches rising above my head when I run off road. I love the wintery urban landscape of chimneys belching out steam and smoke into the city air. I love glimpsing into people's warm living rooms, seeing the twinkle of Christmas tree lights and the strings of cards hanging from their mantlepieces.

I think perhaps running has unleashed a slightly voyeuristic tendency in me as I do adore distracting myself by nosing around my surroundings. One of my favourite runs takes me past rows and rows of millionaire mansions and I always play the 'Which one would I buy?' game to keep me amused as I run past.

At this time of year there is no contest as my favourite is the one lit up like a Christmas tree - well actually like several dozen Christmas trees which are laid out in full white fairy light regalia on the front lawn. It has cascades of ice white lights dripping down its facade, colour changing lights picking out the white colonnaded front, a gate house glimmering with thousands of diamond bright points of light. It's not tasteful, but it sure does look pretty as you dash past.

It's treats like this that keep getting me out of bed on a cold morning. Well that and the fact that I hope that by continuing to run all through Christmas I can avoid piling on too many pounds due to the excess of mince pies, turkey and chocolate coins that lays ahead of me. I think the American idea of a Turkey Trot (as experienced by my friend and fellow blogger Nappy Valley Girl) is a jolly good one, I just wish there was one in my local area so I could jog off damage inflicted by the Christmas feast.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Night running

It's that time of year when donning your trainers suddenly seems not quite as attractive. Going out for a run on a crisp, sunny autumn morning is a delight, getting wet and cold on a pitch dark December afternoon isn't quite as magical. But given that this is the time of year when we all need to keep moving to keep those Christmas calories at bay I have come up with some reasons why winter running is worth the effort.

You can feel like a pro. No matter whether you are seasoned marathon runner or an occasional jogger if you make the effort to put on your high viz vest, fleece and extra cosy tights for a run on a freezing cold and wet afternoon no one can accuse you of not taking your running seriously.

You don't sweat as much. I don't know about you, but I am not a very ladylike runner. I don't glow, I drip. At the end of a run I am like a dog that has been swimming, if I shake out my hair it showers all around with sweat - nice. But on a winter's evening the cold weather means that I come back much drier than in the summer.

The pretty lights. I am a sucker for all things sparkly and last night as I ran down the local high street in the rain I was uplifted by the Christmas lights twinkling overhead. Even the festive lights aren't lit I love to see the city lit up around me, when I am running at the top of a hill the view of lit office windows and the dazzle of brake lights is like an urban kaleidoscope.

A spot of retail therapy. As Christmas approaches and I rack my brains for ideas as to what to buy everyone, running past all the brightly lit shop windows can help but inspire me. The only slight problem is that because I have to stick to populated routes for safety I do find the maneuver of craning my neck to take in that lovely pair of shoes whilst running along a little dangerous as it has led to the odd near miss with a passing pedestrian.

So next time I look out of the darkened window and wonder why I bother, this post will be my answer.