Monday, 23 April 2012

I ran the London Marathon 2012 and I loved it

As I sit at my computer the morning after the marathon before I can't think of a part of my body that doesn't ache. My quads are screaming, my calves feel like rock, my back aches, even my eyes are sore. But I have nothing but wonderful memories of my first marathon.

After weeks of rather lazy training and days of stuffing myself with increasingly unwanted carbs I lined up at the start in Greenwich Park with some trepidation. All around me were a scary number of types I would describe as serious runners. The ones huddled in bin bags in their tiny shorts and running club vests, eschewing the newbie comforts of iPods, glugging down noxious looking energy drinks while sneering at us first timers clutching our free Lucozade and fiddling nervously with our headphones. 

Of course there was a smattering of the genuinely insane dressed as Wombles or pulling a sled, plus a very well built pair in tight fitting Tin Man and Lion costumes. The view was impressive as I trotted along behind them, before they accelerated out of sight flanking their very own Dorothy. 

It takes an age to actually get to the start line but once it was crossed we were off and running immediately. I had the mantra drummed into me by everyone who had ever run the London before running through my head: 'Don't start off too quickly'. I kept glancing at my Garmin to make sure I wasn't exceeding a stately pace of over 10 minutes per mile. It felt so slow as I saw Superman fly past me, but I wasn't going to be forced into making that rookie mistake by some over confident super hero. 

The atmosphere was amazing at the start where, despite the relatively early hour for a Sunday, the streets were lined with people cheering us on. Children held out their hands for a high five from the runners while it was disconcerting to hear strangers call out my name in encouragement. I kept thinking friends must be in the crowds, but with your name printed on your vest everyone calls it out to keep you going. 

I wish I could remember more detail of the race itself, but like all these incredible occasions it's all a bit of a blur in hindsight, but a few highlights stick with me. I loved running past the pubs where wafts of beer fumes and barbecue smoke billowed out, reminding me of more fun activities I could be indulging in on a sunny Sunday. The bands that played along the route were really uplifting. As they drowned out the music on my iPod I felt an instant boost. Even the ear splitting drums playing in the underpass just beyond Canary Wharf. 

Rounding the Cutty Sark at around the five mile mark was special. The elegant clipper sporting her brand new contemporary glass bustle was the first monument that reminded me what a great setting I had chosen for my first marathon. 

Next up was Tower Bridge, which seemed to loom out of nowhere. I knew it was around the 12 mile mark, but we had passed under the red and white balloon arch that celebrated that milestone what seemed like ages ago. Even though I am a Londoner I don't know this part of the city well and we seemed to be running through endless rather dingy backstreets without a glimpse of the river over which the bridge arches. 

But then we rounded a corner and there it was. Running under the majestic arches of the bridge, seeing the glittering ribbon of the Thames flowing beneath our feet, was an amazing feeling. I had been looking forward to scaling this iconic part of the race ever since I entered and the real thing bested my expectations. 

Then we ran along the part of the course where two very difference races converge. As we mid fielders plodded our way to mile 14, we had a great view of the real marathon runners struggling through mile 22. They were stringy with hard core training, drenched in sweat and the agony of sprinting the distance we were all jogging was writ large on their faces. 

I felt for the poor wretch who was walking dejectedly in his sweat soaked vest and shorts as his peers streaked past him at top speed. In the middle of the pack people were walking almost from the off, but amongst us charity runners there is no real shame in slowing your pace, but for him you could see just what it had cost him to pull up and effectively pull out of the race. 

As the mile markers inched higher I began to feel the strain, but I knew my family was waiting to cheer me on at mile 19 in the Help the Hospices stand at Canary Wharf. I wouldn't let my boys see me walking so despite an incipient stitch and legs that were beginning to think this wasn't such a great idea after all I soldiered on. 

When I saw my husband and my two eldest sons standing at the barriers it lifted my spirits unimaginably. I am sure I wouldn't have made it round without their support. I ran over for a quick kiss and a cuddle and my oldest son whispered in my ear 'I am so proud of you mummy'. I ran away with tears in my eyes but a renewed determination to run every step of the marathon. 

After all by this point I only had seven miles to go. A mere jog in the park if taken on its own. The energy given to me by my family pulled me through till around mile 22. Now I was deep into unknown territory as I had only managed to reach 20 miles on my longest training run. I felt OK, but as more and more runners started to walk it was becoming increasingly hard to run. I was so tired that dodging around the many walkers was hard work. 

By the time I reached the Embankment, the place I had thought would be the most inspiring, my eyes were stuck to the road. I didn't care about the gleaming capsules of the London Eye, or the Gothic magnificence of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was enough to just keep running. As the final miles ticked down, each mile marker seemed further from the next. 

The crowds at this stage were amazing. Screaming themselves raw to encourage us to just keep going. They thrust everything from glasses of Champagne to chocolate biscuits at the runners, though I couldn't eat a thing by this point. The yells of 'It's only another two miles' did help, though by this point two miles seemed like an eternity. 

Again I knew my boys would be at the end and I didn't want them to see mummy walking. I ran on and on as so many around me slowed to a walk. By the final mile along Birdcage Walk I knew I could make it. I could run this marathon down. I was quite literally swearing at the race by the end, at least inside my head. 

I scanned the crowds lining St James' Park as I knew this was where the boys would be waiting and then I saw them. My family, my fans, screaming 'Go on mummy' and waving at me. It was incredible - I had almost done it. I rounded the corner into the Mall and put my foot down. I sprinted across the finish line and burst into tears. 

I had DONE IT! Me, a 40-year-old mum of four who just 16 months ago was so morbidly obese I couldn't run to the end of the road, had run the London Marathon in 4hrs 33minutes and 38seconds. I have never felt more proud of myself. I had run every step and loved almost every minute of the gruelling race. 

As I was processed through the finish by the London Marathon machine tears were running down my face. As they hung the medal around my neck I was just so happy. My legs were aching, I felt horribly sick from all the energy gels and drinks I had chugged down on my way round, but I was beaming. 

When I finally reached my husband and my oldest son I could see how proud they were of me and I just felt brilliant. Despite having run 26.2 miles I was filled with a euphoric energy that is still buzzing through me today. The whole race was aptly bathed in sunlight for me, but then the heavens opened and we hobbled as fast as I could to get back to the car and back home to a bath and some well deserved Champagne. 

I suppose I could have summarised this post in three words - IT WAS AMAZING. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Less than a week to go

Yesterday we went out for a drive to explore some of the route of the London Marathon and scout out the best spots where my loyal team of spectators can spot me on my way round. I was fizzing with excitement at the bright yellow plastic signs stuck on lamp posts announcing the road closures for the marathon. It hit me that this is finally happening.

This revelation has given me mixed feelings. On one hand I cannot wait for the big day, but on the other I am terrified. As we drove on and on I realised what a big task I have set myself. As we turned the corner at what will be mile 20 - the furthest distance I have ever run - I noticed with a jolt that there was a slight incline that went on and on. It is no steep hill, but I could tell that after 20 miles on my feet I will not welcome this increase in gradient.

I was once told that 20 miles can seem like halfway in a marathon, not a cheering thought. That said from that moment onwards there are so many treats in store that I am hoping they will keep me motivated to power through the home stretch.

There is a glimpse of HMS Belfast through a gap in the buildings, there is the Embankment snaking next to the glinting ribbon of the River Thames, there are the space age silver capsules of the London Eye, the gothic splendour of the Houses of Parliament. I am hoping the majesty of London will keep me going until I sweep around in front of Buckingham Palace to the finish line on The Mall.

For all that I know the marathon will be tough, I couldn't have asked for a better city to run it in. It always amazes me how inspiring a bit of pretty scenery can be on a hard slog of a run. The first half marathon distance I did was enlivened immeasurably by a gorgeous view across the city from Primrose Hill, while a recent tough hill run along the coast path in Devon was lifted to another level by the immense views across golden sandy beaches and glittering blue seascapes.

This week is one of rest and carb loading. It sounds like heaven after all the weeks of training, but actually I am finding short runs and eating lots rather dispiriting. I have put on masses of weight and, while I am trying hard to be sensible about this, I am hating seeing a higher number every time I step onto the scales. In fact I can't wait to finish my marathon and get back into training proper for my next half marathon in June - clearly I am a glutton for punishment.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A change is as good as a rest

After a my week off I am happy to report that the running is back on track. Clearly giving both mind and body a much needed rest was the best plan, for me at least. On a gorgeous Friday morning I set out with two running friends, which added to the joy of being on the move again as one of them showed me the most delightful new route.

As he pointed out a new run is just the tonic you need when you are getting jaded. When you are traversing different scenery - and this route is mostly off road - you don't dwell on the hills you know lay ahead on your usual routes, or fret about how far you know you have to go, you just run. It was great fun, which is something running really hasn't been for me in a while.

I remembered the delight of discovering hidden backwaters in my local neighbourhood that I never would have known existed. It was also a real treat to have someone to chat to, although I am not sure my inane wittering was that entertaining for him, it was a good way to keep my mind off the niggle in my hip.

After planning a short 10K jaunt, I ended up going the whole 18-mile hog prescribed by my marathon training programme. I will admit that my muscles are howling in pain today, but it was worth it for the psychological boost it gave me. While I did wonder quite how I would hobble through another 8.2 miles once I pulled up, I also kind of feel I have it in me now - and any serious marathoners please don't ruin my illusions.

I know many say that 20-miles can feel like halfway, but hey, I am where I am and I can't, and don't want, to train hard for much longer. If I believe I can do it then I have the battle at least half won, and I do believe I can do it. I am not sure I will be able to walk afterwards, but never mind, I will celebrate by sinking into my sofa with sighs of relief, that is until my half marathon training begins again....

PS pop over to Girl on the River who has honoured me (along with a lot more worthy contributors) in a great series of posts about how to keep the weight off while training hard. You also get to see a particularly flattering (not) before pic of me in my pre-running days.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Taking a break

I know it's not orthodox - but then I am beginning to understand that when it comes to marathons there is no such thing as an orthodoxy - but this week, exactly a month out from my first marathon I am taking a break from running.

Some would condemn this as foolhardy, others would praise me for letting my body have a much needed rest. To be honest I don't really care what the conflicting experts have to say, I just know that for my long term love of running I have to get away from it for a few days.

When I first entered the marathon I had no clue how tough the training would be. I loved running, was up for a challenge and thought that would be enough to get me through. Well perhaps for some it would have been, but for me it fell woefully short of the mark.

In a year of pre-marathon running I was entirely injury free. I never even had a twinge. Since I started training I have injured my calf and my hip sufficiently to keep me off my feet for weeks. I also adored my runs. They were stress relievers and made me feel good about myself and the world around me. During training my runs have become something I dread and that bore the pants off me.

This is not good. I do love running and I fully intend to keep it up for as long as my body will allow me to, which is why I feel the need to step away from the pavement for a while and just forget about what lies ahead.

My husband is always ready with an 'I told you so' when I begin on a marathon moan, having always said it was a bad idea. I am not sure that he is entirely right. I had a marathon itch that had to be scratched, and I am full of hope that I will be ecstatic once it is over!

But the training has been hell. Time-consuming, boring, painful and all-encompassing. It has eaten away my free time, wreaked havoc with a body that probably wasn't ready, if it ever could be, to run such a huge distance and generally left me feeling exhausted and disheartened. I have put on weight and the careful diet I have stuck to for the past 18 months has been rocked by aching hunger pangs I just couldn't ignore.

All in all I am no poster girl for marathon running. But I am not too downhearted as despite my current bad patch I am still looking forward to the races I have lined up after the marathon, their chief attraction being that they are NOT marathons. I am dying to get back into the gym properly and have learned to appreciate how much I need a varied training programme - this woman cannot live on running alone.

So this week I have been to a class at the gym, which I throughly enjoyed and a swim, which made me realise that while I might be a bit off running right now, I like it a whole lot more than swimming. I am planning a relaxed trot for Friday - my usual long run day - and then next week I will be back with the programme, which thankfully segues neatly into a taper period the week after.

Perhaps this approach will mean that I crash and burn on the day, but I just needed a reset and to get out of my hamster on a wheel mindset. I want to love my running again and if that means I don't make it round the marathon as fast as I might have hoped, so be it. I am not going to fall out of love with running over one race.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Hunger

So the miles are racking up and last week I managed to do 35 miles (in total, not all in one go I hasten to add). This included my longest run so far of 17 long and arduous miles. I have to say I am not sure I am a fan of the long run. Plodding on for hour after hour around the drab streets of North London is just not that inspiring.

Plotting my routes used to revolve around finding the most scenic loops that would lead me from and to my front door. A few fields, trees and a bit of high end real estate was enough to keep me amused on a run. Now it is all about wending my way ever further from home to add on more and more miles. This is so dispiriting as I might find myself running towards home, only to have to switch back away from it again in order to tack on an extra mile or so.

I did consider another epic run into town, but on discovering that to cover 17 miles I would have to run from home to Tower Bridge I simply couldn't face it. The crowds of normal people in normal clothes are too much for me to navigate after sweating my way through a long run.

When I am fresh and full of energy I feel a certain smugness as I power past mere pedestrians, when I am tired and have had enough I don't want to have to push my way through crowded pavements, so I am stuck with the relatively empty streets that fan ever outwards from my house.

It is true that I have discovered a lot of new areas that I never knew existed like the bucolic common and chocolate box pretty village that lie sandwiched like a decadent and indulgent filling between two bland slices of suburbia. Or the gigantic footballers' palaces that turn an otherwise unexciting stretch of road into a mini Beverly Hills, complete with French chateau style residences kitted out with indoor pools and movie rooms, ranks of shimmering sports cars parked outside.

This strange form of sightseeing is fun for a bit, but not diverting enough to keep me amused for the many hours it takes me to run multiple miles.

But boredom isn't the the only disappointing side effect of marathon training - there is also the all encompassing HUNGER it seems to bring on. I have spent over a year trimming my body down by six stone. This was achieved by that tried and tested formula of exercise twinned with a keeping a careful watch over what I ate.

Now with all these miles I am covering I am simply starving. I feel as if I am slipping fast back into my old ways of scoffing until my stomach groans in protest. Despite the fact that I am burning off thousands of calories this pigging out is seeing me putting on weight again. Everyone assures me it's muscle, but I will admit it is pretty dispiriting to step on the scales after a mammoth run, only to discover I am literally piling on the pounds.

The trouble is that when 10K seemed like a long way subsisting on brown rice, grilled chicken and salads was doable. I could tame my appetite and keep a strict control over the calories going in. Now I fear I might gnaw my own arm off should I try to live on my old healthy diet. I am just scared that once I stop marathon training my appetite won't slow down as much as my running.

While most people might be counting down the days until the marathon because they can't wait for the big day, what I am looking forward to most is going back to a more varied diet of exercise and a more pared down diet of food.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Marathon fatigue

I love running, honestly I do, but training for the marathon has shown me you can have too much of a good thing. Pre-marathon I trained four or five times a week. I would run two or three times a week, but I would mix it up with a sprint interval session, perhaps some hills with a bit of circuit training thrown in, a cross country session or a nice long amble at the weekend. I might combine this with some classes at the gym, a cross training or weights session or some Pilates.

Variety is the spice of life after all, and it certainly helps to keep the interest and motivation alive. But marathon training has meant a shift in focus and all I do is run, and run, and run. After injuring myself with some ill advised hill work I have steered clear of anything other than steady runs. Sprinting or intervals seem to result in twinges in my calf and the only way I have found to keep with the programme is to keep it simple and just run - a lot.

I know this period of training won't put me off running for good, but I must admit that I can't wait until the marathon is done so that I can call a halt to the monotony of vanilla runs. I want to be able to take a risk or two without the terror of injury stopping me in my tracks.

I surprised by how much I am missing the gym, but whenever I am not running I am either catching up on the work that I have put to one side in order to train, or plain exhausted from all the effort I am putting in, so I have neither the time nor the energy to visit. In a bizarre way I feel as if my fitness is suffering from doing so much training as I am so focussed on one activity, all the rest of me is becoming wobbly and blobby.

All I can say is roll on 22 April, I want to get back to enjoying my workouts again, as opposed to enduring them, but I guess putting up with tedium is all part of honing the mental toughness to make it round 26.2 miles without throwing in the towel. At least this is what I tell myself when all this running gets a bit too much for me.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Stitches and fickle nature of runs

So I went for my long run - 14 miles - perhaps not that epic by some standards, but it was the longest run I have completed since the calf strain incident so I was very pleased. Though I am hoping that the marathon is a touch more scenic that my route as I didn't find the sight of an ancient smashed up cathode ray tube TV and a roadside strewn with battered coke cans, fag packets and other random detritus that uplifting at about the mile 12 mark.

I usually choose my routes to take in the prettier parts of the north London suburb where I live, or else run out towards Hampstead Heath via the neighbouring much more expensive bits of real estate, but for one reason or another on this run I decided to stay nearer to home and took a less salubrious journey. It made me realise how much your surroundings can influence your run.

When I did my last 14-miler it was into Central London, and I still remember the euphoria of cresting Primrose Hill at around the 70 minute mark. As I ran up to the top of this supremely posh park I could see all the landmarks of our capital laid out in front of me, the London Eye curving into the skyline, the BT Tower standing proud, the Shard still awaiting the final touches to its iconic design. How could you fail to be inspired?

Still back to my point which was that despite the less than inspiring landscape around me I managed to complete my long run without any problems. I was a bit achey once I stopped, but other than that there were no ill effects, either during or after the run.

Fast forward a couple of days to my 4-mile recovery run. The day was far more promising, blue skies, sunshine, birds singing - all you need for a great run. Off I trot and all seems well with the world until, at mile three, I feel a stabbing pain under my ribs. I am almost doubled over in pain with the worst stitch I've had since I started running. In fact I haven't even had a stitch since the early days.

I soldiered on for a while, gulping in deep breathes, slowing my pace and trying to recover my rhythm, but in the end it was no good I slowed to a walk and grabbed my side in pain. After five minutes of hobbling along looking like an OAP robbed of her Zimmer frame, I was able to shuffle home at a sedate jog. Just goes to show you never can tell with running, 14 miles might be a doddle, but that doesn't mean 4-miles can't trip you up.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Romance and running

So yesterday was Valentine's Day. I kicked off the day not with breakfast in bed or an exchange of cards and chocs, but with a six-mile run. It was a bit of a strange one as I had decided that because it was to be an early morning outing I should plan my route before I set off. I duly charted a nice run using Google Maps, but as I reached the halfway point of my pre-planned route I realised that I had had a bit of a ditzy moment and measured the course in kilometres not miles. Derrrr.

Rather than being almost home I suddenly had to re-route to tack on another three miles. I ended up on a less than scenic and punishingly uphill route past the local dump and across a busy road or two. Not the nice dawn run through the prettier parts of North London I had planned for this romantic day.

The end result was that I got home hot, sweaty and none to happy. That all changed as I pushed open the door and found a card with my name on it waiting on the doormat. My lovely husband had taken the opportunity of me exiting the house to run to set up a gorgeously romantic breakfast for me.

There were glittery rose shaped candles floating in a pretty bowl, Bucks Fizz sparkling a flute, red roses and the delicious smell of baking croissants. What a perfect post run feast, although I did swap the booze for a glass of milk and I have never scoffed a pastry faster than that crumbly warm croissant.

The only slight downside to all this romance post run was that rather than staring across the table at his beautiful wife, the object of my husband's affections was a sweaty, tired and Lycra clad sight. Still I am hoping this means he loves me no matter how much of a fright I look, which means I am in with a chance of a hug to celebrate post marathon.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Running addiction

When I first took up running it was with the vague aim of getting fit and losing a bit of weight. Little did I know that within the year I would become an addict. Perhaps it is due to my obsessive personality, or perhaps it is just because I haven't had a hobby I was truly passionate about since the long off days when I was a pony mad pre-teen.

Either way I swiftly morphed from a weekend jogger happy to shuffle around the park, water bottle swinging in my hand and sweat dripping off my brow, into some kind of nutter who is never happier than when contemplating their next running-based challenge.

This morning I reeled off the list of races I have signed up to this year - one marathon, two half marathons, a 15K race, an 8.2 mile race and a 10K trail run, I am also registered for another half marathon and am contemplating doing a 5K Race for Life with my sister in the summer. I think the time has come to admit that this is about a whole lot more than just keeping fit.

During the two weeks I had off running thanks to my calf strain I felt a dark depression begin to take hold. At the time I put it down to fears about my training schedule going to pot and ruining my chances of making it round the marathon. Now I rather suspect that it was simply withdrawal symptoms.

Nothing seems to put me off running. I have been out in all weather - snow, rain, ice cold wind. Going on holiday doesn't call a halt to proceedings - I ran on a boiling hot beach in Florida, along the beautiful Northumberland coastline and in Central Park in New York. Sickness and injury does put me out of action, but a mere hangover will not stop me in my tracks and yesterday I rather queasily sweated my way through a four-mile run with a pounding head and rolling stomach.

Those who don't run, simply do not get it. But for me running has woven it's way into who I am. It has made me proud of myself in a way I had not felt for a long time, it's made me braver and more confident, it has taught me how to dig deep and keep going and the value of constantly challenging yourself. So an addict I may be, but this is one habit I do not intend to break.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Run, fat girl, run

I know a lot of people take up running as a means to lose weight, but I appear to be the first person in the world to take up marathon training and immediately begin to pile on the pounds. When I ran a reasonable 40 mins to an hour two or three times a week, combined with a few gym workouts and core conditioning sessions I consistently lost weight, shedding over six stone in the space of a year.

Well done me, but then I entered the marathon and upped my running in order to train for the massive challenge I had set myself. I imagined that by running 10 or 11 miles regularly, and burning around 1,000 calories in the process, the weight would fall off me. I would acquire the lean and honed body of a long distance runner and finally shed the last 4lbs I have been battling with for the past few months.

How wrong can you be? Instead I have put on around half a stone in the space of about two weeks since my training began in earnest. I credit this to a lethal cocktail of sub-zero temperatures that lead me to want to do nothing more than eat comforting, warming (read fattening) food and the hunger that comes upon you after a long run in the freezing cold.

I have trained myself to be pretty good a resisting all that yummy food we all love to indulge in. I spent a year turning down cakes, crisps and all that refined junk I know makes me fat. But when I ran in after doing 11 miles in the snow yesterday the coffee birthday cake left over from the twins' party was singing to me to eat it up. I felt that I deserved it after my ice cold run and gave in to its siren song.

This morning as I stood on the scales which had inched up yet again I regretted my weakness. Far from a lithe frame, I am worried that I will be dragging a fat girl around the course come April 22nd.

Clearly all the guff about calories in and calories out has bypassed my metabolism and it doesn't matter how far I run, I still have to live on lentils and grilled chicken if I want to ensure that my size 10 jeans will still slip on after the marathon - BOO!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Making tracks in the snow

If you read this blog you will know that I have been out of action with a calf strain for a while, which has been hindering my marathon training. This week was my first back and I have been doing well on my new schedule. I managed 10 miles over the same route that killed my calf on Friday, so I was feeling a touch more confident about staying the course.

That was until snow struck London. Normally I love the white stuff. It's the perfect excuse to stay tucked up and cosy indoors and I can't help but feel a little bit festive when the landscape is quilted in snow. But this weekend I was determined to stick to the plan which meant a 4-mile run today. Not a huge distance, but I still don't want to miss a single training session out after losing two weeks to my mangled calf.

I went to bed last night watching the flakes whirl in the yellow light of the streetlamp outside our window. I woke up to see the park behind the house blanketed in a soft, white down of snow. The branches of the tree that towers outside our house were bowing under the weight the flakes, occasionally jettisoning a load onto an unsuspecting passerby.

Usually the park is packed with runners on a Sunday morning. This morning I saw a sole jogger battling his way through the drifts as kids built snowmen and threw snowballs all around him. What, I wondered, should I do? I desperately wanted to run, but equally I know what damage an injury can do to a tight training schedule so I didn't want to take an unnecessary risk.

In the end with some encouragement from friends on Facebook I decided to brave the elements, strap my Yaktrax Pro onto my trail shoes and get out of the house. I am so glad I did. I stepped high like a gazelle over the drifts made by people clearing their drives and trotted an easy four and a half miles around the local park, transformed from its usual bland urban green space into a wonderland of ice, snow and friendly locals enjoying the weather.

I only saw one other pair of runners, gingerly picking their way around a playing field, but I felt all warm and cosy inside that I was a serious enough runner to make it out come hell or high snow drifts (OK around 10cm, but that is big for London). It was a joyous run and no injury occurred, so a positive result all round. Best of all I am still bang on track with my training. Hurrah.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Now that's dedication

I know that for ultramarathon runners who think nothing of tackling a 100-mile slog across desert or arctic plains, training up rocky hill and down bog-ridden dale this morning's Siberian temperatures would have been as nothing.

For this recreational runner though pounding the pavements as the icy wind crept under my hat and my breath rose in crystalline clouds in front of me proved my dedication to running. I will admit that as I couldn't feel my fingers, toes or the tip of my nose I did rather wonder just why I was out on this ice cold morning. It was bloody freezing.

Then I rounded the corner and stepped into in a golden patch of sunlight. For a moment a shred of warmth licked at my running tights and I glanced up into the aqua blue sky to see a brave sun glaring out onto this cold day. OK, this was why I was out and about, because stuck in my house I would never have been able to savour the fleeting warm caress of the sunshine, made all the more delicious by the bone chilling temperature of the day.

It reminded me of skiing holidays when you are just about to throw your poles down in disgust as the cold in your feet has gradually turned to an insistent burning pain, but then you are gripped by the magnificent beauty of the mountains, stark white against the ice blue sky and suddenly you are glad you aren't dug down deep beneath a warm duvet.

That said on skiing holidays there are usually 1,001 reasons other than the cold why I want to down poles and retreat to a warm cafe for a vin chaude. But that is because I have learned through bitter experience that vertigo and a generally nervous disposition around slippery surfaces means that I am not a natural when it comes to winter sports.

While I admire my dedication for sticking with programme even in sub-zero temperatures, I do rather long for warmer days, when I don't have to dress up like an eskimo to go out for a run, and when it doesn't take me most of the time I am out just to warm up. Brrr.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Running v's training

Running is the time when I am most at peace. When I am over that first half hour of warming up and getting into my stride. When my breathing is even and steady, my legs are pumping steadily and my mind has relaxed into that trance like state brought on by a good run.

I can take in my surroundings. The trees bare of their leaves, dark branches slicing the white grey winter sky. The pavement dusted with a glittering sprinkle of frost, blades of grass frozen to attention around crackled icy puddles. I can peek into windows watching life going by, I can glance into shop windows and wonder idly if I would suit the sequin party dress displayed with pride in one of the boutiques I regularly pass.

When the weather is good I can run across the fields. Cows grazing and dog walkers nodding a cheerful hello. I can dodge the ruts and navigate woodland paths, glimpsing secret dens build deep within the canopy by some enterprising little boys. Picking my way over wonky tree trunk bridges thrown up over trickling brooks and squeezing through stiles that bar my path.

If there are problems in my life they seem to melt away and answers flow without the usual everyday distractions clogging up my thought processes. These are some of the reasons why I love to run.

But since entering the marathon I have stopped running for the pure joy of it and instead begun to 'train'. Rather than setting off with a vague route and time in mind, but never mind if I don't make it or decide to be distracted off by some mysterious foot path, now I have a schedule printed in black and white on the back of my office door. I have a wall calendar that I fill out diligently with miles run and training sessions completed.

I not only run, but I work out, train with my PT, practise Pilates and spend hours doing stretching, foam rolling, flexibility and strength work on my own. I still feel slightly pressured that I am not doing enough (thought the upside is that my body is about as good as you can expect after having four kids, one a set of rather enormous twins).

I dreamed of entering a marathon, but now I am scared that it is ruining my running. Not only has it left me with a injury that makes me nervous to forge ahead, it has also taken away the spontaneity and pleasure of running, turning it almost into a chore.

While I am still looking forward to my marathon, I must admit that I am also looking forward to being able to go back to being a simple runner, not a marathon runner.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Running free?

I have been amazed by the number of friends who tell me that they want to take up running. It is a veritable craze at the moment. I of all people understand the attraction. It is a flexible form of exercise that gets you fit out in the fresh air, but one thing about running that I have found to be rather a false promise is that it is free.

Running, in my experience, can be a very expensive pursuit. For starters you must have the right shoes. Be they trainers or barefoot they will cost you, in fact the more minimalist the shoe often the higher the price. Even a basic pair of running shoes costs around £50, but you can easily find the price tag rising to over £100, particularly if you have any special requirements.

Oh and that is always assuming you stick with just one pair of shoes. If you run off-road then a pair of trail shoes is a good investment, so that's another £50-60 gone just on your feet. Though silly me, I had forgotten socks. It is no good just pulling on a manky pair of tennis socks, you need special anti-blister, cushioned supportive socks for around a tenner a pair.

You can even buy special laces for your shoes that mean you will never have to stop and tie them again. The only hitch is that these cost around £10 too. So just cladding out your feet can easily see you shelling out over £200.

Next there is the kit. Admittedly when I first started running I just went in shorts and a T-shirt. But as you start to run more often and in varying conditions your running wardrobe expands exponentially. I now have a wide array of clothes from long tights, capris, shorts, vests, jackets, a fleece, T-shirts with sleeves both long and short, gloves, hats and hair bands plus a high-viz vest for night runs.

Even though I am a bargain shopper when it comes to running kit, I blush to think how much that little lot cost, but I would guess that we are once again in the £200-300 region, and I am probably being pretty conservative in that estimate.

Next up is the more esoteric kit. The special water belts for long runs, GPS watch to track your pace and milage, gels, supplements and sports drinks so you can reach peak potential. Another £150 gone here and rising as I experiment with all those potions to make me run faster and longer ahead of the marathon.

What can really rack up the cost is injury though. So far physio sessions for my strained calf have cost me and my insurance company over £200 and if I had opted for the orthotics the clinic was understandably keen to push on me I could easily have doubled that. Not to mention Biofreeze gel, calf sleeve and foam roller all purchased to help ease the pain. Or the generosity of my chiropractor friend who donated her expert services in return for a bottle of red wine.

Then there are all the race entries. At £15-25 for a 10K race this is quite manageable, but once you get into longer more prestigious races the costs rise up and up. I was idly browsing a brochure that promised you entry to the New York Marathon at a mere £2,500 per person.

Of course this is without all the peripheral training you need to enhance your running. A jog around the park is all very well, but to get the best from running you need to do strength and core training. At the very least this requires buying equipment, but really you need a gym membership and ideally a personal trainer and a few Pilates sessions thrown in for good measure.

I am lucky I can cadge equipment from the other half who runs Gorilla Sports, my trainer is very generous with his time in support of a good cause, ditto my Pilates teacher. But if I were to tot up all their services I would be looking at hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

So is running free? Don't make me laugh, it's one of the most expensive sports I've ever indulged it. But from the highs of a sunny cross country run to the body it has honed from the fat lump I started out as, from the incredible experiences and people it has introduced me to, to the unbeatable exhilaration of crossing a race finish line, so far it's been worth every penny.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Up and running

Yesterday was a big day for me as I finally took the plunge and went for a run. My goodness it felt good. Despite taking it slow, a bit of a struggle once I got the wind in my sails, but I heeded good advice not to let rip just yet in case my calf muscle followed suit. I pootled up hills being overtaken by weekend joggers, I held my fire on the flat and kept my pace slow and even.

The result? I went for 40 minutes and 4 miles pain free. I would have dearly loved to go on for further and longer, but I decided to stop while the going was good rather than risk aggravating my calf any further.

I am not sure what the key to this minor success was but I credit it to a much more through warm up routine than usual and keeping myself slow. These are two things that are so frequently overlooked once you become even slightly proficient as a runner. I know that I am guilty of pushing off on a run from cold and absolutely caning it up hill and down dale (well in so much as you have hills and dales in North London).

For over a year I got away with my bad habits, but training for the marathon tripped me up with my first injury. But perhaps I should be grateful as I have learned some useful lessons that I hope will stand me in good stead as I go forward in my running career:

1. Always warm up properly. Taking 10 minutes or so to get the blood flowing to your muscles could be the difference between injuring yourself and enjoying a great run.
2. If you feel a serious twinge STOP. Don't run through the pain or you might find yourself not running at all.
3. Keep it slow to build it up. If you want to increase miles then do it slowly, don't like I did, leap from being a 6-7 mile runner to a 14-mile run in the space of two weeks. You might cope OK, but as I found to my cost you probably won't have built up the strength to withstand the extra milage.

My husband would probably add a number 4, which is don't enter marathons, but I am withholding judgement on that one for the next few months.

I hope that my own painful experience might help keep another novice runner on the road. As ever with any sage advice I claim to be my own, thanks must go to the wonderful Mark at Up and Running in Watford, my running guru whether he likes it or not!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Patience is a virtue when it comes to calf strains

I know I have a been a bit quiet of late, but given that this is a blog about running I haven't had much to say as my calf strain has kept me off the roads for the last week. I have been diligently training on the bike, rower and in the pool as well as doing lots of strength work, but I am starting to feel a bit nervous at the lack of miles under my belt with the marathon looming ever larger.

I am getting royally sick of being told to be patient, but today I think that perhaps I am going to be rewarded for staying off my calf like a good girl. It is the first day when I really can say that I can walk without pain. I managed to run up the stairs at home like I used to and when I did my Pilates session my calf didn't even squeak when I stretched it out.

I am not sure it is quite time to don the trainers and get out into the park yet, but I am quietly confident that I can get back to training next week. I am just hoping that it will give me enough time to get marathon fit before the 22 April. The countdown on my fundraising page scarily points out that there are only 88 days to go, which means that with two taper weeks before the race I have just 10 weeks to take myself from a 14 mile runner to a 26.2 mile marathoner.

I have decided that my best bet is to give up any hope of achieving any decent time and just go for a steady amble round. If I can reach my goal of running every step I will be thrilled, if not I will just get round as best I can. It is a bit disappointing, but the key thing is to repair my injury and fix what caused it so I can live to run, rather than hobble, another day.

I am cheered by the number of friends how have said they are going to come along on the day and support me. I think knowing those friendly faces are in the crowd will help to push me through those miles whether running, walking or dragging myself along.

I hope the next time I post in this blog I will be able to report back on my first post-calf strain run. It might be a slow walk, jog affair, but you have no idea how much I am looking forward to it. I have another session with my physio on Friday and I am praying she gives me the all clear to start running again.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Running withdrawal

Calf is still stubbornly sore and much as I am literally gagging to get running I know I have to rest it in order to repair it for the big day. But I am hating it. Normally I am eager to train and go to the gym, but at the moment I am as reluctant as the next person as I do hate cycling and swimming with a passion.

I am a very one track person and while I always cross train in order to keep up my fitness, the bulk of my training is always running because this is what I love, not what I have to do. I jump at the chance to go for a run, but I am finding it way harder to motivate myself to cycle, row or swim.

This morning I was walking the boys to school and I was so envious when I saw a man running up the hill. I was in my trainers and I just wanted to tag along after him. I had to almost physically restrain myself from taking off, but that dull ache in my calf reminded me that I have to be patient and hold back.

It's just that what has always got me through was a determination to keep going no matter what. I have never pulled up during a run before and indeed never had to endure an injury before, so I have no time for mollycoddling my body back to health.

I am actually shocked by how depressing I am finding not running. I am moody and miserable without my fix of fresh air, sweat and effort. It is clear to me how dependent I have become on my sport and how hard it is to cope without the benefits it brings to me. Roll on a healthy calf is all I can say.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Tangled up in pink

So the ongoing saga of my calf strain continues. I visited my GP yesterday and by some weird coincidence saw a locum doctor whose children were are mad keen marathon runners. Ignoring the fact that she was already running about 10 minutes late she told me a long story about how her son nearly died doing last year's London Marathon. Gulp. Still he considers a 'slow' marathon to be 2hrs 45mins, so I don't think we are in quite the same league.

To cut a long story short she suggested that I visit Pure Sports Medicine in Threadneedle Street, which is how I found myself togged up in running kit on the Northern Line heading deep into the City. It is a supremely professional set up, though that is only to be expected given the prices they charge.

I was prodded and poked and told that I had effectively been hopping rather than running as one leg could give Daley Thompson a run for his money, while the other would not look out of place on the most slobbish couch potato. Apparently my poor old right leg has been doing all the work, while the left looked on and laughed, which is why my calf gave up the ghost once I started to tax it.

I was given a massage, acupuncture and then my calf was strapped up in some very fetching bright pink tape. I was also given some exercises to do and sent away much poorer but encouraged that I would be able to run the marathon without too much of a problem. Phew. Now I just need to continue being patient, not taxing my calf and wearing heels to take the pressure off the muscle.

Still no running though and I am beginning to get very twitchy without my regular does of endorphins delivered by a few hours out on the road. I am planning to gym it again and do some cross training and help to build up that lazy left leg, so hoping that will put right the chemical imbalance in my brain.

Fingers crossed by this time next week I will be up and running again. I am back on Monday for a check up and more advice on how to get myself buns of steel to help hold up my legs on the marathon, so watch this space.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The generosity of friends

Since I started running I have had plenty of people share the idea with me that all runners are mad. Why would we put ourselves through the pain and suffering of a run when we could be tucked up on the sofa? Well anyone who runs knows the answer. Running doesn't make us mad, it is what keeps us sane! Or at least as close to that state as possible.

But the other positive side effect of running for me is discovering the incredible support and generosity of fellow runners and friends. Not only have I raised over £900 since entering the marathon just a couple of weeks ago thanks to donations from friends and family both close and virtual, I have also been overwhelmed by the help I have been offered from so many and varied wonderful people.

One friend has set me up with 10 sessions of Pilates at Pilates Nation in order to keep prevent my poor old body from freezing up in protest at all the training I am expecting it to do. I had my first session with the incredibly lovely Rachel there yesterday and I can see that a good stretching out is just what my muscles need.

Then there is my personal trainer, Andrea, who has promised to help me get into tip top shape for the marathon, which, given my lazy week due to injury, is a godsend. At least now I can be sure that my upper body is in with a fighting chance of keeping up with my legs.

Or the lovely Elise, The Patient Chiropractor, who has given me invaluable advice and treatment for my calf strain. I can't wait till she can join me out running again and see all her good work put into action.

These are the big ticket items though. I have been equally touched by the hours of advice that expert runners including Mark who I have mentioned before, as well as some seasoned marathon runners at my gym, have given this novice runner to help me beat that 26.2 miles into submission.

I was also touched when two volunteers at the North London Hospice shoved wrinkled £5 notes into the collecting tins I had come in to pick up as soon as they heard I was running the marathon for their charity.

The kindness of strangers and friends in the face of human endeavour surely enough to make it worthwhile. It has certainly made my marathon experience so far an incredibly uplifting one, and I hope this will help to carry me around the course - bad leg or no. Worst comes to worst I shall walk the whole way, as there is no way I will let all these wonderful people down.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Ouch - injury strikes

So there I was out for my long run on Sunday when I felt the beginnings of a twinge in my lower left calf muscle. On I trot following my usual principle of running through the pain. It's fine for a while and then, just under a hour in, I tackle a short incline. By the time I reached the top my calf was really sore, but I was miles from home with not a bus stop in sight.

I hobbled on for a bit and then realised that if I kept running I could risk seriously injuring my leg - not what you need three months out from a marathon. I reluctantly pulled up and limped to the next bus stop. Just under 6 miles into what was meant to a 13 mile run and I was done. I have never stopped like this, but I thought it was better to lose out on a training run or two and make it to the big day, than solider on only to find I couldn't make it through the marathon.

The cause of my injury? Well that is simple. The moment I entered the marathon I was overwhelmed by all the advice and training plans there are out there. You will be told to do everything from sprints, to hill runs, interval training to threshold runs. There is enough jargon surrounding marathon training to rival an episode of House.

In my mind I know what suits me. I am not built for speed. I can plod along at a decent pace for hour upon hour, reaching that trance like state that can carry you through a long run with ease. Ask me to sprint and I am reaching for the sick bowl, screaming in pain and generally not enjoying myself. However, I have read and been told by so many 'experts' that I must incorporate speed training into my marathon schedule that I felt compelled to do so.

Big mistake. I suspect sprinting up a particularly evil hill 10 times in a row was to blame for my injured calf. Either way it is undoubtedly due to over training. I should have stuck to my common sense guns which told me that to train for a long run, what I needed to do was lots of long runs - doesn't matter if they are slow. I just need to train my body to keep putting one foot in front of the other for a long time.

I looked at programmes that prescribed this method and felt that they would suit me best, but was swayed when the latest advice scathingly called this approach old fashioned. Instead I went for new fangled, and pushed my body beyond it's limits. I am now paying the price.

For the rest of my training I am sticking to a new plan set out by a man I really respect as he is the one who showed me the joy of running in the first place, by teaching me the simple principle of running slow to run fast. It works at every level, or at least it works for me. So thanks Mark from Up and Running.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Gels, energy drinks and supplements

When I was simply trotting around the park attempting to keep simultaneously breathing and moving one leg in front of the other the only gel I ever used was in my hair. Drink was carried in a battered water bottle I had nicked from one of the kids' lunchboxes and supplements came with the Sunday papers.

Now that I am honing myself into an elite athlete (or at least hoping to make it round the London Marathon) I have been introduced to the complex world of energy drinks, rehydration powders and performance gels. I am quite keen on the idea of anything that will give my tired old body a boost and keep my legs moving on long runs so this has become an area of some fascination.

I have tried a few gels and while some are frankly quite vile, particularly the ones with caffeine in them, though I have also found them to be the most effective, the nicest flavour is to be found in the Multipower Multicarbo Energy Gel. I am actually quite partial to the cherry-banana flavour and when I sucked it down on my last long run I really did feel an increase in my energy that got me through a tough patch at around two hours in.

Multipower's Re-Charge Drink is also a welcome change to the claggy, lumpy protein shakes I have been using as it's refreshing orange flavour is actually welcome after a run. Now I just have to work out a strategy for energy drinks during the race. So far I have resisted even carrying water, but having invested in a Nathan Speed Belt 2 from the extremely helpful The Running Outlet, the time has come to give some drinks a try.

Given my success with Multipower's other products I am going to give its ISO Drink a try and will report back on whether it turns me into the speed demon I so long to become.

On the marathon I hear that Lucozade is handed out, but I have heard reports from quite a few expert marathoners that this isn't for everyone. Since it is free I should probably give it a try, but the only thing that orange drink will ever make me think of is being ill in bed when I was a child. It was a 70s myth that it could cure any ailment, but just a sniff of the stuff reminds me of being confined to bed and feeling rotten, not really what you want halfway into a marathon.

Also need to see how the belt fares on my runs. I have been told by everyone and his cousin that I must drink when I run, but I really don't like to as I find it breaks my stride and turns my stomach. I am also concerned at how it will feel running with bottles around my waist. I am assured by many internet reviews and the man in the shop that I have made the best choice, but I shall have to see on my next run.

Fundraising fear

Today is officially a rest day as my calves are screaming after my 14-mile sightseeing run yesterday. The last thing I need right now is an injury, I am scared enough about running the marathon, without losing precious training time because I pushed myself too hard.

But rather than kick back and enjoy a day off I feel my stomach twisting with fear about quite how much cash I still have to raise. My wonderful, generous friends have really dug deep and have donated around £700 so far which is a fantastic start for which I am so grateful, but honestly my mates aren't millionaires and I can't expect their kindness to fill the pot.

My mind is churning with ideas as to how to raise the cash, but I must admit to being the kind of person who dissolves into a puddle of anxiety at (a) asking people for money and (b) organising events with the potential to go tits up. I suspect to be a successful fundraiser these are flaws that should be missing from your character.

I am toying with the idea of hosting a pub quiz, but quail at all the admin involved. It is hard enough finding time to train, see the children and earn a few paltry coins to keep the wolf from the door, without having to organise a grand fundraiser single-handed. Added to which I cannot escape the fact that getting people to cough up for a night out is a notoriously tricky thing to do, no matter how noble the cause.

Although I think that is part of my problem, I need to shake off the idea that I am asking people to give me money personally and remember the wonderful cause this is in aid of. I know of so many people whose relatives have been cared for by the North London Hospice, including my husband's grandma, and I know it depends on donations for its survival, so I will just have to keep this in mind next time I have to pop on my brass-necked persona. Gulp.

With this in mind feel free to sponsor me by clicking on the London Marathon logo.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Halfway there

Before I do any race I like to feel that I have the distance I am planning to cover in the bag. By the time I did 5K I knew I could run that far with ease, same goes for 10K and I am confident about my upcoming 15K race too, but I knew the marathon would be different. I understand that I can't just pop on my shoes and do 26.2 miles, but I suppose never having even completed a half marathon was making me feel a bit unsure of myself.

Today I set myself a challenge that I hoped would put my mind at rest. I had a meeting in town at the BFI on the South Bank and I decided that rather than hop on the tube, I would pull on my trainers and run there instead. A fellow runner had assured me the distance was doable and suggested a race route that took me there via several of London's prettiest parks.

Off I set giving myself a good three hours to ensure I wasn't late for my meeting (luckily it was with a very understanding client who I knew wouldn't mind chatting to me in my sweaty running clothes). At first the route was pretty grim taking in main roads and lots of confusing identikit streets in the labyrinth that is Hampstead Garden Suburb.

I kept getting lost and eventually found myself yomping up a trail that brought me out a good mile from where I thought I was. That place never fails to fox my sense of direction and I was glad to put it behind me. Then it was on through Belsize Park, which was tricky due to the influx of pedestrians on the pavements until I reached Primrose Hill.

I was impressed that after 70 minutes of running I could breeze up the eponymous hill with ease, but I was rewarded by a stunning view of my home town. Up rose the BT Tower in all its sci fi glory, around spun the London Eye and the Shard is finally starting to live up to its name. I could even spot the now diminutive dome of St Paul's nestled on the outskirts of the City. Such a view cannot fail to lift the spirits and I raced down the hill with a smile on my face.

Regent's Park proved to be a bit of a disappointment as without the softening influence of leaves or flowers it's a bit flat and grey after the wonders of Primrose Hill, and I found myself getting disoriented and lost again. Not so much fun when the fatigue is beginning to bite. Eventually I escaped its bosky grasp for the choked Euston Road and then on towards the West End.

It is a particularly cruel torture for a shopaholic like me to have to run past all the boutiques of Marylebone High Street without being able to take in the wares in the windows, but after all the direction malfunctions early in my run I had to get a move on now. Fortunately at about an hour and a half in I really was into my stride and fully enjoying the run.

Once I had escaped the back streets behind Oxford Street teeming with delivery drivers and shop staff having a sneaky fag, I finally glimpsed the white splendour of Marble Arch and once again I felt real joy at being able to explore London powered only by my own legs. I ran through Hyde Park and on to Green Park, after which my way was stopped by a police man who had closed the road to accommodate the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

I stopped in my increasingly weary stride - I had now hit the two-hour mark - to watch the soldiers in their grey coats and magnificent black bearskins hoick their ceremonial rifles onto their shoulders. It certainly made a change from being stuck in my office on a Tuesday morning.

Onwards I went down the Mall and across into the pretty St James' Park, where I had to work hard to avoid crashing into the abundant wildfowl that make their home there. I left several shocked geese in my wake.

As I rounded the corner out of the park up popped Big Ben, presiding over the Gothic might of the Houses of Parliament. This surely has to be one of the best running routes in the world. I dodged tourists taking pictures of one another hanging out of the old fashioned red phone boxes and then powered on across the river.

My goal was in sight. As the barges and tourist boats chugged along the brackish brown waters of the Thames I saw that the pods from the London Eye were laid out on the ground for cleaning like giant petals fallen from a vast metal flower. As the BFI hove into view I finally came to a halt, checked the MapMyRun app on my iPhone and gave an internal whoop as I had covered 14 miles - over half the distance I will have to cover in the marathon. It took around 2hrs 15mins which is a little slower than I am hoping for, but not bad for a first attempt at a truly long run.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Cross training

As I am only into my second week of marathon training proper the title of this post isn't literal yet, though I suspect that it will become so over the following weeks.

I will admit to feeling a little daunted by this whole marathon thing now. After feeling cranky and tired all day after my 10 mile run, I dread to think what kind of a monster I will be after 26 miles, but perhaps my family should clear out until I recover, lest I bite their heads off.

Luckily today was a rest or cross training day so I took myself off to the gym and did a couple of easy half hour classes. It was a nice rest and gave me the chance to stretch out my aching thigh muscles, which have been playing up ever since my session of continuous hills the other day. But I will admit that I never feel quite right when I have finished for the day and I am not dripping with sweat. I had to restrain myself from taking a quick trot around the block just to get my heart pumping.

Still I am reliably told that rest is an important a part of training as pushing yourself, so I will heed the experts and take it easy. Tomorrow is another chance to punish myself with some threshold training, so perhaps it is a good idea to enjoy a day of R&R before the torture starts again.

On a side note I am also beginning to feel supremely daunted by the fundraising target I have set myself. I am now at over £600 thanks to my fabulously generous friends, but that still leaves the small question of around £1,400 to go.

I have called the school who sounded rather dubious about helping out, but hopefully I will manage to talk them round with my promise to tell the children all about the marathon in return for them please, please, please helping me to raise some money. Fingers crossed anyway, or I shall have to offer to sit in a tub of cold baked beans or something equally nutty to raise the extra thousands.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Racking up the miles

Since signing up to run the London Marathon I have had my nose buried in the internet attempting to hone the perfect training schedule, sadly all this research has left me none the wiser as to how to up my paltry runs from an easy 10K up to a, frankly inconceivably long, 26.2 miles.

The plan I had picked before I actually entered the marathon was based around short speed training sessions with one relatively long run at the weekend. This works for me in one way because it is easier to fit in than lots of long, time-consuming, runs, but in another I think I need the psychological confidence that I can handle the miles so I am attracted to the more old school approach of simply running for as long as you can, as often as you can.

That said today I put in my longest distance so far at around 10.6 miles. It took me about 1hr 35, which is on target in terms of speed, but I was tired by the end of it and my legs are screaming now, which makes me fear the full distance even more.

I have always subscribed to the philosophy of running through the pain, and shall stick by this in my training, but it isn't fun running around after four children when every part of your body aches. Yet more reason I should probably have got my marathon racing bug out of my system before I had children.

I am going along to a training session held for those running the marathon for charities later in the month and perhaps I will get some clarity on which type of training will get me around the course in the best shape, in the meantime I will continue to mix and match and hope for the best.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The London Marathon

I can't quite believe it, but I have just entered for this year's London Marathon. In a moment of madness I have decided to run to fundraise for a local charity - The North London Hospice - in memory of my husband's grandma who died there recently.

I am not sure if I am more daunted by the prospect of running over 26 miles or of raising £2,000 for the charity. I am hoping people will dig deep in recognition of my insanity and if not I will just have to run a million cake sales.

But the overwhelming feeling I have right now is of pride. This time last year I was in the early foothills of a journey that would take me from being morbidly obese to a healthy weight, but more than just losing weight it has taken me from being someone who had no pride in themselves to a woman who feels thrilled at the prospect of running a marathon.

For all the excitement I felt at looking better and wearing nicer clothes, the thing that has really made all the effort worthwhile is turning myself into someone that I could be proud of, and perhaps more importantly that my husband and children could be proud of. I will never forget the feeling of seeing all my boys waving and cheering as I completed my first 10K race in Finsbury Park. This for a mum who had once been so large she couldn't keep up with them in the park.

I was so proud of myself for showing that with determination and dedication you can turn your life around. Lots of people ask me what my secret is and really I don't have one. I just think that if you want something badly enough you will achieve it. I was sick of hating myself and I was terrified of setting a bad example for my sons. I want them to believe they can do anything if they work hard and put their backs into it. I want them to know that while it might not come easily, you can do it.

I know a lot of people think I am mad for becoming so obsessed with running, but I don't think they understand what it has given me in return for my dedication. It has saved my sanity during hard times as nothing clears your mind like a long run outdoors, it has allowed me to swap a body that I hated for one that I trust to carry me for miles and miles without giving up. It has shown me what you can achieve if you put your mind to it, so what's not to love about running?

Of course it is tough and when I am dragging myself through an arduous training routine I often think longingly of collapsing onto the sofa, but then I remember how pleased I will feel with myself if I don't give up. I know that no matter how hard and how exhausting training is, it will be worth it in the end.

So the next few months promise to be even more challenging that I anticipated, but at the moment my only goal is to simply pass the finish line without passing out. Wish me luck!

Oh and if you want to sponsor me and help me reach my target please click on the marathon logo above or visit

Thursday, 5 January 2012

What a difference a bra makes

Anyone who knows me will be well aware of my innate talent for spending money on clothes. Since losing weight I have had to replace my entire wardrobe more than once, and boy have I enjoyed the process. However my spending is usually reserved for such high street fashion stalwarts as H&M and River Island (love their skinny jeans) and strangely when it comes to sports kit I come over all skinflintish.

While I wouldn't blink about dropping £40 on a pair of jeans or a nice sweater, for some reason I baulk at spending the same on a decent sports bra. This is probably why I ended up with a motley collection of ill filling, unsupportive brassieres shoved in the bottom of my gym kit shelf.

This is a big mistake as I am not under-endowed in the breast department and all the pounding of pavements can lead to a rather unfortunate sagging effect, which is why the best pre-Christmas present I got was a fab Panache underwired sports bra (see above). These bras are specifically designed for bigger girls, with cup sizes ranging from D-H and the expertise shines through in this beautifully engineered bra.

I was concerned that the underwiring would be uncomfortable as I am not a big fan of this type of scaffolding, but my fears proved to be unfounded and I didn't feel a thing other than securely supported. The bra also fitted perfectly, another thing I was worried about having read tales of other sports bras coming up small (like lots of sports kit in my experience as I am still only just squeezing into an ASICS size 12, while in everyday clothes a 10 is more than big enough).

I have extensively tested my bra on both long and short runs and at the gym and it has come up trumps throughout, with not a wobble or chafe to complain about. Whether I could back up the claim that the bra cuts bounce by 83 percent I am not sure as maths is not my strong suit, but it certainly makes me feel secure and essentially allows me to ignore my boobs while running, which is no easy feat when you are an E cup!

So if you are a womanly-shaped runner then give the Panache bra a try as you won't be disappointed. I was so pleased with mine that I just ordered two more from Figleaves to help me get through my arduous new training schedule.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

New Year, new training schedule

While I managed to keep up my running intermittently over the Christmas holidays, I have to admit that my dedication to hitting the road was outclassed by my commitment to gorging on festive food. This was the first time I relaxed my grip on my diet and I was reminded of quite why I got so fat in the past. Fortunately I am back on the straight and narrow again now following the beginners marathon running programme from Women's Running magazine.

Not that I am planning a marathon this year, but I thought it would be a good schedule to stick to and challenge myself in 2012. So far it has proved to be pretty tough. I kicked off with a set of three threshold runs, which essentially seemed to mean running until I felt as if I was about to be sick and then grinding to a virtual halt to get my breath back. I am sure this isn't what it is meant to be like, but by the end of the session I think I had got the hang of it. Apparently they are meant to build up endurance and lung capacity - we shall see.

Next up was a truly horrible experience called the Ultimate Core Workout. Oh my goodness. I was drenched with sweat before I was even halfway through, and as for the planking on one arm and one leg, well that never happened. It was enough to simply manage a basic plank by the end of five minutes running at a gradient of 8 on the treadmill. Still at least it is something to work towards.

Today was continuous or Kenyan (after the African runners' famous training routines) hills, which is exactly what it sounds like - sets of running up and down a hill with a recovery jog in between. It was hard, but as I have done a lot of hill training due to my vain pursuit of a nice arse it was probably the best of a bad bunch.

I am hoping that all this training for a full marathon will mean that the shorter races I have signed up for this year will be a doddle. Though I have added another run to my 2012 roster with my first proper off road trail run in May, the Runner's World Trailblazer in Bedgebury Forest.

Will keep you posted on my progress with that core workout and I am still trialling all those lovely potions to keep my skin silky soft what with all these winter runs.