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 www.virginmoneygiving.com/UrsulaHirschkorn

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.