Going Further and Faster #iblamejulie

I’ve been quiet here for a while, caught in that loop of too much happening to write and the longer I leave it before writing the more there is to write about. I’m stepping out of that loop here and now.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve:

  1. Run further than I’d ever run before – 8.2 miles at a cracking pace.
  2. Run my fastest parkrun without meaning to – the plan was to go steady and gentle, but my steady and gentle is now faster than it was.
  3. Run my first 10k race – thrilled to bits with my finish time of 1.01.53.
  4. Discovered why people have rest days – PB parkrun Saturday, 10k Sunday and running group Monday was not a good plan!

My target this week is to get under 30 minutes at parkrun, and I think I can do it.

The #iblamejulie is in recognition of the difference the online Scream If You Want to go Faster course by Julie Creffield has made to me. I’m now 8 months into my running journey, so not sure I can still call myself a newbie, but I had been mystified by the maze of different advice out there on getting faster / stronger / fitter / lighter. By breaking it down into manageable chunks with a different theme each week, and making me record my progress Scream has guided me through the maze. The online community of participants have compared experiences and supported each other throughout. And definitely I’m running faster and stronger for being part of it.

I’m still struggling with stress eating and seeing my weight wobble around the same amount, so Julie’s focus on accepting what my body can do now, rather than always looking ahead to reaching a goal weight really appeals to me. My body is still obese, but it can do more than I ever believed possible, and I plan on celebrating that rather than beating myself up about not losing weight faster.

Julie isn’t the only one to blame for my improvement. I have lots of other amazing people supporting and encouraging me to push myself and improve and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. There’s my running group TeamCCRG, the women of the This Girl Parkruns North East Group, everyone in the parkrun for people affected by obesity group, not to mention all the individual runners, marshals, volunteers, and even passers by who spur me on with smiles and cheers. It’s amazing the difference a smile can make when you’re struggling! And of course there’s also my family, who are not only trained to put the kettle on as soon as I start stretching but are also joining in as well as encouraging me.

The impact all of this has had on my mental health is massive. My confidence has increased beyond measure. I’m no longer worried about people seeing me run (although as discussed here the jacket stays), I’m more likely to talk to people, to try things I haven’t done before, to keep going when it’s tough. Which isn’t to say the stress, anxiety and depression have gone completely. at the moment stress levels are high and I’m aware of keeping a tight lid on the anxiety to prevent it shooting up too, but I have a whole new set of coping mechanisms to draw on when they do appear.

In July last year when I started running I couldn’t make it to the first lamppost and thought 5k was an impossible goal. Now I’ve done 10k and more. 5k is the shortest distance I run in a week. I will run a half marathon in September. And honestly, if I can do it anyone can. Just start with tiny changes and who knows where you’ll end up.

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I’m running this year to raise funds for two great charities, it would be great if you could sponsor me.

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Will run for chocolate…

It’s been one of those weeks of extremes. Racing between appointments and commitments, eating too much to deal with the stress, bad running, checking myself every time I notice my thinking is verging on the over-anxious… But also good news, eating too much to celebrate, good running, congratulating myself when I stop myself over-thinking…

Tuesday saw a long meeting to review my sons EHCP, the document that gets him the additional support he needs. It was a positive meeting, the college he hopes to go seem able to provide what he needs to succeed, but emotionally exhausting. In early years he struggled as myself and his primary school fought to get him help, hearing school praise this confident young man who leads class discussions made me incredibly proud and shows that the right support makes a massive difference to kids with significant additional needs.

That evening I went for a short run, using this weeks Scream if you want to go faster techniques. I enjoyed it but recognised the need to pace myself better.

Wednesday was hectic, but most of note was my daughter getting an offer for her preferred university. Another moment of incredible pride. I decided to celebrate with her instead of going to the gym.

Thursday was supposed to be my long run, a stretched run commute, but I ended up limping to the bus stop with bad pain in my shin. Due to the stress I’m under at the moment my mood plummeted, but I noticed I was catastrophising and was able to turn it around.

I’d planned to run 7-8 miles 😦

Saturday was the Prudhoe Easter Egg 5k, with my partner and son. This is the race my son agreed to take part in when he heard there was chocolate!

It was a lovely sunny morning, fantastic to catch up with friends in a beautiful setting. We got there earlier than planned and were able to see the Junior Run start and finish. Those kids are amazing!

For the race itself I initially tried to stay with my son, who was run walking. As well as his learning disability he has severe dyspraxia, which makes a run of any length really difficult for him. He wanted to walk far more than I did, and shortly before the half way point we’d lost patience with each other and he sent me on ahead.

This is where my anxiety kicks in. I know 999 times out of 1000 he will be OK on his own, but the worry of that other time can paralyse me. Not just what might happen to him, but what will people say about the mother who left a disabled child alone? He wants to be more independent, he’s capable of more independence, but I’m terrified of what could go wrong.

So I’m constantly risk assessing, determining if it’s safe to let him do this himself. This time, I thought, he’s on a marked course with a lot of other people, there are friendly marshals, even the Easter Bunny who he can ask for help if he needs it. Although he forgot his phone the organisers have my mobile as his emergency contact. He’s safe.

We liked that the Easter Bunny was slightly more Monty Python and the Holy Grail than twee commercialism, and his chocolate treats were very welcome after those stairs! 😀

So I ran, and I deliberately pushed myself to try and make up time lost walking. Not a twinge from my leg, although I took it easier up the stairs and the uphill section just in case. When I was flagging I kept remembering this article I’d read on The Run Experience and concentrated on keeping my legs moving rhythmically with longer strides. It worked.

Not a bad pace considering…

It was a beautiful course, even the unpleasantly steep stairs were in a gorgeous setting, and a great mix of abilities joining in. The sun shone, marshals and spectators cheered, and even passing dog walkers and cyclists wished us well. I finished in a reasonable time considering the walking at the start, eight minutes ahead of my son, who’d done absolutely fine on his own – although those eight minutes felt very long to me. It was definitely a race I’d do again – and not just for the chocolate!

Photo by Janine Calkin for Prudhoe Easter Egg Run.

It was also my first outing for my deliberately not black or grey leggings, a sale bargain from Sturdy by Design. I’ve written recently about how I wanted to be invisible when I started running. As my health and strength increases so does my confidence, these days I’m happy to be seen.

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I’m fundraising this year for SWAN UK which supports families with children like my son who have undiagnosed genetic conditions, and for Newcastle Carers which helps me cope. To donate click here.

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Disclaimer – this is a personal blog, I make no money from it, and any brands I mention are purely because of my experience of them.

Addressing the elephant in the room.

My running has gone well this week despite hiccups. I didn’t get to do my run commute because my son was sick. Parkrun was cancelled because of ice (again!) Strava kept losing me so I’m not sure how far I ran. But I ran a total of at least 17 miles over 3 runs, plus a gym session. I’m enjoying running more, I feel like my speed’s increasing and gradually building my distance is working too.

Gibside parkrun as my regular one was cancelled.

But running isn’t what I want to write about today. Today I want to address the elephant in the room. And I’m fairly sure the elephant in the room is me.

I’m now over a year since I signed up to Newcastle Can and started exercising and eating healthily. My weight loss was dramatic at first but stalled fairly quickly and is now very slow. It will fall by a couple of pounds, go up by more, drop again and tends to average around the same point.

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. I’m making an effort to cook more from scratch and eat healthier. I’m definitely exercising a lot more. But my weight doesn’t shift.

I try to think positively. I know my body now is in much better shape than it was. I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I can do things I never thought I could. But one of my targets is to lose weight, to at least get down to overweight rather than obese. Although I’ve reduced my risk of weight related ill health it’s still pretty high.

The problem is stress and emotional eating. I’ve managed to change my eating habits massively, but the second I’m stressed it all goes out the window. And life is stressful.

Coming in the next few months are my daughters A-levels, my son’s EHCP review, a DWP assessment of my son’s disabilities before he turns 16, son’s GCSEs, daughter’s choice of post school destination, son’s transition to college… That’s just parenting stress, there’s also money worries, health concerns, work… So many stressful things I can’t avoid.

I have to be careful that stress doesn’t turn into paranoia, anxiety and /or depression. My mental health has been ok lately, but I know how fragile it is.

image from healthyplace.com via Pinterest

Throughout my life food has been consolation and celebration. It’s an embedded habit that I’m really struggling to shift. The guilt and sense of failure when I binge is getting harder to cope with, and sometimes I cope with it by eating more.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up for every failure. Not to give in to every craving. It’s hard going but I’m sticking with it. Hopefully chipping away at the problem one hour at a time will lead to positive change. I’m staring down that elephant. I’ll get there.

image from Pinterest.

Elephant cover image from Pinterest.

I wish I was half as confident as my sports bra thinks I am!

When I first started my move from sofa to regular exercise I hardly thought about the clothes I wore. As an obese woman exercising in public for the first time I wanted to disappear, for people not to notice me. Basically I was looking for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak but moisture wicking. I settled for whatever fitted, mostly in greys and blacks.

Since I started running I’ve gradually built up a small supply of specialist running kit. I have a limited budget so have to prioritise and seek out bargains. It didn’t take me long to realise that the slapdash, inconsistent attitudes to clothing sizes and availability of plus sizes are as prevalent in sports gear as they are on the high street. Even after losing a lot of weight my size, approximately an 18, ranges from just not stocked at all through XL to XXXL in running kit. And this really affects how I feel about exercising.

Let me share two stories with you to illustrate:

1. The tale of the reflective jacket.

Once nights started drawing in I realised I needed something reflective to keep me safe on my run commutes and dry in the rain. I spotted a jacket online that I loved. It was out of my usual price range so I had to save up.

Eventually I was able to order it. At this stage I wasn’t fully aware of the variations in sizes between brands, but I ordered it in the biggest size available. When it arrived it was great, lightweight, perfectly designed for running in, reflective, a bit unusual… It made me feel like I was a proper runner, if that makes sense.

Then I tried it on. It didn’t even meet across my chest and could only just get around my shoulders. I was gutted. I felt big and clumsy and stupid for expecting that I could have anything nice.

I’m not going to name and shame the brand that didn’t fit me, because it could have been almost any brand. Even the brands that go up to my size only do so on a small selection of their range. I investigated and couldn’t find a single brand that does women’s reflective rainproof jackets that would fit me. 18 is not exceptionally large. I know many runners my size or larger.

I imagine a discussion among the buyers, designers and decision makers at the running brands…

“What about plus sizes?”

“We don’t need to bother about them. Fair weather runners, they’ll stay indoors in the winter. They’re not going to be serious enough about running to pay our prices and invest in decent kit. We only sell to proper runners.”

It makes me, as a plus size runner, feel excluded and overlooked. I run in all weathers, but when it’s dark I’m in danger and when it rains I get wet, because no one thinks women like me deserve decent kit.

If this had happened earlier in my fitness journey I might have given up, but I was already in the habit of running by then. I had goals and things to prove. I have supportive communities of other runners around me and I’m too stubborn to stop!

Today’s parkrun was cold and wet. I was able to borrow a men’s waterproof and get a PB despite the conditions. And I guess I could buy myself a men’s jacket. But why should I? I could buy a plain jacket with a couple of reflective details, but I really wanted a jazzier one! Why can’t I have a decent, fitted, reflective running jacket designed for my shape?

2. The tale of the sports bra.

After consulting with many other runners I heard many good things about Shock Absorber sports bras, and was able to bag a bargain in the January sales. This was a challenge to the invisible black and grey palette that I, as a plus size woman, am used to. To call its orange and green bright is to miss the perfect opportunity to use the word garish. It is ultra supportive, although challenging to get into! But that’s not why I’m telling this story.

My Shock Absorber bra is reflective! Despite being a large size, and I checked and they do go much larger, no one at that brand has considered that plus size women might not be comfortable in public in just a bra. Imagine another conversation between buyers, designers and decision makers…

“What about plus sizes?”

“What about them? We make a quality product with features to safeguard the runners who wear it. Why wouldn’t we include those same features for larger women? They have just as much right to be safe, and to remove layers if they’re hot as anyone else. The reflective details stay.”

My Shock Absorber bra assumes that I am confident enough to wear what’s best to run in, rather than what covers me up the most. I wish I was that confident.

I’ve been running several months now, and I still tie my jacket around my waist because I feel uncomfortable running in public in leggings. Even when it’s below freezing. Although I own a few “proper” running tops I’m likely to revert to oversized cotton Ts once the weather’s warmer, because I’d rather people see the sweaty patches from the effort I’m putting in than the shape of my body.

Society generally makes people my size feel bad about their shape. We’re vilified for “letting ourselves go” but when we try to get more active we’re unable to get the kit we need to stick to it. When you’ve faced that for years it’s hard to get over it. I’m in the ridiculous situation where my bra is the most reflective item of running kit I own!

The first sports manufacturer to recognise the number of plus size runners out there and offer them a full range of kit is going to make a fortune. I wish more of them thought like the people at Shock Absorber!

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Disclaimer – this is a personal blog, I make no money from it, and any brands I mention are purely because of my experience of them.

Disclaimer part 2. The picture of the bra is copyright of Shock Absorber, and used to prevent me having to even consider taking a photo of me in the one I own!

What a difference a year makes #thisgirlcan #iwd2018

A year ago I battled my anxiety to walk the Active Newcastle This Girl Can International Women’s Day 5k. It was the first organised exercise I’d taken part in for years, and my mental health nearly stopped me. At the time I wrote:

It challenged me physically and soothed me mentally. By half way round I was smiling, and by the end I felt great. Sweaty, muddy and tired, but great.

How far I’ve come since then!

At this year’s event I ran the full 5k, and it wasn’t a problem because I regularly run that far. This year I was looking forward to it rather than dreading it. This year I saw lots of faces I knew, and was joined by women I’d cajoled/inspired into coming along for the first time.

This year I’m more relaxed about the name This Girl Can, which I’d initially misunderstood (I’d still rather be called a woman than a girl though!)

This year my whole family were with me, daughter running again, son and partner cheering us on. My son coped well with the challenge of of noise and crowds, and I coped with running off leaving him in a place I knew was challenging for him. I’m not sure I could have done that a year ago.

Last year I had no idea where my fitness journey would take me, this year I have goals: first 10k, Blaydon Race, a sub 30 minute parkrun, the Great North Run…

I can’t wait to see where I am next year 😁

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I’m dedicating my running this year to two charities that have helped me a lot. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post. If you would like to sponsor me that would be lovely.

Snow, speed and two parkruns.

After my sickness bug I took things easy for a week. No running, no gym, not as much dashing around as usual. I let other people do things for me, which I’m not always good at.

I returned to running at last weeks parkrun. It felt hard, I couldn’t keep up with the 30 minute pacer past the first k, and I really struggled to keep going, even after slowing down a lot, in the last k. So I was astonished when my official time was a new PB.

photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Only by 3 seconds, but progress is progress and it so contrasted with how I thought I’d done, I was delighted.

Also that weekend I signed up to SCREAM if you want to run faster, online running training by Julie Creffield of the fabulous Too Fat To Run. This has been one of my go to websites since I started getting fitter. I am just slightly too old to be comfortable with the idea of online training, but so much of the advice on Julie’s website has served me well that I thought I’d give it a go. I’m using my parkrun PB as my base time, aiming to improve it by 5% over 8 weeks, which would see me break that 30 minute barrier. And it’s another really friendly and supportive running community helping keep me going.

I started this week well, with an early morning run on Monday, knowing I’d miss running group through working late. Following the #TFTRScream guidance I included lamppost sprints, which I managed for roughly a mile, although the sprints were coming less often towards the end of the mile.

…I don’t want to give away all the #TFTRScream guidance. I’m sure the course will run again in future for those who want to take part. So let’s just say following it all certainly spurred me on…

Then on Tuesday the snow hit. Wednesday the roads were chaos, no chance of even getting to the gym. But the Facebook running groups I’m part of were discussing running in the snow. So on Thursday, as I was working from home, I went for a lunchtime run. It was bitterly cold, so I found a sheltered street and ran up and down it. But it felt great. And I felt positive about doing three runs this week again.

My running shoes were purchased ignoring every bit of advice written. I went for what was cheapest, not even understanding the different types available. As chance would have it I ended up with trail shoes which have never given me a single blister and have really good grips in the snow.

Yesterday my local parkrun was one of the few still on. But the police were still saying essential travel only (Is parkrun essential? Discuss) And the buses weren’t operating a full service. So I ran to parkrun. Then I ran parkrun. Then I had a cup of tea, but after that I ran/walked home. (I would have liked to have got the bus home, but none came).

What a difference a week makes!photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Despite the snow and having already run two and a half miles I did parkrun in 34.46, which I’m really pleased with. And including the run/walk home I did eight and a bit miles, which certainly makes up for missing my run commute. But next time I run home from parkrun I won’t break for tea in between and let my body cool down!

The best laid schemes…

Today should be my first 10k race. I was looking forward to it. I was confident I could cover the distance, not fast admittedly, but at a run all the way. I did a deliberately long run commute on Wednesday lunchtime, then the plan was parkrun on Saturday before the race on Sunday.

Wednesday evening I didn’t feel great, and had to scrap my gym session. I just figured doing the gym the same day as a long run had been a bad plan.

Wednesday night I started throwing up.

Thursday and Friday are a blur of bathrooms and sips of water, until finally, on Friday evening I proved I was on the mend by stomaching Lucozade. Any other 70s kids out there who still believe Lucozade cures all?

Saturday I made it out of bed, but the trip downstairs to the sofa left me feeling more exhausted than I usually feel after a run of miles! I knew I wouldn’t make the race, it would be stupid to try.

My partner thinks I’d pushed myself too hard with that lunchtime run across the icy moor, too much effort with too little fuel in my tank, but I don’t think it’s all that. In hindsight I realise I’d been finding it increasingly difficult to get out of bed in the morning for a few days. I think this was something I’d been fighting off for a while.

Exploring on my day off earlier in the week.

I’m disappointed, but there will be other races. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t make a family trip to the cinema too. That I missed so much of half term with the kids, we’d had fun on the one day off I did get with them. I’m disappointed that I missed a friend’s first parkrun (she smashed it 😁).

Some days go to plan, some days don’t. I’m not going to stress over it. I’m going to make a new plan. I need a new first 10k.

image from scottishpoetrylibrary via Pinterest.