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.

Friday not wanting to, Saturday parkrun…

I didn’t want to go for a run on Friday. It was sleeting and windy, the sort of day for staying in the warm with a book and many mugs of tea. I got dressed in my running gear to try and convince myself.

I almost froze taking the dogs for a walk, the sleet was trying its best to turn into snow and the wind was almost painful. I had second, third and fourth thoughts about going for a run.

I can only assume Ranulph Fiennes is not plus sized! (Image from Pinterest)

I am large, large with Xs in front when buying running gear. Sportswear manufacturers seem convinced large people either don’t run or don’t run in bad weather – I have tried in vain to find a running jacket that fits me and is weatherproof. Thus when it rains, or sleets or snows, I get wet and/or icy. Why would anyone subject themselves to that?

I went anyway. As I set out my iPod shuffled to “Can I Play With Madness?” And I pondered coincidence.

My aim was to run 10k. My first 10k race is next weekend, and although I’ve gradually been increasing the distance of my run commutes I still hadn’t done a full 10k. So the plan was go steady and see how far I could go on a relatively flat route.

It was cold and wet and the first couple of miles were hell. I only saw one other runner and three cyclists, everyone else was sensibly in warm cars, buses or metros.

After the second mile I settled into a rhythm and hit that all too infrequent zone where I feel like I could keep going forever. I even deliberately took a longer route back to see if I could make it to 7 miles.

And I did.

Bring on the 10k next weekend 🙂

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Saturday morning was just as unpleasant, but parkrun beckoned. It was the monthly session with pacers and I was hoping for a PB. I was meeting friends from running group and my partner was running for the first time. Not only did I want to go for a run, I even had a backup plan in case it was cancelled due to the ice!

At some point this year I’ll manage parkrun in under 30 minutes. This week wasn’t it. I kept up with the pacer for the first 2.5k, but then my legs reminded me how far I’d run the day before and it was all I could do to keep moving. Despite that I only missed getting a PB by 5 seconds, 31.23. My best time this year. I know I can do better.

My partner described his first parkrun as “not terrible” which I consider high praise. He did it in under 36 minutes, much faster than my first time. I’m sure he’ll be back.

Image from Pinterest, by parkrun.

More hills – Night run at Gibside.

Saturday night was my chance to find out if my hill practice had worked. My first night run and my first official run over 5k combined in one of the hilliest places I’ve ever run.

To add to the hill training I’d varied my run commute on Thursday to include more hills, a tactic I pondered the wisdom of as I struggled to keep my shoes on my feet through thick mud and icy winds. The view was good though.

I didn’t fancy doing a 5k run in the morning and a 6k in the evening, so I volunteered at parkrun as tail walker. This involves being at the back of the field of runners and walkers, providing encouragement and support, and finishing last. I was so scared of being last when I started out, now I’m volunteering for it! It was my slowest ever parkrun, but also one of my best as I got the opportunity to get to know other runners and hear what brought them there, rather than focus on myself and my pace.

The night run itself was a fantastic experience, and something I’ll be looking to do again. I arrived early, with son and partner who’d been cajoled into being my support team! Gibside has a pub in the evenings and offers pizza from their bread ovens, so they were content to wait while I ran!

As we enjoyed a cuppa we watched more and more people arrive for the night run. It’s actually 2 runs, a 2k and a 6k, so all ages and abilities amassed in the cafe, keeping out of the cold. It was good to see a lot of familiar faces from running group and parkruns.

It had been sleeting and raining all day, so the briefing warned of mud at various points. Then we were off!

The crowds spread out quite quickly, and at points during the route you could see the lights from other runners spread out across the dark landscape ahead. When it’s dark you can’t see the hills coming!

As expected I had to walk at the steepest bits, but only once for more than 30 seconds. I got settled into the rhythm of running, and resisted the urge to go too fast downhill.

Gibside is a familiar and much loved place for me, but in the darkness I completely lost my bearings. I was very grateful for the volunteer marshals – without them I’d have definitely got lost and probably not have laughed as much.

“Come on, keep moving. If you must walk then at least walk sprightly!” (Night run marshal)

I was pleased with my time, less than 10 minutes over my Gibside parkrun time, for 1 extra k and in the dark! And when I got back to my family they had pizza and a hot cup of tea waiting for me. I call that a good Saturday night 🙂

How do you persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active?

Will you judge me harshly when I tell you the most effective answer seems to be chocolate?

But let me start at the beginning…

Since joining Newcastle Can and becoming healthier I’ve tried to bring my family along with me. My partner has joined a gym and has promised to come along to a parkrun when the weather’s better. My daughter has also joined a gym, although this may be due to peer rather than parental inspiration. My kids have both said they’ll join me for a parkrun when they can.

My son likes to see the maps of where I’ve run. He, perhaps even more than the rest of us, may benefit from getting into the habit of regular exercise now. He faces a double whammy in the obesity odds, having both a family history of obesity and an undiagnosed genetic condition causing a learning disability. It’s widely recognised that:

People with a learning disability are more likely to have problems with their weight.

NHS Choices

I wish I’d been a better example to my kids when they were younger, but it’s too late now to change their childhood. What I can do is provide a good example now, show them you can change bad habits and make a positive difference to your health no matter your starting point. I know they are proud of the distance I’ve come.

I’m still looking for future challenges, runs and races I can sign up for to add variety to my running and gradually build me up to my planned half marathon later this year. And thus I heard about the Prudhoe Easter Egg 5k. Chocolate stops and spot prizes! Suddenly my son was more keen to accompany me than he had been for anything else I’ve signed up for.

This, it seems, is how to persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active! Image from Pinterest, as is chocolate image above.

I tried to persuade him that 5k is a long way and will take practice…

He tried to persuade me that I was selling him short and should have more faith in him…

I persuaded him to come for a practice run with me this evening, where he could go slow at my pace and show me how far he could run…

The practice run/walk (as it turned out) persuaded him that mother really might know best and he’s agreed to join me for more practice runs.

2 miles in 27 minutes isn’t bad for his first attempt, although you can see we needed to walk often.

He is faster than me, but so far only over short distances. I have more stamina. But he knows he will improve, because he’s seen me do it, so he has no doubt he’ll manage 5k in Prudhoe and get some chocolate.

My partner will be joining us then too. And my daughter was going to, but it turned out it clashed with a course. Our whole family are definitely fitter and more active now than we were a year ago. And maybe by Easter I won’t be the only family member who’s a regular runner.

The difference the dark makes…

Apart from running group, which I only started earlier this month, I pretty much exclusively run in the daylight. I work part time so my run commute is generally finishing as darkness falls, even in winter, and my evenings are generally too full of family to fit in running.

Tonight I decided to run home from work even though I wasn’t finishing until much later in the evening than usual. I had to miss running group and felt I should make up the miles. I could have got up early and done it, but, you know … mornings!

So it was dark by I left work in my reflective gear, and I was instantly struck by how different everything seemed. Shops were shuttered and the streets were quiet, but the pubs were noisy. Back alleys I think nothing of running down in daylight seemed sinister and uninviting.

Image from Pinterest, quote by Terry Pratchett.

My first half mile was the fastest I’ve ever run, just because I wanted to put some distance between me and the drunken rowdiness of the pubs. I knew full well it wasn’t a pace I could sustain, and forced myself to slow to a more manageable rate.

I had areas where I usually weave through pedestrians and cyclists all to myself in the dark. Rather than appreciating the space I felt stressed, anxiety creeping in as the familiar became unfamiliar. I started at every unexpected noise, jumped at shadows.

After a couple of miles, on a stretch I have covered with running group in the dark, I felt less anxious and was able to settle into a steady pace punctuated only by pauses for traffic lights and iPod problems. I kept to the main roads though, telling myself this was an attempt to increase my distance and not me being scared of being alone in the dark!

Not creepy at all!

It was a good run, I felt I could see an improvement just since last week. My stamina is definitely getting back to where it was before the chest infection. By mile 3 I felt like I could keep going for ages, and I didn’t slow to a walk all the way home. However it was a lesson that I need to mix things up, get out of my familiar routine to challenge myself. It’s perfectly possible to run safely in the dark, especially as I live in a well lit city. I will be doing it again.