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!


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 🙂

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.

Sand, sea and stairs. A visit to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Parkrun.

I’m part of a Facebook group called This Girl Parkruns North East, a wonderful supportive and friendly bunch of women who play a major part in keeping my running going on those cold winter mornings when I’d much rather be curled up in bed. Once a month we do a tour, where those of us who can meet up at one of the many local parkruns. Today we were at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. It was, to say the least, bracing!

Official time 33:42, not bad at all.

It was my third parkrun of the year, and the first I was able to run all the way since being poorly at Christmas. Well, I ran all the way except the short, sharp uphill section of sand, stairs, tarmac, stairs and muddy grass which I think almost everyone walked up. I think that section was my least favourite bit.

Apart from that, and the cold high winds it was a lovely course. It was my first time running on sand, although the sandy bits are short they are challenging. Most of the run is on the Promenade which I liked. I think I’d have taken in the beautiful views and public art a bit more had the wind not kept my hair in my face most of the time 🙂

Flying feet and face of concentration! Photo from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Facebook page.

I had my iPod and listened to music as I ran. I only ever put one headphone in so I can hear what’s going on, but I find my music can spur me on if I’m flagging. I can get my legs going in time to the song, and if I notice I’m singing along I know I’ve got breath spare and can put a bit more effort into my running. When I first started running I struggled to keep a steady pace without music. Now I occasionally do run without any, sometimes because I forgot to charge my iPod and sometimes on purpose. Some of the official runs I’m planning to do later in the year don’t allow headphones, so I need to get used to occasionally doing without it.

Afterwards we went for chat and cake in Cafe Bertorelli, which is lovely but has some of the creepiest wooden dolls I’ve ever seen. I’m only allowing myself one cake a week as part of my healthy eating, so I have to make sure it’s a good one!

I swear that one in the middle blinked!!!

Hills. Take 2.

It’s 8 days to the 6k night run at Gibside, and I’m aware that one visit for the parkrun is the only practice I’ve had at running on hills. I’m not particularly worried about it, I know it’s a event where it will be perfectly acceptable to slow to a walk, but I do want to keep challenging myself. It’s not 100% flat where I run regularly, but there are gentle slopes rather than anything dramatic enough to count as a hill. So today I decided to pop back to Gibside for a practice.

With hindsight doing this immediately after a two hour walk with the dogs was not my best idea ever. I was thinking my legs would be well warmed up when in fact they were well on the way to tired out.

But I did it. I started running the parkrun route, but where it turns back continued on to circle back to the car park. I didn’t have a lot of time, and wasn’t entirely sure how far this would be, but decided some hill practice was better than none.

It is a beautiful place to run. I didn’t see anyone else running, but there were many walkers who greeted me cheerfully. A few months ago I would have felt horribly self conscious, avoiding eye contact, but now I smile and return the greetings.

It turns out that I’m still not great going uphill. I need more practice! There were still a few places I needed to walk, although only one where I had to exceed my long 30 count before running again. It didn’t feel as slow or difficult as my parkrun there.

My other challenge was keeping a steady pace on the downhill sections. The temptation was to barrel down as fast as I could, but I knew I needed to both conserve energy and stay upright.

Despite having to walk in parts, and it turning out shorter than I’d expected, it was a good run. There were more bits where I felt strong and confident than bits where I wheezed and wondered what the hell I was doing 🙂

I’m looking forward to the night run.

Pondering technology, and returning to the run commute.

I had a graphic reminder of how over reliant I am on technology today, as I sat in the bus on the way to work and realised I’d forgotten my phone! I’d already been pondering how rapidly technology moves on, having caused my poor son massive confusion by referring to a “Walkman” instead of an iPod. I still think of Walkmen as quite new, but of course my son had no idea what it meant.

Son “Wait. A what?”

Me “I meant my iPod. A Walkman is what I had when I was your age. Like an iPod but it played cassettes.”

Son “You mean like Starlord has in Guardians of the Galaxy?”

Me “Exactly what Starlord has.”

Starlord and his Walkman. (C) Guardians of the Galaxy.

Strange that he knows about a now obsolete piece of tech from a sci-fi movie.

Anyway, there I was on the bus without my phone. How was I to spend my journey? I couldn’t read the headlines or check my emails, catch up on Facebook or see who was already out running on Strava, I couldn’t even play a game.

Also today was my much anticipated first run commute since November, snowed off last week, and without my phone I couldn’t record it using GPS. The horror!

Talk about first world problems. It’s not as if I was going to have to rely on pen and paper or anything that archaic, I still had my Fitbit. But it would be estimating the distance by the number of steps I took, not accurately measuring it with the help of satellites.

I’m not yet so obsessed with running that this was my first thought. I did initially worry in case either of the kids had an accident or emergency at school in the time it took me to get to work and notify people that I was without phone. Then I worried what would happen if I was in an accident and couldn’t let people know. As a child I knew, by heart, a great many phone numbers. Now I know my mums, my work and my own. I have no need to remember any others, the phone does it for me.

Then I worried I was worrying too much, which was when I switched to thinking about the run home.

When I do my run commute I only run home from work, not to work. The main reason for this is that my workplace doesn’t have showers, and I wouldn’t want my poor colleagues sat in a warm office with me all day after I’d done a run. I suppose I could set off really early, run to the gym, shower and change there, then get to bus to work. But I’ve never been a morning person and the idea of waking even earlier horrifies me!

Image from Pinterest.

What with the worrying and the pondering I’d finished my bus journey before I knew it. So also a reminder that I can cope without my phone!

The run home went well. I took it slow and steady, and when I felt I had to walk for a bit I slowly counted to 30 and then started running again. That only happened three times, although there were other pauses at traffic lights. I’m hoping imposing a time limit on the walking breaks will help quell the urge to just keep walking a bit more before I speed up, then a little further, then maybe I’ll start running again at that lamppost… and hopefully also I’ll soon be back to not needing walking breaks.

But how can I trust that distance?

So, a perfectly acceptable run, despite being untracked. It’s almost as if running is possible without all the fancy gizmos and gubbins we surround ourselves with now 😉

That said I did log in and manually add it to Strava almost as soon as I got in. I admit it, I’m totally over reliant on technology!

Scuppered by ice, and getting over it.

I’ve had a bit of a ‘bleh’ few days.

It’s been that very British kind of snowy that is gorgeous for about 5 minutes, then turns to slush which freezes into ice that stays for days. It’s impossible to walk on, let alone run.

On Thursday I fell on the ice, which left me with dinted confidence and a sore back. I had planned to restart my run commutes that day, and was frustrated that the weather prevented me.

On Friday I discovered that despite being really good and resisting the siren call of the chocolate sales all week I’d still put on a pound. And I didn’t dare exercise because it was still icy.

On Saturday parkrun was cancelled, ice again, but the celebration to mark 8 years since the first parkrun in Newcastle still went ahead. The fact I went along is a sign of how much my anxiety has improved over the past few months. I was very glad I did.

Sunday I spent the morning moping. Then I decided to get my arse into gear and asked other members of the parkrun for people affected by obesity Facebook group how they keep motivated in the bad weather. There were loads of fantastic suggestions, many of which I’ll be making use of, but an oft repeated one was having a goal.

I have my goal of Great North Run in September, but decided I needed something more imminent to force me into action. I’m booked on a night run in a couple of weeks, but that’s 6k which I already know I’m capable of, so isn’t really making me push myself. So I looked into races coming up locally, and sounded out local runners.

And I’ve booked myself a place in a 10k happening mid-Feb! It will be my first official run of that distance. It’s the same location as my local parkrun, so the terrain shouldn’t throw up any surprises, but the distance will push me.

Tonight I realised I was enjoying running group. Running has been a challenge, something I forced myself to do, I enjoy the social aspect and the feeling of accomplishment afterwards but the actual running has always been something to endure. Tonight I enjoyed it. I’m taking that as a sign of progress.