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!

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.

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!