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.


Best finish position, slowest time, same #parkrun!

I managed to get myself up and out early enough this morning to visit Gibside parkrun. The run itself was new to me, but Gibside is a familiar and much loved place, so I had an inkling of what I was letting myself in for. I was fairly nervous. My first parkrun of the year, still taking it slow after being ill, and yet I’d picked Gibside which has far more hills than I’m used to. In fact one of the volunteers told me it’s the 12th hilliest parkrun in the country!

This is considerably steeper than anywhere else I’ve run.

And it felt it! I was proud to manage a run up the hill to the Column of Liberty, but there were other places where I had to slow to a walk until it evened out a bit. I couldn’t even enjoy the scenery at first as freezing hail pelted down. However the final section, which is mostly downhill, and was after the sun came out, felt fantastic!

You can see how I speeded up on the downhill bits!

Gibside is also the smallest parkrun I’ve attended. My home parkrun, Newcastle, is massive with several hundred people taking part every week. At Gibside today there were 49. This let to the slightly weird situation where I got my best ever finishing position at a parkrun (45th) with my slowest ever time for a parkrun (38m 13s) at the same parkrun!

For a lot of the run I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, partly because of the trees but also because there was a long and increasing gap between us. Then I got back to the Stables where I was still labouring uphill as lots of runners were coming back on the downhill final stretch, and almost every one smiled and encouraged me.

No other runners in sight!

Gibside is not only a beautiful place, it’s parkrun has an incredibly friendly and welcoming group of volunteers and runners. I’ve never yet been to a parkrun that didn’t, but I think because there were fewer runners at Gibside there was more chance to chat to volunteers as I passed and more chance to chat to other runners at the start.

Passing the Column to Liberty in the hail.

I’m pleased with 38m13s, despite it being slower than my usual. For my first go at serious hills, while building back up to full fitness, that seems a good time.

This Woman Did! #thisgirlcan #newcastlecan

On Wednesday I took part in the #thisgirlcan UV 5K event for International Women’s Day. This was the first organised event where I’d be doing a physical activity with other people for years. Doing anything outside my comfort zone triggers my anxiety, and this was so far outside my comfort zone that I’d have needed binoculars to see it! It’s an understatement to say that anxiety is not pleasant. I struggle with anxiety a lot.

The person I was walking with was running late. I spent almost 20 minutes waiting for her, watching loads of women going into the park. 

Anxiety lies, and there’s rarely anything logical about it. Despite the evidence of my eyes my brain told me that all of these women were fitter than me, better prepared than me, better equipped than me. 

Anxiety focuses on irrelevant details. By the time my friend had arrived I had convinced myself that they weren’t going to let me walk because my shoes were wrong, and was deciding whether I should protest or just slink away.

Anxiety is invisible. Although all these thoughts were screaming through my head and my body was in full on fight or flight mode with heart thumping and nerves jangling I said nothing to my friend. I don’t talk about what’s going on in my head much. I can write it, but I can’t say it out loud to anyone.

Anxiety can be beaten. Together we joined the women walking to the park, where no one gave a damn about my shoes, and we joined women of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels ready for the off. 

There were runners in full athletics kit, Nordic walkers with poles, loads of hiking boots, trainers, tutus and face paint. There were women in glorious neons and women like myself who are so used to dressing to be invisible that grey is the brightest colour we own. They were all supportive, all enjoying it.

Me and my friend walked the course at a fast pace. 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.

I wish I’d realised sooner that #thisgirlcan is for all ages. I’m still not comfortable with the name, and judging by this article in the Guardian I’m not the only one, but I’ll be looking out for more of their events. And hopefully next time I’ll be less anxious about it. 

When is a woman not a woman? #NewcastleCan #ThisGirlCan

I know that as well as eating better I need to exercise more. I am not comfortable exercising in public. When I have attended exercise classes before it always seemed like I was the only one who couldn’t keep up so I never went for long. I exercise in my own home, with the curtains closed, or go for long walks, where I may pass people but don’t have to engage with them.

Then there’s the what to wear dilemma. I find it hard enough to find regular clothes to fit me, exercise wear is even more difficult and I’m acutely aware that I don’t have a body shape that suits leggings. I don’t even own a pair of trainers and have been paralysed by choice every time I’ve considered getting some.

When I signed up for Newcastle Can I looked at the activities on offer in the city. I noticed some were called “This Girl Can” whereas some were “Women Only”. And I only clicked through to find out about the “Women Only” ones. 

I’d seen the first “This Girl Can” video back in 2015 and been impressed, but all the women looked younger than me and when it got to the tagline I thought “what a shame its just for girls.” And when I saw activities advertised as “This Girl Can” my thought process went

This girl can, can she? I’m really, sincerely pleased for her. But this women can’t, yet, and the last thing I want to be is the only woman who can’t among a load of girls who can.

It turns out I had completely misjudged the whole campaign, as I realised when their new video came out this week.

Repeated and powerful mention of the word woman. Images of women of all ages. 

I wonder if they consciously did this because women like me were misunderstanding the original campaign?

In my defence I haven’t though of myself as a girl for years, and would be offended if anyone called me it. I’m a woman and have been ever since I passed puberty. It would never in a million years have occurred to me that something that used the word “girl” meant me. 

“But if you went to their website or looked at their events you’d see its for all women” said an incredulous younger friend when she found out how I’d misunderstood it. Maybe I would. But the very name of the campaign had stopped me clicking through to find out more. I wondered how many other people thought similarly to me. 

I did a very unscientific poll of various women I know. Interestingly it split almost exactly into age groups. Late teens and 20s knew about the campaign and knew it was for all women. 30s and 40s had mostly heard about the campaign but thought it was for younger women. 50s and over generally weren’t aware of it. Its a small sample group, but it does imply that a lot of women are missing out.

Of course as a result of these discussions now 100% of the women I spoke to are aware of the campaign and that it targets all ages. And now that I know its not all fit young women who’ll be better than me at everything I’m checking out their events and have signed up for my first one next week. Wish me luck!