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 😁

– – – – –

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.

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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.

One bad run.

I’m not sure what went wrong this morning. I really struggled at parkrun. For some reason my legs and lungs just wouldn’t work together. I ended up walking more than once.

At one point I was nearly in tears, just past 3k, the point at which I usually feel confident I can keep running to the finish, I was walking and just couldn’t make myself go quicker. I considered giving up. But friendly support from a passing runner kept me going. And I kept telling myself something I read this week:

It is OK to walk…it is always OK to walk

7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Running, Too Fat To Run

So I kept going. And considering I’d walked some of the way I did OK. Official time 35mins 31secs.

You can see where I walked.

So what went wrong?

Maybe jumping from 2 runs last week to 3 runs and gym this week was too much too soon. Certainly there is a lingering cough after the bug I had over Christmas.

Maybe I set off too fast.

Maybe I shouldn’t have run two days in a row.

Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, I got my PB while I was doing a 8k run commute twice a week, could I really better that my second week back after sickness?

Maybe my mind wasn’t in it after a cryptic text from my disabled son just before it started.

Maybe it was just a bad run.

I need to recognise one bad run as just that, one bad run. They happen. What matters is not the speed I went, it’s that I got out and did it at all.

Image from This Girl Can via Pinterest

I shouldn’t let a bad run spoil my day. And I didn’t. It was great to see people, to chat over a cuppa afterwards. I ended up snoozing when I got home, which is probably a sign that I am still more run down than I think I am.

I won’t let a bad run stop me. I’ll let it steer me to increase things a bit more gradually, possibly leave it a week longer before I go back to my run commute. I’ll keep telling myself it’s OK to walk. And I’ll get there.

Taking it slow

Having accepted that my recent running hiatus has affected my stamina, a conclusion I drew partly due to my failure to run one of my regular routes on Wednesday and partly due to how much my legs ached after the attempt, I’m going for a slower return to running over the next few weeks. Initially I’d planned to be straight back to 3 runs a week plus gym, but it’s clear I need to take it a bit easier and be more realistic about what my body can do.

So instead of a run today I took my teenage son and dogs out for a long walk. We did 5.6 miles in 1 hour 37 minutes, punctuated with a break for lunch. And that was with the dogs stopping to investigate every new smell and my son slowing dramatically towards the end!

It was a lovely walk, despite the cold. We sailed my son’s boat on the lake in the park, had lunch at Cafe in the Park, who gave the dogs sausages and helped me work out how to pay with my phone when I realised I’d forgotten my purse. It was cold, but not too cold while we were moving, and I definitely felt I could have gone faster.

Old dog standing guard while young dog relaxes in the Cafe.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing parkrun, possibly as a parkrun tourist elsewhere if I’m up early enough. I think two runs is plenty for my first week back at it.

I’m still keen to build my stamina and distance though. I’ve put my name into the ballot for Great North Run places, and am intending trying to get a charity place if my ballot’s unsuccessful, so I have a definite goal to aim for.

Back to it.

Today was my first run of 2018. Having spent Christmas and New Year with a rotten lingering bug I’m desperate to get back out there, knowing that the longer I go without running the more likely I am to slip back into inactivity. Although I’m still a bit sinusy I no longer feel like it’s an effort to be upright, let alone moving, and have managed a couple of days of normal activity. So on with the trainers and back to the streets!

It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and with hindsight I should have started with a shorter distance. My first run of the year turned into a run/walk as it turned out my lungs weren’t as recovered as I’d though they were.

But I ran the first three miles, with only the occasional leap over or detour around branches left by storm Eleanor.

After that it was walk/run to home. And given I’ve had 2 weeks out with a bug, closely after 2 weeks out with an injury I think I did comparatively well.

I always feel bad about walking though. Running is so much a battle with yourself, and once my body knows walk is an option it just doesn’t want to run any more. It becomes a struggle to go every the shortest distance at a jog. I’d rather keep running, even if it’s very slowly, than walk, because I know how hard it is for me to speed back up again. Today I couldn’t do that. I need to work on building my stamina.

And work on it I will! Next week I have my first session with a running group, and I’ve already signed up to a 6k night run in February and 5k International Women’s Day Run in March to keep me motivated.

Busily Doing Nothing #NewcastleCan

I’ve had a week off work this week, and I had such plans. I was going to take the kids for a day exploring Cragside, I was going to beat my Wednesday Walk record of four times round the stair circuit, I was generally going to move more, walk for miles and take advantage of my time off.

What is it they say about the best laid plans? 

First scupperance was my daughter’s leg injury. She’s recovering from an Achilles’ tendon problem and there was no way she could clamber around Cragside

Second scupperance was my own health. A migraine put paid to my Wednesday Walk, and a three days and counting IBS flare up meant I was happier curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle than out and about. 

Third scupperance was my inability to get out of bed first thing. I slept in every morning. My alarm went off as usual and I switched it off, rolled over, and slept some more.

I’m trying not to beat myself up about my failure to do what I’d planned. 

It’s not that I’ve done nothing. Me and my son took my dogs to explore Wallington and Plessey Woods, had a dog free Quayside walk and explored Bessie Surtees house

Walking at Wallington

We went to Life Science Centre for the Lego exhibitions. I got my son to his hospital appointment, my daughter for her vaccinations and all of us to have our hair cut. 

Science at Life, in Lego

I cooked from scratch, met my step goal every day, and only went into the red zone in my food journal once. Despite the IBS I lost a pound (I’ve been static or gained weight other weeks of the Newcastle Can challenge when my IBS has flared up.)

So I didn’t do extra. So what? It doesn’t mean I’ve given up or backslid. I’m keeping up with the changes I’ve already made. Sometimes I’ll be able to push myself beyond that, and sometimes I’ll need to rest and recover, to curl up with a hot water bottle or to sleep in. 

It’s about knowing my limits and recognising what my body needs. This is comparatively new to me, until recently I’d had confidently said that what my body needs under any circumstance is chocolate or pizza or possibly cake. Food was my coping mechanism in stressful situations, my shield when things were bad and my first form of celebration when things were good. It’s a hard pattern to break, but I’m making progress.

I’m learning to recognise the difference between stressed and hungry. I’m learning to let my body rest when it’s tired rather than fuelling up on sugar or caffeine and forcing myself on. I’m learning that just because there is cake available does not mean I have to eat it!

I didn’t do the extra I’d planned, but I had a good week with my kids and I feel better for it. And maybe I’ll make up for it tomorrow at the Newcastle Can free activity day, when I hope to try some new organised exercise! 

Walking, with and without dogs. 

There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though. 

I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs. 



HoudiniDog
is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel. 



DaisyDog
is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”

My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it. 

Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…

Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.


Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.

Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand! 

My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs. 

Walk with dogs.

Walk without dogs. Note average heart rate.

There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows. 

I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them. 

What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid… 

Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection. 

But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat. 


I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included. 

There will be unexpected vet bills.

Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it. 

Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!

“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?” 

Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other. 

Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.

Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.


Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique! 

Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.

I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it. 

And laughter.

True story!