Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Start where you are

Yesterday I found myself sniffling slightly over a picture of an onion. I say picture, it was actually a hastily drawn sketch of an onion done with a biro and it looked pretty suspect to begin with. The tears in my eyes were a bit awkward as I didn't have a tissue on me, and I was trying not to admit that I needed one. Plus, I was worried about my shiny new nose stud and whether bursting into tears was going to hamper the healing process.

So, where were we? Back up a week or two, when I emailed the brilliant management consultant I spend some time with at work, asking for a catch up session on time management and prioritising as I felt like I needed to work on that. Let's not pretend that I wasn't looking for a couple of quick fixes. I know it doesn't work that way but man was I looking for a snazzy new way of writing my 'to do' lists. But no.

Instead, an onion sketch, and the metaphor that the tightly layered bits at the centre are the core of our personalities. Sure you can poke around at the looser, bigger outer layers and change a bit here and there, but those centre bits are pretty fixed. For a little perfectionist like me, working with those centre bits and finding ways to be comfortable with who I am and how I need to work is what it's about. So no quick fix needed then, but a bit of introspection instead.

And with it, the bit that put the paper-onion-tears in my eyes. The reminder that I am who I am, and that that's why I'm here. That I need to play to my strengths because they are why I'm here, not for me to ignore them and change to be someone else.

Oh. Right then.

It's not the first time I've heard that recently. I've been reading Kristin Armstrong's book Happy Ever After over the last few weeks and have been powerfully reminded several times that we are not called to do things that require a totally different person or past to what we already possess. That makes no sense. Totally different perspective from Kristin, but the same principles.

The 5k I ran tonight was better than the 8.493576 miles I probably should have run as half marathon preparation because they're the miles I actually managed to run. The 15 minute phone call with my dad was better than the day I could have spent with him because the logistics wouldn't have worked and I'm seeing him Saturday at any rate. Looking after my body now in this month is still awesome because a month ago I just couldn't hack any more food prep.

I am always for aspiration, always for improvement, but goodness me am I increasingly recognising the need to be grateful for where I am, what got me here, and for the knowledge that wherever I go from here doesn't require me to transplant myself into the body of an extrovert who has never eaten an extra slice of cake and didn't tick off divorce by 25. So you know, I guess I can get on with being me.

I watched my wonderful twin brother get married at the weekend and blinking through my tears at their beautiful ceremony made me realise I've been a jerk all the times people have asked and I've gone "Ah, I dunno if I'd ever get married again, I dunno how I feel about the whole thing". Because that's not who I am - I love a good wedding, I love the vows, I love watching people I know and adore promising all sorts of beautiful things, and I love seeing family and friends bonding over the happiness of it all. I stayed on the dancefloor most of the night, clapped through the speeches, drank a fair bit of the gin, and came out of the weekend thinking "Yes! Let's go do this thing called life." Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a little nap in preparation.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hanging out with nuun

There may be torrential rain outside my office right now, but I think it's fair to say that the usual issue for me at the moment is staying cool in the summer sun. I overheat and also burn very easily in the sun, so I generally spend the summer months (even in the UK!) trying desperately to drink enough water and remember to apply my factor 50 sunscreen, even when I'm only going to be in the sun for approximately two minutes. I quite often burn just walking 4 or 5 minutes down the road at lunchtime from the office, which obviously I handle like a grownup by sulking as I apply aftersun later on..

I feel like I overheat particularly easy too, and the summer sees me drinking even more water than usual - and I'm pretty good with 2 litres or more every day anyway. When I recently saw nuun tweeting about needing bloggers to try out their hydration tablets, I was rather enthusiastic with my reply. I've already tried a few nuun flavours so I jumped at the chance to try some more, and the lovely folks over there sent me a little package that weekend. Ironically I ended up running home from the Royal Mail delivery office with my parcel on a horribly warm morning, so that highlighted my requirements nicely.

So how did I get on? Last week arrived and I knew that my ill advised 3pm Sunday afternoon run in the sweltering heat was going to need a fair amount of hydration. Enter nuun:

For runs that don't require a whole hydration pack, I use my trusty Hilly waist belt bottle carrier. Happily it seems to fit most sizes of bottle so I popped in my new nuun bottle and an orange tablet, and I was good to go. A word to the wise - let the tablet completely finish fizzing before you put the bottle cap on. I was impatient and didn't quite do that, so I got a bit of orange nuun squirted in my face when I opened the bottle on my run and the pressure had built up. I like to keep things classy on the run at all times!

Five miles in the sun was a great example of how much nuun can help because I felt pretty thirsty almost immediately, and I felt better as soon as I started sipping. I run with plain water fairly often and I'm savvy enough now to notice the difference. I finished the whole bottle 4.5 miles in, which says it all because I normally don't take water for a run under 7 miles or so.

I know that hydration tablets aren't a new concept, but they're worth mentioning as a great aid in the summer. I forgot to take any with me for Giants Head Marathon in June and I felt pretty dehydrated by the end, despite all the water I drank en route. It took several days afterwards for me to feel (and look!) hydrated again - not good.

If you're new to the nuun love, they report that they invented electrolyte tablets over 10 years ago and they're designed to aid the replacement of fluids when you've been sweating. And let's be honest, I also sent my younger brother off to uni with a pack to help out with post-night-out headaches. I needn't have worried because he hasn't drunk so much as one cider in months, and has instead used nuun on his summer runs as well. Good lad. 

The tablets are calorie and sugar free, to keep hydration and fuelling separate. 'Calorie free' normally gets my back up, but I agree that I'd rather sort my calories out separately with fun run snacks like jelly babies and Snickers bars, so it works for me and means my dentist can relax occasionally.

I always advocate with running products that you don't need to spend the earth, and they need to work for you. I find that nuun tablets agree with my stomach and don't give me any issues, and I like most of the flavours I've tried. I also like a good caffeine kick, so having the option of (clearly labelled) caffeinated options is a winner for me. Lemon tea is my absolutely favourite! Of course you can make DIY hydration drinks but personally, if I'm slogging it out on a hot day, I like having the option of a selection of nuun tubes in my kitchen. One tube of 12 nuun tablets is usually £6 so we're talking 50p a drink as they're designed to be added to a 500ml bottle. I think that's pretty reasonable, especially if you get a good deal or you start asking difficult questions about just how much my last pair of running shoes cost.

So there you go - time for me to go top up my water and desk snacks, now that we're on the subject.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Why yes, trying to get comfortable with swimming lengths does make me think of Finding Nemo. Anyone else?

After a fun weekend with friends, having a BBQ and going for afternoon tea, it's back to working life this week. As always, having Poppy the dog to visit at the weekend reminded me of the joys of being inquisitive and having the wind in your hair...

I got a bit of a shock when I logged onto Fetch this morning to log last night's swim and realised it was only my third workout in July. Of course, that's been because I was resting after the marathon on 28th June, but it was still a surprise to see it. After last week's swimming class and then a short run on Friday, I'm trying to get back in the swing of things this week.

I was keen to get back in the pool after my first swimming class and finally made it last night. I also submitted my application form so that I'm officially signed up to the classes for the forseeable future, woohoo!
Swimming is a very sexy sport, I'm discovering!
I was a bit nervous about the pool being busy while I was flailing around in the water, so I made sure I turned up during a casual swimming session. Happily I ended up with the pool to myself after a couple of lengths...hopefully because everyone was off to get their dinner, not because I splashed too much. I paddled up and down a bit trying to practise my front crawl technique but I'm still not really getting the breathing right at all, so I decided to hang on until my next class.

Instead I thought I'd give backstroke another go and quickly discovered that I can make it to a full length at a time, albeit not particularly first. I completed 16 lengths of backstroke in the end and think I've managed to get my legs working a bit more like they're supposed to. I'm looking forward to my next class already, and will be branching out with a run tonight.

The only sad thing today is that it finally dawned on me that the nose stud I've been thinking of getting (eek) isn't exactly compatible with swimming regularly, as I'd need to take a few weeks off for it to heal. I need to think about that one!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Lucy's First Swimming Class

It turns out that all the childhood swimming lessons in the world don't help when you haven't swum in about 10 years - you still look like, well, a fish out of water. But in the water. Yikes.

I went to my first swimming class on Wednesday and loved it, even if there was rather a lot of flailing! I went to lessons when I was a kid and remember enjoying it, partly because my dad used to let my twin and I share a snack from the vending machine afterwards if we asked really nicely. I actually spotted Vice Versas (one of our favourite choices) in Tesco recently and had to buy them for reminiscing purposes. I didn't share them with anyone, mind you.

Anyway, so I started wearing glasses when I was about seven years old and even later when I bought contact lenses I didn't have ones that could be worn while swimming. That meant by my teens I did enjoy swimming but wasn't very confident because I essentially couldn't see anything more than a metre in front of me while in the pool. School swimming lessons are pretty stressful when you can't actually see the teacher who's gesturing instructions to you. I remember enjoying endless lengths of backstroke when we went to the pool as a family, but that's it. I've never really done pool holidays so I've not so much as doggy paddled to a hotel bar in the last 10 years.

Back to the present day, I'm keen to get back into the world of swimming because it would be great cross-training for running and I'm no longer near a gym at home so it would convenient too. That and I remember liking it somewhere along the line, so it would be nice to have that back. My local swimming pool is minutes from my house by bike so I swung by there on Wednesday to try the beginner class. I was relieved to find that the teacher was friendly yet businesslike, and soon got me and the other three swimmers to work trying out different drills. We swam halfway down the pool and back again from the shallow end, which felt nice and safe!

In the space of half an hour we fitted in quite a few drills. My front crawl involves a fair amount of thrashing and swallowing water at the moment, but it was nice to have a starting point and lots of useful feedback. The most hilarious drill involved lying on our backs holding a float, so we were just using our legs to kick along. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I barely moved! Whoops. The instructor eventually took pity on me and came over. The conversation went something like this:

"Are you a runner?"
"Yeah, how can you tell?"
"Well, you're trying to run in the water."

It turns out that this technique doesn't really work for swimming, who knew? With some coaching I managed to propel myself along a bit better, but I've got lots of work to do. I had naively assumed the legs would be the easy bit, so it shows how much there is to learn - I'm really glad that I've signed up to classes. I'm already itching to get back in the pool!

I didn't snap any photos of the occasion, so here's a humorous photo from Windsor Castle a few weeks ago instead:

Yes, that does say Pug Yard.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Giants Head Marathon 2014: Race Report

Where: Sydling St Nicholas, Dorset (near France, according to the race instructions)
When: 28th June 2014
How long: 5:55:00

I'm delighted to say that I finished the Giants Head Marathon and didn't even keel over on a hillside in the process, which I had feared in the back of my mind since I signed up last year.

Spoiler alert: I survived!
In the weeks and months leading up to the event many non-runners pointed out that I could have stayed home for booze and cake on my birthday, and even the runners went "sorry what?" when I mentioned the name of the race. Despite being featured in Runner's World earlier in the year, Giants Head is in it's second year of running and was capped at 300 entries, so word is still getting around.

Am I pleased I chose to run a madly hilly trail 26.2 on my 26th birthday? Yes!

I rocked up at the 'athletes village' on the Friday night, getting a little nervous about what lay ahead. I was soon feeling relaxed after chatting to some other runners and having a nice comforting meal. The camping cost a fiver, as did the meal put on by the local WI in the village hall, a minute walk down the road. The cows had been neatly removed from the field we camped in, as promised, and the views were stunning. It was a pleasure to feel part of the picturesque village of Sydling St Nicholas and I can't compliment the organisation and thought that went into the event enough. 

Thanks Mum!
After a cheeky half pint of Purbeck cider from the beer tent, I headed back to my tent to discover that my mum (who had kindly dropped me off with all my stuff) had customised my tent. Brilliant!

I got cold outside pretty quickly so chilled out in my sleeping bag with my Kindle for a while, reflecting on it being a slight surreal Friday night. I woke up bright and early to the sound of birds tweeting and runners starting to get up. I had a glamorous breakfast in my tent and headed down to race HQ to get a coffee and pick up my race number while accepting some birthday phone calls. It was exciting and a bit scary to see the finish line going up and lots of runner starting to arrive. 

More than any other race I've done, it was really noticeable at the start line how many people were in Ironman and half-Ironman finisher t-shirts, 100 marathon club t-shirts, and running club vests. Lots of conversations centred around ultras and very mountainous sounding marathons back to back. With my two flat road marathons behind me, I was feeling like the biggest rookie on the block! It shows how great the atmosphere was that that didn't put me off. 

Cerne Abbas - the medal inspiration!
Where to start on the race itself? The advice I'd heard was to walk the uphill stretches from the start to conserve energy and the people I was amongst did that, so I happily followed suit. The first few miles brought amazing scenery, a surprising number of flat stretches, and the first of many aid stations with plenty of water and interesting snack options. I wandered off chomping a malted milk biscuit and feeling delighted with my birthday plans. I loved that the volunteers were happy for us to fill Camelbaks from their water tanks (much needed on a warm day!) and it was really cool that we could send our own bottles/packages to certain aid stations, although I didn't take advantage of that option. 

The first 10 miles or so went by quite quickly in a blur of admiring the view, trying not to trip over, and enjoying some snacks. I'm so glad I wore trail shoes because it was dry but very uneven and rocky in places. I enjoyed scrambling along narrow trails through but not so much the parts with endless stones and rocks. Ouch. 

Around 11 miles I struck up conversation with the lovely Fiona while we were scrambling uphill in single file. She'd run 100 miles two weeks beforehand and done the South Downs Way relay the week before, so I was a bit gobsmacked while trying to keep pace with her. We were joined soon after by Jason, dressed as a Bishop extraordinaire, and a fellow BOSH member. We fast became a team of three, sharing jokes and stories back and forth, and renaming ourselves with suitably religious names for the duration of the race (that's Sister Mary Frances to you).

I'll be forever grateful to those two because I started finding the race quite hard not far after the halfway point and by about 17 miles it was mostly their encouragement that kept me going. We had a whale of a time posing for photos, singing a bit and getting a bit competitive with trying to overtake other runners, but it was still amazingly hard work.

By the 20 mile marker I was trying hard to relax and stay positive but whingeing every now and then about the cake and lemon vodka I'd been promised at the 20 mile 'lovestation'. I wasn't disappointed and we were greeted with hugs, cheers, and lots of lovely food and drink. We left in high spirits and I was so pleased to have the end (sort of) in sight.

True to form, the hills continued right to the end of the race. My Garmin had conked out by that point and I was trying not to ask Fiona every two minutes how near the end we were. Finally we got to the bottom of a hill and yelped at the marshals to ask how much further we had to go. I've never been so happy to hear the answer - "100 yards to go, just round the corner". We grabbed each other's hands and went for a sprint finish. I spotted my family just as we collided over the line and into the finishing chute. Thank goodness.

Well done to my family for steering me through some pictures and the obligatory food/cake afterwards, as I was totally done in. It's definitely the first birthday where I've been turning down a second glass of champagne and begging for bedtime at about 9pm.

Running with Fiona and Jason really made the race for me, as well as the amazing support from marshals and the camaraderie with other runners. I'm still keen to describe Giants Head Marathon as a one off for me personally, but I definitely want to run more races organised by the folks at White Star Running - they know their stuff.

Verdict: Amazing scenery, rewardingly challenging course, great marshals and well stocked aid stations, and a top notch ethos. Thanks all!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Juneathon: Day 19

Let's not talk about the football, eh? I'm no particular fan but I had it on in the background earlier and it's always a shame to lose. I keep hoping I'm going to get all excited and patriotic like the Olympics but it hasn't happened yet. 

I focused my efforts tonight on stretching and icing, especially as my shins feel a little sore from yesterday's race. I snuck in a plank that came in at 1:21. Not my best effort but at least I tried...

Spot the non-matching socks, whoops!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Juneathon: Day 25

Three days to go until marathon time, aargh! I've been psyching myself up nicely and starting to write my packing list for Friday. Just one little faux pas - the realisation that although I've been trying to get some hilly miles in, I've been doing it entirely in road shoes as that's usually fine for the routes I use. I've only just remembered after asking on the Facebook page that trail shoes are recommended for Giants Head. Apparently the trails are rock hard, which I find confusing because in my experience that makes trail shoes feel like really hard work. Oh and of course I haven't worn my trail shoes on a long run in months.

So basically, any advice/encouragement/commiseration welcome.

In true mad tapering style, today's exercise consisted of practising reversing into a parking bay for so long in my driving lesson that a muscle in my left quad started hurting and my right shoulder is all seized up. Oh and a plank that lasted all of 36 seconds. Time for bed.