Runniversary

This week marks a personal anniversary. One year ago, on the 7th October, I started Couch to 5K, a programme designed to get absolute beginners running for thirty minutes – or up to 5 kilometres – in nine weeks. I downloaded the app, and ran my first run in circles inside my house. I felt somewhat silly. I’ve since discovered that I’m not the only nervous runner to begin in this way; too embarrassed to run outside but desperate to make a change to my life.

The change was made. And it was phenomenal. To begin, I couldn’t run for sixty seconds without stopping. It was tough. But over time things got easier. Over the past twelve months I’ve completed Couch to 5K, and become more comfortable with running. I can run outside. I can run with other people. I can run for hours at a time. I talk about running all the time (I really am a running bore). I’ve lost weight (three stone since starting running, 7st 13lb in total). I now see food as fuel. My general health and energy levels have improved.

My running has taken me to new places, and has also given me the opportunity to explore my local area in a new way. I’ve found new joy in sharing running with family members, as four of my children are also runners.

The social aspect of running included going along to Parkrun – free, weekly timed 5K runs. At Parkrun I met a community of friendly, supportive people. I have thought about joining a local running club for further support but I really don’t have the time to go to club meetings. So, instead, I joined the Lonely Goat Running Club. This way, I can get support from an online community, while running when and where I like, at my own pace.

A big milestone was running 5K in one go, without any walking. Like most people completing Couch to 5K, I found that the thirty minute runs at the end of the programme fell short of 5K. I still take more than half an hour to run 5K, but that just gives me another goal to work on.

I have gradually become more confident and comfortable with longer distances. I now have six 10K races and a half marathon under my belt. I’m looking ahead to running a full marathon in April. I don’t share this to boast – but to prove just what can be done.

My running is still slow. Very slow. At times I struggle. I’m still overweight (but thrilled to have moved down from the morbidly obese category). But I’m looking forward to new running goals and challenges. Running is now a part of my life.

If you, like me one year ago, are thinking about giving running a try – don’t be afraid.

Join the global community of runners. We’re a friendly bunch. And running is good fun, honestly.

Sunny September 10 miles

It’s now two weeks since I ran my first half marathon at Bridgwater, and it is still a long time (around 30 weeks) until I attempt my first marathon at Newport. I’m in a strange state of limbo. For the first week after the half marathon, I spent a great deal of time searching for a race, any race, just to provide a goal. I feel a little lost.

But I have managed to keep my running going. During the first week post-half, I managed a couple of easy runs in the week. At the weekend, I wanted to do a nice gentle 10K. I chose what I thought was a 10K route, but underestimated the distance (and the hills). I ended up doing an eight mile hilly run. It was a good workout – and I was tired at the end. This week, I’ve managed to get a couple of runs in around work during the week. Then today I aimed to do a 10 mile long run at Steart Marshes, my favourite long run location.

I also decided to finally give gels a try. I’ve been putting this off because I’ve seen so many negative comments about gels. I also don’t like the idea of eating something containing so much sugar. As I am actively trying to lose more weight, eating so many empty calories just seems to go against the grain. But after a previous frightening and unpleasant end to a long run – probably the result of inadequate fuelling – I decided I should give these little packets of sugary goo a try.

My daughter came with me to Steart, although we didn’t plan to run together. She needed to run nine miles, and is quicker than me. We planned an out and back route which we’d need to do twice – my daughter just cutting the second lap short by a mile or so. Although we weren’t running together, it was good to see each other as we passed on the path and to catch up when we got back to the car.

We arrived at Steart fairly early (for a Sunday), which was just as well because the day turned out to be ridiculously warm for mid-September. Fortunately, there was a strong breeze on most of the route to cool us down.

I felt quite sluggish and jaded as I set off. It had been a busy week, and I’d spent all day on Saturday on a training course. Even so, I enjoyed the peace and quiet and the fine views as I warmed up.

After around 40 minutes, I decided to be brave and try the gel. I’d gone for a Torq rhubarb and custard. I’ve read so much about people struggling with gels, gagging on them, being sick and having upset stomachs – that I was careful to time it so that I was on the way back to the car and toilets before I had the gel. The texture was odd, but the gel tasted okay, if too sweet for me. I used a little water to wash it down (and get it off my teeth!) The gel went down just fine and caused me no stomach problems.

It may be that I was warming up anyway, but I soon started to feel like I had more energy. As I approached the car park I passed my daughter coming back the other way. She had also tried a gel (banoffee) and agreed that she was getting a sugar rush. When we compared notes later, we had both noticed that we needed less water, and felt that the gels had made a difference to our running.

The rest of the run went well. As usual, I had times when I felt great and times when I felt tired. It can be a little monotonous running up and down the same stretch of path, but at least the views are pretty. One woman I passed four times asked me, ‘do you just run up and down all day?’ On the way, I saw swans, mallards, and some huge dragon flies. I stopped briefly to say ‘hello’ to some cattle grazing on the salt marsh.

Cattle grazing on the salt marsh at Steart

I ended the run feeling good, and sure that I could have kept going. If my daughter wasn’t already back at the car waiting for me, I might have been tempted to keep going for another three miles to make up the half marathon distance. But it was better, I think, to end with fuel in the tank.

By the time I got back to the car the car park was full, and the marshes were getting busy. Lots of people were out to enjoy the September sunshine. I was glad that we’d got out early and had the place pretty much to ourselves for most of the time.

Eventually, autumn will arrive. And maybe even winter. I am looking forward to the temperatures going down. But for the moment, it’s good to be outside making the most of the gorgeous September sunshine.

Bridgwater Half Marathon

On Sunday 1st September I ran my first half marathon race. It was a good day.

My chosen event was Bridgwater Half Marathon – a small, local event in support of Cancer research UK.

By Sunday morning I was extremely nervous. Although I had ran the distance a few times in training, finding myself feeling very unwell at the end of one of these runs had dented my confidence. My near-collapse experience had probably been the result of trying to restrict calories too much before a long run. In the last few days before the race I did my best to ensure I was carb-loaded and well hydrated, but it is a tricky business trying (needing) to lose weight while fuelling your running.

My main aim for the race was to get round the course safely. My secondary aim was to complete the race in less than three hours. My training times had varied from 2:55 to 3:10. Less than 2:55 would be icing on the cake. Although these targets may seem laughably slow to some, to me (52, overweight, running less than a year) they are a challenge. And I really didn’t really mind if I came last – someone has to. But not coming last would be a bonus.

In spite of nerves, I had a reasonable night’s sleep and managed to eat some porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast. The race wasn’t until 11 am, but I set out just after 9 am, to allow plenty of time to find a parking space.

The race was based at Morganians Rugby Club, just outside Bridgwater. There was plenty of parking on a football pitch. Once parked, I forced myself to eat a banana and a Nakd bar to ensure I was fuelled up for the race. I collected my race number, and realised that I had probably arrived far too early – with over an hour still to wait.

The venue – sports club in a rural location – had a lovely friendly atmosphere, and it was handy having everything close together. I really liked not needing to use a bag drop (although there was one available) and being able to pop back to my car for things. However, there wasn’t a great deal to do. There were some food stalls, and the usual facilities for runners, but not much for spectators.

I spent the next hour pacing up and down, warming up, and joining the queue for the porta-loos a grand total of four times (no toilets on the course – something else to worry about!). Then it was time to go.

The Course

The course was on quiet country roads around the Somerset villages of Chedzoy and Stawell. The roads were open for the whole course, although traffic was held at the beginning of the race to ensure that we all got underway safely. In-ear earphones and headphones were not permitted, due to the nature of the course. Traffic, however, was very light and there were plenty of marshals out on the course.

The route is a single lap, with a large looped section and an out-and-back section near to the end. The out-and-back bit seemed to go on for ever.

I have seen the profile of the course described by different sources as flat, flattish and undulating. There were some flat sections, and also quite a lot of undulation. I didn’t mind the undulation though, as ups are usually followed by downs. Besides, hills work different muscle groups and make a change from the same relentless motion. They can also provide justification, should you need it, to take a bit of a walking break.

My race

As I ran along the first stretch of road I noticed how similar it was to my regular running routes around my home village. This immediately made me feel at home and more relaxed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos as I was too focused on the race. But it was a lovely sunny morning, and there were many gorgeous views of green fields and distant hills.

I started the race right at the back of the field, and kept pace with the other runners. I had Nike Run Club running on my phone to keep an eye on my pace. At 1 KM and 2 KM I could see that I was going a little quicker than I’d planned. I tried to slow down but it was difficult. I was already right at the back, and some instinctive need to not be left behind seemed to be speeding up my steps. Besides, I try to focus on effort rather than pace, and I felt that my effort wasn’t really that great. I felt good.

We quickly came to the village of Chedzoy, where we were cheered on by spectators, and conveniently timed church bells.

The 10K was due to start fifteen minutes after the half marathon, and so it didn’t seem long before the faster 10K runners began to catch up. There was a straight, flat section at the end of which the 10K runners would turn around to return back towards the rugby club. So it also didn’t seem long before the 10K racers started to pass us coming back the other way.

As I passed the turning point and the 5K marker, I realised how much better I felt than I had felt at the previous week’s Severn Bridge 10K. I also realised that I had probably beaten my 5K PB, not something that I would be aiming for on a long run.

When we were clear of the 10K runners, I looked back and realised that I was no longer the last person. I was mostly on my own for the rest of the race though. But when I was on my own, I pretended that this was just another training run, and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I listened to the sound of the wind in the willows at the side of the road, or the sound of birds singing. When I was near to other runners, I chatted.

By about five miles I started to doubt myself – thinking about the eight miles still to go. It had got very hot (in spite of the forecast promising cooler weather and wind), and at this point the course had been climbing for a while. I had to have a serious internal talk with my negative brain, and remind myself how well I was doing and that I actually felt pretty good. I reminded myself of how I felt at the same point during the previous week’s race – and how much better I felt now. Often it is the mind, not the body, that makes us give up. I kept going.

At 10K I knew I was still making good time. I also realised that I hadn’t seen the second water station, although there had been a sign for one a while back. I caught up with some other runners and asked them about the water station – perhaps I’d managed to run past without noticing it? They were also quite keen to find the water. We wondered whether it had been packed up as we were slower than the bulk of the runners. This seemed unlikely. I asked several marshals about the missing water, until one was able to tell me that it was ‘just around the corner’ and that ‘they’ had moved the water station but not the sign. About half a mile later, at around mile eight, I was very happy to see the water, have a good drink and fill up my now empty bottle.

All in all the course had plenty of water stations, and jelly babies, but it was absolutely ridiculous, and frustrating, to have a water station sign around two miles before the water.

During the second half of the course the wind picked up, and the temperature cooled a little. By now I was keeping my fuel topped up with dried apricots, pieces of Nakd bar, and the odd jelly baby from the water stations. I had none of the lactic build up that I’d experienced before. As 11 miles (my usual point of crisis, or wall, or whatever it is) came and went without pain, I breathed a sigh of relief.

At the out-and-back section of the course, from about mile 10, it was good to see other runners returning back the other way towards their finish. This section of the race was psychologically demanding. I had arrived back at Chedzoy thinking that I must be nearly back and congratulating myself on how well I was doing. I suspected I’d achieved new Strava PBs for both 10K and 10 miles. If I could just keep up the pace….

Then this long bit of road went on and on. I took some walking breaks, even where the road was sloping nicely downhill and would have been easy to run. I just needed to give my legs a break. There was another water station at the bottom (fourth or fifth water station?) just before the turning point.

Turning around and knowing that I was on the last stretch felt fantastic. And I was now able to give encouragement to the few people who were behind me as we passed each other. Unfortunately, my legs didn’t feel fantastic. They now felt very tired and heavy (although still no lactic acid). I also felt bloated and queasy, probably from all of the sweet food that I’d been swallowing, but probably not digesting. Even so, as I had no lactic acid burn, something must have been working.

The last mile was hard. I did run/walk a little. But I made sure I ran the final kilometre and arrived back at the rugby club smiling. There were almost no spectators left as I ran towards the finish line, but my youngest son and daughter had turned up to cheer me on, which was icing on the cake.

As I crossed the finish line, I was given a bottle of water, a medal, and a sachet of moisturiser (a little unusual). From comments on the race’s Facebook page, I think people may have grumbled about the medal. The race is organised to raise money for charity, and was very cheap to enter (I think I paid £18). What more do people want?

I was pleased with my time, cutting about three minutes off my previous PB. I felt that I could have put more effort in over the last couple of miles, but I was being careful not to push myself to the point where I might feel unwell again. I wanted to make sure I finished.

The following day, Monday, I felt good and had no aches and pains. I was even able to begin a new job feeling fabulous.

I thoroughly enjoyed the race. There were a few organisational hitches, but this was more than made up for by the course, the marshals, the glorious views, and the support from local people. The event was also fantastic value for money, and in a very worthy cause.

I will definitely be back next year.

Half Marathon Eve

Like a child on Christmas Eve, I want today to be over and tomorrow to arrive. For tomorrow is the day of my first ever half marathon. My impatience, however, is not the result of excitement, but of the need to just get on with the job. Yes, I’m anxious.

Back in January it seemed like a crazy idea for me to sign up for a half marathon, having only completed Couch to 5K at the end of December. But I reassured myself that I would have plenty of time to prepare myself. Oh how those months have flown!

Bridgwater Half Marathon

For this momentous occasion I chose Bridgwater Half Marathon. This is a local race, around 25 minutes drive from home. It’s a small race, although it seems that half the people I know in the local area are going. I’m beginning to wonder whether I shouldn’t have picked race a where I wouldn’t know anyone – I prefer to go incognito.

I’ve heard that the course is flattish to undulating, and pretty. I’ll know more after tomorrow.

I chose this race for my first because it’s convenient – which takes away a lot of the race day pressure of getting there, finding out where to go etc. I’ll soon know whether this was a good decision.

Preparation

I have trained, and I’ve used a mixture of different plans to inform my training. I couldn’t find a plan that suited me completely, so I took elements from different plans. For instance, a few of the plans that I looked at stopped at 10 miles, which wouldn’t have suited me at all. I needed to know well before race day that I can run the entire distance, and roughly how long it’s going to take me. I realise I will need to adjust my expectations before I tackle my first full marathon next year.

What I have done is similar to what all training plans seem to be working towards in one way or another:

  • Run three of four times each week (more recently I’ve been running four days)
  • Include different types of run – speed runs, recovery runs, long runs, hill work
  • Take rest days
  • Cross train on rest days – walk, yoga and/or weights
  • Increase weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week
  • Increase long runs by no more than 10% each week
  • Have weeks when you consolidate or even step back a bit
  • Taper (reduce distance/time running)towards the end (last week or two of running)

As well as training, I’ve been working on diet and nutrition. I only hope I will be carb-loaded enough for tomorrow!

My final bit of preparation was to drive out and have a look at where I need to go tomorrow – a benefit of choosing a local race.

And today? Today I am worried. I am remembering how hard I found my last 13 mile run. I am thinking about how difficult the Severn Bridge 10K was last week. I’m trying to keep busy, and I’m trying to keep positive. I’m checking the weather forecast every few minutes (dry, 17 degrees Celsius, breezy).

This morning I volunteered at parkrun to give myself something constructive to do. As always, I was impressed by the determination that people bring to the event. I was reminded of the camaraderie, friendship and mutual support available within the running community.

Come on, I say to myself, you can do this.

Wish me luck!

And good luck to everyone taking on new challenges this weekend.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Severn Bridge 10K

Or: A new personal record for slow running

The 2019 Severn Bridge Half Marathon and 10K took place on 25th August during an unusually warm bank holiday weekend.

I heard about this event just after I’d already signed up for Bridgwater Half Marathon, which takes place on 1st September. The idea of running on a closed motorway across a stunning bridge that connects Wales and England was irresistible. But I knew that running two half marathons (including my first) just one week apart might be a bit too ambitious. However, 10K seemed like a sensible distance to run one week before my half, as long as I viewed it as a training run. So I signed up for the 10K, along with my youngest daughter.

My aims for the race were to enjoy it and not push too hard. I didn’t expect to find it particularly difficult, as I regularly run further than 10k on my long runs. For my daughter, it would be her first 10K race. She’d ran the 10K distance in training before and had an idea of what time to aim for. I hoped she would enjoy the race and have a good experience.

We got up bright and early on Sunday morning for the drive across the river to Wales. I hadn’t slept well on Saturday night. It was hot and clammy overnight, and besides, I was anxious. I was anxious about the drive, about finding parking and getting to the event village in time. I worried that I wouldn’t get up in time, and then I worried that I couldn’t sleep. But I told myself that I’ve been here before, and that I would feel better once I got up and got on with things; and I did. It was a relief when my alarm went off at 6 am and the day began.

The drive to Wales was straightforward and the roads were quiet. As the bridge we would be running over was already closed, we drove over the newer and larger second Severn crossing, enjoying the views of the River Severn in the early morning sunshine.

We arrived at the event village in good time, and had just a short wait for parking. Parking was included for early entrants to the races; anyone signing up later would need to make their own arrangements. The car park we were directed to had plenty of space when we drove in (at around 8.20). By the time we’d got out of the car the car park was full. I was glad I’d made the effort to set out early.

As we walked into the event village, half marathon runners were already making their way to the start for their race, which started an hour before the 10K at 9 am.

As the race wasn’t due to start until 10 am, so had plenty of time for pre-race rituals, such as queuing for the toilet and applying sun cream. Then we sat on a grass bank enjoyed the atmosphere of the event village for a while. Although the race was full, with 2800 entrants across both races, it didn’t feel too busy or crowded. We looked back at the bridge that we’d driven over, and the one we were about to run. Both looked a long way away. As we sat and waited, it began to get hot. Very hot.

The race village

We listened out for announcements – wanting to hear the one that would tell us to make our way to the start. The longer we waited, the hotter it got, and we just wanted to get going. We were appalled by an announcement that someone had reported seeing dogs shut in a car in one of the car parks – could the people responsible deal with it, as it’s too hot for them to be left in a car?

Anyone using the car parks would be running – which meant they would be away for at least a couple of hours. And the weather forecast had promised the hottest bank holiday weekend on record. Really, I just have to rant. We hoped that the organisers would make sure the dogs were rescued – but what if the owners were running the half marathon and had already left?

At about 9.35 runners were told to make their way to the start line. We walked up a slope out of the event village, and down the slip road onto the motorway. I said it was strange to see people walking on the motorway. My daughter said it was like a zombie apocalypse. We agreed this would be a really bad place for people to start turning, although at least we were all dressed for running away.

Heading down the slip road

After making our way onto the motorway, we walked a short distance and climbed over the central barrier to get behind the start line. I joked about it being an obstacle race, although the barrier did present a problem for people running with buggies, and those who were less mobile.

While we waited to start, there was music and more announcements. We were reminded to stay hydrated, and of the dire consequences of breaking the headphone ban. There was also a request for the person who had reported seeing dogs in a car to make themselves known to the organisers so that they could locate the dogs and ensure they were rescued. We’d been fretting about the dogs, and were relieved. I do hope the pooches were okay.

We warmed up to the music, and positioned ourselves well behind the one hour pacer. Despite the heat, we were excited and ready to go.

As we set off, it was sweltering. Even so, it was fun to run on the motorway; a lovely wide road with no cars.

The first part of the run slopes upwards to the centre of the bridge. I could see a sea of runners surging ahead up the road. I could also see a few runners already beginning to struggle in the heat. During this part of the run, I felt reasonably good – if hot. I was able to stay a few paces behind my daughter. As we ran onto the bridge, we began to see returning half marathon runners already running back along the pedestrian walkway.

The atmosphere was a little surreal. It was very quiet – there were none of the usual crowds of spectators. The quiet was even more noticeable for the lack of headphones, which we happily use to create our own personal soundtracks. The quiet was broken by bagpipe players – a little out of place in the space between England and Wales. And there were more photographers than I’ve seen on any event before.

After the centre, the bridge began to slope downwards. I tried to just let my legs turn – downhill is usually so much easier. I began to feel nauseous from the heat. After the previous week’s difficult long run, I didn’t want to risk making myself unwell. Just before the 5K point I slowed and walked until the feeling passed. We passed the end of the bridge and continued onto the motorway for a short out and back section. People running near to me were eagerly anticipating the water station. There was a general sense of disappointment when we got to the turning point, and there was no water. Realistically, you would’t expect the water station to be on the motorway itself as this would make getting the motorway open again on time much more difficult. But we’d been promised water at 5K, and we’d gone 5K, and we were (many of us) on the brink of a full-blown tantrum.

As I turned, I felt a light breeze that I hadn’t noticed before. This was very welcome. I ran back up the road a short way, and then turned down a slip road to find the water station. My daughter waved as she passed me going back up the other way. We were handed small bottles of water – one each. I poured mine into my empty water bottle and started off again.

More than half way through. There were musicians playing, and I thanked them. A pity I couldn’t make them go with me, as I was missing my playlist. Now we were running on the pedestrian walkway. I looked out for strips of shade cast by the cables and uprights of the bridge. I walked some of the way, ran some of the way, and chatted to people. I took more time to enjoy the stunning views of the river. I had decided that this was not going to be anywhere near my fastest 10 K. My objective was to complete the distance and enjoy it. As I said to a fellow runner, I was planning to make a new, slow, personal record. Then, whenever I run a 10 k in future, I’ll be able to beat it. The last thing I wanted was to make myself ill one week before my first half marathon.

As we passed the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign I knew I was coming close to the end of the run. I hadn’t seen my daughter for a while and expected she was already back at the event village waiting for me.

Towards the end of the race, we plodded up the slip road, over the motorway and then back round to the event village along a footpath. It seemed to take a frustratingly long time, and involve an irritating amount of uphill. I managed to run the final stretch and cross the finish line smiling.

I met up with my daughter, who’d got back three minutes earlier, and compared times, thoughts and goodie bags.

I ran/walked my slowest 10K time so far – 1 hour 22 minutes. Even slower than Yeovilton Easter Bunny. But I didn’t care about the time. I enjoyed the experience. And today, I feel great.

Besides, I can now tell people that I ran from Wales to England and back again.

Looking at the times of other finishers – it was a tough race. Some people took well over two hours to complete the 10K (which had a cut off time of 1 hour 40 minutes). The half marathon would have been extremely challenging, and it took some runners over three and a half hours to complete the course (cut off three hours). I have the greatest respect for those runners who kept going in the heat for such a length of time.

If it wasn’t for the heat it would have been a brilliant race. The course itself is easy to run, and stunning. The organisation was good, except that we really did need more water.

There was a very pretty medal and a mediocre t shirt. But who cares about the t shirt when the medal looks like this?

Buried Treasure

It’s a sweltering August bank holiday weekend, and I am pottering in the garden. Really, I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s too hot, and I’m trying to keep busy while saving energy for tomorrow’s Severn Bridge 10k.

I decide to harvest (being always optimistic) the black bin bag of potatoes.

Back in May we had a few potatoes that had started to shoot. Not seed potatoes, just regular tatties for cooking. On an impulse, (not having space for a vegetable patch) I planted them in a black bin bag, in potting compost. As the potato plants started to grow, we added more compost. Eventually the bag was full, with large potato plants flopping out of the top.

I didn’t have high expectations of success.

Today, I noticed that the leaves on the potato sack had all died back. I dragged the sack over to the flower bed, where I could spread the compost. And I dug my hands into the moist compost. A few woodlice wriggled out. I scraped compost away, and was as excited as a six year old on Christmas morning to reveal my first potato. I kept digging, and found more treasures nestled in the compost.

There is something magical about uncovering potatoes in the earth (or black bag of compost). A gift from the natural world.

My harvest filled one small jug, and weighed 600g. Enough for one family dinner. Not enough to justify the big bag of compost (which has now been repurposed in my new flower bed), or the gallons or water. But this has inspired us to think bigger and make plans for next year.

Recovery

I needed a 6.5 km recovery run this morning. The mileage was specified by my training plan, although the distance wasn’t really the important thing. What I really needed was to regain confidence and enjoy my run after Saturday’s tough long run.

As I ate my pre-run porridge I caught up with my eldest daughter through messenger. My daughter lives far, far away in a land where day is night and night is day. We often catch up in the sleepy, twilight moments between sleeping and waking. This morning I woke and checked my phone for messages and, sure enough, there was a message from my girl, with a shocking photo of a deep gaping wound on her knee. She had fallen while running with her dog. The result was eight stitches and a strapped up leg. I reflected that this running is a funny business. The idea is to make us healthier; it works for the most part.

I set off for my run with my daughter very much in my thoughts. I’d also gained a little perspective on my self pity over Saturday’s run.

The morning weather was ideal. Not too warm, breezy with a light spritz of drizzle. Perfect. My times weren’t anything special, but I felt strong and fabulous.

I arrived home recovered, exhilarated and ready to deal with the multiple frustrations of the day (including a car that wouldn’t start, but that’s another story).

It will take my daughter time to heal, but I hope her recovery will be swift.

Mad dogs and foolish runners ….

What do they do? You guessed it. They go out in the midday sun, in August. Oh dear.

Yesterday was Long Run Saturday. I have my first half marathon coming up in two weeks, and I wanted to get at least the half marathon distance in, and maybe a bit more. My training plan called for a ten mile run but, pah, I thought, why stop at ten?

I was a bit slow getting up and out in the morning. I’d had a busy week, slept heavily and woke feeling lethargic. The time ticked on. But I wasn’t concerned, the weather forecast had talked about wind, and it was supposed to be overcast with sunny spells; so shouldn’t be too warm. Besides, I told myself, the half is at a similar time of day, so it should be good practise.

My favourite long run route is at Steart Marshes, just a short drive from my home. Steart is a beautiful wetland reserve, with miles and miles of path winding through the – fabulously flat – salt marsh. I love to run at Steart because it is free from traffic, full of wildlife, and peaceful. It is, however, pretty exposed to the elements and offers no shelter from wind, rain or sun.

The River Parrett at Steart Marshes

For a half marathon distance I start with a loop from the car park down to Combwich, head up alongside the river, and then loop back round to the car park. This is around 5 kilometres. I can then make use of the toilet and use my car as a pit stop, filling up my water bottle and jelly baby supplies, before heading out again. I then run to the end of the northern footpath and back twice.

I arrived at Steart at about 10.40. It felt reassuringly cool in the breeze. The ground was wet from recent rainfall, and I hoped this would help to keep things fresh. I got myself organised, and headed off. Once I was running it felt hot. There were plenty of clouds in the sky, but they seemed to be doing a good job of avoiding the sun. The southern loop of the route is the most sheltered, and often feels warmer than the rest of the route. As the sun beat down on the wet ground I could feel the humidity rising in stifling waves. I reminded myself that the early part of a run is the hardest, and that it would be easier, and fresher, once I got to the river.

Sure enough, as I got to the river, I felt better. I added a little detour down into Combwich village, just to put an extra kilometre onto this early part of the run. The breeze along the river was cooling and the riverbank was tranquil. This is one of my favourite parts of the run. But I then had to turn from the river, and head into wind. The run back to the car park against the wind was tough. But as I got back to my pit stop, I felt that I could keep going. I topped up my water, sploshed water all over myself and headed off again.

The second part of my run was better. The air felt cooler and fresher as I ran to the end of the path and back. I arrived back at the car park having covered 14 KM, and feeling much better than I had first time. My training plan actually called for 16 KM. So I only really needed to run one kilometre and turn back. Job done. But I was feeling great, and confident, and cocky. I collected some jelly babies and a Nakd bar, topped up my water and decided to try and cover 14 miles.

I ran one more kilometre, the point at which I could have turned back, and kept going. Another kilometre, I had reached the 16 KM/ 10 mile target. If I turned back now, I’d have done 18 KM, more than I needed to. And yet just not enough. I ate the Nakd bar (not having touched the jelly babies – I was getting so bored of jelly babies) and kept going.

I usually start to struggle at around 11 miles. I hit 11 miles still feeling good, and I kept going. I reached the end of the path, and turned back. About two and a half miles to go. Suddenly, I noticed that my legs were beginning to burn from a build up of lactic acid. I started to walk a bit, run a bit. The pain got worse. By 12.5 miles, the pain was too much and I had to walk. But I didn’t even think about those jelly babies. I still felt great in myself, it was just my legs. I was sure that if I walked a bit, they’d improve. They didn’t.

I found a bench and sat down. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by strong stomach cramps, waves of nausea and dizziness. I sat for a while and began to make my way slowly back to the car. I was only about 200 metres away by this point, but it felt like the longest distance of the morning. As I approached the car park, I bumped into an old friend. We chatted briefly and she was complimenting me on my weight loss, as I was beginning to panic that I was going to pass out. Instead of using my rational brain and asking for help, I was embarrassed and didn’t want my friend, who’d just been saying how well I looked, to see me collapsing in a heap. So I made my apologies, and joked about needing to get to the car for water ‘before I keel over, ha ha ha’. As I walked away, everything started to go dark and I felt my head swimming. I don’t know how I did it, but I got there. I gulped down water, ate a protein bar, and sat in my car until I felt better.

Usually after any run, I feel great.It doesn’t matter how tired or achy I am, I’m buzzing. Not this time. I felt sad and full of self doubt. I could have cried. For the first time I had real doubts about my ability to take my running further. I don’t know whether it was the heat, the lack of fuel or a combination of both that made me feel so unwell but it has taught me a lesson or two.

  • Respect the distance
  • Listen to your body
  • Respect the climate/conditions
  • Take on fuel
  • And stick to the training plan!

And also – if a friend turns up just when you need help – ask for help. Pride is a silly thing.

Rotolo

A delicious, carbilicious, vegetarian baked pasta dish

Baked rotolo is a tasty, filling and easy to cook alternative to pasta dishes like lasagne or cannelloni. I based this recipe on one that I saw Jamie Oliver making on TV a few years ago. Jamie’s recipe used baked butternut squash – my family weren’t keen on the sweetness of the squash, so I leave it out.

The dish is super easy to cook, and looks really pretty. Most of the work goes into the preparation (about 30 minutes). Once the dish is ready to bake, it takes around 40 minutes in a moderate oven.

Ingredients

Passata – one jar

500 g of fresh lasagne sheets (these must be fresh so they can be rolled)

500 g of ricotta

450 g (1/2 bag) frozen spinach (you can use fresh spinach, but will need lots)

Grated cheese to top dish

Dash of cooking oil to fry spinach

Seasoning

Steps

  • Pour half of the passata into an oven proof dish. Add water to the remaining passata in the jar, and shake to mix. Save for later.
  • Fry the frozen spinach in a little oil until tender. Add seasoning to taste. I like just a tiny amount of salt, and fresh ground black pepper.
  • Spread ricotta onto sheet of lasagne
  • Sprinkle cooked spinach over the ricotta.
  • Roll the sheet of lasagne
  • Cut the roll into four pices
  • Place the pieces standing in the dish of passata
  • Repeat, filling the dish
  • Pour the remaining passata carefully into the dish
  • Sprinkle the top with grated cheese – I have used mozzarella or cheddar, and either works well.
  • Bake for around 40 minutes – around 180 degrees Celsius.
  • When cooked, the pasta at the top of the dish will be crispy, but the pasta covered by the passata will be moist.

You can serve rotolo with a side salad, grilled chicken, fish or veggie alternatives (my son says you need something with it), but I honestly find it filling and satisfying on its own. It contains around 500 calories, and 26 grams of protein – depending on which/how much cheese you choose to dress it with. The spinach and passata are packed with vitamins and minerals, and all that pasta is carbilicious for runners.

Enjoy!

The unexpected benefits of weight loss

While on holiday recently, I went for several long walks along stunningly beautiful Cornish coastal paths. I realised, as I picked my way along dusty, uneven, narrow, cliff edge paths, that I was not frightened. In the past, my previous self would have been terrified. But I was calm and could look around and enjoy the view. This had to be, I decided, a result of the improved balance that has accompanied my weight loss.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This set me thinking about all the other benefits that have come from losing weight. I’ve now lost seven and a half stone, or 47.6 KG, or 105 lb. Some of the benefits are obvious: being able to buy smaller clothes from ordinary clothing shops, nice comments from people, improved health, increased confidence. Others, like improved balance, are more subtle or surprising. So I’ve compiled a list.

  • Improved health and fitness generally. An obvious one, but everything has improved. The improvements began with losing weight, which then gave me the motivation and confidence to exercise more, which then helped the weight loss. A wonderful beneficial cycle.
  • Balance – already mentioned. My balance is also aided, I expect by twice weekly yoga. I can walk across balance beams, climb things (as long as they aren’t too high) and stand on things (chairs, step ladders etc) without feeling sick and dizzy.
  • I can jump. Yes, I can jump. I still wobble. But it no longer hurts, and I’m not afraid that I’ll damage myself. I work with children, and you’d be surprised at how often jumping is required as part of a normal working day.
  • Flexibility. A few years back, I couldn’t sit with my legs crossed. I couldn’t show small children how they should sit, because I couldn’t do it myself. I struggled to get up when I sat on the floor – another feature of my job. Simple everyday tasks were difficult because I wasn’t flexible, or because I couldn’t reach around my body. As I practise yoga, I find myself increasingly able to make new shapes and move in different ways. This is both because I am becoming more supple with practise, and because there is less of me now to get in the way.
  • Fewer aches and pains. The aches and pains I get now are likely to be the result of a particularly strenuous run or workout, and are short-lived. For years I would wake at night with terrible leg pains – no doubt the result of my poor body bearing the pressure of nearly 21 stone in weight. My lower back pain, which I have lived with for twenty years, also seems to be finally resolving itself. Miraculous!
  • Fewer illnesses. I don’t know if there’s any medical basis or evidence for this; I am purely using my own experience. Before I began to lose weight, and sorted my diet out, I went through a period of having constant colds, tonsillitis, and general bugs and minor ailments. Now I rarely catch these things. Improved nutrition feeding my immune system, and a healthier body generally, are perhaps the source.
  • Clothes shopping. I need new clothes, nothing fits. But – I can buy them just about anywhere! I no longer need to find specialist shops. I’ve also revisited an old hobby of dressmaking, because I can now get excited about clothes.
  • Not just clothing – safety equipment, uniform, event t-shirts. The absolute embarrassment of having to wear a high-visibility jacket, and finding it won’t go around you, you can barely get your arms through the arm holes. Now, if I turn up to volunteer or participate in an event, I can reasonably sure that any safety equipment, t-shirts etc are reasonably likely to fit. Before, I would ask for the biggest size going, and just hope I wouldn’t end up looking like an overstuffed sausage, or a trussed turkey.
  • Footwear. On the subject of things to wear – shoes, boots, and trainers would all present challenges of their own. Now I can feel like Cinderella when I try on a humble wellington boot.
  • Glasses. Yes, even buying glasses that fit could be a challenge.
  • Seats and chairs. Coach seats, theatre seats, aeroplane seats – any seats where you can find yourself getting unintentionally up close and personal with a total stranger as you encroach – or spill – onto their space. I recently attended my daughter’s graduation ceremony with my husband. It was a wonderful experience and we couldn’t have been prouder. But, my goodness, the venue was warm, and the seats were packed tight. I was very glad of my weight loss then, and if the person squashed up next to me had known, she would have been glad too.
  • Seat belts. Naturally following on from seats, seat belts no longer inspire fear in me. I have, over the years, found myself in situations when there was a very real danger of not getting that seat belt done up. I would heave and tug and sweat to get that damned clip to connect. Uncomfortable in more ways than one when a friend or colleague is giving you a lift. Of course, I would do what we tend to do in these situations and joke about it. But it was painful.
  • Going incognito. Seriously. I live in the sort of community where everyone knows everybody else, and everyone knows everybody else’s business (or thinks they do, which is worse). Being stopped in the street and complimented on weight loss may be pleasant. But being unrecognised can be strangely liberating. Like being new person with a clean slate.
  • Eat whatever you want in front of people, and don’t tolerate their judgements. I often pack a full lunchbox for work – I find I need to eat more in the middle of the day. In the past my inner voice would fret that people would judge me – ‘look at that big fat woman with all that food’. And people do make comments, people can be rude and cruel. Sometimes people think they are trying to help, but their comments aren’t always welcome. But my answer now is – ‘I’ve lost 105 lbs and I know what I’m doing’. And why is it anyone else’s business anyway?
  • Images and reflections. I would avoid photographs like the plague. And I used to joke that I’d rather go to the dentist and have a root canal than go to the hairdressers. Why? One word – mirrors. I’m still not crazy about my reflection or photos, but I no longer fear them.
  • Confidence. As I no longer live in a state of constant fear, fear of finding myself in some sort of horrible, size-related embarrassing situation, I have gained confidence. Confidence to try new things, be more adventurous, by myself. I can, of course, still find ways to make myself ridiculous. I am but an imperfect human, after all. But that doesn’t hold me back like my size used to.

It is of course wrong that anyone should feel judged because of their weight, size or any aspect of their physical appearance. I started out on my weight loss journey because I feared for my health, and I was tired of feeling unwell all the time. But losing weight has helped me to feel more confident in ways that I never expected, and that’s got to be a bonus.

So now I have just under three stone left to lose. I wonder what other benefits I will discover as I approach my target weight?