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.

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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?

Dreams of running

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I could be about to tell you about my running dreams and aspirations, about the marathon I’ve signed up for, or the ultra I want to do in some dim and distant fantasy future. But those dreams are a topic for a different day. Today, I’m preoccupied with the sort of running dreams we might have when we sleep.

Last night I believe I had my first dream that was about running for running’s sake, for the joy of moving. Running is a frequent ingredient of my dreams – running up and down stairs is a favourite. Or running to find my missing children (terrifying). Trying to escape some terrible fate or monster also involves running – often (maddeningly) in slow motion. And if I had a pound for every time I’ve had a dream about running to catch a bus/train/plane, I would be very wealthy indeed. I don’t waste much time thinking about these, or any other dreams, because it’s usually fairly easy to see where they are coming from; worries and anxiety for the most part. And if there’s some peculiar significance to any of my dreams, I’d really rather not know.

Last night’s dream of running was different. There was no other purpose to the run. Just as when I run in real life, the activity was for its own sake, nothing more or less. It was wonderful; I laughed as I ran laps flat out inside my house (which of course looked nothing like my house, more resembling an athletics track). I sped around the cavernous living room (why was there no furniture?) checking my Fitbit for steps. I don’t recall how, or when the dream ended. But I do remember being aware of a physical sensation of running, of the rhythm of my feet striking the ground. It was probably a most fleeting moment in a night of surreal nonsense. But it left a lasting impression on me as I awoke.

After I woke up, I contemplated what this means. Is it like when you’re learning a new language and you know you’re making progress when you begin to dream – even just a little – in the new language, new words floating into the corners of your thoughts? Does this mean that my subconscious mind is so immersed in running that I am now, truly a runner?

Naturally, as I’m spending quite a lot of time running now, my subconscious mind must need to process this as I sleep. But it was a powerfully positive experience.

And naturally, after dreaming about a lovely run, I had to get my running shoes on. A short recovery run – just 2.2 miles – to blow the cobwebs away.

Do you dream of running?

Don’t panic!

We all have our triggers, things that can send a generally rational person into out-of-control panic mode. One of my triggers (and I usually consider myself to be a pretty laid back sort of person) sits skulking on the platform of my local railway station; the self-service ticket machine.

It’s a standing joke with my family. Supposedly funny remarks are frequently made, in all sorts of circumstances, about allowing ‘enough time for the tickets to print’. Enough time, in humorous banter, being several hours, or perhaps a day or two. But it’s no joke to me. That machine is slow, and there’s always a queue. I’ve seen people miss their train while they wait patiently for the tickets to slowly appear. My fear of this happening is, of course, entirely out of proportion with the likely consequences. But fear is a powerful beast.

So I allow lots of time, and am then happy to wait 30 minutes for my train secure in the knowledge that I have my precious tickets in my hot sweaty palm.

Well today I was off on the train to a conference. I set out good and early, my little suitcase suspiciously full for an overnight stay (packed with running and swimming gear, just in case).

I approached Bridgwater Railway Station feeling smug in the knowledge that I had plenty of time to spare. Then, with a sudden shock, I noticed barriers all around the car park as men were busily working away in the June sunshine.

‘What?’ I shouted. ‘What, what, what?’ And some other words too. A sign: ‘Car Park Closed. Please use temporary car park in Clarks Road’.

Well, I had no idea where that was. I pulled over, dug my phone out of my bag, looked up Clarks Road, saw it was close by, and set off again.

I found the car park, which was on the other side of the station, parked up, ignored the sign telling me which way to go and headed off over the wrong footbridge, realised my mistake and sorted myself out. What if they’ve moved the ticked machine I wondered, without cause. How will I know where to find it? Other nonsensical thoughts tried to push themselves into my frazzled brain. I blocked them out. Just keep going; you’ve got time.

I dashed along the platform to the correct footbridge, heavy suitcase spinning over as I rushed, and noticed people starting to position themselves ready to board the train.

As I crossed the bridge I noticed the ticket machine was there. Good. But a man was using it. Slowly. He held his phone casually in his hand as he looked up his booking code.

‘No, no, no, too slow, too slow, too slow’, I muttered to myself.

I dropped my suitcase next to the poor chap and started babbling about the car park and the footbridges, and oh the slowness of this machine.

I was shaking and felt like I might vomit. The machine trundled out tickets in painful slow motion.

The man responded to my crazy babble with sympathetic reassurances.

I got my tickets – just in time. Really, only just. My children will joke and say ‘What, only half an hour to spare?’

But it really was close. Seconds to spare.

But – if I’d missed the train, what’s the worse thing that could have happened? Really?

Sat on the train, I started to wonder about my car. Did I lock it? Put it in park? Close the windows? Apply the handbrake? ARE THE DOORS WIDE OPEN?

Stop it, I said to myself.

Why do we do this to ourselves? My rational, thinking brain switched off this morning, and panic took over.

And for what?

I now feel a bit silly. But I’m not going to be hard on myself. We are none of us perfect. We can just keep trying.

And I very glad of the running kit in my suitcase because, above all else, what I now need is a good run.

Trailing off….

Today I had some firsts. I ran my first 10 mile run. I did my first bit of trail running (just three of the ten miles). I ran in my new trail shoes – my first ever pair of trail shoes. And I tackled a particularly impressive hill, which my son has been telling me to try for some months now.

When I left the house this morning I didn’t really have a plan other than to try the new shoes out on a bit of trail, and see how I felt. Well, I felt pretty pretty fabulous, and had fun making things up as I went along.

A deceptively logical route, quite unplanned and spontaneous

I headed first to Shurton, about a mile from home, where a public footpath skirts round the edge of the construction site for Hinkley Point C power station. I know, sounds idyllic. I’d been that way previously on dog walks, and it is actually quite pleasant, has a reasonable surface to run on, and leads to the England Coast Path.

I followed the footpath around the edge of the construction site, heading west. Then out onto a rough track, heading towards the coast. At the end of the track, turning left, there was a ridge with fabulous views of the Quantock Hills to one side and the good old muddy Bristol Channel to the other. After this, a rough track led down to the coast, and then I followed the coast west. At this point, the path had disappeared and I was running through longish grass. I felt comfortable and energised.

The experience reminded me of my teenage self taking off into the Warwickshire countryside on my bike on a Sunday afternoon. I’d take an apple and 20p to buy a drink (this was the 80s), and have only the vaguest idea where to go. This run was one which my seventeen year old self would have relished. I ran through the grass (walked a bit when it got too long) without really knowing where I was going. My son runs this route, and had told me roughly where he goes, so I wasn’t being entirely irresponsible. But it was fun being out on my own exploring. I passed a bench where my son likes to sit and read and sleep when he comes this way, so I knew I was on the right track.

I passed through several fields, enjoying the views of hills, rolling countryside and the sea. Eventually, after about three miles of trail, I reached a gate that led to the footpath to Lilstock Beach.

I left the lovely fields behind me, had a look at the beach, and ate a Nakd bar (I’m experimenting with fuelling in readiness for marathon training). Then I set off again, down the track from the beach car park to the road. I could have just run straight back home from there, about another three miles. But I still felt really fresh, and was thinking that it would be good to cover ten miles, so I continued on a little further.

The next point where I needed to decide which direction to take was at Kilton. One road led towards home, the other led to a hill which my son has been talking about for some time. A hill which was, apparently, really rather big. ‘Let’s have a look at this hill,’ I said to the clouds.

The hill was steep and the hill was long and the hill was high. How my son runs up that I have no idea. I walked some, ran some, walked some. It just went on and on, no end in sight. Because it curves around, it is impossible to gauge how much more there is going to be. This is it, I thought. The world is just going up now. No more down.

Some hills

Eventually, there was a top. And there was a down, which I really enjoyed. And it was down most of the way home. I even toyed with the idea of adding a detour to make up a half marathon distance. But as I entered the ninth mile I found I became fatigued. So I made the sensible decision to head back to the village and home. As I approached my house I took out my phone to check Strava. I watched 9.9 miles roll into 10 miles as I approached my front door. I couldn’t have planned that better if I’d tried.

Falmouth Race for Life

On Sunday 12 May I took part in Falmouth’s 2019 5K Race for Life, along with my youngest daughter.

Race for Life is a series of runs organised and hosted by Cancer Research UK, to raise money for research into all types of cancer. The runs are friendly, fun and untimed. The dress code is pink.

Falmouth (151 miles from home) is a long way to go to take part in a charity run, although it is local to my daughter. Last year we talked about doing the race together in Falmouth, before my daughter graduates and moves away from this beautiful part of the world. So we combined the race with a family holiday, and a celebration of three years of study coming to an end for my daughter.

I’ve taken part in my local race, at Taunton, in the past with both of my daughters (back then I walked The 5K, whereas now I’m proud to be a runner). I’ve also marshalled at Taunton, and will again this year. Race for Life is important to me as I have, along with everybody else I know, lost loved ones to cancer. I run the race in memory of all those we have lost, and most of all for my dad.

We set out from our holiday accomodation in Swanpool for a 1 mile stroll along the coastal path in glorious sunshine. The weather forecast was for a warm, sunny day. Very pretty, but not my ideal running conditions.We arrived at race headquarters, Gyllyngvase Beach car park, earlier than we needed to, and had a relaxed wander on the beach. Groups of pink clad people started to gather, and I noticed that these groups included men. I’d forgotten that men could now participate (should have signed my husband up!) In the past, Race for Life was a female only event (with the exception of children – boys could join in). Although I acknowledge that it’s important for women to have their own spaces in which to do things, I was pleased to see the men joining in. The whole event still felt, as in the past, like a big hen party. The men looked very festive dressed in pink. But their back signs, naming the people they were running for, were a powerful reminder of why they shouldn’t be excluded. Cancer affects everyone.

Before the race began, and before the warm up, there was time for reflection. Race for Life is like a big party, but with something very serious at its core. We heard individual accounts of peoples’ experiences with cancer. And then we had a minute’s silence for reflection. Inevitably, I cried. Inevitably, I’d forgotten to bring tissues. And inevitably, my husband handed me a wad of kitchen towel. And as quick as that, we were doing the warm up and laughing.

Then, participants were directed to follow a flag depending on whether they intended to walk and chat, run, or be somewhere in between. We chose the middle flag. We made our way to the start, and were off.

The course was along closed, spectator lined, roads. It took us along the promenade, alongside the beach, and up to Pendennis Point. It then went up and around Pendennis Point, circling Pendennis Castle, before returning along the promenade to the beach car park.The course was undulating, with gorgeous views everywhere.I set off alongside my daughter. Some of her friends had come to cheer her on, and we gave them a wave. My daughter then raced off ahead, and I soon lost sight of her. I had told her in advance not to hang back with me. I know she’s faster and more competitive than me.

Along the promenade, onlookers waved and clapped. Marshalls banged and shook musical instruments, and gave out high-fives with giant foam hands. The sun shone down on us and the sea glittered.

As we approached the end of the promenade, the road climbed towards Pendennis Point. We followed the road around. Some people chose to walk here. I was determined to keep running; my daughter wouldn’t be walking.

We had a fabulous view of Falmouth Docks as the road curved up and around. Eventually the road entered a wooded area, offering some welcome shade. Then the road began to slope back down again. We passed the entrance to Pendennis Castle, and I made a mental note to come back and visit the castle later. I stopped briefly to take a very hurried photo of the view, and then enjoyed the downhill run.

As I reached the promenade once more, I felt hot and tired. All shade was gone. The road sloped upwards slightly, before eventually falling away again on the return to the finish line. I pushed on, wondering how far ahead my daughter was.

As I approached the finish, I felt grateful that this was only a 5K race. I noticed my husband waiting, and gave him a wave as I ran by. Being cheered on is a new experience for me – running being something that I prefer to go off and do by myself. But I appreciated the support. I ran through the finish, collected my medal, found my husband and daughter, and checked Strava. Race for Life isn’t timed, but it’s still nice to know.

The race was too hot for my liking, and a bit hilly, but I got my second best 5K time. Which was good enough. I was also only two minutes behind my daughter. I’m catching up!

I had a fantastic time, and raised some money for cancer research. It was emotional; there were tears and laughter. There was also sweat and sunburn – despite having generously applied factor 50 (The Cornish sunshine can be brutal).

The race was well organised, well supported, and the atmosphere was fantastic.

It was a good morning.

My feet did all the work, so they get to wear the medal

It’s a hill – run round it: Round the Tor 10K

The Prologue

Glastonbury is a town steeped in myth and legend. It is associated with King Arthur, said to have been visited by Joseph of Arimathea, and is home to a certain music festival. It is also, as I discovered yesterday, home to a lovely 10K race.

After my experience at the sweltering Yeovil Easter Bunny 10K, I had decided not to enter any more races for a while. Who was I kidding? An enjoyable long run last weekend, and the promise of a nice chilly May Day bank holiday weekend, had me scouring race websites. I was excited to spot the ‘Round the Tor’, part of the Glastonbury Road Run, which also features a 3K, 5K and a fun run. The 10K race promised closed roads, great views and undulating terrain. I signed up straight away.

As I’d entered last minute, I missed the cut-off date to receive a free t-shirt. This didn’t worry me – it’s not like I need any more t-shirts. I would wear my Lonely Goat Running Club (blue) t-shirt with pride. All the pre-race information was available online, and bibs were to be collected from the race HQ on the day. I read through all the information, poured over the route map, and waited for the day of the race.

The weather forecast for the day was perfect – dry and not too warm. I set off allowing extra time for parking. As roads were going to be closed for the race, parking needed some planning. The pre-race guidance suggested various options, including roadside parking in an industrial park just outside the town. This would mean an extra walk of, it said, 10 to 15 minutes. I went for this option as it was on my way into Glastonbury and easy to find.

As I walked along towards the town centre at a brisk pace, I realised that I’d underestimated the distance from the industrial estate to the HQ. It was not a 10 minute walk. I was happy to walk for a warm up, but didn’t want to use up valuable energy best saved for running. After 50 minutes in the car, I was also becoming uncomfortably aware of my bladder.

I began to feel anxious. What if it took me too long to get to the race, and I missed the start? What if I didn’t have time to visit the toilet? What if I couldn’t find the HQ, the bag drop or the toilets? What if I had to choose between getting a bib and going to the toilet? I certainly wouldn’t be able to run with such a full bladder.

As I walked down towards the town, I spotted marshals. I asked for directions to the race headquarters – down the road, turn left and head for the Town Hall on your right. I passed the start lines for the 10K and 5K races, and realised that the 5K race – which preceded the 10K – was already taking place. My anxiety bubbled up a notch.

I walked down the road looking for a Town Hall. I know Glastonbury, but not well. When I visit Glastonbury, I usually just hang out in the Abbey, one of my all-time favourite places. I had no idea what the Town Hall looked like or where to find it.

There were people everywhere, and there seemed to be lots going on. There were quite a lot of people dressed as wizards, or painted green and covered in ivy. This is not so unusual in Glastonbury, but seemed to be more popular than ever today. I spotted a poster advertising the Glastonbury Dragon festival, and the penny dropped.

I saw people coming out of an entrance in a stone wall wearing race bibs, so I went through the entrance. There were lots of market stalls in a fenced off portion of the Abbey grounds, but no sign of race-related things. I exited, walked a bit further, and spotted the public conveniences. That was one problem down.

I then went further up the road, looking for a likely Town Hall on the right. Speedy 5K racers were running towards the finish line. I panicked, doubled back to the Abbey grounds entrance, and asked a chap wearing a lanyard for help. He had no idea about the race, but could tell me where to find the Town Hall. Straight ahead, on the right, right next to the finish line. Still unsure, I asked a runner walking towards me where he’d got his bib from, and he told me – straight ahead, on the right, next to the finish, up the steps.

As I walked up the steps, freshly bibbed runners poured down towards me. I felt reassured. People were still around, they weren’t all up at the start line without me. I wasn’t going to miss the race.

I collected my bib, dropped my bag, used the toilet again, and chatted to fellow members of the Lonely Goat Running Club. As we walked up to the start line, we chatted about the course. Apparently, there was going to be a really big hill at the end, known as Heartbreak Hill. Something to look forward to.

The Race

The course very literally takes runners right around the iconic Glastonbury Tor. It runs through the town centre, past residential areas, and then into country lanes. It is undulating (AKA a bit hilly). There are some dodgy road surfaces. But the views are wonderful.

We set off, a large group of runners in a comparatively small space, shuffling along, then gradually picked up the pace a little. We ran as a mass down the road, with spectators cheering and Glastonbury’s Dragon Drummers playing a rousing beat for us. I had my best ever running playlist ready to go, but held off playing it so I could fully soak up the atmosphere. We ran past the Abbey and then along past the finish line, making all the expected jokes about short races. Then a turn, and an uphill section, with onlookers clapping and shouting encouragement.

One kilometre in and I was feeling very comfortable. I remembered the Easter Bunny race. I’d felt comfortable at 1K then, and then it all got too hot and uncomfortable. But today felt different. It was cooler for one thing. Plus there were no cars, and at the side of the road, as we ran through a residential area, people were still clapping and cheering. I put on my playlist and began to get into my stride to the sound of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz. I did enjoy the 70s.

As I caught my first glimpses of the Tor to the right of us, it looked very far away – I didn’t see how we could possibly run all the way around it in just 10K. I could make out tiny shapes of people walking along the top, and made a promise to myself that I must finally get around to walking up the Tor this summer.

I’d settled by this point into a little group of people who’d been together since the start. I’d lost my fellow Lonely Goats – they’d all sped off ahead of me. I noticed a young couple just ahead. They were walking and running, but at the same pace as my constant slow jog. Every time they began to run again, the woman started off with a little skip. I smiled each time, and wished I could feel like skipping.

I also noticed that lots of people were wearing those free race t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘it’s a hill, run around it’. I made a promise to myself to try to buy one at the end of the race. It seemed I needed one after all.

At the 4K marker, I realised we must be near to the water station. Before we reached it, there was a fairly steep hill. I noticed a couple of runners start to walk, but I was determined to keep going, sure that there would be water and an opportunity to walk any moment. As we neared the top of the hill, I could hear loud cheers just ahead.

The water station was just outside a camp site, and was well manned by volunteers, including cheering children handing out jelly babies and Haribo sweets. It’s such a simple thing, but the encouragement makes a huge difference. All along the route, wherever we passed a house or farm, there would be people waiting to cheer and clap. Some people had set up deckchairs in their gardens, clearly making the most of the entertainment. But I really appreciated their presence.

I whooped for joy as I passed the 5K marker. At 7KM there was another water station, with children banging musical instruments, and being generally just fabulous. As I passed the 8KM marker I realised I was coming to the end and felt a little sad. At each marker, I try to relate the distance to my home 10K run. I visualise where I would usually be, and this seems to help keep me going. At 8KM I know I would be on the straight run back to my village. Except my home 10K ends with a downhill stretch, whereas this run still had Heartbreak Hill to come. The 9KM marker came and went as we headed back towards the town and still no hill. Oh come on, I thought, lets get this hill over with.

Then I saw it. A hill. People walking up it. I walked. I looked. It didn’t actually look too bad. It was a bit steep, but not that high. Perhaps there will be more around the corner? I decided to walk to be on the safe side, to keep something in reserve, in case it went on and on. But no, that was it. When I looked at Strava later, this hill was not that significant compared to the rest of the course. But it was in the wrong place.

After the hill, a good downhill dash, and a long run in to the finish with crowds of people cheering. It felt fabulous, and I shaved minutes (about 5 – going by Strava) off my personal best. Maybe it was the long warm up, or the adrenaline of my irrational anxiety attack, or perhaps it was because this profile and terrain of this run was more like the runs I do it home. Or maybe it was just because this was just such a damned good run, well supported by fantastic people. But it was so far (in my very short experience) the best run ever.

Afterwards, I bought my t-shirt (£7 well spent). I was more thrilled than anyone can imagine that the woman selling t-shirts genuinely thought I should buy a medium. But I bought a large. It takes some getting used to, after having to always buy the very biggest size available – and then worrying that it still might not fit. Then I enjoyed some of the Dragon Festival festivities, had an obligatory wander around the Abbey, before getting lost on the way back to my car.

The Dragon Festival

There was a dragon fight between a white and a red dragon but – as in the Game of Thrones Battle of Winterfell episode – it was hard to see

Glastonbury Abbey

Hot Runnings

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Okay, so the desert image is something of an exaggeration. When I ran a festive Easter Bunny 10K on Easter Monday, the temperature was perhaps high teens or low twenties (degrees Celsius). But it was humid and muggy and I’m not at all used to running in the heat.

Preparation (or not)

I’ve been preparing consistently over time, building towards my first half marathon later in the year. So I expected to be well prepared for this race. I was hopeful of a new personal best.

However, my preparation during the final week leading up to the race was far from ideal. I was away at a conference in Liverpool which, although very worthwhile, completely upset my routine.

Sitting on super uncomfortable chairs from 9 am until 6 pm is not my idea of fun.

I tried to make healthy meal choices through the week, but I often found myself rushed and eating odd things at odd times. Sometimes I even consumed alcohol, which isn’t something I do very often. I did manage to squeeze in a couple of 5K runs, and there was a lot of walking involved between conference sessions. The Albert Dock area of Liverpool is an excellent place to go for a run, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting out and stretching my legs.

Making a speech while gnashing my teeth

I had a speech to make on behalf of my district, and running proved to be a good nerve-calming exercise as my speech-making moment approached.

I arrived home on Good Friday, with a couple of days to recover before the race on Easter Monday. I managed a little run on Saturday, but then over ate and drank wine on Sunday.

And that was the preparation for my second 10K race.

Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny 10K is organised by Yeovil Town Road Running Club, and takes place in Yeovilton, Somerset. It’s a small road race, on open roads, limited to 500 participants.

The weather over the Easter weekend had been unusually warm for April in the UK. The weather forecast suggested that Monday, the day of the race, would be a little cooler.

The race would start opposite the Fleet Air Arm Museum, at 11 am. Fleet is about an hour’s drive from my home. I decided to set out at around 9 am, to allow plenty of time for getting lost or stuck behind a tractor, and for parking.

I had a straightforward drive through the Somerset countryside and arrived in good time. There was plenty of parking. I located the toilets – very important. There was a hall with drinks and cake available – but I didn’t partake and so can’t comment. I had a banana, and kept hydrating and then making use of the toilet. I pinned on my number. I stretched. It was overcast and not too warm.

We were called to a pre-race briefing which reminded us of the importance of not wearing earpieces of any type, due to the nature of the race. We must keep left at all times. We would be racing on open roads and cars, by all accounts, would be speeding off the A303. I began to feel a little worried.

Then the time came to line up behind the starting line. Everyone found their spot. I noticed the 45 and 60 minute pacers in the distance, and made a mental note not to go anywhere near them. My best time is considerably slower.

Then the sun blazed through the cloud and the temperature suddenly leapt up just in time for us to set off.

I had my usual doubts about what I was doing. Would I be able to cope with the heat? Would I be able to finish? What if I collapsed? What did I think I was doing, pretending I could run like these other people?

Then I began to enjoy the feeling of being a part of this group of 500 people all running off together along the roads and lanes of Somerset.

We ran past the Fleet Air Arm Museum, then turned right into a smaller road. A number of cars were creeping along trying to pass us, and I could see why there was a blanket ban of all types of earpieces and MP3s. We soon passed the 1 KM sign, and I felt very comfortable. The group was starting to stretch out a little more, but there was still a large bunch of us together. I said to myself ‘just do this nine more times. That’s easy’.

Some people ran past me, and I ran past some other people, as we all found and settled into our own pace. The line stretched and thinned out. The sun became hotter. I became hotter. I noticed that there was shade on the other side of the road, and wished that we didn’t have to keep left.

By the time we reached the 2 KM post, I was uncomfortably hot. I noticed that quite a lot of people had begun walking. I didn’t want to walk. I don’t usually walk when I run this distance, so why should I do it on a race? But I was beginning to feel that I needed to walk. I tried to keep going. By 4 KM I was wondering whether I would be able to finish at all. I was struggling. The back of my head felt cold, but the rest of me was pouring out sweat, and my scalp was tingling. Then there was a hill. I walked. Down the other side of the hill there was a water station, so I stopped while I had some water, and then set of again at a gentle trot.

From then on, I ran as much as I felt I could, and walked when I needed to cool down. After 5 KM I started to feel more optimistic about finishing. I ran alongside another woman for a while and chatted about running and the race, and complained about the weather. If talking about the weather could be converted into fuel, we would both have been turbo charged. We weren’t.

The course itself was one and a half laps, a big loop with a smaller loop inside. It was mostly flat, rural and very pleasant. The course was very well marshalled. I had been worried, as the line of runners spread out and I fell behind, that I might miss a turning and get hopelessly lost, or keep running on the same road forever. But there was no possibility of going wrong as there were marshals and signposts all along the route. The marshals, and other runners, were all very friendly and everyone encouraged each other to keep going in the heat.

The first loop brought us almost back to the start before heading off again for the second, smaller loop. It was psychologically hard having to run towards the second loop when the finish line was almost in sight – and faster runners were already heading that way. People were cheering friends on who had almost finished, while many of us still had another lap to run. But then people also cheered us tortoises on, encouraging us to keep going. I suppose this is where the mental strength and discipline that comes from training comes in useful. Because I could have given up there and then, but I didn’t. I completed the second loop, which was far shorter and quicker.

I continued to run-walk-run during the second loop, but made sure that I ran the final kilometre all the way back to the finish line. I heard people in passing cars clap as I puffed along the final stretch. I also heard laughter, and there may have been a few choice remarks, but I paid them no attention.

As I ran up to the finish I saw the time: 1 hour 20 minutes. My slowest 10K, but not by as much as I had expected. And I was enormously proud to have finished.

I learned something from this experience:

  • I don’t like running in warm weather
  • Don’t enter races in summer, which will most likely be hotter
  • Taking part and finishing really is the most important thing
  • Plan races for when you have time to feel properly prepared for them

This was by far my most challenging running experience – What is the hardest run you’ve ever done?

Finding Balance

Croyde Bay

Yesterday I returned from a fascinating and enjoyable conference at Croyde Bay in Devon. My concerns about how the conference would impact on my fitness efforts formed the subject of my previous post. In the past I have always gained weight on these events. Sitting all day, being offered three course meals and cooked breakfasts, lots of coffee and biscuit breaks, and socialising (drinking) in the evening can all lead to consuming many more calories than are needed.

So I went along to this conference with a bit of a plan – fit in some activity, make healthy meal choices as far as possible, don’t eat what you don’t need, and eat fruit during breaks rather than biscuits. Oh, and limit alcohol to one glass of wine with dinner, and a glass of something afterwards. I rarely drink, and I knew that I would pay for overindulgence big time.

So how did I get on?

Physical Activity

I arrived at the conference in good time, having taken nearly two hours to drive through West Somerset, across Exmoor and into Devon. The conditions were foggy, so I set out early and took my time. I checked in, and then settled down to spend most of the day sitting in the same spot. At least the chairs were reasonably comfortable.

Conference wound up at 5.30 pm. Dinner would be served from 7.30 pm. How to fill the time in between? Should I go for a run on the beach? Or a swim? Or use the gym? (The old me would probably have spent some time in my room reading or watching TV, and then got to the bar early for drinks before dinner). It was grey, drizzling and dismal outside. So I decided to go for a swim, then the try out the gym.

I enjoyed the swim. The pool was quite small, but it was quiet and I was able to have a good swim. I did lengths for about 25 minutes, then changed for the gym.

The gym was, again, small. But it had a selection of fixed equipment and loose weights to use. I planned to use the treadmill and elliptical cross trainer, as these are what I’m used to. It was warm in the gym. Far too warm. I had some water, and worked out how to set up the treadmill. I warmed up, and then got running. I quickly found that I was far too hot. I kept going for my target time of 25 minutes, and felt pleased for myself for having got through it. The elliptical machine had lost its appeal, and I exited the gym looking like a bedraggled tomato.

On Saturday morning, after a night of disturbed sleep, I awoke early. The sun was shining and it was a glorious, fresh, spring morning. I put on my running gear, and headed straight out. A quick walk through the hotel grounds and over sand dunes, and I was on the beach. I’m not used to running on sand, and found it hard going. But I was in no rush. The sound of the surf and the gentle sea breeze were all the tonic I needed to help me put the previous evening’s horrible run behind me.

At the end of the beach, I turned off and ran back through the village to the hotel. A lovely morning run of just over two miles. Just enough to set me up for the day, and to calm my nerves before delivering my speech.

Food and drink

I stuck to my resolution of eating fruit instead of biscuits at coffee time. I probably still consumed too much sugar, but at least I also consumed other, more useful, nutrients.

At lunch time I chose vegetable Thai curry with rice. There was a chicken Thai curry, or macaroni cheese on offer too. The vegetable curry looked the nicest, and was very tasty indeed. I am not a vegetarian, but I prefer to limit my meat consumption. For desert? The choice was chocolate eclairs or fruit. I chose fruit. If I had wanted the cream cake, I would have had one, but they actually didn’t appeal to me.

Dinner was three courses. I had melon and Parma ham for starter. Roast gammon, lots and lots of vegetables, roast potatoes and gravy for my main course. Then strawberries and clotted cream for desert. Yes, clotted cream. Like I said, if I want it, I’ll have it. No excuses, no ifs or buts, no guilt. And I did enjoy it.

I had a glass of Shiraz with dinner, and another in the bar later.

On Saturday morning, there was a big choice of different breakfast options. I’d had a cereal bar and coffee in my room before my run. I didn’t feel very hungry, so I had melon and pineapple with yogurt. The people I sat with said they were eating as much breakfast as they could ‘because we don’t get lunch’. That was their choice. Personally, I find that it doesn’t matter how much sausage and bacon I eat at 8 am, I’ll still feel hungry by 1 pm. And I didn’t want to feel bloated and uncomfortable with a speech to deliver.

The Conference

The conference itself was thought provoking. We discussed everything from child poverty to period dignity, from the opportunities offered by digital technology, to the challenges faced by firefighters during and after the Grenfell Tower fire. I presented a speech about the menopause in the workplace. This was really just saying that employers, and trade union reps, need to understand and develop a policy around menopause, so that women can be appropriately and effectively supported. My speech was well received, leaving me able to breathe a sigh of relief, relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Most of all, I appreciated having the opportunity to meet other people from different industries in such a beautiful location.

And now….

I am back home and feeling shattered. I haven’t had time for a long run this week, but that will have to wait. Perhaps a bit of yoga and some weights instead.

I’m really pleased that I was able to go away and enjoy the experience, without abandoning or wrecking this new, more balanced lifestyle.

And whatever I did, whatever I ate, it must have worked. I weighed myself this morning and found that, rather than gaining weight, I have lost a pound. This brings my total weight loss to six and a half stone, or 91 lb, or around 41 kilograms.

Something to build on before I go away next weekend for another, longer conference.

Conference Season

Photo by Skitterphoto on

As a new runner, I can see that running is changing the way I perceive things. When I listen to music on the radio, I think about which tracks I should to add to my running playlist. As I drive around, I look out for possible new routes to run. When planning meals, I try to think about nourishing my body to fuel my runs. And I always wear good sensible shoes because I want to take really good care of my feet.

As Easter approaches, so too does the conference season. As an active trade unionist, I’ll be attending conferences for my union, and the wider trade union movement.

I have one such conference coming up this weekend. Conferences are great opportunities for debate and discussion, networking with colleagues and sharing ideas. They tend to include a great deal of sitting and listening, and less opportunity for moving. They also involve, what with being far from home and meeting up with all those like minded people, a degree of eating out and consuming alcoholic liquids.

My preparations for conferences used to include, in addition to choosing which interesting meetings to attend, researching places to eat out and deciding which clothes to pack.

This year I’ve noticed a change. I’ve noticed myself looking through the conference timetables working out when I can fit in a run. I’ve been busy planning routes on Map My Run. I’ve packed my suitcase so full of running gear (do I really need a head torch?) that I’m going to need a much bigger suitcase for my actual clothes.

The hotel where I’m staying for the first, two day, conference has a pool and a small gym. However, the conference has a very busy timetable, and only one overnight stay. Oh what a dilemma! I’m currently torn between writing a speech on menopause in the workplace (more of this on another occasion), and trying to bend time to see how I can fit in a) a run, b) a swim, c) a gym session and d) a walk on the beach. Such torment, the conference is taking place at the seaside next to a beautiful sandy beach.

Then there will also be opportunities to engage in lively debate, catch up with colleagues, and learn something new. The actual business that I’m there for.

I suppose the solution is to prioritise. After giving full attention to the business of the conference, I will see what I can fit in. A swim before breakfast? A run before dinner? And a walk on the beach after the conference closes? Sounds good to me.

Recovery Run – in more ways than one

To run or not to run, with a head full of cold and painful sinuses. Run, obviously, and try to clear out the mucous. This cold is going on and on, and frankly, I’ve had enough of it now. With a day off from my regular work, I had planned to try and get some agency work today. But after feeling like I was wading through treacle all day yesterday, I decided that I needed to keep my day off. Not that I don’t need the money, but sometimes it’s necessary to listen to what the body and mind need instead. A beautiful, mild, sunny morning with a slight fresh breeze, it was perfect for running.
I headed off for a slow 5K recovery run feeling tired and sluggish. To keep me going I listened to a Headspace podcast from Nike Run Club. The podcasts are designed to be played with music in the background, but I’ve found that this doesn’t work on my phone, and tends to make the podcast crash. So I trotted along focusing on the podcast, and when the podcast was quiet, I enjoyed the sound of birdsong. The podcast helped me focus on why I was running, and what I needed to get out of it. It clearly was not going to be my best or quickest run ever – and I am slow at the best of times. But I was out, building my fitness and stamina, enjoying the sunshine, and also taking the opportunity to leave some of the stresses of everyday life behind. Even though I was slow, the time went quickly, and before I knew it I was approaching my house. I checked my phone, and realised that I still needed to run a few hundred metres. I usually add on a little detour to the route to make a full 5K, but I was so zoned out I’d forgotten. So I ran past my house and kept going to make up the distance. To cool down, I took a stroll to the local castle. Stogursey has a pretty little castle, which I rarely visit. The castle is a ruin, with some 12th century stonework and a much newer, restored gatehouse. It’s is rented out by The Landmark Trust, so it isn’t generally possible to get inside, unless you’re a paying holiday maker (apart from the occasional open day or educational visit). But it’s still wonderfully evocative to walk around the moat and gaze at the castle, trying to imagine the lives of those who were here nine hundred years ago. I walked away from the castle feeling calm and refreshed. My head was still full of cold, and I’d just ran my slowest 5K in weeks. But, on balance, it was a good run.