RED January Day 25 – Burns Night and fartlek

A while ago I downloaded Nike Run Club on my phone. So far, I hadn’t got round to using it. With my phone telling me it’s running out of memory, I needed to try out one of the NRC runs, to see whether it’s worth keeping the app.

I had about half an hour or so to spare between different stages of cooking dinner (Burns Night haggis, neeps and tatties). I scrolled through the various guided runs to find treadmill runs. I liked the look of the ‘Half and Half’ run, and at 29 minutes it was about the right length.

When the track started playing, it told me it was a fartlek run. I had no idea what this was, although I had seen the word before. I looked it up after my run and discovered that it means ‘speed play’. That sounds about right; the run was fun, like play.

The run started with a warm up, and then suggested a pause for stretching. Good idea – although my treadmill automatically turned itself off, losing the data from my warm up run. After a few stretches, I restarted the treadmill and pressed play on the app.

The run resumed with four minutes easy effort, then two minutes hard, three minutes easy, 90 seconds hard, 90 seconds easy, three minutes hard, two minutes easy, four minutes hard. I liked the idea of running easy and hard, rather than a specific pace or speed. After all, I know what’s easy for me, and what’s hard – and this changed through the course of the run. The varying lengths of intervals kept things interesting. I also liked that I could have my own music playing in the background.

What I liked less was the commentary of the run coach, which I found irritating. Even so, her encouragement did the job, and I was pleased with my time.

I’ll certainly be exploring more Nike Run Club guided runs. The app can stay on my phone.

Meanwhile, the haggis cooked to perfection.


RED January Day 24 – more dinosaurs, an escape from Mr McGregor and some running

I’m proud that I managed to keep going this week.

The week was already set to be full, with the usual demands of family life, work and study, plus an important meeting. Then, most significant of all, my son came back from Scotland, where he has been working for the past six months. We hadn’t seen him since August, and it’s lovely to have him back home.

In spite of reunions, meetings and work, I’ve managed to make time to keep up with RED January.

On Monday, I didn’t need to start work until 9.30, so I had a good pre-work core yoga workout. Afterwards, I felt serene and upbeat all day. The next day I felt achey, but still managed to have my happy run (read about that one here). On Wednesday I started work at 10am – so I went for a lovely pre-work swim. That was an absolute first for me. RED January has been full of firsts – not earth shattering, massive firsts – but little changes to the way I do things.

Today, I came home from work broken. I was working with 2 year olds, and I had the back ache to prove it. This morning we made Jurassic Farm, and had a difficult time protecting the sheep from dinosaurs. But we had a super-turkey, who was more than a match for the dinosaurs, so all was well. Then this afternoon I was chased round and round the garden by Mr McGregor, who wanted to cook me in the oven and eat me. It was all good fun, but I wouldn’t recommend running in wellies.

As I left work, I found walking to my car uncomfortable. This didn’t bode well for my planned treadmill run tonight. Perhaps a yoga session would be more beneficial? After the drive home, things seemed to have eased (maybe I just needed to sit down?) Arriving home, I decided to just get on the treadmill, and see how I felt. A five minute warm up walk, 25 minutes of intervals, and then a warm down walk.As usual, I found the run hard going to start, but enjoyed it once I got going. And wonderfully, after I got off the treadmill I noticed that all trace of back pain was gone.

Exercise is great medicine.

This time next week will be the final day of RED January. Here’s to a great final week!


RED January Day 22 – My happy run

I really didn’t feel like it this morning. I had a day off, and lots of jobs to catch up on before going to a meeting this afternoon. And it was cold outside. The weather forecast had hinted at sleet. And I wanted to be lazy.

I reluctantly put on running clothes, and took the dog out for a walk to warm up. It was cold, but the sky was the bluest blue imaginable, which made me smile. We did a quick dash around the block. Then I dropped Archie back at the house, swapped my hat and coat for running belt and jacket, and set off up the hill.

It was just too cold. As I pounded up the hill, I sucked in the air, feeling like I was going to freeze my lungs. My legs didn’t want to play. The bluest of blue skies was rapidly disappearing behind dark, heavy clouds. I tucked my fingers inside my jacket, thinking about how I’m usually sweating by now.

At the top of the hill, I treated myself to a run around the playing field – a rare piece of level ground. When I came back onto the road, I realised that I prefer running on hard surfaces. I think there’s just something satisfying about the feeling of a solid road beneath my feet.

My goal today was 6K and I’d planned a new route with fewer hills, and lots of potential for longer runs. It took me up through the village to Burton, a little hamlet. Then I turned left towards Lilstock, another tiny hamlet, with an interesting pebbly beach. Lilstock is about 5 kilometers from home, which would make a nice 10K round trip. I had no intention of running that far today. But it is a goal I’m working towards. I’d worked out on Map My Run how far I needed to go for my 6K run today. I plan to go a little further each week until I reach the sea (and then turn around and run straight back home).

Warming up (jacket around waist time), I ran down the narrow, muddy lane to a point I’d picked out on Map My Run – a brook passing under the road. It would have been easy to miss, except I’d also noticed that the ground starts to climb again after the brook. This marked my half way point. I turned, and started back up the lane.

It was as I started to run back home that I realised how strong I felt. My legs felt strong, my breathing felt good. A passing horse rider called out ‘I’d rather do it my way.’ I laughed and said, ‘I don’t blame you,’ but thought to myself – no, I’d rather do it this way.

As I neared home, I checked Strava: 3.7 miles. I couldn’t remember whether 6K is 3.7 or 3.8 miles. Or maybe 3.9? I looped around and ran a little further to make it 3.9 miles. Then it seemed silly to stop, and I went just that little but further to make it a round 4 miles. I stopped, triumphant, and bumped into a neighbour.

The thought of being seen running no longer terrifies me, as it would have done in the past. Instead, I shared my excitement about my run. My neighbour complimented me on my weight loss, and I glowed with pride (as well as heat and sweat).


RED January Day 20 – not quite intervals

A bit of yoga to stretch out yesterday’s aches, and then time for a run.

I was due a 3K run on the training plan that I’m following, so I thought intervals would be good for today. I’ve been using one of the Couch to 5K+ podcasts – Speed – for interval training. I’ve used this podcast a couple of times on the treadmill and, although I’ve found it helpful, I do find it tricky getting the timing right.

Laura, the voice of Couch to 5K, counts out beats to help regulate the pace. I’ve tried turning the treadmill up, turning it down, but I never seem to get my feet hitting the track on time. Our treadmill is small and narrow, so I wondered whether it would be easier to get the timing sorted running outside.

I had a little warm up walk, and then began running in time to the podcast and – with the freedom to run more naturally – I was able to get the timing right. I was having great fun running fast/running slow/running fast until the podcast crashed on the fourth interval.

I had a fiddle with my phone, gave up and decided to jog steadily until the bottom of The Hill. I didn’t feel inclined to run up the hill; but a brisk walk up it would still be beneficial.

At the bottom of the hill, I decided to run just a bit more. Then a bit more, and a bit more and a bit more, until I was at the top of the hill – and enjoyed a lovely run down the other side.

It’s pleasant to reflect that – not so long ago – I struggled to walk up that hill.


RED January Day 19, and a burning question

Today was parkrun day, so an easy choice for RED January. I completed days 17 and 18 with interval running on the 17th and a swim/water Pilates on the 18th. Nothing very exciting, but I got it done.

Today was expected to be cold, with some possible light rain. When I arrived at Minehead, the rain had passed, there was no discernible wind, and there was even some blue showing through the breaks in the cloud. But it was, indeed, cold.


As I began to run, I had the usual doubts; why am I doing this? why would anyone choose to do this? what am I trying to prove? what difference would it make if I just stopped? why not just walk? Yes, why not just walk, I asked myself. A 5K walk is still good exercise – nothing wrong with that. But I kept on going.

These doubts and questions manifest far more strongly at parkrun than when I run alone. I suspect that this has something to do with feeling under more pressure – not that parkrun is particularly pressurised. Minehead parkrun is actually extremely friendly and supportive. But there are other people there, and perhaps that’s what makes the difference.

After a while, as I passed the Jubilee Clock for the second time, I realised that I’d been running for 15 minutes. I remembered how hard it was to run for one minute when I first began this journey. And when I moved on to running three, or five, or eight minutes, each increase in time felt almost impossible. Now, the first minutes slip by quickly – even with the negative voice in my head. I hardly notice them at all. They are easy.

But fifteen minutes of running still feels hard, as does half an hour, as does 5K. So, at this point, I developed a burning question; does running 5K ever become easy in the way that running for a few minutes has become easy? I recently signed up, and began training, for a 10K race. I did this hoping that, if I can run 10K, then 5K will become easier. Is this true? Or is it nonsense?

I look at the many faster racers whizzing past me. They look like they are working really hard, pushing themselves to new limits, always reaching for the next personal best. Perhaps it never gets easy, because we keep wanting more from ourselves. Two weeks ago I couldn’t run the full 5K. last week I could, but my time was slower. This week I really want a new PB.

I plod on, driving my leaden legs forward. I tell myself that I can do this. I know I can. This week I ran 5.5K, so there is no reason to struggle with the (much flatter) 5K course today. I begin to understand; my body knows what to do – I have built my fitness sufficiently to cope with this. But my mind is messing with me, messing with my body.

As I run towards the finish, I have a final push. Determination takes over from fatigue. I get that new PB. Now I am all smiles – negativity forgotten. I am elated.

Why do I do this? So that I can keep getting better.

Why would anyone do this? For the way it makes us feel afterwards.

I warm down with a relaxing walk on the beach. I’ve earned it.

But the question remains: will this ever feel easy?


RED January Day 16 – Pilates

With January the time for resolutions, shops are bursting with fitness clothing and equipment. On a recent trip to the supermarket to buy groceries I was tempted by leggings, a yoga block and a set of resistance bands.

Today I decided to try out my shiny new resistance bands. I had no idea what to do with them, so I went on YouTube and searched ‘yoga bands’. One of the results was a promising looking Pilates workout from Jessica Smith TV. I enjoy yoga, and I’ve been going to Water Pilates classes, so I was interested in giving this a try. I pressed play and gave it a whirl.

I liked that Jessica had a little fluffy white dog curled up asleep by her feet for the whole thing.I also had my fluffy little white dog by my feet. Once he realised that I was not going to either take him walkies, or give him my band, he went to sleep too. Must be a Pilates thing.

Pilates is similar to yoga, with a emphasis on controlled breathing and core strength and stability. As I worked through the video I was also aware of similarities with the movements and exercises from the Water Pilates classes. Using the band was fun, although holding it in position for some of the exercises proved tricky. For example, hooking the band around a foot while on all fours, and then extending the same leg without letting the band fly off, that’s going to take a bit more practice. I’m also pretty sure that my band is shorter than the one in the video, which added to the overall trickiness factor.

I found some of the lying-on-the-back exercises difficult to do because of a lower back issue. I tried lying on the sofa, but I don’t think that’s a good idea either – the squashy sofa being too unsupportive. I’m hoping that strengthening my core will help my back in the long run. But next time I’ll try double yoga mats instead. Apart from my back issues, I felt that I had a good workout. Overall, I think I am going to feel the effects of the workout tomorrow.

I will revisit this video again. I’d like more practice to be able to use the band more effectively, and without fumbling. But that’s good, because I like to have something to work on.


RED January mid-point

I’ve heard that this is the point at which people begin to run out of motivation. I can relate to that. Yesterday, with a streaming cold, the last thing I felt like doing was exercising.

When I got home, I wanted to put my feet up with a hot chocolate and a great big slab of cake (why do we have so much cake in the house?) But I got straight on with a workout, while my lovely husband cooked dinner. I thought – a change is as good as a rest – and so I tried the NHS Stretch and Flex exercise plan. I went for week 2, as I’d done week 1 previously, if some time ago. As I have been active recently, and I was aware of the sorts of exercise involved, I felt confident to begin here. But obviously, the beginning is the proper place to start.

The podcast is easy to follow and includes a warm-up, some simple strength exercises, and some stretches. There are also videos online to show how the exercises should be done. There is minimal equipment involved – just things you can find in the environment around you (like a tree, a bench etc.). Although I did struggle to find a shoulder height railing in my house.

The podcast tells you that you can carry out the exercises at home, in a park; anywhere where you have room to move around. I have to say that, although I don’t mind running in public, with my face all red and my considerable flab wobbling, I would feel pretty self-conscious performing some of these exercises in the park. But maybe that’s just me.

The routine lasted about 35 minutes, and gave a gentle workout (just what I needed). I then followed this up with yet another Yoga with Adriene video. A lovely relaxing one, with lots of extended child’s pose. Again, just what I needed. And then I remembered that I’m supposed to be doing planks on non-running days, so I did some planking to finish off.

I did it!

Which type of planking would you rather be doing?

Today was a much more productive day. I wasn’t working (not through choice – gig economy – but that’s a whole different story). But at least this gave me an opportunity to have a good run, and to nurse my cold.

A colleague warned me yesterday that it’s very, very bad to run with a cold. I was a bit worried about this. I needed to run 5.5K today, as part of a 10K training plan that I’ve just begun. So I did what we all do when we are unsure, and Googled it. So, it seems that running with a cold is fine, as long as the cold is in your head and not your chest, and there is no fever. So that was fine.

I was so impressed with yesterday’s relaxing yoga, that I decided to prepare myself for my run with some more of the same. The next video in the series was a was a lot more challenging though, and stretched me in every possible sense of the word.

Then I wanted to warm up before heading out so I popped on another YouTube favourite – Leslie Sansone. I first started using Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home videos a year ago, when I weighed nearly 20 stone, was very unfit and hadn’t even begun to entertain the idea of running. These videos got me moving around and motivated to do more. A quick 10 minute walking interval video had me nice and toasty for my run.

It was a beautiful morning for a run. I took my usual route, adding a couple of extra wiggly bits on to make up the extra distance. This also gave me some ideas for future, longer runs.

It was a good run. Possibly the best yet. I was running further than I had before, and I felt good about it. When I began to tire on the final uphill slog towards the top of the village, I reminded myself of those extra bits I’d added on; I would usually be on the final downhill stretch by now. And then I realised that I’d ran 5K, and was still going. I reached 5.5K about two minutes away from home, and then slowed to a walk. I collected the dog from home for a longer warm down walk, and then finished with some stretches. An excellent morning.

And amazingly, my cold now seems to have almost disappeared.

There are good days, and not so good days. I wonder what tomorrow will bring for #redjanuary?

RED January Day 13 – One for the dog

I had no intention of including dog walking in Red January, because I already do it every day. And also because my dog is supremely lazy and walks so slow we almost go backwards.

Archie loves RED January too

But today he was on top form. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and he had a spring in his step. We walked to the top of the village to the playing field, where he skipped and bounced, and we even had a little run.

The village playing field is a lovely facility. It borders fields, and has far reaching views to the Quantock Hills. Sadly, it may soon be closed to dogs due to a few inconsiderate owners failing to pick up their dog’s doings. It’s an easy enough thing, to carry a few bags (I sometimes need four for Archie – not wanting to be personal – but a wise dog owner never leaves the house with just one bag). This is a genuine health concern. The school use the field for sport, and it is used for community events and weekly football. And honestly, no one wants to tread in what dogs leave behind.

After our little scamper on the field, we skipped home enjoying the sunshine. Archie enjoyed sniffing out interesting smells.

Back home, I followed up the walk with a 30 minute Yoga with Adriene video. Archie enjoys these videos; he likes to look out for Adriene’s dog Benji. He also likes to join me on the exercise mat, sometimes strategically placing toys on my head when I rest it on the ground. But today he was too tired for such tricks, so he just watched Benji while I followed Adriene. Then I felt totally relaxed.

We need exercise to get the heart pounding. But sometimes we also need it to unwind and relax.


RED January Day 12 – Emotional

Parkrun today. I set myself the challenge of running/jogging the full 5K – no walking allowed.

I felt well prepared. I’d already had three good runs this week. I’d rested my running legs on the previous day, opting for water pilates and a swim for day 11.

I managed to arrive at Minehead parkrun just in time, missing the pre-run briefing. I’m not sure how this happened as I was up early – thanks to a phone call at 6 am (wrong number). But I was there, and ready, and that was the main thing.

I felt determined. I’d managed the full 5K on the treadmill on Thursday – I just needed to do the same outside – in the freezing cold wind and drizzly rain. I ignored the weather, and set off.

Immediately I noticed a slight, niggling pain in my knee. No doubt the price of not warming up properly. I hoped it would pass as I warmed up. Then my leggings started to fall down (note to self – keep these leggings for home treadmill use only). While running, I fiddled with my leggings and running belt, trying to secure everything in place. Then I noticed my knee was no longer hurting. Hurrah!

I ran – or jogged – very slowly. But I kept going. I began to enjoy the freezing, soggy wind, as it cooled me down. When I passed the point where I usually begin to walk, I really wanted to stop. I realised right there and then just how much of this is psychological. On one stride I feel tired but comfortable, on the next I’m desperate to stop. I kept going. One foot in front of the other. Just keep plodding.

I even picked up the pace at the end, aided and encouraged by a parkrun friend. My feelings as I ran through the finish were euphoric. I shouted ‘I did it – no walking!’ to the universe at large (as well as to parkrun people).

I didn’t get a personal best, but that doesn’t matter; I had a different goal for today. Interesting though, that resting the legs with a walk can lead to faster results overall.

Afterwards, I took a warm down walk along the prom, and onto the beach. I watched the waves. And I reflected. Now, I really can run 5K. All the way.

I thought about a lovely card my mum sent me this week, with some sponsorship money. She wrote about how proud she is of me, and how proud my dad would have been. We lost my dad nineteen years ago this month.

I paused at the railway station and thought about dad. My dad. A family man, a father, husband, railway man, sportsman. A lover of the arts, music, literature, history. I shared so much with dad; I wish I could have shared this moment.

As I walked past the station, I brushed away a tear.

But I’m not sad.


RED January Day 10 – feeling proud

I’ve had two barriers, two things blocking me in my running:

  1. I’ve not been able to run for more than 30 minutes
  2. I couldn’t run a full 5K without having a little walk

On my frustrating drive home from work, I contemplated what I would do for RED January today. I decided to break one of my running barriers, and run for 35 minutes.

As my neighbourhood (unlit country lanes – no pavement) is not safe to run in the dark, I would be using the treadmill. I do like the treadmill for new challenges, as I feel more in control of the run when I use it. It’s easier than running in the real world, I can regulate my pace easily, I can see exactly how long I’ve been running for, and I never have to stop to let a tractor safely pass by.

I warmed up by walking the dog, and then got straight onto the dreadmill and into running. I told myself 35 minutes was my target. I wasn’t going to worry about pace or distance, just keep going for 35 minutes. It was hard to get going. My legs were like lead after a long day at work. But I listened to my favourite playlist, and tried not to think about how long I had left.

Once I got into my rhythm the time passed quite quickly. Thirty five minutes later, I had ran 2.9 miles. I felt like I could keep going, so I decided to make it a round 5K. The display read 3.1 miles at 36 minutes 55 seconds. I slowed down, and took a warm down walk.

I am proud of my run. My time and pace may be slow. But I have made progress, and achieved something new. Now I just need to repeat this at parkrun on Saturday. And then set myself a new target…

I wonder whether I would have ran tonight, and pushed myself, without RED January? I’d already achieved my Fitbit targets for activity while at work. And I certainly felt tired by the end of the working day. Then, when I got home my dog needed walking – more activity. But doing RED January has led me to try that bit harder. And as a result, I feel great.