Monday, 19 August 2013

Inspire a Generation?

As anyone who knows me is aware, I love the Olympics. I was unrelentingly positive about London 2012 from years in advance (I think I still have my "I backed the bid" sticker somewhere), throughout and now looking back (I still get emotional watching montages). One of the taglines of the Games was Inspire a Generation and recently I've been thinking about that more. Since the Olympics I've become more serious about running, and both my husband and a mutual friend have taken it up. The three of us now regularly exchange tweets about running and our friend wondered recently whether we had all been inspired by the Olympics.

I have to be honest- I loved the slogan and thought that if I was a child or teenager I would have been so excited and definitely inspired. However until now I hadn't really considered that maybe I had been inspired to run more because of that Olympic legacy. I had originally taken it to mean that youngsters would be inspired to be the future TeamGB stars and although I am sure that that will be one of the effects, I've come to realise that a far bigger consequence will be the little inspiration filtering through communities and friendship groups. It doesn't matter that most of us are too old (in athlete terms) to even dream of competing - we can still be inspired.

These thoughts led me to ponder a little more about what inspires me. Staying on the Olympics theme, I love watching Mo, Jess and other champions, but I don't think they inspire me in terms of my own running. Ultimately they are professional athletes and they are working full-time at trying to be the best in the world. I'm working full-time at another job, trying to fit in running as a hobby so it is difficult to draw realistic comparisons. I'm more likely to be inspired by those athletes who are at the top of their game but not able to work solely on their sport. I listened to Marathon Talk this week and they interviewed marathon runner Susan Partridge. She finished 10th at the World Championships last week but by the time the interview was conducted she was back at work. I could not believe that! Tenth in the world but with another "real" job aswell! Definitely inspiring.

Of course I've written all of this without drawing attention to the obvious - I have neither the natural talent nor the dedication to ever be anywhere close to an Olympian. For this, and other reasons, I think that I draw on inspiration closer to home. I've already blogged about parkrun and that kind of "grass roots" running really appeals to me. Through parkrun I've been inspired by so many different kind of runners including these: Mary, a regular Cambridge parkrunner in the 75-79 age category who usually runs round in about 27 minutes; countless number of junior runners who turn up every week to try and beat their time but who also learn about volunteering and supporting others; my friend Michaela who ran at least 10K every day for 17 days straight (whilst also working) to raise money for charity, and lastly Neil who in running has found a focus away from work and become healthier and happier as a result.

Running and in particular parkrunning rocks.

Who or what inspires you? 

Sunday, 18 August 2013


I am a big fan of snacking. More often than I'd like this does mean chocolate but I'm trying more and more to choose healthier options. I find that running makes me want to look after my body and to fuel in a way that will help rather than hinder my performance. Regardless of the chocolate habit though, I do find that I need to eat little and often, rather than the more traditional 3 larger meals a day, to keep my blood sugar stable. I am lucky not to have any major health issues but I have fainted several times in the past as a result of blood sugar issues and healthy snacking has helped me to reduce the likelihood of that happening again.

As I'm sure many people will identify with, the time I'm at work is key and I need to make sure I go armed with healthy snacks to get me through the day. I thought I'd share some of my current favourites and see if any of you know of any others I might like.

Graze: I go through phases of ordering graze boxes but I just got one delivered and it's full of my favourites (tip- click "send soon" on your preferred snacks and it's likely that they will appear in your next box). The packaging has also been themed for summer- I love it! 

Nakd Bars: I think that these are relatively new but the range seems to be expanding all of the time and there is usually lots of choice at my local supermarket. The "gingerbread" bar got me round my first half-marathon without any gels/other fuel and a "chocolate orange" (no actual chocolate but tastes delicious) bar usually finds its way into my work bag. 

I also like fresh fruit, salted cashews, crackers and malt loaf. Are you a snacker or someone who doesn't eat between meals? Let me know if I've missed any good snacks, particularly savoury ones to try and balance out my sweet tooth! 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Running away from routine

It is August, a key holiday month for many people in the UK. It is also a key training month for any runner who is planning an Autumn distance race. I’m not going away this month so my training can be the focus and I can hopefully enjoy running on some sunny evenings. However, I did go away in May and was very conscious that although I wanted to relax and rest, I didn’t want to lose too much fitness over the fortnight. Here’s what I learned.

Fight the jetlag
According to one of my TV guilty pleasures, Biggest Loser, travelling is notorious for weight gain. Clearly this will have more of an impact for contestants of the show compared to traditional holidaymakers, but it is worth bearing in mind especially if you have had a long flight. I don’t run to lose weight but sitting on a plane for a long time in one position, getting dehydrated and eating rubbish food at strange times of the night isn’t going to help general health or fitness. You are also likely to spend the first few days of your holiday waking up at strange times and generally not feeling quite as rested as you had planned. On our holiday I dealt with the jet lag by running – by 7am on the second morning of our trip I was jogging down the Santa Monica beach path and in doing so got to experience a whole side of LA culture that I might not have otherwise done. Santa Monica was full of runners, roller-bladers, cyclists and people doing yoga in the park and as a runner I felt completely at home. I also took the opportunity to roll out my inappropriately short red shorts and pretend I was on Baywatch.

Sight-see on foot/by bike
The “hop on/hop off” bus is becoming ubiquitous in cities across the world. I have managed to shun it everywhere apart from Cape Town, where we were advised that walking wasn’t safe in all parts of the city. Generally I much prefer walking or cycling as a way to see a new place. Our holiday to California involved quite a lot of miles in the car as we drove up the coast, so we balanced this with choosing to cycle, rather than drive, the Golden Gate Bridge and cycling around the Napa Valley rather than taking the “Wine Train” or a tour. Both of these rides were easy and very tourist accessible – we weren’t by any means the only ones who had thought of them, but I can highly recommend this type of sight-seeing for anyone who is off on their holidays soon.

Choose your destination wisely
It really helped that California has a huge outdoor-living culture. Money has been spent on excellent cycle paths, dedicated running routes and fantastic trails through the many national parks. Running, cycling and generally hanging around in lycra was completely the norm and provided good motivation for avoiding lazing around. Next time I go on holiday I’ll definitely try and head somewhere with a similar culture – does anyone have any recommendations?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Plan A

With the Thunder Run out of the way, my thoughts have turned to the next goal...a sub-2 hour half-marathon. 

I have run 2 halves so far- my first was the lovely St Neots last November which I just wanted to complete and see how I found the longer distance. I stuck to a pace of just under 10 minute miles and was chuffed to finish in 2.07. Of course, being a runner, I was satisfied for approximately an hour before planning the next goal and seeing as 7 minutes over 13.1 miles didn't seem that many I decided to try to aim for sub-2 at my next race, the Cambridge Half. 

I had enjoyed the freedom of no specific goal at St Neots so I was a little worried that the pressure of having to work hard (the very idea!) would spoil Cambridge. However, the weather (snow on the ground, sleeting throughout- in March!) provided a "welcome" distraction and I prioritised regaining feeling in my feet rather than speed. The upshot was a frustrating 2 hours 20 seconds finish (Garmin time as chip failed) despite my best efforts at a sprint finish. 

Since the Cambridge Half I've been having fun with local 10K races and trying to get my parkrun time under 25 minutes (finally achieved a few weeks ago with only minor retching in the finish tunnel) but now it's time to get working on the distance again. I was lucky enough to get a place in the beautiful looking Royal Parks Half so I'll yet again be aiming for sub-2 in October. If that doesn't happen, or even if it does, I'll then be tackling the hills (hills for Cambridgeshire anyway) of St Neots again in November.

The training plan has been written and Day 1 was successfully completed today (cross-training: cycle commute+ post work swim+ cycle home) and tomorrow I have to see if the legs still work after Thunder Run with a 5 mile tempo. Neil is also training for a half- he's doing the Great Eastern the week after I do the Royal Parks. Guess whose training plan is whose (tip- I love coloured pens, Neil loves over-complicated spreadsheets...)

How do you plan for races? 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Maintaining a work/life/run balance

Today's post was supposed to be a review of my visit to a new parkrun. Instead, at 9am I was in bed and I still haven't run since my last lap of the Thunder Run last week. Why? Because I realised I needed a lie-in more than I wanted to go to parkrun. I've had a really busy few weeks at work and have also been lucky enough to have spent the last few weekends out and about meaning I haven't had as much rest as I'd like. This weekend I'm up in Manchester to watch the cricket and yesterday we worked out that it *should* just about be possible to make it to Worsley Woods parkrun and still make it to the cricket for 11...all it would involve would be a walk to the tram, a tram ride, a run to the start of parkrun, taxi back from parkrun, quick shower and then a 30 minute brisk walk...suddenly staying in bed and getting a much-needed lie in seemed a more sensible idea! 

I now feel rested enough to begin my half-marathon training plan on Monday so all in all leaving the kit in the suitcase has worked out fine.

How do you maintain a work/life/run balance? Do you ever feel like something has got to give?