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Cheating On Two Legs With Two Wheels

So, I have given in. I have decided to see what this bike lark is all about. I swore that i would be a runner only until the end, but a combination of injury and boredom of run/walk led me to the deep corners of ebay and the discovery of my new bike. I dithered over whether to buy it for a couple of weeks, secretly sabotaging myself with the wait, telling myself I was being daft. And then, last week I clicked on add to basket and took a leap of faith via my credit card and the added trust of buyer ratings. It was done.

Within two days I had my bike (thanks Parkers of Bolton). It was rather stereotypically ‘girly’ in colour for me (white with a dash of lilac) but beggars and mothers of two kids who only do part time work can’t be choosers, and this bike was a bargain. Don’t worry, I had done some research i.e asking friends and neighbours who are into bikes. It was all going to be fine. As long as I hadn’t done any sneaky growing since I was last properly measured aged about eleven (I haven’t).

When the box arrived via a very prompt Yodel delivery (bravo Yodel, who knew eh?) my 6 year old was straight in there, assuming the bike was for him. Cheek! He did the hard work of unwrapping all the corrugated cardboard and tape for me while I had a cuppa. Who says kids can’t be helpful? He realised that the bike wasn’t for him and immediately tried to negotiate a road bike from Father Christmas for himself. Then the bike sat in my back room while I waited for my husband to come home. Yes, this is most unfeminist of me but if you’ve seen the garage where the tools are, and where my husband does his wood turning, you would know it was safer for me to just wait.

I was wondering whether it would be a five minute wonder. I wondered whether I would back out in fear and return it. I have to admit I am terrified of riding the roads on a bike and having it sat there meant put up or shut up. I had to face a fear I’ve held on to for a very long time.

The first ride I did I happened to be chaperoned by my 6 year old who has NO FEAR OF ANYTHING (life really does change when you get ‘the fear’). We stuck to safe paths and he chattered while I wobbled like Bambi on wheels.

The next day I scarpered for a longer ride before he could sense that there was an impending bike ride on the horizon (seriously that kid loves a bike ride). I got my balance (and my courage) and bit the cycling bullet. And I think I’m now hooked.

I have never felt so invincible and yet so vulnerable at the same time. Tell a lie, I did have a similar feeling to that when I was pregnant. Maybe it’s the knowledge that your body is doing something rather amazing that makes you, well me, feel that way. A combination of what for me was the unknown combined with the excitement of my body doing something utterly different. It was exhilarating to hear the orchestra of wind around my ears building to a crescendo as I descended a hill with the air swirling around me.

It was simply amazing and I didn’t fall or get scared by cars (ok maybe I did for the first 10 minutes). I was out for an hour and I came home wobbly legged and deliriously happy, a feeling that I haven’t been able to get from running because of all my niggles. It was the most satisfying hour of exercise I have had in months. It was an absolute dream.

I’m not giving up on running but I really needed something to give me the endurance and training base that I’ve been lacking through being injured. Now that I have my cheapo bike ‘Paula’  (don’t ask, the name occurred to me on first sight) I can do that while gradually building the running back up. Plus after only a few rides I’m actually looking forward to going out and riding ‘her’ *add canned laughter here*. But don’t worry running, this is just something I need to do so I can come back to you with open arms.

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Running and Depression: A Vent

Before I start I should state a disclaimer: I do not have a diagnosis of depression. This post is not about me having depression. This post is mainly about how others see depression. I am no depression expert. I am just the partner of someone who does have this diagnosis and have seen first hand what it can do to someone’s health and well being.

A few days ago I came across a couple of tweets, the first of which I’m sure was coming from a good place:

‘Running is a great cure for depression, you can’t run and feel sorry for yourself at the same time’.

Another tweeter replied with:

‘If only depression was as simple as feeling sorry for yourself’.

I very nearly jumped into the conversation but I decided not to, it’s a topic for me that needs much more discussion than just a few tweets. However I’ve been mulling things over and I just needed to projectile vomit them onto this blog.

Firstly: if only it really was that easy. Two years ago when my significant other had basically decided he was done with this life, if only it had been that easy, that I just tell him to go for a run. He could have walked in from a few laps of the park saying ‘hey I’m all better now’. I would have dragged him out marathon training with me. If that was the ‘cure’ that the first tweeter was talking about then why isn’t everyone with depression doing it? Well it’s not that simple. Exercise can be an adjunct to the therapies for depression but it will never be a cure.

Secondly, to say that someone with depression just needs to go for a little jog to feel ‘less sorry for themselves’ completely undermines the condition. If someone is in physical pain from a chronic condition we don’t tell them to go for a run and get over it do we? Again exercise is an adjunct but we never expect exercise to completely reverse Type 1 diabetes or cure a tumour. No, because physical pain seems more acceptable and plausible to people than emotional pain. Emotional pain and mental anguish seem far harder for us to fully acknowledge. People are embarrassed by it and turn away from it. It is taboo to admit that you don’t want to be alive any more. Imagine that, at your lowest ebb, people telling you that you just need to ‘get moving and do some exercise’. Believe it or not, when I didn’t understand the condition as I do now, I tried to persuade him to do some exercise because I had read that it helps symptoms. Not when you’re down the rabbit hole though. No way.

Thirdly, I myself got a bit sick of the ‘he’s just a bit down’ and ‘what has he got to feel sorry for himself’ attitudes from people surprisingly close to us. Now, if I feel a bit frazzled from the day’s events then yes, possibly, a run might shift the clouded feeling I get. I get back from a run and I’m pretty much over it. But I don’t have depression. Depression isn’t something you can stick a patch on and expect it to be a bit better in the morning. The fact that some people insist on telling those with depression that they just feel ‘a bit down’ completely invalidates what they’re experiencing. People with depression need to feel safe to voice what they are going through, be heard, acknowledged and then tools and therapies decided on to manage it.

As the wife of a man who fell to some real depths I cannot imagine what people with depression have to suffer. I myself used running as a bit of a crutch to help me cope when it got tough so to this day I probably have quite a strong emotional connection to running. It’s why I miss it so much when I can’t do it. But no amount of running will cure depression. It will help manage it alongside medication and counselling, but please don’t tell the wife of someone with depression that you could cure my husband by taking him for a run. Just don’t.

You’re So Vain

Not you. I’m not talking about you, or anyone else. It was a song that popped into my head today when I realised my current motivations for running right now.

It’s 3 months since the horrible back pain and leg pain. It’s gone and my dissertation is finished and I’ve reopened my physiotherapy clinic in new premises (yay!). Despite the back injury lots of good things have happened. I passed my masters, I found a new place for the clinic and we went on an awesome holiday as a family.

Family holiday meant summer clothes like shorts, dresses, shorts and *gulp* swimsuits. And while I had a lovely time on holiday with the boys and with my husband I discovered that three months of being unable to exercise and keep myself fit had taken it’s toll. Clothes that I took away with me were snug. I hadn’t tried them on before we’d headed off, I just grabbed my usual holiday outfits, chucked them in the case and away we went. Things were tighter around the waist and I could feel my thighs rub together when I was wearing shorts. When I wore my swim suits I was self conscious and instead of giving myself up to the wild abandon of playing with my children in the pool I was making excuses not to go. I didn’t like that I was feeling like this and started to judge myself for those feelings.

The holidays have now finished and this week I have made a conscious effort to get back into things. The pain and stiffness that I had has subsided enough for me to gently edge myself back into some exercise. A few weeks ago I started practicing Pilates to feel stronger again. On Monday I tried the rowing machine and I felt okay. Today I tried my first twenty minute run. It was a relief to be able to put on my running shoes again but there were things that I didn’t like: the top of my capris felt taut across my stomach, my top that usually swings about was like a body con dress and I could feel things wobbling, caused by my forced inactivity and the resulting loss of muscle bulk. It upset me because my body hasn’t felt like this since I had my second child. And then I was a bit more upset that I was being so vain which is when that Carly Simon classic popped into my head. I then judged myself for being so vain. And then I realised I’m only human and this is just the start and hopefully where running and exercising are concerned it will start to get better and I’ll start to feel better abut myself again.

But I ran…..yay!

 

The Long Haul

On a Tuesday in May my husband had to help me into the GP surgery as I couldn’t put weight through my right leg. Every time I tried to move I felt like a bolt of lightning went through my back as it spasmed. This was then followed by equally nauseating pain in the back of my thigh. I’d been having back pain since lifting furniture and boxes around the house. I’d been coping with hot water bottles and pain killers but as the pain in my leg referred further into my leg and my foot went numb I knew this was something else.

Right then running or any form of exercise was the last thing on my mind. As a physio with a background in treating back pain I had self diagnosed myself with sciatica. The GP was in agreement and gave me medication to help manage it. I declined an MRI scan referral as I didn’t think it necessary. I needed pain management and I needed to get moving once the pain was under control.

For the rest of that week the boys, the dog and I stayed with my parents. Once the pain relief (mainly anti inflammatories) helped the pain to recede I was able to shuffle walk around the park across the road from my parents. A couple of months before I had been running the perimeter of this park but running was not even in my mind then. Being able to walk was enough. I would walk the mile perimeter while the boys would go off and play and my dad would walk my dog. Sometimes it would be a bit much and I’d feel the ache down my leg again but by and large the treatment plan I’d worked out for myself was helping me manage.

As the pain started to ebb and flow away and more and more activities became pain free my thoughts turned to exercise and inevitably to running. The first few weeks the pain had clouded me so much that running had not even entered my thoughts. But at week 4 and 5 into recovery a horrific thought occurred to me: was running over for me?

I have been running in some form or another since I was eleven years old. Track, road, cross country, middle distance, hurdles, marathons. I have done all these things at some point in the last twenty six years. Not running is abnormal to me but this time returning to running the way I love to run didn’t seem possible. I started to make peace with the fact that maybe running was over for me. To admit that hurt deep down in my soul. I had a little cry to myself about it and then scolded myself for being upset about something that seemed so trivial.

I was lucky that during this time I had other things to distract me. I worked at the World Para Athletics Championships as part of the medical team. I attended my graduation to accept my masters degree in sports and exercise Physiotherapy. I found a new base for my physiotherapy practice to work from and set about moving in. I enrolled on a course to learn how to teach Pilates exercises to patients and enjoyed it. All these things helped to distract me from my decision to ‘retire’ from running. I didn’t even have pangs of jealousy when I saw people out running. I saw this as an acceptance of my decision. Walking, Pilates and body weight exercises at home were going to be enough for me, I was sure of it. It was just running. I’d get over it.

I don’t think I consciously remember putting my running kit in a bag when we were packing for our holiday in France. It was likely out of habit as I have always packed my running kit when we’ve gone away on holiday. When I pulled my trainers out of the bag there were no thoughts about running to start with. I used my kit to play tennis with my eldest son. It was fun and hard going. He’s nine and has lessons so sent me dancing around the court. I felt a burn in my chest and my muscles contracting in a way that they hadn’t for at least three months. When I moved the next day and realised there hadn’t been an increase in pain other than an exercise muscle ache something stirred and I asked myself: could I run?

I didn’t spring out the door. The thing is with an injury is that even though physically you feel okay, mentally you become hyper vigilant. A fear of running had developed. Not just a fear of being in pain again but the fear that it might go wrong and you end up disappointed, frustrated or even devastated all over again. Pain and emotion are so intertwined in our injury processes and trying to dampen down that hyper vigilance over my every move had become hard. And so I waited. I had another game of tennis. I played in the pool. I ran about with the boys. I just played and played. Playing is so under rated but I found a joy again in just being able to run around with the boys with no real purpose. I then realised that in the back of my mind while we were around the camp site that I had planned a route.

And…..I ran on my holiday. Not once, but twice. I allowed myself two very slow 20 minute runs. I kept my stride short and went even slower if I needed to. It was hard, so hard, but I never thought I’d be even trying to run again. Two months ago I was happy just to be able to sleep through the night! I was grateful. Grateful for the body’s ability to heal in it’s own time, grateful for my background knowledge that had allowed me to take a step back and enabled me to heal and grateful that I was able to do this again and feel the sensation of running again.

I called this blog The Long Haul because it was about the length of time it’s taken me to get to this point, but it turns out it could apply to the length of this post.  It took three months to get to the point where my tissues were able to tolerate running. I had tried about 6 weeks previously but going by the fact I seemed to go backwards in my recovery it was too soon. For now twenty minutes will be enough For now every other day will be enough. I want to enjoy running again. I want to make myself stronger mentally and physically. There will be no races and no running groups. Running has been a part of me since I was a little girl and I need to find that piece of me again. This injury has been a long haul and it’s not over yet but with some self care and maybe a little bit of running selfishness I’ll be out of my self imposed retirement and calling myself a runner once again.

 

 

 

Panic In The Pool

A couple of months ago I’m starting to think I did something pretty stupid. I was looking for something to challenge myself and after deciding that I had really enjoyed my foray into open water swimming for triathlon training I entered an open water event. But not just any event. I entered the Welsh Swim which is a 2.4 mile swim being held in Tenby in July.

Now at the time I was convinced that it was doable. I can swim a mile under my own steam. I’m not fast, I’m not technically proficient but I get there. So I convinced myself that 2.4 mile wouldn’t be so bad. I planned to get some open water practice in locally (with friends) and it was all going to be fine.

But it’s not. Because for some darn reason little head demons have crept in and are making me doubt my ability. I’m used to self doubt and tough mental stretches in running races. But this self doubt seems to be manifesting itself physically as panic and it’s crippling my training.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the pool with a goal in mind. I didn’t even achieve half of it. I had intended to go for eighty lengths and I think I managed under forty. I struggled from the off, my body felt like lead and my breathing was all to pot. I pulled myself out of the pool frustrated and angry. I know I had been tired, I had been away on a kids’ rugby tour but I still felt I should have been able to swim the way I wanted to. I didn’t go back to the pool until this week.

I had to make myself go swimming on Monday. I had been avoiding it, turning to my preferred love of running. But feelings of guilt at the possibility that I was on the verge of giving up were screaming at me so I went. I was terrified I was about to have a similar experience.

I started swimming and it felt not to bad. And then my mind started to wander and the challenge of swimming 2.4 miles in the sea started to play with my head. Then I convinced myself that I might have missed a phone call from school and feelings of mum guilt sneaked in. I started to worry about other things at home like the work that needs doing to the house since the flooding incident. This was accompanied by stressing that I might not ever find anywhere to house my physio practice again. I then started worrying about my breathing and how slow I am and about my stroke and that I should try more bilateral breathing, and maybe I don’t belong in the International Pool because I don’t have a pull buoy and paddles. And then I realised that the way I was feeling was similar to open water panic but I was experiencing it at the swimming pool. ‘Totally ridiculous’, I scolded myself, ‘I can’t let this happen in the swimming pool!’

So I stopped swimming front crawl and started swimming breast stroke, calming my breathing, getting back control, forcing myself to be in the moment again. After a few lengths the panic had subsided and when I felt ready I started swimming front crawl again, but in a similar rhythm to my breast stroke. Slow and in control. I ended up swimming 88 lengths, my furthest swim ever, and physically I felt tired but not sore or in pain. I had just needed to switch my brain off and slow down.

I have no idea if I will be on the beach in Tenby ready to take on this challenge. My head seems to be messing me up a bit at the moment, but I’ll keep trying. I would hate to be a DNS because of my lack of mental toughness where this event is concerned. It will feel like a failure if I don’t do it because of the fear of panicking. But I remember feeling a bit like that at the start of my triathlon swim a couple of years ago and once I was in and swimming all the fear ebbed away and the excitement of being in the race took over. Maybe the key here will to stop being so judgmental of myself and have faith that I can do this. Instead of ‘shut up legs’ it’s a case of ‘shut up head’. Be quiet head demons and let me swim!

Researching Running

June last year saw me start the epic journey that became my dissertation. After numerous ethics re-submissions to tweak things I was ready to go in December. The large sample that I had hoped for became zero when I had no replies to the letters I had sent out. I managed to find seven willing individuals who generously gave me an hour of their time and by end of January i had managed to transcribe them all and start the results process. While I was going through the process I had to remember that was interviewing women who had never run about running, an activity that I was passionate about. I had to put all my love for running to one side to try and be as objective as I possibly could.

Last week I found out I had passed (hurrah). I will be able to graduate with an MSc in Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy in July. Whoop! I thought though that seeing as this is my running blog and my research was about running I would share some of the insights that I gained from my study.

My study aimed to explore the perceived barriers to running for women. I interviewed each woman for an hour and I am so grateful to each one for the honesty and candour on this subject. What emerged was fascinating. Here’s a brief run down:

Time

Time was described as a barrier by nearly all the women. Lack of time is a barrier to running and exercise that comes up again and again but what interested me with this barrier was the context surrounding lack of time. Women often had a lack of time for running because they were carers, for children or other family members. Work and study responsibilities would also mean women felt they didn’t have the time to exercise. What came across for me in the data was that women had a lack of time to run because of their gender role in society. It’s definitely something that needs more exploring but I really felt that ‘lack of time’ is a barrier that needs way more context and that it isn’t as simple for women as ‘making time’. Research has found that women feel far more guilty than their male counterparts if they make time for themselves and I do wonder how societal expectations of women, with and without children, influence this barrier.

Environment

The environment presented as a varied barrier for women in the study: personal safety, poor infrastructure e.g. pavements and lighting, the terrain and weather were all factors that were discussed within the study. If women don’t feel safe then they aren’t going to run. If the lighting is poor and women fear for their safety then they aren’t going to run. If women aren’t familiar with clothing that can compensate for weather conditions then they aren’t going to run. If women don’t know how to run up hill or on uneven terrain then they might not want to try.

Fear of injury and the physical affects of running

Women feared that they were more likely to be injured if they started running compared to other types of activity. There were also quite strongly held beliefs that running damaged your knees. The belief that running can cause knee arthritis has been debunked by research but there is still this myth that running causes damage.

Psychosocial

Women feared judgement from others if they went running. Women who felt overweight were fearful that they would be mocked for their size. Being seen in tight clothing associated with running put women off trying to run. One woman was concerned that strangers might take photos of her and upload them to social media with the intention of mocking her. Family opinions about running would influence women about whether to take up running. Women reported feeling anxiety if they tried to run or even thought about running. And in additions there were strong feelings of fear of failure and letting themselves and others down.

Beliefs about running

Women reported strong belief about what they believed runners to be: slim, skinny, super fit. Women believed that they had to be a certain level of fitness before attempting to run. Some women feared that running would be boring and this put the off trying to run.

Alone or with others

Women either feared running alone and would rather be with others. Or conversely they didn’t want to run in a group because of perceived pressures to be a certain speed, fears that they weren’t fast enough or fears of holding people back. Women reported that they would rather not run alongside men and that they would be more open to women only groups.

Previous experiences

Previous experiences usually centered around school experiences of running: being made to run cross country, being shouted at by teachers, being left out of teams for not being competitive. One woman stated that if the school didn’t determine you as being capable of being at a competitive level in sport then you would be actively discouraged from taking part and directed to more academic pursuits. Some women also reported trying running but not being happy with the groups they had joined: the groups weren’t always organised well or the women didn’t feel very supportive.

I need to stress that this is the most brief of run downs where my project discussion is concerned. Listening back to the recordings I would find myself becoming emotional: sad and angry that women still have so many barriers to hurdle where running is concerned. Gender roles were a massive factor and even though we have come a long way, women still pick up the slack where children and family responsibilities are concerned. Women still feel more guilt when they take time for themselves and this is what seemed to come across in my study as well as an element of ‘if I don’t do x,y,z then who will?’.

My school experiences of sport were always positive because I thrived on competition and physical activity but women in my study felt rejected by the school set up. In my reading around the subject it was suggested that sport and P.E. in schools values masculine qualities such as the desire to win and the need to compete whereas feminine qualities such as co-operation and nurturing are ignored. This came across in the interviews when some women said that they would have taken more of a long term interest in physical activity if it had come from a well being perspective rather than a competitive one. But if you’ve had ‘get a move on you stupid cow’ being shouted at you by a teacher is it any wonder why some women have allowed sport and exercise to disappear from their lives?

I tried to get some ideas from the women I interviewed about what would help them overcome the barriers. Women only groups, encouraging running leaders, guarantees that they would not be left behind and education about running were all elements suggested by the women interviewed. There was definitely food for thought following my discussion and even though there’s lots that has been done to help women who want to run there is probably still more that could be done to facilitate women who are total novices where running is concerned.

As with any research there are limitations and mine had plenty. My sample was small and from a very narrow demographic. It’s the kind of thing though that I think needs to be explored in larger numbers, a wider demographic and potentially in other sports.

And like that my masters studies have come to an end. I didn’t always love the write up of this project, I’m not an academic, but I loved talking to the women and I am so grateful to them for sharing with me their stories and feelings about running. It was a privilege to speak to them. The last I heard two of the women have taken up running and one has joined a local running group. I passed my course and somehow managed to pass on the running bug to some non runners. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharking On

In December things got a bit shit. The gym where my physiotherapy clinic was based announced it had to close within the week due to issues with their landlord. I’d heard grumblings about money wranglings but had been assured it would all be okay. I spent money doing up my clinic room and promoted the business and had become quite busy. And then the rug was pulled out from underneath me. At the same time my husband lost a business project he was working on and his contract work had dried up. It was just before Christmas and everything we had been working hard on had fallen down around us.

Somehow we didn’t just crumble and admit defeat. Yes it was shit but we had to keep moving forward, like a pair of sharks. Never move backwards, always move forwards.

Weirdly the timing was right for me. I decided to stop looking for new premises immediately and threw everything into my masters dissertation. Gavin found more work and we started to get back into new routines and work patterns. We kept pushing forward. We decided not to flounder and allow ourselves to drown, we had to charge onwards. There were other things at stake and surrender was not an option.

On the 16th of March we had a massive flood in our house. If anything we both laughed and as I sit here in what is still a building site, because of weird decisions by appointed insurance people which are out of our control, I realised there is something to be said for taking the shark approach and continually moving forward. The week of our flood I had to hand in my masters dissertation. Fortunately the words were safe! And I handed it in on time while the flood damage company ripped out carpets and flooring all around me. Don’t get me wrong, we have allowed ourselves to cry, be angry, shout about it and be pissed off but instead of dwelling and giving in to shit stuff we’ve taken some control and moved on to the next step. We haven’t allowed ourselves to be consumed by anxiety and stress as we may have done in the past.

This week I found out that I passed my dissertation. I have obtained the masters degree that I have always wanted (after ditching the last one midway after having the boys). I have achieved something that I thought was no longer in my capability. Things are looking up for my business as well. I’m seeing people at their own homes and demand has come to a point where I can justify looking at renting a property to convert into a clinic. My clinic never went away really, it just lost it’s home for a bit.

So basically when it all goes to shit, be a shark. Keep moving forward, keep fighting, keep going and never ever give up.

Freedom

In January this year I set out on a mission: to complete and submit my dissertation by March. I had completed in depth interviews before Christmas. It was just a small matter of transcribing interviews, coding them, analysing themes and then writing up my discussion.

March 16th, in the middle of the carnage left by a house flood (that’s another story) I managed to submit my final dissertation as the last part of my MSc Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy. It was done, finally I could taste freedom.

But months of sitting at the computer focusing on my task has taken it’s toll physically. I was having back pain and shoulder pain. I felt unfit and slovenly. I had sacrificed many runs and training sessions to write 20,000 words. Now I was free what could I do to help me get back to doing what makes me feel alive?

For some reason I have turned to swimming. This week I have been to the swimming pool twice: 50 lengths and 64 lengths for each session. It’s been liberating and I swear I can already feel the tension and stress of the last few months ebbing away with every stroke and every breath. And now that I have nothing else to focus on from a study project point of view I need something else. I’m itching for another project to focus on. And I’m wondering if it should be a physical challenge in the form of a triathlon or a sportive or even tap dancing. Whatever I do I can’t wait to be able to do more exercise and feel what my body is capable of again, because months of months of feeling trapped are over. I’m free to run, bike, swim and dance or cartwheel as much as I want.

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Like A Girl

My youngest son attends a karate class regularly. While his big brother has gone downt he route of the Welsh national sport, T has embraced martial arts, mainly I think because he gets to pretend to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Last night I did hear him shout ‘Booyakashah!’ as he performed a round house kick (what happened to Cowabunga?). Anyway, it’s a great class and it has had a huge impact on him: his discipline, his concentration and his co-ordination. I tell anyone who listens about how wonderful this karate class is. And when I do tell people about this class one of my biggest praises is that one of the main teachers is a woman and that there are many, many, MANY girls who attend. I think it’s brilliant that this class has attracted so many girls into what appears to be quite a masculine activity.

Now with karate we have gradings. I love gradings. T gets to show off some set forms and moves and he gets a new belt. And again I love that there are so many girls and with that a huge number of women helping out who appear to be bad ass black belts. One part of the gradings is to see the Tigers who have just turned 7 being inducted into the Dragons class. For this they have to demonstrate that they can hit a piece of wood really hard (don’t panic, the wood is designed to break in half and it’s not that hard). The Tigers step forward one by one and hit the wood with a downward punch and an accompanying battle cry.

On this occasion there were a fair few girls progressing to Dragons. Each one fierce in their attitude and powerful in their blows to the wood. It was amazing to watch little girls embracing something so physical. Step forward a little boy. He hits and gives a murmur. The female coach tells him to hit it again. He tries and he doesn’t break the wood. The coach turns to him and says…..

Come on, you can do better, YOU’RE HITTING IT LIKE A GIRL.

I think parents may have turned round when they heard the sound of my palm hit my face with force. You’re hitting it like a girl.

NO hes not hitting it like a girl! Was what I wanted to scream. Three girls before this child had smashed this piece of wood in half. I was dumbfounded because of what those girls had managed to do just before and also because IT WAS A WOMAN WHO SAID IT.

But then it’s ingrained isn’t it. Hit like a girl, run like a girl, fight like a girl, cry like a girl. I have no doubt that this female coach hadn’t even thought twice about what she had just said, it was habit, societal. As routine as saying please and thank you. I was thrilled for T getting his grading that day but I felt sad for those little girls. I doubt anyone else had noticed and that makes me a bit sad too.

I am quite hard on my boys and they probably get fed up with me but I jump on them if they use ‘like a girl’ as an insult. I correct them when they say that boys are better than girls. I pointed out to my eldest that a female match official is there because she understands football and rugby just as well as any male official and better than anyone sat on the sofa. I told the boys that at one time woman weren’t allowed to vote and couldn’t have bank accounts or own a house. It’s probably a bit much but I feel that it needs to be done because in 2017, despite International Women’s Day (there is a men’s day it’s 19th November before any baby men go wah wah wah) the female gender is still seen as a symbol of weakness and a way to insult a man. NO, NO, NO, NO.

So when you find yourself saying ‘crying like a little girl’ just stop and think. Language like this needs to be stamped out. Little girls are not weak, they are awesome and grow up to become black belts.