Monthly Archives: October 2013

My first and last taste of ‘Urban Running’.

This is probably a bit of a controversial post but it’s been playing on my mind so I thought I’d go for it:

I like to think that as a runner I’m respectful of everyone who uses the paths and roads, whether they are pedestrians, dog walkers, fellow runners, drivers or cyclists. I would never expect anyone to get out of my way. I would never shout at someone to jump out of my path. The only time I think it’s appropriate to do that is if you are at a track where there is an expected etiquette. Hear ‘TRACK’ shouted at the track and you either stay still or jump out of the way. Out on the roads though? To me that’s different. Non runners shouldn’t be expected to know about ‘runner’ etiquette and we are all sharing the tarmac.

About a month ago I had a taste of what was explained to me as ‘urban running’. Now I thought any running in any city or town is urban. I was born and brought up in London and I’ve lived in Cardiff so I’ve done a far share of running in cities. People hear me say Wales and think I’ve never run along a street before but apparently urban running isn’t as simple as that. I followed a group of other runners during a group activity and experienced ‘urban running’. I can’t honestly say I was impressed because it went something like this:

Shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way.

Running across the path of drivers sitting in traffic without a great deal of attention.

Jumping out into the road in front of a taxi driver who had clear right of way, endangering themselves and the driver.

I followed the runners but I didn’t whole heartedly join in because it baffled me, felt wrong and I couldn’t actually believe it was happening. Cardiff Parkrun was almost cancelled a couple of years ago because fellow park users were unhappy with the runners and running behaviour like this just gives all runners a bad name. It presents us as being selfish, obnoxious and a little bit arrogant.

I love running but I don’t go running so that I can behave like a bit of a twat. Running doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else. As runner’s we are privileged to see the world in a slightly different way to everyone else on the roads and pavements, but it doesn’t give us  more rights. I don’t want to frighten people and I don’t want to cause drivers to almost have a heart attack from the fear of almost knocking over a pedestrian. If I thought that the way I was running was of concern to other people I think I’d be mortified.

So that was my one taste of ‘urban running’. I don’t know if it was misrepresented to me or that I didn’t understand it, but what happened that evening did not make me want to experience running like that again. It could be that living where I am in South Wales has spoilt me a bit for quiet trails and empty paths but I have run along busy roads in Cardiff and London and never felt the need to do any of the things I’ve described above. I think we do all run to be free in some way but, in this runner’s humble opinion, that shouldn’t negate our safety or that of other runners and non runners around us.

Injured and One Year On.

I realised today that next month it will be a year since I injured myself. A year since that ill fated decision to lift my toddler son up off the ground while carrying bags of shopping leading to me being unable to run for six months. A year since I injured my back.

Even though the back pain and nerve pain have dissipated, I have been left with the after effects of the injury plus lots of niggles that keep flaring up, preventing me from a much wanted return to regular running. The physical effects have been obvious to me, what was not so obvious were the mental effects.

The longer I was injured the lower I became in mood. When getting back into running wasn’t as straight forward as I liked this was amplified further. Over the last few months especially these thoughts and feelings have been much worse and it’s only recently for some reason that I can acknowledge how I’ve been feeling. Which is ridiculous because, you know, it’s just running. Right?

Well no it’s not just running to me. Running is one of the things in my life that gives me confidence to do other things. Running has been a release for me when I’ve been finding things tough emotionally. Running has been my way to escape the pressures of tough life situations. Running has been a way to make me feel invincible and like I could take on anything. But with prolonged injury things like this have floated through my mind:

‘I’m rubbish, why do I bother?’

‘I should just give up running now, I’m getting too old for it’.

‘I hate myself’.

‘I hate running’.

‘I’m never getting over this, I may as well just leave it’.

‘Who was I kidding trying to be a runner anyway?’.

As my time being injured extended before me, the chipping away at my confidence and self image continued, gradually extending itself into other areas of life. And then last week a couple of things happened which made me realise how low I had become and how unbelievably crap I was feeling about myself. I was put into two situations where I had to talk about myself and had to sell myself both as a professional and as a person. I struggled with both and it was a shock to me. I’ve become so low that I can’t even bring myself to talk about my good points, because right now I’m not totally convinced I have any to share. Pathetic? Probably, but I can only be honest about how I have been feeling.

Have I been depressed? Possibly, my husband occasionally expresses the opinion that he thinks I am. I then feel guilty because my husband has actual clinical depression and all I did was hurt myself a bit so that I couldn’t run. Daft. However I then think about literature I’ve read about pain and how the pain and emotional neural pathways are very closely linked within the brain and I guess it is possible that large amounts of pain over an extended period can affect your mood level. I’ve certainly seen it in patients I’ve treated so why do I think I’m automatically immune?

This isn’t really a self pity post. If it comes across like that I apologise, it’s really not intended to be. I just needed to share how being injured as a runner can affect you emotionally and socially. Bravado and staying upbeat and positive can last so long but injury isn’t just a limp or a grimace of pain. Injury goes far, far deeper. If you are one of those injured runners right now, don’t be so hard on yourself and while you’re letting your body heal, make sure your mind and soul are looked after too.

Some Perspective Please!

The internet and social media loves a bit of hysteria and exercise and fitness are no exceptions to this. Recently there were a few articles posted online which related to CrossFit and a condition called Rhabdomylosis (for more information read more here). First there was this article in the Huffington Post referring to Rhabdomylosis as ‘CrossFit’s dirty little secret’. This was then followed by a few other articles screeching the same thing: CrossFit might kill you via Rhabdomylosis!

Then of course there were the pro-CrossFit articles which accused people who didn’t do CrossFit of being jealous and blamed the participants of CrossFit who have suffered from this life threatening condition for their own demise. Not brilliantly helpful but I understand why people want to defend what they enjoy.

So these were the two sides of the coin. Neither particularly constructive and both with the potential to put people off from ever trying CrossFit or maybe any other form of exercise. Yey, well done everyone for giving people yet ANOTHER reason not to get moving.

Now I come at this from a completely different perspective. I am a runner first and foremost. I do CrossFit and I enjoy it but running has and always will be my first love. But I would like to go through some things that might help us get a bit of perspective on a rare condition, exercise and illness in general.

All you have to do to find out a bit about Rhabdomylosis, specifically exertional Rhabdomylosis is to chuck a search into Google Scholar. Participants in many of the studies that come up are military recruits, ultra runners, marathon runners (dammit) and, umm, horses. Plus a case study about a hockey player who played a tournament, became ill, was rushed to hospital and discovered to have Rhabdomylosis.

This very quick search tells me it is not a condition that is limited to those who do CrossFit. Further reading showed that some individuals have an unfortunate genetic predisposition to develop Rhabdomylosis which they would have had no idea about before exercising (this was found to be the case in the hockey player case study). Plus people on prescribed statins are at risk and those with underlying thyroid conditions (which they may not know about). The Huff Post article quotes a US study as giving a 0.06% incidence of Rhabdomylosis for the US population but I couldn’t find figures for the UK population. So all in all I’m not overly worried about Rhabdomylosis and CrossFit. A couple of case reports do not make an epidemic.

Moving on I wanted to address the pro-CrossFit posts which blame individuals for ‘bringing it on themselves and not taking responsibility’. Well I would just like to ask: do people who get a knee injury playing football bring it on themselves? Do marathon runners bring it on themselves when they collapse from a heart condition they didn’t know they had? Do horse riders bring it on themselves when they fall from a horse? Did the hockey player deserve what he got for trying to do his best for his team? I just don’t get this argument and I really think it is counter-productive. As mentioned above, people may have a predisposition to Rhabdomylosis (I hate typing that word). They might be in an ‘at risk’ group that they have no idea they are in. So a little bit more empathy please for people who do happen to develop this condition.

I get that not everyone likes the same kind of exercise. CrossFit is still relatively new and people are probably still trying to get used to it being around. Plus people tend to be ignorant of things they don’t know or don’t understand. I could argue that running has been around since the dawn of time, no doubt one of the oldest forms of exercise going, yet people still hate it and ask me why on earth I want to do it. But as long as I enjoy it and do my best to maintain my health and wellbeing, who cares? A small study of runners who completed a marathon in Taiwan found that everyone who finished had sustained some damage to their hearts. Would this stop me from running? Never. Life is too short to freak out about something that may or may not happen.

So pro and anti CrossFitters. Consider your heads well and truly knocked together. The articles from both sides are completely unhelpful and bordering on hysterical. There is no clear research to say CrossFitters are more at risk than those who take on 100 mile Ultra runs. There is probably more research out there about why running is harmful (la, la, la, la I’m not listening) but the research on obesity, heart conditions and diabetes, all consequences of not exercising or being active, concerns me more. Take a step back and gain some perspective and help people to fall in love with moving and being healthy.

Run With An Idea: What’s so special about running a marathon?

This week’s Run With An Idea topic is about the big 26.2: What’s so special about running a marathon?

I have only done one marathon and that was Edinburgh in 2012. For me it was a fantastic experience with highs and lows but something I am so proud I did. So I thought I’d draw on my one and only marathon experience to convince you why it is something so special.

You learn about yourself.

By this I mean that you discover elements of your character that you never knew you had. You experience overwhelming lows where you feel like giving up. I felt very much like this after an awful 18 mile training run which left me delirious and feeling like all hope was lost thinking about trying to run another 8.2 miles. You are forced to face the very worst, negative emotions you feel about yourself, running or about the task you have taken on. But in confronting these demons you also learn how to draw on the best of yourself and your inner strength. When you realise you do have that inner strength it can be an empowering light bulb moment.

The overwhelming support of family and friends.

When you tell people you are running a marathon (and after you inform them that it is in fact 26.2 miles, not 18) there is a look of awe that appears on their faces. Followed by ‘you’re amazing’ and ‘I could never do that’ and many other compliments. Yes there will be the odd person who will try and pull you down a bit or tell you you’re mad but it’s the people who matter that really help to get you through.

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There are offers of help to raise money for your charity. There are also occasional offers from neighbours or friends to accompany you for a short distance during a long run. Embrace all offers of help. Training for a marathon can feel like such a selfish act at times. Accepting the support your loved ones offer you can make it feel like more of a team effort. They cheer you on and pick you up during training and will be there with banners and hugs at the end of the race. The one’s who love you want you to succeed!

A marathon event brings out the best in people.

I am aware that this line comes across as gushing and I probably wouldn’t have believed it myself until I ran the Edinburgh Marathon. Supporters came out of their houses along the route to watch complete strangers run 26.2 miles. One brought out their stereo to play Chariots of Fire as we ran by. People cheered for you if they saw the name on your vest. Families at many houses were handing out cups of water and jelly babies. Kids brought out their super soakers and water pistols to cool us down and other households brought out their hoses on what was an incredibly hot day in Scotland. They didn’t have to do any of this. They could have grumbled about the marathon being on but they didn’t. They joined in, became part of it and helped the runners. Marathon brings out the community spirit. I think you only have to look at the reaction of people after the Boston Marathon bombing to realise that.

It’s liberating

‘It’s amazing what you can do when you accept the high chance of failure and do it anyway.’

Laura from Lazy Girl Running tweeted this in reply to me after her Half Ironman (gulp) but I think it’s something that can easily be applied to running a marathon.

Once you’ve decided to enter one you have to face it head on, there is no turning back. And once the elation of crossing that finish line has passed it may occur to you (it did for me) that the body and mind are amazing things and that if you are capable of running 26.2 miles what else could you do? I found this liberating. I was liberated from the fear of it, other people’s attitudes towards it and that high chance of failure. That for me was a true epiphany that I got from running a marathon and it made me realise that other things were possible.

So that is why I found running a marathon special, a very individual approach to this debate but I don’t think you can deny that running a marathon is a pretty amazing thing.

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