Monthly Archives: February 2014

Running In The Valleys.

I was going to call this post Cwm Rundda after the Welsh hymn Cwm Rhondda (aka Bread of Heaven) but I thought it would probably be a bit of a bastardisation on the Welsh language for blogging’s sake. But anyway……today I decided to go on a little adventure and find myself a running track to do some kind of reps type thing. I could have zipped down to Cardiff but I had a feeling that with half term being on they probably had a kiddy club on. So I googled and found two tracks that weren’t too far from me, up in the Rhondda valley. Both were public and both were free.

I had actually counted on google giving me the right information but today it had the last laugh. I think I saw most of the valley villages this morning as I drove through tiny high streets, past rows and rows of Welsh mining cottages. I drove round and round for about 50 minutes thinking how utterly stupid I was…….and then I saw it, beneath me from the road I had parked on up a really really steep hill.

I weaved down between the little streets and finally found myself at a track. It turns out that there is probably only one track in the area but nobody has updated details about this track for a long time so everything on the internet about it is completely wrong. I had spent so long driving around and getting lost that I really wanted to go home. But if running was my Bread then I had found my Heaven tucked away between Clydach Vale and Tonypandy.

King George Track Tonypandy

King George Track Tonypandy

I made my way down to the track and did my first reps session for a very long time. I ran 800m reps and limited myself to 4 of them just to make sure I didn’t over egg things and end up sore again. I was also reminded how windy tracks are, especially those that are way up in the hills of South Wales.

It was a particularly uneventful session but the key for me was that I did something different and that I went out of my way to do it. I can get so comfortable doing my usual steady runs that it actually felt really good to feel the burn in my throat and chest from running a little bit faster. And on the plus side I was consistent, hitting 3 and a half minutes for each 800m. For the first time back on a track I was a little bit chuffed with that. I made my way back down from the valleys feeling a little glow of satisfaction from running a good session in such a beautiful place.

Valley Style

Valley Style

(It took me an hour to find this place and 20 minutes to get back. Thanks Google Maps)

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Is Being Fit And Healthy A Personal Responsibility?

The latest topic in the Run With An Idea debates takes on the notion that being fit and healthy is a personal responsibility?

This subject is a potential mine field. I totally accept that it should be in the responsibility of most people to control what goes into their bodies and how much exercise we take. However after nearly ten years working in the NHS there are far too many psycho-social factors that can affect an individual’s ability to do just that, despite their desire to be fitter and healthier.

During my time in the NHS I learnt that socio-economic status and eduction had a huge baring on how able someone was to help themselves. In the city I worked in I covered a particular catchment area and that area was notably poorer than other areas of the city. People attending our department often had a variety of other complex issues alongside the problem that found them visiting the Physiotherapist. These things could include long term unemployment, housing issues, domestic abuse, addiction to drugs and alcohol, mental health problems. They could have a mixture of these all at the same time. They were often less educated in looking after themselves and in health than their better off peers. And these things would end up providing barriers to changing their long term health behaviours.

With the economic downturn of the last few years I also believe that problems such as addiction and obesity will worsen. Lack of employment is a trigger in many people with depression. Poverty is a huge factor in poor eating habits and obesity. We have seen the cost of healthy produce rise and rise so when a family sees an offer in a fast food outlet to feed four of them for 99p each they probably believe that they are getting a bargain and full stomachs. I know and you know that this is not the case and it is not good in the long term but families struggling to feed themselves don’t think about how they might need a cardiologist in a few years, they need food there and then.

Education from home and in schools is a factor too. Many of us have lost the art of cooking for ourselves. Skills are being lost through the generations so people will do what is quick, easy and cheap for them.

Ultimately yes it is the responsibility of an adult to choose what they do with their body but I argue that this is not always so simple. There are many factors that impact on our ability sometimes to make the right choice and some of us are not always in a position to make the right one, right now. I do believe that problems like obesity can be helped but I think we need to look at communities and society as well as targeting individuals.

However with anything like this there are always really valid views that should be shared. Please comment if you have a moment.

A Murky Story About Your Favourite Brand

I came across a story over the weekend about something that happened during the US National Indoor Championships. There have been no statements by USATF all from the other organisation involved at this time.

The basic story is this: an athlete called Gabriele Grunewald won her first national title over 3000m at the weekend. During the race a US official had raised a flag to indicate ‘contact’ of some kind between Grunewald and the athlete who placed 4th. The Head Official reviewed evidence and felt there was no need to take any further action. The result therefore stood. USATF had made a decision and Grunewald was champion.

But she’s not anymore. After the initial decision was made, one which you would have thought was final, events occured that resulted in the disqualification of Gabriela Grunewald.

After the race the coach of the runner up and the 4th placed athlete filed a protest. The Head Official over ruled this protest. The result stood. The evidence had been reviewed twice and Grunewald was at this point still champion. The coach and his athletes took it to another three man committee who again upheld the original result. So three times now, USATF had reviewed events and the result remained. But it didn’t.

Twenty minutes later the officials changed their minds after a group of employees from a brand attached to the protesting coach. Grunewald was disqualified and the runner up given the title. The athletes from the protesting coach’s camp are now touted to be in Team USA for the World Indoor Championships.

If you want to read a bit more and find out who the people are involved in this then go and read here. I haven’t directly named them because not everyone involved has made a statement. Although you can go to Gabriela’s Twitter page and see exactly how she’s feeling about it all. Let’s just say the protesting coach is a very high profile man who has many fans especially due to his work with one particular UK athlete. The brand involved is a behemoth of a running brand.

I don’t tend to take much note of athletics across the Atlantic as it doesn’t often flash across my radar but when I read this story I felt genuinely sorry for Gabriela Grunewald. She had three different sets of officials say that her result stood but right now she is not a champion, she is a DQ on the race results. I don’t understand how watching a race tape time and time again and reaching one decision can then very suddenly lead to you taking the polar opposite one.

I also want to know if the athletes who finished behind her are happy. Is that how they wanted to win/get their places in the team? Fair enough if Gabriela pushed them over or we had a Budd/Decker situation blowing, but the tape showed nothing that worried the Head Official initially. Is that how they think you win titles? Not by winning fair and square but by throwing your toys out of the pram at the end, a bit like my four year old does, screaming that his brother didn’t let him win a race. Can those athletes look themselves in the face and know that they are there fair and square? I doubt it but I feel a bit sorry for them because they are probably between a rock and a hard place.

Is the coach really happy? I know coaches will fight for their athletes but to protest a decision that was upheld three times? Is he satisfied today? Can he put his hand on his heart and say that he saw something on the tape that the officials didn’t? Or because he is so tightly connected to a brand, does he have targets to meet and results that must be achieved? Not train hard, go hard, go home, win pure but have a whinge and get your own way.

I don’t even know where to start with the brand involved. I own their products and I love their kit but it now reeks of corruption and I am angry with them for interfering in something that they had no place to interfere. It’s like a rugby kit sponsor walking on to the pitch after Jonny Wilkinson’s winning kick in the World Cup, complaining that it was somehow not legitimate and getting the result over turned, even though EVERYONE IN THE STADIUM SAW IT! I can imagine there would have been complete and utter uproar. Or in the Olympics if Visa had decided that they didn’t like the cut of someone’s gib, walked into the swimming pool and protested that a champion’s stroke method was now illegal, the result was void and the swimmer had to give their gold back. Or how about this…..you are in a brand sponsored race 10k/half marathon/marathon and you are the only one who gets picked out for a bit of elbow nudging at the beginning of the race. They refuse to give you a medal and ban you from their races. Not on the same level but is that fair?

I’m just rambling but I’m just thinking that if brands are involved at a National level influencing decisions, what could happen if it went global. Doping aside, I think that would destroy the sport of athletics for good. Why would anyone watch athletics if big brands can step in and pick and choose their winners? That really scares me.

And what are we teaching children? That the ‘kids’ with the ‘biggest, richest parents’ will always win? Nelson Mandela said ‘Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair’.

Well I’m sure right now Gabriela as just feeling despair and athletes have been divided. The language here seems to be about money and big brands. My mother always says that money talks and I wonder if that is the case here. I always thought that the sport I love was above all the sponsor nonsense that is usually associated with football/soccer. Turns out football might be just a little bit more honest than athletics today.

 

 

Opinions

Opinions: everyone has them, everyone is entitled to them but I learnt that not everyone is willing to let people’s opinions go by. Last week I saw a tweet from someone asking ‘what kind of running blog posts do you avoid or not enjoy?’. And I was honest. I’m not a huge fan of long winded race reports and I’m not massively interested in page upon page of review posts. I like emotive posts and controversial posts and posts where a person’s passion is really coming through. I then had a laugh with a couple of my favourite tweeters as we discussed total parodies of imaginary blogs and posts. It was what I thought completely harmless.

But then I did notice a few people unfollowed me. Normal, it’s Twitter, do what you’ve got to do. And then I came across a blog that I’ve just started reading and it talked about people on twitter making ‘bitchy side swipes’ about people who write race reports/reviews etc and people thinking they are the ‘blogging police’. It wasn’t directed at me per say but it was too much of a coincidence not to be related to things that I had been JOKING about.

And it’s sort of bothered me all day because I believe, and I really think I am, a nice person. I make tongue in cheek jokes and take the piss with the people I feel comfortable with. I like banter and if someone has a jokey dig at me then I’ll do it back. I am a total cynic, possibly due to many years of working in public service and having been a parent blogger before I was a running blogger. I moved over to running blogging because I enjoyed how ‘PR request’ free it initially was.

Maybe I need to reflect on the issues behind me not being a fan of certain types of blog post. Is it because I am frustrated with my long term injuries and it creates a pang of hurt every time I read a race report? Well no because I read Cat Simpson and Sarah Marsden’s race reports on a regular basis. I think it could be more to do with personal writing style than other issues. I struggle to write my own race reports because I don’t know how to make them interesting but give me an elite race to blog about and it inspires my blogging beast.

Am I jealous that other people get sent stuff and I don’t? Well not really. To me they are just things and I don’t really want the pressure of people telling me to blog something and include key phrases and words. I could be offending more people as I write this but I have to ask why? Why are you bothered by my opinion? I am one blogger and one Twitter avatar in hundreds and thousands of running bloggers. Why does what I have to joke about bother someone so much?

I didn’t pronounce that whole themes of running blogging were rubbish. I never once said that and I am angered by that assertion because it is not true. If someone had a problem with my opinion then why didn’t they address me one to one and persuade me to try and find other themes of blogging interesting? Educate me, inform me, tell me I’m blinkered.

I don’t have loads of followers and I don’t have lots of PR emails but I too am happy to blog for me. I also have strongly held opinions about what are probably more pressing issues in the world too: the NHS, the current government, UK poverty and the use of food banks, our country’s health crisis, children’s health and how awful I think reality TV is (see tongue in cheek on the last one?). But I don;t blog about them, I blog about my love of running. I follow loads of Twitter people with opinions that are different to mine: X Factor, ice baths, stretching, massage, whether you should say 800m repeats or repetitions (neither just say reps ok, REPS). But I let it all wash over me, most of the time, until something like this.

What I did realise was that I upset a group of people with what I thought was harmless banter and I have tried to apologise for this. Blogging isn’t my job and I don’t make money out of it. It is simply a pass time for me but I understand that people are passionate about it and take it more seriously than I do. So I’m sorry if my opinions bother you. But don’t take it out of context and turn it into something it isn’t.

Helen Grant, Friday Outrage and Missing The Point.

I could have bashed my key board and my phone in frustration yesterday as people seemed to jump on the outrage train. The outrage was all focussed on a female Tory MP who gave an interview to the Telegraph about getting more women involved in sport.

Helen Grant, the minister of sports, equalities and tourism, (and a former under 16 Judo champion FYI) made some good points (although she did tweet that she’d been taken out of context):

“I think we need to get to the point where women’s sport is looked on and regarded as equal to the men’s game. When we get to that point that’s when we get the balanced coverage.

“To get to that point, we need certainly the media to do more, we need more finance, more businesses getting involved through sponsorship and we needs sports governing bodies and others and schools to be very innovative with ways to get our girls involved.”

But she also made some very questionable comments:

You don’t have to feel unfeminine,”…. “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheer leading and even roller-skating.”

But in the article she also seems to be pro-active and has been getting Sports England to invest money in finding out what women actually want and the issues that might prevent them in getting involved in sport and activity. Do you think that anyone picked up on that issue though? No, everybody went straight for the comment about cheer leading and being feminine.

So then Helen Grant was pretty much flamed as you’d no doubt expect. Another article about women in sport was published about real women wanting to be muddy and sweaty. Tweets slagging off cheer leading and ballet, which I really don’t understand because if you’ve ever watched a cheer leading routine it is gymnastics and dance and looks incredibly hard work. I know I couldn’t hold a friend up in the hair just by her feet or do a backwards tumble from a standing position. And roller skating? Having treated injured roller derby players I wonder if the ‘radiance’ is actually from their bruises. But I digress. This reaction was hypocritical by many and completely missed the point IN MY HUMBLE OPINION!

Hypocritical because many of the people directing the anger towards Helen Grant are the same people who slag off PE at school for being things like cross country, hockey, dance etc, basically the things that make you sweat. I have seen blogs begging for yoga and pilates in schools as an option for girls who don’t want to do the ‘traditional’ classes. Yet now that’s not ok and all women should want to do fell running and mountain climbing.

Some people went off about the feminine side of it. I agree that if she did say that then it was a poor choice of words but since when has being feminine and being sporty been wrong? Social media is full of articles about not compromising style over fitness and umpteen blogs about really expensive, patterned leggings. I matched my nail varnish to my running vest for my marathon. I still fecking ran it, I felt awesome and enjoyed my little ‘feminine’ pre race ritual. Doesn’t make me less of a runner. I think all sport celebrates femininity and it’s many many facets but say feminine and people automatically assume the negative. It’s like the daft argument that you can’t wear make up and be a feminist. Somewhere there is a man behind all this, I swear!

And then among all the shouting I came across part of a discussion that I, as a health professional, could get on board with.

It shouldn’t just be about being on an equal footing with men, it shouldn’t all be about being feminine or unfeminine. People have missed that quite an important part of sport is understanding that what your body does in response to exercise is NORMAL! Sweat is normal. Being red in the face is normal. Feeling your heart beating out of your chest is normal. Feeling achy and sore for maybe a week after your first ever exercise session is normal. These are all things that need to happen to maintain a basic level of physical fitness. But it’s ok because the human female body is an amazing thing and it is doing all those things to keep your body in check. Some women will sweat from Zumba, some women don’t even break a sweat during a jog on the treadmill but our body reactions are normal!

We also need to promote the physical long term benefits of exercise and activity to women and show that it’s never too early or too late. Weight bearing exercise and weight training will help to prevent osteoporosis. Exercise will help prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise has been promoted as an adjunct to treatments for mental health conditions. But I get that none of this is as sexy and exciting as a bit of Twitter outrage. Apparently now all women should want to aim for up to their knees mud as soon as they start a sport rather than the gradual, confidence building, strength and endurance building path that might benefit a larger number of women.

A while ago I wrote a post about behaviour change and what actually goes into people changing their behaviour. People do not like to be forced into things, they can become quite ambivalent towards change, even if it’s for their own benefit. What is probably needed is more education in school sports and PE about the positive effects of exercise and ‘sweating’ on the human body and why it is so important. Choice will also go a long way too, as a woman interviewed on the BBC just said, girls should be allowed to play football at school if that’s what they want but equally if they want to do cheer leading and learn about team work and team spirit then that should be fine too.

And maybe that is the key with women and sport: choice. We are all created differently. We don’t all want to be competitive. We don’t all want to run really far. We don’t all want to do back flips or jump a pommel horse (this was my PE class at school and it was my idea of hell, I hate being upside down). We shouldn’t mock others or become ‘sport snobs’ (I say this but don’t get me started on darts). And we probably shouldn’t attack someone for a poor choice of words, it is nothing but counter productive and doesn’t help anyone (if you actually read it back it is the interviewer who quotes a report and puts the words feminine and unfeminine in Helen Grant’s mouth).

So that is my take on Friday’s twitter outrage. I would be interested to know other people’s opinions and how we can encourage more women and girls to feel positive about exercise and sport participation.

 

Minus GPS

My Nike GPS watch seemed to give up the ghost while I was injured. It was as if it got sick of waiting for me to use it and eventually passed away like a Running Tamagotchi. It’s food was running, it wasn’t being fed and so it died a lonely death somewhere on my dressing table. I have plugged it in since and the stopwatch still works but the tracker ain’t having none of it.

So when I started getting back into running again I started using a really old watch with a timer on it that my husband used when he was rugby coaching. Apart from telling the time it’s other setting is a stop watch. Start, stop and reset. That is as fancy as it gets. It will tell me how long I have been running for and that is all I know other than how I feel myself.

For some time this has been my only method for tracking my runs and it has become a habit for me not to look at my watch at all than continually glancing at it the way I used to with my Nike watch. I can run for over an hour now until I feel the urge to check. I have found new routes for running lately and I find it more interesting to look around me than to see how long I have been running for or work out what my pace is.

On Sunday I downloaded a Run Keeper app to my phone. The GPS signal where I live isn’t fantastic but it seemed to tune into something way up beyond the clouds so it seemed worth a go. When the wind was whooshing and the cars were whizzing past I couldn’t hear anything from my pocket. But then I heard her, this woman, stating my progress in a weird mechanical tone. And it immediately bugged me. So I took my phone out and switched it off. I knew roughly how far I was running via this old thing that I had checked called a map, so I didn’t need some robot with dubious accuracy draining my running chi. No. Thank. You.

My goal for the London Marathon right now is that I have no goal. I only managed to get the training up and going properly with ten weeks to go which is a joke. I have had some people tell me that this is doable and I have had other naysayers tell me that I should defer. I do think I’ll be able to fit in the runs I need to do, injuries and niggles allowing, but I’m being careful. The last thing I need is the added psychological stress of whether I’m doing this pace for this mileage or whatever. I just want to run and right now running minus the GPS is making me the happiest runner I’ve been in a long time. I’ll probably come back to the GPS watch eventually but for now it can stay in it’s crypt on my dresser until I feel the time has come to resurrect it.

Apricity

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Apricity

Yesterday after weeks of atrocious wet weather we all awoke to bright, beautiful sunshine. Cold, crisp, frosty but dry and fresh. The perfect weather for running. I headed out for what turned out to be my longest run since I injured myself at the end of 2012. I can’t quite believe it’s taken me this long to get back into running and training and I really don’t want to take it for granted.

I managed to run 14 miles in just over two hours. My body was hurting after an hour and a half but that doesn’t really surprise me after nearly eighteen months of short runs, turbo trainer and aqua jogging. Nothing can really compensate truly for time on your feet.

Yesterday’s run was all about having many beautiful moments of apricity. The glorious contrast of feeling too hot and wondering if I had worn too many layers with the frosty breath coming out of my mouth, the wind stinging my eyes and making them water. It was truly a perfect day for running after days and weeks of gales and torrential down pours.

On days like that I feel privileged to be a runner and to be able to get out and pound my favourite routes. I feel privileged that I am in a place to be able to afford running gear, trainers, food, supplements and race fees. I am blessed that I am not chronically ill and that even when injured I can use my body to do other things. I am lucky that my family are healthy and that it is not my house and lifetime’s belongings and memories drowning in flood water. Running these days in social media and in magazines always seems to be about kit, events, selfies and spending money and these rare moments seem lost in the noise. Yesterday I ran and was bathed in the beautiful glow of the winter sun and I felt grateful.