Monthly Archives: May 2014

Injury, Acceptance and Grasshoppers.

When as a runner you are injured there is plenty of information out there from health practitioners and (some very questionable) resources on the internet on how to deal with the physical symptoms. There doesn’t seem to be great deal on how to deal with the psychological effects of injury. Having dealt with long term injury preventing me from running I can say from experience that the psychological effects can be profound: fear, anxiety, worry, depression, anger, helplessness. There were times with my back pain and neural pain that I thought running was over for me and I actively started to grieve for the hobby that I would probably never return to. How I wish I had been on the Mindfulness course back then.

I have no experience in sports psychology and I have never consulted a sports psychologist but over the last few weeks since attending the Mindfulness course little nuggets have triggered many moments of clarity as I’ve realised how anxiety related to many issues in my life have effected me. But having a little think abut it over the last few days, and I believe there are aspects of Mindfulness that can definitely help with dealing with an injury.

I suppose one of the biggest issues with injury is acceptance. You can either accept that you’re injured and find a way to deal with it or, as I have tended to do, you can ignore it and try to continue training and competing over the top of it. The latter for me has always led to worsening of injury and then the spiralling of my psychological symptoms like anxiety and frustration, plus a lot of ‘what ifs’. If we do decide to train over the top of an injury we should try and accept that this was our decision. We chose to train on a sore heel or a painful back.  But we are only human and as runners we don’t want to feel like we’ve failed. However maybe by not being mindful and accepting of a situation we can prolong an injury that might only have needed a few weeks rest.

Another thing that I can be prone to when injured is what the Mindfulness tutor refers to as Grasshopper thinking. For me this can be a mixture of ‘what ifs’ and catastrophic thinking. It will usually take this format:

‘Can’t believe I’ve been injured this long.’

If only I hadn’t done that sprint session, I might have been back by now.’

‘I’ve been out for X weeks, I’m going to be so behind on training’.

‘What if I have to defer?’

‘If I hadn’t been injured I might have been able to get a PB’.

‘What if I can’t get my mileage up or get all the sessions in.’

‘What if I never get better and I can’t run any more?’

Things will escalate and I become anxious and then all my physical anxiety symptoms come out. This is where I think the meditations and practices from the Mindfulness course will be most helpful, in trying to stop these chaotic thought processes that take up so much energy. Plus it feeds into the acceptance side of things: I have been injured, I can’t get back the time I’ve lost, there is no real benefit of looking back other than to look at old training habits. I need to look forward.

Another thing that I’ve realised is that an injured runner is allowed to be upset. We’re allowed to feel frustrated and angry but I think the psychological/emotional issues come from trying not to acknowledge these feelings and trying to feel as though we’re ‘coping’. Because running injuries are never life threatening I suppose we feel fraudulent for complaining but we need to be able to express how we feel about it, whether that’s crying with frustration or writing a blog post.

As I mentioned before these are just thoughts that I’ve picked up from a Mindfulness course that I have felt could help in coping with an injury. It is 18 months since my back injury and it was tough. Psychologically I felt like I was never going to get better and I would never run again. I have been able to run since and I completed the London Marathon, which funnily enough I managed to be very Mindful about with realistic expectations and an acceptance of my performance on the day. I’m back in training again and although things aren’t quite as smooth as I’d like I’m doing my best to be mindful, accept my current limitations and find solutions rather than spiral into my usual destructive thought patterns.

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Knitting Me Back Together

Intermittently over the years I have had a go at knitting. Both my grandmothers were superb knitters and my mother and her sister were really able knitters. When I became pregnant for the first time I thought that I would immediately develop the ability to knit. Sadly I did not. I would knit many many rows, imagining I was on top of it all. Then I would spot a mistake in the middle of the pattern and would have to set to work taking it all back again and restarting all the hard work.

So yeah, knitting. What does that have to do with running or in fact the universe? Well I’ll get to it in a bit.

Right now my mental health does not appear to be as healthy as I thought it was. The big hint I suppose was with the insomnia. I started the Mindfulness course and I thought I was doing quite well, identifying my unhelpful thought patterns and ‘grasshopper’ thinking that would contribute to my anxiety. But in other ways it seems to have set me off on another path, opening up a lot more, confessing to having bottled up things I thought I had tidied away in neat little boxes in my brain. It turns out a stiff upper lip is really unhealthy and leads eventually to a very wobbly lip and lots of tears. My anxiety seems to be amplified and I have all of a sudden become aware of how anxious I have been for many years and the ways in which it has affected my behaviours, relationships and decisions.

As runners we always talk about how the act of running makes us happy and helps us to chase the blues away. A rough day can become again became blissful by the simple act of lacing up our trainers and running out the door. And for many years this was true for me. But yesterday I went for a short run and I had a horrible thought creep into my consciousness: my mental health was incredibly intertwined with being able to run. As well as being a source of fitness, running had become a coping mechanism for me when my husband was ill. I had become dependent on running for my mental health. And then when I was badly injured and in pain for many months, my coping mechanism had been ripped away with me. Subsequently instead of running helping my mental health, running has actually started to feed into my anxiety.

This was probably something I haven’t wanted to admit to and as a runner you never want to say that running is ever bad for you. But after having no control over running due to nearly 2 years of injuries, I have to say my desire and need to run might not have been doing me any favours, especially because I put pressure on myself to get ready for London in such a short space of time. I mean, that was the equivalent of an energy gel for fuelling anxiety.

So right now I am like my knitting pattern. For many years I have obviously kept ‘knitting away’ trying to ignore the growing problems within the pattern I was building. But now I’ve recognised it and I’m unravelling things all back, row by row, until hopefully I can get to the crux of everything, find that little flaw that could cause the whole pattern to fray, and start to re-knit myself to become stronger once again. This is possibly why the Hanson method is appealing to me right now, because in a similar way to the Mindfulness course, it encourages you to strip things back, unlearn bad habits and start again with new ones. My anxiety is amplified right now and the physical symptoms seem to be more obvious than they were before but I hope with some work I can get through this and improve my mental health. I suppose you could say this is my Mental Marathon.

In other news I am heading to the Wales Blog Awards tonight. My husband very sneakily nominated me and the first I knew of it was when I had an email to tell me I had been short listed. Over 300 entries were received and I have been included in the final 32. I am amazed and honoured to be included because I never intended this blog to even have the readership that it does. So thank you for supporting my blog and thank you to the running community for introducing me to so many wonderful people.

Leader!

On Sunday I skipped a lie in and made my way up to the beautiful Dare Valley Country Park in Aberdare for a course that I’ve been dying to do for a while: Leadership in Running Fitness. Welsh Athletics were running the course and I was extremely excited to get learning!

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I was a little apprehensive about going, which is normal I’m sure, as I am not attached to a club right now and I’m not an ex elite athlete. I always feel that coaching is something that an ex pro *insert sport here* does but I needn’t have worried. Within the group on the course was a total mixed bunch: Ultra runners, fun runners, club runners and well, me. Everyone was friendly and the tutors Chris and Georgina were welcoming and keen to turn us into competent Leaders by the end of the day.

A vital question asked right at the start of the day was why did we want to help people to start running? There were many answers but the main one seemed to be that we wanted to help people discover the enjoyment we all get from running! The course content covered everything that I hoped it would: the role of the leader, when to speak to a coach, how to plan sessions, what each session should include, organisation and the delivery of those sessions. But we were not trapped in the class room for the whole day, we were able to get out in the car park (not out into the beautiful park itself unfortunately) to take turns in leading groups in a warm up, a planned session and a cool down.

We all had to be seen by the tutors to lead a group of 8 runners in a session. I took a group for a progression of fixed point repetitions and despite the rain lashing down no-one complained, or maybe they wanted to get it done so they could take cover! Our tutor Georgina (a Sport Wales Coach Educator of the Year!) gave us feedback on aspects that were good and ways in which we could improve for future sessions.

With the mixture of theory and practical sessions the day seemed to fly by and before I knew it we had reached 5pm and it was time to go. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and meeting all the fantastic runners of all abilities. It was brilliant and I was reminded yet again that a roomful of runners talking about running is a beautiful thing. I’m really looking forward to getting out and starting a beginners running group, something that seems to be lacking in my local area right now.

If you would like to visit Dare Valley, the venue of the course for a run, walk or even a horse ride go to http://www.darevalleycountrypark.co.uk. I highly recommend a visit if you have children.

If you are in Wales and fancy spreading your love of running to budding beginners then go and visit the Welsh Athletics coaching pages for more information about courses held all over the country.

 

Selfie

For some time on my blog I’ve noticed that one of the search terms that keeps coming up is ‘women’s abs selfies’. I think this is possibly because I have blogged about ab selfies before and about how pointless they are and also how unrealistic many of these pictures of abs are for most of us to achieve. I don’t even want to think about the lack of eating that goes in to achieving abs. I also don’t see what they achieve above looking ok when you have your top off, and in the UK that might happen one good bank holiday every year.

But ab selfies are not going away. Log onto instagram and there are plenty of women and men baring their tummy, trying to show us their lunch via a close up of their belly button. Visit the side bar of shame on one particular ‘news’ site and you will notice plenty of female celebs showing their abs for all to see. Abs do not seem to be going away, so to satisfy the people who end up on my blog looking for a toned, sleek, shiny, tanned stomach…….

here you are.

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There ain’t no washboard there and Jess Ennis I definitely am not. I have a little paunch that hangs over my shorts and when I get into a plank position the skin hangs. When a 5ft woman with a small torso carries a 9lb baby boy the skin of your stomach becomes stretched beyond the point of all return. Two pregnancies very close together have also meant that my belly button doesn’t really exist any more. I have stretch marks galore and I am a little soft round the edges. Photo shop would have a field day on this stomach, this is my very own ‘Post Baby Body’.

But lets look at things a different way. This ‘Post Baby Body’ has run many miles including two marathons. It can lift weights and keep up with two energetic little boys who if allowed would have the upper hand constantly. I have done exercises, planked, done sit ups and yet my stomach remains the same and do you know what? I really couldn’t give a shit. I may never have the taut, lined stomach of a fit mag cover model but posing in bikinis wouldn’t get me where I really want to be and that is crossing finish lines with a smile across my face.

 

Moving Too Fast

‘Ooh, you’re moving too fast and I don’t think it’s right
I’m not giving you my love tonight
Now, ooh, you’re moving too fast
Better sit back, relax
I’m not giving up no love tonight…..oh yeah, hmmsk, hmmsk oh yeah, hmmsk hmmsk’

Really not sure that the Hanson Brother’s thought that one of their readers would be humming a Garage tune from 1999 when they were reading their book. But if you read on it will all make sense.

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After hearing about the Hanson Method from the lovely Cathy I was curious but when she mentioned that the longest run you did in training was 16 miles I was all ‘nah, how can this be?’ and promptly dismissed it. However after hearing how well her London Marathon went I was even more intrigued. I have the Berlin Marathon in September and I have been wondering how to go about training. So I ordered the book with plans to read it and make no real commitment to it if I didn’t feel it was for me.

Well this book has had me hook, line and sinker. Firstly it is extremely well written by Luke Humphrey, the Hanson brother’s prodigy if you will. It is scientific but only uses the necessary jargon, it does not get too clever. Everything is explained in simple language which means you know the author really understands what he is talking about. Plus, reading about the physiology had little bells going off in my brain about my basic physiology lectures in the early stages of my physiotherapy training. So after just a few chapters I was no longer preparing to shout ‘bullshit’. I was concerned that I would get bored of a book like this but I haven’t, the content is interesting and again so well written that it keeps you engaged. If anything it has had me re-reading sections as I have enjoyed the way Humphrey has phrased things.

Gems such as,

‘The bottom line is that the body is remarkable at adapting to training.It will do everything it can to support a given activity and become better at it’ 

and,

‘...the body is an amazing machine capable of adapting to a myriad of stresses.’

are interspersed within the physiological information and continued to inspire me to keep reading.

The training programme itself is over 18 weeks and all the sessions: speed, strength, tempo, easy and long runs are given along with pacing charts to enable the reader to work out the best pace/target for them. But what I really liked is that the reasons for each session are provided and therefore justified. Rather than ‘this is the programme, go forth and run’, Humphrey teaches you the benefits that you should be getting from each session.

And now I come to the light bulb moment and why the Artful Dodger song popped into my head. The paces for easy runs, which are never referred to as junk mileage, are given and from reading the charts I think for a long time I have been running or ‘moving’ too fast. All my runs have been far too quick and through reading the book I am wondering ‘PING’ if that is why I have continued to develop injuries and niggles. Is the fact that I insist on running all my runs hell for leather the reason why I keep picking up muscular injuries and flaring up my achilles tendon? This book is telling me that unless it is a particular session it wants me to slow down. And today I did, I slowed down. I tested out a 3 mile run at just over 9 min/mile pace and if anything I felt I could have kept going quite happily.

This book has definitely been food for thought and I can see that Luke Humphrey and the Hanson brothers have studied and researched to the ‘nth degree to establish their programmes. And like Humphrey says, this programme is based on science and physiology, it is not an arbitrary collection of paces and sessions and go away and see what happens. There is actual evidence for this programme, in the lab and from the people who have used the programme, like Cathy (who managed a brilliant 3.30 at London).

So with Berlin in twenty weeks time I think I will try and give the Hanson Plan a go. I have no idea how this is going to go but the book has helped convince me it may be worth a try. I was winging it in London, I look forward to see what happens when I actually buckle down (hopefully injury free) and do some hard graft.

The youth are also inspired.

The youth are also inspired.

Mindfulness and Bananas.

I have been having a battle with insomnia for some time and I seem to be having another bad patch. I have tried sleep hygiene, warm drinks, getting up and reading, meditation, staying up until I feel I can’t keep my eyes open and yet regular sleep continues to evade me. I never used to be like this. As soon as my head would hit the pillow I would be out for the count without thinking about it.

A few weeks ago I finally went to the doctor and she prescribed sleeping tablets as a last resort. She also referred me to the primary care mental health team and recommended a ‘Mindfulness’ course. Off I trotted with a load full of leaflets and no intention of following up the primary care team or the course. Until a letter arrived. For the mental health team. I ummed and ahhed and decided to go along just to see what the deal was.

I met the Primary Care Health Practitioner and she started reading the GP referral letter out to me. She only made it half way through the letter before I started crying. Not ‘solitary tear rolling down my cheek’ crying but ‘huge splashes of tears down my jumper’ crying. I hadn’t realised how much the insomnia had been getting to me, or maybe the things in the GP letter were triggers. I’m not sure but hearing about my insomnia in someone else’s words and listening to what the GP felt was the root causes seemed to hit a button.

We talked through the last couple of years: my husband being ill, me being injured for so long, worrying about money, struggling to discover what I want to do for work in the long term and the fact that I have been isolated without family support nearby. She said that when things like this happen we can go into survival mode and our fight or flight responses become very heightened as we try to deal with stresses in our lives (which amused me because my husband is convinced I have PTSD). This means that even sleep can become difficult as the fight or flight response hormones are way at the other end of the spectrum to our sleep hormones. Over time as my sleep disruption has become more chronic I have become afraid of going to bed, which kicks in the fight or flight response further and because the mind cannot distinguish between a physical threat or a mental threat, my heightened fight or flight response prevents me from dropping off to sleep.

In some ways I could see what she meant and after being initially sceptical about the Mindfulness course I agreed to give it a go. The first session was last week and I did have some light bulb moments. Some what disappointingly, it won’t be an over night fix. Kerry who takes the course said the brain is like a jungle and that thought processes will always take the path most trodden, just like motor pathways. The idea is to gradually introduce other ways of thinking and new pathways to try and get you out of the psychological habits that you’ve developed. It will also teach us to allow ourselves to feel certain things and that this is okay and that we don’t have to suppress certain emotions and feelings. It also made me think that the referral to counselling that I’ve had isn’t a bad thing and that I have been bottling things up for a long time, hence the epic crying at the first assessment.

Kerry finished the session with the story below, which I think is commonly used on Mindfulness courses. I like the sentiment of it however my husband ruined it for me when he pointed out that the monkey could mush up the banana and eat it anyway. Read the story, it will make sense and take from it what you will, even if it is mushy bananas.

‘They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through, and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they put a banana inside the coconut and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in and takes hold of the banana. The hole is crafted so that the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go’.

(from http://www.mbsrtraining.com/mindfulness-atittudes-letting-go/)

Salomon CITYTRAIL 2014

Salomon

Last year I popped along to the Salomon CITYTRAIL event which I wrote about on my old blog here. I had a great time last year trying on different shoes and I had a chance to trial one of their sports watches which even had a ski setting. Well this year the CITYTRAIL is back and hitting more cities than last year so hopefully more people will get a chance to try out their products.

As a concept I think it is a fantastic idea. There will be 5km and 2km routes set out in each city so that runners can give the shoes a real run for their money rather than jogging up and down outside a shop. As well as shoes they are bringing their Suunto GPS watches for folks to try and there will be professional trail runners at each event for you to chat to. You will also get the chance to try out the very attractive X Scream which I’m trying out for a review.

X-SCREAM W PK/WH/BK

Bright neon pink so that if I get lost on the trails I will be found easily. We used to tell my brother this was a benefit of having red hair, that’s another story.

If you want to read a little bit more about the CITYTRAILs then visit the site here and choose the city closest to you. The Cardiff route sounds especially lovely, starting from Bute Park and taking you past the Millennium stadium, Cardiff Castle and into Cardiff Bay. Most Cardiff runners will be familiar with these routes but it is a beautiful run for visitors or people who don’t usually run in Cardiff.

Now have a cuppa and watch this Salomon CITYTRAIL video to get an idea of what happened last year. It really is a fun, friendly event and the Salomon team are excellent at answering all your questions, they really know their products and their athletes.

Disclosure: I am involved with the Salomon Insider Project but all words and opinions are my own. If you want more of an idea about Salomon as a company pop over to You Tube and check out their trail running videos which really are just beautiful and will make you want to hit the trails.