Category Archives: marathon running

In Praise of The Awkward

I am not a fan of seeing pictures of myself running. Well that’s not quite true, I don’t mind pictures of me sprinting because most pictures of anyone in full flight look impressive. But the pictures of me in any distance race always look pretty naff. In my head I run with not too bad form but in a picture my knees are really low, my arms are all over the place and I just look rubbish. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a picture of me in any race but I think that’s because I don’t need a picture of me gurning on my living room wall. And anyway, should it really matter how you look getting to the finish line?

I noticed a conversation on social media about how an individual looked in a photo shoot about running. It got a bit heated and I’m sure there was mention of a site taking the piss out of how people look when they run. That’s pretty shitty and anyway only top athletes have perfect running form good enough to be photographed right?

Wrong.

There are so many athletes with little quirks in the way they run. Priscah Jeptoo is the first example that came to mind. When she won the 2013 New York Marathon people were aghast at her knock knee style. How on earth could she be a top marathon runner with a style that we are all told is totally wrong? Well she just is. Sometimes the body will take the path of least resistance and even though it looks awkward it is obviously a winning combination with her endurance talent.

And Priscah Jeptoo is not the only example. There are many other top athletes with unconventional styles. Paula Radcliffe’s head nod. Anita Hinriksdottir and her arms which never seem to be by her side. Michael Johnson’s choppy action. And in my opinion David Rudisha’s robotic style can at times look incredibly awkward. The only runner I’ve seen with even close to ‘perfect’ style for me is Genzebe Dibaba but I’m sure some of the self appointed purists could even pick her to bits on her form. And if you look at the end of any hard fought top level marathon race form pretty much goes to hell. But when we watch these individuals we’re not mocking the way they run. In fact it is their running styles which can make these runners so memorable.

I think we’ve all got a little running trait that makes us look a little bit awkward and feel a bit ‘Phoebe from Friends’. But to pull others down on how they look while running is appalling and knocks the inclusive, friendly reputation that the running community is so well known for. So before pulling someone down for their awkward running style praise them for their efforts in getting to the start line or for getting out on that run. We should be encouraging and supporting each other while acknowledging that we’ve all got those quirks that make us a little bit ‘awkward’. But looking awkward ain’t always a bad thing. Just look at Priscah.

Memes and Motivation

I love the new campaign by Sport England. The ‘This Girl Can’ advert demonstrates that all women, no matter what age or body shape, can find a sport or fitness activity they love. It doesn’t have to be what the latest fad is, it doesn’t have to be about ‘weight’ or ‘appearance’. Instead to me it is saying:

Get out there, enjoy yourself, make new friends, discover a new talent with the added bonus of being fit at the same time!

I know that it is not to everyone’s taste. Some people from the University of Bath believe it is ‘unfeminist’ but I can’t agree. There is no sexualisation as far as I can see and it is a celebration of sport and activity. I watched the advert and hoped that many other women would be inspired to take up something new or return to a sport they once loved and in their hearts still love.

And then there are these ‘no excuses’ memes which quite frankly don’t help. Seeing people in their bikinis flashing rock hard abs do absolutely nothing for me. Some would argue that I’m jealous. I would argue that sitting in the gym for six days a week, eating next to nothing and posing in skimpy outfits is nothing for me to be jealous of. And I’m definitely not jealous because I went for a run today in the bright Winter’s sun, enjoying the crisp air hitting my cheeks. Running is my motivation, not abs. Abs will never be my motivation.

Then there is the no excuse element. I feel that this always strikes an accusatory tone. It may be motivation for some but I know plenty of people who will be ambivalent to it. In fact I think it could turn a lot of women off exercise. Plus why presume that all people want to go to that extreme? I know so many people who have run marathons and ultra marathons (including myself) but we don’t go round pushing it on people, because we know it will just piss people off be irritating.

As a health professional I want people to be healthy but also enjoy what they are doing to make themselves healthy. Being thin/slim/skinny and being fit for training or for sport do not necessarily go hand in hand. And yet women continue to have ‘aesthetics’ pushed on them rather than healthy, achievable goals.

I hope that the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign continues to be the success that it is. I never believed that after having two children I would have run two marathons, but I have and it is something that can never be taken away from me. This girl definitely ‘did’ and will continue to do so for as long as I can (and am uninjured).  I will never have a six pack. It has never bothered me to have a six pack. My ‘excuse’ is that I don’t see a six pack/abs as particularly important to me. Give me a running goal though and I’m all over it like fake tan on a Women’s Health cover shoot.

(As an aside, I don’t have abs but I have been told I have quite a nice backside, however I think it would be a tad inappropriate to ask my sons to point at my arse while I pose in shorts barely covering me. That would be weird and I would also like my sons to know that a woman can be strong for many reasons, intellectually, emotionally to name just two,  not just for her ability to squat a bar.)

Patience and Injury

This week my attention was drawn to an article on Twitter which was tweeted by Balance Physio:

So I had a little read of the article and thought I’d try and apply the main points to my injury experiences over the last year (or more!).

Practice Gratitude

I’m grateful that right now I’m starting to run a bit more. Yesterday I managed to run continuously for 30 minutes with no screaming from the left achilles or the right calf. Today I am grateful that things don’t seem to have been flared up. I am so grateful for this that today will be a rest day or a cross training day.

I am grateful that my injury has not needed any investigations or surgery. I am grateful that I am relatively young *cough* and my body still seems to heal if it is allowed to. I am grateful that I have been able to do other forms of exercise to help me keep my fitness levels up.

I am grateful that right now pulling on my trainers for a short run is a realistic prospect. Embracing all the positive aspects have helped my mind set no end during this period of not being able to run all the time.

Be mindful of what is making you feel rushed.

Races were making me feel rushed. I rushed through rehabilitation to run the London Marathon and really it was detrimental. I haven’t been able to run since then and I managed to make my Achilles tendinopathy much worse.

When I was still considering running Berlin yet again I felt the feeling of being rushed and wanting to force my body to be ready. But injuries cannot always be rushed and so I decided to pull out of Berlin and other races that I had planned this year. Races were panicking me and making me feel pressured. Making the decision not to do any races this year means I have been able to concentrate on rehabilitating my injuries.

Make yourself wait.

As a Physio I often come across people who want instant results for their injury. One session is all they believe they will need to get back into their training. Most of the time I end up disappointing them. But as a runner this is something I have also had to learn and very much the hard way.

The body heals when it heals. We can nourish the body, make the conditions of the body as optimal as possible but realistically an injury will settle if we make ourselves wait. It is frustrating and it makes you angry but I found that addressing the point above helped me to get on board with the waiting. I had time again and I wasn’t rushing for anything. I have been able to give my injuries the time they need.

Embrace the uncomfortable.

I see this one in terms of ‘acceptance’. My injury has taken me so far out of my comfort zone, more than anything else mentally. My comfortable state would be to try and continue running and feel normal. But that definitely won’t work so instead I have embraced the uncomfortable fact that I have been injured and that my body isn’t capable of what I want it to do right now. It feels so unnatural to do this at first but at some point you have to come to terms with it. And when I did I was able to follow my plan of rehabilitation an awful lot better.

Do a little deep breathing.

I would never have thought that Mindfulness and meditation could help me with my injuries but they have. The meditations, deep breathing and emptying my head of my worries linked to injuries and races have gone a long way to helping me with rehab and trying to get back into training. I have found far more patience with my run/walk sessions and I have been sticking to my rehab plans far more than I ever have before. My sleep patterns are also better and I think good sleep is key when getting over a long term injury.

I’ve accepted that it is unlikely that I will run any races again this year. I have adjusted my goal to be back running properly to the end of the year, possibly into the start of the next. A few months ago I would have been distraught by this prospect and I would have tried to run over the top of my niggles. But I’ve discovered with a little patience I have been able to run again and patience might just get me back running sooner than I thought.

 

 

Ship Wrecked

Words I like to think I can attribute to myself: stubborn, competitive, passionate, loyal, determined, strong willed. I think I can say that occasionally I do demonstrate some of these traits. I think it’s these things that got me to the start line of the London Marathon. It’s these traits that helped me to find the courage to make it to the start line and achieve the goal of running the London race. I didn’t run it in the way I wanted to but I think I’ve let go of that now. I hope.

What I didn’t fathom was how utterly wrecked very little base line training and cramming marathon long runs into ten weeks would leave me. Both mentally and physically I have been left all at sea, drifting, swimming against the tide and the current that is pushing me back. I have been fighting against taking the path of least resistance for a long time but after having to take my second course of steroids for my chest in the space of two weeks I have to admit defeat and just go with the flow.

I don’t want to give up running. I am determined that I will be back running but right now I need to get myself better. And so I have made the decision not to run the Berlin Marathon later this year.

I can’t quite believe I just typed that. I was so excited and felt so lucky to have got a place on such an iconic marathon, but when I looked at how things have been going I just knew I couldn’t do it to myself. I wanted to follow the Hanson programme for the next marathon I ran but I’ve already lost nearly 7 weeks of training through being ill. I don’t want to be in the situation that I was with London where I was forcing myself to do long runs to get ready to run 26.2 miles. Getting ready for London messed with my head and left me feeling in a bit of a mess. I’m just starting to get on top of my anxiety and I think marathon cramming would just send me backwards.

So again I feel cut adrift from running. Not really sure where I’ll be taken. If I’m honest I feel like a bit of a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I can relax and just move with the ebb and flow rather than fight to keep my head above water. I know that when I am fit I am decent runner and I thrive on hard sessions but right now I’m just going to see where a bit of rest and recuperation take me. I just feel my body is crying out for something different. Maybe it will be cycling, maybe some more swimming. I quite fancy doing some weights and strength and conditioning and even possibly finding a tap dancing class (something I have wanted to do for a VERY long time).

I’m not gutted that I won’t now have a Berlin Marathon medal. I’m not really fussed for bling and medals, we weren’t given them for every race I did when I was a teenager so I don’t think it’s my main motivation for racing (caveat to say that if that is what motivates you then this is fine, it isn’t what drives me personally). All I want is to be able to run to the best of my ability. That is what drives me more than anything. To know that I have done all the training I can to be able to run and turn round and say I’ve honestly done my best. Right now I just don’t think I could say that. I’m salvaging this ship wreck of a runner while I can.

The Deadly Sins of Running

I never thought anything football related would ever make it onto this blog BUT I had a good old read of this article on the BBC site which was inspired by the Luis Suarez biting incident at the World Cup (as an aside can I just say that human bites are really disgusting. Ick.). In the BBC article a former footballer describes what he believes to be the ‘Deadliest Sins’ in football: career ending tackles, elbowing, spitting, racism. It then got me thinking, what are the deadly sins of the sport of running and athletics?

Doping

Ask any running/athletics fan and I think they would say doping is THE cardinal sin. It cheats other competitors and it makes a joke of the sport. Sadly doping doesn’t seem to be going away and the IAAF list is growing and growing, with the addition this week of Ukranian and Trinidad and Tobago athletes. Is it me or are they really not on top of it? Especially when you’re banning people for only 9 months at a time. Hey that’s 9 months free you’ve given them to dope some more!

I hate doping. It sucketh big time. Ask any running/athletics fan what they really despise in the sport and they will always say doping. It is arguably the BIGGEST sin in running.

Punching/Elbowing your competitor

It’s fair to say that it is fairly common at the start of a cross country or road race that many people stick their elbows out. It’s a do or die situation, stick your elbows out or get pushed back or maybe have your number ripped off. It’s fair enough but what is a tad unseemly is to punch a competitor or push them. I was pushed off a course once, it makes you angry but the best way to channel that is to run faster and beat them. Punching someone in the back because they’re Haile Gebrselessie and your nearest rival? That just makes you look foolish, especially when you end up pushing him over the line in first place.

Fighting

I haven’t seen many fights at running or athletics events. I have seen people get a bit heated with officials. Denise Lewis stood her ground, and rightly so, at the Sydney 2000 Olympics at the long jump event of the heptathlon. Coming to blows with someone at the end of your race? It’s not big and it’s not clever. Fighting with your team mate on the track in full view of the crowd? You’ve really not done yourself any favours. We’re runners, we’re meant to be lovers not fighters!

Bigotry

Running and athletics are sports that I like to think of as giving everyone an equal opportunity. They are totally inclusive which is how it should always be. No matter who you are or what you believe in it all gets left behind the start line or in the changing rooms. As competitors everyone starts equally. Which is way I was a bit disappointed by the views aired by a certain champion pole vaulter. And then having the cheek to try and back track the next day. There is no room in running and athletics for that. Fortunately at amateur level I haven’t encountered anything like this.

Cheating

I have been the victim of cheating in the past and it really sticks in the throat. It’s horrible to discover that someone had the nerve to cut a course short to win. And I have heard so many cheating stories this year. There was this story from the London Marathon this year and in Boston we had the bib faking story. There will always be cheats I guess but if you’re going to do it maybe make it believable. The guy from London would have us believe that he could run 13 miles and THEN run a world leading time for a half marathon. Dude had way too many energy gels! And that is what makes us hate a cheater, their lack of respect for the rest of us and because they basically think we’re all stupid enough to believe their excuses (see also Dopers).

Spiking someone

I have been spiked during a cross country race but I don’t think it was intentional. I do know of other team mates who had other runners run so close to their heels that they ended up getting nasty spike injuries. That’s really not cool. Those spikes could easily be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands!

Here endeth my lesson on what I believe are some of the deadly sins of running and athletics. Can you think of any more awful running transgressions? Have you got a tale of a sinful fellow runner? Or….have you got your own confession to make?

 

Break

Injured, injured, injured, injured, injured, injured, injured, aqua jogging, turbo trainer, ill, ill, ill, ill……….

The above is what I see pencilled into my diary. I don’t tend to keep a separate training diary, I just write in my normal diary what I’ve been up to and right now going back for ages and ages it is not a lot. It scares me a little to think about the lack of running in my legs. I dread to think what state my fitness will be in when I finally feel able to get back into some kind of training. It is also disturbing me a bit how I’m quite enjoying not training at the moment. I feel like I’m having a well deserved hiatus from all things sweaty and I’m not feeling that guilty. The reasons for my lack of exercise have been completely out of my control and I feel like my mind and body are having a much needed break.

I have almost gone into total running/training hibernation, conserving myself for when the time is right to come out again and bask in a running re-birth. The time isn’t right just yet as I tried on some new trainers today, jogged in the street in them and then had to sit and recover for 5 minutes. After the asthma attack and the chest infection my cardiovascular system is a bit argumentative with me at the moment and after last week I think it’s best to let it set the pace and dictate things.

I keep remaining hopeful that I will get back into running but I start to wonder how many ‘comebacks’ can one little runner have in a few years. My problems have been ongoing and I just don’t seem to get on top of them. But the reason I know I won’t give up is that I have the heart and soul of a runner and those sorts don’t really like giving in, lying down and taking it. I adore running but I know that it won’t be right if I’m not kind to myself for a change. Everyone talks about ‘go hard or go home’ but I don’t think that can work all the time. Sometimes if you do too much of the ‘go hard’ and you end up enduring more of a rocky road than you intended. It doesn’t mean that you’re a wimp, it just means that you’re taking note of what your mind and body are telling you. Sometimes it’s ok to go home, re-group, re-charge and come back when the head and the heart are both ready.

And so I’m going to sit tight, eat well, take my vitamins, get my body exercise ready again and I’ll be back when I’m good and ready. For now I’m just stoking the embers of my running soul, keeping the flames alight enough until they’re ready to rise again. wpid-20140616_142820.jpg

Under 18’s and Marathon Running

Yesterday I found myself directed to the Runner’s World web site to a debate entitled Should Runners Under 18 Be Allowed In Marathons? Two debaters addressed the question from the yes and no perspectives with both focussing almost exclusively on the health issues and the potential harm that could come or in fact not come from upping a young person’s mileage. Scott Douglas is in the ‘Yes’ camp and quotes a Paediatric journal that found that there should be no reason to prevent a person under 18 from increasing their mileage to marathon training distances as long as they enjoy it and are asymptomatic of injury.

On the one hand I do agree with that argument in some respects. It always amuses me that we can limit children under 18 despite any talent and drive that they demonstrate. However my niggling issues with allowing young people under 18 and children to increase their mileage is not just physiological. I have misgivings in relation to the psychosocial as well.

Training for marathons takes up a great deal of time and mental effort. Adults who have run marathons will be well aware of the small sacrifices that you have to make to fit in the time to be able to run a marathon to the best of your ability: less time with family, less time with friends, not to mention the side effects of training such as tiredness, fatigue, irritability. I was a young middle distance athlete and the training still gave me enough time and energy to be a teenager and experience all other aspects of that crucial time. I don’t think I could have had that balance if I had been a teenage marathon runner.

A young person has to go to school, find time to study, deal with growth spurts and hormonal changes while also developing relationships with their peers. If one of my children asks to run marathons when they are in their early teenage years my misgivings would not just be for physiological reasons but also for their social and emotional well being. I watch my sons play mini rugby with their friends and I know their enjoyment isn’t just about the physical work out they are getting but about their friends and the giggles and the laughs they are having, very much like I experienced at my running club. Marathon running can at times be quite solitary and I’m sure it could be even more so for a young person, even if they are surrounded by adults encouraging them.

But as with all sport, rules and regulations are ever changing and as we discover more about human capabilities and those of young people we may discover that they are indeed more than capable of running marathons and maybe more. But from my perspective as a mother I would want to make sure they knew what they might miss out on as an adolescent if they did. I think I agree with the person I saw discussing this on social media when they said ‘Why the rush?’.

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