How to get motivated for a run

It isn’t always easy feeling motivated to go for a run. There are days when gravity feels extra strong; the sofa extra comfy. I get it. Especially after a day of multitasking in front of a computer screen, when I feel grouchy and my brain is frazzled and distracted. When all I want to do is have a long bath, possibly pick a fight with my boyfriend, and definitely eat dessert. Preferably one I haven’t made myself.

If this sounds a bit like you then firstly I’d recommend this article from The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman, because it’s very interesting. Although on the one hand I find it a bit depressing that the idea of a reward doesn’t really encourage us to work harder (if anything, he says, it creates the subconscious idea that exercise is an even more unpleasant task and we won’t enjoy it), on the other hand it’s probably true – I find running a reward in itself. [I realise how nauseating that sounds if you hate running, but really I’m as surprised as you by this new Pollyanna perspective. A year ago I wouldn’t have believed it possible to ‘enjoy’ a run, any more than one might ‘enjoy’ a colonoscopy. But I do.]

Anyway, for what it’s worth my motivating tips are thus:

  • Get it over and done with first thing. As the old meme says…

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I’d recommend this for lots of reasons, mostly because you won’t have had 5+ hours at your desk in which to look at the weather forecast, plan excuses aloud to disinterested colleagues, or generally talk yourself out of it. It’s a cliche, but having your kit laid out beforehand makes it easier to crawl out of bed and to the gym before you know what’s what. I also make myself a specific breakfast on gym days (overnight oats) so if I miss my workout I feel guilty with every mouthful that I backed out on my promise. I also maintain that there are few feelings in the world better than the ‘smug around the office’ feeling that comes from having run 3 miles before work. Whether you choose to crow at the tea station, or keep it to yourself, there’s a certain glow that others will rightly find sickening. [NB this will not make you friends.]

  • A bit like the overnight oats, there’s something to be said in self guilt. Imagine yourself not doing the workout. What would you do instead? Ok, if it’s something good like calling your best friend, mowing your neck-height lawn or baking cakes for orphaned baby animals then fair enough – go forth and think nothing of it.
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“We heard there was cake?”

But if realistically it’s just scrolling through Facebook and feeling slightly disgusted with yourself then you might as well lace up your trainers and get on it. I also find the image of the resulting smugness (see first bullet point) I will enjoy all day is usually enough.

  • Sign up to a race and make a training plan, especially if you are a massive nerd like me. God I love my training plan. So many numbers, so many things to tick off, so much structured fun.

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Plus it’s making all of my sessions have a distinct purpose, rather than just: ‘Urr, maybe I’ll run 10k, oh no wait I don’t want to, let’s stop here at this cake shop.’ So that gives them their own weird pleasure, even if it hurts and I’ve never sweat so much in my life.

  • Have someone who forces you to do things you hate. While in every other element of life this is not to be encouraged, in running it’s almost a necessity. After all, I really didn’t want to do the Insane Terrain obstacle course, and look what happened! (Really, go and look. Look at my happy piggy mud face.) It’s good to have friends who push you and hold you accountable, to a degree of course – it helps if they are a similar speed and standard, otherwise you might die.
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Neither of these are suitable running buddies for me

 

So how do you keep on keeping on? I’d love to know…

 

 

Training for the Disneyland Paris half marathon

I’m writing about the Disneyland Paris half marathon (the first ever such event) for Closer. Here’s my first post, but you can also see it with all its glorious GIFs here.

There are two things you need to know about me. Firstly, I love running. And by love I mean hate-with-occasional-moments-of-endorphins, and by running I mean jogging very s-l-o-w-l-y. So slowly that I’m frequently overtaken by toddlers, three-legged dogs and plastic bags blowing in a mild breeze.

Secondly, I love Disney. Like, really love it. Some might say too much for a woman approaching 30 (but they would be wrong).

So naturally when I first heard that Disneyland Paris would be hosting a half marathon event this September I signed up straight away, no questions asked. It didn’t matter that I could only run 10k at a time, and the thought of 13.1 miles made me feel dizzy – Minnie would be there! I could dress as Ariel! I could spend the afternoon recovering on rides and eating fries!

But now that I’ve told everyone and it’s officially happening, I actually have to do some serious running…

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A half marathon is no mean feat, even when you have Donald Duck as a cheerleader. It’s 13.1 miles of sweat, blisters and (potentially) tears. So to give me a boost and help me create a training plan, Run Disney put me in touch with living legend Paula Radcliffe – current women’s record holder for the London Marathon and general babe.

After messing around with Minnie Mouse ears and huge white gloves (mental note: don’t choose these as part of your costume, they are too sweaty) we talked about the finer points of race preparation. Namely, what to eat beforehand (surely it’s not just me who runs to eat more?)

Paula advised me to have a solid breakfast of porridge or similar, a good few hours before running, even if that meant getting up at the crack of dawn. That way I wouldn’t need to worry about carting gels and other fancy running snacks around with me, and could just concentrate on enjoying the race.

She also advised me to try some hill training on the treadmill (living in the pancake flat Fens, there aren’t many other options for getting my glutes in gear) as well as stepping up my distance slowly. She made it sound like a piece of (protein-based) cake, and I suddenly found myself looking forward not just to the race, but to the training too.

Paula will be running the Disney race herself, so obviously I’ll be giving her a run for her money (!) I’ve now made my plan and started the first week of training. Bring. It. On.

Going Insane (Terrain): my first obstacle race

I really, really didn’t want to sign up for Insane Terrain. It’s difficult to put into words quite how resistant I was to it, so I’ll sum it up with this photo.

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Why was I so horrified? Well firstly I have, as mentioned, the upper body strength of a Betty Spaghetti doll (do they still make these?)

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So the thought of having to winch myself up bales of hay and – my own personal nemesis after an exhausting day at Go Ape – cargo nets, filled me with a deep sense of dread. Especially when I imagined the type of people who would enjoy obstacle races (eg burly macho men on stag dos wearing Borat mankinis and crushing cans of Stella onto the forehead of a naked, comatose groom) braying with laughter as I slipped to my death/drowned in mud/got eaten by a rabid cow.

Secondly I have Raynaud’s disease – a joyous, if non-threatening, circulatory issue that means my hands are perpetually a shade of blue known in painting circles as ‘floating corpse’. Therefore getting drenched in cold water and mud, without the prospect of warming up until I reached a hot bath (assuming my useless fingers could correctly fumble with the taps) was not a tempting one.

Why did I agree? I was ‘persuaded’ (read: emotionally blackmailed) into it by two of my running friends, Sam and Carol, who felt (accurately) that I owed them one after making them go to a particularly brutal exercise class (with each squat, Sam’s eyes had clearly read: ‘This is your fault’.)

So, buoyed up by the fact that I could whinge at them the entire way around the course, I signed up. And it all seemed a blissfully long way away until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Yesterday morning I woke up at a reasonable time (we’d sensibly signed up for a wave starting at a most civilised 11.30am), ate some cereal, complained to my boyfriend, laced up my oldest shoes (before apologising to them that their year of hard service was about to be rewarded with mud-mageddon) and fearfully climbed into Sam’s car – towel and clean clothes in hand.

It didn’t take long to get to the course, in Doddington towards Cambridge – in fact we had almost an hour to spare after registering. Unusually there was no race pack sent out for Insane Terrain, and no number or time chip (it’s an untimed race, which I loved, plus a number would be unreadable by the time you’d tackled your first mud hill) but registration was blissfully simple and quick. And I’d forgotten you received a free T-shirt, so that was a bonus. Although possibly foolish of me to put it on straight away, therefore coating it in thick black pond slime (it’s fine after a good wash).

We then hung around in the sunshine (yay) watching the waves before us head off, and trying to work out what the course was like based on the state of the finishers. Essentially muddy, wet and foamy. It was particularly hilarious watching groups of girls set off in matching pink or orange tutus, only to return looking like the grimy confetti in church gutters.

Apart from the sunshine, I was greatly cheered by the type of people who had turned out to race. There were lots of women of all different shapes and sizes (always one of my favourite things about running – it’s such a equalising hobby) men who didn’t look like they were on stag dos or practicing for army recruitment, and even families and dogs, not racing but sitting happily with pulled pork sandwiches and watching the racers.

The sick feeling in my stomach started to lift. Perhaps this would all be ok. Or even… fun?

Finally it was time to start, and after a quick warm-up, a group of around 50 of us (although I am notoriously bad at estimating crowd numbers, so read ‘between seven and 300 of us’) set off. At first, as is usual in races, there was a bit of a pile up, especially as we reached the first obstacle – a thigh-high pit of brown water to wade through. After being a bit precious about my trainers during the first faintly muddy section of the run, I realised resistance was futile – they were going to be ruined – so I might as well enter into the spirit. I plunged in. It was cold, but not as shocking as it might have been. In fact the only shock was the man in front who deliberately slapped water behind him, soaking us all (thanks bud). I emerged with soggy legs and a mud-streaked face, curious about what would come next.

The racers were dispersing now, allowing us stragglers to walk the most slippery sections of path. We wound through a little wood, climbing (gracelessly) over tree trunks and getting our trainers stuck in muddy puddles. It was a little wait before more obstacles, which included a balance beam and wooden logs to climb or slip under depending how lazy you felt (very).

Then it was on to the best bit – slippy, slidey inclines which were almost impossible to scramble up. It was difficult enough to get any purchase in the first place, but even more so after you’d fallen into the squelchy puddle of mud at the bottom, giving your body the traction of a wet bar of soap. If there’s anything more hilarious than watching your friend face-plant into a puddle, and laughing so much you instantly do the same, I’d like to know about it. I think I burnt more calories laughing on these slopes than I did during the whole run.

Grinning ear-to-grubby-ear, we eventually were hauled over the top by friends and strangers, and moved on – but not before Sam’s daughter snapped this marvelous muddy shot.

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The next tricky spot was an inflatable run-through, which was a lot less fun than the hills. Mostly because, as a vertically-challenged woman, I found it impossible to get over the bouncy fences when I was so slick with mud. In the end I abandoned all dignity and was man-handled over by a very tolerant marshal. Next we scrambled over hay bales like graceful antelope. Only joking. We took many unsuccessful run-ups, and finally heaved ourselves over like elephant seals onto a sunny rock. I managed the first few ok, but then my arms began to tire and I was extra grateful for the generous souls at the top who were willing to grab an arm here or a grimey shin there.

There were more strangely warm ponds to wade through – one so deep I had to swim a section, and another filled with black slime that smelt like a million cow pats – and a strange foam lilypad to run across before falling in and inhaling lots of water (although I believe that last part was optional). The best obstacle, at the end, was an inflatable slide made extra perilous with the addition of washing up liquid. Not only was hurtling towards the finish on my belly good fun, but it did a pretty good job of mud removal too.

All too soon, we were sprinting (as much as possible when your wet leggings are sticking to you with every squelchy step) hand in hand to the finish line, for medals, water and clean, dry clothes.

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Thanks to Sam and Carol for forcing me into it – I had an amazing time, and now know that, come the zombie apocalypse, I can at least lift myself over one haybale.

Oh yes, and check out our socks at the end of it all.

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Find out more about Insane Terrain here. The race was two laps of 5k, although in the end we only did the 5k option.

Running through sad times

Today has been a challenge, to say the least. I’ve struggled to concentrate on work, and judging by the strange lack of emails and phone calls I’ve received, I’m not the only one.

I feel like I’ve been through the full gamut of emotions, from shock and disbelief to rage, via tears and gnawing unease about the future of Britain. I’m honestly not sure I can continue to live in a country that can make such a decision.

But anyway, I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that as I sat at my desk swinging wildly between utterly drained and full of energetic rage, the one thought I kept having was: ‘I need to go for a run’.

Physically, mentally, everything in me is crying out for the clear-headedness that can only be achieved by pounding up the road, along the railway line and into the park. Past robins, wrens, rabbits, the occasional fox and, of course, people. Many – most – of whom will have looked at the same evidence as me and reached the opposite conclusion about the country. I want to understand the unhappiness of those that voted to leave, those who really felt it was their best option. I don’t want to fight fear and rage with more fear and rage. I want to feel the physical tiredness that comes from a run; I want to sleep well; I want to wake up kinder.

Running can make us better people, that much I’m sure of.

The importance of cross-training for runners

Now that I’ve started training for my first half marathon this autumn, I’ve been thinking about the types of cross-training I want to include.

The number one thing on my list is yoga (happy International Yoga Day, by the way) as it does so much for my tight, aching hips. Not to mention the great work it does on a back which spends five days a week moulded into a cheap office chair, and shoulders which naturally live somewhere around my ears. Oh and then there’s the fact that it makes me feel less like killing everyone (even people who undercut on the motorway) and reminds me to relax. If it wasn’t for the evidence of my being alive, I might genuinely believe it to be the only time in the week I actually breathe.

To my horror, my usual class is FULL today, so I’ll be turning to my reliable back-up plan Yoga with Adriene tonight to try to sort my stems out (pigeon pose is the most exquisite agony).

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Image from www.tinareale.com

Alongside yoga on Tuesdays (and, really, every day in theory…) I’ve recently started one-to-one boxing classes on a Thursday and I love it. There’s so much to concentrate on, from the hits themselves to good form and moving around the ring… it’s excellent for making my neurotic brain shut the hell up. Plus I get to hit someone which, as you may have guessed from earlier, is very appealing to me. Of course the instructor wears pads, so I’m not going to do any damage, but talk about cathartic.

I’ve just bought my own gloves, and already thinking that I might have made a rookie mistake choosing white ones as, and this is kind of gross, whenever I wipe the sweat (and believe me, there’s a lot of it) from my face with them, they come away stained with mascara and foundation. Need to start remembering to take my make up off before class. On the plus side, my instructor pointed out that the only other boxer to wear white gloves was Apollo Creed (Rocky’s badass nemesis) so I’ll take that.

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I’m also a big fan of fitness classes – anything from Zumba to spinning or Body Pump– and I love adding these in as and when I get time. This week I’ll have no time as I’m seeing a personal trainer tomorrow to learn to lift weights! So excited. It’s too intimidating using free weights without knowing what I’m doing, not to mention potentially injury-inducing, so I figured it would be money well spent. Weights are the perfect way to build muscle and get stronger, and should balance out the constant cardio of running perfectly. I will be channeling Chloe Madeley (honestly, have you seen her abs??)

I use cross-training to do several things. Firstly to help with my flexibility, which seems to be getting worse the more I run, and to help stretch out any sore muscles. Secondly to build my strength and make my body more powerful. Thirdly to stop me getting bored. And, most importantly, to decrease the risk of injury that running alone might present.

What do you do to cross-train?

Why running is a bit like Harry Potter

In honour of the Hogwarts Running Club – a virtual way to raise real money for charity and earn the most amazing bling you’ve ever seen… [Team Ravenclaw FTW]

  • Running is a bit like the magical world: to non-runners (muggles) you just look and sound a bit crazy.
  • But to other runners, you’re in on the world’s most amazing secret.
  • You wear strange clothes, eat magical potions with healing properties (gels) and are a big believer in muttering spells to yourself as you go (“I can do this!!”)
  • Choosing trainers is a lot like choosing a wand. Once you’ve had gait analysis, it’s really the shoes that pick you, not the other way around.
  • It makes you feel like a badass. Just like Hermione.

 

      • Medals are a bit like horcruxes, in that you feel the need to collect them all (although woe betide anyone who destroys one)
      • Your scars (and other injuries) are what set you apart. Ok, so they may not be lightning bolts, but they are still a talking point with other runners.
      • Your friendships are what get you through the hard times. And hills.
      • While it’s great to have a teacher or running role model to help inspire you to greatness.

  • There’s a lot of merch involved, and the best stuff incorporates HP and running, a la this shirt:

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      • And finally, I could happily talk to you all day about either.

 

Why I hated sports at school

Despite loving running enough to blog about it (not to mention the small matter of signing up for three half marathons) I wasn’t even remotely sporty at school. In fact, I hated it to the point where, in some desperation, I remember my best friend and me coming over all Lord of the Flies (apart from the murdering) and performing a primitive rain dance in the school grounds before one hockey lesson. FYI – it didn’t work.

The reasons for my hatred were manifold, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since discovering my dormant sporty side more than a decade later.

The main one is that I don’t think the school system as it was (or, I suspect, as it still is) is even remotely encouraging to the 99%. That is, not the five girls in the class with legs up to their armpits, who came out of the womb clutching a hockey stick and promptly took a swipe at the midwife’s ankle bone – but the rest of us. The ones who are never going to be Olympic hopefuls, who are unlikely to give up a Saturday shopping trip to get rained on in a field somewhere, but who might just – whisper it – get something out of a games class too.

I’ve loved running for myself and by myself for over a year now because I’ve realised I don’t need to be the best, or the fastest, or have the best form to achieve miracles. I can push myself to beat my own records week in, week out. I can go faster and further than I ever believed I could – even if that’s not exactly making Paula Radcliffe quake in her Nikes. In fact, I still get the same medals as the sporty girls, albeit about an hour later and with a lot more sweat involved.

The more I think about it, the more annoyed I get about the wasted years when I could have been running, dancing, loving the feeling of moving, cultivating a healthy relationship with my body, worrying less about dieting and the shape of my thighs and just feeling comfortable in my own skin. Or as comfortable as a teenager in an all girls’ school ever can.

I was reminded of how fragile my sporting ego once was today, at a badly run PR event. It was supposed to be taster sessions of various sports, which would have been fine – better than fine in fact, I think I would have enjoyed it – if they’d pre-warned me. As it was, with no warning, I was meant to take part in a HIIT class with three seriously sporty types (including one immensely Regina George TV presenter, who was pretty amazed to hear I hadn’t heard of her before) and not wearing the correct clothes. Oh and be photographed. And go on to another meeting I had lined up with my make up down my face and sweaty hair. No thanks.

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I was furious, not just because I’d gotten up at 5am to be there, and because of the disorganisation (I am super anal, so I have minimal tolerance for shoddy event planning) but because of the feelings it provoked. I suddenly felt like I was 12 again, self-conscious about my weight, my inability to score in netball or look good in a gumshield. I felt friendless, on the sidelines, off the team. Feeble.

I know it’s on me, rather than them, that I felt that way – which just made me angry with myself. I didn’t want them to think I’d pulled out because I wasn’t capable and I couldn’t hold my own, because actually I know I can last well in a fast class. I can lift weights, perform reps, run for miles and still have enough energy to dance around my kitchen afterwards. But not without warning and a proper sports bra.

Luckily, since I started running I’ve met enough amazing men and women who are supportive of me, and even impressed by my efforts. And running has given me such swathes of confidence that even if I was in it alone, I’m not going to let the Mean Girls stop me plodding.

 

PS On the way back from London, pride dented, I read a perfectly-timed article in Runner’s World by the wonderful Lisa Jackson who has run 100 marathons and is a self-professed slow runner. And she doesn’t care. I love her.