Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

Time Out at Champneys

I have always been an advocate for experiences rather than things. So when the other half handed me his credit card for my birthday and said “book yourself into Champneys for the night,” I was in my element.

When you spend your life rushing around at high speed and training consistently, time out becomes precious. Even more so when it is time you can spend alone, with a book, and complete relaxation.

So last this time last week, after a long walk on one of the coldest mornings of 2019, I checked into Champneys at Henlow Grange for a one night spa break.

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Having been a spa day guest many times before I knew a overnight break, where the majority of my time will be spent in the famous white robes, was just I needed.

Checking in with ease just before 2pm, I quickly fell into the relaxed mantra that Champneys promote.

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Donning my robe I booked myself into a Thalassotherapy session – a warm salt water treatment rich in minerals that is ideal for re-mineralising the body and aiding the detoxing process. The session, lasting around 25 minutes, is designed to stimulate and tone tired aches and pains – perfect for those who are put through their paces with training.

After my session in the Thalassotherapy session, I took to the conservatory with a piece of cake, a hot drink and a book – admiring the sun setting on a cold, frosty day.

A light nap followed in my room, followed by a three-course meal (included in the package) and a bottle of wine. Although I know Champneys are very much into the detoxing and well-being, the dinner was somewhat of a disappointment. Not only were the portions incredibly tiny, but also some dishes were simply tasteless. You have the option to purchase extras – such as side orders – should you feel you need them. But personally, after spending a fair amount of money of a bottle of wine, I felt inclined to add further expense to my bill.

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On returning to my room for the evening I found myself disappointed further. I had no heating – on a day that hovered around zero temperature wise. I complained several times and was advised I would receive a portable heater – only to have to go searching for one when, at 10:30pm, I was still waiting. After heading to reception, to be given a broken heater and no resolution to my predicament I gave up on expecting any kind of service from the team that remained over night. I prepared for a cold night sleep – with extra layers.

Awaking early the next day, I removed all my belongings at 7:30am and headed to reception to speak to someone further. With treatments booked for later in the day, I had no choice but to hang around and see out the rest of my stay – soaking robe (not drying out overnight without heating) and all.

Although I received an apology, it did not feel heartfelt – the manager on duty knew there was no heating in my room before they left the night prior, but nothing was done. And the next morning nothing was offered to make up for it.

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After a very nutritious breakfast (much more satisfying than dinner), I spent the morning lounging by the pool waiting for my treatments. My original plan was to join a few classes in the morning however, after a disrupted sleep in the cold, I simply had no energy to entertain my original schedule.

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The treatments themselves were delightful. After a full body exfoliation, body wrap and head, neck and shoulder massage I felt extremely relaxed – though I wished I had moved the treatments to the day prior when I did not have to drive home.

Post treatment it was time for the final meal – a buffet lunch – both nutritious and satisfying, before heading home.

Leaving the resort in a mix state of relaxation and disappointment. Disappointment coming from the lack of customer care and service when it came to the lack of heating in my room.

However, a week after my stay, I was contacted by the new resort manager. Swiftly restoring my faith in their customer service – I was invited back to Henlow with a guest.

So I return to Champneys next month, for a little more rest and relaxation in the hope to test out more of their fantastic treatments.

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London Marathon Training: Fearing the known

When I discovered I had secured a space in the London Marathon 2017 I had a number of fears, with a little excitement. Despite any fears I had I threw myself into training, embracing all the highs and lows as and when they arose.

From the boredom and loneliness of training, to the fear of the unknown. It was a period in my life where everything was uncertain. Having never experienced a marathon before I was clueless as to what I should expect or how I would feel. As the miles increased week by week, so did the fear.

Whilst at the time this fear, the fear of the unknown, was unbelievably overwhelming there was some comfort in not knowing what exactly I had to face. Ignorance was pure bliss.

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Its been a good couple of months since I discovered I have received a ballot place in the London Marathon 2019 and I am finding myself feeling a higher sense of trepidation than before. I have not thrown myself into training, as I did back then. Instead I am finding excuses to pass on vital running miles with the hope that I will “get into it” in the New Year. That is not to say that I have not been training at all, I am still throwing myself into Spinning, walking and shorter running distances. However, I seem to have an aversion to racking up the miles and getting out there no matter the weather.

And the reason for this? The fear of the known!

I am putting off getting into the swing of training, not because I am lazy or that I don’t want to run the Marathon or do my best.

My mind just knows what is to come over the next few months: the early morning runs in the cold, the boredom of the long run, the worry of injury and knowing that in a couple of months the pain from training will be so immense that it feels like your legs will never be ache free again. And as such, it is not playing ball.

As with all training, it is not just the body that needs work its the mind too. And my mind is working overtime in attempt to combat my nerves and anxieties for the months ahead. Whilst the only way to alleviate these feelings is to simply get out there and run, sometimes it is just not that easy.

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So in an attempt to get my marathon regime under way I have to find new ways to push myself, to work around my fears and take my mind off the end goal. Its time to break down the training, to put a plan in place and to take training one week at a time.

It’s time for the work to begin.

Sleep Trackers: Five Stages of Sleep

It is well known that a combination of a good diet, low stress and exercise enables us to sleep better. However, in the busy world we now live in, where we find ourselves having to deal with the stresses of every day life, snoring partners and restless children, it is no surprise that getting a good nights rest is something of a struggle for most of us.

According to Sleep-Science, scientists before the 1950’s believed that as people drifted off to sleep their brains and bodies would go into a “shut down” mode, entering a passive state which would enable them to recuperate from the days events.

What we have since learned is that sleep is a lot more complicated and active than we think.

Many fitness trackers have a built in sleep monitor that enable us to understand how well we are resting and in turn offer tips to help us improve our sleep. For many years I have tried not to focus heavily on the sleep tracker itself, as at times the constant monitoring of my own sleep cycle caused further stress.

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So what are the five stages of sleep?

Within Stage One of the sleep cycle our brains produce alpha and theta waves, and eye movement slows down – usually within minutes of nodding off. Here we are in light sleep, are somewhat alert and can easily be awoken. This stage of sleep is rather brief – usually lasting only several minutes.

Stage Two of our sleep cycle is also light, where our brain produces a sudden increase in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. The brain waves then slow down. If you were to have a power nap this would be the optimum time to awake.

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Stages three and four is the stage whereby we enter into deep sleep, as the brain starts to produce slower delta waves. No eye or muscle movement is experienced during these stages and it becomes a little harder for someone to wake us due to the fact that our body becomes less responsive. As the brain starts to produce more delta waves, we will then move into a deeper, more restorative stage of sleep, and it is most difficult to wake up at this stage. This is the optimum time for our bodies to repair muscles and tissues – especially important for those of us who spend a great deal of time training.  This stage is also important for stimulation, growth, boosting immune function and building up energy for the next day ahead.

We then enter Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) about 90 minutes after falling asleep, with each REM cycle lasting up to an hour. On average, an adult has five to six REM cycles each night and during this stage our brains become more active. This is where our dreaming will occur, our eyes will jerk in different directions, our heart rate and blood pressure increases and our breathing becomes fast and irregular. The REM stage of sleep is important for the learning and memory function – this is where our brains processes information from the day before – storing it in our long term memory.

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As adults we spend half of our sleep time in stage two, 20% in the REM stage and a further 30% is usually divided between the other three stages. As we get older the time we spend in the REM stage will become progressively less.

My own cycle follows a similar pattern, with the vast majority of my sleep in the lighter stages – it’s no wonder I am easily awoken my snoring or our mischievous cats. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about my limited time in the deeper stages of sleep but as I get older and understand how sleep cycles change, this has become less of a worry.

The important factor for me is ensuring that I improve my sleep cycle as much as possible. Ensuring I keep to a regular schedule for both going to bed and waking up is extremely important – even at the weekend (though sometimes life even gets in the way of that bed time). Keeping a TV out of the bedroom is a must for me; though I am guilty of focusing on gadgets (i.e. my phone) before I drift off, falling asleep with the lights and sounds of a television will only have a negative impact on my sleep.

Other great ways to improve sleep is exercise – I never have an issue falling asleep due to high levels of activity, it is just the staying that way that’s the problem. So, at times I like to add Floatation Therapy sessions and massages to help relax my mind and body.

As our personal and professional lives become increasingly busy and stressful it is imperative that get the rest we need to keep our bodies functioning to their full potential.

Over the coming months, as my training for the London Marathon starts to take on a new level, my sleep will be most important and something I will keeping a close eye on.

Wonderful Walks: Epping & Hatfield Forest.

Taking a walk in the forest is a fantastic way to get outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

According to studies, spending time in a forest can reduce psychological, depression and hostility. At the same time it is also known to help improve sleep and the feeling of well being, whilst being mutually beneficial for your physical health and fitness too. The smell of trees also have their benefits as the chemicals they release, phytoncides, have been attributed to improved immune defences as well as a reduction in anxiety!

With all these advantages of walking around trees it is no wonder I feel so relaxed after spending time in my local wooded areas. When you add the fact that they offer such scenic surroundings to pass the time whilst walking, it makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time in the woods!

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I have always been a big advocate for exercising to improve mental health. No matter what activity you choose, you will always find that once completed your state of mind is completely different.

Walking or hiking is an activity that has become more frequent in my training schedule in recent years. It offers a break from the high impact and intensity from other activities I take part in, like running or spinning. Though, that’s not to say it is any easier. With a group of highly enthusiastic walkers – the pace and the terrain is always a challenge.

Whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge finding routes that allowed us to prepare for both the mileage and terrain proved rather difficult. Living around the Herts/ Essex border did not exactly prepare us for what we were to be facing on the island. So we had to search for the toughest hills possible, the longest paths and the most picturesque routes to keep our minds occupied on the challenge ahead.

Forest routes became a frequent favourite as most offered us all of the factors we needed for training.

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Epping Forest was one of these and one route we continue walking today! The 2,400 hectares of ancient woodlands is found between Epping at the north and Wanstead at the south. Here you will find 12 miles of woodland paths north to south and 2.5 miles east to west – offering a fantastic opportunity to walk a loop of significant distance. A forest with many paths that look identical, it does open the opportunity to get lost if you don’t know your way – I certainly did the first time I ventured there alone. Once you have familiarised yourself with the paths (perhaps with a map), you will find pleasure if finding new routes and working how to make your walk longer or more challenging.

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Not only that, but with our ever changing seasons you will be rewarded with a number of beautiful views whatever the weather. Epping Forest is always a hive of activity throughout the year, with dog walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders alike – all wanting to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.

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Hatfield Forest, though significantly smaller than Epping a short distance away, offers equally stunning views. Only 403 hectares, it is a biological Site of Specific Scientific Interest in Essex. Only a few miles from Bishops Stortford and moments away from London Stansted airport, this picturesque spot is owned and managed by the National Trust. Like Epping Forest, not only will you stumble across a number of walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders but also roaming cattle during the fairer months of the year. Whilst Epping offers an undulating terrain, Hatfield Forest is significantly flat in comparison. Running along the north of the forest is the Flitch Way, a former railway line passing through 15 miles of rural Essex between Bishops Stortford and Braintree, where you will find numerous runners and cyclists opting for the gentle path ways to clock up the miles.

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Delve further into the forest and you will find a mix of grassy paths, woodlands and even a lake. In the height of Summer, the forest is a hive of activity, with numerous families and friendship groups heading here for the day. In the cooler months, especially earlier in the day you will normally come across dog walkers and fisherman, taking advantage of the serene surroundings. No matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to be captivated by the beauty of the Forest, though more so during early, cold, sunny mornings in the winter when the sunrise and mist from the cooler temperatures provide the most beautiful backdrop.

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I have walked both Epping and Hatfield Forest countless times over the last few years and am yet to find a walk that I don’t enjoy. Each walk may see us taking the same steps, following the same paths at times, but every time we do the view is different. At the end of each walk we find ourselves feeling just that little bit better physically and mentally.

Post Race Recovery

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning I felt the tell tale signs that I had pushed my body to the limit the day before, running the Royal Parks Half Marathon (write up to follow soon).

The delayed onset muscle soreness had set in. Walking down the stairs proved rather challenging, getting in and out the car made me look like an elderly lady and the more I remained still throughout the day the more stiff I became. To the point where I felt the best thing for me to do at the end of the working day was to go home, eat well and have an early night.

Whilst I feel a sense of achievement, completing 13.1 miles is always tough, I can’t help but look at the many steps advised to take to aid post race recovery and see what more I could have done to make the recovery just that little better.

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Rehydration is one of the most important steps post race. No matter the weather, rain or shine, the exertion on race day will mean any water taken on board will have been sweated out, along with electrolytes and minerals to boot. I always carry a hydration backpack whilst running; ensuring I don’t have to rely on water stations en route. At the finish line I always take extra water that is being handed out and on the journey home I tend to pick up a bottle of fizzy water to quench the first. Then, once home, the rehydration will continue. Though this time round I should have added a few electrolyte tablets to replace those that were lost during the race itself.

Cool Down is extremely important, especially if you have a long car journey ahead. The temptation once a race is complete is to sit down – something I always try to avoid as (like I have seen today) the more I remain stagnant the more I suffer with stiffness over the next 48 hours. Post race I try and use a short walk as a cool down; usually the walk from the finish line to the tube station is sufficient for me.

Eating to recover is always recommended. Something I always have an issue with. Post race the last thing I want to do is eat, with the over exertion (and perhaps too many jelly babies from spectators) making me feel rather nauseous. It is advised to eat something with a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy. Bananas are always readily available at every finish line, which is unfortunate for a banana phobe like me. My go to once home is a jacket potato with beans! Ultimate comfort food.

It is recommended to have a gentle massage to flush out the lactic acid and toxins. If you head to a sports therapist to aid your recovery, make sure they are aware you have taken part in a race so they know to be gentle. Personally I have to wait a few days before allowing any therapist to ease out my aching muscles. Instead I always spend a good 30 minutes in the hot tub at the gym, followed by some time with the foam roller. The roller and I don’t get on at all. It’s not pleasant process – but necessary.

Stretching is one step I always skip! And seeing as I failed to stretch after yesterday’s race it is no wonder I am feeling the aches and pains today. As I increase the training in the lead up to the London Marathon this is something I am going to have to pay more attention to.

Add some post race Protein to your meals! As a vegetarian I often fill up on eggs or Quorn post race. An omelette is a perfect way to fill up on protein and aid muscle recovery.

Early to bed! Not only do most races start early, requiring a nasty wake up call especially for a Sunday, but your body has been pushed to its limits. You are bound to be tired and it’s normal to feel like going to bed before the sun goes down. After yesterday’s race I spent the afternoon in fresh pajamas, on the sofa with a duvet before tucking myself into bed well before 9pm. It was the most dreamless sleep I had had for weeks.

Continue to rest in the days following the race. Don’t rush into strenuous training straight away. Take advantage of those rest days, with active recovery. Today I am allowing complete rest, but tomorrow I will return to running club for a gentle track session and will keep the legs ticking over throughout the day with a lunch time walk.

Despite running numerous races over the years, and having the experience to know what’s best, I still made mistakes in my post race recovery. Hopefully I will continue to learn from these and make better choices next time round.

Joining Harlow Running Club

For many years I have spent the majority of my running miles training alone, with the occasional running partner thrown in. And whilst it is always great to have a running partner, I often found pressured to run faster than I was capable – at the other person’s ability. Which can be rather stressful.

So when I trained for the London Marathon in 2017 I was not bothered about running alone. I could set my own pace and train as I wanted to.

It’s funny how that can change when you pick a new challenge. When I signed up for the Isle of Wight I could not even imagine getting through the long hours walking around the coastal path alone. So with others joining me on the challenge itself, I trained with them. And I was so grateful to have that company to get me through.

Once the event was over, however, I had to find a way to get back into training alone. The challenge was done, it was time to get back in to a normal routine. But I found it incredibly hard to do so – unless it was a group spinning class – it was difficult to get back into a schedule and motivate myself.

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So I started to toy with the idea of joining the local running club. Something I had always shied away from with the misconception that it would be to cliquey, that it is full elite runners and that I would embarrass myself with my mediocre “running.”

In the attempt to re-claim my love for running whilst the weather was on my side, I threw caution to the wind and contacted the club organisers who swiftly invited me along for a “taster” session.

I was duly impressed. On arrival I found that my idea of what the club would be was pure fabrication on my part. The group were not cliquey in the slightest – in fact several members came up to me straight away as I was clearly a “newbie.” Neither was the club full of elite runners. And I was not mediocre at all – I just was not elite.

In just a month I am starting to understand the benefits of joining a running club such as this one.

  1. I am in the right in environment. By surrounding myself with like minded people who enjoy running and show such enthusiasm will help me in the long term. Within the group you will find so much support – many members encouraging and motivating you.
  2. Running clubs encourage a range of training – something that you will be less likely to do alone. Harlow Running Club have a great mix of training: from track sessions, hills, long distance and speed. I find that if I am running alone it is easy to get into a rut of running the same routes and therefore becoming rather bored. In the month I have been running with a club I have seen a variety of routes, lots of hills and some speed work too. With them I have discovered some lovely country routes I would have never have known before.
  3. It’s a community. As with my boot camp days, I have quickly developed relationships with many of the club members who have encouraged me to test out different parkruns, races and generally inviting me along for a Sunday run. These people will no doubt be imperative to my motivation over the Winter months.
  4. The competitive streak will surface. I never thought of myself as competitive, but have often been told otherwise. In my month since joining I have noted that this competitive edge has been surfacing more often than not. Whether it be catching up with one person in front or over taking another runner in a sprint finish – there is definitely a competitive edge within me.
  5. Being a member of a running club will give you that psychological ability to call yourself a “runner.” I have always battled with the idea of calling myself a runner as my running at times feels more like a jog than a run – especially if I compare myself to those at the elite end of the spectrum. But now that I am an affiliated member of a running club and registered with England Athletics it feels like I can class myself completely as a runner.

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Within a month of joining the club I am already finding improvements with my running technique and abilities. This week saw me reach a PB for my 5K, I have seen my average min/miles drop, my fastest min/miles (for short bursts) improve, a greater ability to conquer hills and to top it all off I have met some wonderful people who encourage and support me every step of the way. And this is just within the first month.

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Joining Harlow Running Club was the best decision I have made for my training in such a long time. I am looking forward to seeing what it will bring over the next few months.

 

Letting go of a bad race.

When you have trained for months on end, clocking up hundreds of miles to prepare for race day and ironed out numerous issues with kit en route – the last thing you want is for the race to not go as planned. There is no doubt in your mind, especially if you have trained for the event, that the number one goal is finishing.

That was my goal for the Isle of Wight challenge. Yes, it would have been nice to achieve a great time too. But the number one aim was to finish, to fight my way through the whole 106km course.

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I never imagined a scenario where it would not happen. I had trained, I had great company to keep me going, I was feeling great.

But as detailed in my Isle of Wight challenge write up, it went terribly wrong through no fault of my own. An unseasonal heat wave on the island saw us trek in 26 degree heat, that felt like 30 degrees plus! All day in the sun, with no shade and no breeze saw me suffer more than I ever have done before.

The winter months prepared me for the long distance, for all kinds of weather. But for a heat wave – there was no way we could have prepared for that in our unpredictable winter months.

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To say that I have given myself a hard time since would be an understatement. It has been constant – believing that I had failed, that I had not prepared enough and complete devastation.

I’m sure many of us have experienced this. The bad race. The one that you had prepared for but the one where your body just would not co-operate.

It has taken weeks and weeks to let it go. And despite many people telling me achieving just half of the distance is simply amazing – you just don’t quite believe it. Your worst critic is yourself and I have certainly been that

So how do you get over that bad race?

  1. Wallow! Allow yourself to have time to mope, cry and vent about your performance. After all – there has been a serious investment into training. So if it does go wrong disappointment is natural. You should be allowed have a little vent. I’m sure many have done so at some point or another.
  2. Look at the positive aspects. Think about what you have achieved and the lead up to getting there. Despite crying from 40-53km I managed to find the strength to get to the half way point. Many times during this distance all I wanted to do is quit – but I didn’t. And I had to think about all the training miles. The Sunday mornings hiking through Epping Forest and the Hertfordshire countryside, with my team mates, and developing a stronger faster stride in the process.
  3. Analyse your performance. Once the emotions have subsided you will be able to think about what went wrong on a rational level. As weeks have passed I know the main factor that was detrimental to my performance was the heat – something I have no control over. What I did have control over was my intake of fuel. I drank litres and litres of water, so my fluid was not a problem. However, due to the heat the thought of food was making me nauseous. So I did not take on much fuel and became weak as a result. Next time round I need to tweak this to ensure I have enough energy to aid performance.
  4. Set new goals. After allowing myself some time off to relax and reflect I am now in the right head space to look at my goals, adjust them and prepare for them. The week after the Isle of Wight I had a 10 mile race scheduled, but knew I was not in the right mind to take part – so I didn’t. Instead I focused beyond that, to Nuclear Races on the 19th May, and decided that would be the event where I would get my focus back. Bar some cuts, bruises and an extremely achy body the next day, it did the trick. And this weekend (now my body is healed from Nuclear), I am ready to get back into a training schedule.
  5. Manage your expectations. It is all well and good training for months and months, but if something happens that is beyond your control: if there is a heat wave, if you pick up a cold; you have to be realistic – on those days you will not be at your best. You will most likely not be looking at a PB. So manage that, prepare for that and enjoy the race anyway. See it as another training opportunity.

Despite many weeks passing, going through a long process of analysis and generally moping about, I now know what I achieved was more than the average person could achieve.

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Yes, I am still disappointed. But the challenge was extreme, the conditions were on the same level and at the end of the day I made the right decision for how I was feeling on the day.

So if you are feeling that post race disappointment. Shake it off, re-focus your energy on the next challenge and get moving again.

The Isle Of Wight Challenge

When I signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge with Ultra Challenges I never imagined anything but reaching the finish line.

From the minute I committed to the challenge, the training began. Pre Christmas saw me racking up the mileage alone, then as the New Year rolled in I started training with my team mates and old boot camp friends.

Every weekend would see us increasingly mileage, meeting in carparks in an un-godly hour of Sunday morning and building up our endurance for the challenge ahead. Training in wet, windy and, on numerous occasions, bitterly cold, snowy conditions.

We racked up hundreds of miles over the months in the lead up to the Isle of Wight. I felt that my fitness had taken a turn for the better. I was training with many others who were faster and taller than me – so my walking speed and endurance had improved. I have overcome many issues with footwear, socks and blisters. And although I was extremely nervous about the day itself – I was more prepared than I have ever been for any challenge.

I never imagined I would feel how I felt on race day.

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The morning saw us wake to a beautiful sunny morning. Not a cloud in the sky. And at 7am there was already no need for any more layers other than a t-shirt. We knew it was going to be warm, so we had to ensure we take precautions.

The excitement and nerves were evident at the start line. As a group in one of the last waves, we saw many participants head out before us. I felt good, I felt strong and I felt capable.

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Soon enough we were on our way from Chale, with stunning views along the south coast of the Island in front of us. Everyone in our group was in high spirits, chatting away and enjoying the scenery whilst tackling the task at hand.

We breezed our way through to the first rest stop, quickly taking in supplies and using the facilities, before continuing our way along the coastal path.

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The views along the route were simply to die for. With the sea sparkling below us and the sun shining so brightly you would have thought we were somewhere in the Mediterranean rather than a little island off the south coast of England.

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As the heat of the day continued to climb, so did our ascent. The terrain provided a number of up hill climbs towards the west coast of the island and the Needles. One particular climb was somewhat of a beast after Fresh Water Bay, just as you thought you were at the top you see the hill goes on and on – providing you fantastic views once at the top.

It was just after this climb that our second rest stop approached. Time to take a seat, change into a fresh pair of socks and refuel.

Here I discovered a couple of blisters on my baby toes that needed dressing before doing so. They were quickly seen to and with a change of footwear too – we were quickly on our way.

Needles to West Cowes was the second leg of the route. Still in high spirits we trundled on along the waterfront – extremely envious of those paddling, sitting down to an afternoon drink or just having an ice cream by the sea. With the heat now soaring – I would have given anything to kick off my shoes and go for a paddle myself.

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The previous day we were pre warned about a particularly bad stretch of path between 30-50km. We were advised that it was boggy, wet and we had to take extra caution. With the heat of the day I believed that this would not be the case when we reached the 30km mark. I was wrong. You knew when you reached it, there were queues of participants waiting to tackle the area.

Boggy does not cover it. It was the most soul destroying part of the route. Not only did you have to try and tackle the path as quickly as possible, but you also had to try to remain upright without loosing a shoe. It was relentless, it felt like it went on for miles and with the amount of people taking part it took forever. It slowed us down, draining precious energy and also led to aches we did not account for. No where in our training did we encounter a terrain as this – and we had trained over farmers fields in the winter.

Soon enough we were back on road and woodland paths, with another rest stop approaching.

I could no longer feel the ache of the blisters on my baby toes, but instead my ankles just throbbed. The boggy terrain and consequential uneven footing had taken its toll. Refuelling again (at this point I had got through 6 litres of fluid), taking some painkillers and rubbing in some Voltarol, and then it was time to head off. Next stop 52km break point, dinner and the switch to the night gear ready for the dark hours.

A shift happened between the two rest stops. The team broke away slightly, with a couple walking faster ahead and the majority slowing down slightly. The heat of the day was still intense, I was taking on more and more fluids – with little effect. I felt severely dehydrated, despite high volumes of water, I suddenly felt incredibly weak and nauseous.

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This section of the route saw us having to navigate numerous styes as we trekked through farm lands, and I found myself having less and less energy to lift my legs to get over.

Out of no where, around the 40km mark I started to cry. I had no idea why, but it kept coming. With the crying, came panic. I had not yet reached the half way point, we were a good few hours away from that, and I had no energy. I needed to eat, to get that much needed fuel to carry on, but I felt sick at the thought. I was in utter despair, going through a cycle of balling my eyes out, panicking and swearing profusely.

Then came another boggy section, with styes too. Shortly followed by a number of ambulances, attending to other participants suffering from heat exhaustion and even a rumoured broken leg. It seems the days heat and course had started to take its toll – we passed many others who were treating blisters on the curb, being rescued by loved ones and some just looking defeated. Those who were still walking in groups barely uttered a word to one another.

I don’t understand how I managed to find the energy; but spotting one of my team mates slightly ahead I picked up the pace. I knew I needed to keep up to get through to the half way point.

I had made a very difficult and upsetting decision to end my journey at 52km.

There was no energy left within me. The heat of the day and the terrain had taken everything from me, and as the sun began to set on our approach to the half way rest stop – I felt my temperature beginning to drop to the point that I was shivering uncontrollably.

I knew I could not make it through the night hours in my current state.

On seeing my face, the tears and the distress, my team mates knew it was not something they could talk me out of. The island had completely broken me. I had nothing left to give.

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And after waving them all off into the night, promising to be waiting for them on the other side, I felt a sense of relief and disappointment. Relief, knowing that I did not have to attempt to keep up with everyone else when I was feeling so drained, but so utterly disappointed and frustrated with my body for failing me.

I had trained hard for this one, walking further in training that I actually did on the day. But on race day itself my body bucked against the conditions.

Making the decision to finish at the 52km mark was soul destroying. It was not what I trained for, it was not in the plan. I never enter a race to say at the end “let’s just do half.” That’s not who I am. The finish line is always my goal. But after feeling wretched for miles and miles, I was genuinely concerned I would be putting my health at risk continuing into the night hours. So I made that call.

On crossing the 106km finish line the following morning, my team mates assured me I had made the right decision for me. I had finished the half distance in 11 hours 44 minutes, the 106km distance saw them on their feet for 27 hours with very little rest.

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And now, 5 days later I am still questioning my decision. I keep trying to think back and remember if it really was that bad. Was I really feeling so awful that the only choice was to give up? Not only do I still feel that I failed, I feel that perhaps I don’t have the determination I thought I had and that I am now just a quitter.

When so many people managed to fight through to the end, why could I not push myself on?

The Isle of Wight challenge will be one of those that will haunt me.

A race where I will always think “what if”?

In the wake of the event will I ever be able to stop questioning the decision I made and my overall ability?

Will I ever be able to lay it to rest?

Working through Anxiety

With April being National Stress Awareness month it seemed only fitting to take some time out and dedicate a blog to an issue that has been something that has caused me a great deal of stress and trauma.

Anxiety.

If you were to go back several years you would have heard me being described as a “social butterfly.” This does not mean I was out drinking every night, but I was simply one of those people who socialised all the time. There was always a work function, a birthday party or weekends full of lunches and nights out. I thrived on being around people and filling every moment possible.

Then gradually over the last five years I started to notice my social wings becoming smaller and smaller. And as such, over the last six months I notice I am more of an Anxious Annie than anything that resembles the social butterfly I once was.

The anxiety did not come from one isolated incident. Instead I find that it is a collection of events that occurred over a longer period of time. Perhaps one incident alone would not have caused my anxiety to build, however when events keep occurring that are outside your control and you don’t take time to address them appropriately then they are bound to cause you issues further down the line.

This is what has happened to me.

And lately, as I take more time to address my inner well being, I am finding that I am able to pin point those events that have led to my anxiety reaching its peak.

Incident number one. A work social event many years ago saw me out with some colleagues and clients. And as you can imagine, with it being the festive season too, alcohol was involved. As with most people, when I have had a few glasses of wine I let my guard down, my judgement becomes impaired and I generally relax a little too much. This particular occasion, which saw me joking with colleagues, led to one of the said colleague crossing a line. A line that saw me with months and months of turmoil and stress – before eventually seeking further assistance.

I managed to think I had dealt with the situation physically and emotionally. I got on with life and made myself believe I was stronger than I thought.

A year or so later I found myself in a second situation. At a friends hen do, with all attendees rather merry and having a good time celebrating, myself included, I ended my night early to help a friend home. She had got a little too merry, after going through a bad time herself and I took it upon myself to take her back to our rented accommodation. I successfully got her back, in one piece, but not without her becoming rather violent. Apologies were made the morning after, and I quite easily forgave. However, finding a way to get past the incident proved rather difficult.

After these incidents I started to question my own actions. On both occasions, I too, had been drinking and as such perhaps my judgement was not as it should be.

Social events that involved drinking soon became a no no for me. I found ways to avoid occasions where large amounts of alcohol were involved – if my presence was required then I would ensure that I was the designated driver. In doing so I would be able to take back control, to avoid situations that would cause me further stress and to shy away from any unwanted behaviour.

I would happily attend low key social events; gatherings in friends houses and quiet meals out were ideal, they caused me very little stress. However, “nights out” were completely avoided where possible.

Situation number three was completely out of my control last June when I was made redundant. Those who have gone through this process will probably relate to how this effects your mental well being. After the initial shock, you start to enjoy your free time as you search for the next position. However, what I found more often than not was that redundancy made me feel so incredibly useless, especially as my job role was previously described as “fundamental” to the company. I went through a rather turbulent time during my redundancy. With my confidence in myself completely blown it was rather tiresome keeping my head above water. I tried as much as possible between job interviews to keep occupied – I spent more time with friends and family, I took day trips and I de-cluttered the entire house. Anything to keep me as busy as possible.

Situation number four was the most heartbreaking of all. Loosing my uncle to suicide in September was something that pushed me that little further into anxious state. Not only did his death come as a massive shock to the whole family, he left a hole in all our hearts that can never be replaced. We spent hours, upon hours trying to come to terms with what had happened and what we could have done to prevent it. I threw myself into finding a way to raise money and awareness for mental health, but to this day I have not come to terms with his death. And I think in some ways I never will, but I will strive to advocate for mental health in his memory.

In the shadow of my Uncle’s death I made one of the worst decisions I have made in a very long time. I accepted a job that I knew would not be good for me. Despite a strong gut feeling that something simply was not right, not having trust in the role and being messed around during the interview process – I stupidly accepted the job. Perhaps I was looking for something occupy my mind other than grief, perhaps I was a little desperate after being off work for several months, perhaps it was pure stupidity or even a mix of all three. Either way, despite meeting some lovely people, it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. If you have a gut feeling listen to it, I should have listened to mine as it turns out it was spot on. I was messed around from get go, I was thrown into activities that had no relation to the job role I applied for and found myself falling deeper and deeper into a depressive state on a daily basis. The role had a toxic affect to all aspects of my life. I found myself incapable of following my daily routine; getting out of bed to go to the gym was incredibly difficult, I found myself feeling enraged during the working week, I had no energy despite getting a full eight hours sleep each night and often saw myself crying during working hours. I persevered for months, often wanting to walk out and not come back, until I found a role with a company that was the polar opposite.

Within a week of starting the new role, I found a change in myself. My energy levels started to improve, I found myself smiling to and from work and my routine started to return to normal. I no longer felt rage, I no longer felt the need to cry at my desk and I started to enjoy the thought of going to work and doing my job again.

I would like to say that I am no longer an Anxious Annie, but that would be a lie. The incidents that have occurred over the last few years are still heavily in-bedded within me. The difference now is that I have identified these past events and know that they have been causes for my anxiety issues today – mainly due to the fact that they were not identified and dealt with at the time.

Now I will talk about it and work through it on a daily basis, because in doing so I am helping myself. And in helping myself, I hope to help others. The more we talk about it, the more lives will be saved.

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Blue Monday

Blue Monday has, in recent years, been renowned to be the most depressing day of the year.

The memories of the festive period have faded away, our bank accounts are looking rather desolate after months of Christmas shopping, the “holiday weight” has not quite shifted, the weather is typically dark and gloomy and we are all back at work with a bang.

So the third Monday of January as been dubbed as Blue Monday for some time.

However the man who coined the the term “Blue Monday,” Dr Cliff Arnall, had no intention for this day to become one that sounds so negative. His intention was for this day to be one to inspire people to take action, to have a positive outlook in life and to make bold life decisions.

As someone who has battled in the past with depression and anxiety I can’t help but agree with Dr Arnall. How has a day that was intended to bring out a positive outlook transitioned into one that encourages depressive thoughts?

Personally, I have had far too many blue days of late. When the New Year came around all I felt was positivity and hope. That is not to say I have not had blue days in 2018, I have – you cannot control the people and external factors that bring you down. What you can do is continue to look forward, forget those that are bringing you down and have a positive outlook for the year ahead.

In the hope to inspire others and to turn this “Blue Monday” around I encourage everyone with my own tips to keep the bluest at bay.

Book a holiday

Nothing beats the blues more than knowing you are soon to be jetting away. The lead up to the festive season is usually so draining for numerous reasons, it is no wonder we start the New Year utterly exhausted. For many years now, I have always taken advantage of the summer sale or Black Friday deals to book a short break away. Previous years have seen me venture to Istanbul, Paris and Dublin at the end of January or beginning of February. This year is no exception, I will be flying away to Boston. I always find having something booked and therefore something to focus on helps me get through the dark, gloomy January days.

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Get Active

It goes without saying that being active and keeping fit leads to a better state of mind. The release of endorphins are a natural mood lifter and being active will help shift those extra pounds gained over the festive period. As someone that has always been an advocate for exercise for mental wellbeing I have spent the last few weeks picking the training plan back up, pushing myself just that little further. And there is nothing like the New Year to try something new, so try a new class at the gym. This January I will be trying out a Bounce class!

Get outside

With so many gloomy days in the Winter it is inevitable that our moods will suffer from the lack of Vitamin D. So come rain, come shine – get outdoors. Use your lunch break to get some fresh air – being stuck in a office all day long with artificial lighting does no one any good. Use the weekends to complete longer walks! I often find I enjoy a walk that involves following a river or lake path. If you live near the coast, go for a coastal walk. You will find that you will feel better and sleep better for it.

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Make Plans

Use this time to catch up with friends and family. Make plans for the year ahead. Is there a race you want to enter, is there something on your bucket list you have been meaning to tick off? Use this time to focus on what you want to achieve this coming year. In the last few weeks I have certainly been making full use of my time; catching up with loved ones I did not have the chance to see over the festive break, visiting the Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A, planning my race schedule for the year ahead and even taking my Niece and Nephew out for their Christmas adventure at Go Ape. You will find the more you plan the less time you have to think about those things that bring you down.

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Enjoy Life

Life is short. Be grateful that you have it. Love it, respect it, live it.

Don’t Look Back

You are not going back to don’t look that way. You cannot change the past, so there is no point dwelling on it. Not only will this bring you down, but it will also prevent you looking forward. Don’t forget the past, but let go of anything or anyone that has caused you hurt and distress. Keeping hold of bad feelings doesn’t do anyone any good.

Don’t let Blue Monday bring you down.

Instead be inspired, be forward thinking, be positive!

New Year Training Plan

The dust has now settled on the New Year celebrations and like most, I am carrying just a little “holiday weight” that is quite frankly unwelcome.

So there is no time like the present to get moving, get back into action and to get back on plan. And with the biggest challenge of 2018 being just a mere 16 weeks away I cannot waste time thinking about what I should or should not have done over the last two weeks.

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The Isle of Wight Challenge, 106 kilometres in 24-30 hours, round the coastal path of the Isle of Wight. It seems a world away from the challenge I was facing in 2017, with the London Marathon.

 

When I received the suggested training plan for the Marathon all I felt was fear. It was overwhelming. The suggested longest run of 22 miles (which I did not achieve in training) was so daunting in day one. I never felt I would be able to run half that distance comfortably, but I did.

 

This time round, the suggested training plan plots in the longest walk at 10 hours. I know in my mind that this works out to be as long as the London Marathon itself, but the 10 hours does not scare me.

 

I don’t feel the fear like I did when I saw a 22 mile run in the diary. Its strange how the mind works. I know when it comes to the event itself it will be closer to 30 miles than 10, with many tears and blisters in between. But for now all I have is good feelings, maybe because my reasons for the challenge are a little more personal.

So the training plan begins. Luckily, although I have not been moving a great deal over the last few weeks, I have been moving enough to get my body used to walking.

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A few weeks before Christmas I completed a very challenging 8 mile walk in the snow, I ensure that I get out daily for a lunch time walk (as much as I can in 30 minutes) and I have been steadily improving my performance in spinning classes two to three times a week.

Obviously when training for any event, you have to ensure that you have a great mix of training activities so you are strong in all aspects. This is something I did not focus on so much at the beginning of the training plan in 2017. It was all about the miles back then, seeing how far I could run.

This time round I am focusing on a mix. A mix of long and short walks throughout the week, running, spinning classes and strength, most likely through Body Pump and Circuit classes.

I will have a host of events in the lead up too, from 10k runs, half marathons and organised walking events such as the London Winter Walk, just two weeks away.

My focus over the coming weeks, is getting myself back into a regular schedule. To forget the mishaps and the what ifs of the last few months. To shake my running fear. And to get myself back in the active mindset.

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