Not quite a marathon…

I started this post a week ago. It says a lot about the multi-deadline, post vicar weekend nature of today, that I’m only just finding the time to finish it… 

Last weekend [as in the weekend of April 20-21] was almost epic in its loveliness. Not only were there geeky trains and buses in the company of an old school chum, prior to an afternoon in a park with my favourite 18 month old, there was also an international athletics event to attend in the company of fabulous people.

April 21st had been marked in my diary for quite some time – a friend had scored an elite [i.e. not a ballot place] spot in the marathon (he runs a lot of them, in fact his PB is faster than some of the women who competed in last year’s Olympic marathon) and I wanted to see him taking part. Fortunately I was duty-free at church, so was able to have the morning off. It was going to be an opportunity to relive some of the Olympic excitement of last year and a rare chance to hang out with some of the best people I know. On Monday evening preceding the marathon, I was chatting with my sister about it and her jealousy that she couldn’t be there too. Little did we know that as our conversation was taking place, bombs were going off at the finish line of Boston’s marathon. That evening I pondered whether events in Boston would stop me going to the marathon – but if anything, it made me even more determined to be there. I think a lot of runners and spectators felt the same. There is never a place for such violence – but especially not in sport.

Robin races along The HighwayRobin races along The Highway. (Credit.)

So, on Sunday morning I was in Shadwell bright and early – just missing the leaders of the wheelchair race, but in time for the women’s elite. I passed a happy few hours watching the race, bumping into several people I know (so many people in fact, that my friend’s boyfriend – who I’d just met – asked if I knew everyone in London) and intermittently pondering whether I could ever run a marathon.

We were tracking our runners using the marathon website, meaning that we could see their times at each 5km point along the course. (This is a genius development in marathon watching, although 3G does tend to get a little slow with so many people around.) This struck a chord with me, as the previous morning I had only been 200m short of 5km on my very first 25min run on the 0-5k app. Since last Saturday, I’ve done three further 25min runs, meaning that I’ve run just over 11 miles in the last week. If you told me I’d manage that when I wrote this post about starting the app, I wouldn’t have believed you.

At the moment, I’m not in a state to do much more than 5km in one go. In fact, I’m moderately concerned about the increase to 30min runs in just over a week’s time (this week it’s 28, hopefully that will help). With the aid of the RunKeeper app, I now have an idea of how far I’m running during 25mins – it fluctuates. Yesterday I managed a paltry 2.2 miles thanks to the hilly nature of the countryside where vicar weekends take place. Last Thursday, I managed a new PB of 3.2 miles around the streets of the west end. I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it, but I am motivated to get out of bed of a morning and get going – even on the Sunday morning of a vicar weekend. In fact, I’m particularly motivated on a Saturday morning when the streets of London are deserted and I can do fun things like run to Trafalgar Square and back.

Post-app, I have a plan. For a start, the RunKeeper app will allow me to carry on with regular runs of specific times and/or distances. Plus, my friend Abi and I are going to do a Parkrun together. I believe once I’ve done that I’ll be permitted to call myself a ‘runner’. Oh, and I need to buy new trainers and a new sports bra…

It’s got to be said, aside from my own iron determination (which kicks in every so often and regularly surprises me), what’s got me through the 0-5k programme has been the following:

  • Myriad apps. Obviously, the GetRunning 0-5k app was crucial, but so too is RunKeeper for distance tracking. Basically, I like to have enthusiastic female voices cheering me on along the way. 
  • Good music. In addition to the running apps, I also have Spotify on in the background, with my ever-evolving Mixing for Gymming playlist keeping up my enthusiasm. I will never cease to be amazed by the positive impact a good piece of cheesy music will have on my physical performance…
  • Twitter. I made a pledge at the start that I’d keep myself accountable to Twitter and I generally have done. As a rule, I’ll tweet about a run when I’ve done it – not in a sanctimonious ‘I’ve just done some exercise, yay me!’, but to prove to those following my progress that I’ve done it. Twitter also cheers me along and it told me not to go for a run the morning it was snowing and my boiler was broken. [I have done 3 snow runs, it’s just that with no hot shower afterwards, they’re grim!]
  • The beauty of London. Running in the city can be a pain – yes there are squares and parks – but there are also a heck of a lot of pedestrians and pedestrian crossings, which slow you down. However, deserted London weekend runs make it all worth it.

Who knows, maybe in the next decade I’ll be cheered on my way by a team of friends on marathon Sunday…

Keep on running

Or, in fact, get running in the first place.

This April will mark a decade since I took up running. I had decided to get fit and my next door neighbour decided we would sign up for a Race for Life 5k and she’d train us (i.e. me and my sister – I had significantly more training to do than she did). I had long believed that Clutterbucks did not run, but over the year and a bit that followed, I discovered this wasn’t true. In fact, learning to run became an instrumental factor in my subsequent loss of 5 stone (there’s a story there, but for another time). We began alternating running and walking between the lampposts of Gloucester park, adding in longer runs as the weeks went on. When the 5k came round that July, I ran/walked it. A year later, I ran the whole thing in around 25 minutes. Two months later, I developed severe tendonitis in my ankles and running was a no-go.

Yesterday, I went for my first outdoor run in over two years. (I vividly remember the last one as there was an unfortunate underwear related tweeting incident as a result…) Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m someone who needs to exercise very regularly in order to stay in some kind of shape and to keep myself generally cheerful. When I had a decently paid job, I had an indecently priced gym membership and went regularly. I became a pilates devotee. I swam. I cross-trained. Since starting vicar school, that’s had to stop. Instead I’ve walked insane distances across London (Monday afternoon’s post college stroll from Gloucester Road to Bloomsbury is a favourite), but it’s not enough.

So, I did what any logical 21st Century person would do – I bought an iPhone app. There are myriad options, but I went for the Get Running couch to 5k one (it had the best reviews). It works on the lamppost principle of old – mixing walking with running and gradually increasing the latter while reducing the former. You can play your own music and your instructions simply fade in and out, which is an awful lot easier than having to keep checking your phone (or digital watch, as was the case back in the day).

However, it took another two days and some motivation from Twitter for me to actually get my trainers on. Twitter really is wonderful in such situations. Yes, I’d already had my friends Shannon and Abi urging me to get going, but Twitter pushed me into it on Wednesday afternoon and subsequently cheered me on from the sidelines:

Twitter Cheering

It was fine. There was a rough patch in the middle, but ultimately it was ok. I didn’t bump into anyone I know (flipping miracle these days), although I did nearly get locked in the square – how was I supposed to know that the ringing of a bell in full daylight (at 5pm – hoorah!) meant the gates were being locked?

I’m going to have to hold myself accountable to Twitter. Tomorrow morning should see run 2 of week 1 – I’ll then obviously have to have a bit of a break while in Uganda, as there’s no way I’m going running in 30+C heat. If you don’t hear me mention my running exploits again, feel free to take me to task. I’ll appreciate it. Honest.

Forget TfL – use feet!

Taking away my 45 minute daily commute, my monthly travelcard and my extortionate gym membership; replacing it with a 15 minute commute two or three days a week, a 45 minute commute one day a week, two or three days a week of flexibility, a pre-pay Oyster card and a desperate need for exercise has resulted in one thing lately: an awful lot of walking.

I’m a big fan of walking in London – after all, I did spend two days walking 42 miles of the Thames Path back in May. It’s just that often I’ve not had the time to do much of it. Training for the Thames Path challenge resulted in a few walks to work, but that also required some very early starts to make it in on time. Now, time is something I have a bit more of, but (oddly frustratingly) many of the places I need to go are just a short walk away.

When I discovered I’d be moving to ‘proper’ central London, many people said that I’d be able to walk everywhere. I scoffed at this, thinking it a massive generalisation. Yes, trips to Marylebone, Oxford Street, Waterloo and Angel would be massively doable, but what about college in South Kensington – surely that would be a bit of a trek? I presumed the same would also be true of my friends in the East End.

However, the combination of no gym membership [I’ve been blessed with a bargain Groupon for 10 day passes, but I’m trying to use them wisely] and Google maps on my iPhone has spurred me into action. Awakening a tad hangover on Friday with nothing planned but a trip to Bow to visit a friend’s new place, I typed the postcode into Google and discovered it was exactly 5 miles away, and, according to the computer, just 1 hour 40 minutes away. Perfect exercise on a beautiful day! It was a good walk – I got a couple of chores done; timed the precise journey time to favourite karaoke bar; stitched together Shoreditch and Bethnal Green; and discovered that the Roman Road is a flipping long road. The walk was so good that a few hours later I walked home again, varying my route, just to keep things interesting.

Using the same app tactic, on Monday I pondered walking home from college – again it hit the 5 mile mark and I figured this would be an excellent antidote to a day of intense concentration. I was enticed by the fact that a considerable chunk of it involved Hyde Park – an excellent place to walk on a crisp autumnal day. It was immensely pleasant – I listened to Wittertainment, caught up with a friend (that multi-tasking thing again) and managed to route my stroll through Selfridges Food Hall where I purchased special offer Cholla bread. Good times, and definitely something to be done again. (Though the purchasing of items in Selfridges rather negates the saving of money in not taking the tube.)

Apologies for the wonky Albert Memorial…

Yesterday, I found myself in Wapping, so checked my phone on the off-chance that a walk was possible. It told me I could be home in 75 minutes – only thirty more than if I took the tube or a bus during rush hour. I had the time, so got going. It turned into a highly entertaining adventure given as it passes through The City, where many streets have amusing names… 
Stop that giggling right now! 

Plus, you get very close to some iconic London landmarks: 
For the uninitiated, that’s the Tower of London (and the Shard) and a glimpse of St Paul’s. 

In the last five days I’ve walked 19 miles on this mission – I don’t think that’s bad going at all. It’s rather fortunate that my Dad’s recently sent me CDs via which I can learn Greek grammar by song, soon I’ll be able to walk and become familiar with participles while singing Old MacDonald… That, my friends, is perfect multi-tasking!

When the going gets tough…

I’m angry. Almost (but not quite) hurling things around the room angry. But I’m not going to write about it (I’ll internalise it as usual and gradually turn more and more bitter and twisted…) instead, I’ll write about what I do when I get angry – burn off energy.

I have a love/hate relationship with running. I know it’s very good for me and tones my body in a way that a lot of other exercise doesn’t, but I hate how much it hurts and how awful a bad run can be. A great run is fabulous; a bad run is utterly dispiriting.

Thanks to a running injury over 6 years ago (I love that I have an actual ‘running injury’! Sounds fancy, though it’s only a recurring incidence of ankle tendinitis.) I’d almost entirely abandoned outdoor running, favouring very occasional speedy moments on the treadmill. Since the end of the summer gym running has increased in an effort to tone up a bit more. However, the looming prospect of more impoverished times when extortionate gym membership might not be feasible have made me wonder if I should start taking outdoor runs again – after all, it’s completely free.

So on Saturday, discovering that I didn’t have enough time for the gym, I decided to brave it in the park. All was well and good – the weather was fine, I had the motivation (plus a phone call that made me angry on someone else’s behalf, so there was even more energy to burn) – my only qualm being that I wasn’t sure how to carry all my stuff…

Thing is, when you’re running au natural, there’s no handy little cubby hole in which to place your iPod and water bottle and no locker in which to leave the other essentials like phones and house keys. Back in the day when I ran round Gloucester Park it wasn’t so much of an issue – iPods were the domain of rich people and there was usually someone at home to let me back in. These days, an iPod is as essential to a decent run as a pair of trainers, and you can’t leave a front door unlocked in Bermondsey.

Thus, I did what any sensible social networker would do – I consulted Twitter. In return I got a couple of sensible responses and a hugely embarrassing moment. It went something like this:

Liz: Lack of time means outdoor run instead of gym – only question is, how do I carry my keys etc? Never before have I wished I had a bum-bag…
Kate: I always carry keys in my hand when I run. I do keep meaning to invest in jogging trousers with decent pockets. [Eminently sensible – just what I needed.]
Jon: I have the same dilemma.A bum bag or fanny pack as the Americans would say is simply not an option for a macho man like me. [This might be a good moment to mention that I don’t know this Jon person, but we communicate via Twitter – I find this slightly odd, but I believe it’s the whole point of the concept.]
Liz: Right. Following 2 distracting (but v important) phone calls, I’m off for a run, keys in hand and iPod in bra.
Jon: Nor is the bra option I might add.
Matt: Re-tweets the above bra-related tweet. Then writes: I’m afraid I really didn’t mean to RT that! Sorry! Meant to reply to say I momentarily misread iPod as iPad. V worrying. [Matt is a good – and married – friend, albeit with a slight warped sense of humour and fat fingers…]

Never again am I tweeting anything about my bra…
(Plus, I’m not entirely sure if a guy even momentarily thinking I might fit an iPad in my bra is a good thing?)

In actual fact, the keys ended up in my bra too (the bottle of water stayed in my right hand, sports bras really aren’t that capacious); it’s amazing sometimes how being a woman has its advantages! However, before any future outdoor runs are contemplated, I will be making a trip to the fabulous Decathlon to purchase joggers with zipped pockets and some kind of iPod carrying device (and probably a new sports bra while I’m at it).

And a note on running music. Good gym playlists are essential – mine is (of course) eclectic, consisting of music that I both like and has good rhythm, while possibly being more than a little cheesy (I confess that there is more than one S Club track in the mix). Last month a friend gave me an entirely unexpected gift (I can say with some confidence that he’d not bought me a present since 2005) of 101 Running Songs. It’s a genius collection of excellent gym accompaniment, including two classic Journey tracks, the Proclaimers, a little Britney, some Blondie, my all-time-favourite Wham tune as well as some of the more acceptable dance tracks. It’s done wonders for my running capabilities – practically every run in the last four weeks has been an excellent one.

Sitting uncomfortably

I am in pain – physically and emotionally.
Every time I shift my position at my desk, either my back, shoulders or thighs scream out in protest.
It would be fine if this was the after-affect of extreme pilates (an Avatar themed class is scheduled for tonight, that could be extreme…) or an intense run, but it’s not.

It is in fact, the result of an initial foray into the world of pole dancing. Actually, ‘world of’ is a little too grand. There was a bar, downstairs it had a pole, where for about 10 minutes I attempted to swing on it – failing to complete a single 360° revolution. The shame.

I therefore have a whole new level of respect for pole dancers. Turns out it’s quite a physically demanding occupation – you need thighs of steel and fantastic upper body strength. Perhaps the campaign to have it as an Olympic sport isn’t so far-fetched after all.

Just in case any of you were a little concerned as to the direction my interests seem to be heading (a friend at church last night wondered if I was having my teenage rebellion a little late in life), I’m solely interested in its artistic and physical fitness merits – the scantily cladness and seduction techniques not so much.

Simply attempting the pole lands me with another 2010 first. Taking it a step further and signing up for the pole dancing fitness class at the gym would see me tick ‘take a dance class’ off the list, though it’s not at all what I had in mind at the time.

Saturday night was educational in other ways – I learnt new things about my camera (relating to the mysterious ISO count – very useful), discovered several things about the birthday girl that I didn’t already know (apparently I also declared her best friend to be my new best friend on the basis of some story she told), and realised that it is never, ever, a good idea to press ‘send’ on that text message at the end of a night…

[Oh, and in case you’re disappointed that this post doesn’t come complete with photo of my efforts on the pole, unfortunately, despite my camera getting passed round the group for most of the evening, it was in my pocket at that precise moment. Of course, I ensured I got shots of the others, wouldn’t want to miss that Facebook opportunity…]