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.

Openness, honesty and t-shirts

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me whether I was the ‘real me’ on Twitter and on my blog – I’m not entirely sure how or why this came up, but it prompted an interesting discussion. The bottom line is that it is the real me exists – here, on Twitter and on Facebook.

No, not every single detail of my life is documented [though one friend at the weekend suggested I did just that on Twitter, with the exception of dating activities – though as I go on very few of those, it’s not exactly a massive omission], but the highs and lows are both in evidence. While I don’t necessarily blog about moments of heartbreak in the public sphere, I do mention the days when life isn’t quite as great as it might be. I’m more likely to rant on Twitter than Facebook; my blog dwells on the quirkier side of life; and Facebook is day to day stuff with real friends. I have boundaries and make conscious decisions about what to share and when (except when under the influence…).

I wonder sometimes at the ability of others to be so candid in their online activities, those that ponder deep philosophical thoughts, document the harsh realities of life, or tell the world just how much they’re hurting right at that moment. I’m not that kind of person, I keep my messy stuff anonymised and highly inaccessible. But openness is also important. Like many a good Christian, I belong to a small group which requires me to be honest and accountable about even the difficult areas of life. It’s scary, but utterly worth the feelings of vulnerability it brings with it – like on Sunday when I shared something incredibly personal and very scary.

In a bizarre coincidence, this concept was the main thrust of this week’s Glee, kind of. At the end of the programme they appeared singing Born This Way (Lady Gaga) wearing t-shirts on which words or phrases were printed that summed up their deep secrets or insecurities – Kurt’s said ‘likes boys’, Santana’s read ‘Lebanese’ (i.e. lesbian, it’s an in-joke), Emma’s admitted her OCD. Within seconds, Twitter was abuzz with people contemplating what their own t-shirts would say.

What about mine? Well, that leads me to the main point of this ridiculously long and honest post…

One of the things I’m particularly in awe of are people who write about their experiences of food, weight and diets in a public forum and use that context to stay accountable. A Facebook friend posts their weight updates every week – good for them, but you wouldn’t catch me doing that. (Partly because it would be so hard in the weeks when things don’t go your way; partly because I wouldn’t want people to know my actual weight; partly because it’s such a bloody hard journey that only the most supportive friends should be involved. Plus, I have a paranoid fear that people will think I’m attention seeking.) However, I came across something a little while ago that I wanted to share, and this seems the logical place to do it.

You see the thing is, my t-shirt would probably read ‘Fat’ or ‘Used to be Fat’ (though people have such varied definitions of the word than in many contexts, like the Daily Mail, I still would be fat). Yes, I used to be fat. Not just ‘could do with losing a stone’ fat, but almost Monica in Friends fat. In my late teens/early 20s I would watch episodes in which her diet was mentioned and think “Wow! If only I could do that…” [though obviously Courtney Cox never was fat so it was a slightly unrealistic ambition]. There were moments when she’d make the throwaway comment “oh, I used to be fat” to explain her attitude to cheese or cookies – a phrase that I’ve actually found myself using recently in pastoral contexts where food issues have cropped up.

Aged 21 I began a journey that saw me lose 5 stone in just over a year. Over the following years I put some of the weight back on and two years ago I began over again with a new attitude and lost another 4 stone. Some people know about both these times, having known me way back when; others know about the last two years; while lots of you have never met me in the flesh and have little idea of what I actually look like.

While I may not put those words on a t-shirt and wear it in public when we go and watch Glee Live in June, there is something I can share publicly that’s just as honest. The photo below was taken on my 21st birthday, while on a walk with the family that lived next door (it’s desperately depressing that the baby in the backpack is now 9, Doris needs to stop growing up!) – today, I honestly don’t recognise myself.

The point of this post is to draw a line under the photo, to stop the past being what identifies me. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting out of that mindset and improving my quality of life – it isn’t who I am any more.  I appreciate that it sounds awfully cheesy, but it’s an important idea. Emma’s t-shirt doesn’t need to say ‘OCD’ once she’s dealt with it; you – and I – don’t need to be defined by our pasts once we’ve moved on. Whether it’s a t-shirt that reads ‘Fat’, ‘Divorced’, ‘Self-harmer’, ‘Single’ or whatever, we don’t need to keep wearing it. 

Friday Fun with Research (& some singing)

I’ve always said that ‘fun’ is subjective and I freely admit that many of you may not find random pieces of research as fun as I – a professional researcher – do. [I will now pause while certain friends guffaw at the notion that I consider myself a ‘professional researcher’. I get paid for doing research, end of story.] However, there is no doubt that research at the more spurious end of the spectrum can be really quite ridiculous.

So, two pieces that have recently caught my attention…

Firstly, apparently ‘God wants you fat’ (as the title of the Hairpin article where I found this research said). Apparently, “[F]requent religious involvement appears to almost double the risk of obesity compared with little or no involvement.” The research itself is unclear as to how this link occurs – suggesting that religious people might reward themselves for their good works by indulging in treats, or that it’s to do with generally feeling relaxed.

That’s not the reason – had the researcher never been to a church function? Have they not experienced the amazing ability Christians have to make every single event revolve around food? There’s a reason why there’s a Christians Against Quiche group on Facebook, people! Heck, at my church they hand you yummy baked goods as soon as you walk through the door, not to mention the exceptionally scrummy meals served after the evening service. It’s not rocket science – hang around church long enough without saying “No” to at least some of what you’re offered and you will gain weight. [To spread this out across other faiths, I will also say that hands-down the best Indian meal I ever ate was in the Gurdwara in Southall.]

Secondly, a map showing the average bra size of women in different countries. (I’m certain this will be of interest to both genders.)

I genuinely found this fascinating – who knew that there might be a difference between the populations of the UK and Ireland? Also, I had a slightly blonde moment on first discovering it. Honestly, the question that sprang to mind was “how did they get a decent sample of women to reveal their bra size?” – about two minutes later it dawned on me that the data was probably gathered from bra sales figures. For a supposedly intelligent person I can’t half be a twit at times.

And now, for something completely different. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as fun as I first thought it would be, but it’s still kept me entertained for the duration of writing this post. When I first saw the url I thought “Wow! Disastrous choral performances that are so bad it’ll make you cry! Excellent…”, because clearly that’s the mean, vindictive kind of person I am. It’s actually a collection of good choir performances that are so beautiful they might make you cry. Have to say I’ve not welled up during any of them, but hair has stood on end and I’ve jiggled about with joy a little.

Ok, I confess, the primary school choir singing Badly Drawn Boy had me slightly emotional (and they did actions, and swayed, and sounded good – get me a tissue, quick!). Everybody Hurts is always a tearjerker, but as the website says:

Also, the site (inevitably) features He Who Cannot Be Named, who of course I still love and deeply respect and this performance of his boys choir is especially wonderful. (I dare not use his name – he was on TV again last night and caused another spike in my blog stats as people googled his marital status/sexuality.) 
Enough soppy music – enjoy your final working Friday for three weeks! [Unless you’re not British, or happen to be ordained and therefore have a rather hectic Friday lined up for next week.] 

52 Weeks

I’m one of those people who usually knows how long it is since something happened – the last time I saw a particular friend; what years we went on holiday to Germany; how many weeks we’re into the new year (11 and a bit, if you’re interested!) – for example.

This morning marks 52 weeks since I got up on a Monday morning, took a deep breath and weighed myself for the first time in quite a while. I got out a brand new notebook, wrote down the weight, looked up the appropriate calorie allowance in my Rosemary Conley cookbook and proceeded to follow a healthier lifestyle than the day before. [As an aside, on the same day I also met with a friend for coffee after they’d had a meeting at my office and went to a friend’s birthday meal where I ate my favourite stir-fried broccoli…I have a freakishly good memory for random things!]

52 weeks later and this morning I was lighter by 53 pounds. (Well, 53¾ officially, but who’s being pedantic?) I rather liked the symmetry of the numbers (though in some ways I’d have preferred it to be 52 in 52, though I’m definitely not complaining that it’s more!) and therefore used it as a Facebook status. It was one of those statuses which I pondered, wrote and immediately closed down the tab and ran away. Thing is, I haven’t shared much about this process in the general scheme of things, nor did I want to flaunt my achievement online and be perceived as boasting or even fishing for compliments.

I could go off on one about how I’ve done it and why, but this isn’t the time or the place. Suffice to say that I’m now convinced the only way to do it effectively is to approach it holistically – quite literally with mind, body and spirit. (If you want to know more, get in touch, but it’s probably way too random for even this random blog.)

What’s amused me most is the way that people (especially ones I really don’t know very well) have brought it up. Don’t get me wrong – receiving compliments well is important, but some of things people come out with are quite frankly hilarious:

  • “You’ve lost a lot of weight. Are you doing it intentionally?” [No. One day I woke up and it had all fallen off, just like that.] 
  • “How have you done it? I suppose you’re going to say something annoying like you’re eating sensibly and exercising…” [Yep, that would be exactly it – rocket science.] 
  • “Are you ill?” [Genuinely touched by the concern, but this was a very random thing to say. If anyone I know well thinks I look ill, please do tell me, but I barely knew this person!] 
  • “How much exactly have you lost?” [Unless you know someone well, or the information is offered to you, this question is just plain rude. There are also very few good responses to the answer you receive…] 
  • “When are you going to stop?” [The plan’s to continue the lifestyle forever, though I am not aiming for a size zero (4) – I strongly suspect the family’s hips don’t get much smaller than a 12.] 
  • “But I just saw you eat a [mini] flake, aren’t you dieting today?” [This was this afternoon, and it’s not a ‘diet’ it’s a lifestyle change – and nothing’s banned!] 
It’s a funny old thing, our obsession with weight/appearance/food/size. I’m kind of glad I wrote the Facebook status – not because of the compliments – but because I’ve just spent half an hour chatting to a random school friend as a result of it. Perhaps one day I’ll write a best-seller on the topic, but until then I’ll try not to become an attention-seeking lifestyle bore – if you suspect me of becoming one, do shut me up. Thanks. 

Form: Body & Paper

Though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, I actually quite enjoy filling in forms. Not sure if it’s because I get to talk about myself (I have a blog, I clearly have a narcissistic bent) or because I rather like processes – but sit me down with a form and I’ll happily fill it in. [The big exception to this rule being a very long form asking very difficult questions which took me all of 6 months to complete!]

I find that sometimes the new year, or fresh starts in general, puts me in a mood to do slightly atypical things…like thinking about becoming a redhead (I go through this phase sporadically but have never actually done it), or getting contact lenses, or changing my entire wardrobe, or finally learning to wear heels…anyway, you get the picture.

This is probably why I find myself in front of my laptop, staring at an application form for a certain TV show. No, not Big Brother or Britain’s Got Talent – but Gok Wan’s baby [am trying to decide whether to write it as an acronym to avoid unwise googling…] HTLGN. Not that I’ll ever get round to sending it off, and really, do I want to appear on TV naked? (It would probably be highly unwise for any future career plans!) 

But, the concept is amazing and the questions on the form are actually quite useful in evaluating your attitude towards your body shape. There are probably few women who would turn down the opportunity to go shopping with Gok – in fact, I bet most would love a gay best friend who could fulfil that role in their life. Who wouldn’t want the chance to change their image, explore new looks in total safety, discover what actually suits them and learn rules about dressing that will stay with them for life?

Maybe a TV show’s not the way to go…? [I can almost hear the cries of “y’think??!” coming back at me!]
Perhaps I need to employ a personal stylist for a day or two? Or perhaps, I could get this all out of my system by having another drastic hair re-styling?

Anyone fancy becoming my own, personal Gok?
Anyone else fancy downloading the application form?
Anyone wondering where the Liz of 2009 has gone and who this alien is in her place?