Thursday, December 31, 2015

An Honest Review of My Year of Running

2015 is officially the year that I ran.

I hated sports at school, at university I went to the gym reasonably regularly, but I only ran outside when training for Air Force selection. I never got to that stage, and so gave up my running endeavours which were based on the Couch25K programme. Running feels like the thing I needed to feel like I'd conquered, however much I love my bike.

The whole running thing, and I know lots of people find the evangelical nature of praise surrounding the sport/hobby annoying, so I'll try not to go on too much, came about because when working away, I didn't always have access to my bike, but needed to exercise one way or another. Having trainers and some workout gear at my work base as well as home is much easier than having a bike in each location (although a girl can dream...).

Another @hellyhansen afternoon run. My poor knees are in shreds.

I'm also lucky enough to have been working with brands like Helly Hansen (tights and top above, both c/o Helly Hansen at the end of 2014) and Mountain Warehouse over the course of the last 18 months, so I've had the benefit of some really brilliant kit. I firmly believe you should run however you're comfortable, but from my experiences on my bike, having kit designed for sports increases my comfort level ten fold and therefore means one less thing to worry about.

I'd be lying if I said I connected with running and enjoyed it- I spent most of January and February forcing myself out of the door three times per week and wondering why I seemed to finding it all steadily harder, not easier. I'm not entirely sure therefore, what possessed me to sign up for a 10km race. I suspect it had something to do with being home alone and not having anyone to stop me. Turned out having a goal of the Nike Women's 10km in June helped give me a reason to drag my sorry behind around a 3-5km loop with regularity.

#thisgirlcan #werunlondon

My partner really did think I'd gone round the twist. Couch25K suddenly became Couch210K. A programme I actually enjoyed way more than the 5k version. But that doesn't necessarily explain how you go from the basics to a marathon. in the spring, disaster struck. My grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and became the third of my four grandparents to have the disease, amongst other family members. It made me angry and I decided the time had come to do something. I set myself the challenge of running 100 kilometres between my upcoming June birthday and the following year, and after a flurry of signing up for races (without a great deal of thought behind some of them) I realised I was on track to be finished by the end of 2015.

Just a tip from someone who learned the hard way though, running a race 3 weekends out of 4 in a month is hard work- training, carb loading, early starts and travelling to/from. All of a sudden you've lost your entire weekend to about an hour of actual running. I personally wouldn't do more than one race per month if I'd thought about it a bit more.

My summer seems to have been spent almost entirely sweating it out in trainers and pounding the pavements. In July I starting working with a personal trainer to try and get my nutrition a bit better balanced having started marathon training and feeling shitty for it- note to self, running that far, that often requires more calories... and also discovered that more of my joints are hypermobile than aren't. Having suffered a major injury in May, it's been helpful to get some proper advice on strength training and it's something I've continued, not just for running but because I don't want my body to fall apart.

FTJ: Running updates
Blood, sweat, tears, races and an inordinate amount of showering....

By the time we reached September, I started to realise what I'd let myself in for with signing up for a marathon. I don't think I've ever hated food so much, given I seemed to be eating. Constantly. It seemed to me that life was a cycle of running, eating, thinking about the next run and planning the next meal. But I got there. I crossed the line in tears on October 4th and spent most of the rest of the month trying to feel proud of myself and failing to put my trainers back on. I wrote about my experiences, if you want to know what they don't tell you can happen after a marathon, you can read about it HERE.

PicMonkey Collage

So yeah. In 2015, I ran. Loads. And today I ran my final race of the year, which feels like a cathartic end to the year. A really beautiful 10km Ely NYE 10km which takes my total number of kilometres run (in races only) to.... 108 and a sneaky little official personal best 10km time of 1:06:46. If you'd like to read more about my races and the challenge I undertook in 2015 to raise money for Cancer Research UK, or if you'd like to donate to the challenge, you can see my JustGiving Page HERE.

I think a lot of people have expected I would give up running after the marathon and my challenge. I missed out on so much bike riding in the summer because I was too busy getting my running in, and I love my bike and the joy I get from cycling. But... I actually quite like running too. A marathon was probably a step (or 20,000) too far and I maintain, I'm not interested in running any more of them. A 10km race though, for me that's an enjoyable distance and I have a couple lined up for 2016 already. I've set myself a limit on the number of races I enter next year and how close together they are and I also run with a small club which I love because it's not a traditional club and welcomes a whole range of abilities and has been a great way of meeting people this year. Sports clubs can seem very exclusive, especially if you're not very experienced in the sport, it's been so much fun to learn a bit more about basic running techniques and run with people training for marathons as well as people who are just dipping a toe in the proverbial water.

Running is tough on your body. People will always be quick to tell you it's bad for you due to impact but I personally think that with some guidance and proper strength training, there's no reason not to enjoy the feeling that you can put one foot in front of the other for longer or further than you could before. For me, the key to breaking running, has been understanding my own limits and learning how far is too far.

So, to 2015, the year I ran and to 2016, the year I'll enjoy running a bit more.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas: 3 Unobtrusive Traditions

I don't hate Christmas, I just don't really love it either. I'm... indifferent. Except for the one week every year where I realise, like every other year, it's me who has to do all the cards, organise and wrap all the presents and make sure that we have plans to visit all the family members who will moan if we don't. I guess I find Christmas to be more of an obligation than I do a festival. I'm also allergic to Christmas trees. Or more accurately, the mould/spores that live on evergreen trees. Yes, really. It's not so bad outdoors, but when they're in an enclosed space, it's like having really bad hayfever and peculiar wheeze. NICE. We also never manage to spend Christmas at home, so no, I don't own a 'proper' Christmas tree.

I do have 3 Christmas traditions that I like to indulge when we get within a week of Christmas though, so if you're not into hardcore Christmas, maybe you'll enjoy giving my festive three a go...

1. Cheese

New year in our house means all the cheese and all the chorizo and all the wine and all the anti pasto.

Sometimes it's New Year, sometimes, like this year, we have a mammoth cheeseboard with added charcuterie and nibbles. We tend to put it together around 2000 and stretch it through the evening. Wine is not optional. This is great fun with friends, but because we're miserable so and so's, we will not be sharing our feast this weekend!

2. A little slice of Germany

Marks and Spencer Christmas Decorations. The beginning.

This little metal tealight holder spins, propelled by the hot air the flame creates. I bought this at the Leipzig Weihnachtsmarkt when I returned after having lived there a few years back and it happened to be the same year I discovered the Yankee Candle advent calendar. I do have one this year, but I've been away so much that I'll have about 2 weeks worth to burn this weekend, but that's ok, because it's exactly the time of year for a festive candle and low lighting, in my opinion! That's my Leipzig mug creeping into the top right, which brings me onto my next point...

3. Glühwein
The mug did start off with mulled wine in it, and it's something I love. When I lived in Leipzig my flatmates made the most incredible version of Glühwein the weekend before we all went our separate ways for Christmas and it's something I like to do *properly* at least once per year. This year, my plan is to indulge in warm, spiced mulled wine after a long run (and a subsequently long shower). Yes, I have become that person!


My not so secret recipe goes as follows: 

Pour a 1L bottle of premade mulled wine OR 1 0.75 bottle of cheap red wine, 150ml orange juice & 60g sugar into a pan, bring to a gentle heat (you'll need to stir the wine until the sugar dissolves if you're going down this route)

When warmed add the following: 
a generous pinch of cloves
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks or a few large pieces of cinnamon bark
1/2 an orange sliced up (I use my own dried oranges)
no more than 5 cardamom pods
generous grating of nutmeg
1 earl grey teabag
very generous slug of spiced dark rum

Heat the whole lot gently for no longer than an hour- remove the tea bag after 15 mins. 

Some people love decorations, some people can spend hours wrapping presents and I know plenty of people who would be horrified if Christmas Eve wasn't spent eating *insert favourite meal* or visiting *insert Aunty here*, and that's cool. You carry right on. But sometimes I think it's easy to brand those of us for whom Christmas is something we tolerate to be categorised unfairly as people who spoil your fun. It's not that we begrudge you your own festivities, or at least I don't, they're just not my idea of good time.

Please also take a moment, before you cast aspersions, to remember that for some people Christmas is a time of difficult memories, loss or hardship. A friend of ours recently passed away very unexpectedly, and this Christmas his wife is preparing for a funeral. It is not for anyone to judge why Christmas isn't everyone's cup of tea.

I hope you have a fabulous Christmas week if you're celebrating and to all those who are struggling, may there be hope for 2016, as hope is a very powerful thing. 


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Playing Nicely With The Other Children: Coffee With Currys & Nespresso

I didn't have the kind of experience at university that means I make pilgrimages across the country a few times of year to meet up with a gang of people I lived, breathed and worshipped my university course/sports team/church group/society committee with. When I finally got around to being a graduate with a low paying job in an office of 4, living in an infinitely shitty room with my partner in the arse end of the East End, I suddenly realised that as an adult I was going to have to go out there and make some friends. Because visiting my crazy Aunts in Finchley once a month does not a social life make.

Blogging can be a great platform for meeting people- in 2012 it seemed it was the height of the brand event and launch party. I made an effort to try and go to things even if I didn't feel like it, because making friends requires effort. I tried going to the 30th birthday parties I'd never normally feel comfortable at, I went to bars I hated, tried to make nice with over entitled students who thought Army office training would mean they were a step above everyone else and their petty problems and discovered I am not what you'd call naturally sociable, but I do very much prefer to have a glass in my hand when attempting it.

Feeling jaded and worn out, 2015 was the year I gave up on playing nicely. I have a few incredible friends and I couldn't face more evenings being snubbed, more tedious waffle about how terribly important the hardship of Sandhurst is (FYI, I know, my partner completed office training, he just doesn't feel the need to discuss it at every juncture) or disasters left behind because someone drinks to much and offends someone else. TL;DR.... making friends is hard work.

Last weekend, I broke my streak of reclusive, jaded brooding and did something I haven't done in just over a year. I went to a blogger event. I wandered on down to the Fable in Holborn and got stuck into learning about Nespresso as part of the #coffeewithcurrys event and maybe it was something to do with the cocktails (there's rather a few action shots of me at the cocktail station actually...), but I left having had a damn good day.




No more than 25 people milling around, different activity stations (cocktail making first for me, what can I say) that were low pressure and well organised, no obtrusive loud music, it even turned out I knew or had met a few of the other bloggers and they didn't pretend not to know me- bonus.

Cocktails are the answer. Especially if they made up of rum, coffee, peanut butter & cocoa...

I got learn about how we taste coffee and that I've obliterated the bitter part of my palette because I enjoy my coffee strong. I almost broke one of the coffee machines (sorry Haydy & Holly....) and got a bit obsessed by the idea of a very neat little machine that would take up about a quarter of the space of my filter coffee machine AND comes from a company dedicated to going above and beyond Fair Trade standards and basic recycling.

Breaking Things
Me, (almost) breaking things

Most of all, I looked at the photos the lovely organiser Haydy sent through this week and realised that this shot sums up my day....


I left relaxed and happy. I had a lot of fun. I met some interesting people who didn't ask me if my blog was my full time job before asking my name, and I had a lot of fun (as well as deciding a Nespresso machine is now very much on my wishlist).