Saturday, September 21, 2019

On The Families We Choose Ourselves

Families and communities are funny things. There’s the traditional notions of both which we belong to by virtue of our existence, but sometimes it’s the ones we choose for ourselves that can make the most impact on a point in our lives.

We all have families and communities that we choose for ourselves. Some of those have a more permanent presence in our lives such as partners, extra parents or your favourite 'aunty'. Some are more transient like work colleagues, friends associated with a particular time or place, or the people who make up the fabric of an activity. For me, running has been a lot like that.

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I joined a running group back in 2015 in Cambridgeshire and shifted to a running club in a similar area in 2016. I still have friends from the first group who I see (and travel to ridiculous race challenges with- HI JO!) now, but the time of that community is now passed for me. My running home in March Athletics Club gave me a sense of home for my running with a family supporting every person in it and creating a network of amazing people from diverse backgrounds, joined with a common goal. And it’s in running that I’ve found a most recent community with a global family.

I’ve been running with AR (Adidas Runners) London since January. Having already have a flavour of how good it can be to join with other runners, but also how awful it can be having tried a few London groups and clubs out, AR has been an important part of a year that’s been full of highs and also full of challenges. It’s been a space in which to meet people who pick me up and make me smile after a rough day in the office. It’s a space in which I’ve been able to push myself without fear of ridicule or questioning of my motivation. It’s a space in which I’m able to support others, and in which I hope even one person has left feeling just a bit more like the superhero they are. It’s a tricky one to explain to those who aren’t involved in the community, not least because we bare the name of a brand, which comes with amazing opportunities but it also often leads to the misconception that we’re only there for the potential of free stuff.

I have to admire Adidas for something that is a bit of a genius marketing concept to create running communities across the world that carry their name, but into which they have limited input and so we are so much more than a handy offshoot for the brand, which brings me to last week…

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My Instagram stories were a bit mad with pictures and reposts of 8 people (including me) and some pretty spectacular offices- who has an athletics track, football pitch, climbing wall, volleyball nets, hockey pitches and tennis courts at their offices? Yeah, thought not. But Adidas do. I was invited to Adidas HQ, a massive campus just outside N├╝rnberg, Germany with 7 other runners from 6 different AR communities from around the world for a rebranding collaboration to make sure we, as the AR community, put out there into the world an image that represents us and our values to perfection. Quite aside the idea that the Brand Identity team for a huge global brand invited us to come and tell them who we are, as opposed to having a brand dictate that to us, I have to talk about the additional dimension that my global AR family gives to the whole experience because let me tell you, it has been an INTENSE week full of all the feels!

For me, the simple 2D version of a running family is having a place to go, a sense of purpose and accountability to my training and running. And you can find that in pretty much any running club or group. Show up, run, don’t be a dick. It’s pretty simple.

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What makes the community 3D is the friendships. It’s remembering you speak a tony bit of French because you got talking to the person who’s living and working here from Bordeaux and has become the friend you look for in the crowd. It’s the person who lifts you up off the floor in a hug when you walk in the door. It’s the people we get to cheer for when they complete their very first run, ever , with a massive smile on their happy, strong, empowered faces. It’s still being in my running kit 12 hours after we finished a run, and went for a ‘coffee’.

That three dimensional community spirit is something I know and love. I’ve been so fortunate to have it more than once, and especially so in sports. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have a varied community of people who are united with you in common joys and values, but what happens when you take that and make it 4D?

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The experience of meeting AR runners from Paris, LA, Athens, Shanghai, Milan and Berlin has suddenly leaves me realising just how epic this whole concept is. Knowing that I have my London AR family is important, but globally, it’s the realisation that wherever there is an AR community, I have cousins who share the same values and we all pride ourselves on those, and that means welcoming our brothers and sisters and far flung cousins with open arms, and probably using it as an excuse to have a bit of a party! It’s coming together with people who are complete strangers and by the simple virtue of a t-shirt, knowing we share in something bigger than us, and bigger than our home communities. It’s laughing until you cry over mint leaves with Paris. It’s running for a flight connection with Milan. It’s trading stories about chocolate with LA. It’s working out if we can share a full set of clean clothes for Athens because their baggage went missing. It’s comparing Berlin to your best friend because the look like brothers. It’s trading t-shirts for chilli sauce. It’s working out when and how we can meet again, because the idea of not being together makes us all a little bit (more) emotional.

Last week, a major global brand opened up their doors, their Maker Lab and their Brand Identity team to 8 runners from 7 cities and asked us: what do you share, who are you, what does it feel like, how can we represent all this for you.

Yup, sometimes I wonder if they made a mistake when they picked me too, but I don’t think I’ve ever pinched myself and been grateful for this amazing privilege as many times as I have done during and since.






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Saturday, August 31, 2019

2019 So Far: A Year of Pretty Cool Stuff... So Far

One of the things I have loved about blogging in years gone by, is the ability to reflect on what I’ve achieved. From the major ones like jobs and marathons and homes to the fun stuff like holidays, trips and events right through to all the little things that so often add up to a month or a year of cool stuff. 2019 so far has been a busy year- it’s not all been plain sailing, but when is it? But there’s been plenty of cool stuff packed into the year so far and it’s nice to not only reflect on that but also to remember a bit of gratitude for opportunities and abilities.

Jan
I saw in the new year pretty poorly, which I’ve banged on about quite a lot, Although it was pretty minor in the scheme of things, it was a real kick whilst I was down having had a house purchase fall apart on us and a rough year in 2018. We spent a lot of time regrouping on plans and working out where we were going to live come March when the contract on our rented flat would be due to come up. I did commit to running more regularly as my marathon training plan kicked in properly, and something that has become a real positive constant stemming from the commitment I made back here in January is AR London.

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Feb
After resolving some of January’s woes, Feb was a huge improvement for me. I managed to build my running base right back up in January and marathon fever well and truly kicked in as the half way mark in training was heading my way rapidly. I reaped the rewards of training with a Half Marathon PB in Hillingdon (not only that, but I had a great time doing it)!
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And probably the most exciting thing in the world ever, I got to feed a tiger!
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It was my Christmas present from Tom and it’s the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever done in getting SO close to such an amazing animal. We also lucked out that day and got to see Red Pandas being fed by someone else super close up, and the Jaguars were spending some time inside too.

March
As the legals on our house purchase 2.0 dragged on it became increasingly clear we were going to need to move out of our flat, but we wouldn’t be completing on our house and had to think about temporary accommodation and storage. With both Tom and I marathon training and working particularly hard, it was far from ideal. We spent a lot of late nights packing our belongings trying to second guess how long we’d need to store them and if we had kept the right things out for the duration and season.

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Oh and on the night that this happened, I cycled home from work just as the snow started falling. Wearing jeans and flat shoes... I was COLD.

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April
I embraced run commuting to bolster my training and contend with a much longer journey to work from our temporary flat.

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Tom ran Manchester marathon. We completed on our house. Moved into our house and I ran London Marathon.

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Doesn’t sound like much, but it was mental. I still managed to fit in a session at the Printworks to see Above & Beyond and we also managed a little trip back here too....

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May
Ah, birthday season. After mayhem of April, we tried to gather ourselves a little bit before big birthdays came our way. We celebrated both of us turning 30 within a couple of weeks of each other by heading out to our favourite place on the planet: Vietnam. But not before Tom turned 30 first...

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I did manage to squeeze in one of the most hilarious and slightly mad runs ever- urban orienteering around London Bridge as part of the Recode Running events. How hard can it be to read a map and run?

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June
Feels like we spent most of June in Vietnam too, and I embraced a new decade by feeling like I'd done my 20s to the best of my ability and looking forward to some fun in my 30s.

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We did try and think about house renovations because we’ve got plenty of that to worry about over the coming months. I discovered the joy of a crow bar. With London Classics in my sights and Ride100 coming at me in August, we managed a sneaky little trip to Herefordshire to visit some of my family, but more importantly get the bike out on some hills. I got tan lines and some serious speed and joy going on the downhill stretches.

Most important of all though, this absolute babe came home with me. My birthday present from Tom was having my frame resprayed to this glorious shade of green as chosen by me, and these incredible decals of MY NAME added.

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July
I got my swim on this month. My third and final event of the Classics is Swim Serpentine. I can swim, I didn’t think I was too bad in the water, and then I realised just how far 2 miles is to swim. As well as my own stints in the pool, I started regular coached swimming sessions to improve my technique and efficiency in the water. Learning new things really started to reignite some of the passion in me that had been lost somewhere along the way and I started to reflect a bit harder on what is important to me and how I keep including more of that in my life and let go of the things that are deadweight.

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August
And so it’s the final week of August. I’m not sure how that happened exactly. I kicked the month off with Ride100. I wasn’t really feeling enthused for it and although I had a decent ride, it’s not one I’ll be entering again I don’t think- it’s an amazing route and great to give my road bike a good stretch out, but the crowds are a bit much for me. 2 out of 3 Classics medals in hand though.

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I bit the bullet and bought my wetsuit for Swim Serpentine whilst we’re on the subject of the Classics as well. It’s possibly the least flattering thing I’ve ever worn, but it fits at least.
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I got my head into goal setting for all kinds of things this month too. A natural follow on from prioritising the things most important to me. I’m going to talk about this separately, because I could go on for hours! But for all the digital in my life, pen and paper still owns my heart.

I went to my first full on festival this month too. Back in November Swedish House Mafia announced they were headlining Creamfields, I didn’t hesitate to book it. We got lucky that the weather was dry, making camping an infinitely more pleasant experience and I covered about 45000 steps dancing my heart away to SHM, Calvin Harris, MK, Laidback Luke Oliver Heldens and quite a few more. An experience I would repeat.

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I also put myself out there a bit more this month. I have faltered at times with confidence as I’ve tried to make positive changes, but as a lead on from my post ‘Feel The Fear: Do It Anyway’ I’ve entered submissions into competitions, attended events and been more honest with myself as well as those around me which has felt like taking ownership back of a little piece of me that’s been absent. I didn't necessarily expect anything back, the act of doing something for myself was enough, but it turns out that sometimes risks have rewards and some exciting opportunities I'm not ready to share are developing.

So here's to 2019 so far. I'd like to go back to doing a 'month in review' type post if the writing continues to flow... let's see.

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway


I’ve rewritten this post in a dozen different guises over the last 2 weeks, trying to work out what it is that I’m trying to say and why I think it matters. In all of those drafts, this bit came at the end, but I think actually this is where the story starts:

I have signed up for the UK Athletics Leader in Running Fitness Course. Think, foundation to coaching.

I don’t need it for anything, and I sure as hell have other things I should be doing of a weekend like stripping wallpaper, or spending £170 on, paint and plaster maybe? I’m not an especially talented runner, I don’t work in fitness or coaching, my help or assistance is not required nor requested by anyone. So you might (rightly) be asking: WTF? Chloe, get back to something useful.

Here’s the thing, you can’t be what you can’t see and you cannot allow fear to steal passion and opportunity from you.

I am inspired on at least a weekly basis by the people I talk to who rock up to run with the Adidas Runners London community. These are people who are searching for their identity outside of being a parent or a spouse. They are people who don’t think they deserve to be there because they don’t run certain speeds or distances or worse still because they're not 'runners', and need reminding that they form the fabric of a community. People who are embarking on a journey of doing something for themselves. People looking for friendship and support in a country they don’t know and people who new or returning to sport and don’t know where to start. Showing up takes guts, and I should know, because this is me, having a blast, running strong, feeling at home: 

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And this is also me, the picture of anxiety 101, taken less than an hour apart trying to find my voice:

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Back in January I committed to myself that I would give AR London a go, having failed miserably (actually miserably, the last time I ran with a crew or club in 2018, I cried on the bus home and never went back….) to find a new running home that gave me the same sense of direction and community that I’d had before relocating back to London in 2017. And home is the word for me. A safe space in which we can dare to try, and a place of welcome that we seek to bring others into. I was introduced to the concept by someone I met at an event and who promised me I'd be welcome (she was right, and happened to be one of the coaches - HI EMMA), and with the London Marathon looming large in April this year, I knew if I could make it work, my training alone would benefit from regular running commitments.

And so it is that every week I’m surrounded by all these amazing people doing all these amazing things, not least, showing up. I found my home. And for me, that left me wondering: what else can I do? What can I put back out into the world that shows gratitude for the home that I've found? For me, the best way I know how to show that is to DO something with it. To find a way to pay it forward or put a little bit of love and support back into our running home. One of the many lessons from training with such diverse and inspirational groups of people, is that it takes all kinds, to do all kinds of things and there are a hundred ways to get there. We need to see people of all levels achieving their goals to understand that we too can achieve all of our different goals at all levels. It isn’t always about the fastest, the furthest or the heaviest, it’s about showing up, being present and putting that satisfying tick in a box on your own plan, working towards your own target, whether that’s busting a 5 minute mile or finding the joy in doing one little thing you couldn't do one month ago, including learning new skills and overcoming the fear of not being good enough to help other people. 

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I’m still terrified I’m going to be out of my depth on the day, that I’ll be surrounded by semi-pro runners or that the course leader will quietly ask me to leave because I’m somehow not qualified for this and there's been a mistake. But this is me owning the fear, accepting that there is some fear and it’s ok for me to be a bit nervous, but I will not allow fear of the unknown take away from me something which is driven by desire to do something positive for the world around me. I am taking the spirit of showing up, and using it to get out there, and to do it anyway.


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Monday, August 5, 2019

It has my NAME on it!


It feels like a lifetime ago, but once upon a time, I brought home a bike. A brand new bike that I had coveted. Back in October 2013 I picked up my much loved Grazia- a very stialised single speed bike from an East End archway where they were made. I’d been cycling to work for about 9 months, a lot of my riding at that time was bombing about East London between home, work, and errands, so single speed suited me really well. In my limited experience, I had no idea that Road Bikes were a thing. Remember this absolute babe of a bike?

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I rode my beloved single speed EVERYWHERE- at one point I was averaging around 500km per month on my bike including long stretches out London-Cambridge and London-Southend. I honestly didn’t really know any different to that single speed life.

Fast forward a year, the lure of a road bike got me! I don’t regret my road bike for a second, the world of gears suddenly made those big rides a whole lot more enjoyable- for anyone who has not experienced it, riding uphill single speed behind someone who inexplicably stops or slows down too much is a disaster! But I ALWAYS regretted selling my beloved Grazia because at the time, having 2 bikes in a household of 4 adults, all with their own bikes, was deemed impractical. One in, one out. Off my little city bike went to it’s new home and away the design went. I don’t even know if the company who make it exist anymore, but I do know the bike itself was discontinued in favour of a sit up and beg style frame, and so I’ve been hunting eBay and Gumtree for one ever since.

Yes, yes that does mean I’ve been looking for this bike for FIVE years. My excitement in finding one was only slightly curtailed by the blue. And the yellow. To say I’m not a fan of yellow would be an understatement. And I’m not mad keen on that shade of blue either. Not deterred enough, I became 3 bike Chloe with a view to making the blue bike of not quite my dreams a project once we’d managed to move house and generally sort our lives out. Respray, maybe teach myself a bit of basic bike mechanics to strip it down and rebuild. Sounds good, right?

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Armourtex: whre bike dreams are made!

I turned 30 in Vietnam, and when I woke up in my favourite place on the planet (complete with enormous bed, air conditioning and all the fruit I could ever eat for breakfast), Tom handed me a very heavy little package to open. A Railcard book and the result of my colour choice…

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Tell me this is not a thing of beauty. I chose green (obviously) and I’m a bit in love with the sparkle in the finish. And when they said I could have decals of pretty much anything I wanted, it seemed like there really was only one thing to do…

I put my name on it.

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Getting back on a single speed has been a joy too. I’d forgotten what a delight it is not to have to faff with gears at lights and just how light this one is, and how pretty. Did I mention how in love with my green bike with my name on it I am?

In a world of sport where achievement is a big deal and where shiny shiny gears or components are often equated with knowledge, power or sporting prowess, this little slice of green is exactly what we all need to remember to feel: JOY. It’s easy to forget the joy when the focus is always on performance, but you don’t always have to be the fastest, go the furthest or be doing the biggest or the best. Sometimes, you just need a sparkly green bike with your name on it and to feel a breeze on your neck as you fly down a hill on your bike whilst the sunset is giving you the prettiest canvas of a sky.  

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