Tag Archives: running

5 reasons not to stress about weight loss

*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

For many people, running and weight loss go hand in hand. And why shouldn’t they? Running is the best cardio exercise you can do to shift those pounds, given that it burns on average almost 100 calories for every 10 minutes you’re on the move.

But here’s the thing: running has never been about weight loss for me. Yes, occasionally weight loss is a side effect of running (not always, mind – I do like a spot of carb-loading), but it’s not a motivation. It never has been.

The reason lies in my past: in watching my sister battle anorexia throughout her teens and twenties. I have witnessed weight loss at its absolute worst: I have seen its twisted sense of power; I have watched on, helpless, as weight loss – sharp and angular – attempted to claim a previously healthy body for its own.

As a family, we were so very fortunate: my sister fought back. She won.

sisters

I’m more than aware that eating disorders have myriad causes, often not related to wanting to be skinny at all. But that’s a different story (and not really mine to tell). My story is that, having witnessed extreme weight loss, I’m not at all interested in ‘dropping a dress size’, thank you very much.

What I am interested in is running. For me, running is about empowerment. It’s about joy, presence, escapism, me-time and stress relief. It’s about miles covered, not calories burned. It’s about strength. It’s about happiness. It’s about grit and determination. At the end of the day, I give zero f*cks about a number on a scales. (I don’t even own a scales.)

Because of this, I thought I’d share my top 5 reasons why you should give zero f*cks about weight loss, too…

1/ Focus on healthy
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be interested in health. Oh no. I’m ALL for health. But I’m interested in health in a, “Yay, we’ve been for a run and eaten lots of broccoli this week, now let’s have a slice of lemon drizzle cake and enjoy it because it’s yummy” kind of way. Not in a, “How many calories are in this flapjack? Can I eat the flapjack? Oh no, I’ve eaten the flapjack. Now I will feel guilty for seven hours while I manically do sit-ups to try to burn off the flapjack” way. For me, health is about everything in moderation. It’s about cooking from scratch and understanding your ingredients. It’s about fresh, colourful foods. It’s about enjoying what you eat. It’s about not feeling like you’ve ‘failed’ somehow because you also like cake. (And wine.) It’s about exercising for fun, because the endorphin rush makes you FEEL GOOD. It’s basically the 80/20 balance (eat healthily roughly 80 per cent of the time and DO NOT STRESS about that triple chocolate fudge cake).

2/ Get stronger, not skinnier
In a nutshell, focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like. This is such a positive mindset to adopt. Focus on miles covered, not calories burned. Work on your core, because core strength will help you get fitter, faster and will reduce your injury risk. Push yourself because you want a challenge, and because achieving something new is exciting and empowering. Enter a race because working towards a positive goal is uplifting. (It’s also worth noting that muscle is denser than fat. So while you might find your newfound ‘strength’ mindset will see your body shape change, you might not lose much weight at all. Which means you may as well ditch your bathroom scales: they are dead to you now.)

3/ Boost your energy
Let’s get back to basics here: you need energy to run. I guarantee you’ll have a happier, more positive running experience if you’re well hydrated and have taken on adequate calories a couple of hours beforehand, to fuel those miles. Food is your petrol, people!

4/ Be a good role model
This one is a biggie. As a mum of two young children, I’m now a role model (I know! ME! God help them). And as a role model, I want them to see me running; to see me happy, fit and active. I want them to see me enjoying my food. I want them to see just how much fun they can have in life (OK, I admit they aren’t always seeing this – sometimes they are witnessing me picking bits of dried Weetabix off my clothes and swearing under my breath after stepping on another bloody Lego block. Hey, I’m not perfect).

What I am adamant I DON’T want them to see is me prodding and poking my tummy, thighs or bum while looking into a mirror, berating myself. Muttering that I need to lose weight; that I wish I was thinner. I don’t want it to seep into my daughter’s subconscious that her self-worth can be measured by her dress size, or the circumference of her waist. I don’t want her to grow up battling her body, because that’s what she’s witnessed at home. Instead we should be arming our daughters (and sons) against this. We should be proud of our bodies, whatever their size. We run; we are strong; we like cake. End of.

Shoreham Woods 10K

5/ Enjoy the NOW!
Finally, I would like to end the worryingly common and completely incorrect assumption that all runners are slim and athletic-looking. We are not. Instead, we are an eclectic bunch of all shapes and sizes. Hooray for diversity! This means that you do not have to become slim and athletic-looking to be able to call yourself a runner. If you’re a couple of stone heavier than you would like to be and have just started a run/walk programme, congratulations – you are a runner! So enjoy being a runner NOW, whatever your size and ability. Enjoy making progress, but also enjoy the moment – even if it hurts. Running is worth it – for the joy, not for the dress size you may or may not achieve because of it.

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*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

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7 reasons running is the perfect me-time for parents

*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

If you’re a parent to small children, you don’t need to be told caring for them is damn hard work. In fact, what with keeping them happy (OK, happy-ish – no one expects a threenager to get through the day meltdown-free) on top of actually keeping them alive, it can feel like a 24/7 job.

However, if you can manage to carve out just a little me-time each week, it will be good for your soul – and your sanity. Here’s why it’s a great idea to spend that time running…

running-me-time

1. The silence

Aah, silence. Remember that? Probably not, actually, as once you have children you spend the majority of your days negotiating crying newborns, screaming toddlers, little people banging things, breaking things or hitting things (or each other), all while listening to a high-pitched voice demanding “Look at me Mummy! Look, look, LOOK MUMMY, LOOK NOW MUMMY!” Peaceful it is not.

But never fear – you can get back to The Quiet. When you get the chance, slip on your trainers and find your nearest woodland trail, park or peaceful running route. This will give you the headspace you need to focus, leaving you calmer and more able to face the music (AKA a toddler banging a metal tin with a spoon while belting out a dubious rendition ofTwinkle Twinkle Little Star) on your return.

2. You get to lead by example

The World Health Organisation deems childhood obesity as a serious global health challenge, and recent statistics suggest 19.1 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds in England are obese. What’s more, the fact that more and more children spend their time indoors in front of screens rather than outside playing is damaging their mental health.

But as a parent who runs, you are already helping to change this worrying trend. After all, what’s better than leading by example? If you’re outdoorsy and lead an active lifestyle, it’s only natural your kids will follow suit. So, let them see you sweaty and happy after a run – and then feel the glow of parental pride as they beg you to sign them up for the kids’ dash at your next event.

3. It’s baggage free

When you get the chance to run, you also get to leave your responsibilities at the front door. No demands for Peppa sodding Pig on repeat. No tantrums about a broken rice cake to soothe away. No-one clinging to your leg (hopefully).

Once you are outside, it’s all about you, the open road and what you would like to achieve for yourself – whether it’s your first 20-minute walk/run or a 40-minute threshold session. Even if it doesn’t go quite to plan, a bad run is better than no run. This is your time. Enjoy it.

4. It’s ideal stress relief

Running is one of the best forms of stress relief there is. It helps with focus, clarity and purpose, and what’s more, it kick-starts your body into producing mood-boosting endorphins. Whatever the kids are throwing at you (yes, even mushed-up Weetabix), we guarantee you’ll be able to handle it if regular running is on your agenda.

Better yet, as long as you have the childcare in place, you can run first thing in the morning if you so wish. (Because let’s be honest, while the kids might drive us to it, it’s not really socially acceptable to crack open the gin at 7am.)

5. You’ll be fit for parenthood (literally)

Being a parent is a physically demanding role (and we’re not just talking about the very physically demanding role of pushing an actual person out of your nether regions here). Bringing up children entails a rather enormous amount of rocking, carrying, playing, chasing, cleaning and lifting.

If you decide to turn your me-time into run time, you’ll be one step ahead of the game, because being physically fit is a huge advantage when it comes to raising children. And if you’re able to join in their games, you’ll be making life more fun for them, too.

6. It’s convenient

Let’s be honest, time is precious these days. If you’re a runner, there’s no time lost driving to a gym/pool/fitness class. If you’re lucky to get even 20 minutes to yourself a few times a week, using those minutes to run is the best way to guarantee you make the most of every single second.

7. It’s free

Wow, who knew kids could be so expensive? From nursery furniture and a travel system (yes, that’s really a thing), to clothes, shoes, school wear and simply the rather obscene amount of plastic crap they accumulate (I last saw my living room floor in 2013), having a child equals waving goodbye to your disposable cash. Good job your chosen me-time is cheap, then. No expensive spa days or therapy sessions – heading out of the front door in your running shoes is your therapy. Enjoy!

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*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

Why running a marathon is nothing like having a baby (and one way it kind of is)

*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ll have attended antenatal classes (back in the days when drinking a hot cup of tea was not a luxury, and you didn’t have an audience every time you went for a pee). During these classes, someone may well have uttered the words: ‘Giving birth is a bit like running a marathon.’

While I get the part about it being an endurance event, not a sprint, I have run a marathon (two, in fact) and I have also given birth (twice). And I can tell you that one is absolutely nothing like the other.

Training for the event

Marathon

A marathon-training plan is usually 16 weeks long. If you’re a beginner, it can take you from those very first run/walk outings right through to the 26.2-mile event itself (how cool is that?) The final few weeks of the plan, however, are the ones that really freak the hell out of runners.

Because this is the bit when, instead of increasing your mileage, you need to drastically cut back your training, to ensure your body is fully rested and recovered in time for the marathon. It’s called the taper, but is more commonly known in running circles as a total mind f*ck. Why? Because you will start to worry that you’ve lost all your fitness, question whether you’ve done enough in the first place and basically feel like you are not in the least bit prepared. Don’t panic, though. You are.

Motherhood

Before having a baby, there’s all manner of preparation you can do – those NCT classes to attend, the hypno-birthing sessions to breathe through, the birth plan to write, the hospital bag to pack and the baby books to read. In fact, by the time you have done all the above and are standing in your newly painted nursery, next to a pristine white cot and a stack of teeny tiny sleep suits, you will probably be feeling pretty damn prepared. You’re not. Trust me.

Advice from the experts

Marathon

If you’re training for a marathon, you’ll probably find that lots of people have lots of advice. This advice all tends to go along the same lines – eat a tried-and-trusted breakfast a few hours beforehand; start slowly; listen to your body; drink when you need to – because often the same race-day strategy works for many people. My top tip? If runners are happy to share their experience of how they got to that finish line, then listen up, because you might learn something useful. After all, it’s 26.2 miles, people.

Motherhood

If you’re pregnant, you’ll probably find that lots of people will want to give you advice. Usually lots of conflicting, confusing and utter crap advice. Here’s the thing: if it works for one baby, it absolutely does not mean it will work for your baby. Your best bet? Smile politely, nod and do your own sweet thing. Your baby will thank you for listening to their needs, rather than to your second cousin’s neighbour’s friend, who swears Cry It Out is the ONLY way to get a baby to sleep through the night. (Note: it’s not.)

PB chasing

Everyone is different. But my personal experience is this: I ran my first marathon in five hours. I was in labour with my first baby for 30 hours. 30 FREAKIN’ HOURS. Enough said.

The task at hand

Yes, it’s difficult, yes, you have to run a really, really, really long way and yes, it hurts. BUT, at no point during a marathon are you expected to push a fully formed human being out of your vagina. That said, at no point during a marathon are you able to request an epidural, or get off your face on gas and air, so I guess it evens out a bit in the pain department.

Recovery

Marathon

You’ve done it – you ran 26.2 miles and crossed that finish line! Next, someone will hand you a medal and you can then hobble off to find your loved ones, who will no doubt shower you with praise and help you onto the nearest form of public transport. Someone might even offer you a seat on the train (result).

You will then be expected to do nothing more than sit on the sofa, while people bring you food, water and maybe a cheeky prosecco, before you pop a couple of paracetamol and go to bed, where you can sleep soundly for 12 hours, if you so wish. After all, you’ve just run a marathon!

marathon

Motherhood

You’ve done it – you have been in labour for Christ knows how long and you now have a baby! Think you might be able to close your eyes for just two minutes? Erm… not exactly. Because now, regardless of how many hours you’ve been awake, how many indignities you have been subjected to over the last 24 hours – hell, even if your stomach has just been ripped open by a surgeon – you are now called Mummy.

And in your new role as Mummy, you need to learn how to latch your baby onto a boob, rock your baby, soothe your baby, wind your baby and change your baby’s nappy. Approximately every three hours. For the next six months. Oh, and you will then be on call 24/7 for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Good luck.

Newborn

But there is one way giving birth is just like marathon running!

However tough it might be; however painful; however challenging; and however many tears are shed during the process, you will never, ever regret it.

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*Originally featured on The Running Bug*

A little more self-belief, please

When it comes to both running and parenting, I’m pretty good at telling myself I’m not very good. It’s my industry standard: Claire Chamberlain – Could Do Better.

For running, this manifests itself in fairly obvious ways: I should be running further; why didn’t I get up earlier? I could have pushed harder.

It doesn’t seem to matter when logic pipes up in a small voice in the background, reminding me that, actually, I’m doing the best I can; that I don’t have a whole heap of free hours right now; that I’m sleep deprived due to a teething baby and a child who has suddenly and inexplicably decided that 3.30am is time for cornflakes. Nope. All those ‘shoulds’ keep muscling into my thoughts anyway, making me feel that I could do better.

It’s the same with parenting. All those arts & crafts sessions I do with them (despite the fact it takes a bloody age to get the glitter out of the carpet); all the colouring and playing and chasing and cuddling; all the meals I cook; all the tears I wipe and knees I kiss better; the fact I gently stroke their faces as they sleep and that I love them to their bones. All of that can get wiped out in an instant, simply when I serve up an ‘orange’ dinner (fish fingers and baked beans FYI), or when I end up shouting after asking him 17 times to get his shoes on; or when I sneak a peek at my phone because playing Toy Story again is just so freakin’ tedious (sorry Buzz et al, but sometimes often I really do just want to jet off to infinity and beyond… and stay there. To have a nap).

So you know what? It’s amazing when you have a moment that makes you realise you aren’t all that bad. You’re not bad at all, actually.

This weekend, I did the Shoreham Woods 10K Trail Run, a very beautiful race – but also one of the toughest (and hilliest) I’ve ever encountered.

My training hadn’t gone exactly to plan (I should have run further, got up earlier, pushed harder… you know the score). Plus, due to the sleep deprivation, my diet had roughly consisted of caffeine, chocolate digestives and cake for the past week.

Cake

Carb-loading at its most delicious

But in the end, none of that mattered. Because yes, I could have been fitter. But it turns out, I was fit enough.

I ran with a friend and we chatted our way around the stunning route – along woodland paths, across grassy fields, down narrow rutted tracks that seemed to disappear perilously over the edge of hilltops, and up some frankly ridiculous inclines. The uphill sections saw my pace slow to a walk and had my heart pounding, but every time we reached the summit, we somehow regained our momentum and kept going.

What’s more, I loved it. I loved every leg-aching, lung-busting, calf-burning second. I loved the freedom of jogging through the woods on a beautiful almost-autumn morning. I loved the presence I felt. It was almost transcendental. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Shoreham Woods 10K

Kids. Medal. Cake. Happy

So yes, I could be fitter, obviously. But I’m perfectly fit enough, thank you very much (actually, it’s probably thanks to my two children, who have me lifting, playing, carrying, rescuing, chasing and fetching all day, every day. That’s my strength work and cross training, right there). From now on, I am determined to stop the negative self-talk: I AM fit and I CAN do these things.

And you know what? While I’m at it, I’m a decent mummy, too.

There. I’ve said it.

How liberating.

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Wishing for space

I spend a lot of time every day wishing for space. I’m not being greedy here – I’m not pleading with the universe to grant me solitary mountaintops, or vast plains, or a deep, crystal clear lake.

Just two minutes to pee in private would be nice. Or maybe silence while I’m changing the baby’s nappy, instead of a three-year-old shouting loudly, “Look at me, look at me, Mummy! MUMMY, LOOK AT ME MUMMEEEE! LOOK! LOOK!”

I would say that on average eight times a day, I long for actual, physical space – space away from little people who are intent on pulling my hair, climbing onto my back, attempting to jam fingers up my nose and generally clambering all over me, clinging to my limbs as if hanging off branches of a tree.

But then something happened, and I got struck with the realisation that, one day, I will have all the space I have craved. One day, when my skin is the texture of autumn leaves, I will long for their touch.

Two weeks ago, my Nan died.

She had a lot of space.

I often blame the physical distance between us, because we lived 300 miles apart. But I could have picked up the phone more often than I did. And now, I am caught in a kind of limbo, wishing I had spoken to her more and knowing there is no longer time.

I have not always been a good granddaughter.

I didn’t cry for weeks. I felt so removed from her passing.

And then, the morning we were due to visit her house, I sat on the toilet seat in a Premier Inn on the outskirts of her hometown in South Wales, and I sobbed so hard I retched into a paper sanitary disposal bag.

Because even if you haven’t been physically close to someone for a long while, if they are woven into the fabric of your childhood, your memories, your DNA, it will hit you, even if it doesn’t hit you right away.

Grandparents

And then, when you are feeling sad and regretful and guilty, it can take someone else you love to bring you back. My son, in his unique little way, brought me back.

To persuade him to wear a smart shirt to the funeral, I told him he could wear whatever he wanted at the ‘little party’ afterwards.

I am such a tit.

And so it was my three-year-old rocked up to my Nan’s wake dressed as Buzz Lightyear. At one point he even declared rather loudly, “To infinity and beyond!” Which, I suppose, summed the whole event up quite nicely. Good job my family have a sense of humour.

BuzzLightyear

Despite having said my goodbyes, the remorse lingered. It trailed me home along the M4.

I knew what I needed. I needed to run.

So I did. And it worked. The guilt fell away – for then, anyway. I ran further than I have for a long time. I ran through deep mud and puddles and up a killer hill. With my legs burning and my lungs screaming, I ran into nothingness; into the space I needed in my head.

And while I ran, things became a little clearer: my Nan had been unhappy for a long time, ever since she lost my grandfather, 17 years ago.

Now somewhere, somehow, she is back with the love of her life.

Grandparents2

Perhaps, after all, this is what I need. Not more space (although I will always long to pee in private). But more time with the people I love. Even if that does mean little feet jabbing me in the ribs as they clamber all over me.

Because right now, I have all the time in the world.

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Highs and lows

Motherhood is both wonderful and a little bit shit.

It is often both of these during the course of a single day.

It is sometimes both of these within the space of a minute.

Occasionally, both the wonderful and shit bits of motherhood occur simultaneously ­– cue the baby eating her fish pie beautifully, while the three-year-old rolls around on the floor in a fit of rage because “it’s NOT POTATO-Y!” (It was.)

The wonderful bits make you feel like you are nailing parenting (child eats home-cooked dinner? Check. Child sits happily doing arts and crafts? Check).

The shit bits make you curse the fact you jinxed everything by thinking you were nailing it. (Why? WHY would you even think that??)

The wonderful bits make you feel like Supermum – the telly is off, all the crappy plastic toys are away and you’re about to go for a walk in the woods together. You will probably skip. You might even build a den. Fun!

The shit bits are infuriating to the point of driving you slowly insane…

Me: “Sweetheart, you can’t wear your sandals in the woods – you’ll get stones in your shoes.”
Three-year-old: “I WANT TO WEAR SANDALS.”
Me: “But stones will get in them – it will hurt.”
Three-year-old: “But I WANT them.”
Me: “But your feet will get hurt. Look, let’s put your trainers on.”
Three-year-old: “I WANT my SANDALS and I HATE YOU!”
Me: “OK, wear your sandals.”
Three-year-old [hurling himself to the ground 22 seconds into our woodland walk]: “There’s a stone! A stone in my shoe! I WANNA GO HOME!”

We all have our own ways of dealing with the shit bits of motherhood. I go running. OK, OK, I drink wine. But also, I go running (not while drinking wine).

Because running is alone time.

Running is cathartic.

Running is me and a trail and cool evening air.

Running is empowerment.

Running is that little piece of me before children.

And yes, running can also be aching legs and breathlessness and that painful stitch you just can’t shift (because, you know, sometimes running is a little bit shit, too).

And it’s those days when running is a little bit shit that it hits me: even on the tough days, I always come back to it. I come back to it because I know the wonderful bits outweigh the shit bits.

Running gives me perspective. It gives me the headspace to know that all those wonderful bits of motherhood – the smiles and cuddles and belly laughs; the boy telling me, “I really really really REALLY love you”; the baby’s warm milky breath on my shoulder at night – outweigh all the shit bits.

They outweigh them by a million miles.

Cuddles

Motherhood: it’s not all bad.

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Being brave

When my daughter was eight weeks old, I signed up to run a marathon. It must have been something to do with having just grown and given birth to another human being that made me feel so capable and empowered. The female body is amazing. I felt amazing! I was capable of committing to ­– and achieving – anything.

In the months that followed, I gradually increased my running speed and distance (so far, so good).

And then, as December gave way to January and the start of my marathon training, my resolve (having so far channelled my I’ve-given-birth-I-can-do-anything mentality) faltered somewhat.

A marathon? Training to run 26.2 miles – this time with an energetic three year old and teething under-one year old along for the ride? Had I gone f*cking insane? What the hell was I thinking?

At first, despite the fact I already had doubts, I felt the brave thing to do was battle on.

Battle on, despite the fact I was soothing and feeding a baby back to sleep in the darkest hours of the night, rising at dawn to greet my son each morning and racing around after my little ones all day.

Battle on, despite the fact I felt daunted by my 16-week training plan.

Battle on, despite the fact I was dreading those runs getting longer. Dreading the additional exhaustion. Dreading the possibility that this would lead to me not being able to give my children all the energy, positivity and creativity they deserved from me.

And then it hit me.

I didn’t have to do this.

Now historically, I’m not a quitter. I’ve previously run two marathons. While training for both, I suffered setbacks. But twice I made it to the start line. Twice I crossed that finish line. And I loved them.

The start of marathon training should be exciting. It’s a time of possibility and growth and determination. It requires commitment and dedication and guts. You have to be hungry for it.

It’s taken me a few weeks to realise I’m just not hungry enough for it yet. To realise that the brave decision is not to battle on. The brave decision is to admit to myself – and everyone else – that I won’t be running this marathon.

The brave decision is to quit.

So often, the brave decision is the right decision. Because as my marathon goal ends before it has even begun, a new set of running aims has started to stretch out before me – aims more suited to my current time restrictions, family commitments and energy levels:

1 Run a decent 5K with the running buggy.

2 Get a new 10K post-baby PB by April (sub-1:03:27).

3 Run a sub-60-minute 10K by June.

So there they are: three challenges, all of which are more suited to my life right now. And you know what? I’m excited by them.

The other great thing? These new goals mean I’ll get to spend a whole lot more time with my new favourite running buddy: my baby girl, whose babbling in the running buggy makes me smile and whose giggles spur me on.

Running buggy

All smiles: she really does make a great running buddy