I ran the 5K, starting behind the lads in their football shirts. As the flag lowered, off they raced up the hill, looking across to check that they were ahead of their mates. Then in turn, each boy heard the light footfalls of someone approaching from behind. They glanced back, concerned that a friend was about to overtake. Panic! Not a mate, it was an old lady.Read More
Dr Danny Longman's research suggests that the speed of male distance runners signals "reproductive potential". Here's why even non-running women might want to visit the London Marathon Route this Sunday.Read More
A male-only race might be accused of being discriminatory, but we women seem able to get away with excluding the men. Except our menfolk don't exclude themselves. They turn up in drag, bundle kids into warm clothing, pull out their cameras and come along to cheer support.Read More
Three months into my gym membership and I still haven’t plucked up the courage to go to the weights arena. It’s just on the left, in a little off-shoot from the main concourse. There’s no major grunting or clanging from its bubble. It’s never crowded. The gentle waft of stale sweat and rubber isn’t too strong. However, it’s the territory of another tribe. A tribe that moves with composed power and rigidity of spine. A tribe for whom every movement, even an exhalation, is a focused explosion.Read More
Brian Bartlett lost his leg at 24. Rose Eveleth hears how a man who just wanted to ski again invented a new kind of knee.Read More
What do you do when your biggest fear becomes a real challenge?Read More
Does a fast start improve performance? One of my best races started with me tangling in the legs of another runner, falling over and having to scramble to my feet to chase everyone down. Once upright I started very fast and then settled into a swift, steady pace for the remaining mile or so. I learned that day that a fast start feels really good... and I could win with it.Read More
Buy granny a pedometer but otherwise the benefits of wearable "health" technologies are hype and, cynically, an opportunity for large companies* to gather and sell data on your behaviour, location and health.Read More
Hayley Birch tackles the marathon with the power of science – but will she beat her target time?Read More
You've been injured, ill and essentially distracted by life, but you recover again & again, start over again and again. You are loyal to running & resilient. You are awesome!Read More
Now for a strange topic given that we've had months of splish-splashing through puddles and sucking our feet from boggy mire. Hydration.Read More
If you hear me untunefully screaming "kick its little ass!" please take no offence. Likewise "All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit. Get over it." is not addressed to you. It's me getting myself up the hill or through the mud or against a bit of pain.Read More
Early autumn saw me a tad jaded. I'd done a couple too many 'fast and flat' city road races, hurt my back and caught a cold that didn't want to shift. I vowed to stick with what I enjoy - mud, hills & trails surrounded with green earthy smells. Then I bought a turbo trainer. This feels like having an affair.Read More
I used to run in a vest printed “MAD AC”. It wasn’t one of those slogan shirts like “I run for wine”.Read More
I get stressed about how stressed kids have become! It’s not their fault. They are coping with emerging hormones whilst over-stimulated from an online existence and under constant pressure from an endless cycle of assessment. We adults, even (especially?) the tech-savvy ones, are stumbling around in a digital world of bright white screens and constant streams of florid effluent that we’re supposed to “like” just to prove we’re connected, when really we’re drowning in it all. Yep, I know I’m being ironic.Read More
Life's milestones seem to come in clusters, not evenly spaced. In the last weeks my husband started a new job & entered his 50th year. Also together we moved house, packing most of our shared lives into two shipping containers. Our next home is currently a building project. We're on that cusp of the next big birthday and, of course, I want a running achievement as a milestone marker. What should it be?Read More
Racing isn't only about being the fastest. It's defiant, challenging expectations, immersion within the beauty of landscape, supportive and unifying.Read More
We are what we eat - rather literally. A healthy diet provides everything we need, even for the most active of us. However, if you're worried that a life of grabbed-on-the-go-meals isn't healthy enough, what supplements might be worth investing in?Read More
Do you grow anxious when pushing yourself to run fast over a mile or two? Does the effort make you feel as if your airways are constricting, that you can't catch a breath? Does your rapid heart rate seem to be accelerating out of control? If so, hopefully you've sought medical advice and been checked for any arrhythmias, asthma or other physical conditions. Ruling those out, might the problem be that your brain hasn't yet learned to cope with the physiological changes of a body labouring under effort?
I don't know why it's taken me so long, but I've only recently become aware of how distressed some people become when they try to push themselves hard over a few miles. These are people who can run very well over 5 - 13 miles, but who seem truly panicked at middle distances where hard, uncomfortable effort is sustained for many minutes. The feelings they describe are very similar to those psychologists consider diagnostic of panic attacks.
If you run purely for health benefits, mental and/or physical, then you don't need to run/race over the distances and at the effort that trigger such sensations. However, you might wish to take control of them and, thankfully, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has established success in helping people deal with such distress. The core approach is to be mindful - curiously aware of sensations and thoughts, stepping slightly out-with them to observe them, marvel at them and then switch from one sensation or thought to another. Such mindfulness takes practice. Begin with something pleasant, maybe a small square of dark chocolate. Take it into your mouth, become aware of how it feels resting on your tongue, the shape of it, how the shape begins to change as it melts, the spread of flavour across your tongue etc. (In writing this I had to go off to find chocolate.) Be attentive to each sensation and gently try to keep your mind focused upon each sensation in turn, directing it away from the noises around you and the other thoughts that creep in. Try being mindful on a steady run, maybe focusing upon the smell of wet earth after rain, then the roll of pressure across your foot as it contacts the ground. Enjoy wondering about these sensations, enjoy being able to shift your focus and take control of your thoughts. Once you've developed your skills in being mindful, then you're ready to incorporate a bit of stress to be marvelled at and observed. Attend to the accelerated heart rate, marvel at how your body adjusts to supply oxygen to muscles, feel the heat rising to your skin, radiating outward. Attend and notice that you aren't burning, your heart is continuing to beat, your body is an amazing, efficient machine.
I use mindful running to feel connected to nature and to switch out of cycles of negative rumination. When I've got myself into a negative mind frame, 30 - 40 mins running outside is the best therapy. To feel really good, I'd add the hard exertion of speed intervals or running uphill or through mud/sand/water. The extra effort let's me be mindful of the strength in my scrawny body and that, whatever else is happening, I have strength.
"Exercise for Mood and Anxiety" by Michael Otto & Jasper AJ Smits. This is a wonderful book, written by academic specialists in exercise and motivation. They also seem to be as human as the rest of us, making their advice pertinent and easy to read.
"Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world" by Prof Mark Williams. This book and cd combination is very strongly recommended.
Last month I ran two races a few days apart that, whilst being two of my worst runs ever, were also two of the best experiences. Each was a 5 mile road race. On the Wednesday evening of the first one, I stood near the front of ~600 runners, trying not to burst into tears because I felt so utterly exhausted. (Tension had been holding me together for ages and I'd made the mistake of relaxing a bit.) The event was being hosted by my home club so I either needed to run it or help in the kitchen. Being in the kitchen would require the capacity to combine action with friendly chatter; running required only action. Hence I toed the line. At the off I headed out too fast as usual, trying to find a reasonably clear space and a rhythm. That strategy worked well enough for about 3 miles and then the tears started to flow. I stopped suddenly, somewhat disconcerting the club mate I'd been running beside. He hesitated, but I gestured him along, walked a pace or so and started again. The remainder of the race was me walk-running, trying to limit walking to where there were few observers - a difficult task as the town streets were lined with spectators and marshals. Fellow runners came up to my side, checked on me and kept me going forward. I finished, but it wasn't pretty.
The Saturday after that I was still wrung-out but friends in another local club were hosting their annual women-only event. On the start line a fellow V45 athlete teased me into joining her campaign to flaunt our good-for-age stomachs. Stress lifted and I was glad of the excuse roll up my vest on a very hot day. There were no tears on this run, but again at 3 miles I felt utterly sapped of any energy and walked-ran the remainder, confusing and concerning marshal friends who knew me capable of more. With 300 metres to go we entered an athletics track and I asked the runner behind me to overtake rather than face a final push on an empty track. Afterwards I wasn't alone. As dads looked after toddlers playing in the sand of the long jump pit, we tired, hot, bemused-at-messing-up-a-run (I wasn't the only one) women hugged, laughed and were thankful for sunshine Saturdays in June & warm-hearted better-to-try-than-sit-on-your-backside friends.
We all have bad days. We all have times when we 'merely' get around. Don't judge yourself harshly for the slower finish time; celebrate the toughness to get out there and do it anyway even if the darn slow time is recorded for posterity on a variety of websites! The generosity and compassion of my fellow athletes have been better rewards than a PB. Really they have.