Training journal | Week 29 | An honest conversation

Twenty nine weeks ago, at the point of starting this training journal, I told you about the infamous ‘poxy resin’ incident. It was a pivotal moment in my ignorance and I suppose the possibilities of discovery. What I didn’t mention in that post and will share with you now is something else the lecturer, Dr Kerr told us. He started the first lecture confessing that with a topic like the human body it was almost impossible to find a beginning and end.

The body, he explained, is not happily bookmarked by time constraints. Can not be biologically explained by various points in evolution. Will not be broken down cadaver like into component parts. Primarily because everything within is interlinked.

So, we started at cellular level (hence the slide lecture on the first lesson) and then over the next two years worked our way around the various systems.

Well, it was a fascinating subject. One in which, I spend a significant amount of time with eyes widened and mouth in a soft ‘O’ of constant wonder. The body is beautiful in both its strength and fragility and I fell instantly and irrevocably in love with the subject. And like my relationships with Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift, it has endured.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of my working life indulging in my obsession. I’ve taught first aid and administered a lot of it too. I’ve taught self defence. I’ve been both recipient and provider of personal training and in the ten years of owning my own running shop and events business I spent nearly every single day talking about running, training and general fitness.

During this time I learned a lot. But the one absolute thing I learned was that the body – while flexible and adaptable – would not be squeezed into a ‘one size fits all’. Some runners with technically awful running styles would never get injured. Some runners with beautiful running styles would be lurching from one injury to another. Injuries were often referred from another part of the body and compensatory. If left for a reasonable time, pain would occur in several sites making it almost impossible to trace the original complaint. Injuries were often overuse injuries, compounded by being ignored for too long, and in effect only responding to rest. But no one strategy was the same, which meant providing the correct advice when a problem occurred was difficult.

When you add in a complication like fibromyalgia, listening to your body becomes even more important. Early intervention can help prevent a myriad of problems from building to crisis point. I’ll be honest, while to not let it rule my life, I regularly mentally scan the various aches and pains that come with the territory to make sure they’re not getting worse. And when they do, take action to mitigate any effects. When that happens, moving is definitely the best thing to do. Even when the fatigue and pain is excruciating and all I want to do is sit on the couch with a trashy box set.

I managed to get through a couple of the set sessions in the early part of the week. The pace on the runs was woeful, barely faster than walking for much of it. But I was ok with that. I was moving forward at least and still on my feet. On Thursday I felt slightly better and managed to nail the set ‘pyramid’ intervals turbo session. But I had foolishly overdone it and was in a world of pain on Friday. I really should have known better. Saturday’s run at Woolacombe was over in 45 minutes rather than the scheduled 90 and I could not even start the cycle on Sunday.

But I have not given up. I’ve got a chiropractic appointment scheduled for early next week and a doctors appointment a few days later. I’m still moving. I got the hiking poles out for support and have been walking as much as possible. I’ve altered my working times so I’m not sat down as much as I have been and regularly get up to perform light exercises to see if I can chase the worst of it away and I have been resolutely positive that things will improve sufficiently in a few days to get back to it. We have 12 weeks to go.

Training journal | Week 28 | A tale of two storms

I could feel the walls of the house rattling. The house sighed as though tired at the effort of trying to ignore the wind. I looked outside and noticed the early crocus lying on their sides. I wasn’t sure if they had given in or we’re just lying low until the worst has passed. The trees in the distance were dancing as if participating in their own silent disco. Except the world wasn’t silent, it was howling. A personification of the Christmas Carol ‘In the bleak mid winter’. The sound was raw, guttural and I could put it off no longer, I had to go out in it.

After stepping out of the world last week, it was time to step back into it. The closer I get to the race, the less I can afford the luxury of wallowing in self pity. To have a realistic chance of getting to the start line, I have to get my big girl pants on. The plan this week was to start the sessions. Even if I didn’t execute them perfectly, I could at least try.

I stepped out of the front door, locked it and set my course decisively towards the sea. Storm Ciara made her presence known immediately. The wind whirled and swirled around me, pushing me in the back and playfully taking my feet out from under me.

I put my head down determinedly and shortened my stride to try and negate the effects of the wind. Each time I tried to take a breath it was tantalisingly wafted and then whipped away from me. Making it much harder to pick up any kind of speed and often I was reduced to walking just to try and catch a breath.

My hat was also whipped from my head, along with my headphones. The fastest I moved all session was chasing the hat down the street, much to the amusement of a family driving past.

I turned away from the more sheltered residential area towards the coast proper and into the direction of the storm. it was like trying to run into a brick wall. I adopted a position akin to someone trying to push a car up a hill for a few minutes until I gave in and turned around to try another avenue.

This happened every time I tried to turn back to the South. Moving in ever decreasing circles until I eventually ended back at the front door. I was windswept, boiling, knackered and unfulfilled, but at least I’d done it.

The forecast for the next day was much better. So it proved to be, with a good brick bike into run session. A lessened breeze made progress easier and this time the run felt like a run. The better weather continued and I managed to stack up a good weights session outdoors and time on the bike indoors.

The rumours of a further storm turned into reality into Saturday. G and I planned once again to head over to Woolacombe dunes, not entirely sure what would greet us. A friend had posted pictures earlier in the week showing the devastation Ciara had caused. The eroded dunes and deposited flotsam across the whole beach was extensive.

Many parkruns had already fallen foul of storm Dennis but the organisation team at Woolacombe had vowed never to cancel the event as long as they were runners willing to run. The volunteers are bloody marvellous and had already inspected the course prior to us leaving for the 30 minute drive. ‘It’s on’ they declared, so we got in the car and made our way there, making sure we’d packed a full change of clothes for afterwards.

Runs like these always have the potential to be epic. The kind you talk about for years afterwards until take on myth status. So it was with a few nerves but also massive excitement we pulled onto the car park on the side of the cliff above the beach. It was raining quite hard and blowing a hooly. But not quite as bad as I’d expected.

It was unseasonably warm, so short sleeves and capri tights were enough, but I borrowed G’s beanie as there was no way in hell I’d keep a baseball cap on my head and I certainly didn’t fancy fartlek training chasing it around the dunes.

I set off for a mile or two warm up before parkrun. It was tough going into the wind and I had to resort to walking through some of the stronger gusts. It was going to be a re-run of earlier in the week, only this time with better scenery.

Well, I loved it. The wind pushed and pulled, sometimes accelerator often brick wall. The National Trust had been proactive in rebuilding the sand path down to the beach, a wonderful touch to allow the run to carry on.

All around sand was dancing. Often into the back of my calves which felt a bit like getting a pat off a pin cushion. It stung a lot, and stopped prolonged dilly dallying. Nevertheless, I did stop and stand in the wind. It was invigorating and made me feel alive.

The tide was heading in and I heeded the advice of the marshal to get across the beach before high tide. I didn’t quite manage to keep my feet dry, getting caught out by a sneaky wave driven inland by the wind. The approach to the dune climb was slightly different due to the proximity to the sea. Here the worst of the rubbish collected. It was heartbreaking to see so much plastic. I noticed the marshal had a half filled carrier bag so I stopped to pick up as much as I could hold and deposited it with her. She told me she had picked up a bag per day that week and hadn’t even dented it.

I climbed the dune and turned back into the wind, this time accompanied by driving rain. But I didn’t care, I was alive and in the moment and sometimes in life that is all you can ask for.

G was waiting for me at the finish, pleased with his own run despite ongoing knee issues. We headed back to the car, happy for the prospect of dry clothes and hot coffee.

Training journal | Week 26 to 27 | Running from the Black Dog

A friend contacted me yesterday. ‘Alright you – how’s it all going’ he asked. It is a reasonable question and I didn’t really want to answer it truthfully. We danced around the subject, being a little more polite than we would normally be. It was lovely to hear from him and I cherished that he had taken the time to get in touch.

I didn’t want to answer the question truthfully because to do so, would be to admit the return of the black dog. I can’t believe we’re back here again but then again, I would extremely naive to expect it to be any different. I do find it difficult to talk about, but I think it’s important to do so. I’m worried that people are bored of hearing about it in the same way I’m bored of my own internal monologue. Although, I guess you have the option to stop reading. I can tell you it’s as bad as it’s been for a long while. But I’m grateful this time I’m more prepared to deal with it.

I’ve tried the usual distraction techniques; music, denial, reading (although that becomes much more difficult during an episode – trying to read through fog makes the words all blurry!) In the end sometimes it’s just tears and a kind soul to hold my hand that helps to make things better. Kindness is a corrector of many ills. Deploy it at will if it is your power to do so, you have no idea how much it can make a difference.

The one distraction I have no shortage of at the moment is exercise. The structure of the plan helps, although it does add more stress to the whole proceedings too. I have fourteen weeks left of the programme. It’s sufficiently close to help focus a fuzzy mind. Tricky too though. The fibromyalgia is closely linked to mental health. The deterioration of one invariably drags the other with it, screaming and kicking. The ticking clock does help me to get back up of the metaphorical floor and try again, day after day. With varying degrees of success but at least the fight is there. In times past I would sink into a stupor for months and then have to start again from scratch.

Week 26 was a great week. It started with ‘Defender’ and finished with a fun Mountain Bike exploring a world beyond Torrington on the Tarka Trail. ‘Defender’ was a turbo session, rescheduled to take in account a trip to Surrey for work later that week. It plays around the Functional Power thresholds but since I don’t have any fancy equipment and my heart rate monitor is a tad temperamental these days, it was effected using mostly guess work.

It was a good start to the week and led nicely into a mostly rubbish Tuesday run and a mostly strong Wednesday brick session. Thursday, G and I headed to Ashtead and then onto Banstead pool after work which was gloriously cool and empty. We compounded the swimming on Friday at a boiling Leatherhead pool and then shunned Woolacombe in return for a ‘home’ trip to parkrun Mole Valley on the Saturday.

Saturday was long run day. I intended to run to parkrun but got waylaid by a dodgy looking bloke in the car park. It’s a long story, that basically resulted in a slight rain check until I got to Denbies where I planned to hot foot it up the North Downs Way for a bit before coming back down for the run. I had barely got to the old Bed and Breakfast when was accosted by another dodgy looking bloke in the shape of Andy Fay. This waylaid my plans again for the second time. We had a lovely catch up while walking up the hill to accommodate Andy’s dodgy ankle and a run back down again where it didn’t seem to bother him too much and I had to sprint to keep up with his warm up pace.

We then headed back to the run start just in time for the off. I changed my shoes for trail shoes as the course has the potential to be a bit muddy. But, the recent rain rendered it almost not runable. At times I could barely stay upright. G fell over at the top of the hill and reduced his effort to mostly a walk. It was not our finest hour, not particularly enjoyable either. I could barely contain my desire for sand.

The combined effort of a weeks solid training and a trip to Surrey pretty much finished me off for the start of the next week. I was exhausted and reduced to living in five minute segments, just to get through the day. I lost co-ordination and tripped over a chair trying to get out of it, hurting my leg in the process. I didn’t trust myself going out for a run so went out for a walk instead. I abridged the weights session to prevent more fatigue but goodness, lifting those weights made a great different, injecting energy and helping to light the spark of recovery.

On Saturday and going slightly stir crazy for being indoors most of the week, G and I headed back to Woolacombe. We got there early, deliberately so I could head out for a leg stretch while G sat in the car with his book and a beautiful view of the Atlantic. It was one of those runs that felt faster than it was, but the legs were strong and the heart was willing and for a while I was free.

The following day, Storm Ciara hit. It was too windy to keep the garage door open and I couldn’t face sitting in a dark garage with the door closed for over two hours so I opted to sit that session out. Focusing instead on self care which I felt would yield better results. Like the sun shining through the cracks of cloud after a storm, the fog is lifting and I’m hoping to be back to proper training soon.


Back in 1988 I was studying English Language. Part of the syllabus of the newly formed GCSE’s included an option for ‘Oral’ English. This was essentially a presentation to the rest of class on a topic of your choice. Some of the topics were eclectic and on occasion even fictional. My friend Terry Holdcroft chose to tell a tale of demise involving a pigeon and a steam roller (although this, like his story, may not be the complete truth. Memory is fickle, especially after all these years).

I chose to talk about Daley Thompson. At the time I was a budding field eventist in athletics and had a reasonable aptitude for them. Well, shot and discus at least. I was too terrified of planting the javelin in the back of my head to do anything really tasty with that. The mastery of two events – essentially following the same technique – was tough. I could barely imagine how decathletes found the time and inclination for ten events.

Thompson was my inspiration. I adored him. As I took my place in front of the class, I did so with pride. Although many in the class described their allotted time as hellish and very long. Mine was quite the opposite. I loved being in the limelight talking about a man I idolised.

I still love Daley Thompson. I’m still greedy for information on him. Often mining social media and my friend Google to see what he’s up to these days. When I do, something strange happens. Those feelings I used to get competing in an event I was actually good at come back to me. I get the urge to pick up a shot and go back to the field. The urge is strong enough for me to check out the results for my age group these days – I reckon I stand a really good chance of winning stuff – but not enough to actually get me out of the chair and do anything about it. Then the dream fades for another day and I go back to living my life of mediocrity.

When we think about inspiration we often think about people. We idolise people we would like to be, use them as a template in the hope it will prize us off the couch. To be fair, it’s a reasonable assumption. Inspiration is defined as ‘someone or something that provides an idea’.

I’ve been curious about inspiration (the initial idea) and motivation (enthusiasm to put the idea into action) for some time. Throughout my time in the running shop, we talked many times about the ‘magic’ ingredient. I’ve often wondered why, when we desperately want something to happen, that desire on its own is not strong enough.

What do we need in order to turn desire into results? In relation to losing weight, or training more or getting faster or running longer or learning that new skill or whatever it happened to be. I figured that if I could just find the secret and write a book about it I’d be famous. Well it turns out that someone did and it wasn’t the answer any of us were expecting.

The problem was, we were expecting inspiration to become something more than a catalyst. For it to morph into motivation and then action. In the way that I would see Daley Thompson and then hope I would leap off the couch to throw a competition winning throw. It was enough to inspire me to check the results but did not contain enough energy to overthrow the inertia that consumed me. We use the same logic when we enter a race in the hope it will spur us into action. We would witness it even on the beginners run groups where we would have a 5% drop off on the night of the course which magnified 10 fold by the time we got to six weeks in. Anthony Moore refers to exactly this phenomenon in his excellent article, ‘If you’re relying on inspiration, you’re doing it wrong’ published on Medium.

The author referred to above who opened my eyes to the reality of inspiration is James Clear and his book, I was convinced would make me a millionaire is called ‘Atomic Habits‘. Clear argues that passive inspiration is all well and good for creating a spark but in order for it to yield the results you want, that initial inspiration needs to be active not passive. In other words, Nike had it absolutely spot on… Just do it!

It seems obvious now that action – as the opposite of inaction – would be the solution. Waiting for inspiration to hit me in the face would just result in more waiting. The right time almost never comes along on it’s own and there will always be barriers to achieving the goals I want to achieve.

In ‘Atomic Habits’, Clear explains that the secret of over riding inertia and building motivation is to take action in small steps while at the same time removing barriers to change and growth.

It’s important to say here that no one expects you to be perfect or nail it at the first attempt. You just have to keep showing up. No one is expecting it to be easy but consistency is key.

As Mark Manson says, ‘Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for‘.

20/20 Challenge | January update

After January feeling like the longest month ever, the last few days have sped by with the urgency of a high speed locomotive. So, now it’s time for the monthly 20/20 challenge update. You can read the original post about the challenge here.

My first impression of the challenge was somewhat naive. I genuinely thought G and I would breeze through the whole thing in the first few months. Now we’re a few weeks in, the enormity of the challenge is becoming apparent. Mostly, I think because although relatively easy, they do require perseverance and our the tasks are not ingrained in habit yet. We’ve been to the supermarket countless times in the last month and have forgotten each and every time to get something to put towards the food bank. Shameful really.

Other times failure has been more practically based. It turns out the Highways Agency in Devon are committed to cleaning the road signs. Most of the ones we drive past are really quite polished. Those that aren’t tend to be out of reach. I need to take the cleaning fluid when I head back to Surrey where the Highways Agency aren’t quite so fastidious. In any respect, this one will need a little bit of planning in order to complete it.

But we are having lots of successes. We started on Jan 1st when we shoved the telly up in the loft and rearranged the sitting room. During the rearranging, we cleared loads of books and DVD’s into bags to take to the charity shop. The purge extended to the kitchen where unused tins and bits and bobs went in the bag. Between us, G and I corralled over 40 items so in theory, we could cross that one off the list.

Three £20 notes have been banked. Well, it seemed sensible to do that at the start of the month rather than the end. Books have been read, blog posts written and rubbish picked up.

We’ve been diligent with self care. G and I starting the year with a *ahem* refreshing dip in the Atlantic sans wetsuits. We were due to join a group dip that turned out to be at the other end of the beach from where we were. On the dot of 11am, they charged into the sea while we debated whether to jog down the beach to join them.

Although we could see them, we were at least 10 minutes away, so in the end it was a moot argument. After playing ‘I will if you will’ for a few seconds, we both caught a dose of ‘Sod it’ and stripped off ready to charge in, much to the alarm of a family who were walking along the beach.

It was freezing and invigorating in equal measures. The sea temperature was higher than the air temperature. In part due to a chilly northerly blowing across the beach. But neither was balmy, so we soon got out again, clambered back into dry robes and marched back up to the top of the dunes and the safety of the Porthole cafe.

I’ve taken a day off when the weather was forecast to be nice. Heading to RHS Rosemoor for a wander around in the beautiful winter sunshine. G and I have also made it our mission to roam around various venues across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. It’s an area neither of us know particularly well. We’ve explored National Trust properties at Killerton and Trelissick and enjoyed an exciting trip to the Eden Project; getting there in sufficient time to complete the park run. It’s been a brilliant way to get to know our new surroundings.

I’ve also attended a soap making course earlier in the month. I’d branched out to make my own deodorant – which turned out to be easier than I though (partly because the ingredients are mainly inert; coconut oil, Shea butter, arrowroot and bicarbonate of soda with a few oils thrown in. Soap making needs more chemical interference and since I got 26% in my last chemistry exam in year 9, I didn’t feel confident to experiment on my own.

The chemical in question is sodium hydroxide, a strong alkali. Know as lye in soap making, it does something chemically to the oils added to leave soap behind. We used a mix of olive oil, coconut oil and sustainable palm oil (Shea butter would be fine too). And added essential oils for aroma in some or honey and oats for a delicious exfoliating soap. The process was in no way scary – care was taken – and the process was really quite therapeutic. The soap is currently curing in the spare room and should be good to go by the end of the month.

We’re also experimenting with less time on social media. We’ve completed one day successful, but a couple more have been scuppered early doors because we’ve forgotten and logged on to Facebook first thing to catch up. Purely habit.

So, in order to instil better habits, I have deleted my Twitter account (which only makes me rage and adds nothing positive to my life at the moment) and will experiment with no social media Sunday’s.