Category Archives: Musings

Heavy Breathing

In 1993 I had a small(ish) accident playing touch rugby. Thanks to a small collision with a team mate, I landed up with 12 stitches down my head, two chipped front teeth and a broken nose. Fortunately (and to my parents relief), the accident didn’t affect my looks in any way, to the point that you have to look very hard for the scar which is about the only visible indicator of the incident.

However, I remember that accident every single time I get out to run, and I am sure that people running around me find out about it too. Although my nose was repaired aesthetically, it means that my right nostril is always very slighly blocked. If I cover my left nostril, I can’t get enough oxygen in without opening my mouth, which effectively means that I only have one and a half bits of nose to breath through rather than the two which most other people have.

The result is this. 1 – 2 miles into a race, I am breathing through my mouth only, and quite heavily too. I must sound like I am really struggling because I have had people comment before. Because I normally run my training runs with an iPod, I tend not to hear myself. It is only when I am running an ipod free race that even I realise that I must sound like I have entered the race with about two days of training.

Honestly, I am fit. I can finish this race. Please don’t panic – I am not going to collapse and die (even though I might sound like I am). I just need to breathe heavily to get in the amount of oxygen required to complete the run, and seeing my nose isn’t helping me at all, I don’t have a lot of choice.

I don’t know whether this is a real problem or an imagined one (perhaps I am not as fit as I would like to think?), but it is most definitely a problem I have to live with. And my fellow race runners are going to have to live with it too. Perhaps I should wear a T-Shirt which says “heavy breather” clearly across the back. It might help me avoid some of the looks or sympathetic comments about how I am ‘struggling’ but I can get there.

Thank you to iTripped for the image

Why, Smokers, Must You Sap Me of my Oxygen

I really don’t like smokers. Actually, that is unfair as my boyfriend remains a smoker, as are two of my colleagues at work and I like all of them very much (particularly my boyfriend). So let me rephrase that – when I am running, I get really annoyed with smokers who don’t seem to realise that I need all of the oxygen I can get.

I frequently run along the Thames river path – a glorious pathway which follows the river as it meanders all the way to the Tower of London (although that is a 19 mile distance away so I tend not to run quite that far). Because of the beauty of the scenery and quality of the path, I often share it with walkers, families, dogs, children, prams, bikes and other runners.

And smokers.

It always amazes me – when you are out doing something healthy like walking along the river, accompanied by ducks and the sound of lapping waves, why would you want to pollute the air by blowing cigarette smoke into it? Or, more importantly – why would you want to pollute everyone else’s air? Especially mine!

Picture this – you see a group walking up ahead. You know that you are going to have to duck around one side or the other of them (as they are straddling the width of the entire path) and you try and judge whether you would prefer to run through the hedge or almost fall into the river. You make your decision, call out ‘coming through’ as you contort your body so the hedge doesn’t remove an eye, and you are met with a lungful of cigarette smoke as the person nearest you waits until that very moment to exhale all of their toxic fumes. Don’t they realise how unpleasant it is? I’ve already had to weave around wafts of it as I was approaching you. The last thing I want is a lung full of it. I find that my face screws up naturally as I make all attempts to stop breathing for long enough for the unpleasant odour to pass. And more often than not, the smoker is blissfully unaware of my discomfort, my faltering steps and my facial expression which would turn milk sour as they take another long drag.

Really, running is an exercise that requires air – plenty of it. Anything that impedes that flow of clean air makes the whole experience a lot more difficult to deal with. Generally, if it is getting towards the end of a run, I need all the oxygen I can get. Your inconsiderate exhalation makes my run to my imaginary finish line momentarily harder. Thanks – I can put myself through enough torture. I don’t need you to make it worse.

I try to understand – I mean, in Britain now it is illegal to smoke inside any public place, and inside is defined as anything with a minimum of three walls. So it means that in order to get their fix of tar, they have to go outside. But don’t they realise that I am running because I don’t smoke and have no desire to start.

So that’s my rant. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh on the poor smokers. I mean, they aren’t solely to blame for the depletion of clean air and oxygen so necessary to the average runner. Don’t get me started on the men and women who think that dousing themselves in perfume or aftershave is a great idea before a run, or worse, those people allergic to deoderant and clothes washing…

But that is probably another (even more unpleasant) story for another time.

Thank you hegarty_david for the image

Long Runs with Drinks Included

I went to the pre-London Marathon Expo at the Excel Centre yesterday to collect my race number and spend some requisite ££’s on socks and shirts and other stuff (it’s all part of the ritual), and I was stopped by a friendly chap at the SIA Stand (Spinal Injuries Association) and we started to chat. Of course we began with the standard “are you running on Sunday?” and “what time are you hoping for?” but when we began to talk about how many marathons I had run, he told me a story…

“I have a friend” he said “who is just about to run his 450th marathon”

My jaw literally dropped.

“He started off just like you, in his 30’s, thinking he would do a couple. Then he did 10. Then he saw there was a club for people who had run 100 marathons, so he aimed for that. Then he decided to find out how many marathons he could run in a year. He’s now just about to turn 50 and he is still going strong”

I was speechless, although I managed to stutter out…”what kind of times is he getting?”

“Oh, he used to average around 3:15 although he is finding now it is more like 3:30”

I couldn’t help but be so utterly impressed. Wow! What an inspiration. Here we are getting ourselves all nervous about what is a big race, and this chap does them as training runs. The funny thing was, as I thought about him, I realised that nerves are good (I get nervous before every race, no matter how big or small) but that this race isn’t the be all and end all. If I don’t make my 4 hours on Sunday, then I’ll do it next time, or the time after, or even the time after that.

“If you think of it this way”, the SIA gentleman continued “it is like doing your long training run, but someone very kindly provides you with drinks along the way”.

Hear hear to that. Mr. 450+ Marathons whoever and wherever you are, I take my hat with ears off to you. You are truly and inspiration.

Thankyou Clean Wal-Mart for the image

Dear Nose, Why Don’t You Leave The Running To Me?

Dear Nose,

I know you are quite useful – I mean, without you I wouldn’t be able to smell Freesias, and I am sure my favourite chocolate icecream wouldn’t taste nearly as good, but when we are out running, I so wish you would leave the running to me.

Why, as soon as I get outside and start to run, must you insist on running also. You realise how impractical it would be for me to hold a handkerchief against you for the whole run. You are worse when it is cold. Sure, you run in the warm weather, but when it is cold you are just incessant. Do you realise that this habit of yours puts me in the rather disgusting position of having to…blow my nose on the pavement. URGH! I am supposed to be a lady!! Do you know how unpleasant it is to have to surreptitiously glance behind me to make sure no poor unsuspecting person is nearby and then make like a footballer and just blow? If you weren’t so keen on running, I could be just that little bit less disgusting, but it doesn’t seem to stop you.

You are worse though when I stop. When I am running you run a bit – I sniff now and then and can usually keep you reasonably under control, but as soon as I stop – whoosh! You suddenly think that you have to make up for it and begin to really run. If I don’t grab my handkerchief (which I carry tucked into my running pants at all times, thanks to you) then it really is a mess. Why, nose, do you insist on doing that? Why can’t you just settle down and let me do the hard work?

Of course, this is my only complaint towards you, you know. Generally you are pretty good. You don’t snore (well, not really, although I have told that when I am asleep you sound like a little piglet snuffling for truffles…). You don’t get blocked up that often, and I promise to continue to take lots of vitamin C to keep it that way. But if you could just curb your enthusiasm on a long run, we could have a really happy time together.

Thanks for listening, nose. I am now off to wash a load more handkerchiefs.

Running scared

Richmond Bridge

I am lucky enough to live not far from Richmond, Surrey. My favourite run is along the River Thames, over Richmond Bridge and then either left to Richmond Lock or right to Teddington Lock. The left choice gives me a 4.5 mile training run, the right a 6 miler. It is an idyllic place to live. Richmond Park is just up the hill, Bushy Park and Hampton Court are within running distance. What more could I ask for?

Well, despite living in a pretty safe part of London, as soon as it gets dark, I am just that little bit more afraid to run. Granted, I am a lone woman running, so that kind of goes against me. The problem is, winter days here are so short that you have to run in the dark if you run any time after 5.00pm, so generally I don’t have a lot of choice.

The odd thing is, it is not the usual things that make me scared. I noticed this when I went out for a very late run last night to try and shake the headache I had before I went to bed. It was a gorgeous night – bitterly cold, with a slight fog and a bright moon. Although I did my best to stick to lit paths, part of the run took me through Richmond itself. And for some reason, they were out in force…

Groups of ‘youths’ are what I am talking about. Loud, insulting and frightening groups of youths. Unfortunately, Richmond doesn’t escape this phenomenon. Even a decent, well to do area like this has it’s requisite groups of youths. What scares me about them is they are totally unpredictable. I do my best not to look at them or to cross the road, because I am worried that if I accidentally catch the eye of one, they might decide I am fair game for their next idiotic sport. Jeers are OK – I can just run faster until I don’t hear them. But I have been caught in the middle of a sudden fight that went off like a firecracker whilst I happened to be running past. And I have seen them torment other people who are just trying to make their way home from work.

I know, I know – I am probably getting old, but when I was in my teens, I would never have considered hanging out on the streets at 10.30 at night just looking for a passer by to torment. Sure, I had friends. Sure, we did some pretty bad things. But that just wouldn’t have even occurred to me. What surprises me so much is that this borough has some of the best (and most expensive) schools in the south east. What are they being taught there? Obviously not to have a bit of respect for someone minding their own business and just trying to get on with their evening!

I think the saddest thing is I absolutely adore running on winter nights (actually, I adore summer nights too, but that’s another story) but I don’t feel safe doing so. So whilst the scary ‘yoofs’ are claiming the night and not at all appreciating the beauty of it, I am cooped up in my flat where it is safe. There’s something not right there.

Perhaps I should just get a dog. I am seriously considering it. I have my heart set on either a Rhodesian Ridgeback or a Doberman (or a cross between the two). I bet if I was out enjoying the night air with my Doberman, the youths might think twice about using me as their next game!

The nerves before a race.

You know the feeling of nerves you get before a race? Clammy hands, an inability to do anything but pace and try and psyche yourself up, the mental game of hide and seek as you try desperately not to think about what is ahead. You have to just keep reassuring yourself that you are ready. You can do this. You will finish. And no matter what, you will enjoy it.

Well, I know that feeling well. I remember it from before my first marathon in London last year, and it was just as bad before the New York Marathon in November. And I am feeling it now…

No, I don’t have a race – well, not until Sunday I don’t. On Sunday I am running a half marathon as my first training race leading up to the 2008 Flora London Marathon. It is a hilly half in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and although I don’t think I am as ready as I can be, I should be OK. No, what I am feeling now is equally as bad. My company landed a big break yesterday with a mention in the Sunday Times. As ‘spokeswoman’ and founder, I have spent the day fielding calls from all sorts of people, one of which was the programmer from the BBC World Service. The upshot is that in an hour, I am going to be getting in a taxi to head to Bush House in Waterloo to do my first live interview on national and, more terrifyingly, international radio.

Because the feelings are so similar to my pre-race jitters, I am trying to deal with them in the same way. I have a routine which I follow carefully, and although it is evening, and I am dressed to go to a meeting rather than run 26 miles, the only way I can get through it is fall back on my race habits.

1. Breakfast. Normally I would have peanut butter on a bagel several hours before a race. So I had peanut butter on a bagel several hours before the interview.

2. Self talk. If you ever see me before a race, I am usually muttering away to myself, eyes down, stopping to stretch now and then, and continually pacing. My words are generally along the lines of ‘you can do this – you are ready for this – no fear, Nancy – run strong, don’t go out too fast – breathe – and run like a tiger’. I repeat this over and over as I pace. My current self talk is a little different, but not by much…

3. Music. Except for big marathons, where the noise of the crowd is the best music to listen to, I tend to run with my iPod shuffle playing my running playlist. Especially before the start of a race, I will play my favourite running songs to myself. They are a little embarrassing – with my absolute favourite being ‘It’s Raining Men’ by The Weather Girls (guaranteed to bring on runner’s high no matter what stage of a run you are in). When I have finished writing this, my iPod is waiting…

4. Remembering that I am ready. I run five times a week. I keep fit. I am ready for my races. And now, I have steeped myself in my industry. I know what I am talking about. I am ready for their questions. Just like in a race, I don’t know whether there will be other runners who will trip me up or be pleased if I stumble. Here, I don’t know whether they will throw me a curve ball or put me in a difficult situation. Whatever happens, I am ready.

The biggest difference here is that I know that as soon as I begin to run, the calm will set in. I would give my left arm to be able to go out for a run now, knowing that it would settle my nerves. Unfortunately, it may need to wait until I get home late tonight. I am certainly going to appreciate the build up to my half on Sunday after this experience.

Wish me luck.

And that was it…I just started running/blogging.

We all come to running for different reasons. For me, running was one of those things I just tried in 2003 not expecting myself to be any good. I still had memories of me as a chubby child, puffing and panting in the misery of a scorching Australian summer, while my classmates flew past me and laughed at my lack of agility. That kind of memory is burns itself in your mind, so when I first stood on a treadmill in 2003, it was like being transported back to those days.

However, unlike the humiliation of adolescence, it didn’t take me long before I realised I could actually do this for more than 5 minutes. And more importantly, I actually enjoyed it! I don’t think I have looked back since. I have 7 half marathons, 2 marathons and 3 10Km’s under my belt (I think! I will need to go back and tally up the number of race numbers I have – momentos I always keep…) and I can’t stop. As I post more, I will probably talk about what brought me to running, my experience of racing and my hopes for the future more, but actually, that’s not really what I wanted this first post to be about.

No, what I actually wanted to talk about was what brought me to join the ranks of the thousands of runners who blog. When I run, I run with a friend. Well, he feels like a friend. I have never met him. And yet I have shared with him his thoughts, met his family, experienced the pleasure and agony of his road races, and grown to understand what makes him tick. I don’t always agree with his opinions, I don’t always share his beliefs or viewpoints, but like any other friend, it is those differences as much as the similarities which make me keep coming back. His name is Steve Runner, and he produces a podcast once a week called Phedippidations.

Steve is currently my most important running friend. I listen to his podcasts when I run, including his entire back catalogue from when he started podcasting back in 2005. The podcast I listened to the other day when I was out on a 12 mile training run extolled the importance of blogging your thoughts as a runner, using your online diary as a journal to record what was most important to you when you ran. I was so inspired to do so, that I set this up shortly afterwards. I already blog for work and for several other of my niche passions, but I wasn’t so sure about a running blog because I didn’t know what I could write that would be interesting. Sure, I love Steve’s random thoughts, rants and poems, but I couldn’t do the same thing, could I?

It was then I realised that in fact there was nothing stopping me doing that. You see, running to me is a very solitary activity. I run alone, and yet I love knowing I am part of a huge community of people who are doing the same thing. I race, feeding off the hundreds or thousands of people racing with me, joining in a laugh with a stranger or a chat with a fellow finisher, and yet I am racing against no-one but myself. So in writing about my running, I thought that rather than try and be something for other people, why not view it just like my running? It is mine. But equally, it is part of the running community. If anyone in my community wants to read it, then that would be just wonderful and I hope my passion inspires as much as Steve Runner’s passion inspires me when I feel like I can’t keep going. But if no-one does, then that doesn’t matter. I am not trying to prove anything. I am not looking for applause or popularity. I am just looking for that sense of peace and achievement that running brings me alone.

So that is why I am here.