Virgin Money London Marathon 2018

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As I write this, a little over two weeks have passed since the 2018 London Marathon. Most people seemed to get their race reports out within days of the event, but I needed some time to process everything before I could write anything coherent. Hey, last year it took me six months to write it up!

The last few weeks of training went really well, and just before the festivities of the Easter weekend kicked in, we managed to get to 22 miles on our longest run. After all that excitement, tapering felt a bit strange. I found it really hard to believe that my fitness wasn’t draining away like water out of a bathtub, and having our weekend runs over in an hour or so was novel after weeks of time-consuming miles!

In the week before race day we started to notice that the weather forecast was warming up, and not just by a little bit. As the weekend approached the sun came out and the temperatures headed into the mid twenties. Ordinarily this would have had me gleefully digging out my shorts and joining in with the nation’s sudden obsession with barbecues, but this time there was the small matter of 26.2 miles to worry about… When all of your training runs have been done in single digit temperatures, 24 degrees and sunny is a scary, scary prospect.

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, poor Matt went down with tonsillitis and had to make a last minute plea to his GP for some penicillin. Although the doctor clearly thought that he was crazy to be entertaining the thought of running a marathon in that state, she didn’t mention any medical reason that he shouldn’t, so we made the decision to give it a try.

On the Friday morning we caught the train from Didcot into London, made the trek across to Greenwich to our hotel (this time getting the navigation right, thankfully) and then headed to the Expo. In another of the many coincidences that led us here (the first being both getting ballot places in the first place!) our race numbers were only 15 apart, so we joined the same queue to collect our bibs. Within minutes we were done and made our way into the colourful, noisy, adrenaline-filled atmosphere of the main exhibition.

Matt made a beeline for the marathon branded clothes, grabbed a long-sleeved training top with a huge grin and announced “ok, I’ve got my top now, I’m happy”. It turned out he’d been worrying that he’d miss out on the kind of top he wanted, which explained why he’d practically been dragging me into the hall! After he’d landed that coveted top we explored in a slightly more leisurely fashion, I did my usual trick of piling my arms high with things I wanted and then putting most of them back, and still ended up spending way too much money! Still, it’s pretty much the definition of a one off event (or two off, for me, but let’s not worry about that…)

We wandered in a slightly dazed fashion around the rest of the hall, at one point stopping to try out a pair of recovery compression boots, which felt absolutely amazing (side note: whyyyy are they so expensive?!) and taking advantage of the £15 massage offer (we had not planned ahead for this and I had to do an awkward shuffle out of my jeans whilst wrapped in a towel, while Matt just whipped off his shorts and hopped right up on the table in his boxers. It’s possible that this tells you something about the fundamental differences in our personalities!)

Leaving the Expo, hungry again, we grabbed an ice cream by the river, before heading back to the hotel for a rest. Dinner was a rather indulgent (but very delicious) Pizza Hut.

We had planned to keep Saturday as relaxed as possible, but that’s pretty difficult on a hot day in the city! We headed first to Oxford Street to visit the Tag Heuer store and enter their competition to win a smart watch. While there we got talking to one of the salesmen and ended up having to turn down his offer of free champagne – running what have you done to me?!

After a hot and sweaty walk we ended up eating an M&S picnic (it’s not just a picnic…) in Hyde Park and enjoying watching the world go by. Deciding against any more walking we headed back to the hotel to get our stuff ready (neither of us are capable of packing light, so there was a LOT to sort out!) before meeting up with my parents for the obligatory pasta dinner.

Race day morning, and the nerves were there, though less so than last year. I knew that I was physically fit, that my legs could cover the distance, and that I had the best partner -ever to run with! The breakfast room was packed with slightly nervous-looking people in lycra, and we didn’t linger over our porridge. Back in the room it was sun cream on, contact lenses in, race number pinned and trainers laced. And then we headed out into the sunshine for the short walk to the start. Just outside the hotel we bumped into a nervous looking runner who asked sheepishly if we were going to the Blue start and if she could tag along. As we walked she told us that it was her first marathon and I was able to answer some of her questions (and boy did it feel weird to be “in the know” like that – I still don’t really believe that I am a two-time marathoner!)

Once we got to Blackheath we got swept up in the crowd and after a quick wave and a shout of “good luck” to our new friend, we headed towards the baggage lorries. So focused were we on finding our numbers we walked right past the correct lorry and a volunteer had to whistle to get our attention! There was no question of needing to hang on to our extra layers as it was already getting hot, so we ditched our stuff and joined the queue for the portaloos. While we waited we chatted nervously to the people around us, took pictures and tried not to think about how hot we were! After the necessary was done we headed down to our starting pen and parked ourselves on the grass to wait for the off.

Now let me say that I was NOT a fan of the new “wave” starts. Last year as soon as 10am arrived we started moving, and just naturally crossed the start line about 20 minutes later with very little fuss. This year we didn’t move at all until about 10:20 and I think it was close to half past by the time we actually started running. It was impossible to hear what was going on up front and it was very frustrating. I hope that they reconsider for the future – especially since it didn’t even help with crowding in the first few miles, which was the whole point of doing it.

Crossing the start line of a race is always a strange feeling for me. There is a bit of excitement, a bit of fear, and a sense of “I will never be further from the finish than I am right now”. But at last, after months of preparation, we were off.

As we settled in to running, it was already uncomfortably hot, but we were feeling pretty good and kept things moving nicely. Matt was enjoying himself running over to the spectators giving high-fives and grabbing sweets, and I was enjoying myself watching him. The first water station couldn’t come soon enough, and as I poured some over my head I swear I heard a sizzle! I think it was in this stretch that we ran along a street with a series of speed humps, and each one had a pair of marshals standing  bellowing “HUUUMP!” at the top of their lungs to warn us. I couldn’t stop giggling at the thought of being a Hump Marshal and we immediately decided that if we ever volunteered that would be our choice of role!

A few miles in and it was obvious that the crowd of runners was moving a lot more slowly than last year. Then, I was travelling at ~11 min/mile and the field had already thinned out by the Red start/Blue start merging point. This time we were sitting around 10:30 pace and clearly right in midfield. The heat was definitely taking its toll!

At 6 miles I was struggling and shouted to Matt that I really wanted to walk. “Okay”, he shouted back, “but let’s try and get to 10 first!” and I tried to focus on that plan. We kept up the drink-douse-drain plan whenever there was water, and had our first shot bloks. Someone handed me a piece of orange which tasted incredible, and the first set of showers was so crowded we almost ground to a halt trying to get under the (slightly pathetic) spray of water.

Somehow, without walking, 10 miles came and went, and we refocused on halfway, where we knew my parents would be. The spectators were absolutely incredible, there were at least 2 or 3 times as many as last year, and the atmosphere was intense. In a few places the crowds were so big that they had mostly blocked the road trying to get a good view, and all the runners were squashed into a couple of metres of clear path. That was actually quite scary, and more marshals would have been much appreciated.

Crossing Tower Bridge was exhilarating, and gave us enough of a kick to keep going to mile 13.1, where we stopped to talk to my parents. This gave us a chance to get more water and rest just for a minute, which was not really part of our race plan but ended up being absolutely necessary. We’d arrived at just under 2 and a half hours, so we knew that a sub-5 finish was highly unlikely, but were encouraged that we were looking and feeling stronger than a lot of the people around us.

My memory of the next few miles is a complete blur. We ate our shot bloks, drank as much water and Lucozade as we could, and marvelled at the number of spectators (“Where’s the quiet bit?” Matt kept asking, but it never materialised. The route was packed with support for literally the entire way.) By this point we were having to walk for a few minutes every couple of miles. But we were in good company, and at least we were still moving forward. I don’t know about Matt, but it was at this point when I knew that we’d get to the finish one way or another.

We saw my parents again at mile 22, by which time we were not in a good way. One of the consequences of running in the main field was that we had had to do a lot of weaving  from side-to-side (WHY can’t people learn to look around them before stopping dead in the middle of the road?!) and my hips were absolutely killing me. The last couple of miles I’d had a kind of tunnel vision where my head was down and my focus was only on the road in front of me. By this point, we couldn’t face any more sweets or gels, but desperately needed some kind of fuel. Ever resourceful, Mum and Dad produced a packet of dry roasted peanuts and some beef flavour Hula Hoops, and my god they were the best thing I have ever eaten.

As my parents waved us off we had a renewed spring in our step, and I was able to lift my head a little higher and enjoy the noise and the crowds again. We were running in patches and walking when it got too much, and as we said to a fellow runner who we’d seen a few times on the course when she asked how we were doing, we were VERY ready to be done!

As we headed towards Big Ben I was mildly panicked when I couldn’t see it, but then remembered that it was covered in scaffolding for its renovation! I don’t know about anyone else but in the late stages of a race my brain usually doesn’t operate at its best and I tend to get fixated on and inordinately worried about the strangest things. I remember being irritated that my shoes were squelching from all the water we’d been trying to cool off with, and that the noise of the crowd was louder than anything I’ve ever heard before. Matt was really struggling at this point, and each time we walked I held his hand tightly and talked him through the next little bit of the race. As we came up Birdcage Walk, so agonisingly close to the finish, he said he didn’t think he had another half a mile in him, to which I replied “well that’s fine, you only need to go another half a kilometre”. He didn’t give my smart-assed self a smack, probably because he was too tired, but I would have deserved it! And then…

“In a minute we’re going to walk under a big banner that says “Only 385 Yards to Go!” and then we’re going to run it home, ok?”

(I think there was a grunt of acknowledgement)

“Where’s the finish line? I can’t see it!”

“It’s just round the next corner, come on my baby!”

I reached for his hand, held it tight.

It was so quiet on that finish straight. I couldn’t hear the crowds or the music.

As we crossed the line I think I screamed. There was so much raw emotion packed into those precious few seconds it felt a bit like that head rush you get if you stand up too quickly. I could hear nothing but the blood being pumped around my body, feel nothing but Matt’s hand in mine.

And then it was over.

Well, not quite. Tears, kisses, medals, t-shirts, kit-bags. Some blessed, blessed shade. A phone call to a very proud father. A glance up at the sky – this was for you, mum and uncle Paul. Reunion with our dedicated supporters. More kisses and hugs. The much anticipated Removal of Shoes. Pride. Gratitude. Overwhelming love.

 

 

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Weekly RUNdown 12/02/18

Er, so it’s been two weeks. Oops. With quite a bit to update you on, I guess I’d better get on with it!

This week’s mantra: keep it short!

30/1 Went to what has become my usual spin class. Sweated buckets, as usual. Came home and raided the fridge like a ravenous beast, as usual!

31/1 I had 5 miles on the plan for today, with the idea being to do an easy-steady-fast-steady-easy pyramid. So off I went at lunchtime, trying to focus on keeping easy easy and with the goal of not quitting on the fast mile! I managed an 8:45, which included a Big. Damn. Hill so I was absolutely chuffed! Had a sports massage in the evening and got a bit of bonus K-tape to help my slightly sore ankles.

1/2 Today marked 4 weeks since I started overhauling my eating and so I did a weigh-in to check on my progress. I was quite stunned to find that I’d lost 10 lbs! I can also see quite a big difference in my waist and hips, and I feel a whole lot better too, so all-in-all this is a big win!

2/2 – 5/2 Matt and I headed to Center Parcs for the weekend to celebrate the end of the longest month of the year and just to spend some time just the two of us. It was a weird and wonderful weekend full of moments of powerful nostalgia (I went to Center Parcs quite a few times as a child!) and lots of new memory making with my Fiance. We went climbing on the Saturday morning, and it was really hard work (which I was expecting) and also pretty scary (which I was not). The climbing walls had these counterweight things at the top and you had to trust that they’d catch you and help you descend gently. For some reason I really struggled with it, and it took a lot of cajoling from Matt and the instructor to get me to keep trying!

On Sunday we had our 10 mile long run in the schedule so we valiantly set out to tackle the hills and get the miles in. One thing you don’t appreciate when you stick to the main parts of the village is that Longleat forest is hilly. Every direction we could have chosen to run was either up or down a steep hill, and so we had to suck it up! Honestly it was one of my toughest runs in recent memory, especially at the start. I hated everything for those first few miles. Everything hurt, I grumbled and whined and swore under my breath. But we stuck it out (well, I stuck out the run from hell, and Matt stuck out my bad mood – sorry honey!) and somehow, the second half sucked a whole lot less. In fact we finished on a 9:30 ish mile because I wanted to squeak in under the 2 hour mark.

In what has to be the ultimate run recovery method we spent the afternoon in the spa enjoying the steam rooms and sauna and the big cosy armchairs in front of the fire. If you’ve never tried a spa (and it could just be a sauna and swimming pool, it doesn’t have to be as fancy as Aqua Sana) can I take a moment to say DO IT! I would never have thought it would be my kind of thing, but the intense heat of the sauna relaxes me in a way nothing else does, and being in a place dedicated to relaxation really does prompt me to let go of a lot of my tension and go with the flow (literally).

All in all the weekend was absolutely brilliant, and we really, really didn’t want it to be over!

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6/2 Tuesday spin class again, although this time with a different instructor because my usual one was on holiday. This instructor had a completely different style, with a lot more focus on strength and pushing through the higher gears rather than aiming for lots of speedwork. I couldn’t choose which was my favourite and I honestly think both are important parts of cross-training, so next week I’ve signed up for both! An hour of spin – yikes!

7/2 I had hill repeats on the schedule today, but the weather was so horrible I decided to use the treadmill to get it done. Work got on top of me a bit and I didn’t have as much time as I’d have liked, but I managed 30 minutes of running at a minimum of 2% incline, with some faster intervals at 4 or 5% incline. I worked up a good sweat and had to focus on pushing my legs “up the hills” with decent form. After the run I finished off the evening with a stretching-focused yogalates class, which felt soooooo good. I’m sure I was a few inches taller after it!

11/2 We did 12 sunny miles today, and although we were expecting it my mile 2 mood didn’t happen! Somehow we found that often illusive conversational pace and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed those miles jogging happily through the countryside playing “spot the red kite” (final count: at least 10) and chatting about nothing in particular. The only rough patch came at around mile 10 when a wrong turn took us down a rough, muddy farm track that was terrifyingly slippery and energy draining. That made miles 11 and 12 a lot harder than they would have otherwise been. But it was probably what I deserved, having piped up earlier how much I liked runs that included “mixed terrain”!!

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I read a discussion on Reddit the other day about what moment led people to feel like “real runners”, and I think I’ve got one to contribute today! I feel like a real runner because I can say honestly and without irony that I am really looking forward to running 14 miles next weekend!

 

 

Anxiety and Parkrun

So like I said in my rundown post I thought I would write a separate post to talk about my experience at Parkrun this weekend, and to share some more general thoughts about anxiety and running.

When Matt and I got home after Saturday’s run I was edgy and upset because I hadn’t been able to complete the course in the time I wanted to. And it was then that he said something that inspired this whole post. Telling me that I shouldn’t be hard on myself, he said:

“It’s like you’re fighting two battles. The physical one and the mental one. It’s twice as hard!”

And you know, he’s exactly right. Quite apart from the physical effort required to complete a 5km run, my anxiety demands so much extra energy that sometimes it’s all too easy to get demoralised or tired and to stop running.

The winter course at Cheltenham is quite narrow, and as it is a very popular event it can be extremely crowded. While crowds don’t always bother me, the jostling and pushing and shoving that are unavoidable at the start of a busy run do really upset me when I’m on my own. Without a specific running buddy to focus on and to help block out the crowd my instincts are either to freeze, cover my face with my hands and let the mayhem happen around me, or to flee. I have never run (sorry) into this problem at big races (even in London) because the roads are generally wide enough to allow even the large volume of people to keep moving, and because it’s easy just to hang back a little at the start to avoid the masses.

But once the run director at Parkrun says “Go!” the clock is ticking. I’m competitive enough not to want to “waste” precious seconds by hanging back, so off I go with everybody else, at a slow walk at first, trying to negotiate benches, trees, dogs and other park users and not allow the panic to rise up from my stomach to my throat. At the narrow bridge we have to stop while the folks in front navigate its bollards, and my heart, already amped up from both the anxiety and the first few hundred yards of the run, feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest. I feel light headed, dizzy. My legs are unwilling to pick up the pace, even though I know they can. I start to catastrophize (another of my anxious tendencies), assuming that a slow start will become a slow first mile, and a slow first mile will become a slow 5km, and I won’t get a PB and I’m a terrible runner and I’m unfit and useless and awful and really when you look at it like that… what’s the point?

And there I am, walking angrily with my arms folded across my chest, resenting everyone jogging happily past me and feeling attacked by the kind words of the marshals. Anxiety-wise, I’m on high alert, my fight-or-flight response in a battle of wills with my stubbornness. Everything is amplified by my overactive brain: someone overtaking unexpectedly is panic-inducing, having to overtake myself even more so. A barking dog, a bicycle bell, someone shouting encouragement, a tap on the shoulder; all become inordinately shocking to me.

After a while the anxiety starts to dissipate, and I am acutely embarrassed by my performance. I want redemption, I want to run hard for however much of the course I have left. But, I’m exhausted. My anxious brain has just put me through a pretty intense workout. To gather enough physical strength to finish strong after a start like that would require a mammoth effort that I’m just not capable of in that moment. I finish, in a time which belies the effort involved. I’m not happy with it. I’m never happy when my anxiety makes simple things really, really difficult.

Reading this you might think that the simplest solution would either be to avoid Parkrun altogether, or to find a quieter one to attend. Trouble is, the first would feel like defeat, and the second wouldn’t always work.

The Didcot event that we attend when we’re in Oxfordshire for the weekend is much smaller and while this does make it less likely that I will have an anxiety attack, by its very nature anxiety is unpredictable and it can still happen. Almost anything can set it off (case in point: we had a very tiny road rage incident on the way one Saturday, nothing more than some strong words shouted out of a car window, and it turned out that the other driver was headed to Parkrun too. I became convinced that there would be more strong words, or worse, and I had visions of us being thrown out for messing with the wrong person. Long story short this led to a panic attack, and having to quit the run after the first lap and be taken home in floods of tears).

Don’t get me wrong, I would never judge a fellow anxiety-sufferer for choosing to avoid certain things. Everyone deals with challenges in their own way. But for me, the only way to deal with anxiety and Parkrun is to keep showing up. The more I can teach my brain that anxiety is short-lived and that there are plenty of “good” runs to balance out the “bad”, the more I gain control over that anxiety.

To other Parkrunners reading this and wondering if they can help, I say a sincere thank you. For me, when I am in a highly anxious state, I need space. I can’t talk, can’t explain what’s happening. If you see me walking along the course looking, for want of a better word, tense, please try not to startle me. Don’t touch me, don’t push past me and don’t shout at me (even if it’s encouragement). If something does set me off, I’m liable to jump, shout, cry or possibly even run away! If I do any of those things, please know it’s not your fault. And if you see me again later and I look entirely normal, don’t be offended by my earlier weirdness. In the midst of an anxiety attack I’m not capable of acting rationally!

To any anxious folks wondering if they should give Parkrun a go, I say absolutely! Although certain aspects of the event can trigger my anxiety attacks, they might not for you. And if they do, I hope, and I have every reason to believe, that you’ll receive the same kindness and compassion that I have from fellow runners and volunteers alike. Everyone there wants you to succeed, and they are far more interested in celebrating you crossing the finish line than in judging you when you’re suffering.

Weekly RUNdown 29/01/18

Good grief, it’s Monday!

After a very enjoyable Friday night making tacos, we woke up bright and early Saturday morning for Parkrun. Now I know I said I wouldn’t be participating for the time being, wanting to save my legs for the Sunday long runs, but this week was a cut-back week and with only 5 miles on the chart I wanted to give it a try.

One of the main reasons for wanting to Parkrun was so that Matt could go on ahead to see what kind of time he could get on the Cheltenham course, and so that I could see how I got on dealing with the crowds “on my own”. Matt absolutely smashed it, setting a new PB of 23:36, and as for me… well I’ve got a fair bit to say about how it went so I will make that into its own post. Look out for that later in the week!

The rest of Saturday was spent refueling in style (just look at the glory that was brunch), clocking up 23,000 steps wandering around town, catching an hour’s nap on the sofa (I keep reading that napping is an important part of marathon training and it’s one I certainly plan to embrace!), and then heading out with some of the extended family for a meal as a belated Christmas present from us to them. In a slightly surreal twist we ended the night setting fire to a giant, rum-soaked sugar lump, but that’s a whole other story!

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This absolute beauty is cheesy jalapeno cornbread with fried egg, salsa and smoky chipotle maple syrup. I didn’t know this was a thing I needed in my life until now. 

Predictably after a late night we did NOT want to get up on Sunday morning but somehow managed to throw ourselves out from under the covers and into our trainers. The plan was a quick jaunt to and from the railway station along the cycle track, followed by a lap of Pittville park to end right by a cafe (convenient, right?).

At about the 2 mile mark I was well and truly on the struggle bus and could not figure out why it was so hard. Then I realised that my new shoes felt like lumps of lead attached to my feet. While they were not exactly uncomfortable, nor noticeably heavier than any other shoes I own, I was getting absolutely no bounce from them, and every step felt heavy. My trusty Mizunos are springy and I get a lot of feedback from the road below. I guess a good analogy would be the difference between the dull thud of dropping a brick on the floor and the pleasing sproingggg of dropping a bouncy tennis ball….

…okay so I may be exaggerating slightly, but I’m sure that there is some truth to this new theory. I will put my scientist hat on, conduct some appropriate tests and report back!!

To add insult to injury one of my little toes kept going numb! At the turn around point we actually swapped shoes to see if that would help, and while Matt’s slightly larger pair definitely helped the toe situation, they were no more springy, and I don’t think he appreciated the toe-pinching of my smaller pair! Inspired by the rubber chicken cover of Camila Cabello’s “Havana” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m telling you to stop what you’re doing and Google it. Seriously, you’ll thank me later) we made light of the aches and pains by singing our own version, entitled “Havana ow ow ow”. Musical geniuses, both of us! In the end we did manage to finish the 5 miles, but I was too desperate for water and a shower to contemplate a coffee stop. Instead, it was home for a quick change, lunch at the local carvery and then the endless excitement of a trip to the supermarket, before taking up residence on the sofa for a cozy, snoozy evening and pizza for dinner!

This week I’ve got Spin on Tuesday, and then 5 lunchtime miles and a trip to see Adam the physio on Wednesday. Next weekend we’re heading to Center Parcs at Longleat for a short break, and I can’t wait to do lots of walking, cycling and swimming (as well as our 10 miler on Sunday of course).

Weekly RUNdown 24/01/18

So the astute among you will have noticed that this post follows the previous one by only 6 days, however I am trying to get back to posting on Mondays so consider this the first step in that direction!

I signed up to volunteer at Didcot Parkrun on Saturday and was assigned the role of barcode scanner. I hadn’t really appreciated how much setting up went on behind the scenes, so it was really good to be involved in that. I enjoyed chatting to the other volunteers and getting to see all the smiling runners after they’d finished their runs. Unfortunately I had completely underestimated the number of layers required to stay warm in the cold and wet and ended up getting completely chilled and coming over feeling dizzy and nauseated. Luckily I’d done most of my job by that point and the run director sent me off a little early to get warmed up. Next time I will be better prepared!

 

Yes, my waterproof coat clashed horribly with the high vis jacket! 

On Sunday we headed down to Dorney Lake near Windsor for a 10km race. Thinking about it the night before I realised that I hadn’t raced 10km since a Race For Life back in 2013, so I was excited to give it a try!

The weather did its best to stop the race from even happening! We woke up to heavy snow and over the course of the morning that gave way to icy, horizontal rain. The horrible weather also really highlighted some of the organisational problems at the race venue – nowhere near enough portaloos, no shelter and so no way to stay warm-ish and dry-ish before the race, and general chaos in a muddy car park! Still we were there in good time and determined to make the most of it.

During the first mile I focused on staying relaxed and running easily (we were cold and stiff and I figured shooting off too fast could have led to badness). When my Garmin bleeped and showed a 9:36 mile I was astonished. “Great pace!” I said to Matt. “Let’s keep it up.” After mile 2, which I swear felt easier than mile 1, I saw 9:16 flash up on my watch face. Whaaaa? “Ok this is good but we really don’t need to go any faster!” I said.

After that I concentrated on keeping up with Matt and I was sure he was keeping a nice steady pace. The goal was a 59:something after all! It was hard and I pushed to keep with him but it wasn’t impossible hard, if that makes sense? I wasn’t really aware of the mile splits as we ran. At this venue you run down a very straight path in between the two halves of the lake and I just set my sights on the finish line and kept on trucking!

When we crossed the line and I saw 57:20 on my watch I nearly fainted! How…?

Turns out my mischievous fiancé had kept increasing the pace, keeping me at 9:00 miles on the second half of the race! He’d sensed I was feeling strong and made the most of it, but on the sly because he guessed (correctly) that I would have considered a 57:something impossible! He even told me I needed a sprint finish to come in under an hour! B*****d!!!

I was thrilled with how the race went and I’m feeling pretty damn positive about the progress I’m making with my training! Yesterday I went to Spin class and today was a treadmill 5km followed by Pilates. I’m going to ride this momentum as long as I can!

 

Weekly RUNdown 18/01/18

Please allow me to bend your ear for a few minutes while I bring you up to date on what’s been going on since the start of the new year!

  • Running

The first week of marathon training went well, our Sunday long run was “only” 6 miles and was awesome. We were lucky to get bright, sunny and relatively mild weather and had an epic home-cooked roast chicken dinner to look forward to when it was done and dusted.

The second week was ok. I started off feeling full of beans, and pulled out all the stops to hit an 8:36 mile during my midweek sort-of-tempo run. But then after a very crowded Cheltenham parkrun and an impromptu bike ride on the Saturday, we were 4 miles into Sunday long run #2 when I broke down sobbing by the side of the road. I was exhausted, my legs HURT and we’d just slogged up what felt like the longest hill in the world. We hobbled for home at that point and I spent most of the afternoon fast asleep on the sofa.

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Hello randomly quick mile that I didn’t know I had in me!

  • Not running

This time around my marathon training involves far less running than it did last year. In fact it involves far less running than most people’s, with only 2-3 scheduled runs per week. I know that seems slightly crazy, with most plans stipulating 4-5 runs at an absolute minimum. I know that my body can’t handle that many, at least not right now, so I’m incorporating cross-training to build fitness and endurance. The goal for race day is mostly just to enjoy it and jog our way around the course one way or another. We have no real pace in mind, because we’ve chosen to run together and our natural speeds are very different! Who knows what time we’ll run, that’ll all be part of the fun on race day…

Initially I had intended to run Parkrun most Saturdays during training. Not as an official training run but because it’s fun, gets us out of bed and I enjoy pushing myself both physically (to run faster) and mentally (because the crowds can make me extremely anxious). But after having to pull out of one, and then completing one only to fall over the next day, I’ve decided to park Parkrun for the time being. It will be the perfect opportunity to volunteer, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I’ll be barcode scanning this coming Saturday at Didcot! 🙂

This month so far has also seen me heading to the gym at least twice a week, sometimes doing my trainer-prescribed routine, sometimes taking classes. I got up the nerve to go to Spin for the first time, and it was amazing! I can see why people get so into it, it’s exhilarating and an excellent workout. The hard saddle on the bikes might be an issue though… can I be the weirdo wearing padded shorts in Spin class? I don’t know! I have also done some Pilates, which left me feeling incredibly relaxed and was a great core workout, and some treadmill running to test out some new shoes (more on that coming soon). It’s been years and years since I ran on a treadmill and boy was it tough! I don’t remember it being that tough, but at a pace I can hold relatively easy outside I was breathing hard and sweating buckets!

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We didn’t quite close the loop on this one. Better luck next time!

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Buzzing after my first Spin class!

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After 45 minutes on the treadmill. Dead is an understatement!

  • Eating

I made the conscious decision to try and improve my eating habits at the start of the year. My relationship with food tends to veer towards the unhealthy in that I have a tendency to view some foods as “reward” foods, ones which are usually full of fat and sugar and which I use to elevate my mood when feeling low or very anxious. At the other end of the spectrum are the foods that I put in the “punishment” category, which are the lowest-calorie options. “I have to eat a salad today because I’ve been bad and greedy and therefore I only deserve a salad.”

Yeah… believe me writing it out like that is as jarring to me as it probably is to you! It’s especially weird because I’m generally someone who enjoys traditionally “healthy” foods. I love salads! I enjoy pretty much all food, most of the time. So, this month I’m trying to focus on nutrition, I’m tracking calories with My Fitness Pal to ensure I’m keeping in a sensible range, and I’m limiting (but NOT excluding) the high-fat, high-sugar options as much as possible. I want treats to regain their position in my brain as treats – things to be enjoyed sometimes, when I fancy them – rather than things that I sometimes eat in excess and other times ban from my life in a fit of self-hatred.

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A well deserved (and delicious, and nutritious!) treat after a long run. Roast potatoes are the best!

I’ve lost about 3 kg so far with this not-at-all-new-but-new-to-me eating routine, which is a definite plus. I’ve recently been creeping too far into the “overweight” category on the BMI scale, and I want to get back to being at the upper end of normal. I’m above average height, and my waist measurement is entirely within the healthy range so I have no desire to go any lower than that. I have a fabulous Karen Millen dress that Matt bought me for my birthday last year (!) which I’ve not yet worn because it was ever so slightly too tight. Fingers crossed that in the near future that will cease to be true and I can strut my stuff in it!

 

December RUNdown!

So, about that weekly update thing…

All I can say is that life happened, I had a really annoying couple of weeks with an on-again-off-again bug that made me feel pretty crappy, and I wasn’t at all motivated to write!

So now it’s early January, and I thought I would start the new year with a December recap then try to get back to weekly posts as of next Monday.

At the very end of November, I had my goal setting appointment at the gym. I was slightly terrified when they told me it would begin with a fitness test, but it turned out only to involve walking on a treadmill on an incline. The results were a little bit strange, though, as the trainer, Alex, said they were indicative of someone who did no exercise at all. My heart rate tends to run higher-than-average though, and the machine was using the simple “220 – age” formula to calculate my maximum HR, and I know from using my Garmin that I can get up to that number on a steady-to-tempo effort. Anyway, that aside it was a good appointment and I planned to go back the next week to go over the plan that the trainer would devise for me!

December got off to a great start with a trip to the BBC Good Food Show with Matt and his dad. It’s the only event I can think of where it’s totally acceptable, if not encouraged, for otherwise responsible adults to be completely and utterly sloshed by 10:30 in the morning! While they may only give you small samples at each alcohol-based stand, there are a LOT of stands. Still, there are plenty of stands offering solid food (mostly sausages, cheese & cake) to soak it all up!

Parkrun on the 2nd ranks as one of my soggiest ever runs, I even had to run without my glasses on for a while after they steamed up completely. Still it was a good one, my first time coming in under 29 minutes at Cheltenham, with a time of 28:54!

It was back to the gym the next week to find out what Alex had put together for me. It was a series of strengthening exercises designed to work on my core and glutes, including some bodyweight stuff like walking lunges and some simple weights, like kettlebell deadlifts. There were also a few exercises to work on shoulder mobility and upper body strength, to round things out! It was simple to follow and included a good mixture of things so as not to be boring. In fact I was planning to return just two days later to get started…

But then… I woke up the following morning feeling atrocious. I had a fever, earache and a sore throat, as well as epic DOMS from the new to me exercises the previous evening! I dragged myself to work feeling dutiful but ended up crying in the carpark because I felt so miserable. One look at me and the boss sent me straight home again. And the sofa was where I stayed for the rest of the week!

Feeling only slightly better by Saturday I skipped Parkrun and instead watched Matt absolutely storm round and get yet another PB (24:03, in case you’re wondering) so at least one of us was fit and well!

The next week was uneventful, I did go to the GP to check that I didn’t have anything that needed antibiotics, and while he sympathised that I felt crummy he assured me it was “just a virus” and that I should get better in time. Sigh…

That weekend I shared with Matt that I was feeling very anxious about my fitness and the fact that I hadn’t run further than 5km in months, so he concocted a plan to do a pre-parkrun run on Saturday to round me up to 10km for the day. Although this did involve getting up even earlier, I’m so glad he convinced me to do it. Not only did everything happen just as it should, I’m sure it actually helped shake a lot of the lingering ick that was hanging out in my chest and sinuses.

I finally made it back to the gym, a mere 2 weeks since the last time, and worked through my routine. Weirdly the hardest out of all the exercises are the walking lunges! Not only do I struggle to balance (especially with my left leg leading) but after a few my legs are absolutely burning. I guess that just means that I really need to keep doing them!

December 23rd was a festive Parkrun, though relatively few people wore anything special! That probably had something to do with the frigid temperature, but hey, I rocked the Rudolf leggings and Matt sported a very fetching “Santa’s legs in a chimney” hat!

Christmas was a brilliant day filled with family, food and fabulous gifts. And Boxing Day was mainly spent eating leftovers and lounging about. As we went to bed that night the weather forecast showed heavy snow further north, and things didn’t seem promising with the torrential rain we were currently experiencing!

About midnight, I woke to an excited voice: “It’s really white out there!” I was still 99% asleep and the meaning of Matt’s words didn’t register at all.

5am, and this time the voice is louder: “Oh my god, my tree looks really strange!” This time I managed to regain consciousness, and padded into the dining room where Matt was staring out into the garden. To my astonishment the whole place was covered with a thick layer of snow, and the branches of the yew tree at the back of the garden were sagging almost to the ground under the weight. It looked kind of like a banana with ribbons of mostly-peeled skin dangling down around it. After agreeing that the tree did indeed look really strange, I went back to sleep. I love snow as much as anyone, but 5am is 5am!

At a more reasonable hour we get up and decide to attempt to drive up Cleeve Hill to go sledging. Matt was extremely distressed when I told him a few weeks ago that I had never sledged, so it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up! We dug the sledge, a beautiful wooden creation made for an 8-year-old Matt by his father, out of storage, wrapped up in as many layers as we could, and drove up the hill. We got lucky and found a perfect parking spot, and excitedly headed up to where dozens of others, young and old, were already out enjoying the snow! Up here the temperature was a few degrees colder and the snow had drifted in places to several feet deep. It was incredible. Not only did I enjoy the actual sledging immensely, I got an excellent workout pulling it around, AND I discovered that I’m a natural at snowboarding, or at least “sledgeboarding” wherein I rode the sledge standing sideways!

I could talk for hours about that fabulous day out in the snow, but this post is already novel length so I’ll move on!

The snow was still crisp and thick the next morning, and the sun was out, so we decided to wrap up warm and take our new trail running shoes for a trip up the other hill in Cheltenham – Leckhampton. If you’ve ever explored the woodland up there you’ll know that the first part of the main footpath follows what used to be the railway that got stone from the quarry at the top down to the town below. As you might imagine it’s quite steep! I couldn’t jog the whole thing, and my heart rate was sky high by the top. Nevertheless we carried on, jogging where possible and walking where necessary, enjoying the fabulous, fairytale views and the sunlight on our faces. Right at the top of the hill on the common the snow was flat and pristine, and I’m not good enough with words to adequately express the joy that filled my heart when we ran through it. The very low temperatures overnight had left it powdery and crisp, and every footstep sent little clouds of glitter into the air. We spent a good while there, finding places to run through fresh snow, under the brilliant blue sky, and feeling completely and totally happy. As we headed reluctantly back down, the light was rapidly fading and the temperatures plummeted as we ran through the shadier woodland. We absolutely tore down the railway path, enjoying the smooth slope, and then rounded our 3.5 mile run up to 4 by heading up the road a little way. As the sun set we were in a cafe, cold hands wrapped around steaming mugs of coffee, feeling that perfect kind of tiredness that comes from physical exertion.

The snow didn’t hang around much longer, but it had felled a couple of trees in the park so Parkrun on the 30th was cancelled. Ignoring the urge to stay in bed we went out anyway, for a brisk 4 miles to the railway station and back. The weather for new year was mild (ish) and windy. After a brilliant 1920s themed NYE party, at my request we spent the 1st (my birthday) at Weston Super Mare, enjoying a walk on the bleakly beautiful and windswept beach, feeding 2p coins into the slots at the arcade on the pier, and eating fish and chips in the kind of seaside cafe that has red and white checked tablecloths and serves battered fish fillets the size of whales.

Our 16 week countdown to the London Marathon began on January 1st, although I didn’t do my first official training run until the 3rd. But that’s another story!

All in all, December was a busy month full of great experiences, and the Christmas holiday was just brilliant!

Here’s to a wonderful 2018! Let’s get running…

 

Weekly RUNdown 27/11/17

Good evening! It’s actually Monday as I write this, so that’s a good start.

I would start out by saying that I’ll try not to ramble too much, but we all know that’s not going to happen, so…

On Tuesday I finally made a decision I’ve been dithering about for a while and signed up for a gym membership. I chose the gym that my physio is based at, partly because the familiarity I’ve already developed with the place helps it seem less scary to go there, but mainly because it offers a rolling membership so I’m not tied in to paying for it for 12 months.

After work on Wednesday I went for an induction and got a tour of the facilities, which were rather impressive! The gym is bright and open and split over two levels, with the  cardio and resistance machines on the top level and the free weights downstairs. There are two big studios for group classes, a spin studio, a dance studio (I think they even offer cardio barre-type classes – will I be brave enough?) and something called a Kinesis studio which was full of inexplicable ropes and levers. After I’d stared at it confusedly for a minute or two the woman showed me around said: “Yeah, I’d definitely suggest taking a class or two.” Intriguing… Oh, and there’s a swimming pool too, but it’s kind of a water treadmill. You set a flow-rate and then just have to swim against it! It looked slightly terrifying but I must try it some time.

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Sweaty gym selfie is sweaty. Also trying to take pictures without anyone noticing requires a surprising amount of concentration!

Before I could change my mind I went straight to the gym after I left work on Thursday. Since I’d basically not done any cardio except for running for years, I wasn’t at all sure what kind of workout I was planning, but I headed to the least scary machine, the elliptical trainer, hopped on, and went for it. After warming up I went for a hard effort for 15 minutes, and then switched to the bike and then the rowing machine for 10 minutes each. I ended up in an unintentional competition  with a guy on the next rower, as I noticed he was matching my speed and couldn’t resist upping it. I finished up with 10 minutes brisk uphill walk on the treadmill and called it a night. I was Sweaty with a capital S and badly wanted some dinner! Before I left I booked in with a trainer for a “goal setting” session next week, which will be the first time I’ve done any such thing so that will be interesting.

On Saturday morning Matt and I dragged ourselves out of bed for Parkrun, although to be fair it is far less of a struggle than it used to be! Cheltenham was celebrating its 250th Parkrun so it was extra busy, and I couldn’t help but be amused at the way we all huddled together like penguins in the bitterly cold air. I was super determined to crack the 30 minute barrier for the first time in Cheltenham, so at the whistle I took off pretty swiftly, in fact it was swift enough to leave Matt behind for a few yards (sorry darling!)

After the first two laps something happened in the backs of my legs, right at that point where the butt ends and the thigh begins. Honestly it felt like someone with really long nails jabbed their fingers into me and squeezed. I gasped and just sort of… stopped. Matt glanced over his shoulder, doubled back and grabbed me, absolutely insisting that I keep going. So, with gritted teeth, I did. It took a lot of focus to ignore the pain and carry on, and I guess some might argue that it wasn’t a good idea. But I think over time I’ve developed a good sense for when these sorts of pains have sinister origins and when they are more innocent. In this case I knew my hamstrings were tight because (a) they pretty much always are and (b) because my physio commented on it last time I saw him. Add this to the fact that I’ve been consciously trying to change and improve my running form recently and I wasn’t that surprised that part of me was complaining!

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My pace profile from Saturday’s Parkrun. Can you spot the place where my hamstrings complained?!

With a fair bit of encouragement from Matt and only a tiny bit of swearing under my breath I got to the finish in 29:39. HECK YES!

Boy was I tired though, and when one of the volunteers spoke to me I could not for the life of me understand what she wanted. For some reason my brain decided I was being told off and I just burst into tears right there, crying into Matt’s shoulder. The RD came over to check that I was okay, which I thought was really lovely of him and just shows the supportive environment that Parkrun offers. Of course I was fine once the moment of anxiety had passed, and I could start to feel the satisfaction of a run well done.

Saturday evening was a friend’s birthday bash in Bristol and we went to one of these “escape room” games, where you get locked in a room full of puzzles and have to work as a team to get out within a certain amount of time. This has nothing whatsoever to do with running, but I am a massive fan of these things – if there’s one near you and you haven’t tried it you must! They are great fun, and you get a real sense of achievement if you make it out in time. The best part is that the most successful teams are the ones with a mix of different types of people. I’m the nerdy academic type, and Matt’s the practical engineer type, and put together with some of our friends who add patience, lateral thinking or an eye for detail into the mix we make a formidable team. For me it’s an excellent metaphor for the way that a mix of different types of training and fitness activities make me as a whole a better runner and a more well-rounded person.

And after that completely smooth and not at all forced segue I will sign off for now. This week will be a busy one at work, but the reward will be a long weekend for me as I’m on leave on Friday, whoop! See you next Monday.

 

 

Weekly RUNdown 22/11/17

Ok so I’m a little late with this one, given that I had intended to write it on Monday and it is now Wednesday. To be honest I completely forgot until Matt mentioned it on the phone just now… oops.

On Tuesday I came home from work full of beans and cooked up a plan to get up early and run a few miles along the Ridgeway at sunrise on Wednesday. I even got all my running gear ready and laid out on the sofa. But as the evening wore on I could feel a sore throat creeping up on me. Trying to pretend I hadn’t noticed it I went to bed early still feeling optimistic about my running plans. But it wasn’t to be. I was awake at 3 in the morning feeling feverish with a painful throat and hadn’t improved after a few more hours sleep. I spent the day on the sofa feeling extremely sorry for myself, not even able to muster up the energy to watch TV. Still feeling atrocious the next morning I guiltily called in sick once again and parked my bum on the sofa. That evening Matt arrived (we’d both booked Friday off to go Christmas shopping) and persuaded me to leave the house for a while for a quick trip up to Bicester Village to get a head-start on the shopping. The trip was successful (read: expensive) and it was good to see something other than my living-room walls! I also managed to score some Lululemon leggings for £30, which I am dead chuffed about as I’ve been wanting to try them for a while but couldn’t have brought myself to pay £100 for a pair.

Friday was an interesting day to say the least. We started it at a car dealership, where I mostly just sat and nodded while Matt did some damn fine haggling and we ended up shaking hands with the saleslady on what I think was a pretty good deal for a new car! We will have to wait a few months as we’ve ordered a new model, but nevertheless I am super excited! After starting our day of shopping doing what felt like some pretty epic shopping we drove down to London to the massive Westfield shopping centre and spent a happy few hours wandering round choosing presents for our loved ones. It was late when we got back, and we’d amassed an impressive collection of bags, but I’d hardly noticed my cold all day and it was a lovely, festive occasion! Left to my own devices I would likely leave shopping much more to the last minute, but I will admit that I can see the benefits of Matt’s organisational skills!

Saturday I could tell my cold was settling on my chest so I opted not to Parkrun, which left Matt free to go for a PB, although I don’t think that was his plan initially. I thoroughly enjoyed cheering him and the other runners on, chatting to the Run Director about keeping ones hands warm and getting to watch the whole thing from the other side. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t officially volunteer because (a) I wasn’t sure if I would have enough voice for all the cheering, and (b) I knew I needed to be able to head back to the car if I got too cold and sniffly. Anyway, to cut a long story short Matt ran magnificently and came in at 23:40 ish which was a PB by at least a minute, and I couldn’t have been prouder! It’s hard to believe this time last year he was pretty much a non-runner, and now he can outpace me by miles (literally).

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Go Parkrunners go!

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Racing the final few yards at Parkrun.

Sunday was one of those days that will stick with me for a long while. We got bundled up and headed over to Uffington to meet up with some of my colleagues to celebrate a retirement. The retiree had opted out of a traditional party and instead arranged a scenic hike in his local area, finishing with cream teas at a nearby cafe. It was thrilling for me to introduce my man to my colleagues, and I also got to catch up with people who I’d not seen in forever. The walk was challenging, especially as we had only 2 hours to cover 6 miles and the area is not exactly known for being flat! But oh my goodness the weather and the views were incredible. It felt like we were walking along in a bubble filled with golden light and the sound of laughter. I know that sounds incredibly soppy but it’s entirely genuine – the atmosphere was truly special. Arriving at the tea shop, rosy cheeked and exhilarated, to be greeted by a host of twinkling fairy lights, hot coffee and scones piled high with jam and cream, was the perfect way to end a perfect autumnal day.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, and hopefully next week’s edition will be a little more timely!

 

 

Weekly RUNdown 13/11/17

In an effort to post a little bit more frequently to this blog, I thought I’d start trying to do a weekly recap post where I talk a little bit about what I’ve been up to in the preceding week. I’ll mainly talk about running and related things, but I hope to be able to include some other life stuff and general chat too.

This past week has been a rather busy one! At the beginning of the week I was in charge of my group’s annual conference (which has been my baby for the last 8 months or so) and it was a bit of a whirlwind of introducing guest speakers, dealing with technology and preparing for my own presentation on the Tuesday morning. Happily I think everything went well, and most of the attendees enjoyed themselves. I’ve enjoyed being at the helm of the meeting for the last 2 years but I’m going to be glad to pass the baton to someone else and just be an attendee myself next time!

I managed to get out for a run on Thursday morning, and for some reason I decided to do some hill repeats (my first ever, in fact) of a nearby hill that I knew was about a quarter of a mile in length. I jogged the mile to the top of the hill and charged down, enjoying myself immensely (I love running downhill!) and then turned and with a determined, if naive, attitude and back up I went. I had arbitrarily decided that 6 repeats was my magic number but on the first climb I realised two things – 1) that the hill was a lot steeper that I had remembered and 2) that quarter of a mile is quite far when you’re not used to running uphill!

3 hill repeats and a mile’s cooldown later I started my workday with a funky elevation profile for my Strava feed and a general sense of accomplishment! I don’t often make it out for early morning runs, but I really must try harder – it feels so good afterwards!

Saturday marked our tenth Parkrun, and honestly I was more than a little bit nervous. We’d heard that it would use the narrower and less spacious winter route for the first time this year, and after my panic attack a few weeks ago I was worried that I wouldn’t cope well with the crowds. The first (of five) laps of the lake was extremely crowded, so much so that I couldn’t get into my stride, but Matt stayed close to me and tried to block anyone from coming up my right-hand-side so that I wouldn’t feel boxed in and panic. But after that I felt okay and we were able to run more naturally and started to enjoy ourselves as the field spread out. We rarely overtake on the longer laps of the summer course, but this time we picked off people left, right and centre! One of the course bottlenecks is a narrow bridge with a couple of bollards in the middle, followed by a sharp (and muddy) right hand turn. On one of the laps I got completely stuck behind some folks on the bridge and could sense one of the faster runners trying to come past me as well, but managed to bypass the rising panic, do a weird pause-step-sideways shuffle and tuck my elbows in, and avoid everyone! Matt told me later he was on high alert when he saw me get boxed in and was proud that I sorted my self out! I’m definitely counting it as a win.

Sunday was a weird day. I’d realised on Saturday that I’d left my medication at home in Didcot, and even though I knew that within 24 hours I’d start to feel really pretty awful as it left my system, I was terrified that speaking up would “spoil” the weekend, so I said nothing. By Sunday morning I was feeling quite unwell, but I was determined to try and push through (I know, I know, so silly!) but by the time we came back from our traditional Sunday carvery I couldn’t hang on any longer. I was dizzy, nauseated and unable to focus. How could I possibly expect to drive myself home the following day feeling like this, or worse?

So, with what would probably have looked like overacting even on the set of Eastenders, I said to Matt that I had something to tell him and confessed to my crime. There were many tears, and you’ve probably never heard the word “sorry” uttered so often or so passionately as it was in those 10 minutes.

See, part of me believes that mistakes that would be eminently forgiveable and worthy of compassion in others are, when made by me, horrendous transgressions that Ruin Everything Forever and Ever and are evidence of me being a No Good, Terrible, Bad person.

Luckily, Matt doesn’t subscribe to the rules of the mean part of my brain, and so he simply saw a problem which was easily solved. I was loaded into the car with a blanket and a pillow and off we went to fetch the much needed tablets. It was a pleasantly sunny afternoon and the roads were clear, so it was an easy round trip, and by the time we were back in Cheltenham I was starting to feel better. The day ended cosily with chicken and mashed potato, David Attenborough on the telly and a sofa piled high with blankets. As I mulled over the events of the afternoon I felt intensely grateful that Matt was there to be nice to me when I couldn’t be nice to myself. I guess events like this are part of the ill-defined and probably indefinite process of recovery, but it’s comforting to know that I do now have the self awareness to recognise (albeit slightly belatedly) my faulty beliefs for what they are.

I hope this was an enjoyable read! Stay tuned for another edition next Monday (hopefully).

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