Category Archives: Chat

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.

 

 

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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).

You’d feel a lot better if you’d just…

I wonder if this phrase is familiar to anyone else? It’s usually followed by things like:

“…do some exercise.”

“…eat more fruit and vegetables.”

“…get outside more.”

“…think more positively.”

“…try to be grateful for what you’ve got, rather than what you haven’t.”

“…learn not to dwell on things so much.”

I find these kinds of comments incredibly frustrating, because they are, in a way, difficult to refute. It’s no secret that a healthy diet and positive attitude have an impact on your mental health, and I’m not about to argue against exercise being a powerful tool in the battle with anxiety and/or depression! But then again…

What a lot of people don’t realise is that when I hear these things I hear “If you don’t help yourself in this, this and this way, then you’ve not earned the right to sympathy, help, or even acknowledgement that you have an actual illness with actual symptoms that won’t magically go away if you learn to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.”

These (usually well-intentioned) bits of advice can sound pretty accusatory. Almost like the advice-giver is excusing themselves from providing any sympathy or assistance until you, the sufferer, can prove that you are actively trying to combat your symptoms yourself.

But someone with depression might sometimes find themselves utterly unable to get out of their bed, even going hungry for hours because the prospect of going to the kitchen to fetch food is just too much. Someone in the throes of an anxiety attack cannot stop “dwelling” on the source of their anxiety because their nervous system is telling them that they are in danger RIGHT NOW. Sometimes the depressed person watches dirty laundry pile up before their eyes, and wants with every fibre of their being to do something about it, but they just… can’t. Sometimes a beautiful gift sends an anxious person into a tearful spiral of shame and guilt because they know, when they look into the very core of themselves, that they do not deserve it.

(Yes, those last two examples are all me, and believe me they are not isolated incidents.)

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give advice to someone suffering from mental health issues. But, please don’t make their following that advice a requirement for the continuation of your support. If they are anything like me, they already think they are stretching your patience to its last thread, and if they find themselves unable to do whatever it is you suggest, well… it won’t have the desired effect!

 

 

Running Anecdotes

So the festive season is over for another year, and I’ll be heading back to work tomorrow. For me the turning of the year is a double-whammy of celebrations because my birthday is on January 1st, and right now I’m feeling extremely loved, relaxed, well-fed, and overwhelmed with the generosity of my family and friends who have spoiled me with so many lovely gifts!

I’m feeling a bit anxious about returning to work, and some of the familiar weasel-y (read: unhelpfully negative) thoughts about my abilities and the length of my to-do list are fluttering in the background. But what is most astonishing to me is the vast change in how I feel compared with this time last year, which was a dark time, even with my 30th birthday party to look forward to. I am determined to keep tight hold of the positive energy and momentum I’m feeling right now!

I have two little running-related anecdotes (runecdotes?) to share today.

wp-1483464613535.jpgThe first is actually from Christmas Eve, when Matt and I went out for an early (ish) jog around the park, wearing matching Santa hats and with a plan to wish everyone we met a merry Christmas! I was incredibly excited by the number of people we saw, even having a couple of beeps from passing cars, and it was a great way to start the day. As we were about to leave the park we passed the play area and noticed that it was empty. Now this play area is only a few months old and it is absolutely awesome. We (and many of our adult friends, too) have been wanting an opportunity to have a play since the summer, so obviously we jumped at the chance! We rode the slides, I bounced on the trampoline while giggling madly, and we raced each other on the zipwires. If there is a better way to end a run, or indeed to start Christmas, I don’t know what it is!

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The second is from this afternoon. I went out for my first run of 2017, just a short easy jog around the block. I was struck (for the umpteenth time) by how getting out and running provides me with the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the world around me.

Today’s run was actually the first official training run for something rather exciting, which I will talk more about in a couple of days!

Pressing the reset button

Last Sunday morning started, as more than I’d like do, with tears and anxiety and a strong desire to hide under the duvet and refuse to face the world.

But. Matt and I had planned to go for a run, and he’s still riding the “I can’t believe I can do this” high of a brand new runner, so together we made it happen. At one point the duvet may have had to be forcibly removed from the bed, but I won’t go any further into that!

We headed out into what turned out to be the only bit of sunshine we saw all weekend and set off at a relaxed pace. We ran non-stop for 5km (a first for Matt), and after a quick walk break to check on sore knees and cross a busy road we managed another mile and a half round the park before calling it a day.

After the run, the earlier anxiety was gone and even the memory seemed distant, like it must have been part of a different day. And that’s what running can do, if I can make it happen, it has the power to hit the reset button on even the most rubbish of mornings, and give me a new perspective with which to face the day.

Do you use running or other exercise to turn around a bad day? And how do you get motivated when you feel awful and don’t have a partner to kick you into gear? I’d love to hear from you!

Welcome

Well hello there! This is one of those slightly awkward “hello world” posts. I’ve made a few in my time, having been an on-again off-again blogger for many years. My longest-lived blog was Reality is Awesome, where I wrote about science and skepticism. I’m pretty happy with what I produced then, and I’ve been halfheartedly meaning to return to it for ages. After all, I love writing, and the idea of having even a few people reading what I write is quite exciting.

By way of introduction, my name is Helen, I have a PhD in chemistry and work as a research scientist at a big facility in Oxfordshire. When not at work I can be found either at my flat in Didcot, or in Cheltenham where my other half, Matt, lives.

I’ve been a (very) casual runner for a long time – going back to the last year of my undergraduate degree when two of my housemates and I entered the Race for Life. For me it was meant to be cathartic – a way to finally put the memory of painful high school cross country runs to rest. Race day was hot and sunny, and I remember how awesome it felt to run with the support of a crowd of people. As long as I don’t concentrate too hard I can almost forget the intensity of the sunburn that resulted from forgetting the sun cream…

I started running regularly two years ago, when a colleague persuaded me to sign up for the 2015 Reading Half Marathon. That winter I learned about GPS watches, running tights, what running for more than an hour felt like, and the very strange sensation of the coldness of my body cooling my hot shower water to tepid as it ran down my back! The Reading course finishes magnificently with a lap of the Madejski Stadium and I felt absolutely unstoppable when I ran into the cacophany of cheers and across the line. I was hooked.

In 2016 I have completed 3 more half marathons (Bath, Reading again, and Cheltenham) and crossing the finish line is still a giddy thrill. I’m excited to see where running takes me next.

The story of my struggles with mental illness is an even longer one. Anxiety has been a constant companion ever since I can remember, although for a long time I was unaware that it was, in fact, an illness. My first real experience of depression came while I was at university, but again it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I can recognise it for what it was. I’ve had ups and downs since then, but in the last 18 months or so things worsened to the point that I struggled to function at work and in life in general. About a year ago, the concern of my friends and family got me to the GP surgery, and these days with the right combination of medication, an awesome therapist and a healthy dose of self-awareness, I feel pretty stable.

Running has been hugely helpful in managing my symptoms. It gets me outside, keeps me moving and helps me to feel like I am accomplishing something. It gives me time to think or to simply exist in the world around me. It helps to silence the nagging voices of depression and distract the noisy chatter of anxiety. Although I’m still shy about donning the badge that says “runner”, it’s part of who I am. That’s why I want to write this blog. To talk about running, to share my story. To be another tiny voice in the growing chorus that is saying “mental illness is here, it’s not going anywhere, and we need to talk about it”.