Running in London

Warning: this is literally just me venting about why running in London is the worst.

Running got me fit. In lots of ways, I love it and it’s changed my life for the better. And when you run an organised race you get one of those foil blankets and you get to quote the first episode of Sherlock “I’m in shock. I’ve got a blanket!”

But when you do it in a filthy, hellhole full of inconsiderate numpties, it’s also rubbish at times.

  • The weather is always against you. Maybe it’s because I’m near the river, but no matter what corner I turn, I’m running into the wind.
  • The air is filthy. Pollution and smokers mean every breath, you’re taking a big old lungful of nasty. When I went home to Scotland and did a 10k that I hadn’t even trained for, I averaged about 25 seconds less per kilometre than I do in London when I’m running regularly. That’s the difference fresh air can make.
  • The roads and pavements are terrible. There are trip hazards everywhere you go, and you never know which seemingly innocuous paving slab is going to soak your feet and send some freezing cold muddy water up your legs. Usually just after you’ve regained the feeling in your feet from the previous icy blast.
  • Drivers that like to ignore zebra crossings, or drive aggressively into the massive puddles on the dreadful roads to soak pedestrians.
  • Cyclists that go through red lights or cycle on the pavements. They shouldn’t be there. Yet they are.
  • People that don’t look where they’re going. Tourists and smartphone zombies are the biggest culprits. Yet somehow it’s the runner’s fault when they step out in front of you.
  • People in general. I once was running through the dodgy streets of Elephant & Castle when I passed a little girl – about 4 or 5 years old – and her dad. She started running, and her dad said “On you go, see if you can beat that fat girl.” I don’t really care what he says about me, but where do you even start?! Setting his daughter up for a lifetime of insecurity if he makes her think a very average sized woman is fat, and discouraging someone from doing something healthy in case they get ridiculed. That little girl now knows people like to have spiteful opinions, very loudly and very publicly. Dick.
  • Your earphones will always wiggle their way out of your ears. 

Working it out: my fitness story

I posted a pic on Instagram not long before Christmas which got more response than pretty much anything else I’ve posted. Here it is, and its caption:

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This is my tummy. I’ve never liked it. I started running a few years ago, initially to lose weight, but then I started to enjoy it. I was sleeping better, and my mental health improved – I was generally happier and less anxious. Then @andyjreid81 was selling his Insanity dvds and I thought ‘why not, maybe this will finally tone up my tummy?’. It KILLED me. But I stuck with it. I started to get a huge kick out of lasting a bit longer, pushing a bit harder, feeling my form improve gradually. And then I started to see a real difference – my waist was getting more defined and my arms were getting more toned, but the biggest difference was to my approach. It wasn’t really about changing myself any more, it was about pushing myself, seeing what I could do, and being healthy inside and out. I started being inspired by friends like @davedoesweightloss And @phil_veggie_fitness and their fitness stories. So I guess this is mine in a way. I still have days where I can’t face exercise after a long day at work, days where I eat a whole pack of jaffa cakes without stopping for breath, and weeks where I’m injured and feel like I’m taking huge steps backwards, but I’ve stopped caring about the scales and dress sizes because it’s a lifestyle and – dare I say it – a journey, and that means ups and downs, good days and bad. So here’s my tummy. It’s still not flat. But it’s mine and it’s fine. And seeing as it’s Christmas, I’m going to stuff it full of cheese. #fitness #runninggirl #myfitnessjourney #insanity #merrychristmas

 

I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to write this weekend, but then I was flicking through Instagram, saw this post, and thought my fitness “story” might make me start typing.

Ive always been quite active. I danced several times a week until I was about 20, and I played tennis a couple of times a week too. But I’m actually pretty lazy by nature. And greedy. If there were no consequences, I’d spend a lot of time watching films and eating cheese. And chocolate. I guess that tells you a lot about how much I enjoyed dancing that I actually bothered to go out and do it several times a week for hours at a time.

However, despite all the hours of training, I’ve never really been slim – because of that greed I mentioned. I wasn’t particularly overweight, but with the amount of exercise I was doing I should have been in better shape than I was. Coupled with me being quite tall, and a bit of an early bloomer, it meant I guess I always felt a bit awkward, but I didn’t really think much about it. I was doing well at school, and it was more important that I got good exam results and got into my preferred uni.

When I went to uni, I pretty much gave up on exercise. No good reason, just more of that laziness and greed I mentioned. And I guess some of that awkwardness – I thought so many times about joining the tennis club, but it was intimidating to go to a strange place, alone, where I’d be getting judged on my ability (or so I thought). So I studied reasonably hard, surrounded myself with the most amazing group of friends, and as a result, ended up throwing myself into student politics in the form of helping run my student union. Some of my friends were also involved, and I found the entire community really inclusive and supportive, and before long it took over most of my spare time. And spending most of my time at the union meant eating unhealthily, drinking (though probably not nearly as much as  most students), and being pretty inactive. I finished uni a couple of stone heavier than I started it.

After graduating, I moved to London, and studied some more. My first year, I lived alone and didn’t socialise loads, and cooked from scratch, and without really trying I lost a bit of weight. I finished my masters during the toughest months of the recession in 2008, and took a bar job while I was looking for a “proper” job. It wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle, but I spent a lot of time on my feet, and the weight just fell off me. Then I got that proper job I’d been looking for, and met Will, and between working long hours sat at my desk and spending evenings watching films and eating (and eating Will-sized portions at that), I piled it all back on. I’m by no means blaming Will for this though – it was me that kept saying yes to pizza, curries, and all the other bad (but tasty) stuff. Plus I hate feeling like I’m missing out, so if I can choose between going for a run and going on a night out, the run will never win.

Fast forward a few years to 2013 when I switched jobs. The first year at my new company was tough, and I did a lot of late nights again. But once I felt like I’d got my feet under the table, I started working pretty much 9-5. I’m not sure exactly what it was that made me decide to start running, but some point in early 2014, a combination of having some sort of work-life balance that would let me take up hobbies again, and finally admitting to myself that I wasn’t looking all that great, or feeling good about myself made me do it. So I decided I’d go for a run one evening. (I’d bought running gear a few years previously in the hope it would compel me to use it. It didn’t.)

Running has its pros and cons. What appeals to me is that it’s flexible. You can do it any time, anywhere. Once you’ve got a good sports bra and some decent trainers, you’re good to go. What’s difficult about it, is that it takes self-motivation – without the financial outlay of gym membership or a trainer or gym buddy to spur you on, you’re on your own really. But I managed. I’m not sure what was different this time, but I was clearly just ready for a change in my lifestyle.

I started tracking what I was eating too, and making better, more educated choices. I’ll never forget the night Will phoned me when I was still at work, asking if salmon and greens was ok for dinner, and everyone around me burst into giggles when I asked him to weigh the salmon. But that’s how serious I was about it. I have a very lazy streak, but when I’m committed to something, I do go for it. I’ve relaxed a little now, but I needed to completely re-educate myself and lose my bad habits. And it worked.

In fact, it perhaps worked a little too well. Will proposed in October 2014, and bought me a ring sized to match another one I wore on the same finger of the other hand. In the months (approx 3) between him buying it, and giving it to me, it had become 5 sizes to big. I’d gone from a ring size P to an L.

And I was enjoying running. There were still days I couldn’t really face it, but I was enjoying feeling better about myself, and if I went a few days without running I started to miss it. It was also good for giving me headspace. I hadn’t really appreciated how little time I had to myself, and running was my time to feel like I was doing something purely for me.

A couple of months later, my friend Andy was selling his Insanity DVDs, and I bought them on a whim. Not one to do things by halves, I went all in, doing the full programme – 6 days a week for 2 months. It took me more like 3 as I had to miss some workouts due to work and injury, but I was determined to get to the end. By the end I had a waist! But more importantly, I felt great. Not slim necessarily, just great. I felt strong and fit.

A note here – I didn’t lose weight *for* the wedding. Actually, I really hate the idea that losing weight is part of your wedding prep. Your partner loves you as you are otherwise you wouldn’t be getting married, so don’t feel you need to change. But if you want to feel better about yourself and that involves getting fit, then great. It really bugged me when people would ask if I was eating salad because I was on a wedding diet. No, I’m eating it because I like it, and my fitness “journey” started long before we’d got engaged – I only lost a few more pounds after that ring went on my finger. Though I’ll admit there’s nothing like getting measured for a pretty pricey wedding dress to deter you from falling into old bad habits!

I’ve now pretty much maintained my weight and fitness levels for about 2 years. I still do the Insanity workouts 2-3 times a week, and I run a further 2-3 times a week to mix it up. I’m a bit less strict on my diet, as I want what I’m doing to be a) maintainable and b) not entirely devoid of fun, but I’m still eating healthily. My weight fluctuates within about 7lbs depending on various things – time of year (Christmas is a time for cheese), time of the month, how busy I am at work etc – but a couple of weeks back in my routine and I’ll be back on form.

I wouldn’t say I love my body, but I’m getting there. I certainly appreciate what it can do. One day last year, I went for a long run without much of a plan. I just took my credit card and Oyster card in case of emergencies, and decided to run til I was too tired/hungry to keep going. I came back nearly 2 1/2 hours and over 25k later. I love the pain you get the day after a tough workout. I love the rush of pride I feel after running faster or further than you expected, or after getting through an Insanity workout with a little less difficulty than usual (lets face it, it’ll never be easy). I love the fact I can sign up for a 10k 3 days before the race and run it in under 55 minutes despite not having trained.

So that’s where I am now. Fitness can be a funny thing. And it’s hard and constant work. Your body’s constantly changing, so sometimes a workout just sucks and it’s not obvious why it’s so hard or unpleasant. But most importantly, it’s about finding what works for you. Finding a way that you can fit it into your life and enjoy it, or at least not resent it.

It took me a long time, but I think I’m getting somewhere.

New Year new me? Bollocks.

So today is “Blue Monday”. The “most depressing” day of the year. The day we supposedly give up on our New Year’s resolutions.

Bollocks.

“Blue Monday” is a phrase coined by marketers to get you to treat yourself to something you don’t need. The third Monday of January isn’t making you blue. But the entire concept of New Year’s resolutions might be.

Trying to radically change yourself, and realising soon after that it’s not that easy to transform the person you’ve spent all of your life becoming? That might do it.

For some people, New Year really is the catalyst for change, and that’s amazing. If you can genuinely make a decision to better yourself or your life on a given day, and stick to it, then great. But it’s not for me, nor the vast majority of people.

If I really want to do something – genuinely, with all my heart – I won’t wait until January 1st. I’ll start right away.

If I really want to make a change, it won’t come from a big public statement and setting myself a new standard – one which is probably either completely unattainable in the first place, or completely unsustainable in the long term.

Now you’re probably thinking I’m hypocritical, as I started this blog early in the New Year, and have been writing quite a lot since doing so. But the change came from the experiences of my holiday, not because of an arbitrary point in the calendar year. I could have taken the same holiday in spring or autumn and started writing as a result. The frequency of my writing is just as and when I think of stuff to write about – I was churning out posts at first as I wanted to document my Sleep No More visits before I forgot them, but I imagine now there will be weeks where I write daily, and weeks where I don’t write at all. And both are fine.

The main thing for me, is not setting myself up for failure. And promising myself that I’m going to lose 2 stone, or write a post every day, or stop drinking for a month, or give up chocolate, would be doing exactly that.

Whatever I say about “Blue Monday”, January isn’t the easiest month for a lot of people. Bank accounts are rather closer to empty than we’d all like after Christmas, and thanks to most people getting paid early in December it seems like forever until your next payday. It’s cold and damp – in the UK at least. After the Christmas festivities, January can seem dull and empty. So surely it’s the absolute worst time to deprive yourself and set yourself difficult goals?

In January, I’m happy if I just manage to get through the month without catching a horrible cold. I try to plan evenings with friends, or meals out (screw January diets) or theatre trips to make sure I’ve got plenty to look forward to. And I’m certainly not doing dry January. I can’t think of a month when I’d rather be sat in front of a film with a glass of Malbec, or curled up with a good book and a wee dram. Or out painting the town red for that matter – sometimes a couple of drinks and a boogie is exactly what you need to fight off the January blues. Grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli washed down with 2 litres of still, room temperature water probably won’t have the same effect as a night out letting your hair down. I’ll be working out and eating healthily too, but give yourself a break and do whatever it is that makes you happy.

If you are one of those people who can capitalise on the fresh start a new year brings, then good for you – crack on! I’ll be here, cheering you on. But I’ll be doing it with a glass of wine in my hand.