We Will Always Have Berlin

I have to call time on a great love of mine. After almost exactly 10 years it’s time to call it quits, and let go. I am extraordinarily bad at this and will dither about for years avoiding the obvious. In this case I have ended up with the professionals weighing in and suggesting I move on. ‘Literally to anything else’ said one, ‘and there’s plenty of choice.’ Right?

Running has been my go to for 10 years. I ran the whole of West London solo while finding my stride on C25K, and then commuting from Ealing, running Holland Park, discovering The Scrubs. I joined Run Dem Crew and ran the whole of East London, scores of us in black & white shirts shouting ‘BOLLARD’ as we dodged revellers on Brick Lane. I ran in South Africa while on holiday, beach runs and quiet coastal roads. New York while working, joining the Bridge Runners in the height of the summer and Berlin for fun (my half-marathon PB). I ran on treadmills in Dubai when it was 50 degrees out. I ran in Thailand, I ran and ran and ran. I wrote a blog about it. I bored my friends to death about it. I forced my husband to run a half marathon in Brighton on no training. I started a running group for new mums on maternity leave. I ran with my son in the buggy, I ran with new colleagues. I mapped out new cities on strava.

It changed my relationship with my body

Discovering running was a huge part in rebuilding my health. But more importantly, what running gave me back was my mind and the will to get re-acquainted with what my body was capable of. This much neglected, battered up and hugely underrated vessel that recovered slowly at first and then bounced back , was  actually pretty spectacular. My legs  could go for long walks in winter and not get tired, cycle  through mountains in France, run around the streets of Berlin. They could still dance until way past stupid o’clock in Spain. This body that responded immediately to good food, that developed actual muscles, that got faster. Like magic.

It changed my life.

I have learned more about what I am capable of both physically and mentally through this one sport, this simple act of lacing up trainers and putting one foot in front of another than just about anything else in my 39 years. And then I ran out of steam

My left hip started to act up about a year after I had my son. Juggling full time work, a family and my travel schedule meant my haphazard approach to fitness and general self care got worse and I have since had to have surgery to repair the joint to get me walking without a limp. I am currently recovering while on crutches and seething at my life choices.

While I am heartbroken, there’s also an element of relief. Like at the end of most relationships, I had tried and tried to get it to work around my new life as a mum with a myriad of priorities. I couldn’t get it to work. We just weren’t going to get back to our heady days of running races in Berlin and casually signing up for half marathons without a training schedule as the base line was solid. No more of that. Now 2 miles brought tears and pain. The back played up. The trainers weren’t quite right. The hard cold fact was my heart wasn’t in it any more.

Not all is lost. I have made lifelong friends, collected a decade’s worth of memories and medals, found a love and respect for exercise in all of its forms and I’m excited about what will be next. I have already committed to a cycling challenge in August (more news to follow) and everyone is raving about Boxing. An old flame of mine…. ! As I approach my 5th decade, its exciting to know I can start something new and have the time to make it count.

Let Go & Make Space

 

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I started yoga about 6 weeks ago. This is my third attempt at getting into yoga. I really want to like it, I know it will be good for me and god dammit I like all the sexy yoga kit. But I have yet to ‘get’  it. Feeling irritable and bored rather than inspired. I’m not really into the woo woo ‘ohming’ and the third eye banter. I have been in classes where we have had to ‘become the tortoise on which the earth is balanced’ and I had to break out into a coughing fit to hide my scoffing. I am a cynical, sarcastic fitness fanatic and I need a whole heap of endorphins before I can start picturing tortoises. Or terrapins even.

But I think I’ve found The One in Vinyasa Flow Yoga. I love the movement and the breathing and they way I feel… light. Both mentally and physically. And no turtles in sight.

It was in one of my classes over the past few weeks that I heard a phrase which keeps ringing true for me. In the context of the class this was about relaxing into the pose and breathing through it. Let Go and Make Space. Breathe in and exhale, allow the muscles to relax and open, make more space.

But it got me thinking about all the stuff that we hang onto. All the stuff that takes up room. The physical stuff and more importantly the excess emotional baggage. And we complain we don’t have time, ‘no space in the diary’, no breaks in the week, no time to ‘catch our breath’.

Our time is not renewable. It is scarce. So how do we make precious space in the limited time we have? Simple. We let go..

So I get that. But of what? And when? And how much? And once I have let go how do I make sure I don’t grab back on?

I am having to get really honest to answer those questions, as ultimately its about sacrifice. I came across this article via the amazing Bangs and a Bun (if you’re not already following her, do it now) . This sums it up:

If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want the six pack, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of pissing off a person or ten’

So if you want the space, you can’t have it all. If you get your head around letting go, you’ll have to get used to FOMO every now and again or risk getting stuck back in. It helps if you avoid the rabbit hole that is social media too.

This is where I am right now. Saying no. Not over-committing (to every race, every invite, every challenge etc…). The people-pleasing, overly needful behaviour of trying to be everywhere seeing everyone, all of the time while trying to over-achieve at work and maintain a beautiful marriage just ends up pissing people off and leaving me resentful.  When I am knackered and frazzled  inevitably I end up letting people or more importantly, myself down. And the GUILT. Yeah well fuck that. Let. It. Go. Embrace the Boundaries

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Embracing Boundaries – street art stylee

 

 

So what sacrifices  am I comfortable with? What costs am I happy to pay?

On a small scale, it turns out I am not happy to sacrifice my sleep on week days (funny that). I have been setting my alarm for 6am every day for MONTHS and then practically throwing my phone across the room EVERY SINGLE DAY.  So for now I am giving up on pre-dawn training and saying goodbye to berating myself for snoozing through the 6am alarm. So this is not the kind of pain I want.But I much prefer evening sessions., and that means I sacrifice a fair few social engagements. Or I combine them and get creative. See where this is going?  I had a joke with a mate who cancelled on me twice that she’s on strike two. Now of course I’m not randomly cutting people out of my life (yet), but you get the sentiment. Playing diary ping pong is exhausting.

On a larger scale, I am re-examining my goals for how I am investing my time in the same way I have looked at managing my money. What needs more investment, what gives the most return on investment  and what needs to be cut back or paid off and then budgeted out?

Definitely upping the fitness, but with more of a focus on enjoyment than obsessing with gadgets. If I can feel like THIS (see below) at least once a month a may have discovered the path the enlightenment. Put that in your Namaste and smoke it.

 

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Photo Credit: Ash Narod http://www.ashnarod.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

The Half Year Blog Birthday

Curled up on the sofa with a panicked dog (thanks Guy Fawkes) and a rotten cold (thanks London commuting) has given me an opportunity to catch up on my email, my diary planning and forced me to stop and take stock. Its been 6 months since I started writing this blog, and while it hasn’t quite turned out how I had envisioned it (what does?) I think I may be getting a better of idea of what I would like to do with it. Or rather what I’d like to do with my writing/ photography. The fact is,  it hasn’t gone to plan. But then again this year has not really gone to plan either, and it has been a huge lesson in going with the flow, which is not my natural state, being an anxious control freak.

2014 was going to be a new beginning. I was taking my running up a notch, I was going to travel more, I had big ideas.

My year with Run Dem Crew has been nothing short of inspiring, stepping up pace groups, epic cheering, international racing, new friends, old friends and race bling galore. Most importantly, I learned to run for the joy of it and finding that same joy in supporting others, and that times and speed were only a small part of it. And as our captain Charlie Dark always says, Run Dem is also a bridge to other things. I’ve found the courage to finally take the plunge buy a bike and start cycling and even give up my anti-yoga petition and succumb to the charms of Vinyasa (and the DOMS, near God).

There have been a few bumps along the way, we moved house in April throwing our schedules out of whack (they’re still a bit all over the shop) and a sprained ankle in particular that has slowed things down, plus a lack of motivation in the late summer, added to the on going work-life balance that I do not always get right. My blackberry obsession is never ending, and if I get one thing right in the next 6 months its that I need to master ‘switching off’.

I’ve started writing more, and ironically from that from that decided I need to up my photography game – that finding different ways to tell the story are increasingly important to me, and that I need to experiment with way of combing these more.

We travelled. A lot. We found our way to Thailand, to Berlin, to Morocco, a quick trip over to New York for good measure and a few unexpected days in South Africa. Our family visited us here in London, we got to play tourists in our own town and reconnected. My passport is smug and exhausted. To be honest I am a little exhausted.

So its odd that I feel like I should have been doing more. I feel I should have taken more time off my half marathon PB, that I should have found more time to train, that I haven’t spent enough time out of London, and that my writing hasn’t been a higher priority, which is true, because you know, life happens.

Perhaps the yoga will help me learn to be more flexible in all areas of my life.Let go and make space, my instructor says. Now that’s a mantra I can get with. I need to make peace with where I am rather than where I would like to be.

So between now and next May I’d like to re-evaluate my goals

* Get with the meditation vibes and learn to just BREATHE

* Get up to 50 miles on the bike by the end of the year, no mad racing, just steady!

* Run for joy. And repeat.

* Get snappy. Lose the filters

* Stop taking the piss out of the yogis

Whoo saaa bishes.

Changing Gears

My get up and go has got up and left. I suspect my racing mojo has been trying to find a way to break up with me since our shambolic outing in Hackney. Our recent ‘dirty’ weekend, ruined  by a tumble in Kent through some muddy tyres and what was supposed to ‘bring a bit of variety’ to our relationship has left us bruised and battered and more than a bit pissed off. But we promised each other the Royal Parks half marathon. Third time is the charm I said. So here we are less than 24 hours away from pinning race numbers and lacing up, its just over 13 miles until we take a little breather from racing, surely after all we’ve been through this year we can give it one last go?

Let’s not mention the Bike.

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(OK let’s)

The Bike is a new Thing. A shiny new thing. That goes faster than I can on foot. That may save me money on commuting, and could also help shift the ‘I’m in training’ pounds I seem to have acquired over the summer. It won’t aggravate my ITB, and I can buy new STUFF for it (and me). And its a proper road bike. A grown up bike.

But here’s the thing. I am totally, utterly, completely shit scared of cycling on London roads. Having a husband who is a cabby does not make this any better. He hate cyclists. Honestly, as a pedestrian in London, I hate cyclists. But here I am with my new toy and grand plans to cycle the Argus in Cape Town in March. So I need to cycle.

I also hate the morning rush hour on the tube more. So between getting over the fear of commuting, to being sneezed on, literally, but hundreds of people TWICE A DAY, its a straightforward decision.

Still terrified.

But going to do it anyway. Because these days I have learned to get stick at things, even when they are hard. Or when I suck at them.

This was not always the case.  There was the guitar when I was 16 that lasted all of 3 weeks because I didn’t have the patience to actually learn the chords, my hands couldn’t get into the right positions, and the strings bit my fingers.  I could manage E minor, D and C. Which I thought was about enough to get through Nirvana’s  ‘Come As You Are’ and then I gave up. And there went that idea, along with my dreams of joining HOLE and becoming best mates with Courtney Love.

A few years later, I decided if I couldn’t be a kick ass rock star, I’d be a kick ass martial artist (thank you Matrix/ Crouching Tiger). So I started Kung Fu and limped through 3+ years of fairly shoddy forms and sub par fitness. I loved the idea of it, but I couldn’t get my head around putting in the work. I just wanted it to happen instantly, without too much blood, sweat or tears. Instant Chow Yun-Fat. I attended training, but only ever  gave about 60%. And then I’d get upset when my gradings reflected that. My Tiger form was more fat tabby. Let’s be honest.  I was partly relieved when I left for London and it was’t practical to continue.

As a result of these failed endeavours  (and many others, there was the brush with Krav Maga that was so terrible I have almost wiped it from my memory) I started to believe that I just wasn’t any good at following through. I avoided committing to anything new, convinced I had a short attention span, and just no sticking power.

Then running came along and changed all that. I never had aspirations to be the next elite competitor, and I just loved that way it made me feel. And I have stuck at it, getting a little better every year. Not smashing PBs, rather chasing them down in a steady and considered way, following through and giving it a good go.

If I can translate some of that into the cycling I think we’ll be okay

Any  tips for newbie cyclists like me? Share in the comments!

 

 

The Body Beautiful

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Some of you may know I write another blog, which has taken a bit of a back seat while I got this one up and running. Over in that corner of the web I write mainly about running and fitness stuff. Its been my way of tracking my improvement over the years. I geek out about gadgets and new running kit and get overly emotional about PBs and race reports.

What I have come to realise is that its very difficult to keep that part of my life separate from my day to day, because it has finally become my day to day. A cursory glance at my instagram lately will attest to that. R commented last week that he rarely sees me in any anything other than lycra. He got a bit of a fright when I got home from work and I was wearing A DRESS. I rarely wear heels any more and I discovered while trying to find some ‘going out’ clothes that I am woefully bereft of any clubbing attire. But I am not bothered, I realised through a fog of endorphins on Sunday post Hackney half marathon, that I am happiest when I am outdoors in the sunshine, post run, wearing short-shorts, a cut-off tee and eating pizza.

Which is why there’s a running post in the non-running blog. Six races this year and counting. I can barely believe  it myself. But its all on Facebook so it must have happened. What has happened to me indeed?

I was not a sporty child. It’s true that I came stone cold last in more than one cross-country race in primary school where running was a torturous punishment. We had to wear tiny blue culottes (or skorts as they are now known) made of  hideous fabric that was highly flammable and itched like mad. I hated swimming too. The pool  had green algae on the sides  that was slippery to the touch and to combat it, bucket loads of chlorine was liberally thrown in while we were swimming so our eyes burned and our skin crawled tight for hours afterwards. Netball was worse, I was short so was usually given Centre, but lacked the fitness to do that position any real justice. Needless to say I was not picked for teams.

Tennis was marginally better, but by then my confidence was shot and I lacked the  incentive to try. I just made a fool of myself, so what was the point? Outside of school was no better. I was useless at Ballet and Modern dance, resenting anyone who found it effortless, and spending most of my time sulking and squinting because the bun was too tight.  It wasn’t worth getting sweaty for and the girls were all horrid.

The common problem was that there was  a huge disconnect between what I WANTED my body to do (Hit ball with racquet) and what it WOULD do (hit self in head with racquet).  A combination of lacking hand-eye co-ordination, and a will to get better through practice, given how bloody awful it was, meant I gave up.  I assumed I had been given brains instead, and believed on some level (incorrectly) that you couldn’t really have both. An assumption which helped justify and fuel my hatred of sport for years, as I thought it was really just for dumb jocks. Looking back on it I was given ample opportunity and was probably more than a little lazy. But at the time I felt on some basic level that my body had just let me down and I didn’t trust it.

My teenage years did very little to help me gain any confidence in my body. It was unpredictable, in the way that teenage bodies are. It was embarrassing and marvellous and frustrating. Hormones and and boys and bra shopping, the endless debates with friends about what was and wasn’t ‘normal’. The horrendous urban myths about sex  (that are out right dangerous and traumatic) made worse by the terrible sex-education that wasn’t really anything other than a biology lesson. Then finally discovering Forever by Judy Blume (GOD BLESS JUDY BLUME).

But mostly my body never  felt like my own. It was constantly misbehaving, getting bigger in places, smaller in others and wobblier. Crippling self consciousness coupled with the fact that everyone has an opinion, made me feel like an exhibit on display. Sadly, as a teenage girl this is common. You’re either precocious or a late bloomer.  Everyone wants to know what you’re up to with who and when. Not just  parents who are entitled to know, but  friends, boyfriends, extended family members, teachers, doctors. Everyone.  And they tell you too – without prompting. You’re on the cusp and you need watching. Men comment in the street, women make passive aggressive suggestions about being ‘dateable’, shop assistants raise their eyebrows, mothers of friends ban you from visiting. Skirts are too short and you’re asking for trouble, too much make-up makes you look like a hooker, walking that way is suggestible, laughing like that is questionable.  Endless rules about what Good Girls didn’t do and what Bad Girls looked like. You certainly couldn’t be somewhere in between. Or that’s certainly what it felt like. Brains or Sport. Good or Bad. I picked Bad, because frankly it was loads more fun and I could say Fuck You to all the inappropriate questions and rules and expectations because they were (and are) total bullshit. Plus the eye-liner was amazing.

Playing at being a Bad Girl in my teens meant I learned a number of very cool tricks while Being Up To No Good. I could blow perfect smoke rings, doctor broken cigs that had been crushed in blazer pockets and was very very good at playing pool. Generally keeping active was in my repertoire (unless it was scaling a wall).  Sport was not cool, it was mainstream and conformist and reminiscent of the military regime.  Most of the party tricks were pretty bad for my health all round, but that didn’t matter because, you know, fuck getting old too. We were invincible at 16, so nothing was ever going to happen to any of us, the consequences were too far away and being young offers a limited amount of bullet proof resilience.

But somewhere along the line my body stopped feeling as though it was part of myself. I practically ignored it, unless it was being  ‘fat’, and then assaulted it with fad diets and weight loss pills. I certainly didn’t feel a lot of love for it and so I stopped feeling protective of it. Instead I continued the rebel without a cause theme into my twenties and smashed it to bits with a toxic cocktail of long working weeks, weekend-long parties, 20-a-day cigs, terrible food and very little sleep.

What was actually happening was a lot more insidious, and it was only in my mid-twenties when my world was rocked by two pretty severe heath scares that I realised something had to change. With healthy kick up the arse from a few professionals, a good dose of courage and some amazing friends, I set about doing just that.

That was seven years ago now and it didn’t happen over night. I still drink far too much coffee and I have a very unhealthy relationship with sugar, but overall the doctor at my last health check was pleased as punch.

Discovering running was a huge part in rebuilding my health. But more importantly, what running gave me back was my mind and the will to get re-acquainted with what my body was capable of. This much neglected, battered up and hugely underrated vessel that recovered slowly at first and then bounced back , was  actually pretty spectacular. My legs  could go for long walks in winter and not get tired, cycle  through mountains in France, run around the streets of Berlin. They could still dance until way past stupid o’clock in Spain. This body that responded immediately to good food, that developed actual muscles, that got faster. Like magic.

Being active for me isn’t about controlling my weight, getting lightening fast, or collecting loads of medals (although all these things are fun). It doesn’t come naturally and I didn’t always love it, but within the structure and discipline of training,  I found something else. It was a healing process. A way to reclaim my body. A way to feel comfortable in my own skin. For every single mile I run I learn a little bit more about who I am.

Learning how to use this particular brand of magic, and to pass it on, comes down to the people I run with, most of whom I’ve met through the inimitable Run Dem Crew.  They support and challenge, they coach and celebrate.   No one is left behind, and it couldn’t be further away from my days of chaffing culottes and grass allergies. Mainly we have a laugh and take on London. But on a Tuesday evening in Shoreditch, there’s enough energy to burn away all the stress, trivial drama and worry that living in a big city can bring and to galvanise a couple of hundred people for a few mythical miles.

Which leaves me happy. In my trainers. At the heart of it I am a big nerd who likes nothing better than a skinny latte and star trek repeats

But that doesn’t give a shit if you think the shorts are too short and isn’t afraid to tell you so

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Harry, Lissy, me and Azra – South Bank June 2014