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Archive for January, 2012

Do your early experiences of work shape how you view it later in life?

 

My dad seems to think so. In a conversation we had a few days ago, he attributed my nervousness at starting placement soon to my first job, which he seems to believe has scarred me for life. According to him, I need to work through the anxieties that it created and get rid of the negative view that I have of all future employers and colleagues – namely, that they’ll all dislike me, criticise me and think I’m incapable of doing my job properly.

He might have a point. If my first experience of work had been an office in which I was bullied or undermined by my employer. If my first job had lasted a long period of time.

 

If my first job wasn’t three weeks at Domino’s Pizza.

 

But it was. Could those three weeks have had such significance? Not only did I have an intensely negative experience of employment at the tender age of 16, I also met my future fiancé there. Is this a good thing? We spent two and a half intense years together, before a suitably intense break-up. If I hadn’t met him, I might not have isolated myself quite so much in sixth form. I believe I grew apart from friends as a result, and my social life suffered. But equally, without our break-up I probably wouldn’t have gone to Canada. And I wouldn’t have met as many wonderful people as I did. And the friends I had in high school? Two of them I still see, and they have been my closest friends since childhood. The others… well, they were kind of bitchy anyway. I don’t need people like that in my life.

So, back to the job. Yes, the manager was a dick. He yelled at staff, he was mean and rude, he patronised me… his personality was completely at odds with mine. At that age I lacked confidence, and although I was confident with peers, I was shy with authority figures. I had (and still have, to an extent) phone anxiety and so having to take calls with people reeling off large orders while working the computer system and trying not to get the orders wrong sent me into a total panic. Once I got so flustered that I entered someone’s address and phone number incorrectly, so we were unable to call them back to correct the order. He shouted, in front of everyone, ‘WHAT IS SO COMPLICATED?!’

At that moment, I felt like the stupidest human being to ever live. Because he’s right. What was so complicated? How come everyone else managed, and I didn’t? How come my boyfriend was so good at his job that he’d be left in charge when the manager wasn’t there, yet I was on the verge of being fired because I couldn’t even work a basic computer?

I mean, people make jokes about staff in fast food places. It’s hardly seen as a high end, difficult job. On the contrary, it’s seen as a low-skilled, easy job to do. So if I’m not even capable of doing something so simple, how can I ever expect to perform in a real job?

 

The fact that this still stirs up so many emotions in me makes me think that maybe my dad was right. It also makes me doubt my sanity. I mean, come on! The job lasted three weeks before I quit – partly out of a desire to be free from the nightmare of working there, but also because I was scared that if I didn’t quit I’d eventually be fired.

But can this experience really be to blame for my anxiety today? Am I that sensitive? I guess I do lack confidence. All evidence since that horrible job has pointed to me being a perfectly competent individual. I’ve volunteered with organisations and done a good job, and I’ve held other jobs successfully.

And my previous feelings of not fitting in and of letting my shyness creep in and spoil my experiences motivated me to do everything to avoid that in my first placement on the course. I steamed in with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, worked hard, chatted to everyone and basically just fought to be seen as positively as possible. As a result, I aced the placement, everyone had good feedback about me and I avoided ever being on the receiving end of the manager’s infamous bad temper.

 

This is getting long. Less blog post, more confessional.

 

I guess I’m just working through things. I start the final placement of my course on Monday, and I’m terrified. I’m envisaging various scenarios, each with a negative outcome. They won’t let me leave early on a Monday to get to yoga class, so I’ll have to quit it for 6 months. They won’t let me do four days a week if I struggle with the workload (the university expects you to do four days until all assignments are handed in, but they seemed surprised when I told them that and said they’d prefer me to do five). My colleagues won’t like me. I won’t know what to do. I won’t enjoy the work, and will feel constantly depressed about having to go there. I’ll make a fool of myself in court. I’ll embarrass myself. The service users won’t like me. I won’t form good relationships. I will be ineffective when carrying out direct work with children. I won’t know what to say to them. My life will be one long feeling of dread and anxiety from start to finish.

All of these thoughts are genuinely going around in my head. Of course, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. The fact that they’ve stressed how flexible they are. That I can work from home on days that I just have a report to write. That as long as I get the hours done, I’m free to start and finish when I want (within reason). That everyone I’ve met so far has been really welcoming and friendly to me.

But my head tries to predict every scenario possible and attaches a negative outcome to it.

I think it has a lot more to do with my personality in general than one three-week-long job. I’m just a terribly anxious perfectionist. I can’t bear the thought of criticism, of falling short. Saying that, maybe my dad has a point. That first job, the one that it took guts to pursue because I already had fears about not being good enough, smashed any tiny bit of confidence that I might have had in myself when it came to work. And at a time of real personal crisis in my life too. If I had been more resilient, it wouldn’t have affected me.

But I wasn’t.

The thing is, I am now. I have so much more confidence, and I know better. I know better than my 16 year old self, and I believe in myself more than she did. I have no reason to doubt myself anymore.

So when I walk into that building at 9am on Monday morning, I have no reason to assume that it will be anything but the beginning of a wonderful, exciting, educational journey. And if I do happen to catch myself making any other assumptions, I will just have to remind myself that it isn’t Domino’s, I’m not 16, and I don’t have some spotty jumped-up little shit of a manager yelling in my face.

I’m a better manager than he’ll ever be, in every sense of the word. I’ve learned to manage my fears, my anxieties, my eating disorder… and the journey continues. He might have been the manager of his tiny little pizza empire, but I am the manager of my whole life, and I’m starting to think that I kick ass at it.

And my achievements in life are so much bigger than work. Work does not define you. Your success or failure at work has no bearing on your worth as a human being. I’ve managed to learn this about food. I used to think my eating habits, and my weight, were related to my intrinsic worth. If I could overcome that huge error, surely I can overcome this too?

And if those negative ruminations turn out to have some grounding, and I do have a shitty time on placement, I know that I’m strong enough to not let it affect my happiness as a person. Because it’s just work, you know?

My real job is pursuing contentment and doing the things that make me happy. Work is just one tiny part of that. In my life, I’m the boss. And it’s my job to be the kind of boss that I deserve. That means no unhelpful criticism, no putdowns, no unfair appraisals and no unrealistic expectations.

 

(I would like to be able to say that writing this has helped me to feel less nervous about Monday morning… but it hasn’t. Ah well, it gave me a break from studying – that’s one area that I DO need to improve in!)

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Vibram run number four tonight.

Well, numbers four and five. You see, I decided to combine it with a trip to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things that I needed. Actually at first all I wanted was grapes, but then Matt wanted to roast some veg for dinner so he wanted potatoes and parsnips.

So I did five miles in my regular shoes, came home, changed into my Vibrams and grabbed my rucksack.

The shop is just over a mile away, so it’d be over two miles in my Vibrams in total. Probably a little more than I should be doing at this point. Anyway so on the way it occurred to me that showing up to the supermarket in tiny running shorts and individually-toed shoes might look a little odd.

I almost turned around and went home again.

Determined, I carried on. I dashed into the shop and grabbed what I needed as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact and fixing a sheepish ‘Yes I’m aware of how ridiculous I look’ smile on my face. Which probably made me look even more ridiculous.

I noticed on the way there that the Vibrams were starting to rub a little, and by the time I arrived I definitely felt like a blister was starting to form. My first Vibram blister! I loaded my rucksack up with food and ran out of the shop.

Of course, potatoes and parsnips and a big bag of grapes are heavy. I ran back feeling a lot less light on my feet than I did before!

I made it home, and took the Vibrams off, whereupon I discovered this…

 

 

Yes, that is a picture of my foot. And instead of a blister, I found that the skin had simply rubbed off my foot leaving behind a raw, exposed wound.

Minus one for the Vibrams.

I’m assuming this is something that has been experienced by other wearers, so in true nerd fashion I’m going to head on over to Birthday Shoes and check out what people are saying in the forums. Maybe it’s a good thing, because it’s persuaded me to put the KSOs away for a few days and give myself a break. My calves need it – Matt kindly massaged them for me tonight and one misplaced finger elicited an ear-piercing shriek from me.

So that’s the latest on the minimalist running front. I’m sure you’re all so thrilled to hear about it. My brother – a runner himself – overheard me telling my sister about my run route the other day and said that hearing about other people’s runs is as boring as being told about their dreams. He’s right (but that doesn’t stop me from telling you!).

Let’s have some more pictures of my pretty little KSOs shall we?

 

 

Legs up the wall for post-run recovery!

 

 

I plan on wearing them for some walks this weekend (with a plaster on), to work on building up the strength in my feet and calves. Better get Matt on standby for more leg rubs!

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As is customary at this time of year, I’ve made some resolutions. Yes, I know that everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions, and no one ever keeps them. But I think there are two reasons for this.

 

1. They set unrealistic goals.

2. They make a general statement about where they want to be, without looking at what needs to be done to get there.

 

I’m hoping to avoid these errors. I remember making resolutions every new year when I was in the midst of an eating disorder. Of course, every year I would plan to lose weight. That was all I ever wanted. Of course it wasn’t all I wanted, but in the absence of sound mental health and with no feeling of self-efficacy or control in my life, I imagined that everything else just happened to me. Losing weight was the only thing I could actually control, and so I resolved to do that, every year.

It’s not just those with eating disorders who make those kind of resolutions. It’s maybe one of the most common ones to make – to lose weight. Especially after the excesses of Christmas. And I’m betting most people usually fail.

But here’s the problem – you’re making a resolution that involves denying yourself, punishing yourself, and adopting a lifestyle that is less desirable than the one you currently live. When you make a promise to lose weight, more often than not it’s attempted through dieting and denying yourself of the things you enjoy. And it’s accompanied by reluctant, frenzied exercising which is done purely as a means to an end and not for enjoyment in itself.

Of course people fail, when you look at it this way. And the same goes for any resolution – if you’re not excited about it, truly motivated, and without a clear idea of what you’re doing and why, it won’t be important enough to you to stick at it when the going gets tough.

So I have promised myself that although I AM making resolutions, they’re not just for the sake of it – they will be things that are important to me. I will not make promises that I don’t think I’m capable of keeping. In fact,I’m not making any promises at all, just setting goals. And as well as those goals, I’m going to look at what needs to be done to achieve them. I’m going to ask myself every day what I can be doing to bring myself closer to those goals.

And I accept that I won’t be able to progress towards every single one of them, every day. The list is too extensive! But to get where you want to be, you need to work out exactly where that is first. And so by identifying what I want to achieve this year in every area of my life, I’m taking the first step towards getting there.

 

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

 

Food and Recovery
Stop weighing myself on a regular basis
Pay more attention to hunger signals, and eat slowly

Running and Fitness
Achieve a sub-40 minute 10K
Achieve a sub-1:30 half marathon
Run a mile in under 6 minutes
Work up to completing a full run in my Vibrams
Join a running club
Establish a home practice in yoga

School and Work
Pass my placement, hand everything in and qualify as a social worker
Get a job as a social worker!
Enjoy what I do, and not feel so anxious all the time that I’m not good enough
Stay on top of assignments and don’t let myself get too overwhelmed

Relationships
Stop taking my anger and frustration out on Matt
Spend more quality time with Matt that doesn’t involve watching TV!
Make new friends, by pursuing things that I’m interested in and reaching out to people more

Money
Set a budget and stick to it

House
Do all of the home improvements that Matt and I are planning as soon as possible. Aim to be finished my mid-February?
Establish a weekly cleaning day – Matt has suggested Thursday

 

So I’ve done the easy part. I’ve made a big list of everything I want to achieve this year. The hard part is doing it! And that’s where running comes in.

Running? What’s that got to do with sticking to resolutions?

Well… my experience of running has taught me that I am capable of things that I never thought possible. This time a little over two years ago, I was a complete non-runner. Not just a non-runner actually, an anti-runner. I disliked people who ran. I couldn’t understand it. And like many things in life, when you don’t understanding something you tend to be fearful of it. I wasn’t homophobic, I wasn’t xenophobic but oh boy was I runner-phobic! I would actually scowl at them in the street. And when my dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law AND boyfriend went running, I would shake my head in disbelief and mild pity.

But deep down, what fuelled my negativity towards running was the fact that I just could not do it! I had tried. I knew it was good exercise. I wanted to be able to run for miles. But every time I tried, I would make it no more than 100 metres before I decided it was too hard and walked back home with my tail between my legs.

Fast forward two years later. Not only can I run, I am GOOD at running. I LOVE to run. I eat, sleep and breathe running (and eat, sleep and breathe BETTER because of running!). How did this happen? Could it be that somewhere deep inside me there lies a well of determination, stamina and willpower that had gone previously untapped?

So if I can go from despising running to it being an indispensable part of my life, what else could I do if I set my mind to it?

That, dear friends, is why I feel confident in my ability to achieve – or at least work towards – my goals. That, and a loving, positive approach to them. So if I don’t always do what I know I should, or if they fall to the wayside at times, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to remind myself why they’re important to me (if they still are… because things change, right?), and if I decide they’re still worth pursuing I’ll pick myself up and get on with it again.

Of course it’s easy to pick and choose which goals you want to work on and neglect others. Sitting here in the library blogging about ‘staying on top of assignments’ is a convenient way to avoid actually doing them! So I have a plan. I’m going to identify one thing from each area, every day, that I can do towards a goal. It doesn’t have to be big or time-consuming. I just have to set that intention at the start of the day, so that I can be sure that the way I’m living is consistent with where I would like to be headed.

I’m sure you’re thinking this all sounds lovely and idealistic… but it’s only January 6th, how long will I keep this up? I’ll be honest, I’m asking myself the same question! But then I remember how determined I was to run, and how that determination has stayed with me – and I am reminded of how capable I am of making changes when I really set my mind to it.

So I’m going to finish this mammoth post off with my list for today. It’s a little late in the day now, so my intentions will have to be small ones.

 

  • Concentrate on eating my dinner mindfully
  • Go for a run, and do another mile in my Vibrams
  • Spend half an hour reading for my next assignment (seeing as I’ve already done some – but not enough! – today)
  • Be nice to Matt for the whole evening (yes, unbelievably, I have to set this as a goal because I usually find something to have a go at him for!)
  • Stay within my weekly budget (I doubt I’ll be spending any more money today, but so far I’ve done well)
  • Clean the bathroom

 

See, those are all easily achievable daily goals! And they correspond to each area of my life that I identified bigger goals in.

Maybe I should have added ‘Update blog regularly’ to the list! I’m not quite sure where it would fit so for the moment I’ll just keep it in my head – but at least I can tick that one off for today!

 

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Someone from a wonderful, supportive online community that I am a member of responded to a post I had written about the progress I had made in recovery. In her response, she indicated that at times she had been a little worried because my behaviour had perhaps seemed less recovery-oriented than it should have done. But I insisted I was fine, so she didn’t say anything. And she suggested that maybe it was just a necessary step that I had to take.

Writing a response to her, I was really able to think things through and gain more clarity on the issue. What I wrote came off the top of my head but I think it explains where I am, and how I got here, quite succinctly. So I’ve copied and pasted it here… because why rewrite something that came from such an honest place?

 

I think it was a necessary step. And I was fine, absolutely. Sometimes I wasn’t eating quite enough for my own body’s needs (considering the level of exercise), but what I was eating was probably what most people eat during the day. The excessive control meant that I didn’t indulge as much as I do now, or if I did I put way too much thought into it. It didn’t come naturally. But day to day, I was enjoying food, eating plenty of it, cooking healthy meals and feeling a kind of freedom that I had never experienced in adulthood.
But you start to want more. When I first started to recover, I was pleased with myself if I managed to eat three meals and healthy snacks. Just basic stuff. If I got up, and regardless of how I felt or what the scale said, I ate breakfast. That gave me a sense of pride. After a while, the pride wore off. It became routine. It wasn’t enough just to eat three meals. I got good at doing that, and so I had to take it a step further.

That’s all recovery has ever been, and at no point do I think I could have done any better. I have been completely aware of where I am at all times. When I was being too rigid, I knew it. But I had no choice. It was where I needed to be. It was the stepping stone between completely disordered and completely healthy. Well, there are many stepping stones along that path and I’m still somewhere in between the two, although a lot nearer to completely healthy.

I got to the point where I was learning to indulge without feeling guilty (although I actually started in recovery that way…not feeling guilty, enjoying little indulgences…but when the novelty of recovery wore off, I let some of the old guilt creep in). And then I was still so reliant on the scale. But I managed to break free of the calorie counting. And I needed the scale still there. Reassurance.

Well I guess now I’ve taken another step along the path and don’t need the scale anymore. Or I’m learning not to. I’ve had two years to play around with my body and what it needs. I’ve dropped weight, I’ve gained a little and now I think I have a good, intuitive grasp of what it needs to maintain considering the training that I do (when I’m not injured). I think recovery is different for everyone. Maybe some people go straight into not weighing themselves, not counting calories…just like that. I couldn’t. At times I felt like maybe I should have been stricter with myself. Thrown the scale away.

But I think I was right to trust myself. Because I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can do that, naturally. I’m outgrowing the eating disorder. It doesn’t fit who I am anymore, and I’m shedding that old skin. And I’m doing it at a pace that feels right. There are a lot of changes that you go through in recovery, inside and out. Those inner changes can’t be rushed. And I feel totally comfortable with the pace that my recovery is going at.

I have felt very stuck at times, and wondered if I was actually making progress. Particularly because I couldn’t understand why, if my attitude was so pro-recovery and I was adamant that weight and calories didn’t matter, I couldn’t stop relying on those numbers. And now I know that I was always making progress. It just happened in tiny steps. Or in big steps, followed by periods of standstill.

I woke up this morning, and I looked at my scale. The temptation was there, but I knew I wouldn’t weigh myself. It just didn’t seem important. I know I ate plenty, but not too much, yesterday. My body has no reason to gain weight. I have no reason to seek reassurance.

I’m trying to decide whether to buy a bag of (vegan!) sweets from the deli before I head to the library. My healthy alternative is grapes. I do grapes by the box. They’re awesome snack food. Particularly when you’re working and want something to nibble on. And the dilemma is between the sweets that I really do quite fancy, and something healthier considering how much ‘unhealthy’ (for the body…but good for the soul!) food I’ve been eating over Christmas.

This dilemma is not characterised by feelings of guilt and anxiety. Whether I choose the sweets or the fruit has no bearing on my worth as a human being.

I’m simply wondering what to do, quite casually and without great emotion. This is the kind of dilemma that would have caused great stress once upon a time.

I’m so pleased to start the year feeling like I’ve made a big leap in recovery.

 

Her reply to this was, ‘Here’s to wanting more’. And it really struck a chord with me. Because that is the key to recovery, is it not? Wanting more. Realising that although you could carry on living with an eating disorder, and hiding from your problems through food, actually you want more from life. You don’t want to live the shadow of who you are, the pale reflection of your authentic life. You want the real thing. You want to taste, smell, feel again. You don’t want to be numb anymore.

And when you get started on recovery, it’s wanting more that keeps you going. So I could have stopped once I got to a stage where I was eating regularly and not purging. My body was sufficiently healthy again. I wasn’t experiencing the inner turmoil that my eating disorder had previously caused. But again, I wanted more. And so, through all of the hard times and the days and weeks where it felt like my journey was slowing down, my recovery stagnating, it was wanting more that kept me inching along.

And so I have entered the new year by almost accidentally achieving a goal in recovery that a few months ago felt near impossible. I have stopped weighing myself. And not through sheer willpower. I haven’t had to battle with myself to avoid the scale. I’ve just arrived at this point naturally. The desire to be free has outweighed (sorry for the pun!) my need for reassurance and control. That number no longer seems relevant to my life.

The eating disorder is no longer relevant to my life. It’s not who I am anymore.

And that is a delightful, beautiful, gratifying thing to be able to say with total honesty. I wanted more, and that is what I got. That’s what true self-respect is – when you recognise that you deserve more than you’re giving yourself, and you set out to achieve it.

I like to think that this will be a theme for 2012. Not settling for second best, not coasting along on one level when I know I’m capable, and deserving, of reaching so much higher.

 

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I. Love. My. Vibrams.

 

That’s pretty much all I need to say.

I did another run in them last night. After running with Matt for around 4 and a half miles, we came home and I stripped my shoes off, got my feet naked and donned my KSOs. The weather was absolutely atrocious. The wind was howling, and rain was pelting down… we only went for a run in the first place because my sheer determination got us both out of the door.

Really, I just wanted that post-run cosy feeling when you’ve been out in bad weather and you return home to a hot shower, warm clothes (I put them on the radiator beforehand) and a bowl of homemade soup.

Matt didn’t join me for the extra mile because his knee was bothering him, so I went back out on my own. I planned a route that I guessed would be around a mile, although it ended up being a mile and a half. And off I went, in the pouring rain, wind blowing so hard I sometimes felt like I wasn’t moving. But I didn’t care. My feet were happy.

I ran through puddles, and on some squelchy grass, and over stones. I guess the surfaces I’d been running on before had been super smooth, because I really felt it this time. The balls of my feet almost hurt, but not quite. I thought they might do afterwards, but so far they’re fine.

The only problem is my even tighter calves. They were tight before, but they’re worse now. I was supposed to stretch last night, but I didn’t get round to it (I forgot). And the hour of yoga that I was supposed to do this morning also hasn’t happened. I overslept and now I need to get to the library.

I need to do some serious downward-dogging so sort these legs out!

But all I really wanted to say was that I ADORE these ‘shoes’. They’ve introduced a whole new dimension to running. It’s perfect timing. I’ve been fighting injuries, and feeling disheartened, and not running as well as I know I can. And my Vibrams have given me the excitement back again. I’m just itching to get out of the door.

Vibrams – you funny looking, embarrassing little things – I love you.

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Back in November, I took part in the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K for the second time. I didn’t write a race report at the time, probably because I wasn’t too thrilled with my performance. Well, I’ve avoided it for two months now. Time to give it a mention.

The weather was crappy. It was really cold, so cold that I couldn’t think straight and didn’t want to leave the warm shopping centre we were waiting in and go to the start line. The race started in Leeds city centre, ran out to Kirkstall Abbey, and back again. It’s a notoriously dull, but fast, race. It’s one of the flattest courses in the area (which is mostly hilly).

Last year I managed it in 40:57. I was aiming for sub-40, and was disappointed to fall short. It was my first proper 10K though (the only one I had done before that was on a beach so my time wasn’t comparable), so I was happy enough. I figured I’d return a year later, with more training under my belt, and smash the 40 minute barrier.

It wasn’t to be. A summer of very little training due to injury and an avoidance of speedwork meant that not only did I come in at over 40 minutes, I was actually slower than last year. I ran it in 42:31.

Matt did it as well, having got a taste of racing after the Donadea Forest 10K. He did great! He ran it in 45:28. For someone who is not a natural runner (or so I thought… the Chevin Chase proved me wrong!), that was a great time. He plays cricket from April to September, and when the season is over he usually takes up running and trains for the Chevin Chase, before putting running on the back burner again and focusing on cycling (his first love, apart from cricket) and training for the start of the season. So considering the race was in November, and he had less than two months of training under his belt, he did really well.

At this point, I would add a photo. But the race photography was shockingly bad! Every race I’ve taken part in (including the Great North Run, which is the world’s biggest half marathon), there has been at least one good quality photo of me, and usually lots. The Abbey Dash is a big race with plenty of photographers and the previous year there were loads of me. This year there were only two, and in both I was obscured by other runners. The ones of Matt were slightly better, but not great. And there don’t seem to be any photos of two other people we know that did it at all. Which is so unusual, especially for such a large race.

Can you tell I’m disappointed?

Anyway, I have vowed to do more speedwork and try again next year.

Speaking of trying again… I also did my first ever Chevin Chase! I had been looking forward to this race, because it was the one that inspired me to take up running. I was supposed to do it last year but a nasty cough stopped me. I had been looking forward to it for months. I had high hopes. Despite a long break from training over the summer, I was optimistic. And when my injury returned after the Abbey Dash, I remained optimistic while I rested up for a few more weeks.

On the morning of the race, all optimism had disappeared. Standing on the start line with Matt (who had been training his ass off!), I felt a sense of foreboding as a strong wind blew around us. My legs didn’t feel strong, I hadn’t been training on hills at all and my injury was still hanging around.

The first couple of miles is all uphill, and it’s a bitch. I could feel Matt breathing down my neck, which wasn’t a good sign – I’m usually way faster than him. As we ran into the forest, I began to feel nauseous – seeing as the run is on Boxing Day, after a day of eating sweets, chocolate and a big Christmas dinner, this isn’t surprising. I also began to develop a stitch, which worsened to the point of me slowing down and running with one hand clasped against my side.

As we ran out of one section of the forest, across the road and into another, it wasn’t getting any better. Usually in race photos I look strong, like I’m barely exerting any effort at all.

This time was notably different (I’m the one in the blue top)!

 

 

My form is all over the place! Oh yeah, and I’m being overtaken by a guy in a suit!

By the time we reached the big hill that is notoriously difficult, and reduces most people to a walking pace, I was totally spent. I ran up it, but slowly enough that Matt, who had lost me for a while earlier in the race, gained on me again and nearly caught me up. And he was walking! The last mile or so is all downhill, ut there are to stiles to go over which usually get congested. It was at the first of these that Matt caught me up while waiting to climb over. He overtook me afterwards, and when I caught him up again at the second stile, I gestured for him to climb over first seeing as he had been ahead of me. After that I lost all motivation, and he flew ahead. I could always see him, but running into a ridiculously strong headwind, his large frame enabled him to power away down the hill. He’s got more natural speed than me over a short distance, so I was doubtful of my ability to catch him up.

I think if I had known how close we would be at the finish, I could have sped up and overtaken him, or not allowed him to overtake in the first place. But I felt rubbish, and I was also totally shocked that he was beating me.

He crossed the finish line first, and I followed 12 seconds later. My time was 56:35, for a hilly route that was just short of 7 miles. I tried to be as happy as possible for him, while secretly seething! Of course he’s enjoyed his gloating time over the last week.

I’ve resolved to run the route every week between now and December, so that I can run it again properly and royally kick his ass!

Really, I need to keep this injury at bay and get back out on the hills, and doing some speedwork. Then I can try again in the Abbey Dash, and try again in the Chevin Chase. And maybe run times that I feel proud of.

But you learn. Nothing in life is perfect. And I can’t run every race perfectly. I think 2011 has taught me that it’s okay not to have a great race – you just learn from it, and work on coming back stronger.

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Happy New Year everyone!

 

Yes, it’s been a long time since I updated this. I took an accidental mega-break from the world of blogging. Partly because of the workload I had as the Christmas deadlines approached. And partly because I lack the self-discipline to sit down sometimes and just write.

But that is one of my new year’s resolutions! Despite the fact that I am about to commence my second placement in Manchester, with four hours of commuting time a day, and a whole load of new assignments and deadlines to contend with, I fully intend to get writing here again.

I’ve missed it.

I also have TWO races to write about. I would mention them here but my anally retentive personality prevents me from doing so, and I just have to document them in separate entries. But I will begin my return to blogging with a post about running.

Because, for Christmas, Santa brought me… *drumroll*…

 

 

…a pair of Vibram KSOs! Stylishly modelled in the above picture with the new cycling bib that Matt bought me.

Looking back at 2011, it wasn’t a good year for me where running is concerned. I started the year injured, and didn’t run at all for the first month and a half. I managed to build my training back up in time for the Kildare Half Marathon, where I knocked 5 minutes of my previous PB with a time of 1:31.05, coming in second place. Things looked promising. I followed it up with fourth place in the Leeds 10k, and began the early stages of marathon training for Chester.

And then shin splints struck. I had heard about this particular demon many times, and thought I was lucky to have escaped considering how quickly I had thrown myself into running from being a non-runner. Well, they caught up with me. I had most of the summer off, and just as I was getting back into the swing of things they hit me again. I was sensible enough to take nearly four weeks off before Christmas (and as a result, my performance at the Chevin Chase – the race which inspired me to get into running and which I had been looking forward to taking part in after a nasty cough stopped me the year before – was well below my usual standard).

During this time I started to look for solutions to my problem. The physio I saw over the summer was useless and had me returning week after week with no clear treatment plan. Maybe it was my shoes? But I know I’m a neutral runner, and they’re a neutral shoe, and they feel so wonderfully light. I didn’t want to spend money on another pair only to find that they weren’t right either.

And as Christmas was approaching, and my parents were asking me what I’d like from them, the idea crept into my head or trying out these crazy barefoot ‘shoes’ I’d heard so much about.

Of course, I’ve read Born To Run. And as soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to strip my shoes off and run down the street barefoot right away! Fortunately I was smart enough to know that it wasn’t a good idea. Having planned to look into this whole barefoot thing, I got sidetracked and carried on training in my regular shoes for another year.

Until now! I have promised myself that I will be careful, and ease myself in. So far, I’ve kept that promise. I’ve only run in them twice – the first run was 1.5 miles long and the second was just a mile. I’ve been running in my trainers, coming home and immediately changing into the Vibrams then heading out for an extra mile. I’m planning to do that again tonight.

So what’s the verdict? Well, it’s far too early to say. I plan to use this blog to document my transition to barefoot running, so watch this space! I don’t know what my plans are – maybe I’ll become hooked and transition to running only in my Vibrams. But I’m open to just trying something new. They might solve all of my problems, but equally they might cause a whole host of new injuries. I know they will, if I don’t take it slowly. I’m giving myself a whole year to get into them. I’m aiming to complete a full run in them by the end of the year. By full, I guess I mean anywhere from 7 to 10 miles. I’d love to be able to do a long run in them.

As for how they feel, they’re more comfortable than I expected. I chose the KSOs because they seemed the most popular for runners. Their sole is a little thicker than the Classics, but still thin enough to achieve the barefoot ‘feel’. They’re super comfortable. I measured my feet as 9 4/8″. The sizing guide suggests a size 38 if your feet are 9 3/8″, and a size 39 if your feet are 9 5/8″. As I was in the middle, I went for the larger size. It’s perfect. I have a little extra room in the toes but not so much that they don’t feel snug. I can easily forget that I’m wearing them because they just feel like an extension of me.

I had read up on them prior to my first run, and I knew to expect tight calves. They encourage a forefoot strike, and require you to use the spring mechanism that is naturally present in your foot. Of course the fact that I’m not used to using my feet in this way means that I have to take it slowly, and build up their strength. I actually found that I could still heel strike in them without too much discomfort. But I know this is the wrong way to run in them.

I also noticed that my stride was much shorter, and my cadence increased. This is all consistent with what I had read about them. I don’t know what my actual form was because I couldn’t see myself running, though it did feel closer to the Chi or Pose methods of running that I have read about. Instead of striking out in front of my body, my feet seemed to be landing underneath me.

I would love to wear the Vibrams when I’m not running, and get used to walking around outside in them. The only thing is, I feel self conscious! They’re attention-seeking shoes, and I’m not an attention-seeking person! It would feel as if I was trying to elicit people’s attention by wearing them, when in fact I’d like to wear them without anyone noticing. Maybe my confidence will increase with use though. I certainly intend to start going on walks in them, particularly in woodland areas where the ground is uneven.

I was actually a little disappointed that my feet felt so protected in them. I had expected to feel the ground more. Although I have only run on the road so far, and the one occasion on which I did step on a large stone I definitely felt it! It didn’t hurt, but I can imagine that trail running will really put them to the test.

 

Okay, time to get on with some more work. Still to come – two race reports and a recovery update!

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