Body Image in Running, Inspired by Mary Cain

* Disclaimer – I wrote this a few weeks ago but wanted to hold off posting until my blog revamp was complete. However, my blog still looks like a dog has vomited all over it, and the revamp is taking longer than expected, so here you go. *

The notion of ‘smaller is better’ and ‘thinner is faster’ is nothing new when it comes to long distance and middle-distance running; however, Mary Cain’s recent statement has really got me thinking about how body image in running is portrayed.

If you haven’t already, have a watch of Cain’s video for the New York Times, in which she speaks about the emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a result of constant pressure to lose weight whilst training with Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project. Cain didn’t get her period for three years and she broke five bones. She went on to become depressed, and experienced suicidal thoughts.

Whilst Cain’s story is horrifying, it’s not particularly unusual; it’s a narrative that I have heard numerous times. “I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls”; one of the main problems is that females are being trained in the same way that men are being trained – it goes without saying that this is insane. I have many issues with Nike, one of which is the brand’s treatment of its female athletes – but that’s a story for another time.

Women are praised when they work on their bodies, and the myth that intensive exercise creates the ‘perfect’ body shape is still prevalent. I mentioned in a previous post that I have been congratulated (on multiple occasions) by other runners on my weight. HOW is this still happening, and WHY does anyone think that this is acceptable?!

There’s no denying that body weight is one of multiple factors that affects performance, and for high-level athletes this is heightened. However, mental and physical health should be by far the most crucial factors.

It’s not surprising that many women go on to develop a dysfunctional relationship with food and training. My own relationship with food has been complicated, and comments made by friends and family have contributed to certain patterns of disordered eating that I now recognise as being unhealthy and unsustainable. Saying this, body confidence is a complex issue; you don’t simply wake up one morning and decide you are 100% comfortable in your own skin.

Sport-related body image issues can lead to amenorrhea, poor mental health, osteoporosis, infertility… I could go on. Managing this issue in the female running community is a huge task, and we have a long way to go. However, Cain’s video (alongside statements from other women who have shared their experiences) is a step in the right direction.

One major change that I have implemented is really focusing on the type of content that I’m exposed to – although of course, this is sometimes beyond our control. I personally find body positivity accounts unhelpful, but diversifying my feed and following accounts of a wide array of people who inspire me (rather than encouraging feelings of self-doubt) has been an overwhelmingly positive move.

There is no single acceptable body type when it comes to running – or when it comes to anything, obviously – so let’s keep the conversation going. Slow progress is better than no progress!

Hever Castle Triathlon – I DIDN’T DIE

A couple of weeks ago, I completed my first triathlon and I didn’t die! However, I did contract norovirus, so there was a point post-triathlon where death was a real possibility (not really, but it felt like it).

Apart from the norovirus, I enjoyed my first triathlon a lot more than anticipated. The event was well-organised, the staff and marshals were ever so helpful, and the course itself was beautiful. The race commenced with an open-water swim in Hever Castle Lake, transitioning into a veryyyy hilly cycle through the High Weald of Kent, and finishing off with an off-road run.  

Now that I have stopped vomiting my guts out (you’re welcome), here’s a little breakdown about each stage of the race:

Pre-Race

I spent at least half an hour laying out all my equipment and kit – in fact, I spent so long arranging and re-arranging everything that I almost missed the final call for my wave and had to sprint down to the start line!

When it came to T1 (for those new to triathlon, T1 is the first transition from swim to bike) and T2 (the second transition when you switch from biking to running), I thanked organised and obsessive Mell. God bless her soul.

Swim

This is the discipline that I was dreading; up until recently open water swimming has been a big fear of mine.

However, the swim was surprisingly pleasant! I took my time and just enjoyed it, alternating between front crawl and breaststroke. I was slow, but I was steady and controlled, conserving my energy for the bike and run.

Bike

Much to my astonishment, I located my bike quickly and had a pretty smoooooth T1.

This was my first time taking part in a group ride, and my biggest challenge was adhering to the strict rules around drafting. Whilst I have enough self-awareness not to position myself ludicrously close behind someone’s rear wheel, it was unavoidable when taking on some of the sharp, narrow turns. I hope this will get easier as I become more experienced!

Another issue was my reluctance to take my hands (even one hand) off the bars. Although I had a quick drink in T1, I decided to be brave and reach down to my water bottle. I panicked, dropped the bottle immediately, and made the quick decision to carry on cycling rather than stop suddenly and potentially cause a crash.

Although obviously this was the right decision, it did mean that I became uncomfortably dehydrated – any tips on riding no-hands would be much appreciated! I actually did fall off my bike when it came to the dismount, but that’s a story for another time eh.

Despite the mishaps, I loved riding through the High Weald of Kent; it was the strongest I’ve ever felt on the bike, and my best discipline by quite a long shot.

Run

At T2 I ate two clif bloks, contemplated having a swig of somebody else’s water because by this point, I was parched, then decided that would be completely unacceptable so proceeded towards the run with a mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert.

I had been looking forward to the run – this was my time to shine! Conversely, this was my least favourite of the three disciplines, and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with my time. This was 100% my own fault; the fact that I didn’t partake in any form of brick session (this is a workout that combines swimming, cycling and/or running into a single session) left me feeling unprepared for the imminent heavy legs and general fatigue. Moving forward, I will definitely be incorporating some bike/run brick workouts into my regime!

Post-Race

Overall, I finished in 281st place out of 465, and 86th female out of 199. I think that’s pretty good for my first triathlon, particularly given the standard of the competitors (there were some absolute BEASTS in the first few waves!)

Have I caught the bug? Yes, both metaphorically and literally (thanks norovirus). Whilst I would like to pretend that Hever Castle Triathlon was a bucket-list thing, I enjoyed it far too much not to come back for more.

So, what’s next? I found out yesterday that I got a place in the London Marathon ballot, much to my surprise/horror/excitement/confusion. I would also like to do a couple of Olympic distance triathlons next year, eventually building up to an Ironman 70.3.

EXCITING TIMES. Annnnd I must conclude with a quote from the Queen (Michelle Obama, not Beyoncé. Or the actual Queen):

There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”

Three Things I’ve Learned in the lead up to my first Triathlon

In precisely 11 days, I will have (hopefully!) completed my first triathlon.

I haven’t stuck to my training plan; in fact, I haven’t even looked at my training plan. I could potentially regret this when it comes to triathlon day, and in general I would always advocate following a structured training plan.

However, the reason I’m taking part in this triathlon is purely to see whether I enjoy it. I don’t have a goal in mind; therefore, a plan isn’t necessary for me right now. Please don’t mistake my lack of structured plan as a lack of motivation, as that is definitely not the case! This is also not to say that I haven’t but the work in – I have, but in my own disjointed, unscheduled, rather messy way.

So, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past few months…

  1. I don’t dislike cycling (i.e. I really like cycling but don’t want to admit it)

Whilst running will always be my one true love, I am beginning to find an unexpected joy in cycling.

There is something liberating about riding through the spectacular Surrey hills. Running up and down a hill is challenging, but it’s just not as exciting because you will never achieve enough speed – and, unless you run ultramarathons, you will never go as far.

Unlike running, cycling is a low impact sport; it’s easy on the joints and great for building muscle, especially in your quads, glutes and calves. This has been great post fibular fracture, and I have generally felt stronger since incorporating cycling into my workout schedule.

2. The cost of running vs. triathlon

As a sport, running is relatively accessible; compared to triathlon (and pretty much every other sport), you need a lot less equipment.

I have been ever so lucky as I’ve borrowed some key items including my wetsuit, tri-suit and race belt – plus my bike and helmet were hand-me-downs. If I did not have access to these, the cost to train for my first triathlon could easily have been in the thousands!!

This does not even take into the consideration the cost of the triathlon itself, which is (understandably) pricier than any running race I’ve ever participated in. The triathlon that I am taking part in is a large-scale event, taking place in historic grounds. It’s also in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – it’s no surprise that these events are so expensive to organise and execute. However, it’s still a barrier to entry which I cannot simply disregard.

Whilst there are alternative methods to getting hold of lower cost equipment (e.g. buying second hand or hiring out kit), I would still argue that triathlon is not an accessible sport. I believe that participating in sport should be available to all those who wish to partake, not just those (like me) who are privileged.

3. I am good enough

Although one of my goals for this year was to be kinder to myself, I often let negative thoughts take over.

‘I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough’; this is an unhelpful internalised message, but unfortunately it’s a thought process that I re-visit time and time again.

I have been experiencing a fair amount of triathlon related imposter syndrome, and whilst training for a triathlon has not miraculously changed my mindset, it has made me re-think the way that I speak to myself.

‘I CAN’.

‘I WILL’.

*Insert other melodramatic goal orientated statement/positive mantra of your choice*

But in all seriousness, two months ago I refused to get on the bike unless someone was riding with me, and the thought of swimming in open water terrified me (it still does, but less so!)

Stop doubting yourself. Take a deep breath. You are good enough. YOU ARE BEYONCE**

**Don’t follow Beyoncé’s ridiculous 22-day diet plan though. Still disappointed in you for promoting this Queen Bee.

Diet Culture in the Health and Fitness Industry

Having recently received yet another targeted ad inviting me to take part in an ‘eight week summer fat blast challenge’, I wanted to share my thoughts on why I will always say “no thanks” to diet culture.

Diet culture is all around us. It’s plastered over social media, at the gym, on food packaging, in conversations with friends… it is EVERYWHERE. This is an industry that needs you to doubt yourself, simply because there are billions of £££ to be made from our insecurities.

What is diet culture?

Diet culture describes a society that places value on being a certain size and weight. Essentially, it promotes the concept that health = thinness, and it oppresses people who don’t match up with this image. It displays itself in numerous ways, some more subtle and sneaky than others. A few examples include:

  • Food advertised as ‘guilt-free’
  • ‘Clean eating’ social media accounts, and the epidemic of ‘clean eating’ in general
  • Fit teas/ skinny teas/ detox teas
  • Our language around food, e.g. labelling foods as good or bad
  • Demonising food groups, e.g. ‘I’m not coeliac but I won’t eat gluten because it is THE DEVIL’

Why is diet culture problematic?

You may view a fat blast challenge or a ‘guilt free’ chocolate bar as being harmless, and I understand why; we’ve been conditioned to believe that health = thinness. That thinness = happiness, success, superiority. That our self-worth is directly linked to our physical appearance.

I used to have a very unhealthy relationship with exercise. Five years ago, my sole reason for exercising was to burn calories so that I could drink all the wine and eat all the pizza without feeling guilty. Essentially, I was exercising because I hated my body.  

80 – 90% of the time I now have a healthy relationship with fitness; I fully appreciate that there are so many health benefits that exercise can have that aren’t directly linked to aesthetics. My mindset has shifted from ‘having’ to exercise to choosing to exercise, but of course this took time – a LONG time. I don’t want to oversimplify it by using phrases such as ‘exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it!’ or ‘just practice radical self-love!’ – not only is this patronising, but learning to navigate the pressures of diet culture is a lot more complex than this.  

How can you remove yourself from toxic diet culture?

The diet industry’s focus is (almost always) appearance based. This industry does not care about your physical health, and it most definitely does not care about your mental health.

Here are a few things that have helped me:

1.          Have a social media clean up

Unfollow the accounts that focus on dieting, ‘toning up’, or anything else that makes you doubt your self-worth. Basically, try not to consume content that impacts you in a negative way.

2.      Stop engaging in diet jokes

This is probably not the best example, given the fact that it is the middle of summer. However, I get sent this every year without fail, and it makes my blood BOIL:

I have also been tagged in the below meme three times this week:

I simply refused to engage in these discussions, regardless of whether it is a light-hearted joke or not. I will either leave the conversation or change the subject, because quite frankly it makes me uncomfortable.

3. Educate yourself

Take the time to educate yourself about the true links between health and weight. If, like me, you are a thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied person, I would encourage you to learn about the experiences of those who do not fit into diet cultures ‘ideal’.

Here are a few of my book/podcast recommendations:

Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen

Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach

Food Psych Podcast by Christy Harrison

(Please do let me know if you have any further recommendations!)

Acknowledging that diet culture exists and that it’s an issue is the first step. This is just a tiny part of a much wider discussion, but I hope that it provides a useful insight into a culture that is so entrenched within our society.

My First Triathlon and An Ankle Update

I don’t like to say I told you so, but… following on from my appointment at the fracture clinic, it turns out that I WAS RIGHT about my ankle and thankfully it’s not seriously fractured. I have an ATFL sprain (anterior talofibular ligament) which explains why my ankle is so swollen. I also have a very small hairline fracture on my fibula.

This is not fantastic news, but it’s certainly good news; it could have been a lot worse, and this is probably the best-case scenario.

So, what next? Well, I will be taking it easy over the next couple of months. DISCLAIMER: this is my version of taking it easy. Take from that what you will. Do as I say, not as I do etc.

However, this tranquil bliss will be over when July approaches, as I begin training for something very un-Mell like… (obviously this is dependent on how quickly my ankle heals, please pray to the ankle gods).

I’m keen for a new challenge, and to tick off another point from my 30 before 30 list, therefore I’ve decided to take part in my first ever triathlon at the end of September. I will be raising money for Macmillan Cancer, and any donations would be much appreciated! If you would like to donate, please click here. 

I have opted for a super sprint triathlon; although I was far more inclined to go for the ‘fun’ beginner’s triathlon, I was convinced otherwise by the power of peer pressure.

To many (and I’m sure there are some seasoned triathletes reading this), I know that this does not sound like a particularly daunting event. However, for me it’s quite a big deal.

I haven’t swum in over 15 years and I’m a nervous cyclist, therefore (as people keep quite understandably asking me), why did I sign up for a triathlon in the first place?

1. To face my fear of cycling downhill/round sharp bends/round any bends (I have no idea where this fear has come from – as a child, I loved going out on my bike and was a fearless lion).

2. To take a step outside of my comfort zone and learn something completely new.

3. It’s on my 30 before 30 list, therefore it’s a commitment that I’ve already made to myself. Plus, I now have sub 2 years to complete this list…

4. I loathe cold water, and being cold in general, therefore throwing myself into a nippy open water swim seems like a sensible thing to do!

5. I can’t really run right now, and probably won’t be able to run much further than 3 / 4 miles comfortably for a while. Therefore, I have two options – to sulk about it, or to make the most out of a frustrating situation. I will always opt for the latter.

I’m both excited and incredibly nervous. This is all very new to me, therefore any hints and tips for first time triathletes would be much appreciated!

Post-Marathon Plans and A Fractured Fibula

This is most definitely not the blog I thought I would be posting this week; in fact it was quite the opposite, as I had written a blog all about my next challenge (which I will explain in a later post, when I am no longer on crutches!)

This is most definitely not the blog I thought I would be posting this week; in fact it was quite the opposite, as I had written a blog all about my next challenge (which I will explain in a later post, when I am no longer on crutches!)

So, here is a recap of the sad tale… I went out for my first proper post-marathon run on bank holiday Monday and within a couple of minutes I tripped over the kerb, twisted my ankle and fell into the middle of the road, landing in a rather awkward angle. As I sat on the road wailing like a wild banshee, people walked past with dogs and drivers swerved around me – THANK YOU helpful Londoners!

A few minutes passed, and the pain subsided. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or perhaps it was the fact that I’m incredibly stubborn, but for some unknown reason I then got up and completed my run which was 4 miles around Finsbury Park (never, ever do this. Ever).

I didn’t think much of the pain in my ankle, until a couple of hours later I looked down and saw this monstrosity…

A trip to A&E and many ‘ahhh was that a drunken bank holiday accident?’ comments later, I hobbled home on crutches and a big black moon boot (I did ask the lovely doctor whether the boot came in any other colours. I don’t think I need to tell you what his answer was).

At present, the diagnosis is that I have fractured my fibula (this is the bone that starts below the knee joint on the outside of the leg, extending down to the ankle joint). However, as my ankle was so swollen when I had the x-Ray, this diagnosis could not be 100% confirmed. I will be heading back to the fracture clinic in a couple of weeks, where I am hoping for some good news and fingers crossed a relatively short recovery time.

Although I am currently unable to run, I can swim and work on core/upper body exercises – something which I am very grateful for. I know that it could have been a lot worse, particularly if I had twisted my ankle whilst a car was turning into the road!

Once I have further news on my injury, I will write a little update and potentially may be able to post a blog about my next challenge in September (trying not to get over-excited at this stage!)

I would also like to take this opportunity to say a massive thank you to the NHS; the hospital staff were so helpful and patient, and it reminded me of how lucky I am to have access to this fantastic health care system. I cannot stand it when people moan about the NHS, or when I see people being rude to hospital staff. Don’t be that person…or I’ll jab you with my crutch.

So, thank you NHS and thank you to everyone who has wished me a speedy recovery! Any tips on recovery from a (potentially) fractured fibula would be much appreciated.

London Marathon 2019

It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoyed the VMLM (even though those who saw me in the latter stages of the marathon might think otherwise, so perhaps I will rephrase that and say that I enjoyed approx. 86% of VMLM).

I don’t think I stopped smiling for the first 22 miles. I felt much stronger than my previous two marathons, and it was exciting to experience all my hard work paying off. I also think there’s something magical about running a marathon in your own city. I’m obviously biased when I say that London is the greatest city on earth – but for me, it is. The nostalgia of running past key places from my childhood definitely enhanced my VMLM experience; school trips to the Cutty Sark, summer walks over Tower Bridge etc.

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns. Miles 23 – 26.2 were vile. Just…horrendously VILE. There was a small vomit incident, tears, severe anxiety and a trip to St John’s Ambulance (who were incredible) after almost fainting at the finish line. The final few miles proved to be a tough mental battle, but a mental battle that I powered though due to my amazing supporters, random strangers, and my own willpower. 

I don’t really remember crossing through the finish line, as I temporarily lost consciousness and it’s all a bit of a blur. I wasn’t even aware of my new PB until messages from my friends and family started pouring in…in fact, I had just told my group pacer that I had finished in what turned out to be six minutes slower than my chip time!

Just to clarify, I’m aware that losing consciousness after (or during) a marathon is BAD – I’m certainly not proud of this and watching the footage of my wobbly post-finish episode is quite terrifying. One positive aspect to come of this is that after chatting with some medical experts, I understand why I fainted and can therefore work on this aspect of my training next year.

Something else VMLM taught me is to not underestimate the sheer power of my own brain. A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my anxiety and panic attacks; four days before VMLM, I genuinely considered not running as I wasn’t sure if at that point in time, I would be mentally strong enough. One of my best friends gave me a good talking to, and I am so glad that I listened to her!

There were certainly parts of the marathon that were mentally challenging, particularly those final few miles where I could feel myself growing increasingly panic stricken. However, as mentioned previously, I powered through this mental battle and proved to myself that I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for. Yes, getting a PB was fantastic, but recognising my own inner strength was even more fantastic.

Sorry to end this post on a super cheesy note, but I just wanted to say a big old thank you to my friends, family, South London Harriers, and to everyone else who supported me in the lead up to VMLM. I am beyond grateful.

Five Worst Pieces of Marathon Advice I’ve Received

With less than two weeks to go until London (WHATTT), I have rounded up the worst pieces of marathon advice I’ve received over the past couple of years. Whilst I am by no means an expert on this matter, quite frankly, sometimes the experts are also no experts on the matter (absolutely terrible use of the English language, my apologies).

So, here are the top five worst pieces of marathon advice I’ve received:

  1. Don’t drink until you’re thirsty

I understand that I shouldn’t drink an excessive amount of water in a short period of time. However, if I followed the rule ‘don’t drink until you’re thirsty’ then I genuinely wouldn’t drink once throughout the marathon! I rarely feel thirsty when I run, no matter what the distance. I definitely experience signs of dehydration (headache, dizziness etc.) but I don’t actually have the urge to drink – therefore, I will definitely be discounting this piece of advice and taking on the recommended 400-800ml of fluid per hour.

2. Don’t do strength training, just run more

It goes without saying that running will be the primary focus of my marathon training. However, I find it bizarre that there are still people who ‘don’t believe’ in strength training for runners.

I must admit that my strength training is currently verging on non-existent, and I’m feeling the impact of this. I’ve had a few injuries since decreasing my strength training, and whilst I can’t claim that it is solely the lack of strength training that has caused these injuries, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a link between the two.

3. Don’t run, just do strength training

A slight contradiction to point number two; I was advised by a Personal Trainer to solely focus on strength training throughout the duration of my marathon training. NO RUNNING. I genuinely almost fell for it (he was very persuasive), before realising that he was probably trying to con me into purchasing additional PT sessions…

4. Lose weight to run faster

I’ve mentioned this one in a previous post; not too long ago, someone attributed my (alleged) weight loss to my increase in running speed. I’m not denying this as a concept; there’s certainly evidence that weight effects speed!

However, I don’t think a fixation on weight loss is healthy, and I have no interest in getting wrapped up in body image. I also don’t find it a particularly helpful comment, thank you very much Hortencia.

5. Don’t run a marathon, it will ruin your knees (bore off)

I’ve saved the most popular piece of ‘advice’ for last – I’ve been passed this bit of wisdom at least 186 times. I know there is quite a bit of controversy around this, but I am yet to find any compelling evidence that running long distance will damage my knees.

Therefore, I shall continue to run run run until I’m 86 years old. Or 96 years old. Who knows…?

Anxiety and Running

I am writing this post for two reasons: 

  1. To put it very simply – I find it beneficial. Writing about mental health is a method of expressing feelings that are sometimes too difficult to put into words. 
  2. I hope that by sharing my own experiences, it might help people who are feeling a similar way. Personally, I prefer reading incredibly open and honest blogs, particularly when it comes to mental health. It’s always comforting to know that of course you’re not alone. 

So, here is a recap of the past week…

Last Thursday, with 4 weeks to go until London Marathon, I was feeling strong, prepared and motivated. I had just recovered from a chest infection and was so excited to continue with my training. 

However, the following day I woke up feeling quite the opposite. I felt breathless, clammy and restless; all familiar symptoms of an oncoming unpleasant period of anxiety. The following three days consisted of multiple panic attacks, one of which took place during an organised 20-mile training run with hundreds of other runners. This REALLY bothered me; running has always been my safe, happy place, and this is the first time that my anxiety has interfered with that.

I spent the next couple of days pondering whether I should even be running a marathon; am I mentally strong enough at this current point in time? What if I have another mid-race panic attack, but this time in front of tens of thousands of people? 

After many wasted hours of unnecessary panic, I came to the following conclusion… so what?! What’s the worst that can happen? If for some reason I do have a panic attack during the marathon, I can walk for a bit. Yes, I’d be disappointed – but I haven’t dedicated over three months of hard, consistent training to give up at this late stage. 

Thanks to a variety of coping mechanisms and a fantastic support network which I am so grateful for, I’ve been feeling a lot calmer over the past few days. I’ve been able to shift my mindset and manage the panic attacks in a more effective way. 

I’m not saying for a second that my anxiety has magically been ‘cured’ – this is something that I’ve been working on managing for years, and I still have a long way to go. My point is that amongst the sheeny shiny perfectly curated Instagram squares, and the overly enthusiastic ‘NO DAYS OFF’ Strava beasts (I say ‘beasts’ in a kind and loving way of course), there are hundreds and thousands and millions of people who are struggling with their mental health.

There is nobody on this planet who is in a constant state of joy and happiness, and we should talk about that more openly. I am an expert at hiding my feelings, because quite frankly sometimes it’s easier to pretend that nothing is happening – however, I’ve finally realised that ignoring my emotions has a negative impact on my mental health.  

I could write a novel on this topic, so I’m going to end this post here before it turns into War and Peace. Some final thoughts – talk to people, overshare, talk to people some more. Shame has no place in your life.

Spring has Sprung (Predictable); A New Chapter ft. Imposter Syndrome

Apologies for the incredibly cliché title (cue 86,472 ‘spring has sprung’ Instagram captions featuring 86,472 23-year-old females posing provocatively next to blossom trees), but it seemed apt for this post.

After spending a magical long weekend in Dubrovnik and taking the rest of this week off work, I’ve had some time to reflect on the past couple of weeks of marathon training (or lack of marathon training), and mentally prepare myself for a busy month ahead. Whilst I’m not going to ramble on about how spring brings about new growth, fresh starts, new beginnings etc., I do find this time of year very refreshing, and coincidentally this year the new season aligns with an exciting new chapter for me as a few days ago I moved into my new flat.

I cannot believe that I am now an actual REAL-LIFE home owner. It blows my mind. But, at the same time, it doesn’t really blow my mind given the fact that I have been saving up for over a decade to get to this stage.

On this note, I wanted to delve into imposter syndrome – definition: a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. I know a lot of women (and men, but predominantly women) who despite having accomplished great things, struggle with self-belief.

Although this may sound materialistic, my new flat is my greatest achievement. This is not related to my flat itself, although yessss I am excited to purchase unnecessary seahorse ornaments and bellow “NOT UNDER MY ROOF” if anyone dares wear shoes inside. It’s about the hard work and sacrifice that has gone into becoming a homeowner; completing my master’s degree whilst juggling a full-time job, the little sacrifices, and everything else that has led up to this point.

However, there is part of me that feels like a fraud. I feel guilty for my privilege, and the fact that I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can buy a property. Whenever someone asks me how I can afford to buy alone (which in my opinion is an intrusive question, and one that I am asked frequently) I always feel the need to reassure them that for the next few years at least money will be very tight, that the property prices in South London are far more affordable etc. Essentially, I am avoiding the question, when the simple and honest answer is that I worked hard and saved.

There is, of course, a fine line between humility and hubris. I truly believe that arrogance is one of the ugliest traits, and I would genuinely be mortified if anything in this post comes across as boastful or overly self-indulgent.

My point is that I am proud of what I have achieved, and I want to see more women celebrate their achievements – because you have EVERY right to celebrate, proudly and unapologetically.

Taking a Step Back; When to Stop and When to Push Through

Disclaimer: I still haven’t worked it out.

With less than six weeks to go until London Marathon, I have come down with a rather nasty chest infection. However, I expect zero sympathy here, as I very much brought this upon myself – or at least made it worse.

Although I began to feel unwell over a week ago, I took no time off running and instead stubbornly braved Storm Gareth and took on the wind, rain and hail; thus, what started off as a common cold has resulted in me sounding like an 80-year-old chain smoker.

Although I feel fairly vile, I’m still nervous about resting. This is, obviously, really stupid. I will definitely be reducing my mileage this week, but the thought of taking a few days off sets off all kinds of anxiety. Just to reiterate, I know that this is REALLY stupid.

The fact that I’m aware of my own stupidity, whilst still persevering, has forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths as to why I can’t simply take a few rest days like a ‘normal’ person. I would say this is down to three reasons:

  1. Fear of Failure
  2. Escapism
  3. Control

I’m not going to elaborate on either of these points, as I try very hard not to ramble unnecessarily (which is often quite a challenge), but to summarise – I take pride in my persistence, sheer grit and determination. However, I also think that I can take this too far, hence running 12 miles through hail storms on Sunday whilst wheezing and coughing like a mad buffoon!

This morning I set off at 5am to run 10 miles with a friend, who for the record did strongly advise me not to run. By mile 3, I was retching dramatically on the side of the road, and FINALLY concluded that it’s time to take a few days off. Of course, it should never get to the stage where one is making vom stops on the A22 at 5am to come to this realisation!

I think it’s interesting that like a lot of people, I rarely take my own advice. For example, I am currently working from home as I don’t want to infect my colleagues or spread my germs around on public transport, but I am more than happy to force my own body to the point of extreme discomfort…

Knowing when to stop and when to push through is a very important lesson, and one that I definitely need to master. I would love to hear your thoughts on this – how do you know when to take a step back? Is this something that you struggle with?

The 20-Mile Dread

This Sunday, I will be running the Thames 20; a paced 20-mile race along the River Thames.

Although I have tackled the 20-mile beast previously (plus I took part in the Thames 20 last year), it still fills me with dread, uncertainty, apprehension and all the other bad things.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense, given the fact that I ran 18 miles a couple of days ago and genuinely enjoyed it (apart from the bit where a cyclist simultaneously ROARED and swore at me when I was running along the canal. That was frightening, and I’m still unsure as to why he was so raging – get a grip). However, I know a lot of runners who feel the same way; it seems that many people have a mental hurdle when it comes to tackling the 20-mile distance.

I don’t think it matters how many marathons I run – I say this because I plan to run many more in the future – there will always be a little voice in my head that says ‘of course you can’t run more than 20-miles, you’re not strong enough, you don’t know what you’re doing’ etc. I know this is a very negative and unhealthy thought process, and for that I apologise, but that’s just the honest truth of how my mind works sometimes.

Of course, it’s natural to experience anxiousness around particular workouts or distances. However, I don’t want this to hold me back, and most importantly I don’t want this to sap the fun out of running. I’m keen to run an ultra this year (even though I was recently told by a non-runner that I will be putting myself at risk of hallucinations and potentially DEATH), therefore it’s important that I learn how to shift my mindset.

I have a few mantras, although these seem to be more effective during shorter, faster runs. I’ve created a rather spectacular long run playlist, which definitely helps. I plan out my post-long run meals (plural because there are so many, most of which involve me inhaling copious amounts of sweeeet, delicious, crunchy peanut butter) which ALWAYS helps.

All the above, plus a number of additional techniques, are things that are helpful to me during a long-run. However, it’s the pre-20-mile nerves that I want to focus on, which on this occasion I seem to be experiencing almost a week in advance of the run.

How do you tackle the 20-mile beast, or any distance/workout that you find intimidating? Now, more than ever, your suggestions would be ever so helpful!