Running Away From Doubt

I have spent much of my life doubting myself. Even when getting good grades at school as an ‘objective’ (let’s not even go into the fact that examinations are a ridiculous benchmark that is supposed to show someone’s intelligence, pitting them against their peers in a really unhealthy way) I have always thought I’m not good enough. So throughout my life I have pushed myself to be better than the day before for fear of not being good enough as I am. I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week after listening to a podcast about ‘Insecure Overachievers’ (Listen here). I’m not an ‘overachiever’ by any stretch of the imagination, but I allow my insecurity to push me forward in all forms of my life. Is this a good thing? I’m not so sure.

What I love about running is the periods I have when I am simply doing running and I’m not thinking about whether I am on pace, or running a better pace, or beating a PB. I enjoy running without a watch sometimes because I get home and feel like a bad ass who just ran the equivalent of Cambridge to London without actually having a clue how far I ran. I enjoy feeling like a good runner just…because. But the problem comes when people ask you your pace, your goals, what you want to achieve. Because the issue with that is that if you don’t achieve it, or your pace slows, you feel a sense of failure. I never started running to think in this binary way of success or failure, but sometimes I can feel it creeping into my conscious like a bad headache.

Yet at the same time I don’t think I will ever not need the external validation of running a PB. Having self-doubt is sort of part of my bones now and I don’t necessarily think there’s a whole lot I can do about it, other than owning that feeling and trying to make it into a more positive part of my existence. What I can do about it is ensure that it stays manageable. I can rejoice in getting a PB in a race, but I can also rejoice in doing my best in a race. I have grown up with people telling me constantly that as long as I do my best that’s all that matters, and at the ripe age of 24, I really am trying my damnedest to make sure that’s always at the forefront of my mind.

So do I care about the numbers? Yes. But why do I run? Because in amongst the numbers, the pre-race anxiety, the worry about not being good enough, there are these snippets when I run when I am just that. A runner, running along a road, thinking of nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.

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How Running Changed My Confidence

For the people who know me well, I have always been quite socially awkward. Ever since being young I have recoiled at the idea of having birthday parties and at any sort of event you will generally find me nestled in with a group of people I already know well as I get nervous about coming across oddly in front of people I’ve never met before. University didn’t really shake that out of me, and I think that was mainly caused by being at an elite institution where most of my peers had a way of speaking that I just didn’t understand. This made me go more introverted and instead of finding my voice and understanding that there’s a lot of bullsh*t that goes with talking in sentences that sound like you’re a walking dictionary, I just thought that I wasn’t able to ‘walk the walk’ like the people around me.

None of the above bothered me until a year or so ago. The only way I can describe the way I felt (and sometimes still do feel) is that I’m like a baby bird who is unable to spread its wings and experience new things. I began to feel like I was doing the same things, having the same experiences and interacting with the same people all the time. I crave newness and different stimulation and being able to say, “I did this because I just felt like it”.

How did I get to the point that I feel I can spread my wings more? Running. I met my now close friend Paul at work and found out that he enjoyed running and we began to run together. He also became someone I could actually talk to about running, which was something I was desperate to do. There’s only so many times you can try to engage with someone who doesn’t care about running before you feel like you are the most boring person in the world! We then planned some running events together, one of them being in London. After the 10K in London we got changed, went to the Natural History Museum and met his friend, who came with another friend. It was the most wonderful day spent exploring London and after that, in June, any opportunity I find that can combine running and adventure I will do.

And so just a couple of months later I started Mygaitexpectations. My confidence has grown so much through chatting and actually meeting some of you guys, whether that’s in Cambridge at local events or further afield. I recently went to LDNBurgerRun, which I cannot commend any more for fostering such a welcoming environment and such a wonderful group of people who you can talk to. And we didn’t only speak about running, believe it or not..! But the reason why I have been able to do all these things is because there has always been this commonality of running. I don’t feel afraid of starting conversations with people I’ve never met before because I know we can always talk about Strava, or Garmins, or races, or how bloody hard tapering is. And I think the more I do it the less I will need to rely on my ‘Running Sophie’ mode and I will be able to just do ‘Sophie’ more. If six months ago someone would have said to me I’d have gone for a run on my own with a stranger (and a speedy stranger at that @run_cambridge), joined a Running Club on my own, or gone for a 12.8 mile run with a group of strangers to then meet another group of strangers for drinks afterwards, I’d have rolled my eyes at you. But it turns out that the person who is a stranger to you at the moment has a wonderful capacity to become a friend. And when that is facilitated by a love of running, then everything is made just that bit easier.

So if like me you need to spread your wings, find something that you feel passionate about and seek out those who share that passion. It’s amazing what putting yourself out of your comfort zone can do.

Sxx

Running with the punches

When I joked to my friend after booking the half marathon and realising how small the race was that I hoped “we wouldn’t get lost”, I never thought I was actually going to be right..!

On the day there was an ultra, marathon and half marathon. No more than 400 people competed across all three events, and it was around 130 people running the half marathon. With some good foresight (and fear of congestion, I suspect), we were set off in two waves. I was closely following two runners at the front of the pack, alongside (the man, the myth, the legend,) Paul. Both runners seemed to know where they were going and were a decent 100 metres in front of us, and Paul laughed and said, “We need to speed up a bit otherwise we’ll lose them and not have a clue where to go”. We didn’t have a clue where to go because there was pretty much no signposting. Most of the route followed a cycle path but as someone entirely new to the city that didn’t help much.

We sped up accordingly and I got into my stride. I felt really good, like REALLY good, and couldn’t believe everything was going so well. And then the two guys at the front stopped at the end of a road. Paul and I ran up to them, followed by 10-15 people, and they said they didn’t know which way to go next. Clearly, we were not able to traverse the dual carriageway…so we knew we had to turn around. We all turned around and explained to other runners we passed that we must have gone a different route. I slotted in behind the two front runners again and kept my eyes peeled for any sign of the other runners.

After a little while we saw them and one of the guys said to me that he “had a lot of time to make up”. I think it was at this point that the two guys who had been pacing me (by accident – I tend to latch onto other runners when I’m racing!) made an error and both kept their pace too quick, with both of them speeding off. One dropped off after about a mile, and I lost the other one after the half way (which was actually our 10 mile) point.

In spite of the fact I knew I had at least an extra two miles to run (it took me ages to try work it out, and then I eventually just asked someone I passed), I still felt absolutely awesome. My breathing was fab, I was navigating myself overtaking people with ease despite some narrow paths, and my legs felt like they’d just had a service.

I got to mile 12 and thought that a 1 hour 35 minute PB was possible, until I remembered that I had about 3 miles extra left to run after reaching 13.1. I took the executive decision to hold off a bit because I really wanted to make it to the finish line without walking. I knew that if I pushed myself too much to get 1.35, I would be so dead that I would have to stop for a breather. And, as I thought, as soon as I hit 13.1 miles my legs suddenly felt like lead. The last 2.5 miles were torture. At one point I started laughing at myself because I kept on making involuntary grunting noise and terrifying ever person I overtook (think Stig of the Dump style).

I could see Ely cathedral from some miles off and I just knew that awaiting me there was the possibility of food and water and……….being still. I crossed the finish line officially in 2.03 hours. My watch said 1.59, and a rather larger 15.8 miles than 13.1. Regardless of the fact my half marathon PB isn’t official, I am absolutely taking that 1 hour 37 minute pride and I will never forget the first time I tackled Ely Half Marathon.

 

Here’s to next year, when I will definitely know the way to go…

 

Sxx

Running away from bad food

Hullo!

This post is going to be about how I changed my diet radically four months or so ago. This was caused by my finding out that I’m intolerant to: eggs, the protein in dairy and yeast.

Finding out the news that I was intolerant to the above was like a smack around the face with a wet fish. I was a super fussy child and had been vegetarian since day one, only incorporating fish (that doesn’t taste too meaty) in the last four-five years. Being a runner, fuel is incredibly important and being told I had to cut eggs, dairy and yeast entirely out of my diet was absolutely petrifying. I used to rely on bread, cheese, cake, beer (gulp) to bulk up my food intake and as soon as I cut out all these allergens I became an unbelievably moody and permanently hangry (hungry and also angry!) woman.

 

How it feels to cut foods out of your diet

To begin with, I mourned the loss of my former bread-stuffing, waffle-gobbling, cheese-snaffling self. I’m so fortunate that I have always had a fast metabolism and so I could get away with eating a lot more ‘bad’ food than most people can. I spent most lunches at work completely miserable eating some form of ‘three bean salad’, which would fill me up for about 45 minutes. After that 45 minutes had passed, a wave of hunger would come over me and I would feel incredibly ratty.

For about a week I was absolutely suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The dietician told me this was completely normal, but I did not expect to be as miserable as I was. I quickly came to realise that I was probably eating way too much bad sugar and that effectively my body was going into detox mode. The first one – two weeks were without doubt the hardest part.

Cutting out dairy and eggs was surprisingly easy because it basically meant I had to live a vegan lifestyle day-to-day. Vegan food is absolutely delicious and I cannot recommend it more. However, lots of things that are vegan-friendly contain yeast. In fact, A LOT of things contain yeast: pistachios, mushrooms, vinegar, stock cubes, even shop bought ‘supposed’ unleavened breads. With yeast somehow sneaking its way into so many shop-bought items, to begin with I would spend what felt like an eternity in the supermarket trying to work out what I could buy and what I couldn’t. It also doesn’t help that yeast isn’t classed as an allergen so is never in bold on the ingredients list.

What amazed me is how quickly I began to adapt to the taste of the new foods I was trying to enjoy. I now literally cannot taste the difference between coconut milk and normal milk. Vegan chocolate tastes like….normal chocolate. The list goes on. The important take home from that is that your body is an incredible machine that knows how to deal with stuff effectively. Very quickly your body will stop craving what you can’t have and start enjoying what you can.

The best ways to make sure you don’t fall off the dietary wagon

In the first few weeks as I tried to cut out the various foods I was intolerant to, the times when I nearly caved was when I was out and about, ravenously hungry and there was nothing I could eat without traipsing around different cafes trying to work it all out. I cannot recommend more carrying something that you know you are able to eat, or know that you should be eating, such as nuts or fruits. There was one time when I was stood in London Kings Cross and I was so hungry that I started to cry because, for the life of me, I couldn’t find anything substantial that I could actually eat (I also think I was clearly still going through the withdrawal phase at this point, as I have a stone cold heart usually….!). Having something you can snack on in your bag is an absolute must as it will tide you over until you can eat something suitable.

Following on from the above, preparation is key. I batch cook almost all my meals for the week on a Sunday. It takes a bloomin’ long time, seriously, but it means that I know I have a delicious meal waiting for me when I get home. I bought a few cookbooks such as Vegan 100 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Vegan-100-incredible-recipes-avantgardevegan/dp/1787131246/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1536142121&sr=8-1&keywords=vegan+100) and 15 Minute Vegan Comfort Food (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Minute-Vegan-Comfort-Food-satisfying/dp/1787131068/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1536142159&sr=1-1&keywords=15+minute+vegan+comfort+food) . There is also an absolute wealth of recipes online. I absolutely love eating and cooking and at no point was I going to forsake my love affair with food, nor did I have to. It massively took me out of my comfort zone as a (relatively) good cook and some of the best recipes I know are vegan and yeast-free.

Lastly, remember that this is something that is helping you. If you treat it like a chore, as I did when I first eliminated the foods, you will be miserable. Whether the reason you’re refining your diet is because of dietary issues like mine, or for any other reason, then that reason always has to remain at the forefront of your mind.

 

All I will say is that my energy levels and happiness have dramatically increased since getting the food that was damaging my body out of me. Seeking out a dietician’s advice for my problems was the best thing I could have done; and for anyone experiencing any sort of severe bloating/tummy problems/IBS issues/nausea I would strongly recommend seeking professional advice.

 

Happy eating!

 

Sxx

 

Surviving a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis

Hullo!

I posted a few weeks ago on my Instagram about how I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome back in 2015, and how I have since ‘recovered’.

For a wee bit of context, at the start of 2015 whilst in my second year at University I gradually lost the feeling in both of my legs. I could stand and shuffle, but I couldn’t do much more as I couldn’t feel my legs to actually lift them off the ground. I went to hospital, was admitted and had various tests done to confirm it wasn’t something like Multiple Sclerosis. All the tests came back negative.

I was then diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as M.E.. The consultant I saw believed that a number of concussions I had suffered over the last few years, accompanied by me running the London Marathon the year before had contributed to my body saying, ‘It’s time for a rest now’. The diagnosis was good – it meant it wasn’t more sinister – but I will never forget the consultant saying to me, “You will get better, but we just don’t know if that will be in two weeks, two months or two years”.

It was a blessing that I wasn’t given a timeframe for recovery in hindsight, as I quickly just decided to get on with it. If I didn’t know how long it was going to last for, I was going to make damned sure that I worked my tush off trying to do all the right things to aid recovery. The major issue there, though, was that I was sleeping around 20 hours a day. How I managed to continue at University is a mystery to me. I can’t really remember the worst couple of months, either from blocking it out or because I was just living in some kind of dreamlike haze.

For those who get a CFS/M.E. diagnosis, it can be really scary. There are lots of things on the Internet that are hard to get to grips with and I definitely found it hard to begin with. However, my first priority was ensuring that I got my diet sorted – laying off booze, eating as much nutritious food as possible and staying hydrated. The consultant also recommended me to go for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), but as I’d had CBT before I just did not want to do it. However, in hindsight I think it would have helped as my mood was definitely low with everything that was going on, and so I think I would have benefited from talking to someone about it.

The major thing I quickly realised was that no matter if I had one hour’s sleep or twenty, I always felt crap. I then tried to cap my night’s sleep to about twelve hours and gradually over the months decreased this to about ten. Miraculously after about eight weeks of not feeling my legs, the sensation came back. Over the next year I would find that if I was really tired and desperately needed to rest, I would get a pinprick sensation all over my legs and this was the warning sign: Sophie, SLEEP. I would listen to my body as much as possible, but not to the point where I was just sleeping the whole time.

Once I got the feeling in my legs back I found that gentle exercise helped immensely. Clearly, it was the absolute last thing I wanted to do but forcing myself to get up and go for a jog, walk, or even an exercise class would make me feel better afterwards.

I’d say by the end of 2015 I began to feel much more like me. I wasn’t drinking alcohol at all, and really began to get into my running around this time. I began to feel like I was functioning like a normal person – maybe even better than a normal person – and this is where a massive turning point happened for me.

I suffered one relapse in 2016 as I had taken a part-time job at the Coop. I was lifting boxes all the time and it just absolutely floored me, and so I quickly realised that I still needed to take extra care around certain kinds of activities.

Since then, I have never looked back. Especially in the last eight months, I feel fitter, stronger and healthier than ever. I sleep about seven hours a night, wake up at 05:00 to walk my dogs, train six days a week and spend the rest of the time running around as that’s when I feel my happiest. I am not able to do what all ‘normal’ 24 year olds do, like go on a boozy week-long holiday, but that doesn’t matter to me anymore. I used to allow it to affect me because I felt like I was missing out, but there is nothing more enriching for me now than getting up every day and going for a run. Smashing running goals rather than shots (!) are what I’m all about now. And yes, I do drink, but everything in moderation!

I hope my story may help anyone who is suffering with a CFS/M.E. diagnosis, with the hope that it shows that you can get better from something as mystical and unknowable like this. If you persevere, work hard and listen to your body, amazing things are possible.

 

Sxx

St. Ives 10K

Hello!

I have just got back from a 10K race in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. As I mentioned in my Instagram story, my training over the last few weeks has been up and down because of work commitments and so I hadn’t prepared as much as I would have liked to for this race. However, I went in with a relaxed mindset anyway as it was very much a training run to get me used to racing again.

Racing is a totally different experience to going out for a run on your own. No matter how chilled out you are beforehand, nervous excitement can take over and this was certainly the case today. I was also wary as it was forecast to be about 28 degrees and the race didn’t start until 10:30, which is when the temperature already began to peak.

I’m trying to fine tune how much fuel I need in the tank before a race as I made a mistake a month or so ago at a 10K race in London, where I hadn’t had enough to eat and was hungry before I set off. Today I had a big bowl of porridge (which is so much better as a slow release energy than cereal or toast, for me anyway) about 2.5 hours before the race kicked off. This allowed enough time for the food to go down and me to feel comfortably full but ready to run.

The heat was oppressive before we even set off and there was literally no breeze whatsoever, so I knew this wouldn’t be a PB by any stretch. The race was an out and back route, which my running partner Paul wasn’t over the moon about, but for me psychologically it helps to come back the way you came as you can mark your route back much more efficiently.

I had been warned by the photographer prior to the race that after the section on the airstrip (which was a super cool addition and we were cheered on by lots of Army staff!) that there was a gradual incline that many don’t tend to account for. I listened accordingly, and on coming off the airstrip I took it steady on the incline. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was another incline that was much more steep. This really took its toll on me, and whereas I had been cruising for the first 7 KM up to that point, I definitely struggled to get my breath back after this last hill. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about Cambridgeshire, it is renowned for its flatness and so us locals are not used to hills whatsoever! I will definitely try in the future to fit in more hill sessions, even if it has to be on the dreaded treadmill.

I was hoping to find a pacemaker I could stick with, but as a result of the heat lots of people were running a slightly funny race pace. This meant I just had to go with how my body was feeling. My legs were absolutely fine, but in the last 3 KM the heat definitely began to take its toll and I told myself not to push myself too hard as it would be silly to in heat like this.

The last 500 metres felt like three times the distance. I was really feeling the heat but because we had come out the same way we came back, I was able to pace myself (fairly) effectively and even managed a (slow) sprint finish for the last 100 metres.

I’m still working out how to hydrate effectively whilst running. I really struggle to drink out of the plastic cups that you often are provided with at the water stations on smaller races, and so perhaps will consider taking my own water bottle if it’s set to be that hot again. I didn’t actually drink anything on the route as I didn’t want to lose my breathing, which I’ve been working hard on recently to control. Most people who did take advantage of the water stations just used it to cool themselves by chucking it over their bodies. I would probably have done the same had the race been longer but felt that a 10K was just short enough for me to get away with it.

I finished the race in 46:46 and was the 4th woman across the finish line in my category (16-35 – senior). I was the 17th woman overall. I believe the fastest runner was about 36 minutes and so the pace was definitely slower generally than other races I’ve competed in before. It was definitely not a PB, but given the weather and my wonky training schedule of late, I am really pleased with this.

I’d be really interested to know how anyone else fuels before a race and also how people deal with the heat. I said to my running partner afterwards that I don’t think I could have physically run much more than 10K in that scorching heat (which I’m sure for some people in warmer climes doesn’t sound that hot – but bear with my Britishness!).

So, how do you fuel before a run?

How do you ensure that you don’t get too hot mid-run, and avoid severe dehydration?

I look forward to any tips or tricks you might have!

 

Sxx

I’ve got a bad case of the runs

Hello! In my first ever blog post I feel like I’m sort of shouting into the void, but thought it would be a good idea for anyone (….is anyone there?) reading this post to learn a bit more about *me* and my motivations for starting this blog.

I have been running since the age of about sixteen. Prior to this, I was not into sport or fitness at all, but as my Mum and Dad were keen self-professed ‘plodders’ of the running world, I did my first 10K in my hometown in March 2010.

Lots of runners talk about catching the ‘running bug’, though for me my relationship with running has been slightly undulating. I always knew I loved running, but in my coming-of-age years I began to prioritise other things such as university, socialising and (shock! horror!) partying. I tried my absolute best to keep up with the running, but between 2014 and 2016 my running took a down turn. This was coupled with completing my first (and so far, only) London Marathon and being badly injured for it, having damaged my I.T. band a few weeks before the big day. After that, university took precedence and though I regularly attended the gym, running took a back seat.

Fast forward two years and I had graduated from university and was beginning to properly ‘adult’. Since the middle of 2016 I have steadily increased my running and intensified my training; all of this injury-free, thank goodness. I now tend to run five to six times a week, with a couple of strength training sessions thrown in for variation.

In light of all the above, I wanted to start a blog to incentivise me more, to connect with other runners and to talk about my experiences, tips and thoughts about that strange repetitive thing we do with our feet for fun.

If you’ve got this far without getting bored, thank you! I hope that my blog will be useful, interesting and help me and you learn more about running and how to be the best runner for you.

Sxx

P.S. The photo of me below is 100 metres shy of the finish line of my most recent half marathon. Having the children holding their hands out for a high five was the best last minute energy boost. However, note that I still have one eye on the finish line – namely because the 25 degree heat in England was enough to nearly kill me off and I was desperate to cross that line!

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