My Headstand Hero

I went to the gym this morning and it was a sea of silver hair. I've got a few days off work as Julia is visiting. She fancied a swim so I toddled off for some cardio. I guess it make sense that silver-hair ration was high at 8.30 on a Monday; most people would be busy thinking murderous thoughts about heading back to work after the weekend.

There were about a dozen older gentlemen and I had a great time observing their behaviour from my cross-trainer perch. Some puttered serenely on recumbent bikes or the hand-cycle thing; some zipped along on the treadmill; one bloke tsk-tsked as he tidied weight plates back into their correct spots as some infidel had messed up the system.

Then there was my new hero. He was in shorts and a vest top with manly hairy shoulders. He was kneeling with his head on the floor, a dumbell in each hand. At first I thought, he must be having a little breather. Then he started to move and I thought, cool, maybe he's going to do dumbell planks?

But no. He got into a FREAKING HEADSTAND. Full body, perfectly straight…

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then somebloodyhow he slowly pushed the dumbells in and out along the floor, in and out, in and out. Then he did one side at a time. He just stood there, on his head, working those dumbells, for about three minutes. 

I've Googled every combination of headstands + dumbells and can't find a picture or video to explain what he was doing, I am hoping my description makes sense. I can only conclude he made up the move himself; he was just sitting around one day and thought… no, wait… he was just standing around on his head one day and thought, how can I make this look even more astoundingly impressive in front of those old coots at the gym?

Mission accomplished, dude. Minutes later Headstand Hero was cranking out pull-ups like a champ. Jaws dropped around the room.

My workout had been lacklustre up to that point but he totally inspired me. I got on the rowing machine to finish my session with 2000m. I noticed the strapping young man beside me had just set his boat to do the same distance. I challenge thee to a duel! I said to him, in my head.

I rowed furiously through the imaginary sea. We were going at the same pace for ages which I felt mega smug about, but then at about 1500m, 2000m started to feel like an awfully long way, particularly having not been on a rowing machine for about four years. My face was beetroot and my whole body was fried. I glanced over at my rival; he was serene, unsweaty and unaware beneath his headphones. He also had the machine set four levels higher. He beat me by about 30 seconds, damnit. But still, full credit to my Headstand Hero for inspiring me to kick some Monday morning butt!

Walking in Dublin

Two Mondays ago I was in Dublin for the Flora Mini Marathon 10K.

After nine years living here in the UK, I'm still not over the novelty of being able to "pop over" to a whole other country for the same price/time it used to take me to get from Canberra to my hometown! But it would be a sad, curmudgeonly day if I ever lost that sense of wonder. Even when wonder is really profound stuff like, "OMG Cadbury Tiffin! You don't get that in the UK or Oz!"

Unlike the Running Festival last month I walked this one solo. But I was in a crowd of 40,000 other women, the Mini Marathon being the biggest women's race in the world…

Approaching the start line... blue sky!

Approaching the start line… blue sky!

I also had company in spirit - Up & Runner Cels was over from Brussels to do her first 10K (and she kicked butt) and Coach Julia J was over from Modena, with some of her Italian runners. We hung out all weekend and I could say nowt but ciao. I need to work on my Italiano.

The atmosphere was brilliant. So many people were running for charities and had the names of lost loved ones on the back of their t-shirts. That wells me up every time; always a sober reminder of the fragility and randomness of life.

The race was divided into Runners, Joggers and thousands of wonderfully chatty Walkers. The pace was slow-going for ages – most seemed up for a fun stroll rather than to steam along as fast possible like a big ginger walking machine as per my own intention.

At 4km I had to ditch the number obsession after I accidentally switched off Walkmeter so I didn't know how fast I was going. My brain about exploded trying to add up the splits with my watch, so the rest of the race was just me and my feet and all those ladies.

I've fiddling with this post for almost three weeks now, flitting between feeling proud and emotional then feeling stupid for feeling emotional, because all I did was walk ten piddling kilometres. It seems so silly when my friends routinely run for miles, Julia just did another Half Iron Man; Gareth is about to cycle up some Alps. It also seems extra lame when I used to be able to run and haul up mountains and kick arse at kickboxing.

I got stuck on that whiny groove around 6km (why does this always happen in the middle of races? I guess the brain wanders): You're so slow. Why'd you get so lardy again? You did 14 minute miles in Moonwalk training, why didn't you appreciate it? My feet hurt. This sucks. I suck. I bet Julia is in the pub with a Guinness by now!

But emotions come and go like the tide. The trick is to let 'em wash over and keep walking anyway. As I got closer to the finish line the bleak thoughts were replaced by peacefulness at being in a foreign land on a sunny day in a happy crowd; bewilderment at the lady smoking as she walked along in a cancer charity t-shirt, and the fun of eavesdropping on some breathless on-the-go wedding planning:

So I've got my shoes I've got my dress I've done the invites too my hair? I'm not sure about the hair depends if Kelly is coming if Kelly is coming I'll get her to do my hair for free she's a hairdresser see but if she's not coming I'll have to find someone else to do it oh no I've not done the flowers yet…:

Here are some photies I snapped along the way:

Amazing cheer squad outside the Irish Cancer Society

Amazing cheer squad outside the Irish Cancer Society

You cannae beat a pompom!

You cannae beat a pompom!

Around halfway, methinks

Still chockers at the halfway point, with gorgeous streaky blue sky

I wanted to hug this woman at the 7KM mark

I wanted to hug this woman at 7KM

I finally crossed the finish line in 01:45:49, an average of 10.35 minutes per kilometre, which I was okay with considering the first three km's were a very snailish 15, 12 and 12 minutes as it was so crowded. I must've sped up towards the end there.

I felt fitter than I did in Bologna last month, with no knee or sciatic pain. That's the comparison I choose to make now, rather than dwelling on where I used to be years ago. Being part of that race, with so many women of all shapes and sizes and stories, reiterated the importance of celebrating and making the most of where you are, right now.

Walking can be boring but it's working and it's taking me some interesting places!

We are the champions

After both being bedridden with a horrible fever virusy thing earlier last week, this past weekend Gareth bravely cycled a total of 125 miles in constant driving winds and rain with our equally insane brave friends. And me? I bravely reorganised the food cupboard. It's hard to decide which feat was more noble!

Okay it isn't really hard to decide at all. But I feel an astounding sense of achievement all the same.

I don't know why there are so many jars of olives, either.


(I ran out of containers by the time I got to middle shelf of Side 2. The revolution will be containerised!)

The Amazing Adventures of Diane Carbonell

Diane Carbonell

Diane Carbonell

Fourteen years ago Diane Carbonell lost 150 pounds and she's kept it off ever since.

That's a sentence that intrigues my pants off, as someone bamboozled by the keeping it off part! Diane's story at Fit To The Finish fascinates me being such a large weight loss sustained over a very long time… and she seems to be so serene about it, all with seven children, no less!

When I learned she had a book coming out I asked if she'd minding sending a review copy, and she kindly agreed. 150 Pounds Gone Forever is more an instructional book than memoir. Normally I'm more interested in the Why rather than the How, loving when an author spills their guts all over the page in juicy detail. But since this topic (mega maintenance!) is personally interesting, and I'm now down with my Whys and have moved on to the new Hows, I appreciated her straightforward and practical approach.

I was teary at times reading Diane's story, as her success made me see all over again where and why I faltered. She really did have that essential "this is not a diet, it's a plan for life" mindshift. She figured out a common sense and mindful way of living that suited her. She was not distracted by trends or what others were doing or thinking, she just quietly, consistently followed her plan. And she kept it simple and sustainable. For example, on Day One of her plan she decided walking was the exercise she could do for the rest of her life, and decided she would move every single day. So she did, and she still does. 

I felt a real calmness after reading the book. Diane reminded me that you don't have to get crazy or complicated, you just need to be consistent.

I asked Diane a few questions about her book…

Continue reading

Winners of the Up & Running Summer course giveaway

I'm busting to do a race report from Monday's Dublin Mini Marathon 10K (No, wait… I promise there'll be minimal grumbling!), but first, here are the lucky winners of the Up & Running Summer giveaway! 

Taking a breather at the Bologna bootcamp

Taking a breather at the Bologna bootcamp

Thanks everyone who entered. Here's how the winner was drawn: I put all your names into a spreadsheet, with one one row for each social media medium you entered with, e.g. if you followed on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest you got three rows. Then I put the total number of rows into the trusty random number generator to choose a winner. I was kinda hallucinating from Google Docs/cut'n'paste overload by that point and told it to pick 7 integers instead of 5 which is why there are 7 winners below!

For reference, I've put the original comment number beside the winner's name to avoid confusion.

  • #63 – Corrie
  • #77 – Armi
  • #19 – Fiona
  • #25 – Linda H
  • #9 – Alicia
  • #14 – Erin
  • #32 – Jo

Congratulations folks… I'll be in touch with you tomorrow once I've had a snooze!

If you missed out you can still join us - the 5K Course starts next Monday 11 June and the 10K Thursday 14 June. As a big thanks for your support of this blog, you can use code CHEERS at checkout to get 25% off but but only if you register before this Saturday 9 June.

Finally, to show it's not just me waxing lyrical, here are two groovy comments from the giveaway post…


"As an Up & Running Alumni, I would say that any of you reading this post and thinking that you'd maybe like to try one of the courses out, if you don't win the prize, please seriously consider signing up anyway. There's probably about a 97.9% chance (disclaimer; all stats totally made up) it will be the best money you'll spend on yourself all year.

Actually, you do actually have to do a wee bit of actual 'running'… so that drops the stats to maybe 97.6% – but let me tell you, what makes this course different to any of the other 'learning to run 5km from doing very little exercise at all' type online running courses, is the forum support, pure and simple. Just knowing that if you have a great run, a group of girls around the planet are cheering for you, and if you have a bad run, a group of girls around the planet will say something supportive (and maybe post a stupid picture of a duck to cheer you up) – it's enough to keep you going. Good luck in the competition, folks, and maybe I'll see some of you around the Alumni forum in a few months… :D"


"Hi from Alex, toddler + dog! I'm with Sharmaya ladies – if you don't happen to win, think about signing up anyway. Doing the 5K course and then the 10K course have been amongst my personal highlights for the last 12 months!"

… and the all-time classic quote from legendary Spring 2011 graduate Sas:

"Up & Running sh*ts all over Couch 2 5K!"

L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 4: Keep your hands off your flapjack

Hello everybody, Gareth here… time for another sporadic Étape du Tour update! We're now into Week 14 of the Etape training. Here's some stats to keep Shauna happy:

  • 1097 road miles covered over 74 hours, an average speed of about 15mph
  • 39,000 calories burned (no wonder I'm always hungry)
  • 22,000 vertical metres climbed (the Etape is over 4000 vertical metres in one day!!!)
  • average heart rate 132bpm, maxing out at around 175bpm.

I'll be honest and admit I'm starting to get a bit scared now! I feel fairly fit and have really noticed a difference in my endurance but I reckon this is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done. I think I'm going to need to dig pretty deep, both physically and mentally, to get to the end.

So, why am I doing this?

I mentioned previously that I was sick last year. In April I developed peripheral neuropathy which started out as three numb toes on my left foot and within a few weeks progressed to pain, burning sensations and pins and needles in my face, hands and feet. The symptoms were quite frightening and the pain and loss of sensation made it difficult to do simple stuff like write or grip. Walking was hard due to the pain and sensitivity / numbness in my feet.

After a few trips to the doctor I was referred to a neurologist who was fairly blunt when giving me a list of possible causes. The neuropathy can point towards a number of problems with one of the contenders being Multiple Sclerosis. I had two MRIs of my brain and spinal cord to check for lesions which can be caused by MS.

The symptoms didn't really let up until the end of 2011 and throughout those seven months I was feeling pretty crap and consequently didn't ride my bike very much. On the plus side I started playing golf with my brother which has given me the joy of playing a sport at which I truly suck! My golf swing was not helped by not having much grip strength in my left hand!

Shauna and I learned a bit more about MS throughout this time and she rode the Cycletta last year in aid of the MS Society. I sponsored her and at the turn of the new year an email dropped into my inbox – the MS Society was looking for cyclists to ride in their Etape du Tour team. There's nothing like a period of ill health to focus the mind so I decided to sign up.

In February of this year I received the good news that the MRIs hadn't shown up any brain lesions. I'd been starting to feel better physically but getting this positive news took a lot of pressure off of both of us. I still don't know what caused the neuropathy.

However, not everyone is lucky enough to get a positive result. Therefore, I'm doing this ride as part of the MS Society Etape team to help support the great work that they do. We have a number of friends with MS and there is also is a high incidence of MS in Scotland, so it's a cause that I really care about.

I have a sponsorship page and if anyone would like to sponsor me I'd be really grateful. I've got a bit to go to reach my target and intend to sponsor myself as a wee payback for the information and encouragement I got last year! Here's the link if you're interested:

On a lighter note… DICKHEAD REPORT!

Two weeks ago I was out training and had an unfortunate trip over the handlebars! I haven't fallen off a road bike for awhile and it was interesting to rediscover that roads are made of hard, scrapey stuff. I ended up with a nicely skinned elbow, a bruised hip, a bruised thigh and pulled muscles in my back and chest. I also knackered my bike and had to phone Shauna to come and get me as I was thirty miles from home.

So what caused this unfortunate incident? A pothole in the road? An accident with a car? A collision with an escaped sheep?

No, I was trying to get a flapjack out the back pocket of my jacket whilst riding hands-free. I took a trip over the handlebars for my trouble! I don't think anybody saw me.

The moral of the story is to stop and enjoy your food, instead of eating it on the move like you're Lance Armstrong. It's a good advertisment for the slow food movement.

Anyway, the next time I write it'll nearly be time. There's only five weeks to go! Wish me luck.