Runs with hamburgers

Last night I was running on a trail beside a railway line, while holding a large hamburger in my left hand. I was dreaming, of course. But it felt so good to be running. I was light on my feet despite my unweildy body and the whopping burger.

I felt an urgent desire to be on the other side of the tracks. I came to a bridge that crossed over the line but it was extremely narrow; about a foot wide. I’d need to turn sideways then somehow wiggle and squeeze my way over. The hamburger would need to go. As my run-ragged heart hammered away I looked at the bridge and then looked at the burger then looked at the bridge and looked at the burger again. What to do? What to do?

I woke up half-laughing. Random dream or a painfully literal metaphor for the lard busting efforts? Hmm…

This is not a burger with the lot“What kind of burger was it?” Gareth asked, “I bet it was an Aussie burger with the lot!


“Well that’s a rubbish burger to run with. They put too many fillings in and it always falls apart. Lettuce onions tomato cheese bacon pineapple and I don’t know which is more ridiculous, the fried egg or the beetroot.”

“So I should have ran with a Scottish burger where it’s just crappy meat and cheese welded to the bun with grease?”

“Far more sensible.”

. . .

Once, twice, three times a blogging lady!

Three Times A Blogging Lady Challenge: Halfway Report. I’m slightly behind! I have three 85% completed posts. Shall knock those buggers over tomorrow. This Challenge along with the DVD Dust-Off have highlighted my tendency to noodle endlessly instead of just getting things done and moving on. Let go of that hamburger and CROSS THE BRIDGE baby!

The Amazing Adventures of Philippa

Philippa Philippa, from Hampshire England, is a longtime Dietgirl reader. She's just finished the Up & Running 5K Course and inspired my socks off with the amazing changes she made over the eight weeks, inside and out.

I asked if she'd write about her running experience for you guys and she kindly obliged!

Running was for fit people. Cool, confident people with bouncy ponytails who never broke a sweat. Not people who once ate a whole takeout pizza, plus side dish, plus dessert for dinner, nor people who got breathless walking up stairs. Running was for other people.

So how did I end up in the park on my day off, wearing trainers and a sports watch!?

A year ago I'd been in much the same position. I'd downloaded the Couch to 5K programme and gave it a go… for a whole 10 days. I turned purple, almost hacked up a lung and proved all the things I thought I knew about running, including the fact that I couldn't do it. I went back to the couch and the calorie counting. This had worked for the last few years, taking me from 220lb to 162lb. There was never much exercise involved; I didn't stick with anything for long.

So why would running be different this year? I was still a bit overweight, I still hated public exercise and I had already established that I just couldn't do it. I wrote to Shauna about Up & Running and she assured me that being a bit overweight and unfit wasn't a problem. My negative little brain insisted, C'mon, she doesn't mean you, you're a whole new level of couch potato! But Shauna gave me a firm nudge, saying that if I really wanted to do it, it was possible.

I really really wanted to. I signed up for Up & Running and for the next eight weeks I walked, skipped and stretched. I did arm swings, side-stepped and skipped some more.

And I started to run. Slowly.

It was so slow that I could probably have walked faster! But the first time I ran I laughed out loud, right there in the park. I was like a kid in the playground going down a slide, that feeling that makes you want to shout, Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, look at what I can do! That first 10 seconds of running was amazing. That was what got me out there for the next session – I wanted more of that feeling.

Occasionally the training messed with my head. I had to push Little Miss Grumpy out the door when she didn’t want to go. I'd doubt my abilities as I read the training plan, “They want me to do what?". If I had a 'bad' workout I'd be convinced the magic was gone and everything was about to come crashing down. Years of negativity about my abilities weren't going to disappear in a few weeks. But it wasn't magic that had got me running – that wasn't going to disappear either! It was simply an off-day and with the support and advice from Coach Julia and the other ladies, I got back out there and kept going.

Along the way I've learned so much more than just how to run. The person who started the Course didn’t know what she was capable of. She was scared of so many things, with failure being top of the list. She hated what she looked like and she sure as hell didn’t want to draw attention to herself either.

PhilippaBut now? Looking in the mirror I can still see the stretch marks and a belly roll and thighs, but when I run it doesn't matter. My thighs aren't monsters any more, they're strong and powerful. And they work! I've never treated my body very kindly, damaging it and filling it with substandard fuel, but it's mine and despite what I've put it through it still works. Whenever I run it does what I ask it to do, rewarding me for treating it more kindly.

The Course finished with us completing a 5K race. Each training session had covered a maximum distance of 4km, so I wondered if I had it in me.  As I started my stopwatch I was terrified. The old feelings of self-doubt were there until I ran past a little old lady. She asked me how many miles I was running.

"Three miles!" I said.

And just like that the fear was gone. She saw a chick in running clothes, running. She saw a runner. So of course a runner would be running a few miles on a lovely sunny morning! God bless that lady.

I finished my run in 37 minutes 8 seconds feeling good. Not anything amazing, just good. I came home and it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

But then the tears came.  Wonderful tears, as another Up and Runner called it, "talking with water". Thirty years of fearing failure poured out out with the realisation I’d accomplished something I'd never thought possible.

I'm planning my running future now. I did a 5k local parkrun this past weekend, then in mid June I'm going to Scotland to run with some of the other Up & Running ladies. I'll meet Shauna and thank her in person for being a huge part of my journey (and to apologise for using that cheesy word!).

I still have some weight to lose but it's not the only goal now. I want to run well and I know that being a little lighter will help, but I want to achieve things with this body of mine. I want to run 5km FAST! I want to do the Up & Running 10K course in September and I want to run a marathon some day!

I don't know how yet or what else will happen along the way, but I do know my body can do amazing things now. And I won’t let fear stop me any more.

Introducing… Up & Running running e-courses!

image from Out of all the bumbling sporty things I've tried over the past ten years, none has given me a greater rush than that 5K running race.

Way back in 2004 I got an email from a woman named Julia, an American in Italy. She was a running coach and said that I sounded like I was in need of a challenge. How would I like her to virtually train me for a 5K?

I told her the idea was bloody ridiculous. Running was for skinny girls with long legs and bouncy ponytails. Not for chunky lassies who got puffed running for the bus!

But Julia had already coached thousands of women who thought they couldn't run, so she'd heard all the excuses before. She urged me give it a go.

So for eight weeks I followed her programme. It was hard. I whined a lot. But it was fun! As each week went by I discovered I was capable of far more than I’d ever thought. I found new endorphin highs, new muscles in my legs and new faith in myself. Even though kickboxing and Zumba are my exercises of choice these days, running was the thing that made me ditch my fears about exercise and the "I could never do that" limiting beliefs.

I'll never forget blubbing my eyes out as I crossed the finish line at my 5K race. I wrote en blog:

"There is no better feeling in the world than to take your mind and body to some place you thought it couldn’t go; a place you thought it didn’t belong. You should all try it some time."

Now six years later, you can try it, if you fancy!

I'm chuffed to bits to let you know that today Julia and I have launched Up & Running: kickass running e-courses for women.

We've taken Julia's tried and true running training programmes online, so no matter where you are in the world you can get running too. Julia is your expert running coach, while I'm the boss of the website!

Up & Running

We're starting with our eight-week 5K Beginners Course, with plans for 10K, half marathon and marathon courses later down the line.

The 5K Course, which kicks off on 21 March, is not the usual boring "walk 5 mins, run 5 minutes" training malarkey. This is a mind and body approach. We'll not only get you running safely, we help you set goals and understand your motivations. We help you get in tune with your body and how to look after it when you run so you stay strong and healthy. We've got video tutorials, inspiring interviews with runners.

And we don't just give you a set of instructions then abandon you – you get unlimited support via our community forums – all your questions answered.

I'm really rambling on now – can you tell I'm excited!? I'm just so passionate about this because Julia is a brilliant coach and I so strongly believe in the power of exercise to change the way we see ourselves. Well. How about I shut up now so you can go check it out?*

(* If you want to. If you do, I will love you for life. Woohoo! 🙂

What is the right way to run?

RunThis post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Linda had a running question for Ms Julia Jones:

I've been reading and watching You Tube videos on running. It seems there is a wrong way to run and a right way. They say once you start running incorrectly it's hard to adjust. What is the right way to run? Do you have any tips or links I can follow up on? 

Forwards! I say. But the wise Julia has a better answer:

I wrote a book in Italian on women's running and I just translated the first section: running style! The english has not yet been corrected but it's still readable 🙂

Running Style – A first approach

One of the most frequent questions asked by beginners is: how should I run? A lot of people compare themselves to elite runners they see on television (no matter what the specialty is, from the 800 metres to the marathon) or to a friend that already runs, without realizing that the way they move is very, very different.

They want someone to watch them run correct any errors that they’re making. They want to know if their feet should be positioned further ahead or if their shoulders are too far back. They think that with a couple of suggestions and simple corrections they’ll be able to run perfectly.

The human body is amazing. It adapts perfectly to whatever environmental conditions it’s give, using whatever available resources it possesses. Even though as human beings we’re very similar to one another, in reality we are all very unique in our physical and mental characteristics. The way we move, even while running, is influenced by our body proportions, any physical activity done during the years, by mental models that each one of us constructs and builds through our own experiences. In running, the way you place your feet, the position of your upper body and your stride length are all regulated by inborn and acquired qualities. What has to be looked at is whether what you think is a incorrect way of running (compared to an ideal model) should be corrected or just left alone.

Have you ever seen the British World Class athlete and marathoner Paula Radcliffe run? Every four steps her head inclines forward as if she’s nodding. The faster she runs the faster she nods. Look out when she has to sprint to the finish! And yet she’s declared that it would cost her more energy to work on modifying this “defect” rather than try and live with it to her best ability. With her “wrong” way of running she holds the world record time for the Women’s marathon distance!

My advice to beginner runners is not to concentrate too much in the first few months on your running style. Initially, it’s more important to build an aerobic base and be able to “move yourself” for many miles without stopping. Once you’ve reached this goal you can read the next chapter and concentrate more on how to improve your running technique and style. For now you can just follow these four tips to achieving a natural running style:

Look straight ahead.
Don’t put your focus on the the ground or on your shoes. Look directly in front of you with your head straight. Enjoy your environment, you can look left and right, or concentrate on a focal point or the general view in front of you.

Keep your shoulders straight and relaxed.
Be careful not to tense up in your shoulders or hunch over while leaning too far forward. It might help stretch before starting your run with your hands high over your head. Another trick is to left and then release your shoulders six or seven times in a row. Sometimes when I feel a lot of tension in my shoulders I’ll slow down my run for a few minutes and do these same exercises while I’m running.

Your elbows should be at a 90° angle.
Your arms should be relaxed and follow the natural rhythm of your legs. Make sure to keep your hands relaxed, with your fingers slightly closed but not in a tight fist.

Mid-foot striking and landing
Not on the tips of your toes, not on your heels. Your feet should cushion your land and roll as you push off, trying not to brakes the movement. Landing with your heels makes you brake sharply and thus puts a lot of traumatic strain on the lumbar region, which is when you hear complaints about back pain.

Is barefoot running good for you?

This post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Another running question for Coach Julia:

What's your take on barefoot running? Is there really any scientific evidence to support it?

Julia says:

When I was in high school in the mid 70’s I had a history teacher that was a recreational runner. He would go running every single day at lunch circling the perimeter of the football field, barefoot on the grass. After more than thirty years barefoot running has made a huge comeback in the States, mostly after the success of Christopher McDougall’s best seller book “Born to Run”. If you haven’t read his book yet, I highly recommend it. It’s probably the most entertaining book I have ever read on running, and I’ve read them all!

In the second week of my Base program I wrote a paragraph about the importance of using your feet while you run:

“Most of us think about our legs while running, but the one most important aspect of how well you run is how you use your feet. In running your feet not only land you as you “fly” through the air, they’re used to push you off the ground as your body is propelled forward. How you use your feet is going to determine how fast you run and help you fend off a lot of running related injuries. In fact, people that complain about knee problems when running are most often “shufflers”. They land flat on their feet, absorbing all the impact on their knees.”

What Christopher McDougall emphasizes quite strongly in his book is on how running shoes are now constructed to immobilize your feet rather than allow you to use them the way they were meant to function. With all the cushioning, wedges and “air”, we can now run with no pain, and that is not always a good thing. Your feet need to move and push and “feel” the ground so they know how and when to shift or change position based on what kind of surface they’re on. A good runner has good biomechanics while running, and that starts with landing properly on your feet and then pushing off with them.

That said, I am not ready to go out and run barefoot. I think there are many ways that you can rehabilitate your feet so that you are using them while you run without taking off your shoes.

  • Buy no frills, light weight, running shoes. Look for a running shoe that allows you to move your foot. The soles should be solid but flexible. Do not buy anti-pronating correctors or super padded, wedged soles, running shoes. A nice basic shoe like the Asics DS trainer are a good example. (no endorsement!). They’re lightweight with the right amount of padding but they don’t have all the “motion control” plastic that keeps your foot pegged in the shoe.
  • Go barefoot at home. As soon as you walk in your front door, slip off your street shoes and go barefoot. I know someone out there is saying, “but I just wear slippers at home…” It’s still not the same as going barefoot! If your feet get cold or you’re not used to walking around the house without slippers, buy a pair of thick cotton or wool socks and slip those on. In our house we went as far as putting in a floor heating system so that we can go barefoot all year round.
  • Regularly practice foot perception exercises. If you’re not used to using your feet because you wear shoes all the time, you need to rehabilitate them so that they regain balance and feeling. The easiest foot perception exercise:

    Stand on one foot, stork style, hold your other foot behind you with the knee bent. Now just stand there for one minute. If you lose your balance you cannot put the other foot down to regain it. You’ll need to hop around in order to get back in balance. While you’re doing this, feel and notice the foot that is in contact with the ground. Use your big toe to balance yourself. Switch feet after one minute.

    You might notice that you’re better at keeping your balance on one side rather than the other. Keep switching back and forth for up to ten minutes total time… each day! You can do this anywhere (on the phone, in front of the television).

    Once you’ve mastered it you need to start making it more difficult: do a windmill movement with your arms or move your upper body around. Anybody that has a little yoga experience should have no trouble doing this. Note that your ankles might me sore after just one session but his is normal and goes to show how much you need to practice!

  • Foot awareness while running. Pay attention to your feet while your run for just ten seconds at a time. It’s enough to just say to yourself, “Okay, now I’m going to pay attention to my feet” in order to make a change. How are you using your foot? Are you pushing off with your forefoot to move forward? Are your ankles flexible? Can you hear yourself run? (you shouldn’t!). Only do this exercise ten or fifteen seconds at a time, otherwise your feet will be too sore, and really, we don’t want to take the fun out of running!
  • Try a metronome to help you shorten your stride. A large percentage of recreational runners overstride. They take these big, huge, bounding steps thinking that this will move them foreword faster. It might for a few miles but it’s tiring and taxing on your quadriceps and biomechanically incorrect. You must shorten and quicken your stride, something very natural to barefoot runners. If you want to try and change from overstrider to quick strider an instrument that can help you change that is a metronome. Seiko makes a nice one (model DM 33, approx. $ 20,00 USD). You’ll want to first measure how many steps per minute you take running now, and with the help of the metronome, increase it gradually. This whole subject might merit another article if there’s any interest.

  • Go barefoot…on a well groomed field. Find a nice, well groomed football field. Warm up on the track WITH your shoes first, then hop on the field and take your shoes off. You can start by doing some walking and then spurts of running. After you’re used to being barefoot you can try out a 10 x 100 meter strides, running them diagonally across the field. When you’re done, put your shoes back on and run another mile wherever you want (track or field).
  • If you’re not ready for the complete barefoot experience, there are a few shoes you can use that are close:

    – Nike Free is an unconstructed running shoe that works quite well if you want to flex your feet but keep them warm. I wouldn’t use them for really long distances, anything up to 6 miles is fine. I use them when I want to do running drills like skipping and bounding.

    – Vibram Five Fingers – this is surprisingly an Italian shoe! Even though you see more and more people running around with these on, they are the closest thing to barefoot running and you will have to go easy on them at the beginning. I have friends with lots of running experience that have never gotten past mile TWO with a pair of five fingers on. Your mileage may vary!

    – When professional athletes want to put their feet in action again, they put on a pair of spiked running shoes. For experienced athletes only!

Am I too fat to run?

This post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Another running question for the lovely Julia! This one comes from Renee:

I've been walk/running regularly for a little over a year, but at 5'6" and 195 lbs I'm obese by BMI standards, and am worried about increasing the running portion of my workouts beyond about 30 minutes. (Distance? I'm dead slow so probably not even 2 miles.) I was at 180 lbs at this time last year and can sure tell the difference in my running with the increased weight – it's way harder and I've had to downshift from Laughably Slow to Very Slow Indeed.

I am in process of losing weight again, but in the mean time, should I be concerned about too much impact on my joints? Don't know if body type has any affect, so I will share that I'm pretty classic pear shape with a relatively small waist and shoulders, wider hips, and very big thighs.

Julia sayz:

Body weight does have significant impact not only on your joints but mostly on your running style. In order to accommodate the weight you carry around you move your body in a different way, which usually isn’t the most efficient running style. In most cases you end up causing yourself an injury, usually in the lower leg area (knees, ankles, shins, etc). This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t run, but you need to use a little more caution while you work on losing the extra body fat. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • It’s important to be moving for at least 40 minutes. That doesn’t mean you have to run for forty minutes, you can warm up with a fast paced walk and then throw in some some 30 second running stints before beginning the longer running portion of your workout. Twenty minutes is usually the mark where your body starts to burn fat during a workout, giving yourself 20 minutes more to really rev it up will help you lose weight faster.
  • Don’t knock walking! Taking walking breaks between runs actually allows your muscles a “breather” and can help you run longer and faster.
  • Add strengthening exercises to your routine. We've got lots of those in the Up & Running 5K Beginners Course that help you build up muscles and joints before they break down.
  • In order to lose weight you need to be “running” four days a week. I’ve seen women lose weight with three workouts per week, but four is optimum for weight loss.

Tips for running in winter

This post was imported from the Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone podcast blog.

Listener Tessa from the Netherlands had a question for our running guru Julia Jones:

Could Julia give some tips about what to wear in autumn/winter? I live in the Netherlands and, like Scotland, it's possible to experience all 4 seasons in one day… At the moment it's mostly (cold) rain, a little sunshine and freezing gusts of wind.

I've tried running a long time ago (also in winter) and I usually ended up then freezing because my 'warm' clothes got dripping wet. I have some 'quick dry' fitness clothing but those really are not warm enough when I start my workout. I could start out wearing a vest but where do keep it when I start to get warm?

Money is an issue for me so I would rather not buy expensive 'professional' runners clothing. At least not until I know if I want/am able to keep running. Could she give some cheap but brilliant tips?

Here's Julia's answers:

Hi Tessa,

You need to dress in layers that you can take off as needed during your run, here's my suggestions:

  • Running tights. In winter I always use capris unless it's below 0°C/32°F, then I'll go for full length.
  • Top, to about 4°C/39°F:  The first layer (closest to your skin) should be a short sleeve Dri-Fit shirt. The second layer should be a long sleeved Dri-Fit shirt. 
  • Top, below 4°C/39°F: Make the first layer a long sleeve Dri-Fit shirt and the second layer a long sleeve Polartec type sweatshirt. 
  • This is the only thing you might have to buy: an all weather jacket with removable sleeves. This is something I LOVE and totally recommend to everybody who runs outdoors in the winter. I actually don't use the jacket as a jacket that much, but rather use it as a vest. If it's raining the vest keeps my body dry and warm but doesn't overheat me since the sleeves are off. Then again, you could start out with the sleeves on and then take them off if you get too hot. Make sure you get a jacket with pockets so you can stick the sleeves in. 
  • Polartec gloves. I start out most of my winter runs with gloves on. Once I'm warmed up I stick them in my jacket pocket or down my sports bra.
  • Hat or head wrap. – If it's really cold out I  wear a Polartec hat, otherwise I love wearing cotton wraps around my head. You can actually make them yourself out of cotton-like elastic fabric. Just sew a tube about 8 inches long. While running outside you'll want to cover your ears. If you get hot with it on, just roll it down and it can cover your neck for the rest of the run.  If it's really raining and I'm determined to run anyway I use a cap with a visor so the rain stays out of my eyes.

With all of these layering elements you can just play around with them and see what is most comfortable for whatever temperature Mother Nature hands out for the day. Mix and match and see what works best for you!

Happy Winter running!


Kick and Scream

Wednesday Weigh-In Week 252 — 0.4 kg lost. That’s 72.9 kilos gone in total. Which means I’ve blasted 86.72% of my excess lard, with 11.3 kilos to go. Beware of the StatsDork!

Life has been boring lately, and that’s just fine by me. It’s been a chaotic year, what with that ridiculously short engagement, moving house, running off to Vegas, Home Office wrangling, forays into running, media whoring and all those silly weddings. And of course that came after two years of madness with moving overseas and becoming a travelling bum. So it’s a pleasant change to slip into a  predictable-days quiet-nights boring married person routine for awhile.

Not that I intend becoming a boring married person and surrendering to middle aged cliches – I’m too used to adventure now to ever allow that to happen. But I am using this break from Excitement to tackle the steaming pile of neglect that has been my Everyday Life. I made a list of all the mundane tasks that I’ve been avoiding for years and have been slashing through said list like a madwoman. The Scottish Companion caught the same bug so together we have completely blitzed our little flat and now it’s really becoming a cosy home.

We have sorted out every single cupboard, wardrobe, drawer, shelf, cardboard box, suitcase and hidey-hole. I can now find towels in the linen cupboard, and know the whereabouts of all my socks and undies thanks to a new chest of drawers in the bedroom. The cutlery is sorted in an organiser tray, instead of being randomly shoved into the kitchen drawer in a tangled pile of metal. My shoes are in a shoe rack thingy. My coats are on hangers instead of the Towering Chair Pile of Doom. All the DVDs are on the shelf, together at last! The old magazines have been recycled. The bank statements have been filed. Two years of recipes and exercise articles and crappy holiday souvenirs have been sorted into smug little folders with dividers and labels and plastic sleeves. The study is still tidy and I have room for my Reebok step and weights so I can do some lifting without the barbell clonking into the walls. I can even lift weights naked now because we finally have some curtains up. Huzzah!

Oooh just stepping inside the flat after work these days makes me shudder with multiple geekgasms; there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place! I can flop down on the couch knowing I won’t get a remote control stuck up my arse because they’re safely nestled in the designated Remote Control Bowl. Joy!

It may sound like I am exaggerating the positive effect of a good spring cleaning, but it really has put me in a positive, productive frame of mind. I feel calm and sane, it’s great not having to waste so much energy on domestic minutiae. This mood has carried over to my Lard Busting Mission, where I’m still chugging along nicely. I did all my exercise last week and ate well. The scales showed a small loss, but my clothes are fitting like a dream and I have loads more energy. I am desperate to blast the last of my blubber but I am not going to set deadlines or crazy targets. Consistency, focus and hard work over time without extremes – that is best for my body and more importantly for my mental health.

Dude, winter! It sucks.

Well, it has its advantages. Like hiding under layers of clothing. There was a total of one day this summer that I had to Get My Legs Out in public. One DAY it was hot enough for a skirt. 26 bloody degrees. You almost forget you even have legs living in Scotland. Of course, you get the skanky types that put their pale and mottled pins in a mini-kilt in January, but if you’re a shy thing like me you can get away with jeans all year round. It wasn’t til I was back in Australia that I remembered how loathsome and doughy my thighs are. It is much easier being fat in a cold climate.

One disadvantage of winter is that the sun doesn’t rise til 9am and it sets about 4pm. I leave for work at 6.30am and get home at 5.30 – 6pm, so I live in a world of darkness. You can see how this sucks if you want to be a runner. Especially when the local council doesn’t turn on the lights in the lovely big local park and running on the pavement makes your knees hurt and that’s if/when the pavement isn’t bloody icy. I still have the weekend, but that’s not enough. I need to add in some treadmill runs. This worries me though as my knee still isn’t 100%. Despite my beautiful new running shoes my knee has resumed with the crunchy noise and never feels quite right when I run. I could do 75 RPM or Body Combat classes and not feel a twinge, but after one or two runs the knee protests again. I need to revisit the exercises the physio gave me and worker hard on my leg strength. I wasn’t consistent enough with it before. Bad me.

I was ranting about the winter weather dilemma in an email to the amazing running guru Julia, and among her repsonse she said, If you’re not that into running it’s really difficult to get any enthusiasm up for it during the winter.

This really got me in the guts and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I so desperately want running to work for me. Why? Just the memory of that 5k race and how the months of effort culminated in that amazing feeling of achievement. I love how running is about self-discipline and gut-busting effort. I love how I hate most every step of a running session but get such a thrill when I’ve finished it. But am I really into it?

I’ve been going back to Body Combat classes lately, and while I enjoy the kicking and punching, I don’t hate it like I hate running. And that is disappointing. I don’t get that feeling halfway through the class of, "I can’t do this! I am going to die! It’s too much!". THAT is how I measure a good workout these days – whether or not I feel that perverse physical and mental pain. Body Combat feels a little girly now, to be honest. On the other hand. I hate my RPM (spinning) class just as much as running. I watch the clock during every song, feeling my quad muscles prickle and scream, glaring at the instructor and wanting to cry. It’s only 45 minutes but you can push hard and make it burn like hell. I loathe it, but that is what I love about it. Does that make any sense?

So we’ve established I like the idea of pushing yourself to physical and mental limits, which is something I discovered via my forays into running. But I don’t know if I am into running or just the idea of running/ being a runner. I loved the whole process of learning about it — being virtually trained by Julia, the planning and routines, the magazines and books, the web forums and shoe guides. But the actual running? The long-suffering Scottish Companion could attest to my tedious bitching about every single step, which almost overshadowed the post-run euphoria. And with this on-again off-again knee problem, I question my commitment with my reluctance to spend money on physio or orthotics or whatever it would take to get it sorted. And I know if I was really into running, I would buy some crazy winter snow-proof running shoes and thermal pants and strap a torch to my forehead and go out running in the winter dark.

Am I just making excuses? Am I just not into it? Am I just a casual summer runner? Am I a whingey, lazy bastard or is it just not for me? I will have to get back to you on that one.

Blessed Are The Listmakers

Righto. Let’s get on with it.

As always I’m squirming after writing such an emotive entry. Do you people realise how lucky you are? (Insert smirk here.) Because year after year I keep letting it all hang out for the masses, documenting every bad mood, every tantrum and ill-considered rant despite the fact so many people are watching, many of whom I know.

It’s a love/hate relationship with blogging. Each entry is a snapshot of a sliver of time in which you might not necessarily be at your most articulate. You put it out there then leave yourself vulnerable to all sorts of feedback. And quite often by the time you hit the Publish button, you’ve written yourself out of the crappy mood anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s invaluable to have a record of a rollercoaster journey. You can see the patterns of behaviour. For example, you can see parallels in my recent behaviour to how I felt two months after I moved to Scotland – bleak thoughts, overwhelmed, unmotivated, hopeless, teary, excessive self-pity… excessive self-deprecation to disguise the self-pity. Back then I quickly identified this as potential depression, going on my previous episodes. But because I caught it so early on, I kicked into preventative action right away.

The night I posted the last entry, I couldn’t sleep and was just lay there doing that crying-quietly-in-the-dark thing and wondered what the hell to do. I felt the fog was rolling in and I didn’t have control of my life or emotions. I considered going to the doctor and asking for anti-depressants. I wanted to wave the white flag and cry, Yep, I’m back down here again. Someone please help me back up!

But then I realised why I felt so goddamn awful. I simply stopped looking after myself. I’d let a few weeks of holiday indulgence drag on for another three weeks once I got back home. After that one jetlagged Body Pump class, I’d only done two more classes in three weeks. I ate a tonne of chocolate and toast and cheese and assorted crap. Yes, I was feeling so miserable to be back in Scotland and all the issues in the last entry — but I had exacerbated and prolonged the problem by letting my physical health slip.

That may sound simplistic to you, but this is how it works for me. My mental and physical health go hand in hand. After much trial and error I finally figured out that regular exercise and healthy eating were just as effective for me as the loony pills. Actually, more so. As soon as I am looking after my body and getting the happy chemicals flowing, I am able to cope with challenges. It clears the fog, instantly boosts my self esteem, helps me see solutions to problems, and gives me the energy to take action.

So I wasn’t going to surrender. I’d caught it early again and I knew what I had to do. The more you know yourself, the quicker you can fix yourself.

Sunday afternoon I went for a run with the Scottish Companion. Good lord, I was shite! I’ve barely run at all since the Race of Life 5k in June because of my knee injury. At 4.30pm it was already dark and freezing and they hadn’t turned the lights on in the park. But we walk/ran for fifty minutes, me huffing and puffing and trying to find the light button on my stopwatch. After awhile I was so hot, my skin burned and I had to take my gloves off. But it was fucking brilliant! Aside from an occasional dog walker, the park was quiet and empty. I just lost myself in the sensation of making my body do what it’s meant to do. Running is such a sensual experience compared to being in the gym with a squawky instructor. It’s all fresh air, trees, icy wind blasting your face, screaming muscles, and the amazing feeling and rhythm of your legs just striding out over and over.

And it totally worked. Fifty minutes and I felt like my mojo was back.

I’m determined to get things in order. For the past three years I’ve used small Moleskine journals as an organiser, writing down all my lists of things to do, goals, recipes, story ideas, overhead conversations, travel details, important numbers in one handy place. I’d just filled my third up last week, so I’ve got a brand new empty one. It’s all rather symbolic, yo. The last one covers August 2004 til now, including trips to the Baltic States, Spain, USA, Australia, plus 5k training notes, journalist’s phone numbers and three weddings worth of To Do lists. Looking back through my scribbles I know it was the most incredible year-and-a-bit of my life. As many of you commented, I have had some non-fat achievements. But now I have a new book and all those empty pages to fill with new goals, ideas and adventures.

On the first page I’ve already made a list of all sorts of things I want to do, both specific goals and lofty dreams.

It was an all-action weekend, really. We have been DIY-ing like mofos to turn our spare room into a study. The Scottish Companion works from home, but his office has been the couch. Which means there’s no separation of his home/work lives, leading to major frazzlement. And also, I’ve been longing for a quiet space to shut the door and do some writing when his pals are over. SO, we painted the walls, bought a desk and bookshelves and big leather executive chair that looks like the kind of thing an movie villain would sit in and stroke a fluffy cat.

The transformation wasn’t a quick process, especially when SC forgot the 5-litre paint pot was sitting on top of the step ladder when he moved it, launching Dulux Natural Straw all over the door, wall, ceiling and the one patch of carpet we hadn’t covered. Oh yeah, and on SC’s head and crotch (HILarious!). But the hard graft was deeply satisfying in a nerdly DIY sort of way. It’s finally starting to feel more like our home, instead of me just visiting SC’s Grotty Student Digs. Now I can’t to settle down and get on with my writing goals.

So things are looking up, huzzah!

Nutrition Nerds Unite!

Ooh I just had a great brekkie. It was my usual combination of oats (uncooked), pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Yeo Valley yogurt and chopped banana, except this time I chucked some blueberries in as well, since the little blue bastards were actually on sale this week instead of costing approximately £1 per berry! I stirred all this stuff until it became one chunky, vomitous clump then chomped away quite happily with the occassional blueberry pleasantly exploding with superhealthy antioxidant goodness. Sweeeeeeeeeeet.

That blueberry link was from the World's Healthiest Foods site, which aside from Krista's Weights page is probably the best site I've ever found for lard-busting advice and ideas. While I may eaten whole jars of Nutella with a spoon in the past, these days I am a nutrition nerd and love learning about vitamins and essential fatty acids and so-called superfoods. This site is an invaluable tool if you want to learn more about the benefits of eating healthy whole, REAL foods instead of your crazy-processed LF FF NF Cheezy Stikz or Diet Lite Choco-Crunch or Reduced Carb Pasta or whatnot.

The site has an exhaustive A – Z list of the World's Healthiest Foods, with detailed nutritional info per serving. Not just about calories, but vitamins and minerals. For example take kale, the under-appreciated leafy green. It's got vitamin A, vitamin C, fibre, calcium, potassium, iron, folate and magnesium… and bazillions of other healthy shit. Ooh, geekgasm! There are also recipes, menu plans and best of all the Food Advisor quiz, where you can answer a few questions about what you eat and it tells you where your diet may be lacking (eg. possible vitamin deficiencies) and what percentage of foods you are eating from the WHF list.

I took the test again today and this week I am eating 88% WHF, no doubt boosted by all the goddamn birdseed I eat. This is good, but it also suggested  I need to eat more foods containing Vitamin B12, D and E. So I just click on the little link and it tells me a bunch of suitable foods. Easy peasy. Improving my diet  looks as simple as adding an egg and perhaps a serve of meat. Plus I ain't eating enough greens. If you have five minutes to take the test, it's really worth it. Be brutally honest in your answers because it really helps you to see areas you could improve on.

I am sorry if the above has bored your pants off, but if you're a fellow nutrition nerd you may just get a nice warm feeling in your naughty areas by spending some quality time on that site.

. . .

One year ago I wrote about buying my first pair of running shoes. You can relive the grand melodrama here, but basically it took me three attempts and a few tears before I actually got inside the store. Why? Because I was bloody intimidated by the idea of running, thinking I didn't belong and my lardy arse would be laughed out of the shop. The saleslady was actually very helpful and patient, but I was so flustered that I ended up grabbing a random pair coz I was freaking out and not wanting her to watch me run up and down the shop again. Big mistake.

It wasn't until April this year that I actually started training properly. Initially things were okay but always felt some discomfort with the shoes. I chalked it up to them not being worn in yet, but after about six weeks my right knee was causing serious pain. When I finally sat down and tried to figure out the cause, I realised that my shoes really did not fit me properly. They were just totally bloody wrong for my feet. The toes on my right foot would shove up against the front of the shoe when I ran. My feet oozed over the sides of the shoe as they weren't wide enough. In fact, the sides of the shoe were starting to split.

But I didn't have the time or funds for a new pair of shoes, so after couple weeks of no running and copious leg exercises, I did the 5k race in the shitty shoes. Weeks of EVIL eeeeeevil knee pain followed. I couldn't run at all, I had to drop all my weights for squats and lunges. Stairs were a nightmare. So I ended up going to the physio, and after six weeks of exercises and RPM, my knee finally felt okay again. So last Friday I finally went back to the running store!

What a difference from a year ago. This time I charged right into the shop and felt comfortable, like I had every right to be there. Gone was the nausea and trembling fear, huzzah! I spoke to the same chick as last time and explained I'd bought these shoes from her but I'd done so far too quickly and didn't get the right ones, because I'd been an absolute beginner and quite scared by the idea of buying running shoes. She gave me a puzzled look, as if I'd told her I was scared of kittens or chocolate bars. Who'd be afraid of that?

But anyway. I showed her my old shoes and she agreed that while they were the right style (some motion control) they were totally wrong fit for my feet. They were way too small and narrow. So she started dragging out a bazillion boxes of shoes. She said it would be a lot of trial and error as I belonged to "quite a specific niche" of the shoe market. My feet are very wide, I overpronate and my right foot is bigger than the left. I tried over a bloody dozen pairs. The more popular breeds were too narrow or didn't feel like they were giving me any support. I tried some mens shoes but they felt too heavy. Arrgh. Too narrow! Too soft! Too heavy! It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bazillion Shoes.

The same thing happened last year, and I'd sat there surrounded by shoe boxes trying not to hyperventilate. But this time I was calm and patient. I'd lace up each different pair then run up and down the shop without having to be asked, letting her watch my ass blobbing along. I was so focused on finding The Right Pair that I did not give a shit what my thighs looked like, nor did I freak out at all the skinny chicks cluttering up my path as they shopped for tiny running shorts. I just ran around them! I was not going to waste my time or money with crappy shoes.

I ended up with Brooks Addiction 6, whatever that means. All I know is my big fat foot finally feels nestled and nutured. I've done two runs this week and walked round in them heaps and they fit like a dream. No blisters, no toenail grating. When I put these on I am amazed at what a dimwit I'd been to put up with the old pair. I still feel the odd twinge in the knee, so for now I am just taking it easy, running on grass and avoiding hills for the moment. I'll see how it goes.

The point of all this is just to show you what damage you can do by Thinking Like A Fat Chick. A year ago I thought I didn't bloody deserve decent shoes. I was wasting the saleslady's time. People Like Me did not belong in running stores. So I grabbed a random pair just to get out of there.

What bullshit! Just because you're not bloody Beethoven doesn't mean you're not allowed to buy a piano. Just because you're not Michael Schumacher doesn't mean you shouldn't drive a car. THEREFORE, just because you're not Paula Radcliffe doesn't mean you don't deserve shoes that don't fit. My misguided fatty fat fat self-beliefs ended up contributing to a really shitty injury and expensive physio. I am not saying my knee problems were entirely caused by ill-fitting shoes – my pain really kicked in after I accidentally ran 20 minutes too long coz I didn't read Julia's instructions properly – but they were certainly a major problem.

I often get emails from people asking how to get into running, so here is what I have learned in my very limited experience. We all know I am still an absolute beginner with guidance from the lovely Mistress Julia. However, please take it from someone who has hobbled round for a month, if you seriously want to make running part of your exercise regime, PLEASE take the time and expense to go to a proper running store and get some proper shoes. Your smelly old cross trainers will not do. Get someone to watch you trot around to see if your feet do anything wacky. This is particularly good advice if you're heavy and have not run at all before. Running is a total shock to a body that's used to just sittin' round or the occasional swish on the elliptical machine. Running is high impact stuff. If you're a total beginner, ease into it with a simple plan like Couch To 5k and stick to it precisely. Allow your fitness to build steadily – don't skip ahead or add sessions or run further until it says to. So many people start C25K then burn out after three or four weeks coz they thought they could do more but wound up injured. Be patient and give your body time to adjust. I learned the hard way (crap shoes, accidentally increasing distance) and really wish I'd listened to my body more. So be kind to your bodies, groovers.

Arrgh! I promised never to be preachy on here. Yikes! Anyway, now I will climb off the pulpit and wish you all a tops weekend!