Friday, 20 July 2018

Plogging along

It comes as no surprise that running is good for those who run. And, as I'm growing older, it's giving me endless pleasure to discover new ways in which running benefits us as runners. Improved mental health? Check. Improved memory? Check, check. A good way to manage the symptoms of PMS and menopause? Check again. What's not to love, right?

A running mom is a happy mom! [Pic by Jeff Stark.]

And while the physical, mental and emotional perks of running are nothing short of amazing, I'm on a mission to prove something else too. That running can also benefit those who don't run. And the environment. And communities/towns/cities as a whole. Crazy? Don't be too sure. Just think along the following lines:

  • Raising money for charitable causes through running.
  • Arranging and completing virtual running events for a good cause.
  • Using apps like Charity Miles on the run.
  • Collaborating with the local SPCA to take stray dogs for a run.
  • Competing in races where a portion of the proceeds goes to charity.

And the list goes on.

Imagine my delight, then, when I stumbled across the concept of plogging. A mash-up of the words "jogging" and the Swedish term for picking up litter, namely "plocka upp", plogging is exactly that. Picking up litter while running. Why on earth didn't I think of that?! Yes, there are numerous arguments against picking up someone else's junk. But I feel that doing nothing is just as bad. "It's only one piece of litter, said 8 billion people", right? 

So, armed with a bag and Will's gardening gloves, I recently set off on my first plogging expedition. We live in a relatively clean neighbourhood, so I didn't really expect to find much litter, but I was (un-)pleasantly surprised. I returned home with a whole stash of trash, chuffed to have left my neighbourhood in a better state than what I'd found it. Plus I got an extra workout from all that mid-run bending and reaching!

And can I let you in on a little secret? While plogging definitely is a way in which running can benefit communities and the environment as a whole, it benefits the runner even more. I have no scientific evidence to back my claim, but I'm pretty sure that a runner's high feels twice as good when you run for something bigger than just yourself.   

Thursday, 21 June 2018

"Do YOU run?!"

A fellow running blogger and friend recently wrote an Instagram post about how someone told him that he didn't look like a runner, and how that made him feel. And while I've never had those exact words spoken to me, I've certainly also had my "you don't look like a runner"-moment.

I was about 18 or 19, passionate, as always, about healthy living, but also painfully aware of the fact that I was completely different than everybody else. Long story, but just know that I was just as uber-nerdy then as I still am today. Which, at the age of 18, felt a lot more awkward than it does at 41. (Thank goodness.) 

I don't have a picture of me running when I was 18, but here's one taken at my first ever 5K fun run at age 8 (I'm in the dark blue tracksuit in the middle, front). I came second that day, winning a Barbie doll as a prize, and that's where it all began. Running has always made me happy!

So there I was, self-consciously different at 18, grocery shopping with my mom. Then, just as we reached the pay point to pay for our groceries, I spotted the latest copy of Runner's World magazine and, of course, had to grab one to devour at home. But as I placed it in front of the cashier to reach for my purse, this shy girl's worst nightmare started to unfold.

With her face crumpled into a half-shocked, half-horrified frown, as if she'd just smelled a rotten egg, the cashier gave me a once-over before exclaiming: "Do YOU run?!". And, instead of putting her in her place right there, as I should have, I shyly smiled and shrugged, my face red with embarrassment.

Looking back, my 41-year-old self would have handled the situation completely differently. I would have replied with a cheery: "Of course! Don't you?! You really should try it - it will change your life!", and never given it another thought. But the 18-year-old me did exactly the opposite. I became even more self-conscious, allowing her words to steal a big chunk of the joy that I derived from running at that stage. Plus it made me super hesitant to join a local running club - something that I eventually only did a whole ten years later.

My dearest Kimberley Harriers running club friends. If only I'd discovered them sooner...!

So what has changed? Yes, I've discovered (and love!) the liberty that comes with growing older. But I've also learnt that I want what running has to offer more than I'll ever care about what any stranger thinks. So what if I run like a girl/huff like a steam engine/awkwardly swing my arms sideways like a duck? I still reap the same physical, mental and emotional benefits from running as everybody else. 

So if you, too, have had a "you don't look like a runner"-moment and it's getting you down, do what I should have done 20 years ago: Shrug it off and don't waste another minute of your life pondering about it. Lace up, head out and do what you love doing with your head held high! I'll be sure to give you a high five as I awkwardly huff and swing my arms sideways when we run past each other. 


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Stronger with age...? {Christchurch Half-Marathon Recap}

I noticed something very peculiar while training for the Christchurch Half. If you know me well, you'll know that long runs aren't my favourite. Give me hill repeats, fartlek sessions and even tempo runs, but don't ask me to run long. It saps the joy right out of me. Or, at least, it used to.

But then, for the first time ever in my 41 years, while training for the Christchurch Half, I noticed that somehow my long runs started feeling easier. Doable. And, hold on to your hats for this one, even enjoyable. Um, what?! Plus I actually had enough energy left in the tank post-run to go on adventures with the kids without feeling like a dead woman walking. This is huge, people.

And while the reason(s) for this very unexpected, but delightful turn of events warrant a  blog post of its own, just know that I went into the pre-race taper feeling surprisingly strong and ready. Perhaps this is why, then, also for the first time in 41 years, I tapered like an absolute loon. Conjuring up every single niggle imaginable, and feeling as if every sneezing, coughing human in town crossed my path during the taper, I was a bit of a nervous wreck. Thankfully though, despite the (my?) craziness, I reached the starting line healthy and injury-free. 

Ready to go!

I really wanted to clock a new PB at the event (i.e. anything faster than 1:52:21), and, given how good I felt during training, felt hopefully optimistic that it was possible. So, just like I did for the Round the Bays Half last year, I lined up right behind the 1:50 pacer.

The rain thankfully stayed away until the starting gun fired and the air temperature was cool but pleasant. And while the course was rather congested until the 10K mark (all the race distances started together), I was able to stay within sight of the 1:50 pace runner for the entire race.

I never checked our pace during the race and decided to let the pace runner worry about that for me. I did, however, notice that keeping up with him was surprisingly manageable. In hindsight, I should have double-checked our pace just to be sure, but given how good I felt during training, I wasn't too worried.

With rain (more of a constant drizzle) falling for the entire 21.1 kays, I also couldn't help but giggle at how everyone's legs were covered in mud, despite it being a road race. Christchurch at its best, eh?

In the end, I clocked a time of 1:54:51, with the pace runner still in sight. Perhaps pacing works a bit differently here, in that, instead of aiming for a sub-1:50, the 1:50-pacer aims to finish before the next pacer's allocated time (which, in this case, was 1:55)? Anyhow, as much as I wanted to clock a PB, I'm still happy with my time. Second fastest half to date, whoop!

So, with that, half-marathon #10 is in the bag! Looking back, I can just laugh at how long it took me to pluck up enough courage to make the jump from 10K races to half-marathons - it literally took me years. But I'm so glad I did. The half is and always will be one of my favourite race distances.

And lastly, mostly for the sake of keeping a written record of it somewhere, here's a list of my ten half-marathons (with finish times) completed to date:

1. Knysna Forest Half, SA (July 2009) - 2:40:47

2. Walt Disney World Half, Florida, USA (January 2010) - 2:11:03

3. Groot Gat Half, SA (February 2010) - 1:59:36

4. Dischem Half, SA (January 2011) - 2:04:??

5. Kloppers Half, SA (February 2011) - 1:59:27

6. Highlands Trout Mountain Challenge, Kingdom of Lesotho (February 2013) - 2:26:06 (My second slowest half to date, but it was a tough one in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho! A Top 10 women's finish despite the slow finishing time.)

7. Fish River Half, Keetmanshoop, Namibia (October 2014) - 1:56:12

8. Round the Bays Half, Wellington, NZ (February 2017) - 1:52:21

9. Saint Clair Vineyard Half, Blenheim, NZ (May 2017) - 1:58:56

10. Christchurch Half, Christchurch, NZ - (June 2018) - 1:54:51

For the next while, I think I'll stick to shorter races and perhaps try chasing some parkrun PBs. And yes, I'm definitely also still dreaming of clocking that sub-50 10K! But for now, I'm looking forward to just putting my feet up and having a good and proper rest.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

A workout for body and mind {Hagley parkrun}

I take after my father in many ways. My undying love for sleeping, running and dark chocolate, for example, stems directly from his DNA. But then there are also ways in which I'm nothing like my father. Take, for instance, his urge to travel. While it is limited mainly to the lowveld, Namibia and Botswana, he can freely roam these regions guided by nothing but his impressively accurate internal compass. My travel itch, on the other hand, spans the outer corners of the globe, yet I'm completely stumped by any instruction containing the words north, east, south or west. Especially when travelling on foot.

When then, on my quest to run the world, my friend the GPS lady commands me to "head north-west on Hagley", my mind goes completely blank. I discreetly start spinning around in circles, much to any onlooker's amusement, I'm sure, hoping that my robotic guide would somehow shout "stop!" when I'm finally facing the right direction. Or that she'd at least give me a clue, you know? Something like: "Cold, cold, cold, warm, warmer, hot! You've got it!" But, alas. She never does.

And so I found myself in this all-too-familiar situation again today, while attempting to locate Hagley parkrun. In my defense, I've never been to the area before, plus it was dark and rainy. And while it wasn't a pretty sight, I eventually fumbled, spun and shivered my way to the starting line. I don't think I've ever been so relieved to spot a parkrun banner in my life.  

Hagley park, through which the parkrun route winds, is beautiful. Dotted by giant old oak trees, and with a lush carpet of autumn leaves underfoot, it really is a runner's haven. Much like Palmerston North parkrun, the biggest portion of the route consists of tarred, shared pathways, but with a short section of muddy grass at the beginning and the end.  

While I intended on taking things easy today, I ended up clocking a 25:43 - just a smidge faster than my planned race pace for tomorrow's Christchurch Half Marathon. Fingers crossed that my overzealousness doesn't come back to bite me...!

So while getting where I want to be isn't always smooth sailing, I prefer seeing it as a workout for both body and mind. Because what can be more rewarding than an early-morning run coupled with some mental stretching, right...?! 

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Learning to slow down

The frequency of my posts here is 100% in line with my wholehearted, but often failed attempts at balancing family-, work-, home- and other responsibilities. It turns out that being a working mom with no help in the house is hard. Really hard. Who knew?

There is, of course, Will, my rock, who has the ability to defuse even the most stressful situation with his warm and quiet hugs. And then there's Miss K, with her frequent "Mom, I love you"-notes - a constant, living reminder to man up and try and be my best self. Mister J, with his soft, squishy kisses and (my!) mule-like stubbornness, is often the driving force behind flour packet explosions and tomato sauce squirts on our carpets. But even that is forcing me to dig deeper and try harder at being a good, loving, happy mom.

So while this post may seem despondent, it's not. The past few months have taught me, among other things, the importance of slowing down. That being 100% on time for 100% of our activities is just not worth the (super-stressed) hassle. That postponing or skipping a run is not the end of the world. And that no tomato sauce squirt is ever worth losing one's peace over.

So I'm making a conscious effort to slow down. To remind myself to stop and smell the roses. And to be a whole lot kinder to myself. Because it appears that working-mom weeks, just like so many other things in life, are best approached like the mammoth task of eating an elephant: One peaceful bite at a time.

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