Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy 30's Challenge

On Christmas day I will be thirty. I am not freaking out, in fact I’m actually quite excited. I could dwell on all of the things in life I haven’t quite achieved yet but I’m not going to do that. What a complete waste of energy!  Instead, I am going to run at my thirties and give them my all. I am going to set myself a challenge and to focus myself I have written a mission statement.
Happy 30’s Mission Statement
I want to live life to the full every day and appreciate everything and everyone around me. I am determined to have more fun and success in my thirties than I had in my teens and twenties combined and to do this I need to continually challenge myself, even though it may be uncomfortable at times. Whilst I will learn from the past I will not dwell on it and will concentrate on moving forward and listen to advice that others are kind enough to give me. Rather than focusing on what I haven’t achieved, I will acknowledge what I have and will be proud but not cocky. I will learn how to build on and improve my achievements so that I can be the very best I can possibly be while being supportive and encouraging to those around me. Helping my friends and family to be happy will make me happy too.
I have a tendency to set my goals high and I am ambitious often leading to taking on too much so I have tried to separate what I want to achieve into five main areas. These may be tweaked and tightened up as time goes on but here is the plan so far.
Goal 1- Shape Up
I am relatively happy with how I look but there is definitely room for improvement. I am a few pounds heavier than I probably should be but I hate to be a boring female that nags on about her weight and I have no desire to be a size zero. However, I do feel embarrassed and slightly ashamed when every now and then, I catch a glimpse of an unflattering photo of myself that highlights the tyre style flaws around my waist.  Ashamed is quite a strong word but ultimately, we are all responsible for our own bodies so if I’m not happy I need to change it.
What? I want to get thinner and more toned but I’m not going to focus on weight as a goal. It’s not about being a size zero but how I look and feel. I will aim to get my body in the best shape possible for me so that I can be proud. 
The challenge: I will follow a healthy eating regime and a more specific and focused exercise schedule that will take me out of my comfort zone. I will document my progress and will take regular photographs and body measurements so that I can see my body change even when the scales don’t.
Goal 2- Run faster
As you know, I ran my first half marathon in Paris in March and completed it in 2:11 which was one minute slower than I had planned. I then ran another in London on 25th September and came in at 2:20. Admittedly it was a tougher course than I anticipated and it was way hotter but I was disappointed and I know I am capable of doing better. Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased that I’ve managed to run two half marathons this year when I could barely run for five minutes last year but I want to be the best that I can be.
What? I want to challenge myself to run a half marathon in less than 2 hours. I believe I am capable of this time if I train hard enough in the right way.
The challenge- I have signed up to the Berlin half marathon on 1st April and I will follow a training schedule to ensure I exceed my time target. Up until now I’ve shied away from track and interval training but I need to do more than just churn out the miles and I am ready for the challenge.
Goal 3-Swim better and faster
I can swim but you’d never find me in the pool challenging somebody to a race because I swim like a granny. I did a post on my swimming style earlier in the year  if you’re interested.

What? I like cycling and I am proud to say that I can now run but my swimming lets me down and I want to do a triathlon. To take part in a triathlon I need to be able to swim properly so I have started researching the idea of swimming lessons and I am absolutely terrified.
The challenge: I will start my lessons in the new year and the ultimate goal will be to take part in a triathlon in summer 2012. I am researching the triathlons options available so watch this space!
Goal 4- Run longer
I have run two half marathons and by the time April comes I will hopefully have completed my third. Everybody  I know that has run a marathon highly recommends it and suggests it is something everybody should do at least once. I have volunteered at the London Marathon as a sports massage and seeing the runners glowing with pride is a humbling experience. I want to challenge myself and 2012 feels like the right time to do it.
What? 2012 is the year that I will run my first marathon.
The challenge: I would have loved a place in the London Marathon 2012 but unfortunately the ballot is now closed and the charity that I support ( Aplastic Anaemia Trust) only gets one place every five years that has already been taken. I have my eyes on the New York Marathon  and I will enter the ballot but I know there is only a 10% chance of a place. Wherever I choose to do it in the world, I will ensure that 2012 is the year I run a marathon so any other suggestions of great courses would be greatly appreciated.
Goal 5- Speak even more than I do already
Yes, though I’m sure many of you can’t believe that this is a challenge for me, the girl that definitely likes to chat. Through my teens, languages were always my thing. I dabbled with French, Spanish, Italian and German. My theory was that I love to talk and if I could go round the world and talk then even better. For one reason or another, my languages took a back seat and life got in the way. Every now and again after a couple of glasses of wine I can find the foreign language student inside me but I want to be confident to try and speak in another language without a bucket load of vino.
What? I want to put some effort into learning a foreign language. I studied German to A level and I’m sad that it’s gone to waste. My Nan is German and I love Germany so I am thrilled to be going to Berlin in April and it seems like a great opportunity to put my languages skills to the test.
The challenge: It is only right that I put some effort into refreshing my German so that I can say more than “Ich bin funfzehn jahre” when I head to Berlin in April. ( I know I’m not 15 but it’s stuck in my head from school). Some words of warning though Run Dem Crew friends, please don’t expect too much from my linguistic skills. I can promise I will try my absolute best but probably a good idea to bring your own phrase books too.
So, there you have it. My Happy 30’s mission and the five goals that I want to achieve in 2012. I will of course document my progress along the way and am happy to take any advice that people are willing to give. A number of kind people have already volunteered to help me achieve my goals and once I get started to you will hear more about these people and the advice they are giving me. Sunday nights always give me the fear but tonight I’m feeling positive and excited about what lies ahead.   

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Facing up to life with a little help from my trainers and even more help from my friends.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a rollercoaster, with far more downwards sloping stretches of track than up. Many tears have been shed but I’m feeling more positive than ever right now even though the situations around me haven’t really changed. The only thing that has changed is the way I am dealing with problems that I now realise are completely out of my control. Life throws many challenges your way and sometimes you have to decide which problems are yours to fix. I have a tendency to try and carry the world on my shoulders but sometimes you have to realise you can’t fix everything.
You may have read about my first big running challenge when I ran the Paris half marathon back in March with Team Bangs on the Run. When I returned, I basked in the excitement for a little too long and before it even dawned on me I was taking an extended unplanned break from my running. The longer I left it, the harder it got to throw the trainers back on and life just managed to get in the way. It felt a little bit like when you lose weight and get excited. You start with a little bit of chocolate and then a bit more and the weight creeps back on so you’re as fat as you were to start with and you just give up altogether. I was still thinking about running but the problem was I just wasn’t actually doing much of it. Work got busier and I ended up staying in the office longer leaving little time for running.  As the exercise diminished, I got more sluggish and lethargic so I signed up to the Run To The Beat half marathon to set my sights on a new challenge. 
Look at these babies for motivation. Designed by me and won at Run Dem Crew courtesy of Nike ID

I had good intentions but it seemed that every time I cried, a little more of my running mojo was being lost leaving me empty. I tried so hard but I just couldn’t enjoy it. Running can be a solitary business and I usually thrive on the alone time. I like my own company and sometimes it’s refreshing to just say nothing which is quite a change for me. However, while I was feeling down I just wasn’t really enjoying the ‘me’ time and couldn’t motivate myself.
I had considered joining Run Dem Crew for a while but I live in Barnes and they run in Shoreditch. Fairly far in distance terms but even further apart in culture. I’m not cool enough to hang with the handlebar moustached, vintage-wearing cool kids in Shoreditch but I knew that running on my own wasn’t working. I headed over to RDC with a couple of my other running buddies a couple of months back and I haven’t looked back. It is seriously one of the best things I have done this year and I’m pleased to say there have been no handlebar tashes in sight. Just a group of amazingly positive people that make you feel welcome every week and encourage you to push yourself a little bit more. And yes, Barnes and Shoreditch are a fair distance apart but it's worth the journey!
 I ran Run To The Beat and against all the odds I actually finished on a course that was way more hilly and far hotter than I had ever anticipated.  It is traditional for Rum Dem Crew founder Charlie Dark to award members of the RDC with their race medals at the session following the run. Tuesday 27th September was a special night and it was on that night that I realised just how special RDC is to me. As Charlie told inspirational stories about himself and shared anecdotes about the achievements of other RDC members whilst presenting them with their medals, a tear rolled down my cheek. It was a different type of tear. Not sadness but happiness, positivity and a whole lot of proud all rolled in to one. It was at that moment I realised that in the time since I had joined RDC the sad tears I had been crying had stopped.
I look way happier than I actually am here.

It wasn’t that the sad things had gone away but I’d been distracted and focused in a positive way. The inspirational stories and positive vibes are infectious and you can’t help but leave RDC with a beaming smile. The combination of a sense of achievement, the rush of endorphins and the opportunity to hang out with some seriously inspiring people forces you to crack more than a smile and it makes you re-evaluate things. I look forward to Tuesdays and I know that each week I will get the chance to meet with friends and meet new friends. Not only that but I am loving my running again too. The running keeps me sane at a time where things around me are slightly crazy. I know it can be hard to actually put the trainers on and get out the door but nothing beats the sense of freedom or the feeling of achievement when you’re done. Before a lot of runs I do have that niggle of ‘shall I just go home and throw myself on the sofa?’ but I ignore it because I know how amazing I will feel after the run.  The more I run, the more energy I have and the happier I am so I’m just going to keep running.
Running is a metaphor for life. It is important to set yourself goals in life and when you really put your mind to it you can achieve whatever you want. If you don’t set challenges then you’ll just drift along with no sense of purpose. There are some things in life that you have no control over but you do have the power to change your behaviour. I realise now that it’s a waste of time and energy stressing over things that you can’t change. Instead put that energy to good use and use any reserve you do have left to support those around you that may need it.  Life will be much happier. I’m still there for those around me as much as I can be but by focusing on my running goals I’m much happier and I’m pretty sure I’m more fun to be around. Thank you Run Dem Crew for helping me find my running mojo. The next challenge on the agenda  is Mo Running in Greenwich Park on 12th November and I will be seriously disappointed if I fail to see a handlebar moustache that day.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Food is more than fuel!

For anybody that knows me well, you will know that food is a big part of my life. I grew up in a family where food dominated the conversation 99% of the time. The words ‘try it’ were constantly being uttered as a fork full of food was thrust towards your face. The thinking behind this being that if you try something once and don’t like it, you never have to eat it again but if you don’t try it you may just be missing out on something you might love. I was brought up to try all sorts of things from seafood to crazy cuts of meat that other families wouldn’t dream of eating and it never did me any harm.  I seem to have inherited the ‘try it’ gene and I get pleasure from cooking for other people. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating but I also love entertaining and watching people enjoy my food.

This may be a somewhat controversial view but I have found that the way people respond to food, often gives you an insight into their personality and their attitude about life in general. In my experience, I have found that the more adventurous foodie types are often adventurous in the rest of their life too. Put simply, fussy eaters tend to not just be scared to try new food but also scared to try new things in life .I know this is a huge generalisation  but apart from a couple of cases where this rule has let me down, generally it has rung true.

 I do want to emphasise that I am most definitely not a food snob. I watched ‘Come Dine With Me’ yesterday (obviously a repeat that I have watched 10 times before) and there was a woman on there that I would class as a typical food snob. She looked down her nose at the other contestants that weren’t particularly familiar with wasabi caviar and gold leaf bananas and felt like it was her duty to teach them. I like to think that I am not pushy or patronising like she was.  I do love the finer things in life but I am also happy to settle for good, simple, wholesome food or a big juicy burger. Life is about balance in all areas any my bank account just couldn’t cope with the strains of living a caviar lifestyle all the time.

I’m not  a parent but I do feel very strongly that parents have a role to educate their children about food and nutrition. One of my housemates at uni had never tried a tomato and he was 21. We are not talking a strange, exotic food type here just a standard tomato. I know a lot of children aren’t keen on them but how can you get to 21 and not even try one. He also had no idea what a shallot was after seeing some  mature cheddar and shallot crisps in my cupboard. Fair enough if you haven’t tasted a shallot but I would think most people could hazard a guess that they were posh cheese and onion flavour.   He would quiz me most nights about what I was cooking but I’m pleased to say that after living together for a year he did get more adventurous and would try new things that he actually enjoyed. I was shocked but it seems I was not alone in this experience. 

When my best friend started uni her housemate looked at her quizzically one morning as she spread honey on her toast and with puzzled eyes asked her what it was.She was 18 years of age and she had never seen honey! She also had no idea that eggs could be cooked in more than one way. She was only familiar with boiled eggs. Where have these people been living, under a rock!? It’s hard for me to fathom these kind of scenarios coming from such a food orientated family and also being nosey in general. How can you get to the age of 18 and not be able to recognise honey!?

It’s clear that many people out there have no idea about food and nutrition. I have seen so many TV documentaries focusing on obesity & health and despite there being a wealth of information available to us, some people just have no idea. There have been cases of mothers sneaking burgers into their children at school so that they can skip their healthy lunches. What hope have they got! Food is important to me because I enjoy it but it is also essential for a healthy life so we should all care about it to some degree.

I love nothing more than being with other people that have a zest for life and an excitement to try new things and last weekend I bought tickets to go the Foodies Festival in Battersea Park. I went on  both Friday and Sunday and loved every minute. This was definitely leaning more towards gluttonous enjoyment of food rather than the health and nutrition end of the spectrum but I’m on holiday this week so it is allowed.

Describing itself as a celebration of the country’s finest food and drink it really was a gastronomic feast.  We had the opportunity to try a whole range of food and drink and the amazing weather made it even more enjoyable. We went to several food and drink demonstrations including one by Katie Caldesi and another by Caroline Artiss. It’s great to pick up new recipes and useful tips and tricks. We were also lucky enough to get places on two of the wine tasting seminars, an Italian one with Guido Cenciotti-Alterocca  from The Italian Wine Boutique and a Portuguese session with Charles Metcalfe. Both were fantastic and I picked up lots of new knowledge adding to my current limited wine expertise.

Over the two days we ate Thai food, oysters and delicious Italian ice cream. We also had the pleasure of tasting the most amazing pate made by Findlaters Fine Foods. Apparently you can buy it in some Waitrose Stores and in independent delicatessens.  I would highly recommend it, especially the duck liver and venison varieties. I tried almost all of them and was disappointed by none. 

We dabbled with jerk style sauces made by the Backyard Company and watched a demo by company founder Antonio Smith where we had the chance to try the sizzling jerk chicken.  We couldn’t leave without buying some of the sauces to create our own dishes at home and following tips from Antonio made a jerk pork dish on Monday night. It was absolutely delicious!

A weekend of sunshine, smiles, food and drink was exactly what the doctor ordered and we were given a massive wedge of parmesan on the last day completely free which was a bonus. We will of course be cooking with parmesan on a regular basis for the next few weeks so I may even share a recipe or two! How important is food to you? Do you eat just because you have to or because you enjoy it? 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Crying makes me look like a frog!

The last few months I have cried enough tears to make my own lake and crying is far more complex than I initially realised. Humans can cry three kinds of tears. Reflex tears are those that keep our eyes lubricated, basal tears are the annoying ones caused by irritants like onions and emotional tears are, as you’ve probably guessed, caused by emotional triggers. Only humans are reported to cry emotional tears.  Though animals can howl in distress, as humans we are the only animals that actually shed tears of sorrow.
 Each type of tear contains a different composition of hormones and proteins.  According to some clever, scientific folk, emotional tears contain higher levels of manganese and the hormone prolactin.  The release of these chemicals when you cry, is said to keep depression at bay and calm us and may be the reason a good cry can sometimes make you feel better.  
It’s true that a good old crying session can make things feel like they’re ok again but cry after cry after cry just makes me feel worn out and ugly to be honest. It’s quite shocking what these prolonged crying sessions can do for your looks. I actually looked like a cartoon frog a couple of weekends ago because my eyelids were so swollen from way too many tears. This rather attractive condition is known as periorbital puffiness and is just water retention caused by the sodium in your tears.  Logical, yes but definitely not attractive. It took a good couple of days for the swelling to subside.
I’m not usually such a crier but 2011 has been tough. I don’t want any sympathy but feel I owe it to a few people to explain some of the things that have been happening over the last few months. My normally chirpy tweets have been sad of late and I haven’t really been myself. I really appreciate the messages of concern that I have had and the support from those around me.  I am also fully aware that there are people with problems far worse than mine out there and I am not crawling for sympathy. I am an honest person and just like to explain myself.
Back in January on the first day back to work after the long Christmas break, I bumped into my Dad whilst out on a morning run. It was a surprise meeting and neither of us expected to see one another. I had just started my Team Bangs training and was raring to go but I had that horrible back to school, Sunday night fear feeling, multiplied by a million. I could have done without Dad blurting out that Mum thought he was having an affair. To cut a long story short there were lots of tears and it materialised that Dad had a new lady friend that he had been going for coffee with. It was purely a platonic relationship apparently. He insisted this was the case on numerous occasions.
Nobody but my parents and myself knew of this little hiccup and I played mini marriage counsellor for a few months. I have to say, it’s really strange seeing your parents in a different light. It can almost be compared to when you have a house party when your parents are away and the house is at its most vulnerable. You never quite see it in the same light and it always feels a little different. Parents are only human but you look up to them.  It was strange being in the middle of these intimate conversations, seeing them both upset and vulnerable and trying to advise them both of stuff I have no place to be advising them on. I’ve never been married and couldn’t even begin to imagine how they were feeling but all I knew is that they loved each other.  Mum and Dad decided not to tell my brother and sister so by default I had to tell a few fibs to keep it from them. For me this was a real challenge as I am a rubbish liar. My mum is amazing and the reason she asked me not to say anything was because she didn’t want my siblings to think badly of my Dad.
 A few things I ought to explain to put this blog post in to context. My family are very normal (whatever that means) and very close. Mum and Dad have been together for over 35 years and as far as everybody that knows us is concerned, we are very much the happy family with no dramas. This is Mum and Dad on their wedding day and I love this picture. When they met Mum was 15 and by the time she was 19 they were married. A true love story!

Fast forward a few months and it becomes clear that Dad and his friend are still talking although my mum has expressed, understandably, that she doesn’t want him to have contact with her if they are to concentrate on making their marriage work. Mum and Dad still continue to work at it and I keep running, training for my half marathon in Paris. Not all of 2011 has been bad and training with the Team Bangs ladies definitely kept me sane for a few months.
In March my four year old niece (daughter of my sister) was rushed into hospital with severe asthma and a shadow on her lung. Seeing her wired up to medication and oxygen was shocking. Just as we thought she was improving and she was sent home she had another attack, turned blue and we had to call an ambulance for her. This went on for 8 weeks, back and forth to A&E with no answers to what was causing her condition. It was so stressful. Meanwhile my Dad’s birthday and Mother’s Day happened and my siblings and I paid for our parents to go away on holiday. I was desperate for them to spend quality time together without the stresses of home but it wasn’t meant to be and as they were driving to the airport my niece had another attack meaning that they turned round to be there for my sister and their granddaughter. We are a close family and going away at a time like that was simply out of the question. Mum and Dad’s problems went on the backburner.
 After a lot of effort from my Mum and sister they managed to get my niece an appointment at the Brompton hospital and luckily she had an attack whilst waiting to be seen. They kept her in and weren’t going to let her leave until they knew exactly what the cause of her illness was. Finally, after a few hours in theatre we discovered she had a severe chest infection but I’m pleased to say she is now back in good health. Well, nothing that a puff or two on her inhalers won’t sort out.
Mum and Dad re-booked their holiday and ended up going away at the same time Jon and I headed to Croatia. We had an amazing holiday and flew back the day after our five year anniversary on 9th May. Jon was amazing and booked a surprise stay in a gorgeous luxury hotel to celebrate. We had a fantastic time away. On the way back from the airport, faces smiling, we pop in to see my parents. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife and I knew things weren’t going right. This frostiness carried on for weeks.
 It all hit the fan again just before we were due to attend a family wedding at the end of May. Perfect timing!  This time round my parents told my brother and sister and I was able to be honest with them. I hated lying and I felt relieved. In a strange way it brought us closer together and we talked a lot. We all shed happy tears in church when the vows were being exchanged but I knew in my case that there was sadness in those tears too. I knew in my heart that the words being exchanged between the bride and groom were somehow no longer relevant for my Mum and Dad. I looked at my Dad and he looked sad and I couldn’t even bring myself to look at my Mum. We carried on playing happy families because nobody wanted to ruin the big day and although I was pushing the thoughts aside, I knew it was only a matter of time before Mum and Dad were going to go their separate ways.
It’s funny how testing times put things into perspective. Two weeks ago my four year old niece came up with a little rash. She was taken to hospital on the Sunday night with suspected meningitis and was kept in. Three days later she was moved to the Royal Marsden, a cancer specialist hospital, with suspected leukaemia. The feeling to be told something like that is so hard to describe and although I was trying not to think the worst I just couldn’t help it. I felt so helpless and useless. I am very much a doer and a positive person but I just couldn’t pull myself together. I was an absolute wreck. It made all of the other things that I usually worry about seem so trivial.
On Thursday evening, after her bone marrow biopsy, we were told that although she is very poorly, she did not have cancerous cells in her bone marrow which meant she didn’t have leukaemia. The relief was unbelievable. It actually felt like a weight had been lifted. She is still very unwell and we are awaiting test results to see how they are going to treat her as her bone marrow has stopped working.  Seeing her in that hospital made me realise even more just how precious life is. The ward that she was in was full of very sick children that had no choice about what was happening to them. It was heart breaking to see and very humbling at the same time.
Last week Dad left home. Although he was there for the family when my niece was in hospital, my Mum knew that he wasn’t really there for her. She built up the courage and told him to leave and so he left, just like that. We are now like all of the other kids were at school but because we are grown up we don’t get weekend trips to the zoo.
Dad is now living with his platonic friend who is clearly not platonic. She has left her partner too. If only he could have been honest from the start we could have dealt with this differently. Instead, all of us have been clutching on to a glimmer of hope. I know this happens all the time but I can’t quite believe it has happened to my family. The normal happy family that others look to as being a real strong unit that sticks together. We are still sticking together and trying to be strong for my niece and my brother’s family but the next few months are not going to be easy.
Be grateful for everything that you have and be true and honest to yourself and to those around you that you love. We all make mistakes, I know that.  We are only human but at least try and learn from the mistakes and think about other people along the way too. There have been a few other hiccups the last couple of months that have contributed to Lake Teardrop such as £130 parking tickets, a 999 call and a few other things that don’t really matter. I seem to have the opposite of the midas touch at present. You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to bore you any further with my tales of woe but when the good things come along, make sure you grab them with both hands and smile because looking like an amphibious, bouncing, croaky creature is not a good look in any season!
I’m going to get new trainers tomorrow and crack on with my running again. I just haven’t really had the energy the last few months with all of the tears. As well as emptying your body of depression causing chemicals and hormones, crying zaps your energy too but enough with the excuses. Tuesday will be my debut at Run Dem Crew. Yes I am scared! I am no East London chick but life is there to be lived and it is important to challenge yourself even if it is a little scary at times. There is nothing stopping me apart from a few little nerves and I am going to kick them aside to get me ready for my second half marathon in September. Nothing is going to get in my way, not even a huge lake of tears or a frog with bulging eyes.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

My absence note

I know it has been a long time since I have posted and my twitter action has been less frequent too so I thought I should explain myself. I have been really busy the last few monthsand to be honest have been feeling shattered. I didn't want blogging to feel like a chore and I honestly just haven't had enough time to dedicate to it. I salute the hardcore bloggers out there that post daily. Seriously, it is hard going, especially when you work and even more so if you have a family. I respect your dedication.

Well, enough of the excuses. The truth is, I have missed it so I am back and I'm excited. I am going to be training for another half marathon so I am going to need something to occupy my mind on the countless long runs. Training needs dedication and organisation so I will make time to blog along the way. Not all of the posts are going to be fitness related but I'm sure some of them will be. There will be beauty, food and whatever else pops into my head that feels appropriate to blog about. Feel free to comment along the way and I hope you enjoy.

Dodging the bouquet

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for 5 years and we have been living together for more than 3 of them. I’m not the kind of girl that just packs a bag and moves in with a boyfriend on a whim. It was a big decision for me and I didn’t take it lightly. Living together was the next step in our relationship and for me I believe it shows a certain level of commitment. I would not have taken the step if I didn’t think he was the one. But when you’ve been together for a certain length of time people think it’s ok to ask  ‘Have you got a ring yet?’or ‘when is he going to pop the question?’
Let me tell you now, I don’t have a ring as you can clearly see and how the hell am I supposed to know! If you want to know what I am thinking when you ask marriage related questions of this kind, expect an expletive or two because I find them to be really rather nosey and personal and I would never dream of asking you such a thing. The day I get engaged, you will know about it. I will be even more animated than I usually am just to enable me to wave the sparkler in your direction so you most definitely will not need to ask me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really do want to get married one day but I want it to be for the right reasons. I want him to propose to me because he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me.  I don’t want my partner to feel forced or pressured by me or other people. I do want to get married and although I like to think of myself as up to date and modern, I am an old-fashioned girl at heart and you will never find me down on one knee during a leap year.
I’m not the kind of girl to put pressure on, drool at jewellery shop displays with longing  or change the screensaver of my boyfriend’s laptop to a big sparkler. Actually, I take part of that back.  I have been known to drool at diamonds in the window of jewellery shops but only when I am on my own. Looking in a jewellery shop window with your boyfriend by your side does feel a little bit cliché and desperado and I am sure there are many men out there that dread such situations.
Now we’re both 29, more of our friends and family are getting hitched and I have to admit I dread the whole bouquet catching scenario at a wedding. It’s not just me. I have spoken to several lovely ladies that feel the same way and totally understand how I feel. It’s like a public display of pressure that I’d rather not be part of. Before the bouquet is thrown, there are little knowing glances of expectation in the direction of those that have been together for more than a couple of years and even more piercing glances for the ones that have been together for over 5 years and live together. I have never caught the dreaded bouquet as I try and stay as far away as possible but I can just imagine the excited gabble that would come straight. Scary!
I am very comfortable with our situation and we are very happy together but you can’t help feeling just a little pang of disappointment when you return back from a holiday and people look at you with that distinct face of pity when they fail to see a sparkling diamond dazzling them from your finger. Every week somebody else gets engaged after a whirlwind 12 month relationship and you think to yourself ‘what the hell is wrong with me?’ I don’t want to turn into one of those girls that is waiting for a proposal whenever you are on holiday or in a romantic, beautiful spot. I just want to enjoy every minute that we spend together regardless of what other people expect or say. Life’s too short!
It’s easy to get bogged down and disappointed when other people put the pressure on but in a relationship it’s important to not let those other things get in the way. Too many people get married for the wrong reasons and too many people have marriages that are shortlived.  So for the time being, I am going to carry on as we are, living happily together in our home with my head held high when I get another one of those questions and I calmly respond, ‘there’ll be no wedding anytime soon’, through gritted teeth. I will still be dodging the bouquet at weddings to avoid yet another awkward and embarrassing situation and my hands will be bare of rings.  I’m saving my digits for some seriously sparkly jewellery that I’ve been eyeing up while nobody is looking, so no pressure!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

“Running:No half times, no time outs, no substitutions. It must be the only true sport".

This was a quote that I saw on the t-shirt of a girl that was running in front of me during the Paris Half Mara and it made me smile. I've never really thought about it before but I guess there is some truth in it and I was grateful for something else to think about while pounding the streets of Paris.
I will be honest, running is tough. I went out yesterday for a 6.5k run. It was beautifully sunny and I really enjoyed it but it was really hard. You’d have thought that after 13 miles last weekend, 6.5k would have been a breeze but that was not the case. I’m not saying this to put anybody off because the reward of running and the feeling of achievement each time I run totally outweighs the struggle when my breathing is heavy or my legs hurt. Each and every time I run I get a sense of achievement and I think that is the reason I am hooked though I’m still not sure I would consider myself to be a runner just yet.
Running is most definitely popular. I’d never really noticed before but since I have been running I have noticed just how many others are out there with their trainers on whether it is hot or cold, wet or dry. Whenever I train it is guaranteed that I will always cross the path of another runner with the friendly knowing runners nod.  So what is it that motivates all of these people to drag themselves out of bed on a Sunday morning? I decided to do a little research into some well -known running quotes and the ones I have included below are the ones that have really struck a chord with me.
"I run because it's so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can't. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you're capable of so much more than you thought."
Arthur Blank
"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement."
Steve Prefontaine( US Athlete)
"Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it."
Oprah Winfrey
"If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how far. It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run."
John Bingham

So I guess if John Bingham’s opinion counts for anything, I can consider myself a runner.I am certainly not the best and there are plenty of other better runners out there but each time I run I try my best and I am improving so I guess that is what is important. I have learned a lot about myself while I have trained and I have also learned a bit about the right and not so right things to wear so I thought I’d share some of this with you.
Before going out for a this morning, I asked my boyfriend to take a few snaps of me in various states of dress. Don’t worry, there is nothing inappropriate here here, just a selection of shots of me sporting various items of of running kit that have been essential during my training.

1.       This shows me in my Amazing Shock Absorber Run Bra. From a lady that has her fair share of boobs, this sports bra is a serious lifesaver and makes a huge difference to my comfort when I run.  The designers have thought of every little detail. The hook and eye clasp is padded so that it doesn’t dig in to your back and the various adjustable fastenings mean that you will get the perfect fit.

The first day I wore my Run bra, when I got home from my run I realised that I hadn’t thought about my boobs the whole time as they had stayed firmly in place the whole time. Even better, I was left with no strap chafing like my old sports bra used to cause.

However, to make sure that you get the best from your bra make sure you purchase the correct size. The Team Bangs Ladies were lucky enough to get given a Run Bra by Shock Absorber to keep our boobs in check in Paris and the feedback from the rest of the team has been pretty damn good too.
A decent sports bra is an absolute must-have. I cannot believe the amount of females I see when out running that just let their boobs hang loose. Not only must it be painful but it is also a disturbing sight to subject another being to. Please look after your boobs ladies. A normal everyday bra is just not enough for when you are running!

In this picture you can also see my Adidas Supernova brushed running tights which were a birthday gift from some of my girlie friends. These have been a true blessing on the days and nights that I have had to train in the freezing cold. The inside of the leggings have a warm furry kind of fabric to make your legs feel snug. This doesn’t sound like a massive plus point but believe me on freezing days I was extremely grateful for this toasty feature. The leggings have a snug fit but are easy to get on and off as they have an elastic adjustable waist and zips at the ankles. The tight fit actually gives additional muscular support which can aid performance and help to prevent injury too.

2.       One of my biggest fears when I started running was that I was going to end up with grotesque toenail free trotters. Nobody really talked about it until I started asking questions and then the horror stories all flooded out. There were many stories of huge blisters and blackened toenails that eventually dropped off. This was definitely not an option for me. I invested in a pair of Hilly Twin Skin socks to prevent blisters and I am pretty sure they have also helped me to look after my toenails too. The double layer construction means the socks rub against themselves rather than against my tootsies and the reinforced toe and heel area means that my feet have had extra protection when I’m out running. You will be pleased to hear that my feet are absolutely fine.

Obviously, trainers are also key here as ill-fitting shoes will contribute to poorly feet. The correct shoes are so important when it comes to running and they deserve a post all of their own. I am going to point you in the direction of a fellow Team Bangs Blogger  as she has written a great post today on the importance of the correct shoes and gait analysis.

3.       In the winter, a long sleeved top is also a must-have. I opted for the Nike Element half-zip Running Top from the Nike Store in London. The fitted design means it stays out of your way when you run and it maps the natural contours of your body to avoid chafing without restricting your movement. It also has numerous reflective strips to keep you visible and safe. It is a cold weather running shirt made of soft, sueded Dri-FIT fabric that basically draws the sweat from your body to the surface of the fabric so that it can evaporate quickly keeping you dry. I absolutely love the feel of this top and it really does what it says on the tin.  

4.       In this picture I have two must have items on. Firstly a Nike vest which is years old so I’m not sure of the model name. I have loads of these kind of tops with additional bra-like support inside. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing this without a sports bra but I’m grateful for any additional support along the way. I have learned that the fabric is especially important, especially when running frequently and for long periods of time, to prevent rubbing and chafing. I guess everybody has their own preference when it comes to running clothing but I prefer to wear something which is tight rather than to have lots of loose fabric flapping around.

The other item that I am wearing in picture 4 is my Hilly neoprene running pouch. Ok, I admit it is a little like a bum bag but I love this thing.  The waist pouch has numerous pockets, loops, hooks, clasps for keys, zips and holes for your earphones to be threaded through. I kept all sorts in here throughout my training and on race day. I guess it could be likened to Mary Poppins bag. It’s not the coolest accessory but it keeps your things safe and stops them jiggling about in your pocket which drives me crackers. I am normally the lady with the heaviest and fullest handbag because I just like to carry stuff with me just-in case. I am the same when I run so this has been essential for me.

5.       This attractive little number is my Karrimor waterproof running jacket. Nice to keep you dry and to cover the bulging waist pouch, as described above, that makes me look a little like a kangaroo with a joey. I don’t really know what else to say about this apart from the fact that loads of other runners seem to have the same jacket as me. I’ve stopped making friendly comments to people wearing the same clothing as me after I called out “nice jacket”  to a girl as she ran past with the same one on as me. She totally blasted me. The shame!

I bought it from for a really good price. (You know, that sports shop that is crammed to the rafters with discounted sportswear. They tend to have a closing down sale and then re-open a week later as a sports shop with a similar name and the same stock). Joking aside, they do sell some pretty good stuff at great prices so it’s worth a look if you are just starting out and don’t want to break the bank.

6.       Finally, in this beautiful shot I am showing off my rather fetching hat and glove combo. Hooray for it is finally getting warmer and I no longer need these but they have been essential throughout my winter training.  I have to thank the lovely @BangsandaBun for passing on the UnderArmour hat which has been great on really cold days. When training on cold days hypothermia is a real risk so it is really important to wrap up warm. I also wore gloves when training as having cold fingers can really distract you. Normal gloves just do not cut it and it is worth paying out for some gloves designed for running, generally due to the material. Although these snug little Adidas ones have kept my digits toasty all winter I want to get my mitts on some E-gloves for next winter so that I don’t have to keep removing them to play around with my I-phone.  
Well, I think that’s about it for tonight. This is a much longer post than I had originally intended but I hope it helps to give some advice to those of you starting out. I am by no means an expert but these are the things that have worked for me.
I can’t quite believe that the lycra in my wardrobe seems to be breeding so rapidly. I never thought I would be one of those people with a wardrobe full of highly unattractive, stretchy, clingy clothes. I also never thought I’d be a social runner but I was out in the rain this morning running around Richmond Park with @AlexandraVasey for fun. I guess I really have been bitten by the running bug.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Team Bangs do Paris

The months of hard work paid off yesterday and the hard work was totally worth it. Admittedly I am a little stiff and sore today but with each achey step I take I can’t help but feel a little bit proud. On Saturday when we arrived in Paris, I was a nervous wreck all day. We went to meet some of the other Team Bangs girls and they all seemed really relaxed and caught up in the romantic whirl of Paris. I was a clumsy mess and had constant butterflies in my tummy.
Poor Jon had to hear me all day saying ‘I hope I’m going to be able to do it’, ‘what if I’ve got my distances wrong when I’ve been training and I can’t really run that far?’ or have me demanding late night trips to the local convenience store to buy essential water and bananas to ensure I was hydrated and energised. Jon(@jonsanjose on Twitter) has been an amazing support throughout to both me and the other girls on the team so I just wanted to say a public thank you to him. He has been the official team photographer, cheerleader and jester to help keep us smiling as well as personal motivator and masseuse for me so thank you Mr San Jose. I really do appreciate it and I know I’ve been a bit of a nightmare the last couple of months.
A day of walking the streets of pretty much the whole of Paris on Saturday was lovely while we were doing it but my goodness, when we got back to the hotel room after dinner my body and feet ached and I was super tired after only 3 hours sleep on Friday. I was starting to panic that I had done too much before the big day. So I snubbed the offer of free films on the coolest TV I’ve ever experienced in a hotel room ( Check out and snuggled into the super fluffy bed for a night of undisturbed shut eye.
The busy day seemed the right thing to do as when I caught up with some of the other Team Bangs girls in the morning it seemed there hadn’t been a lot of sleep due to a combination of nerves and excitement. I actually felt refreshed and confident even though my tootsies were a little battered from the over enthusiastic stroll the day before. I’d planned to load up on breakfast and the breakfast at the hotel was amazing but once I’d loaded up my plate I had a bit of difficulty getting it down.
Check out the cool Team Bangs T-shirt. Thank you Nike & Shock Absorber.

Some of the Team Bangs ladies on race day

The journey to the race start was full of nervous giggles and lots of smiles as well as an element of dis-belief that the day was finally here. There was also huge volume of lycra on the Metro. I have never seen so much stretchy shiny material in one carriage, some of which was highly inappropriate. Gentleman, please leave something to the imagination and cover it in shorts as that is just too much that early in the morning. In fact that is too much at any time of day or night.
The journey to the race start

We’ve all become really good friends throughout our training, supporting each other via tweets and facebook posts and it has really helped me in my training. It was great to finally be able to catch up with the girls in person. For those that say social media is in fact not sociable because it encourages people to type away in their room alone and not engage with people, this project is testament to the fact that this is not always true. I know that I have made some really great friends through Muireann (@BangsandaBun on a Twitter) bringing us together on Twitter. I am aware that some of you reading this are not on Twitter and don’t really get it but I am totally hooked. I think it is incredible what has been achieved.
33,000 people were registered to run the Semi de Paris. It just wasn’t practical for us to all be able to start the race together. I set off with Misty and Jon managed to snap us among the crowd of thousands of runners as we were about to cross the start line. As you can see from my face I was totally excited and couldn’t contain myself. I was like this quite a lot of the way through the run actually looking at the pictures.
I'm looking pretty excited!

I set myself a target of 5k every 30 minutes and I stuck to this with military precision for the first 15k. I was expecting to see Jon and Michael (Misty’s lovely husband) at 10k and was desperately looking out for them amongst the crowds of supporters. I was pleased when I went through the inflatable 10k arch in my planned time but couldn’t help being a little disappointed that I couldn’t see the boys. I ran on through keeping my eyes peeled the whole time like my own game of Where’s Wally. As I approached Bastille at about 11.5k I spotted Jon and his camera on the left hand side of the road and of course I was on the right so I shot across shouting and waving frantically. Seeing some support really does give you an extra boost so thank you to Jon and Michael the official Team Bangs cheerleaders minus the pom poms.

Me at 11.5k. Smiling!
Team Bangs official cheerleading squad (L-R Michael & Jon)

 In fact, on the subject of cheerleaders, a big well done and thank you to the Semi de Paris organisers. A group of hot fireman cheering you on at various points en route is definitely an encouraging motivator.
By 15k I was hurting but I was still feeling good and still had a smile on my face. A surprise cheering on by Jon and Michael at 16.5k cheered me up again which was just as well as I was going to be facing a bitch of a hill at 17k.
An even bigger smile at 16.5k as I didn't know what I had coming around the corner.

Bangs herself in action

It was a hill that I didn’t expect and I really had to push myself to keep running up it. It wasn’t particularly steep but it was long. I was so close to stopping but I pushed on through while my legs burned. I could feel myself getting tired but with only a few kilometres to go I was determined that I wasn’t going to stop. While I struggled through myself I tried to give some encouraging taps on the shoulder to fellow runners that were clearly also feeling the pain. When you are a struggling a supportive comment or gesture from a fellow runner can really help to motivate you.

The last kilometre felt like about 10 and I just couldn’t see the end in sight for ages. As soon as that inflatable arch came into view I pushed as hard as I possibly could to sprint through the finish line. While I felt sick I was so pleased that I’d finished and without stopping too. I wasn’t sure of my time but I suspected it was just under 2 hours 12 minutes.

The feeling at the finish line was not as exciting as I had expected because I was just so tired and getting out of the fencing that we were penned into too absolutely  ages. I felt a little shaky but the minute I saw some of the other Team Bangs girls I was totally excited and elated. This whole experience had been about doing it as a team and I enjoyed watching other members of the team succeed as much as I enjoyed my own achievement. It was a truly emotional experience. Here are a couple of snaps of some of the Team Bangs girls being a little hug-tastic post run as well as a rather attractive one of me in a white plastic cape. Paris fashion week, eat your heart out! 

Looking good Karleen

The lovely Gemma at the end. Well done lady. You rocked in a massive way!

Me, Misty & George

Myself and Miss 'Speedy Gonzales' Alski

Team Bangs hugs

More celebratory hugs

Go George!
Kaye looking gorgeous even after 13 miles!

When my official time came through I had completed it in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of what I have achieved in a relatively short time but I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed as I wanted to finish in under 2 hours 10 minutes. However, I’m not going to be hard on myself, it is my first half marathon after all. I had an injury before I’d even started my training and my schedule was interrupted at the end of January when I came down with flu and a chest infection had to stop for nearly two weeks. My running is not finished yet and I have already set myself a target of doing better next time.

After going out for a celebratory Parisian dinner with Jon I thought it was only right that I reward myself with cake so with my medal round my neck, my fluffy robe and slippers on, I ate cake. What a perfect end to an absolutely amazing day.
Me and the official team mascot, Jon

I deserve cake. Fact!

A huge thank you to everybody that has supported us all along the way and an extra special thank you to Bangs herself.  Here is my own little film for you. It's not as good as yours with editing and cool music but hopefully it gets my message across.   

Karleen xxx

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The last breakfast

Today is Saturday 6th March, the day of the Paris half marathon 2011 and I am just about to go down and grab mon petit dejeuner. My medical certificate had the stamp of approval yesterday and I’ve collected my bib number and chip for my shoe. There is no going back now. Today is the day that I get to prove myself after all the hard work and training that I have put in.
Me with the stamp of approval

I will be honest, it hasn’t been easy. I started a new job in December just as my training programme needed to kick off so I have been pretty busy. My friends and family are really important to me and I haven’t been able to spend quite as much time with them as I usually do as there just aren’t enough hours in the day but it has definitely all been worth it and I’m sure the feeling I get when I cross the finish line is going to be the ultimate feel-good buzz.
I have tried to remain committed throughout training apart from a couple of blips caused by illness or injury.I know that I’m capable of running the distance as I have completed it in training but I am crossing my fingers, toes and anything else that is crossable, that tomorrow will be a good running day. For those of you out there that run, you will know what I mean. Some days you run and you feel good. In fact, you feel better than you thought you would so you keep on running and on those days you feel fantastic. On other days you try your absolute best and for reasons that I don’t understand your body struggles and the whole run feels difficult, right the way through from start to finish. Please, please let Sunday 6th March be a good running day. Knowing that I will be there with the rest of the #TeamBangsontheRun girls is a great feeling and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
I can’t say a big enough thank you for all of the support I have received along the way. It’s the understanding tweets from the TeamBangs ladies that have pushed me on through or the well done tweets that add to the proud glow when I’ve managed to run a little bit further than I’ve run before. I have also received some amazing messages from other people in the twitter community and on Facebook which have really helped to motivate me when it’s been cold and wet and all I’ve wanted to do is hibernate. Knowing that what I have been working towards has motivated other people to start taking part in exercise has really helped to push me too.
Thank you to all of those that have supported us along the way, whether it be donating money, clothing (Thank you Nike), sports bras (Thank you Shock Absorber)or even your words. I just hope that I can make you all proud and most of all make myself proud.

If you haven’t managed to donate yet then there is still time I’ll catch you later when this run is done! *Takes a deep breath and sips more water*

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I'm still alive and still running!

In case you wondered, I am actually still breathing. As you may have guessed and if you follow me on Twitter you probably know that the feeling a little ropey, as documented in my last posts, escalated into full blown influenza. Not the kind of ‘I’m feeling a bit fluey’ flu but the ‘I cannot even move from my bed ‘flu.  People use the term flu way too frequently when they should just be telling you that they have a cold. I didn’t even have a hint of a sniffly nose but I did have a fever for five days, couldn’t move and was even seeing dogs in my room in the night. We don’t even own a dog. I think this was a little bit of hallucinating due to the fever.
I am a stubborn madam and I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of me and Janathon. I meant serious business when I signed up but this virus well and truly ruined that plan. The day after my last post (Janathon day 25 and my 27th consecutive day of exercise), I dragged myself into work to finish a few urgent bits then crawled back to bed which was where I stayed for over a week. I can’t quite believe how bad I felt and then developed a chest infection too. I still have a gross cough but you’ll be pleased to know my training is back on track.
I was so anxious about my training. The training plan didn’t schedule for illness on this scale. As soon as I was feeling a little better I was back out there with my running shoes on. After nearly a two week break I was really nervous. It just happened to be that on that Saturday morning I’d slicked on some red lippie for some extra va-va voom.  There was nothing for it. I decided to keep it on for my run. Not only is it a complete pain to remove without leaving a ‘I’ve been drinking cherryade out of a bottle’ look but it also has a special effect of giving you an extra confidence boost. Wearing red lipstick screams the message “Don’t mess with me!” and I wanted to tell this run that I meant business.
 I got a few funny looks as I jogged on by with my clashing black and pink running jacket but I didn’t care. Even though I was still a little wheezy I really enjoyed the run and loved being out there. It was only a short one but I didn’t want to go mad. That all changed on the Sunday. I headed out aiming for 13 miles. I was feeling good and needed to prove to myself that I was capable of running the half marathon distance, even if it was slowly. I did it and I loved it and completed it in 2 hours 20 minutes. I was absolutely over the moon! I’m no athlete but I still can’t quite believe that I managed it. I kept checking the route that I’d mapped just to make sure I hadn’t cheated and sure enough I hadn’t.

In the last couple of weeks, I am sorry for the lack of blog posts but with the training and a super busy couple of weeks at work I just really haven’t had time. I’ve bumped into quite a few people that have told me they’ve been reading my blog. I am absolutely astounded and totally chuffed that so many people are reading it, enjoying it and are feeling inspired by it too. I promise that I am now back. I may not be checking in everyday but I definitely promise to post regularly. Thank you for reading, I really do appreciate it and feel free to comment. The positive comments and tweets are really helping me push hard with my training. If you find you can’t make a comment then a donation will do and that will definitely give me and the rest of the Team Bangs ladies a push.

Have a good week!

Karleen x