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*