Women Runners, Don Your Shorts!

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious (© Basil Fawlty) it’s been hot over the last few days. Not just the sort of hot where it’s really just a bit warm but we do that optimistic, British thing of pretending it’s hotter than it is, but properly hot. Hot like on your summer holidays abroad hot. By and large we like hot and all that goes with it (sunbathing, drinking Pimms, eating ice lollies, having barbecues etc.) so hot is a good thing… except for when you want to go running. Then it’s a sticky, sweaty, bad thing!

Obviously the best way to overcome this is to put on your shorts and vest and go out early or late in the day when it’s not so hot. But here’s the thing… even when the weather’s boiling I still see lots of women wearing capris, long tights or (last Sunday) thick jogging bottoms. As far as I can work out the only reason for this must be that they think they’re too fat/white/dimply to wear shorts. This never happens with men, who seem to wear shorts all year round with no trouble at all, whatever they look like. Most of them seem to view it as a sign of weakness to wear tights, even in the depths of winter! It’s just we women who’ve been conditioned into thinking we mustn’t display our bare legs unless they look like Elle McPherson’s. And as only 0.00001% of us actually have legs like Elle McPherson’s this has to stop.

 Obviously I’d love to have legs like Elle’s, but as God saw fit to create me a short ginger rather than a willowy beach goddess, I’ve come to accept that this is now unlikely ever to happen. But I don’t see why I should be condemned to having an unpleasantly sweaty lower half when I run just because this is the case. Running is about feeling happy and carefree, and it’s difficult to feel that way when a pool of sweat is gathering around your lady parts. Comfort is paramount, especially on long marathon training runs! So I guess what I’m saying is please don’t feel you can’t wear shorts just because your legs aren’t perfect, because very few people have perfect legs. If people look at you when you’re out running they probably aren’t thinking “My God, look at her fat legs” but rather “Good for her, I wish I could do that”. I’ve decided to make a point of wearing shorts whenever it’s warm enough now, because if a woman in sweaty capris looks at me and thinks “Well if she can wear shorts with her pasty stumps, I certainly can” that would make me very happy.

So remember girls, you are entitled to wear shorts for no other reason than you are a runner, and that automatically means you are fabulous and look great. Just do it! Enjoy your summer running – be comfortable and carefree!

Cycling and Cross Training

I’m so obsessed with running these days I sometimes forget that until about four years ago I was, if anything, a cyclist. Didn’t own a pair of running shoes, had never run so much as a 5K and went out on my bike most Sundays. Even managed to bag a couple of Alpine cols over the years! Then I caught the running bug and cycling definitely began to play second fiddle. Apart from anything else, running seemed much quicker and easier to fit into my working day. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I went out on my road bike last year, to the point where my cycling-mad husband threatened to put it on Ebay! My cycling was reduced to popping into town on my mountain bike.

 It was only when I began to train for the Manchester Marathon earlier this year that I began to realise how cycling could actually complement my running. The training plan I chose, the Women’s Running Beginner’s Plan, included some aerobic cross-training, so cycling fitted into it really well. Instead of a Monday recovery run after Sunday’s long run I’d go on a 30 minute bike ride; then mid-week there was a longer cycling session, into which I tried to work a few small hills.

 It’s easy to think that when you’re training for a marathon that all you should do is just run as many miles as you possibly can. Obviously running is very important! But in fact your heart and lungs can’t tell the difference between running, cycling, swimming or any other aerobic activity, so it all builds extra fitness – and without the impact on your joints of pounding the pavements. What it won’t do, however, is get you used to being on your feet for a long time, so you can’t substitute all running with cross-training!

The training schedule I’ve chosen for the York Marathon is the Women’s Running Improver Plan. It includes some much cross-training, but I’ve also decided to continue to substitute cycling for all the recovery runs as that seemed to work really well last time. The way I see it, recovery runs are about getting your muscles moving gently to aid repair, and cycling can do that just as well as running.

Since the Manchester Marathon at the end of April I’ve been doing less running and more cycling in preparation for the holiday in France I’ve just been on, where cycling through the lovely scenery of Provence was the order of the day. I’m hoping the hilly terrain will have acted kind of like interval training for my heart and lungs… but now the bike must take a back seat again as I need to get my legs back into running mode before my 14-week Yorkshire Marathon training programme starts on 15th July. Can’t wait!

I’d love to know what others think about cross-training. Do you do it?


Manchester Marathon Training – January

So, marathon training has finally begun! For those of you who don’t already know, I’ve decided to celebrate the year of my 50th birthday (there, I’ve said it!) by taking part in my first marathon, which will be the Greater Manchester Marathon on 28th April. And if that goes OK I’ll also be doing the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon in October too. “Why has the old bird left it so late in life to start marathon running?” I hear you thinking. Well yes, I guess I have, but as I only started running three years ago I haven’t really felt ready to give it a go until now. Besides, I think that to a certain extent age is just a number and I fully intend to ignore being ancient for as long as I possibly can!

I’ve decided to follow the 16 week beginner’s programme devised by Women’s Running magazine coach Phoebe Thomas, partly because it includes quite a bit of cross-training, but mostly because Phoebe is a redhead like me, so she must be OK! However, for the first two weeks of the schedule I was actually tapering for the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which was supposed to take place here in York on 20th January, but was unfortunately (but understandably) cancelled due to bad weather for the first time in its 31 year history. We were still allowed to pick up our souvenir running tops, but I haven’t worn it yet as I don’t really feel I’ve earned it!

So, after the Brass Monkey I jumped from the Week 12 taper of a half marathon plan onto Week 3 of the marathon plan. I thought I’d need to take things easy the week after the Brass Monkey, but as it never happened I cracked straight on! In fact it was actually an easier week than those I’d had over Christmas, but that’s no bad thing. Here’s what the training plan looks like:

 I’m now on week 4. As you can see, there are actually only three days a week when you have to run. I’m glad about the cross training because I haven’t done any proper bike riding for a while, and also because Steve and I are hoping to go to Italy in May to watch a bit of the Giro d’Italia and let Steve have his big birthday treat – riding up the Passo dello Stelvio, a classic Giro climb. Not sure I’ll be up to that, but I’ll certainly do some riding. So Phoebe’s cross training will help me aerobically for running but also prepare my legs for our hols. Friday, the only real rest day on the schedule, is the only day of the week I’m office-bound. So, fingers crossed, it should all come together quite nicely – for now! Of course, once the mileage starts to creep beyond half marathon level I’ve no idea how things will go or how me poor old bones will cope with the training, so I certainly don’t want to get complacent.

This week I’ve also started going to a Core Toning class at York Yoga Studio for the first time, which is supposed to really help build up the right kind of strength for good running style; this is apparently very important when you’re planning to run 26.2 miles! It was hard work but great fun and highlighted some areas I need to work on and strengthen. Then there’s nutrition… obviously I usually eat a fairly healthy diet anyway, but I’ve been looking at areas where I can tailor it a bit to suit my marathon training – more on both of these things in further blog posts.

If anyone’s looking for some reading matter to help with their marathon training I can recommend the Women’s Running Marathon Training Guide, which has plans for runners of all abilities and loads of great advice.

 So, I’ll post more about how I’m getting on at the end of February. I always love to hear how other people are getting on with their marathon training, especially women and first-timers, so if I’m not already following you on Twitter please let me know. And good luck with your training, whatever goal you’ve lined up for spring! Anyone else waiting to hear whether they’ve got into the Great North Run? Fingers crossed! Still just time to enter the ballot…



A Marathon Year!

Gooooaal! We’ve all set one for the new year haven’t we? Losing weight, giving up fags, going to the gym, abstaining from the demon drink… everyone’s at it, so I thought I’d better set one too. And mine’s going to be (ta dah!) running a marathon. Or, more accurately, attempting to. I actually decided to give it a go after last year’s Great North Run. That was the first time I’d ever run a half marathon and felt that carrying on for a bit longer wouldn’t be the worst thing that could possibly happen.

I’d entered the London Marathon ballot (well you do, don’t you) but didn’t get in – no surprise there – so fished around for an alternative. Manchester seemed the obvious option, being not too far from home; I didn’t want to spend a fortune travelling to some far-flung event when I didn’t even know whether I’d make it to the finish line! Plus I was born about a quarter of a mile from Old Trafford, where the race starts and ends. That has to be a good sign, doesn’t it? Or perhaps at the back of my mind I had a vague notion that David Beckham would be handing out the finishers’ medals. Anyhow, before I knew it, one October evening I’d had a couple of glasses of wine and entered. Warning: never drink and look for races online!

I also entered the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which is here in York next weekend, hoping this would keep me running and steer me away from the wine and chocs over the festive period. Of course I still indulged a bit. I blame my mother-in-law; she makes the most fantastic mince pies and Christmas puddings. But I certainly drank less booze than usual, and tried to time it not to interfere too much with tempo and longer Sunday runs. On Sunday 30th December I ran twelve miles, went dancing at the Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show, then walked two miles home from town – I consider that a pretty good training day! I calculated that after the Brass Monkey I’d move on to week three of my sixteen week marathon training programme and would actually have a bit of a head start.

So, just as everything was sorted in my head, the new Yorkshire Marathon was launched this week to much fanfare and excitement. How could I possibly resist the lure of that? Obviously I entered straight away! And it’s great to see so many other local first-timers signing up too – it’s like we’re all in it together!

So now, even though I’ve never actually run a marathon yet, I’m entered into two and beginning to doubt my sanity. Had I known earlier about the York marathon I wouldn’t have entered Manchester, but now it seems like serendipity or fate that the two events are being held in the city where I was born and the city where I live. It’s a challenge for 2013 alright! I’ll keep you posted on my training progress – fingers crossed. In the meantime it’s Brass Monkey tapering for now. Oh, and did I mention I have a big birthday coming up this year? Don’t tell anyone will you, I’m keeping it quiet…

 What are your health goals (running or otherwise) for 2013? I’d love to hear about them. Good luck whatever they are. And please follow me on Twitter if you’re doing the Manchester or Yorkshire marathons, it would be great to make contact! x

Great North Run 2012

Well it’s that time of year again, when the Great North Run begins to loom large and I have to get my finger out and do some proper training! Actually this will be the third time I’ve done it, so I have a much better idea of what to expect now than when I first did it in 2010 – that was my first half marathon and a very steep learning curve! I didn’t do any fundraising that year as I wasn’t even sure I’d complete it, but last year thanks to the generosity of my friends and family I managed to raise over £500 for my friend Angie Grinham’s appeal for the Breast Cancer Care unit at York Hospital.


This year I didn’t get in through the general ballot, so wanted to take a charity place and decided to run for Martin House Children’s Hospice in Boston Spa. The folks there do amazing work caring for children and young adults with progressive, life-limiting illnesses, and also give invaluable support to their families. Please have a look at the Martin House website to read more about the brilliant job they do there. Of course, despite being an absolute godsend, hospices have to raise nearly all the money they need to keep going, so I do think this is a really worthy cause to support.

This year I’ve been quite organised with my training, and doing the Leeds Half Marathon in May certainly helped get me off to a good start. I’m now on week five of a twelve week programme, and the Jane Tomlinson Run For All York 10K on 5th August will be a good opportunity to check on progress – I just hope it isn’t as hot as it was last year! It’s also the day of the Olympic Women’s Marathon, which I can’t wait to watch afterwards as I eat a big post-race brekkie. I’m still not convinced I could run a marathon myself, but might just give it a go next year as I have a big birthday coming up – don’t quote me on that though! Entry is still open for the 10K if anyone fancies it, and the For All Events team is looking for volunteer marshals too if any non-runners would like to help out.

If you’d like to make a donation to Martin House please visit my Just Giving page, or give me a shout if you’d prefer to donate by cheque or in cash. I’d be very grateful and so will they! Thanks for reading and watch this space to find out how I get on.

Leeds Half Marathon Review

Yesterday was my first attempt at a half marathon that wasn’t the Great North Run, which I’ve done twice now. I do find that if I don’t have an event on the horizon my running motivation can slide a little, so wanted to enter a spring half this year as well as the GNR. Close to home, Leeds seemed like a convenient option and is now organised by the For All Events team, so it benefits a great charity too, The Jane Tomlinson Appeal.

 My preparations in the period leading up to race day weren’t ideal. Three weeks beforehand I’d had a nasty stomach bug which meant I had to miss one of the two twelve mile runs on my schedule. The following weekend I launched straight into the second twelve miler after a week off, and paid the price by tweaking a muscle in my hip, which has been niggling ever since. But I was still up for it, especially as it was the first ever race for my brother Mike, who I’d nagged into starting running just after Christmas and who soon turned out to be far better than me!

 Sunday dawned sunny with quite a chilly wind – but at least it wasn’t raining! The drive from York to Leeds was pleasantly quiet and stress-free, with plenty of free parking available in the city centre. Organisation of the event was really good, with only short queues for the essential pre-race loo visit. It was cold hanging around at the start, but once the gun had gone off we were over the line in about five minutes. Obviously that was the last I saw of Mike!

 I’d been pre-warned about the hilly first few miles, so had included some in training. The first mile was fine, but there was a lot of climbing up out of town until we reached the ring road at about 4½ miles. Many people found it very tiring and a few seemed to be dropping out even at that point. I have to admit that I found these uphill miles pretty tough, but just reduced my target pace a bit with the hope of gaining some time later on. On the ring road we turned into the wind, but at least we were going downhill for quite a while! From that point on the route undulated quite a bit. Someone had told me beforehand that from mile 7 it was all downhill – er, I don’t think so! However, it did flatten out as we followed the route of the River Aire along Kirkstall Road for the last few miles. Facilities en route were pretty good, with five toilet areas and five drinking points with water and energy drink supplied by sponsor Asda.

 So how did we do? I realised fairly early on that this wasn’t going to be a PB day for me, but still wanted to come in at under two hours and just squeezed in at 1:59:03. In the last mile there was a short climb over a flyover which seemed to scupper quite a few tired legs, and it was a bit sad to see folk having to start walking so close to home. I managed to keep going, but certainly didn’t have a sprint finish left in me as I approached the line! Mike did fantastically well for what was not just his first half marathon, but first ever running event, bringing it in at 1:42. He only started running to keep him fit over the winter for mountain biking in the summer, but I think he just might have got the bug now…

 My only slight grumble is that on some of the roads where we were coned off into one lane the route was very narrow and it was hard to pass people. Having chugged up the hills I wanted to make up as much time as possible on the downhill sections, but where you had groups of friends running three abreast it was virtually impossible. That’s my only gripe about the day though, and I don’t suppose there’s much that can be done about it. All in all very enjoyable, although I was really glad to see the finish line! Great goody bag too, with a top quality technical tee and a Toffee Crisp – get in! Would I do it again? Very probably!

 For the next month I’m going to do some gentle running and cross-training on my bike, which I’ve seen far too little of recently. My very supportive cycling hubby Steve will be pleased to hear that! Coming up later in the summer I’ll be doing the Race For All York 10K and then in September I’ll be ding the Great North Run for Martin House Children’s Hospice. Bring ‘em on!