Half marathon blues

March 20, 2016

This Saturday, 26th March, I’m running what is probably the highest-profile race I’ve run yet – the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships.

[Not because I’m a super speedy athlete I might add, but because it happens to be taking place in my home town of Cardiff.]

It’s the first race I’ve run this year, and the first I’ve been involved in since the New York marathon, back in November of 2014. In fact I’ve only really been back running since January this year, having taken a year plus off due to complete and utter exhaustion after the madness that was throwing a marathon training schedule on top of the chaos that happened to be my life at that time. (Not yet read the rest of the blog? The ‘d’ word – divorce.)

Training to this point had been going fairly well – the mileage was creeping up, the long runs getting longer and the speed sessions easier. I was looking at at least a 2h10 which, when you consider my personal best of 1h54 was achieved over two years ago now, was something to be proud of.

Then two weeks ago I picked up a bug. First a spell of dizziness that had me off work for a couple of days and now a cold/cough that has landed on my chest and doesn’t really want to shift.

I ran yesterday for the first time in two weeks – just 2.3 miles, to test the water and stretch the legs – and it was ok but the thought of another 11 on top of that…not good.

And so I find myself sat here this morning faced with a familiar dilemma – with a week to go do I lay off the training and aim for the best possible health for the race or keep at it (albeit more gently) and run the risk of prolonging the illness and being less than well on the day.

The thing is I already know the solution is the former – trust in the training to date, safe in the knowledge that if I ran 13.1 miles a fortnight ago I can do it again in a week’s time. But those demons in my mind are at it again – you’ve let yourself down, you’re underperforming, you can do better, blah blah blah…

I should be long running today – the last one before the race – and instead I’m writing a blog post about not running! Ugh. I’ve learnt a lot since the last time around though – about listening to your body and not blindly sticking to the training schedule, and about letting these negative thoughts come, and then go.

So I’m choosing (trying to choose!) not to get caught up in the negativity today and instead I’m going to take it easy. I’ll be wandering to the farmer’s market (yum!), catching up on some TV (Grey’s, Scandal and Madam Secretary if you’re interested) and working out how I can create some space in this coming week to rest, fuel and mentally prepare for next Saturday. Because that’s the best I can do.

But it’s tough. And if you’re a runner (indeed any athlete) reading this I’m sure it’s a familiar story. Why don’t things ever run smoothly eh?!

 

 

Lessons learnt!

March 17, 2016

Week two of teaching and wow was that an education and a half.

Feedback from my students tells me it was a great week – they understood the instructions, were comfortable with the pacing, enjoyed the challenge (and the relaxation!) and appreciated the one-on-one attention and adjustments.

I however had a bit of an internal meltdown – with one new student taking all of my attention I felt I neglected the rest of the class. I found myself getting flustered, losing my words, worrying what they might think of me…

I do remember thinking part the way through that if I at least appeared calm they might believe that I was calm and, though I’m not sure I totally believed it at the time, seemingly it worked.

The truth is though, I came away that night feeling thoroughly beaten.

Until, that is, I got home from my own class (currently on a Tuesday I teach for an hour, 6-7pm, and then practice for an hour and fifteen, 7:30-8:45pm!) and realised that it was probably the best experience I could have ever had.

Think about what I learnt:

  • ALWAYS teach child’s pose at the beginning of the class – then if any one student is struggling you can send them there while you address the others, creating yourself some time and space to provide individual attention to the one.
  • You are the teacher. If you’re instructing a pose and everyone ends up facing different directions, turn them around to all be the same – easier for you but also infinitely easier for them.
  • Remember (and plan) for students not necessarily understanding your instruction. I’m a feeling person and this week I had a thinking person in the class – quite simply we were talking two different languages, something I just wasn’t prepared for.
  • Have a plan B!!! Consider in advance what you would ask a student to do if they were struggling, or injured, or tired… There are any number of scenarios where you might need to adapt your lesson plan so be prepared!

Now just imagine how long it might have taken me to find out this stuff. Imagine if it had been as a professional teacher, in a paying class.

Yep it wasn’t perfect (by any means!) but getting to learn all of this in my third ever class? It’s actually kind of brilliant if you think about it. So test your teaching folks, and soak up all the learning along the way!

As I sit here today planning my next yoga classes I’m remembering what it was like to actually teach for the first time last week – nerve-wracking and exciting but also surprisingly calming.

It felt a lot like coming home I guess, which is exceptionally reassuring. And comforting too.

This is my path. I’m happy I’ve found it.

 

 

Some of the negative feelings I was having towards myself last week (see ‘Let it go’) hinged almost entirely on things that someone else had told me about myself. But the thing is, I know that path is a doomed one – I do know better than that.

In the past couple of years, I’ve come to understand who I am. Not who I’ve been told I am, nor who people might think that I am, but – deep down – who I really am.

I also know what I want to do and I know what makes me happy. (And sad, and calm, and angry of course. As well as everything in between.)

I know that the only one in control of how I feel, and how I behave, is me.

And I know that I’m now a more authentic, and better, me. Who has more authentic and better life.

But of course it’s not all quite that simple and rosy. Because even when we’ve identified that better and truer self, there are things we’ve been told about ourselves (as seen last week) that hang around and rear their ugly heads, often at the most inopportune of times. Not to forget insecurities we’ve grown attached to that come back to haunt us, unwanted and unbidden. All of which can trigger a host of negative thoughts and inauthentic behaviours that we end up pretty ashamed of.

Maybe these moments don’t quite veer us off our path (although sometimes this too) but they most definitely jar with us and create some uncomfortable discord.

It’s not just the scenario I talked about last week either, where some negativity from an old relationship came back to haunt me. It can also happen with more innocent, even well-meaning, things…

Just a couple of examples…

  • My Dad sees me as a chip off the old block whereas I know I’m similar but different. Often this leads to friction on my part and I react badly (in ways I don’t respect) to not being seen as an individual.
  • Plus, while we’re on the subject of parents, mine always wanted to see me be the best at things, which I think contributes to my sometime tendency to look to others for validation about performance. (Even today, I reached out to Dad to say some yoga teaching had gone particularly well and when the desired validation didn’t come it made me feel (albeit momentarily) like I wasn’t good enough. Though I know I am. And I know that the satisfaction I get from teaching far outweighs any external validation I could receive anyway! But even knowing all this I slipped back into that old pattern…)

[Interlude: that sounds like a pile of of parental issues there but I assure you I had a very happy childhood, and I have very lovely parents! The point I’m making is that there’s all this life detritus, from everywhere, around us that we have to work through and process to uncover the true us inside.]

Self-observation and self-awareness

Self-observation and self-awareness of course is the key (and a lack of negative self-talk – that horrible, mean little voice in your head). Which, yes, requires work. But it’s work that’s essential if you’re to understand yourself and separate what is really, truly you from all the noise, finally finding fulfilment and living a life that you can be both proud of and at peace with.

It makes sense, no? In understanding yourself – your positive and negative traits, your strengths and weaknesses, your core values and desires – you know both what is you and what isn’t you plus you can recognise those triggers that set you off down an inauthentic path.

It’s one of the reasons I’ve come to love yoga so much: it’s helped me practise standing back – to simply observe, and come to understand. And of course, as  T.K.S. Desikachar said, “Yoga is the practice of observing yourself without judgment.” so it helps with that too.

It’s also taught me how to find space, within which to pause and decide how to act.

But even if you’re not (yet!) sold on yoga, you can start to understand yourself better, and begin finding your own truth by asking a couple of simple questions:

What does the real you – the best you – look like? How do they behave?

What about the circumstances that allow this person to be?

Plus the flip side:

What does that ‘not you’ version of you look like? And how do they behave?

Then…what about the circumstances that allow this person to be?

Then with answers to these questions you can start to identify where you might make changes in your life – to better align with your truth, and allow your true, best self to thrive.

My own best self

My best self is a caring, creative and soulful person – intuitive and sensitive to those around her. She’s passionate, present, calm and positive. Driven to helping others and making a contribution to the world.

My not so good self is often short, snappy and impatient. Incredibly negative towards themselves. And too quick to judge others too.

For me to be my best self, I have to step back and live to what I today saw described as my natural rhythm – plan downtime, protect my boundaries, address conflict and avoid negativity. Be capable of saying no when it’s needed, of listening to my body always and of investing in me-time as required. Switching off from social media! Reading. Doing yoga. Getting out to run. Writing. And, importantly, spending time in the outdoors.

I have to eat well (and avoid gluten!). To surround myself with only those people who make me feel good. To not worry too hard about trying to please everyone. To celebrate imperfections – both mine and everyone else’s.

To check in with myself and decide my own response to a situation. And to be ok with whatever that is (no judgement or negative self-talk remember!).

There’s still a way to go of course, but what’s most important is that I’m working on it. And I know that I’m my best version now, far more than I was before. Plus, it’s a journey right – a lifelong goal. And a good one, I think too – after all, it’s all any of us can really hope for isn’t it, to be the best self we can be?

Let it go

March 4, 2016

It’s amazing isn’t it, how things said to you in the past embed themselves in your mind and refuse to let go, even years down the line?

[Actually, it’s probably wrong that statement – it’s more about you holding on to the things said than them holding on to you I suppose. But more on that another time.]

We all do it right…latch onto something (usually negative) we’ve been told and make it a part of our identity? When the reality is that often the criticisms levelled at us are reflections in some way of the person delivering them?

I’ve not been very well these past few days – nothing serious just some kind of dizzy-making virus (no down dogs for me!) – but, in the downtime I’ve had, I realised that I’d been hanging on to a whole host of negative messages received during an old relationship of mine.

“You’re always tired”, I’d be told. “There’s that ‘tired‘ face again.” “There’s that ‘ill‘ face again.””You should get out more…”

They frustrated me enough at the time these statements, but the hold that they still have frustrates me even more.

They have me giving myself a hard time at the very moment I need to go easy. Forcing myself into situations that I simply should have avoided from the get-go. Pushing myself when I should be taking my foot off the gas. Ignoring my inner voice and keeping going when deep down I know I need to stop.

Then this week, sending me to work when I should probably have stayed in bed. Half a day I lasted before I took myself off home – half a day I could have spent recuperating.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend every day concerned about this ‘weak’, ‘give-up’ persona that I was given but it does niggle at me that it’s still hanging around there in the background.

Enough that I’m putting this piece out there to recognise it for what it is (someone else’s projection) and take another step forward in putting it to bed (pun!).

So I get tired. Perhaps more than other people (my Mum would say it’s been a thing since getting Glandular Fever in college – I don’t know how much truth there is in that) but so what. And without (my level of) necessary downtime I burn out. Frequently.

And tiredness, I think (scratch that – I know) is my body’s way of telling me it’s not happy. Which is why after the tiredness, generally, comes illness.

But that’s me. And none of it really impacts my life. Nor does it make me unhappy (on the contrary, my downtime moments are some of my happiest!). Not, that is, until I do the thing where I associate with all the old negativity again, negativity that was never even mine to start with.

So enough I say. As once and for all I let it go.>

New trainer day :)

February 25, 2016
Yoga for Runners (Hatha)

Oh the joys! Of unboxing your brand-new running kicks and taking them out on the road for the very first time.

Never has your run felt so smooth and easy; never have your trainers felt so responsive and springy…. If only the session in question hadn’t been a series of 200m sprints!

[If you’re interested 4 x 200m with 30 seconds rest, followed by a 3 min rest and then a further 3 sets of the same, with coaching from an actual Olympic sprinter! My legs felt good throughout but my lungs….another question altogether, thanks asthma.]

I’ve opted for a pair of Brooks Ravenna this time around, a change from my previous Asics Cumulus and hopefully a little lighter and faster. Not that I’d ever talk down the trusty Asics, after all they took me through the New York marathon (of which pics below!), but with my toes just about to break through the mesh uppers it’s time for a change.

It’s a bit of a faff really trainer shopping – there are so many choices and so much scope for it to go wrong. Fingers crossed I’ve picked well though – time, of course, will tell!

What do you run in? Drop me a line and let me know…

In at the deep end!

February 23, 2016

Wow.

If I had to pick one word to sum up this last weekend, that’d be it. Just wow.

There was just so much information and learning over the course of the four days that when I got home on Sunday night I was pretty much incapable of speech. A state that didn’t really resolve itself until about 6am this morning, a day and a half later. At which point a bunch of it just came flooding out and the other half looked at me like I might have lost my marbles.

But hang on a second, let’s recap… As it stands you might well have no idea what on earth I’m talking about!

So. This year I’m doing my 200hr yoga teacher training qualification (YTT200 for those in the know) and this weekend just gone was the first of 5 such weekends (plus a retreat!) throughout the year – each a four-day intensive session comprising everything from physical practice to breath work, anatomy to philosophy and, of course plenty of teaching practice too…

Even as I write this I’m thinking that there are a gazillion topics I could go into from here (what did we study, what did I learn, why yoga, why now…) but I’m going to siphon all of that off to one side for now, and reflect instead on just the weekend as a whole.

[For those interested, I’ve chosen a Yoga Alliance certified course, and am studying with Laura Gilmore, at Bristol City Yoga. As for why, you could try ‘About Me‘ as a good starting point…]

It’s been amazing. Exhilarating, stimulating, challenging and absolutely, bone-shatteringly exhausting. But amazing all the same.

To spend every second of every day learning new things.

To meet, all at the same time, 14 new people who share your outlook on life, have amazing life experiences and who are genuinely caring and supportive of each other, no questions asked.

To worry about whether those 14 people think you’re nice too…

To realise that this thing, yoga, that you’ve been doing for quite some time now and that you’ve committed to pursuing beyond the recreational, really is like coming ‘home’.

To tell a bunch of women who you’ve only just met that you have your period (and so need to do different poses than you might otherwise) and have no-one bat an eyelid.

To feel totally in awe of the teachers you meet and their years of experience and expertise.

To be terrified of the Iyengar teacher then realise that there is a softness and experience behind the (still a little terrifying) precision of their instruction that is actually just another thing to learn from.

To despair one minute about the complexity of the task ahead but be totally uplifted the next.

To learn more about yourself every day, and realise that there is a growing self-confidence and self-assuredness that you don’t think would ever have materialised had you not chosen this path.

etc…

and etc…

and etc…

I  could go on and on but I still don’t think I’ve processed it fully – it’s still all percolating away there in my mind. But wow. And amazing. And, as I say….completely exhausting.

So where do I go from here? Firstly a variety of homework – reading, studying, practicing and teaching – but then back to Bristol in March for weekend #2!

I’m so very excited about this new chapter and I can’t wait to see what comes next. And I’d love to hear from you if you’re doing the course yourself – or if you think you might in the future. Just use the comments box to let me know how you’re getting on, ask any questions or even just give me some feedback on the blog!

And so it begins…

February 17, 2016

Tomorrow is the first day of my yoga teacher training journey and I’m both nervous and excited, happy and anxious.

It’s the anticipation of getting started. Of meeting new people. And of testing myself in new and no doubt unfamiliar ways.

But it’s all to be expected and really I can’t wait. Fingers crossed then for a good night’s sleep!

Dear Valentine

February 14, 2016

It’s a strange day, Valentine’s Day. On the one hand you have lots of people taking the time to tell someone close to them how much they are loved. But on the other you have just as many people feeling lost, disillusioned and alone.

Plus of course all the people for whom the day passes without even a glimmer of recognition.

So this Valentine’s day, after you’ve reached out to those you love (skip this step if you need to!), why not reach out to someone you don’t know. Buy a ‘pay it forward’ coffee at your local coffee shop (see suspended coffees for more on this), give up your seat to a stranger on the tube, donate to charity or volunteer. Whatever it is that’s appropriate to your day, and achievable within your means.

Because it’s a pretty appropriate day for a random act of kindness no?

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