Bono sang to me

Bono sang to me. He said my name and sang to me. My song. The song with my name. The one that follows me wherever I go. And it’s never been more beautiful.

I’ve dreamt of this encounter. Imagined it a hundred different ways in my head, but never quite this one.

In truth, he’s sung to me a thousand times. Whispered in my ear on the darkest of nights. Inspired tears and joy in equal measure.

This time it was real, live, personal, direct. And he sang to me.

That voice I know as well as my own. That voice that connects with the deepest most secret part of me. Sang to me.

I’m still asking myself  ‘did that really happen?’, knowing that it did. It really did.


Yesterday I felt a bit of a niggle in my left thigh after a pretty brutal attempt to run intervals in a headwind. A bit of a stretch, a hot bath and I pretty much sorted it, or so I thought.
It came back with a vengeance today.
I met Ian as usual for our Thursday lunchtime run. Everything started well. I felt strong, got a nice breathing pattern, long strides, steady pace.
The first time we turned into the wind, I put my head down to power through it. But it whipped away my breath and I started to struggle to regain it.
And it continued like that pretty much the whole way back. No matter how hard I tried to push through it, it just kept pushing me back and to be honest, there were bits where I would have been faster if I was walking. But Ian kept encouraging me and I clocked up another 6k.
But once the euphoria and the adrenaline of the run wore off, that little niggly ache turned into a real sharp pain down the top of my leg. I limped back to the office, downbeat and sore, dreaming of ice packs.
I’ve settled it with myself now. A couple of days rest to get things right and then back to the training plan. But I was surprised how much it mattered, how much I resented being forced to stop, even just for a while, for my own good.
I have definitely got the bug.

Getting into my stride

On Sunday I enjoyed a great training session. The sun was shining, the sand clear, and bar one or two curious dogs, there was nothing to disturb us.
It’s true, I found the intervals tough again, struggling to pick up speed on the sand. But the resistance work was good. I felt strong with the heavier kettlebell, kept the pace moving and kept going from one sequence to the next.
Towards the end, Ian asked if I thought I had anything left in my legs. And rather foolishly, I thought I did. Cue a muscle-busting routine of 24 squats, lunges, jump lunges and squat jumps. Only I never got as far as the squat jumps, flaking out at number 8 on the jump lunges. Oh well, gives me something to aim for next time.
After a tough training session like that, despite a good old round of stretches, I often find I’m suffering the training effect the next day (that’s aching muscles to you).
Today wasn’t as bad as I’d feared and the urge to get out for a run at lunchtime was overwhelming. Decent weather, not too windy and no sign of rain – couldn’t pass that up.
My legs felt a bit creaky at first, my strides short as I started out, trying to warm up those hard-working muscles. But after about five minutes I found a pace of sorts and looking at my watch, it seemed a pretty good one, so I tried to stick to it.
When my legs felt heavy, I stretched out my stride, pushing forwards with my back foot. When my breathing grew shallow, I reminded myself to draw air into my rib cage, slow it down.
The only deal I had to do with myself today, was to run out for 20 minutes, knowing that would keep me on target for today’s goal on the run back.
And I found it, that rhythm. That perfect combination of breath, muscles and mental attitude that just keeps you moving. Like a train on a track, pushing forwards. It’s a great feeling! Proves all the hard work, all the tough runs, all the ‘mind over matter’ intervals and the ‘sheer bloody minded not stopping because I’ll kick myself if I do’ continuous paced runs are paying off. Some days are easier than others. Today was a good one. 6.6km of a good one.

Talking a good run

So on today’s run I covered 6.8km in 42 minutes. Well I did after giving myself a good talking to, anyway.

Sometimes when I’m running it’s like having a little devil and a little angel on my shoulders. The little devil whispers things like, “Ooh this is tough today isn’t it. You could slow down a bit when you get to the road.”

And the little angel pipes up, “You know, you’ll only be cross with yourself if you walk any of this. You’ve done it before, so don’t give in.”

And it goes on. All the way round the route I’m cajoling, complaining, persuading and rewarding myself for going just that little bit further, just that little bit faster this time.

The training plan

So, on Sunday morning I met Ian down on the beach for my regular fortnightly personal training session. The beach was packed with hundreds of kids doing football and rugby training. It was great to see so many people making use of the space, even if it did mean we had to dodge a couple of stray rugby balls. Makes a difference from fending off excitable dogs I suppose.

As usual it was a tough work out, a bit of a run to warm up then some exercises with the med ball, more resistance work with the kettle bell and some interval training. Interval training is basically interspersing short blasts of sprints with a recovery rate run in between. We’ve done some of this training before, and it’s going to be a good way for me to build up speed and fitness to tackle running longer distances.

But boy, did I struggle. The first couple of sprints had me absolutely gasping. Couldn’t catch my breath, couldn’t get my legs moving fast enough on the sand. I can usually find a bit of a sprint from somewhere, it’s the keeping going at a slower recovery pace afterwards that I struggle with, but not this time.

An unscheduled breather and some water and we tried again, this time with me reminding myself to breathe. I think I panic a bit when I get that sharp raspy catch of breath and survival instinct tells me to stop. But somehow I found my way through it, even managing a good sprint down to the sea on the last one.

Ian’s put together a training plan for me over the next few weeks as I build up to running a 10K road race in April. There’s a mixture of timed distance running, intervals and gym work, increasing in intensity and duration. This is my first week following it.

On Monday, I was still feeling the training effect (that’s aching muscles to you) from Sunday’s session, but got myself out for a lunchtime run from work and managed a total of 3.5 miles in 35 mins. Today I was twitching to get out again at lunchtime, but had to go to a meeting. So instead I settled for another 35 mins on the treadmill at the gym and 3.6 miles (so a small improvement – and at this stage I’ll take anything I can get). It helps when I get a good blast of a tune to spur me on, so special thanks this week go to The Killers and The Pet Shop Boys who kept me going for those last few minutes!

Anyway, it’s intervals on the plan for the next couple of days, so shorter duration, higher intensity runs. Wish me luck!

The curse of the blog strikes

So there I go, happily blogging away about the joy of running. The zen like rhythm. The sense of euphoria at the end of a good session. The goal setting and reaching. The sense of achievement.

And tonight, well let’s just say it wasn’t so good. It just didn’t come together.

First off, the excuses…have you seen the weather out there? That meant I didn’t get my lunchtime run on Monday or today. That’s okay though because I planned around it and decided to go for a shot on the treadmill at the gym this evening. 

I’ve already decided I like running outdoors better than the treadmill (the scenery’s more interesting for a start), and when I arrived at the gym and discovered I’ve left my headphones behind, it wasn’t a good omen. I’ve tried out a continuous dance mix download from the Nike+ website on my last couple of gym-based runs and to my surprise, really liked it. It helped me get into my stride, distracted me from listening to my breathing and helped me zone out into the run. It’s also great to get the voice feedback through the headphones, telling you how many miles you’ve clocked up or counting down the metres to the end of your run.  

Never mind, headphones or no headphones, I punch in a distance, pick up the pace and get started. Almost imediately that evil little voice murmurs, “This isn’t happening tonight is it?” But I ignore it. I’ve heard it before and I know I can get through the initial jolts and settle down into my stride.

But a few minutes in and my shoelace works loose. And balancing on the static sides to do it up while the conveyor belt streams away in the middle – well there’s almost a Frank Spenser comedy moment. The evil little voice has a laugh at my expense.

So I slow down to a walk, get my head together, start again. It’s still not good. Still not coming together. Calves feel tight. Sports bra is digging in. Legs and feet stumble to find a rhythm. I’m hot, tired and only ten minutes in.

Push on, stride out, relax my shoulders. Give myself a little pep talk in my head. Find a pace I can carry for a while, but it’s not easy. I can’t settle, focus, lose my train of anxious thoughts. I give myself a minimum goal and push on to meet it, knowing I’m giving myself an easy break.

Stretching out, dissatisfied, I tell myself there will be days like these.

Blogging the Run

Last September I decided to change something. I decided I’d had enough of feeling slightly uncomfortable in my own skin. Enough of looking down at the roll of fat round my belly and struggling to button up my favourite jeans. Enough of getting frustrated asking why, given that I don’t drink alcohol, almost never eat takeaways, and had abandoned the ready meal years ago, had I lost my waistline?

I’d thought about Weightwatchers. Really seriously toyed with the idea, visited websites, asked a couple of people. But it didn’t feel right. It felt negative. Counting points. Denying myself things I enjoyed.

But on the other hand I did need to do something different. So I decided to do something positive. Do some more exercise and get some advice. So I invested in a personal trainer.

I already knew Ian from the pilates classes he taught at work. So there was immediately a level of trust there. We sat down for ages and talked about what I wanted to achieve, the kind of things he’d help me with, setting goals, looking at the kind of things I was eating etc.

It’s been brilliant. I love it. My regular Thursday morning workouts down the beach were a high spot of the week. Always tough. Always demanding. But somehow, I always managed to get through it. Sometimes I couldn’t do everything. Sometimes my arms just didn’t have any more in them. Sometimes my legs felt like deadweights.

But each week I did something more. Ran a bit further, faster, longer. Completed more repetitions. Learned a new exercise. Held the plank for longer. And every week I wanted to be better than the week before. 

Ian got me to keep a food diary and gave me great advice on making good choices about what I should eat. I didn’t change much. I still have sausages and puddings, but they’re treats. He put together an activity plan, building on other exercise habits I had through the week to keep the effect going, encouraging me to run.

I really never thought I could run. At school I was a sprinter – 100, 200m, 110m hurdles and the relay (great on the third leg  running the curve).

And at first it was horrible. Run for a minute. Walk for a minute. Ragged breaths catching my throat, my chest. Thigh muscles screaming. 

But somehow the minute became five. And I could find a rhythym. Count the breaths, in and out. Feel muscles stretching, keep on going. Ignore the desire to look at the stop watch. Just keep going. Don’t stop.

And one day five minutes became 15. I got down to the main road, and then a little bit further. And then one day I got all the way there and back without stopping (not even for the hill). And I looked up the route and it seemed like a good couple of miles. And suddenly I knew I had it in me. And it felt easy. Zen like. Like I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. Magic!

Of course the next run was a nightmare. Scratchy breath and tight knees and a sudden sharp pain between my neck and my shoulder.

But all the training was working. I was seeing results. A couple of pounds off the scales each week. A centimetre or two off my waist, and suddenly those jeans started to feel a bit comfier. I could tighten my belt to the last notch.

After 20 minutes your body starts burning fat, Ian had told me. It was a great incentive to keep going. I’d hold it in my head every run.

And other people noticed. At the work Christmas party I got compliments. Talk about an ego boost! I’d already had to change my dress for a smaller size. I looked good because I felt good. Happy and confident.

I really knew I’d got the bug when I hit the beach for a run on Boxing Day. I’d had a couple of easy weeks, been on holiday, allowed myself a break from the exercise routine, indulged in some delicious food. And I was going stir crazy. A run along the waves woke me up. Made me feel alive. Shook off the cobwebs.

And a week later, as we were driving along the Central Motorway, I thought the thought. Is this the year to do it? Is this the year to stand on a motorway in the middle of a city, with a crowd of people wearing trainers and bin bags, fairy wings and foam suits? Is this the year to do the Great North Run?

And as soon as I thought it, I knew the answer was yes. A new goal. A new challenge.

So that’s where I find myself. I entered the ballot and got a place. And now I’m training, working towards that goal. When I first started a mile was a challenge. Then 2 miles, then 3. Then I did 3, nearly 4. Then 4 and a bit more. And yesterday 4.5 miles on the treadmill.

And it’s still hard. And I still doubt. And I still have a little voice that tries to do deals with me about stopping, or slowing down. And I’m thinking about pushing on with my back foot, relaxing my shoulders, moving my arms efficiently, getting into the rhythym. 

But at the end, it’s glorious. I get my breath back and I don’t collapse in a heap. I stretch out and wonder why was I having moments of doubt. I did it. I can do more.

And so it begins. Goal set. Finish line distant. The training begins.