Dressing up is more dangerous than running

It was the work Christmas bash on Friday night. It’s a big event with around 1,000 people all dressed up, dancing in a huge marquee and enjoying a few festive drinks.

I had planned to wear my ‘party dress’ – the outfit I wore as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding, but a couple of weeks ago I was wandering around the village market and spotted a second hand clothes stall, with a long black sequinned dress on the front of the rack. It proved to be my size and a bargain, so I kitted myself out, feeling very sparkly and special.

It was a good night with a lively band and I left before my work mates were too sozzled. But while others will no doubt have been nursing sore heads on Saturday morning, I was on 30 min pacer duty at Newcastle parkrun, and I had a problem…

Did you know, sequins chafe? After a couple of hours on the dancefloor, my arms were covered in tiny scratches, from my armpits down to my elbows. I’ve never had such bad chafing from any run or triathlon events.

Triathlete’s favourite sudocrem to the rescue and off I trot to parkrun. It’s a lovely day on the moor and I slot into the starting crowd near a mum and her boy who are looking to run at about 30 minute pace. Ready, steady, Garmin and off we trot towards the first gate, using the large number of runners to keep the pace steady as my legs warm up and I ease into the run.

I pay much more attention to my Garmin when I’m pacing and see the first kilometre clock through at 5:55 – perfect, just sub 30 pace. Just keep that going.

A bit of chat as we run out over the moor and back in through the second gate, and the mum and son team are still with me until he has to stop to tie a shoe lace. My legs have warmed up by now, and I’ve picked up the pace a bit. I keep trying to rein it back and shout out encouragement and coaching tips to the runners around me. A couple of ladies in pink are looking in good form, but I’m no longer running with a group.

I push on round the back of the military museum and through the out and back, willing the runners on through this tricky section between 3-4k. Pace now is nearer 5:45/5:50 and a little too brisk. I’m not running my fastest at the moment and I had been worried that I’d find 30 min pace too fast, but it’s still nice and relaxed and I do need to slow down a bit.

The wind bites as we turn back onto the tarmaced paths and through the 4k gate. “Just 6 minutes running to go,” I shout as I see the girl in pink drop her head and start to slow. She picks up her feet and stays ahead. 

I spend the last kilometre trying to rein in my pace, which feels a bit weird as normally I’m pushing to hold or increase it. On the last stretch I am about 40 seconds up and call out encouragement to those ahead who will smash 30 minutes and pause at the last turn to jog on the spot and urge the runner behind me on. I sprint in just ahead, yelling all the way and hope she’s just nicked it. My official finish time, 29:58 and a very enjoyable run.

But my arms are burning. The run has irritated the skin and I can’t wait to get home, showered and put something on to soothe the itch.

I look at the pattern on my skin and realise it wasn’t just sequins scratching, but judging by the welt over my left shoulder, I’ve had an allergic reaction to the metal strap of my bag. Give me a nice running T-shirt any day – I was obviously not designed for glamour. 

Doors opening – BBC Women in Radio

One of the promises I made to myself after getting my wings from the Dark Angels in Aracena, was to seek out more opportunities to be creative. To be open. To say yes to things, even when I wasn’t sure where they would lead me.

And that’s how I found myself in Birmingham with a film maker, a comedy performer, a baker, a former copper and a very familiar voice from Radio Four – just five of the many inspiring and interesting people I was to meet that day.

I’d been fortunate enough to be selected to go along to the first BBC Women in Radio event. Very fortunate as it turned out, as we learned that the 30 women in the room were the top 5% of the 450 who had applied and that we all had the potential to become radio presenters of the future.

Well, flabber my ghast! So, I’ve had the privilege of working for the BBC before, but in all my years in the news room, even when I worked as a radio reporter, I never thought I had the voice for radio. But I did love it. Finding stories, listening to interesting people, getting chances to do and see things that you just don’t get to do every day.

The Women in Radio event brought it all back to me. We spent the day learning more about what it would be like to work in radio, starting with the wit and wisdom of BBC Radio Somerset’s Emma Britton, and Women’s Hour Jane Garvey, who shared their experiences with humour and honesty.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of meeting and asking questions and getting advice. We speed dated with representatives from HR, radio editors, and broadcasters, bombarding them with questions. We spent an hour learning more about interviewing with Jane Kinghorn, who now trains BBC journalists, practising those all important listening skills on each other, seeking out the questions that unlock and chasing squirrels. Everyone has a story. And I heard many inspiring ones.

In between activities, there was a chance to network, to meet other guests and contributors supporting the event. And when Helen Boaden, director of Radio and David Holdwsorth Controller BBC English Regions make time to be there, you know this is more than a box ticking exercise. I was impressed with their commitment and encouragement and Helen’s absolute love for radio which shines through, despite, as she herself acknowledged, living through a very difficult year at the BBC.

Perhaps my favourite part of the day was the last session, when we got the chance to be newspaper reviewers on a 15 minute programme presented by Frances Finn. It was exciting to be back in a studio under the glare of the red light. Frances did a great job linking to all the stories we picked out of the papers  and making sure everyone had chance to contribute. Though I’m glad I had my back to the studio’s technical area, so I wasn’t aware of Helen Boaden listening in. I’ll get my own chance to listen back and appraise my contribution about cycling, when I listen to the CD of our ‘broadcast’ we were given in our goody bags.

So, what next? Well we were under no illusion that it would be as easy as rocking up to your local radio station and demanding a slot on the breakfast show. And it’s no kind of positive discrimination. The best voices on air will belong to the best people for the job. But we certainly came away with permission to knock on its door and introduce ourselves.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the day. But I was hugely impressed by the time, commitment and the generosity of the people who took part – both BBC staff and guests. It was well organised, interesting, exhausting and exhilarating and I came away feeling inspired by everyone I met.

There are two more BBC Women in Radio days planned for Manchester and London next year, so if you’re interested, why not apply? You’ll need to supply an audio clip, but don’t worry, you don’t need fancy recording software. I sent mine from my iPhone:

And if you want another view of the day (complete with photos – which I forgot to take), check out Clare Mackintosh’s blog. She’s just one of the brilliant women I met.

Eye of the tiger

I’d been looking forward to it all week. The long run. Which these days, for me is 10k.

I haven’t run much over that distance all year and the last time I ran it was at the Hellhole race in October. My training volume has really dropped off. September was understandable. No half marathon to train for and a much anticipated week’s writing in Adalucia. Time to slow down, and take stock after a full-on triathlon-focused season. But the drift has continued through October and November.

No more early morning’s cycling before work. Too dark. Too dangerous. Running cut back to 30 minute easy jaunts at lunchtime out to the nature reserve to soak up some vitamin D and enjoy some running company.

Thank goodness for my Thursday PT sessions which still remind me I have the discipline to get up and get out to train in the dark and the cold before the rest of the world thinks much about waking. They are my hardest workout of the week, but leave me feeling alive, awake and achey in a good way.

So to the run. And boy, was it hard work. Even after a lie in until the light came through the window. Even after my porridge, breakfast of champions.

No need for the buff wrapped round my neck to shield my ears. No need for gloves, dropped back through my letterbox as soon as I ventured outside and realised it would be fine enough to go without them, even at a moderate pace.

And so, out onto a familiar path beside the sea. A china blue sky and no demands or expectations beyond the run. Steady to start, easy breathing, not pushing the speed, just trying to find a rhythm, warm through the muscles and set on my way. The watch worn, but I paid it no attention. I don’t even think I heard it beep.

Runners and cyclists out smiling and nodding. I’m passed by a number and admire the speedy bounce of a young lad who I regularly see out here. My mind wanders as I pick up the paths by Spanish City. This already feels like hard work. How far should I go?

The negative thoughts speak of tight knees, tight hips and plodding footfall. Remind me I have no distance this year, no running triumphs. Taunt me with ‘Good job you’re not planning a spring marathon,’ then dig the knife in reminding me how hard it will be to do half that distance come September. Because, yes, I’ve signed up for the Great North Run again.

Hello monkeys. You haven’t come out to play for a while have you? Not while I’ve kept my challenges within my comfort zone. Now I must exercise my thoughts to banish my mental restraints.

I had come prepared for this. I rarely run with music when I’m outdoors. But sometimes it’s helped break the stride of a long run. And I had my headphones tucked in a sweatband pocket. I stop at the bus stop and break them out.

I instantly remember why I don’t run with music. The cord flaps until I get it the right length. The headphones drop from my ears. Then there’s that track on my run playlist that I don’t really like and keep forgetting to take off.

But still the music is helping me pick up my feet, banishing the limiting, negative thoughts. Though now I have to pay attention to avoid the walkers on the narrow paths, approaching in silhouette, against the low sun.

I plough on. Through the full set of niggles. Right shoulder, left hip, left knee. And then my right foot sets to pins and needles and I know, without doubt, that I’ll not shake it until I stop.

This is meant to be fun. A treat anticipated since last Sunday. It doesn’t much feel like it.

I start to do deals. Run for an hour. But that 10k distance will be mere minutes more, that an hour will feel like a cop out. In truth as always, I have to get back to where I started, run or walk – so I might as well run it. I’m about to take out the headphones, the music now fuelling my irritable dissatisfaction. But the next song starts with a familiar riff. Da….da,da da…da,da,da….Da! Come on man, it’s Rocky!

I smile at the cheesiness and run to the driving beat. It makes me pick up my feet and my speed, when I thought I was just about all in. So I hit repeat and run until it finishes a second time, past the 10k mark and beyond. As it fades away I stop and breathe and stretch.

The words may be cheesy, but they strike chords today:

“Rising up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet…

Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive…

Rising up, straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I’m not going to stop…”

I finished feeling like I wanted to go on despite those earlier rumblings. Hold that thought. Take that positivity into the next run. I set myself a goal and I got there.

When I took on my first half marathon, I wasn’t running 6 miles in December. On my last standard tri, I told myself truthfully that I could run 6 miles before breakfast.  It’s a start. A first step. Let’s see where it takes me.