Sunday, 31 January 2016

How I get through my long runs

This morning just after 9am, I said to Phil "okay, I'm off out for my run, I'll be back just before 12."
And off I went to run for 2 hours, 41 minutes.

Now for a lot of people, this is crazytown. Going out running for nearly 3 hours, voluntarily, on a cold, wet, Sunday morning. 

But if you're training for a big race, this is kind of part of the deal. If you're running anything beyond a 10K you have to run a long run, but it can be pretty daunting.

After over two years of these kind of long runs, dating back to training for my first half marathon back in late 2013, I've learned a lot and tried a lot of different things to get through that long run, and now I'm training for a marathon those long runs are getting longer and longer (and what was once a long run is now something I squeeze in before work!) and I'm finally figuring out what works for me during my training.

Not all of this will work for everyone, but these are the things that are working for me at the moment on my journey to 26.2...

1. Get the run out of the way early
If I have a 2 or 3 hour run I need to do, I need to get that out of the way early. Usually on a Sunday I'm up and out by 8am to ensure I have plenty of the day left to enjoy. I have a really difficult time feeling like I'm "wasting" my weekend, so the sooner I get out the sooner I get back!

2. But give yourself time to prepare
I like to set my alarm about an hour before my run to give me some time to eat something, have a cup of tea, get all my stuff together and get ready. For me, personally, I don't like to just get out and go.

3. Have a few good podcasts ready
I've talked before about my love of podcasts, and it's during my long runs that I listen to them most. I favour podcasts over an hour in length so I'm not constantly stopping to put a new one on. My favourites for long runs are the Bret Easton Ellis podcast and This American Life. I used to run to music, but now I only do that during races because I like to zone out to a podcast and I just can't do that with music.

4. Remember the first few miles always suck
I kind of thought this was just me, but it turns out that this is a common phenomenon among  runners which makes me feel so much better! I always hate the first couple of miles and always think "how am I going to keep going for ten, twelve, fourteen more miles?!" but I always get into the groove around mile 3.

5. Start out slowly and build up
I always start my run slowly to ensure I have enough energy preserved for the rest of my run. I usually find about half way I pull myself up to a decent pace and by the end I'm hitting my marathon pace, but I always remind myself that you are supposed to run your training runs 30-90 seconds slower than marathon pace so I try to focus on that.

6. Focus on the mile you're in
It's so easy to be three miles into a 15 mile run and think "oh my god, 12 miles still to go" but this is so overwhelming and can really get you down. I always always always focus on the mile I'm in and my next mile marker, and don't think about the future miles I have coming up. One miles at a time!

7. Run in a straight line if possible
Now this is totally a me thing, but I always always always run in a straight line, get half way and turn back, and psychologically this really works for me. Coming back never seems as hard, so in my head I feel like I'm only really running to that half way point. I used to run loops at home which used to psyche me out a bit, but this method totally works for me because coming back always seems easier. I know where all the "markers" are on the way home so I always think "only four miles to go from here!" or "just three miles from this point" and that really helps me break the run down.

8. Have something to look forward to
These days I start taking a sports drink at anything over nine miles, and sweets for anything over 13. I decided early on I didn't want to get involved in gels because a) they're expensive and b) I've heard digestion horror stories, so for me it's sports drink and sweets. And water, obviously. I don't always get around to eating my sweets, but I always crack open that sports drink after about 4 miles and always try to make it last as long as possible. It's silly, but knowing you can open your drink in another mile does give you something to get excited about!

9. Let your mind wander
There's a reason people think of running as mediation. On my long runs I write blog posts in my head, write lists in my mind and importantly, wonder what I'm going to have to eat when I get home. Sometimes I turn my podcast off for a little while so I can focus on my thoughts.

10. Plan your day accordingly
Ever since I started running over 12 miles on a Sunday I've been finding I'm a bit of a hot mess on Sunday afternoons. I'm just utterly exhausted. So I've had to stop planning much on a Sunday except for housework and the occasional cinema trip. Of course, I go crazy when I get bored, but I think my body needs that time to recover from the trauma! This also applies to the night before - I try to avoid staying out late on Saturday nights now because I know I'll be exhausted for my run, or I'll have to catch up on sleep which means my run will eat into more of my day. Sure it's not great for your social life, but most people are pretty understanding!

Speaking of being a mess on a Sunday, it's time for my to curl up on the sofa and relax for a few hours!

Have a lovely Sunday!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Duluth, Minnesota

When it's cold in Manchester and I'm bundled up in my coat and scarf with my hands red raw I think of Duluth.

When I'm cold and I check the temperature and see it's four or five degrees Celsius, I think of the scoreboard that I used to walk past every day ("Home of the Bulldogs") and the temperature that flashed up with six or seven degrees Fahrenheit, and the banks of snow six feet high. 
When I complain about hating snow, I think about that first snowfall in October and that last one in May, and then the sudden sweltering summer that seemed to appear from nowhere a few weeks later, with total disregard for Spring.

I remember where I was when I found out I'd gotten into the University of Minnesota-Duluth for my year abroad.
In 2009 at the University of Birmingham, the options of American and Canadian universities we could attend was initially disappointing to those of us with aspirations for the likes of New York or California. I didn't want to go to Canada, and I instantly disregarded the hot Southern states of Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia. What was left was Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. I can't remember even now what made me choose Minnesota, but I remember crying when I found out I'd gotten in.

The journey to Duluth took three flights and almost an entire day from Manchester. A flight to Amsterdam, then to Detroit, then finally, on a plane with barely 12 seats, to tiny Duluth "International", the name I later learned to be a bit of a joke among locals, as it literally had one flight a day to Canada.

I remember trying to get into the wrong side of the taxi, and lugging my two enormous suitcases up the stairs when I couldn't get the hotel receptionist to understand what I meant by "do you have a lift?". I got to my dark, dingy hotel room, looked out of the window onto nothing but a car park and burst into tears.

I remember calling my parents hysterical. "I'm in the middle of nowhere. I am far away from everyone and I'm literally in the middle of nowhere."

And that was how I moved to Duluth.

Trying to explain my love for Duluth is like trying to explain something in another language where nothing you say makes sense. On the outside it's this little Midwestern town where it snows six months of the year and there's not much to do. But I look back on it as a physical manifestation of my nostalgia.

The town centre had two cinemas, a pizza place, a Dairy Queen, a Coldstone Ice Cream parlour (which closed for half of the year), a bookshop, a couple of candy shops, one alternative clothes shop, an outdoor supplies shop and whatever you would call Electric Fetus. That was basically it. 

I remember when my parents came to visit and my Mum wouldn't even get out of the car. I took my Dad to what he called the "huntin', shootin' fishin' shop". 

Even after visiting me my parents never came to understand why I loved this little town so.

I relied on other people for everything. The main supermarkets, mall, Target and anything else I might need were always a car ride away, and although the bus was free if you were a UMD student, they were a challenge to time correctly and I lost count of the times I rode around the city on the wrong bus. 

But I miss it. I miss it every single day. The ache of a place you loved that is 5000 miles away.

I miss the library where I feel like I spent my whole weekends when I hated being in my apartment because I shared a room with a girl who never spoke to me and Skyped her family back in China without headphones every night at 2am. I miss the "ven dens" where I would treat myself to a Cherry Coke Zero during long study hours. I miss the coffee shop where I learned to love Earl Gray tea because that was the only English tea they had. I miss the "British aisle" in the Supermarket which sold Dairy Milk and Heinz Baked Beans which were always too expensive to buy. I miss the Baked Potato Pizza at Pizza Luce and the cheesecake ice cream at Coldstone and the Mexican place that gave you endless chips and salsa.

But most of all I miss that it was the most beautiful place I've ever lived. I miss the view of Lake Superior from the top floor library windows and I miss the aerial lift bridge which became, to me, a symbol of Duluth. I miss how beautiful the snow looked on the ground, even at its most treacherous. 

I went back three years ago for a few days after travelling across the US. I felt out of place at the university then. Meeting awkwardly with old teachers and feeling lost in the coffee shops. But Duluth itself hadn't changed. I went downtown and finally bought Minnetonka Moccasins and ate that famous Baked Potato Pizza and went to the same bars I did when I was 20 and hoped the doorman was confused enough by my "backwards" date of birth that he'd let me in anyway.

I get overwhelmed with nostalgia sometimes and want to get on the next flight (and the next flight, and the next flight). But Duluth is a long way away. I tell Phil how much I want to take him but he doesn't understand. And it's a long way to go to spend a few days in a little town I used to love.

But one day I'll go back again. And maybe the people will have changed and maybe even some of the places I used to visit will have changed. But Duluth will always be a part of me. It will always be home.

I wrote this post to enter in Get Your Guide's #Ileftmyheartin competiton, but I was in no way compensated for this post. I just really wanted to write about Duluth.

Friday, 8 January 2016

One more goal - Use more, Buy less

When it comes to spending money I have two extremes.
I am either incredibly, unnecessarily tight.
Or I just-have-to-have-it-I've-battled-myself-for-days-over-it-maybe-I-should-treat-myself-but-I'll-feel-guilty-as-hell-later.

But for me, the worst part is I love the anticipation of buying something. Sometimes more than the actual item.
I'm all giddy, I make the payment, I wait days for it to arrive.
Then it comes and I'm kind of over it.
Til the next thing.

And this is really, really bad.

Take for example my obsession with recipe books. On last count I had 41 in the flat alone.
I got 6 for Christmas, and I've only used one so far, but I've already got my eye on a new one.
Of my collection, I reckon at least a quarter are unused. Sure, I've probably read all of them cover to cover, but when it comes to actually using them, I know of at least five off the top of my head which are unused, despite being covered in post-its.

And take Phil's obsession with buying DVDs. The other day I sat in front of our overflowing DVD shelf, and picked out every DVD we'd bought that hadn't been watched yet. There were 50. 

So in 2016, I want to use more and buy less.

I want to make the delicious recipes from my wonderful cookbooks, I want to use the gorgeous eyeshadows and lipsticks I have, I want to read all the books I was so excited to buy, and I want to watch all the DVDs we were giddy to find in CEX.

This is not a shopping ban, but it is a "stop buying stuff til you've used all the other stuff you have" deal.

So over the next few months, here's what I want to do:
  • Cook at least 2 recipes a week from my recipe books, especially the most abandoned ones. I am not allowed to buy any new recipe books and any I want I can ask for for my birthday (which is at the end of March). I will probably blog about this.
  • Read books that I already own either physically or on Kindle (I get most of my books from the library, so I don't spend a huge amount of money on books, but I do have a lot of unread books both on my shelf and my Kindle). I only tend to buy books when we go on holiday, so I'd like to try to stick to this for a good few months.
  • No new nail polishes til I have used at least half of the ones I have
  • No new makeup that resembles anything I already have, except replacements, until my Birthday
  • No new DVDs til Phil has watched 10 of his unwatched DVDs (this is more for him than me, but it fits with the context)
I reckon I can handle the recipe books, the DVDs and books however might be a bit of a challenge. We'll see!

Are you going to use more and buy less in 2016?

Charlotte x

Monday, 4 January 2016

Goals for 2016 (and looking back on my 2015 goals)

Unlike last year, I'm not going to even pretend that I'm not going to set goals.
I LOVE having a goal, whether it's a getting to a certain page number in my book or finishing my to-do list with time to spare. I'm one of those annoying, Type A, "goal-orientated" people.
And unlike last year I'm going to own it.

Now it makes no sense for me to write my 2016 goals list without taking some time to address my 2015 goals and where I got to with those. As much as I like the idea that new year is for starting afresh, I think it's silly to completely abandon last year's goals and not look at whether you achieved them, or didn't, or if they are no longer relevant.

What did I achieve in 2015?
I looked through my 2015 goals last week and wrote a list in my phone, assigning the goals I hit a tick, and the goals I missed a sad face. Of my 19 goals I achieved 14 and missed out on 5 but two were no longer relevant. Here's how I did:

Goals I achieved in 2015:

  • Run a 5K in under 30 minutes (achieved in April 2015. Current 5K PB stands at 27:13)
  • Run a 10K in under 60 minutes (achieved in May 2015. Current 10K PB stands at 58:08)
  • Run at least three races (in 2015 I ran three 10Ks - Stroke Assocation 10K, the Great Manchester Run and the We Heart Manchester 10K, plus one half marathon)
  • Signed up for another half marathon (this goal was supposed to merely be sign up for a half marathon, instead I ran one in 2 hours 8 minutes in October 2015 - 54 minutes faster than my last one)
  • Hit 40 parkruns (I ended 2015 on 47)
  • Exercise 5-6 times a week 
  • Read 25 books (I actually read 40!)
  • Go to the cinema twice a month 
  • Progress in my job (I was promoted in October 2015)
  • Take at least three weekends away (we went to London, the Lake District, Whitby and Spain in 2015)
  • Do one cultural activity per month (I didn't actually keep track on this through the year, but I wrote a list last week of all the cultural activities we did in Manchester in 2015 and there were at least 12)
  • Eat at 10 different places (easily done living in the city centre!)
  • Save up 
  • Keep blogging
Goals I didn't hit in 2015:
  • Complete Insanity again
Thanks to training for a half marathon and a marathon in 2015, completing Insanity again fell by the wayside, but given what I achieved I don't feel too bad about it
  • Take time for photography
Just didn't happen as much as I would have liked this year. Back to my list for 2016.
  • Learn to cook meat
Sorry Phil. I'm planning a post on what it's like as a veggie living with a meat eater, but it's fair to say I didn't really learn to cook meat this year, and I no longer want to. I guess this falls into the "no longer relevant category" because Phil has been brilliant at a) eating everything I cook and b) cooking meat himself when he wants some. More to come in a future post.
  • Volunteer
This is one I feel bad about, but not for lack of trying. I did look up volunteering at my local food bank, but the shifts were only during the day, and my free time outside of work (which I'll discuss in my next point) has been few and far between. I am doing my marathon for the Manchester Food Bank, and I am in a charity choir, so I do feel I do my bit, but this is one I'm disappointed I didn't achieve.
  • Use my free time effectively
Next to this in my list I've just written "lol what is that." I was hopelessly naive last year about that "magical" free time I was going to have when I had no commute. What I didn't factor in was all the time it takes to run a home, on top of running a blog, training for a marathon, blogging, singing in a charity choir and a full-time job. I do all the cooking at home (entirely my choice), and this takes up far more of my evenings than I expected!

Goals for 2016

So this naturally leads to my goals for 2016...

Worry less
Okay this one is a bit intangible but one I want to really focus on in 2016. I've recently been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) so "worry less" is a bit like telling a depressed person to "stop being sad", but this year I really want to get a handle on my anxiety (while the diagnosis is recent the symptoms have been manifesting themselves for years), figure out my triggers and most importantly, what I can do to manage it.

Be more brave in the kitchen
Another slightly vague one, but I cook dinner every night and we eat something new at least once a week, usually twice. I have over 40 recipes books, read hundreds of food blogs and love to try new things. But I am only just finding my feet with "oh I don't have that, I'll try this" and throwing things in. I'm a person who really likes to follow set instructions, so this year I'd like to be a bit more creative in the kitchen and try new things without following recipes all the time.

Run my first marathon
Bit of a cheaty goal as I signed up in April, but yeah, I need to run a marathon this year...

Achieve 10K and half marathon personal bests
This did say "run a 10K in 55 minutes" and "run a half marathon in under 2 hours" but you know what, I don't need that kind of pressure, especially with training for a marathon. So I'll take a PB in these distances, whether that's 5 minutes or 5 seconds.

Start looking into buying a house
Phil and I have just signed on for another year in our flat, but next year we are going to buy a house! So far we are just scouting out areas (we won't be buying in the city centre) and the next step is to go see a mortgage advisor to figure out what we can afford and what we need to save. Very exciting!

Read 40 books
I read 40 books in 2015, but rather than up the goal I thought I'd go for 40 again.

Learn one new skill, or develop a skill I already have
If you haven't read Six harsh truths that will make you a better person yet, do. I'm really glad that I do a lot of things outside of work (such as this blog, and choir, and running) but I want to continue to learn and grow more in 2016. As I mentioned before, I want to practise photography more, but I'm also playing around with Duolingo to learn Spanish at the moment. So I don't know yet what skill I want to learn or grow, but we'll see.

Spend more time doing what I love
One of the things that really triggers my anxiety is feeling like I'm "wasting" time or not using it effectively. And sometimes it's during nice times when I'm watching a film with Phil or just lying in bed. I always feel the need to be productive. And sometimes I need to just let that go and enjoy myself, even if I'm just relaxing.

Treat myself more
As with the above, money is another thing I worry about far more than I should. I don't need to worry about it as much as I do. So this year I will try to treat myself to the odd coffee, or an unexpected lunch out, or whatever it is and not neat myself up about it. This is especially poignant with looking to move out of Manchester. Yes, Manchester is expensive, and going out to eat and for drinks and to the theatre is expensive, but these are the things I'll miss when we move so I need to enjoy them.

Spread more positivity
I can be a real Debbie downer at times. I can moan constantly about people that annoy me. Look through Instagram accounts of people I don't like. I can complain a lot when I want to. And I don't want to be like that all of the time. I want to spread more positivity and job this year, and stop before I open my mouth to complain.

What are your goals for 2016?

Charlotte x

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Marathon Training Diary: Sometimes training for a marathon sucks

I'm working on a post on my 2016 goals, but if you've been reading my blog at all over the last few months you'll know I'm currently training for my first marathon. I've found recently that I want to talk, or more vent, a lot more about the training process, so I'm going to start blogging a marathon training diary over the next few months.

It's barely 7am - my alarm went off at 6.30am - on my last Sunday off before going back to work after Christmas.
It's pitch black outside.
And I do not want to run 12 miles this morning.

I woke up stupidly early not because I have plans today, but purely because I know how much I will resent running if I let it eat into any more of my day.
My training pace is not very fast, so despite being able to run a half marathon in 2 hours 8, 12 miles is likely to take me about two and a half hours, with a warm up and cool down.

Which means even going out at 7.30am means I won't be home til 10.
Then there's the stretching and the shower and the getting dressed.
And the exhaustion.
Oh the exhaustion.

Over the last few weeks I've spent every Sunday in a post-run zombie-like state, where at any point my entire body might seize up and I will be weak as a kitten.
It's about as fun as it sounds.

And it's even worse today. The last day of my holiday after 11 days off, when the Sunday-night-syndrome kicked in for both Phil and I at approximately 6pm last night. I don't know yet if I want to spend my last day doing nothing or doing everything. But I don't think the latter will be an option.

I regret signing up for this marathon at least three times a week. When my alarm goes off at 5.30am for a six mile run before work. When I'm tired and achey and hungry all day and know I have the exact same routine for the next three days.

And some days, like today, I lose sight of why I'm doing this.
Why did I sign up?
Apart from the vanity reason - the same reason I read War and Peace - so I could say I've done it, doesn't really mean anything to you on a dark, cold, January morning.
I've lost count recently of the number of people who have told me "oh I want to run a marathon." And I come home and vent because it's always the people who don't do any exercise to start with. People who have no idea the miles involved. The training. The tiredness. People who want the glory without the work.

Right now the only reason I have for doing this is that it's really, really, really hard. 
And like my dad says "if it was easy everyone would be doing it."
And I get it. I get that people watch the London Marathon and they are inspired and they want that glory and that medal and that achievement.
But they don't see the blood, the sweat, the tears. The hours of running every week. The cancelled social plans. The early nights. The exhaustion.
And right now I can't see the light yet.

I know I'll get there. 
While I don't think there will ever be a day I'll jump out of bed on a Sunday for my 12+ mile run, I do enjoy being out there and more than anything I do love to run.
And I trust my training and I know I have to do it and I know the reason it's hard is because this is a big thing! Not everyone can do this.

It's nearly 7.30am now. Still pitch black outside. But I know I have to go.
Because this is what I wanted. And it will all be worth it.