Debrief: Great North Run

I randomly popped a ballot application in for the Great North Run at some point last year – can’t even remember when. It’s clearly an awesome race & the largest half marathon in the world, but it’s never been a bucket list one for me. I know plenty folk who’ve ran it, including a friend who raised money for WWF by running with a life-size stuffed panda on her back, & my cousins, who’ve ran it several times in a big group to raise money for a local charity. It’s always had a good report, despite the course congestion, & it’s fairly close to home. I like all these things.

The email came in with confirmation of a place back in February, but I was heavily concentrating on something else & it barely even registered. I think I did an insta post or story about it, but September seemed ages away, and at that point in marathon training I was running 13.1 regularly as an easy run or in the rest weeks, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Fast forward a few months and it was a lot sooner & I was not massively prepared for it. There’s been no training plan, except maintaining fitness as much as I can. There is no goal in mind, aside from completing it, but even then I’m not going to push myself to keep running if I need to slow down.

such bridge, tho

This way of thinking is not how I usually run. It’s different to Run The Blades, which I undertook at 12 weeks pregnant, because I’m now more or less halfway through at almost 20 weeks & running is getting a little more difficult every time. I haven’t really mentioned this race to many people, & those who did know mostly assumed I was going to drop out or defer the place.

But despite slowing down quite a bit, I didn’t see any reason to not run. I was lucky enough to have lots of friends and family running it too, it’s a very inclusive race that caters well for a lot of slower runners, & there’s no merit in not trying. Mostly, I have no idea what life will be like in September 2020 so it’s a much better idea to have a crack at it now, even if slow.

Lol at being in the 1:50-1:55 finish wave, though

I’m writing this on the train home, tea in hand. Tyneside is close enough to Scotland to be there, raced & back in 24 hours, which is good. Today has been the furthest distance I’ve run since knowingly pregnant, & I was quite apprehensive about it. Most people are very supportive, & those that aren’t aka my mother are just concerned. I get that. But I might never get a chance to run GNR again & I’m not chucking an entry fee unless I absolutely have to.

So. Full sun was forecast and was very much a feature of the day. Not ideal, but I sought the shade at all times, made use of almost every water station & every shower, & will be forever grateful to the good people of Tyne & Wear who stood in their gardens with hosepipes. Higher temps definitely slowed me down a lot & I walked several times, always keeping an eye on my heart rate and perceived effort.

I had genuinely considered wearing a long sleeve top

It was quite difficult & I am more than happy to admit that. With hindsight, I wouldn’t do this distance again at this stage. It was a long way & I currently feel the same as I’ve done in the past after running a lot further. I’m sore everywhere & I want a warm bath & some more tea & to not be at work for 8am tomorrow. I felt fine when actually running, though, so I’m guessing how I feel now is just heightened fatigue rather than unusual or dangerous. & baby’s currently fluttering away in there, which I started to feel a couple of weeks ago, so that’s good. I am going to take a few days recovery & make sure I get plenty of rest too.

Random points:

  • I don’t realise quite how much I’m flexing the bump until I’m tired & stop doing it. Right now it looks huge because I’m sitting down & have eaten loads of snacks all day
  • Number of women who slowed for a chat before overtaking, or said nice things: loads!
  • Number of mostly men people who elbow-barged me out of the way: also loads, unfortunately
  • I walked about 7 times for 1-2 minutes each time, usually during a hill or when my watch peeped at me for a high heart rate
  • Comparable to London in terms of route congestion, iconic bridge moment, crowd cheers & good marshalling. The end/event village was absolutely chaotic though & would put me off running or spectating again. Volumes of people meant no phone service & it was really strangely laid out.
  • I will have actual nightmares about the mile 9 portaloos 🤢

All in all, I’m glad to have been able to run this but as above, had I not had the race entry ready to go, I wouldn’t deliberately take this distance on during pregnancy. It might be bad timing, & even a couple of weeks ago might have been better for me, but we’ll never know. For now, I’m grateful that all I’m feeling is mild discomfort, tiny fluttery kicks & a crazy desire for sleep.

The new normal

So. With increased total blood volume & ligaments relaxing all over the place, how does exercise fit into all this?

Opinions vary. The traditional advice for expectant women to rest & take it easy is no longer chucked about with as much sincerity as it used to be, thank goodness. But there are plenty of people who say stuff like that to me anyway, when I was marathon training or even when just generally maintaining fitness. It’s easy to forget that exercise isn’t part of a lot of people’s routines at all. “Have a rest! Put your feet up! Just relax!” is the battle cry of people who have never racked their bodyweight across their shoulders & dropped 5×5 like a boss, or ran for two hours without stopping & unravelled all the problems in their mind.

The other side of the coin is aspirational social media/generic internet positivity. “You can do anything! Pregnancy is not an illness!” which must be a terribly grating thing to hear for people who are quite unwell during pregnancy. Although they’ll be stuck in the bathroom most of the time & won’t really care. It’s usually illustrated with pictures like this:

from a website advising no supine positions after 13 weeks (which is outdated anyway) clearly doing JUST THAT
I really hope that’s not been cleaned from the floor

& again, not illustrative of most people’s experiences. Exercise is hugely important for my mental & physical wellbeing, but I’m out of breath sometimes now if I walk up a few flights of stairs carrying a heavy bag. My body is changing already, & my diet is a little different, so my training will have to change too.

Sad face

The internet is fantastic & full of wonderful tips & tricks, but it’s also full of nonsense, & separating the good advice from the well-intentioned-but-terrible, as well as the genuinely bad, can be difficult. NHS, Mumsnet & similar recommend that exercise should be the usual triad of gentle walking, swimming & pregnancy yoga. I have actually been to pregnancy yoga and it was quite nice, although the hippie nonsense relaxation practice has never appealed to me & it’s even less appealing now the guided savasana involves bonding with the baby. At least no one can see my rolling my eyes because there’s an aromatherapy bag over my face. But still.

I love the NHS but they’re obviously terribly cautious with the advice and need to appeal to the mainstream, who tend not to exercise at all. So far I’ve found specific lifting/CrossFit advice for women to be the best, as sensible suggestions about listening to your own body is key. The importance of what a lighter weight means to you specifically is also mentioned in this type of advice, rather than the generic ‘light weight’ or just no heavy lifting at all.

The first few times I went to the gym after finding out about the pregnancy, I did my all usual sessions with no change to the weight on the bar, but then panicked a bit, went too light & wasn’t feeling the benefit. Right now, the intensity depends on the lift I’m doing. Cleans, snatches & deadlifts feel less comfortable already so my weights are lighter for these lifts, & I have modified some of the techniques for more support & less risk whilst still getting a benefit. Squats & overhead lifts all feel fine, so I’m sticking with weights only slightly lighter than my pre-pregnancy efforts.

Listening to my own body is a little bit more difficult than I expected because I’m half a stone heavier than 2 months ago & full of weird twinges. Ligaments hold your uterus in its normal place in your pelvis – in my head it’s like BB8’s retention cables when he’s rolling around on the Millennium Falcon

& when these stretch to accommodate the expanding uterus, it aches a bit. Mostly it’s when I stand up too fast (all the time), forget that I shouldn’t lie on my front (more often than expected) & earlier this week it was when I tried a set of hang cleans with a weight only 5kg lighter than my 1 rep max. I managed three reps before realising it was a bit of a dick move; I’ll try this exercise with lighter weights for the next couple of weeks, as I want to keep to my normal routine for as long as I can.

Luckily, I am surrounded by some incredible women who have been there and done it all. PTs/fitness instructors with pre & post natal specialisations or experience are definitely on my radar at the moment – please recommend resources, people and accounts to follow!

Well.

With two marathons out of the way  by the first half of 2019, I’d always intended a rest & a change in training after the plan was over and done with. I had no idea what kind of change was coming.
Finishing the Edinburgh Marathon with a glance to the finish line & the beginnings of a smile. Stressing afterwards about my slow time, which I’m now firmly pinning on the new knowledge that I’m nearly six weeks pregnant in this photo. I had absolutely no idea. After a very strange couple of months, it’s quite easy to look back now & think how could I not know.
Well, tiredness, nausea and hunger are also pretty common in marathon training & the days following a race. When my period didn’t show up I thought that was due to stress. I didn’t fancy a glass of wine after finishing Edinburgh but I assumed that was tiredness and sunburn. (The more I write this, the more it seems like classic denial…)
But something clearly wasn’t right. Similarly to Kelly, my heart rate was up for quite a few days after the marathon, which isn’t normal. My resting heart rate is quite low, but was still 10bpm higher than usual over a week later. It’s remained around that ever since. I am more obsessed with my Garmin stats than ever.
My menstrual tracking app sent me a helpful notification to think about maybe doing a pregnancy test. I put it off for a few days until realising I had social events coming up that would involve drinking so it might be better to know beforehand.
I took three tests over two days, & reader, they were all positive within what seemed like seconds. Like any millennial with questions, I immediately began googling & figuring out what the hell had happened  & what my options might be. I’ve never been remotely broody or maternal, but since hitting my thirties I had been sliiiiiightly more curious about the potential of children, as well as facing up to the reality of ageing. And always envious of those who seemed so sure of what they wanted, whatever it was.
I’ve discussed these feelings so many times with friends of similar ages and stages who feel exactly the same way – happy as we are, but apprehensive about the future and continually fearful of making the wrong choice. That’s not the same as specifically wanting to have a child, though, which has never appealed strongly.

Nothing like having the choice made for you, then.  Once the initial shock had worn off, which took a good few days, I surprised myself when continuing the pregnancy seemed like the right thing to do. The status quo usually appeals to me, although this has the highest of all stakes attached to it.
A few things happened, then: I tentatively went for a 5km run at a very steady pace, & enjoyed it. I stopped drinking coffee & the crushing tiredness set in & I had to go to bed at 9pm most days. ‘Morning sickness’ was more ‘daytime nausea’ & only relieved by constant beige snacks – mostly salt & vinegar peanuts and Babybels – but was luckily quite mild compared to some horror stories I’ve heard.
I read some good books & started drinking small amounts of coffee again. Plenty of other irritating early pregnancy symptoms appeared, but I’ve never done this before & there was always a vague feeling that this was some sort of elaborate joke, or my body playing tricks on me.

Then, there it was.

going from ‘pregnant, apparently’ to THERE’S A BABY THERE

So, yeah. Truly the next level.

The whole summer so far has seemed like limbo, & punctuated with fleeting thoughts of “I wish I’d known that was the last time I would do x/y/z/whatever”. I’m pleased that 2018 was so good in so many ways. I know it seems a bit fatalistic to assume everything will be less good from now on, but as someone who’s never had any broodiness or soft-focus daydreams of parenthood, it’s difficult to change perspective, & I really like my life the way it is. I’m apprehensively happy about where I’m headed, but there’s no void to fill, no emptiness, no desire for change that women getting older are supposed to have.

Luckily, I do have good role models in real life and online. Those I’ve known for a while but didn’t think their situation and experience would ever be relevant to me; those who I’ve recently discovered following this change in trajectory; those who are in the same boat, or have been, but I didn’t pay attention at the time. Reading and listening is good, especially now life must slow down & I am taking more time to rest & relax rather than prioritising exercise & socialising. I’ll never not be honest about how unexpected and unplanned this has been, because I have no idea how things will progress & how I’ll feel further down the line.

Right now, 4 months in, I feel podgy, bloated and hungry. I can still lie on my back comfortably & it’s only then that I notice a bump. Happily, I can still do my usual training, although running is slower & the weights are lighter. I am being sensible, taking advice from the correct sources, & getting used to rest days & naps in a way that has never appealed before. This time it’s serious, though. We need the energy. It’s not just me any more.
Change can be good. Except the change to decaf coffee. Twenty five weeks to go!

Debrief #2

Home race! Sleeping in my own bed! Club mates to run with!

Still not my race, though.

Everything felt fine. A bit chilly & rainy at the start, but I wore a disposable long sleeve top for the warm up miles (not really disposable but I only decided to put it on last minute & didn’t want to carry it for the rest of the race), bursts of sunshine, some strong coastal breezes, as to be expected for a race that travels along the North Sea coast. No aches & pains beyond general fatigue, the wind was a bit strong sometimes but I didn’t feel too slowed down by it, nutrition went well & I had a really good last mile & a fast finish. Clearly can’t judge my own pace, though, as I came in a few minutes slower than London. 4:20:55 on Strava for the actual 42.195 distance, 4:22:44 on chip (with a distance of 42.7km)

So… following a 5-runs-a-week intermediate training plan has made me get steadily worse & I am a bit gutted. I’ve worked so hard & I really thought I could at least pb, even if a sub-4 wasn’t possible. To not manage either, & to finish the UK’s fastest, flattest marathon slower than London, is rubbish.

can’t be good

Positives, of a sort:

  • I’ve run over 1000km in 2019 so far, & will aim for 1000 miles by the end of the year.
  • I finished really strong, & aside from a few aches & pains I felt mostly OK on Sunday evening. My body can clearly cope well with marathons as long as they’re slow.
  • It’s a good medal
  • I had less mental anguish during this race, probably linked to not feeling physically ruined at any point. Miles 17-19 were still a bit dark but this time it was easier to count down from the half way.
  • I have stayed injury-free – a few niggles here & there, but nothing that can’t be fixed with more & better stretching & less running
  • I must visit North Berwick more often, the east coast is really pretty.
  • Now it’s time for weightlifting again

I’m taking a week off to rest, & then changing my training to all strength, all the time. I want my definition back, & I do not want to run as much as I have been.

Other positives, as ever, were the marvellous team & their continuing dedication. Fun when I’ve been able to train with them, & there were some fantastic first-time marathon finishers in this gang. Hugs & chat from folk who know why I’m so gutted is also useful post-race.

Also calf stretch time

Despite the weather forecast of heavy rain (plenty of it) many of us are sunburned. I genuinely do not remember it being sunny for more than a few stretches of 2 minutes. I know you can burn through cloud but it was forecast for continuous cloud & rain. I am coated in aftersun lotion.

Recovery will be plenty of walking & eating properly, & some long-term Netflix commitments to follow up. Knitting, reading, & indoor hobbies in general. Looking forward to indoor workouts too, when I get back to it. New goals will be set when I figure out how to deal with failing.

Glasgow FrontRunners

All of this running nonsense is down to Frontrunners, really. Every bit of it.

we run through this tunnel a lot

Before about 2013, I either ran as part of team sports, or just didn’t, except the occasional Race for Life. I found out about Frontrunners when I was working for Stonewall, & eventually got convinced to go along to try a 5km. I don’t really remember much about it – I couldn’t run further than about 50 metres without needing to stop and walk, & it was years before a C25K programme was established so I just had to go along with it. It wasn’t until several months later when I started attending more consistently, followed a training plan & saw a steady improvement.

The club has also changed over time – it’s much bigger now, & there are more varied session options than when I first started. Races like OUTRun & the annual Red Run & Rainbow Run are getting firmly established on the Scottish race calendar, & it’s nice to see the club evolving & growing. I did my Jog Leader training in 2016 and my CiRF training in 2018, & if a week goes by without going to a session, it feels a bit like something is missing.

We like pictures

FrontRunners is international. As well as Glasgow, I’ve run with FrontRunners in Edinburgh, Leeds, Newcastle, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ll be running with Chicago FrontRunners later this year, which I’m really excited about. There are clubs in loads of major cities, and the socialising is just as important as the running at all the ones I’ve been to, or partied with. It’s great to have local running knowledge & friendly folk in cities that you don’t know well; even in London and Edinburgh, it’s nice to not have to think about a route or worry about personal safety. Just turn up and go.

I have tried other running clubs & we are really spoilt for choice in Glasgow, but GFR suits me best at the moment. I enjoy running alone (you pretty much have to, for marathon training…) but running with a group is good for when you want to push yourself, or when you need someone to push you. I have met some amazing people & made great friends through GFR & I love the diversity of runners that it attracts.

OUTRun 2018

It feels a long way from that first run several years ago, when I couldn’t run 5km, to getting the opportunity to run the London Marathon courtesy of the club. Our official spring marathon is Edinburgh, which I was hugely in favour of until I had to move my own training plan forward by a few weeks because of London! Hopefully I will manage some long runs with the marathon training team, because 20 miles is much easier with good chat, varied routes, & a cycling supporter with a rucksack full of Lucozade & fruit pastilles.

we are proud

Glasgow Frontrunners: regular runs on Thursdays and Sundays, training sessions on Tuesdays. Website & Facebook has the details. Definitely worth a try.

Transformation Tuesday

I never feel like I’ve had a particular running journey, as such. I haven’t overcome major hurdles, injury, or anything like that. I was speaking at a LEAP Sports seminar a few weeks ago – mostly based on this blog  that I wrote for LEAP a few years back – and went into a bit more detail there about how I’d got into running & why I’d stayed.

I wasn’t a particularly sporty child, but I played hockey & lacrosse at school & did lots of horse riding. I joined a gym as soon as I was old enough & have always enjoyed strength training, although back then was without a particular programme or goal in mind & just using resistance machines. I don’t actually remember that first gym having a free weights section, & I probably wouldn’t have used it if it did. I am envious of people just getting started who can find out so much info online or on social media.

When I moved to Glasgow – a place with more than one gym! – I continued to make a regular effort to work out, even in the student days. (I returned to the wonderful Stevie for a couple of years recently – it has changed beyond recognition.) But I rarely ran, although I still played hockey.

This all progressed into my early 20s & by that point I was a real gym rat; I spent most evenings at the gym five minutes from my doorstep. I wasn’t particularly healthy, as the weekends were spent working & drinking, but that is OK when you’re 23.

This all came to a halt when I was made redundant & had to move into a new place & find a job in a new city, alongside more disruption in my personal life. I had no time or inclination to exercise whilst I was sorting stuff out, & I was broke too so I quit the gym. Alongside working too many hours to eat well or exercise & getting used to a different lifestyle, I gained a fair amount of weight and wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t unhappy as such but got stuck in a huge rut for a long time.

Joining Glasgow Frontrunners happened a few months before everything else slowly got sorted out – I got back to Glasgow, got a better job, life improved. I joined the gym again & learned how to lift heavy weights. Running got easier, slowly. I was less exhausted & could afford to buy decent food again.

one of my first outdoor runs: that’s like 8:17min/km

I found out about Frontrunners through my job with the long commute & low salary, so everything has an upside. & now? It takes a proper look back to see how much better things are for me these days. Sometimes I do get despondent about whether I wasted some of my best years, especially given how exercise fits into my life now. There’s no revelation that you can’t sustain commute/work/pub/sleep on the daily for too long without it having an impact on life & health. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to get back on track, I suppose. Working hard is only part of it.

Things aren’t perfect now. I spend far too much money on gym memberships, trainers, meat, & protein ice-cream. My need to keep training when on holiday isn’t always well-received. Going to the gym or for a run after a long work day isn’t always easy to do. And I still wish I hadn’t had that break, or for such a long time. But I am so much better than I was five years ago, and I hope I am setting myself up well for the future. I don’t particularly care about how I look – I want to be strong, & healthy, & enjoy my life, avoiding injury or ill health for as long as I can. This becomes more relevant as I get older, aware of people my age & not that much older who struggle to get up a flight of stairs, walk a few miles or have general aches & pains. A lot of this is bad luck, of course, but I do want to do as much as I can to prevent this for me.

things change.