Mind Over (half) Marathon

In many ways – this is where this blog started – running makes you feel better!

So I was very interested to see a number of things this week – starting with the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest – which summarises the current state of research on the impact of running on our brains and emotions.  Then there has been Prince Harry – talking about his own mental health difficulties and – of course – the Royals’ involvement with the London Marathon and their charity Heads Together – aimed at dispelling the stigma around mental health.  And finally, the BBC 1 two part series “Mind Over Marathon” which follows 10 people with their own stories of mental health difficulties all aiming to run the London Marathon.

So running and mental health are truly on the agenda and it would be remiss of me not to comment here.  I have saved this picture of Gill and I running at Paddock Wood to illustrate this blog as it sort of speaks for itself – here we go – off to run another 13.1 miles and we look like we’re having a party (which of course we were!).  It’s an argument that doesn’t really need to be made if you already run as, chances are, you keep running as you have discovered one way or another that running does much more than keep you physically fit.

Probably the majority of people start running either to get fit, or lose weight, or both (I certainly did!).  Recent research indicates that even a 30 minute run can add 7 hours to your life – with runners living up to 3 years longer than non-runners.  But it is usually other things that keep people running with anecdotal accounts of improved concentration, better mood and a stiller or calmer mind.  You can read the research review yourself here:

10 Ways That Running Changes Your Mind and Brain

But if you don’t want to penetrate the research (it is rather dense) I can summarise it as follows:

Different sorts of running have slightly different impacts on our minds and bodies – whether you are a long slow plodder, a sprinter, an interval trainer or a runner of “ridiculously extreme long-distances”………………….  There is evidence of improved cognitive function in runners – with increased connectivity within the brain leading to improved working memory, self-control and executive function (planning and organisation) as well as cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).  There is evidence that running changes the chemicals in the brain – leading to feelings of euphoria; running gives subjective feelings of relaxation and a “quiet mind” and helps people to regulate their emotions.  Running may lead to the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis – although this is only based on animal studies) and boost the ability to learn.  And finally, much like childbirth, running a marathon seems to wipe your memory of pain!

So increasingly there is evidence that actually backs up the belief that running is good for us.  And so I was also very interested to watch “Mind over Marathon” on Thursday evening.  Ten brave volunteers all with their own emotional challenges – hoping to run the London Marathon.  I am impressed to see men and women of all ages and from different backgrounds working together to support each other through this task.  Some people have desperately sad stories and it’s easy to empathise and understand how you might end up in the same position.  Like Rhian – who lost her baby son and then had to manage the loss of her husband a few days later by suicide.  There are those whose culture makes seeking help unacceptable.  And those where the “back story” is less obvious.  But I am struck by the number of young or old, attractive, apparently vibrant people who are crippled by sadness, emptiness and fear.  And by their courage in facing this down to take part – and deal with Nick Knowles – let alone run a marathon.  I will certainly be watching part 2 and wish them all well.  So good to give mental health issues a human face.

It is probably obvious what I think about running but here are the things that keep me going out there:

  • Friendship – running with a buddy – or with a group – is a chance to put one foot in front of another whilst feeling part of something and connected to others – relationships are what we all need to survive.
  • Being outside – and connected to the world we live in – feeling heat and cold – being dry or soaking wet – nothing better to help you feel alive!
  • Watching the turn of the seasons. Bluebells!
  • Running alone and listening to music – or even a talking book or catching up on “The Archers” – no one can “get at you” when you’re running and sometimes it provides the quiet to indulge the things that you enjoy. I love music of all sorts – but I am not sure when I would listen to it – just listen – hearing every note or every word – if I didn’t run.
  • Running kit and Sweaty Betty!
  • Yes! I completely get the brain chemistry – I never regret a run or come home feeling worse that when I set out.
  • Although I have only recently begun to see the benefits of meditation – I am struck by how I have probably been benefitting from it for most of my life as – at times when I run – my mind empties and stills and becomes quiet and peaceful (probably not when I’m listening to Meatloaf!).
  • Problem solving and generating new ideas. This may be related to the improved working of my brain.  However – as a therapist I have a special interest in EMDR – a therapeutic approach developed initially to help people process trauma.  At its simplest it asks people to focus on their traumatic experience whilst the two sides of the brain are stimulated in turn (by eye-movements or tapping their hands etc.)  It seems to me that putting one foot in front of the other is a simple form of bi-lateral stimulation and I think it helps me to process what happens in my life.

I have more to say………………….. But I’m going to watch Part 2 of “Mind over Marathon” first – so watch this space…………………  And I can’t resist a bit or Meatloaf to sign off!

April – Paddock Wood Half Marathon

So the April half is done – hot on the heels of our March run – and already thinking about training for the next one – although we have a few weeks in between this time.  Easter Saturday training – 4.4 gentle miles with 8 (horribly hard) 35 second hill reps thrown into the middle.  I need to shake things up a bit as May’s half marathon will require something a bit different to the first four road runs.

Paddock Wood 2011
But for now – number 4 in the series is done – Paddock Wood half Marathon on 2nd April 2017.  This was my second running of Paddock Wood – the first was in 2011.  At that time I had only run two half marathons since my resurrection as a runner.  I had actually ran a half marathon when I was 26 – but that was a bit of a fluke.  So my inexperience showed – I was running with my good buddy Julie – and we set off like a pair of rockets!  We were through the first 6.5 miles in under an hour happily contemplating a sub 2 hour finish (ha ha!).  But the route is flat and so relentless on the same muscles – and it was hot that day – and if I mention it to Julie these days – all she talks about is me moaning about wanting to die for the last mile and a half!  We faded badly and finished in 2 hours 8 minutes (exactly the time I achieved when I was 26!).  I have never managed that sub 2 hours…………

So with a local race and a 9.30 am start – we almost get a sleep in today.  I’m driving – so I pick Gill up at 7.45 am and we are parked at Mascall’s school by 8.30 am.  Race information says it’s a 15 minute walk to the start – but it’s actually over a mile – so it takes us a bit longer (please note – no mention of toilet stops – I have been told these have become too much of a feature of my blogs!).  The start area is crowded.  Gill’s back has been giving her trouble since the Palace half – so – despite her efforts to lose me…………

Gill: (text message) I can’t see you anywhere – I’ll see you at the end……….

Me: I know I’m small but I’m 3 foot away from you and wearing lime green!

We run together for moral support and encouragement – as we did at Tunbridge Wells!  I don’t think we fell out this time (although sometimes I don’t notice).  The run is much as I remembered it from 6 years ago – pretty lanes and good support – but flat, relentless and

Paddock Wood 2017
hot!  We run a faster first half than second half – and the cold, wet sponges that were handed out were most welcome – especially when tucked down a sports bra and refreshed with cold water from time to time! (note to self: add sponge to pre-race list – especially through the summer months!).  We did well – although Gill was struggling for the last 4-5 miles with pain in her back – so we resorted to the phone playing music as us as we ran along.  And a new tactic for distraction – singing!  Worked brilliantly at clearing our path as we sang along to Abba (Does your mother know……?) and Billy Joel (Uptown Girl (s).  I see a few familiar faces waving and cheering us in at the end – Bryony from Sarah’s Runners and Bev and Graham from Heathfield Road Runners (Bev finished an hour or two ahead of us!).  Plenty of running left for a sprint finish – so overall a good day.  Ice pack applied to Gill’s back and a walk back to the car eating crisps and contemplating our achievement – Four of our Twelve races done – we can do this thing………………..

Running track for this half marathon Billy Joel – Only the Good Die Young (so I’m safe for now!)

The Trouble with Cross Training………………

When I posted this picture of myself on Facebook on 1st February this year (left) – I couldn’t believe the sun would ever shine and I dreamed of running in a vest with dry feet!  Well here it is (right)!  What a glorious morning – out early – so not too hot – the sun is shining, the birds singing and the flowers blooming!

And therein lies the problem……………….  When I woke up this morning I knew that the sensible thing to do was go to the gym – I’ve been putting in a few miles recently and although my hip is holding up I can still “feel” it and more pounding on roads and footpaths is a bit of a risk!  But hey! – as I say – the sun is shining.  And I just couldn’t do it………… how can you train indoors when these wonderful sights, sounds and smells are out there?

And so to the route of my first ever blog – downhill through Horam and onto the Cuckoo Trail for the return home.  My experience is better this time – not so bad tempered and grumpy as I was in December – the days are longer – but still there are the niggles of the first mile and the settling down through the second.  Hard work (Horam hills) and churchgoers in the third mile.  And then the steady, enjoyable peace of the rest of the run.  Lots of cyclists out today – all men I notice – but remarkably friendly. And dog walkers. And runners (lots). A young woman doing yoga at the side of the trail looked happy!  And friends – Niki (heading out and downhill as I was puffing my way back up).

The spring flowers are spectacular – primroses and orchids (thanks Gill – I know what they are now), forget-me-nots and the first bluebell.  I can’t wait for those deep blue carpets to cover the woodlands.  And the Hawthorne is out reminding me of those stunning David Hockney paintings of May in Yorkshire.

Hawthorne on the Cuckoo Trail



My hip has survived………………..

Cross training can wait!!

Running track for today – “Too long in Exile” – Van Morrison

March………….. Running with the Tudors

I’m a bit behind with this blogging lark……. Our March half marathon is done (and our April one – but that will have to wait).  For now…………….. this is our story of a run in the shadow of the Terrible Tudors.  The Palace half marathon starts (and finishes) in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace.   The palace began its life in 1515 when the original buildings were redeveloped for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favourite of King Henry VIII. However, like many of King Henry’s friends –  Wolsey fell from favour – and the King seized the palace for himself.  Today, it is one of only two surviving palaces owned by King Henry VIII.

Gill and I were rather taken by the grandeur of the venue – not to mention the splendid bling to be obtained if we made it to the end.  Not deterred by the Palace’s horrible history (Anne Boleyn lost her head here) we signed up……  Had there been half marathons in Henry’s time – it is unlikely that Gill or I would have been alive to run it – only 1 in 10 people lived to be 40 years old in the 16th Century.  Had we survived infancy, the open sewers, the (dirty) water supply and the medicine of the time (mostly involving leeches and bloodletting), childbirth would almost certainly have got us!

As it was – we were both fit and healthy and over 40 on Sunday 19th March 2017.  Another early start.  If you’ve been reading this blog you know the routine by now – Gill’s driving – I get to her house about 6am – we look at each other “why are we doing this?” and quickly move on to lack of sleep, toilet arrangements, which bit is tweaking, where to put the Vaseline etc.  But at least it’s light(ish) and it is not freezing – the weather is looking quite nice in fact – although there is a stiffish breeze.  The journey is relatively problem free (who are all these people on the M25 at 6.45am on a Sunday? – they can’t all be going to Hampton Court) and we arrive in time to park the car in the allocated field.


Gill: “I can’t make it all the way over there …… there has got to be a nearer toilet…..”

Fortunately, there was – at a petrol station over the road and although the facilities said “out of order” it was only the lock on the door – and that wasn’t going to put us off!

The race itself is a big one – several thousand runners – so we start in waves.  Gill and I are in different waves so I leave Gill in the queue for the toilets (again….) and set off for wIMG_1117ave 5.  The run is flat (nice!) and I chance upon Ariane – from my old running group Sarah’s Runners.  We are running at a similar pace and so run together for quite a lot of the way.  The route takes us along tow paths, the roads of Kingston upon Thames and finally into the Royal Park.  The temperature is pleasant but the wind quite a challenge – much better when its behind you than when you’re running into it.  I spare a thought for friends running the Hastings half marathon today – if it’s like this on the coast those last couple of miles are going to be seriously hard work.  As are the last couple of miles here!  I’ve lost Ariane by this stage (she stopped for a drink) and there IS a headwind.  The path through the park is uneven and whilst on most days you wouldn’t even notice it – today – on tired legs it makes each step painful.

Lovely to see Ariane again – well done!

But then it’s done – awash with endorphins you forget the pain – the medal and t-shirt are great and I’m very happy with 2 hours 10 minutes.  I see Ariane and Gill through the finish.  Gill’s back is hurting so we lie for a while on the grass in a “happy baby” yoga position and do a few cat/cows– nobody looks at us like we’re odd…………………  We even take a bit of time to look at the grounds.  The magnolias are magnificent.

More for the magnolia than because either of us were looking great at this point!

I’m slightly more “with it” on this journey home.  We are singing Doris Day songs – I can’t remember why but there was a reason…………………. Three out of twelve done!

And that brings me onto the running track of the day.  I was tempted by Dolly Parton and DIVORCE in honour of Henry – but even I couldn’t sink that low. So in the end it’s T.Rex and I Love to Boogie – for no other reason than it’s great to run to and summed up the mood of the day!