Mind Over Marathon – Part 2

It’s mental health awareness week – or have I just missed it?

How I hate these “awareness” days/weeks/months.  I know that we need to think about people and the issues that they face but these weeks just irritate me – “if I think about it this week then can I forget about it for the rest of the year…………….?”  International women’s day? – I know! – I know! – and I’m partly so irritated by them because they make me cross and make me look at uncomfortable issues like unfairness and discrimination ……… But really what is it this week?  One legged, blind teddy bear week?  I know I will just have offended someone – and I don’t mean to – some of my best friends are blind teddy bears – but really………..?

Mental health is just too important to take out and look at for a week and then put away.  If one in four of us will have mental health issues as some point in our lives it needs to part of the way that we think about ourselves and our lifestyles EVERY week.

So back to running and mental health – the London marathon is over and our 10 volunteers from BBC 1’s “Mind over Marathon” have finished their training…………….. and those that could, ran the gruelling 26.2 miles.  Watch the Programme here.  I watched the second part of this programme with rapt attention – alternating between total admiration and tears.  Seven of the 10 finished the race – but all ten were at the finishing line.  Injury meant the 3 of the participants did not start the race – but they remained involved and supported the runners through to the end.  Obviously, I think that running is good for our mental health – but I was also struck by the camaraderie between those who took part and how connected the people concerned felt to each other.  Jake and Poppy ran the whole distance together – whilst others – running at their own pace were all held in mind and greeted over the line at the end.  Everyone waited the 7 and a half hours it took one of the ten to finish (hats off to her!).  Those who couldn’t run seemed to be just as important and as included – as those who did.  I will come back to this!

By the end of the programme I was seriously impressed by all who took part – obviously the 10 runners – but the coaches – the presenters and even the Royals – who approached the topic with a down to earth “there but for the grace of god go I” attitude that has got to impact on the issue of stigma in mental health.  I was rather saddened to hear the Queen believes that Harry, Will and Kate should be more involved in traditional Royal duties – rather than pursuing their own projects such as Heads Together.  Not a massive Royalist myself – these youngsters have really won me round with their apparent honesty and passion.

My only quibble with the programme was it’s emphasis on illness (rather than health and the human condition) as I fear that this disempowers people who may feel that the only way of overcoming their difficulties is through “treatment”, doctors and “medical intervention”.  Far be it from me to put anyone off seeking help and support – and from a professional if necessary – but there is so much more that everyone can do to build resilience and help when things seem overwhelming.

I don’t want to lecture – or pretend that everything can be solved by a blog post – clearly it can’t!  There is lots of good advice out there on the internet and Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing is as good as any – Five Ways to Wellbeing

All I want to do is get people thinking a bit – and maybe making tiny changes so I am going to limit myself to just two…………………

The first one is Talk – about anything – your life, your family, your pets, your hobbies, running (of course).  But most of all about what has happened to you and about your feelings.  Do it again, and again and again………….  And if people get bored with you – talk to someone else.  Your family, your friends, your cats and your teddy bear……………..  When my garage burned down earlier this year I told everyone about it – at length – again and again and again.  13.1 x 12 and all that!

I gained new insights into what it is to be traumatised and the length of time it takes to recover (even if you look okay on the surface) – but I have absolutely no doubt that it was the talking and the connection to other people that helped.  And actually people rarely get bored – most were willing to listen – and almost all offered help – both practical and emotional.  So talk my friends, talk!  Stay connected to other people and ask for help.  Honestly – most people are not only willing to help but like to do so………………………..

And the second?  No prizes here…………… get active – run, walk, cycle, turn cartwheels, try yoga – do them all and – if possible – talk at the same time.  Run with a buddy, or a group.  The brilliant thing about running is that if you are running too hard to talk you are probably running too hard – especially when you are starting out – so you can cover both of my points in one go.  If you don’t have anyone to run with – or can’t find a group – try the Run Together website.  Many groups and running clubs will have a mental health ambassador – a volunteer who is committed to helping people start running, get back into running or to keep running – especially if they are experiencing mental health difficulties (that’s me if you are in Heathfield).  Run Together – find a group

And what next for me?  Well I have been inspired by Mind Over Marathon – my name is in the ballot for next year………………………………….

A Visit to Saint Andrews

As a change from my usual holiday scrap book…………………

Last Friday we headed up to St. Andrews for a visit to see Sam and then on to a few days in Angus.  One of the things that always strikes me on arriving in Scotland is the light.  David and I flew to Edinburgh and pick up a hire car to head over to the coast and the light is wonderful. We have always been lucky with the weather at this time of year and this time is no exception – with an endless blue sky and that bright Scottish light.  The days are long here – even in May.

St. Andrews is a unique place – bustling and alive – but it feels remote and is approached by quiet roads.  It takes a lot of its life and energy from the University and at this time of the year its coffee shops are full of young people on lap tops revising for their exams which start on Monday.  Sam’s second year exams start on Thursday – so he is hard at work – but able to take some time off to join us for the odd coffee and dinner each night.  Friday night at Forgan’s for fish and chips – delicious! http://www.forgans.co.uk/

On Saturday Sam is busy until late afternoon so David and I are entertaining ourselves – starting the day with a run down to the beach and the golf courses.  The weather is still beautiful – but cold with a brisk wind blowing…………………

Breakfast and then we head out – a few miles up the coast to Kinshaldy beach for a walk along the sands and back through the forest and nature reserve.  The car park is busy with families – but walking out – north along the sand – it is only minutes before was are on our own on a beautiful, clean, sandy beach – littered with shells.  We have made the mistake in the past of walking along the hard sand by the sea and found ourselves rather too far down a sandbar – having to track back to re-find our path – so this time we stay further up the beach which makes the walking harder in the soft sand.  The sun is shining – but it is still chilly and the wind blowing us along keeps us cool.  Our return path takes us through Tentsmuir forest – more sheltered from the wind and warm where the sun penetrates the trees.  The forest is a quiet, shady place – with dappled sunlight. We hear lots of birdsong and woodpeckers going about their business!

Back in St. Andrews there are still hours of daylight to go – so a chance to meet up with Sam and head down to the New Course – where he can show off some of the golfing skills he has been working on since studying here.  The links course runs alongside the beach and we see rabbits and hares running along between the bright yellow gorse bushes in full flower.  You can see all the way over to the mountains where we will be heading next week.  It is peaceful – with just a few other people finishing their rounds at this time in the evening.

St. Andrews is famous for its golf and golf courses.  The Old Course at St Andrews is one of the oldest courses in the world and golfers from all over the world travel here for a “once in a lifetime” chance to play the course.  The British Open has been played here more times than on every other course – HOWEVER – the Old Course at St Andrews remains a public course – so anyone can play it (okay – you do need to be able to play golf) – on common land.  And whilst it might cost a small fortune to play golf here – if you are a resident or student of St. Andrews you can play here (and any of the other 6 courses held in Trust at St. Andrews) as many times as you want – all year round – for less than the cost of one round for a visitor (or for free if you are a child).  It feels a long way from the elitist and patriarchal game played in England.  And because it is common land – the course is “rested” every Sunday and townspeople and many of their dogs walk across the “Home of Golf” taking in the scenery and admiring the ground seen so many times on the TV.  So that is what David and I do this weekend – strolling the 18 holes – out and back and getting some idea of the challenge of playing here in this wind – with these bunkers.  Walking out it seems still and benign – but turning back towards the town – suddenly it is chilled and even hard to stay on your feet in places.  The sand traps are so deep you can step in and not see out! Great fun!  And a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Sunday afternoon is a chance to see Sam again and to wander around some of the shops in the town.  A special favourite is the Topping and Company Bookshop – where you genuinely feel welcome to stay and browse for as long as you like – the booksellers even offer you a seat and a cup of tea or coffee if you hang around for a while! I always find something I want here (usually many things) – but this time I settle for a little booklet of 10 poems from Scotland. https://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/  So it is with one of these that I sign off from St. Andrews as tomorrow we will be heading inland and north of Dundee.  I thought this might be appropriate for this visit………………

The Graduates

If I chose children they’d know stories of the old country, the place we never left. I swear

I remember no ship slipping from the dock, no cluster of hurt, proud family

waving till they were wee as china milkmaids on a mantelpiece,

but we have surely gone, and must knock with brass kilted pipers

the doors to the old land:we emigrants of no farewell who keep our bit language

in jokes and quotes; our working knowledge of coal-pits, fevers, lost

like the silver bangle I lost at the shows one Saturday, tried to conceal, denied

but they’re not daft. And my bright, monoglot bairns will discover, misplaced

among the bookshelves, proof, rolled in a red tube: my degrees, a furled sail, my visa.

Kathleen Jamie

(with apologies about the formatting – can’t get WordPress to do what I want!)


Training for May

Four of the twelve half marathons are done. So what next?

Our April half – in Paddock Wood was right at the beginning of the month.  Our May half is not until the very end of the month.  Which means that we have an eight week gap between the two.  How do we keep the momentum going and balance this with some rest and recovery?  And – in addition – our May half marathon is going to demand something rather different of us to our first four road races.  So Sunday 28th May will see us running the Weald Challenge Trail Half Marathon which follows the long distance paths of the Wealdway and the Vanguard Way  starting and finishing in the village of Chiddingly and taking in the beauty of the Sussex countryside. The route is about three quarters off-road, and is described undulating (a runner’s euphemism for hilly and hard routes).

I have done a few trail races in the past – having taken part in the South Downs marathon relay and run three of the four legs.  Although I have not done anything different to prepare in the past – I do remember how hard these runs were and the feeling that I could have prepared better.  I need to be able to get up some of those hills – and it would be good to get used to running on that uneven ground – so much for beautiful views – I need to keep my eye on the path to avoid any unexpected thrills and spills!


At this time of the year it is possible to run off-road in road shoes – but I find that having a bit of extra tread underfoot adds to my confidence.  As always a visit to see Alan (Cheeky) Cheek at the Running Hub in Southborough has set me up with a pair of trail shoes that are also comfortable to run on road for the bits in between.  And as everyone knows it is not possible to have too many pairs of running shoes!  Gill has some good routes around Heathfield to get us out there – strengthening and building the stability that we will need.  We even get to practice a bit of yoga along the way – what better than focusing on our balance and stability amongst the bluebells? And as if to remind us how important the practise is – Gill manages to go completely A over T whilst heading downhill on a woodland path.  Horrible to watch (and I suspect even worse to do!) – but nothing worse in the end than bruises and a bit of skin left en route!  Gill has even got the relaxed group of Heathfield Road Runners training off-road on our Monday evening runs – she has promised us that she DOES now know the route and that we will not be the last group back in future……………..

Julie and I don’t live as near to each other as we used to – so from time to time we get to meet up somewhere between Hythe and Heathfield to get a run in and put the world to rights.  This time we searched the internet and found a lovely walk in Tenterden that we turned into a trail run.


Neither Julie nor I are great at following walk instructions – and this one proved no different although we did make it in the end.  Honestly! – “walk to the corner of the field” is just not good enough – which corner?  Especially when field in question has at least seven corners……….  And instructions such as “keeping the gardens to your left” and “walk to the right of the pond” are just plain confusing to simple folk, without their reading glasses – trying to read instructions at a steady 10.5 minute mile pace……..   But the bluebells and wild garlic are spectacular and if only the instructions had mentioned the field of baby lambs (turn right here) or the meadow that was being mowed (keep straight ahead to the stile on the other side) we would have been round in half the time (haha!).

At least pausing to climb over the stiles lets you get your breath back…….  And as a special reward there is the cream tea at the Lemon Tree Restaurant on the High Street – it looks rather old fashioned as you walk in – but the scones are delicious.  All-in-all this trail running training has a lot to recommend it!IMG_1255

Which is more than can be said for the hill training!  But I’m doing it – or trying to – at least once a week.  No excuse really – we have plenty of hills in Heathfield and I even live on one of the hills that HRRs use to train on! So a gentle 15 minute warm up and then 20 mins of hill repeats (30 second up – 1 minute down) – good to know that I can still get my heart rate up to 175 without dying………………… I know it will help………………….. really it will……………….

Keeping up with the yoga – for strength and stability – and walking and the gym – Weald Challenge?  Bring it on!!


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!