What Running Over 50 Taught Me About Life

Nothing lasts forever

Everything ends eventually – as if at my age, I didn’t know that!

Even the biggest hills will have a downhill at some point. Life will forever have its ups and downs so always be ready for the next climb.

Achievement is actually quite simple

It all comes down to putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping until you get to where you want to be. Tiny steps.

Stick with it and you’ll see results. Don’t chop and change. Good things take time to show up.

Take time to appreciate the small things

Now more than ever. Soak it all in. Just stop awhile and enjoy your surroundings.

The best days running are the days when I make a point of focusing on the beauty around me.

Don’t put happiness on hold until you cross the finish line. Enjoy as much as you can along the way, even when the going gets tough.

Age is NOT just a number

I completely understand that much of the ageing process is about how you feel, and most of the time I still think like I’m in my twenties. But physically, you can’t and shouldn’t ignore the other stuff going on.

I see little point in pretending aging doesn’t exist, but we can work with it – the key now is to train smarter, listening very carefully to your body’s signals (it will soon let you know if it’s struggling!)

 Get up. Dress up. Show up.

Beginnings are hard. Starting anything new in life is be hard and it’s often especially difficult later in life if your experiences so far have not bolstered your confidence much.  You will need to invest lots of time and energy, and so many times you will want to give up.

Showing up is the most important part. As long as you keep showing up and taking action, you will get better.

It’s okay to be different

It doesn’t matter if everyone around you is sleek, young and fit – if you’re the oldest and perhaps likely to be the slowest on the field – you can still join in.

You don’t have to be Picasso to enjoy painting.

Work on your mind, as much as your body

You are not too old, too slow or too ‘rubbish at this’ as your little internal voice will insist on telling you. Your mind can be so cruel and will certainly quit on you before your body does.

Awhile back I was doing some hill work; running up the short hill as fast as I could and then slowly jogging back down. I was aiming to repeat this eight times but as I raced up on the sixth go, I honestly felt incapable of running another step. My legs and lungs were screaming and so was my mind: ‘I have to stop – no more, just no!’

I was about to quit when a couple of other (older!) runners came jogging down the hill towards me. And guess what? I found I did have a little extra to give after all!

My mind had convinced me that I absolutely had to stop, when there was obviously still fuel in the tank.

Be the master of your mindset.

There is no perfect time

There is no perfect time to do anything in life.

There is no perfect day to run. Every day you’ll encounter obstacles; rain, heat, tiredness, internal resistance.

Do it anyway.

At any age, your body is capable of much more than you imagine

Giving birth! I rest my case.

Seriously though, once you put your body to the test mentally or physically, it will astound you by pulling off more than you ever thought possible.

Who was it that said: ‘I thought it was impossible for me to run a mile, until I ran a mile’ ?

You have to run your own race

If you’ve been a runner for some time, you may feel that now you’re older, you’re falling behind and not performing as well as you used to, and perhaps that’s true. Never worry that folk seem to be overtaking you and hitting the finish line way ahead of you. Accept that things have changed. Learn to race against yourself, better what you’ve done before or if things aren’t working, aim to do something different.

Rain is AWESOME

After all those years of wrangling with blown out umbrellas and sweaty rain hoods, I’ve had an epiphany. Don’t fight the rain. Relax and embrace the storm. It’s liberating.

Breakfast is overrated

Just because everyone says you must, it doesn’t mean you should. Question things in life.

Remember to have fun

Running has brought so much laughter into my life. The Gorilla Run over London Bridge (google it, hilarious), a baby in a nappy, the legion run which is mud, mud and more mud. Have fun and laugh hard.

It’s never too late to start.

And when you do, you’ll find your tribe – a huge community to support you.

Have You Done a Virtual Race?

One of my daughters introduced me to the idea of virtual running and this medal is the result of my first 5K!

It’s only recently that I’ve stumbled on these type of ‘races’ but what a great idea, especially as a way for me and my 2 daughters to ‘run’ together even though we all live in different countries! The way it works is we choose a distance and medal to aim for then all agree a day and time to run it ‘together’. Once we’ve submitted evidence to show we’ve completed the challenge (which I did by sending a pic of my garmin) we receive the medals.

Your virtual race can be run (or walked)  from any location you choose.  You can run, jog, or walk on the road, on the trail, on the treadmill, at the gym or on the track (or even at another race). You get to run your own race, at your own pace, and time it yourself.  And your medal will be shipped directly to you. With many virtual racing sites, some of the proceeds go to charity. With my mojito run 20% of the proceeds from my medal purchase of £12 went to the nominated charity Home Start, which offers practical and emotional support to families with young children.

All you have to do is enter a race and provide evidence that you have done it. That’s it! So you could get a group of friends or family together, choose your challenge and then get on with completing it, either all at an agreed date and time if that works or everyone can complete it independently.

I did my mojito 5K with Virtual Running UK and submitted proof that I’d done it via a photo of my garmin watch face detailing my workout which I uploaded to their website. So you can send proof in the form of a screen shot from your phone of Strava, Garmin or any other tracking app route. Or send a photo from your phone from a fitbit, running watch or even google maps.

How do the company know you’ve actually done it? They don’t of course but why would you blag it? The only one you’d be deceiving would be yourself.

I’ve just completed my second one:

(20% of my entry fee went to Ellie’s Friends, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of adults (16+) living with cancer, all around the UK).

At the moment my daughter and I are doing the Beauty and the Beast Virtual Race together with Yes.Fit. (I say ‘together’ but she’s finished hers :-D).

This is how my dashboard looks:

The setting for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was inspired by the beautiful villages in the Alsace region of France so I get a progress map of how far I’ve run 🙂

And here’s where I record my running:

And this shows you how far I’ve got!

I love the emails I receive when I’ve passed a mile marker; points I’ve just ‘run by’. This mile marker was near mile 24.0.

This was my progress pic for today…

and my mile marker – I’m ‘virtually’ near the village of Colmar!

Looking forward to this arriving…

Virtual running sites seem to be springing up all the time now. I guess the only downside I can see is that the prices can get a bit punchy sometimes. But it might be fun to get together with friends and do 1-2 a year?

Take a look at these sites and see how gorgeous the medals are! You can often buy T shirts too.

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Virtual Pace Series

The medals

Based in US, will ship internationally

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Virtual strides

The medals

Based in US, will ship internationally

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Virtual Racing UK

The medals

Based in UK, will ship internationally

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Yes.Fit

The medals

Based in US, will ship internationally.

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Quick and Quiet! Quick and Quiet! How’s Your Running Cadence?

I’m s-l-o-w-l-y training to be 10K ready by the end of October when I’ll be running a few races with one of my daughters. Every single time I’ve trained to run with her before I’ve overdone it and ended up with a gruesome virus and chest infection. Once you hit 50, it’s so easy to overtrain. But I know if I bother to take notice, the signs of overdoing it will be there way before I succumb. So now I peer into the mirror each morning whilst pressing a finger on the pulse point of my wrist – how tired do I look? Is my heart rate raised?

So far, so good. Instead of running an easy session followed by a tougher one and then starting over, I’ve added an extra easy session in; easy, easy, hard, easy, easy, hard.

And yesterday I tried something new. I checked my cadence. This is the number of steps you take per minute and if you get it right it’s one way of avoiding injury; running with a quicker cadence reduces the impact of each foot strike and therefore the load on the joints is less. Increasing cadence can also make us into faster runners but, right now, that’s not my goal.

The number 180 is hailed as the magic number so I thought I’d shoot for that. I’m sure it’s not as simple as this and the ideal cadence must differ between individuals but no harm in me giving it a go. I was intrigued to see how it would feel.

180 steps per minute.

I read a few articles online warning me that if I’d never paid attention to it before then my cadence was likely to be too low and it would take time to push it up to that lauded 180.

I downloaded a metronome app (stroke of pure genius) – the idea being that I could set it to pulse at 180 beats per minute and try to match my foot strikes with it. The metronome emitted a loud ‘tock, tock, tock’ which was fine with me but did alarm the farmers and grape pickers as I trundled past.

At first, the increased foot movement felt a bit frantic and the ‘tick tocking’ and my steps were all out of sync but it honestly didn’t take long before my feet were in time with the app. A matter of minutes.

And, you know? Keeping up with the metronome wasn’t that hard. I definitely had to concentrate so I didn’t deviate from the rhythm but it was strangely satisfying running along to the beat and a little bit meditative. I ran for 30 minutes at an easy pace.

The cadence of 180 was definitely quicker than I’d normally run but I’m wondering if I found it relatively easy to step it up as I’d maybe already increased my cadence without realising. Last year, Julian Goater, the British long distance runner and author of ‘The Art of Running Faster’ had paid a visit to my running club and taken us out for a coaching session.

‘Quick and quiet!’ he’d urged. ‘Quick and quiet!’

He coached us to take lots of small steps (quick) and to take care to run lightly on our feet instead of pounding (quiet). I’d remembered that ever since and have tried to stick to it.

So, what next? Well, I’m going to take the metronome with me on my next few runs and see how it feels over the longer term. I’m also not quite sure how I’ll find trying to run faster and maintaining the same 180 cadence. But for starters, running at a higher cadence definitely feels as though I’m pounding less on my joints and that’s got to be a good thing.

A Runner’s Sunscreen Routine

Recently an article in the Daily Mail about our sunscreen habits caught my eye. The guidelines used coins to illustrate the sizes of the blobs we ought to be applying on different areas of our body and the implication was that many of us are just not using enough. The recommendation was certainly more than I’d been applying. It got me thinking that although I live in a hot, sunny climate and I’m vigilant about slapping sunscreen on every day, I didn’t know a great deal about it aside from always choosing a high SPF factor.

I wanted to know more.

UVA and UVB rays

UVA rays are associated with skin ageing leading to wrinkles, leathery skin and those ugly brown sun spots I’d noticed appearing on my legs.

UVB rays = sunburn. The sun protection factor (SPF) on a bottle of sunscreen measures the amount of protection we’ll receive from the sun’s UVB rays.

The SPF number correlates to how long you can stay in the sun without burning. So in theory, when wearing an SPF 30, you can stay outside for 30 times longer than if you were unprotected.

Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer.

One thing I hadn’t realised was the importance of checking a product for its level of UVA protection too. I use Nivea sun products and on the back of the bottle there’s a UVA star rating.

Four or five stars will give good protection from UVA rays. The little open lid container next to the UVA stars tells me I can use my sunscreen for 12 months from the date of opening.

It’s important to choose a high SPF as well as a high UVA protection with most experts suggesting that a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars offers a good standard of sun protection.

As already mentioned, Nivea is my sunscreen of choice as I have never suffered sunburn whilst using it and nether did any of my children when they were growing up (and my son had fair skin and white blonde hair). Also, I find it doesn’t cause intense stinging if it drips into my eyes (which it definitely can do when I’m out on a run).

Here’s my sunscreen routine:

Pre-running, I apply sunscreen the same way each time. I tie my hair off my face and neck and then first I apply the product all over my face (not forgetting my ears), continuing over my entire neck and right down over my chest area. I use a high factor sunstick to cover my lips.

I then squeeze some cream on my right hand and apply it to my left shoulder, reaching as far across the area at the back of my neck and upper back as I can. I repeat on the other side, making sure I meet in the middle. I apply the cream to my arms, making sure I cover the backs of my hands (a friend urged me to do this a few years ago – our hands are one of the first areas to show those tell tale signs of ageing!)

Then it’s on to the legs. I then pull on my running gear and head back to my mirror. As my skin is now gleaming with cream, it’s quite obvious if there are any exposed areas that I’ve missed.

I live in a very sunny Mediterranean climate, so quite soon after I set off running I’m sweating buckets and I know that this will reduce the protective factor of my sunscreen so I’ll need to reapply. I used to squeeze a little sunscreen into a tiny plastic container and take it with me so I was thrilled to find that Nivea was now making its own mini versions.

It slots perfectly into my Flipbelt with my keys, money and phone.

Happy Days!

Daily Mail: How much sun cream do you REALLY need? It’s almost certainly more than you thought…as this clever ‘coin formula’ reveals.

Sunshine Struggles

I didn’t run as many times as I’d hoped on my recent trip to the US. Mainly down to my poor organisation but there was a wonderful reason not to run – spending every precious minute with my toddler grandson Harrison and his new baby brother Alfie who was born while I was there.

Descending the aeroplane steps back in Cyprus I was met with a wall of heat so I suspected that I might struggle on my first run…and I did.

All morning a thunderstorm had been crashing around the island so I laid out my running gear on the bed (ever hopeful) and when the blue skies began to peek through again I got changed and set off down to the coast. You’d think the cliffside paths would be slippery and muddy but here in Cyprus everything dries up incredibly quickly. By the time I emerged from my car only 10 minutes later the sun was already beating down. I ran at just above walking speed, my pace in double figures. Ten minutes in and my bra was digging in everywhere, my top was stuck to my back and, being out of the habit of hot weather running, I’d smeared sunscreen over my forehead that morning. (Normally I rely on my the peak of my cap to shade my forehead). The cream was now racing down to attack my eyes. My chest was heaving; I just couldn’t seem to get enough air in.

BUT.

Every cloud has a silver lining they say and as I gave up and sought shade under a lemon tree I spied a perfect, ripe peach on a nearby tree. Is there anything nicer than a sun-warmed peach?

I guzzled half on the spot and saved the rest to make this salad.

It’s packed with any fruit I could find in the fridge-strawberries, cherries, oranges, kiwi all mixed up with rocket and coriander and dressed in fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Topped with mixed nuts and my fave squeaky Cypriot Halloumi cheese.  And taking pride of place on the top=juicy slices of that fresh peach. Sigh.

How Dumb Can You Get?

I did a really dumb thing the other day.

I went running in a dust storm. You won’t believe me but I honestly didn’t think it through. From my house on the mountainside I could see a heavy layer of what I assumed was a heavy mist cloaking the mountainside.  The sea had completely disappeared.

I laced up my trainers, headed down to the coast and ran hard (for me), drawing in huge lungfuls of air and – I have to say – a little surprised by how difficult it all felt. The dust cloud wasn’t visible down at sea level.

It was only when I got back and saw the news that I had the first few misgivings about my run.

I also had a message from my daughter: “Best not run today, mum.”

Several days passed, the cloud lifted and I forgot all about it, squeezing in two more coastal runs in that time. Then one night I woke with the shivers and a thumping headache. My chest was tight and wheezy. I didn’t have a sore throat or any signs of a runny nose. This was different from my usual cold.

Two days on when nothing had improved and I paid a visit to the doctor who expressed alarm at my chest congestion and wheeziness. I told her about my run at the height of the dust storm and I was promptly led to a chair in the nearby pharmacy, a mask popped over my mouth and nose and I inhaled from a nebuliser in an attempt to open up my airways. Customers came and went and peered around the counter, curious at the little clouds of vapour rising up in the corner of the store.

And so, due to my own carelessness, I’m forced to quit my running again (and any exercise, come to that) for a period. I’m so cross with myself.

I’ve now downloaded the ‘Cyprus Air quality’ app and once I get back on my feet again I’ll make sure I check it regularly. Air quality is usually very good in Cyprus but when those dust storms blow in from Africa, it’s a different matter.

So, it’s feet up for a few days. I’m sure I can find some gear I need on Amazon 😉

The Best Fitness Advice I’ve Ever Had

This post was inspired by my Facebook page; I was reading through the comments and noticed some tell-tale signs of doubt creeping in…

‘I’ve just started running, lovin’ it and hope I can continue’

‘Running is just amazing-if only I can motivate myself to keep it going’

Many people want to get into running, but for whatever reason they can never string enough successes together to gain any momentum. And it’s easy to see why. When you’re lumbering along the road with leaden legs and heaving lungs and generally having a difficult time, you’re bound to question yourself, ‘Why on earth am I doing this?’

And it’s very, very easy to let things slide.

Or maybe you’re a serial slider?

‘I’ve tried so many times, BUT…’

‘I know I need to get out of the door, but I just can’t find the time…’

‘I start off bursting with enthusiasm… this time I’ll crack it …but I just can’t seem to keep motivated’

‘I can’t seem to keep it going. I manage to run for 2-3 weeks but it doesn’t seem to get any easier, so I stop…’

If any of this sounds familiar, then stay with me.

What would you say is the first thing you should do when starting a running plan? Buy some trainers? Get the gear? Set your goals? Carve out some time?

It’s none of that.

Four years ago when I was 52, a guy on a train said 3 little words which changed my life.

I was a wannabe runner back then, dipping in and out all month long. On Monday I’d drag myself out for a 20 minute run and come back glowing and fired with enthusiasm.

‘I love this! It’s brilliant. I’ll go again tomorrow…no, not tomorrow that’s overdoing it. I’ll go on Wednesday.

And – quite often – I would go again on Wednesday. Whether I was still on a roll by Friday was another matter.

My train buddy said, ‘If you really want to run regularly, you have some work to do first. You have to Find Your Why.’

The reason you go running – your WHY – is the single most crucial aspect of your running plan.

It’s what will get you out of bed for that early morning gym session, what makes you stick to your healthy eating plan and what sees you disappearing out of the door for your 40 minute run when it’s cold, wet and windy.

If your WHY isn’t compelling enough, it’s more than likely that you’ll stick to your resolve for two, three maybe even four weeks at a stretch and then life will get right in the way and you will gradually come to a stop. We’ve all done it.

Your WHY will keep you going on all those days you’re on the verge of giving up.

Here’s how it works.

Basically, when you decide on a running plan you’re aiming to form a new habit. Habits are routine behaviours you do on a regular basis and you need to repeat them frequently and for long enough in order to make them stick. This is where we often come unstuck. We don’t run often enough or for enough weeks to let our brains know this is something to take notice of.

The habit: I want to start a running programme.

First, you have to discover the reason why. Why do you want to start running? Why does it matter?

This is really important. Not the superficial ‘because I want to get fit’ or ‘because I want to lose weight’ but the real, digging deep reason why.

Your ability to stick to your guns and change your habits comes from deep inside. Once you’ve uncovered it, you’ll realise that your WHY fulfils a basic human need of some sort; to be admired, accepted, valued, loved, free. Things like that. All, ultimately, a desire to be happy.

Your WHY is powerful, because it is strongly linked to your emotions.

Now, take a sheet of paper and at the top, write down the habit you’d like to start.

For example: I want to be a runner.

Then keep writing ‘why’ and answer that question.

Why?

‘So many people seem to be getting into it and I fancy having a go.’

Why?

‘I want to meet more people.’

Why?

‘Well, life is pretty lonely and I’m desperate to make friends.’

The WHY here is the desire to make friends.

Discovering your WHY and constantly reminding yourself of it, will help you to doggedly stick to your plan through the inevitable tough times.

Let’s look at another really common one; changing unhealthy eating habits.

‘If only I could lose a couple of stones,’ my friend Sue often wails. ‘But I can’t seem to stick to a plan for long.’

I asked Sue…’Why do you want to lose weight?’

She looked at me as though I was mad.

‘Why? Well obviously because I want to be slimmer!’

‘Yes, but why do you want to be slimmer? Just go along with me on this!’

‘I want to look nice in clothes.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well… I guess to be more attractive… Yes. To be more attractive.’

‘Why?’

She hesitated and gave it some thought before replying: ‘So I can feel more confident and meet someone.’

That is Sue’s WHY. I want to meet someone special… Ah ha! A WHY moment…

You too may have a goal of losing weight but what is the real motivation behind that? Look past the obvious, drill down and keep asking: ‘so what else will I get from this?’ until you can go no further. That is your WHY. Make sure you don’t forget it; write it down on post it notes and plaster them all over your house, your desk, your fridge.

Everyone has their own WHY. There is no wrong WHY, it just needs to have significant meaning to you.

You can’t take somebody else’s WHY and make it yours.  If your family, friends or doctor think something should be important to you, that’s their WHY, not yours.

Once you dig deep and uncover your WHY it will fire you up and drive you.

You will find it easier to stick to your fitness plan.

Finding my WHY is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my health.

WHY did I want to run?

I had decided to take up running because my doctor recommended it to help hold back osteoporosis. After leaving the surgery I’d done some googling and learned that the current average life expectancy of a woman in the UK was around 81 years. With the average age of menopause being 51, that left a hell of a lot of years to enjoy. And I wanted to enjoy them in the best health I could.

I dug deeper.

Why, exactly did I want to run?

I wanted to run to keep as fit as I could as the menopause set in. I wanted to stave off osteoporosis… to stop me breaking bones later on… to stop me from falling over. I was frightened.

It was fear driving me. Fear of illness. Fear of the unknown. I wanted to run away from middle age.

For me, fear is a powerful motivator.

But there was something more that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Another reason lurking behind my newfound desire to run.

It was days before it came to the surface. I’d been reading up on races. I found the very idea of entering a 5 or 10K somewhere down the line very exciting. It gave me a thrill. It made me want to lace up my trainers and head out the door right away. Motivated! Bingo! Now all I had to work out was why I found the idea so motivating and I could use that as a great, big carrot.

For some reason I’d overlooked the obvious; that race results are split into age groups. Though I was astonished to discover that a veteran runner is ‘anyone over 35’ I decided to latch on to the happy fact that I could feasibly finish near the back of the pack yet still be well placed in my age group. I could never outrace a twenty, thirty or even forty year old but I was still in with a chance amongst my peers, with oldies like me. There would be bling. I was hooked. I wanted to win and I wanted medals. Glory.

I was ashamed. What a lightweight; so shallow. But there it is.

My WHYs…

Fear and Frippery.

I can’t do this running thing

I’ve just run the hardest race and it was only a village fun run – all 6K of it. After my disappointing performance last week I entered this little run thinking that things could only get better. They didn’t. I know I’ve only just got back on my feet after injury but why am I struggling so much? Nothing feels right; my legs, breathing – I’m simply flagging right from the start. Yes, there were hills in this one (this is Cyprus) but they weren’t that steep. Why was I so exhausted?

Waiting for the kid’s races to be over I felt fine. Well, fine by my standards; my stomach fluttered with nerves and I made two trips to find the ladies but that’s me every time.

The race turned out to be one of those there and back things so there were the usual bunch of fine young men who streaked off up the hill and were on their way back before I’d even reached halfway. All well and good and high five to them.

We ran past the village church then down…and down which meant there had to be an up somewhere along the line. And as I said, it wasn’t super steep. I was one of the last to start and that’s pretty much where I stayed. I hadn’t a hope in hell of overtaking anyone. Even the old black-garbed Cypriot ladies making their way home from the village were keeping up with me.

I can’t do this running thing

It’s just not getting any easier

I was shattered when I crossed the line:

I’m going to hole myself away now and work this out. Distanced now from the disappointment of the run I’m determined to carry on. I need a plan and a goal and a few gin and tonics to soften my misery.

I’m going to crack 5K in under thirty minutes.

Beer, Bananas and Burps

At the last minute I decided to enter the Cyprus Marathon event but ONLY for the 5K. I’d only just got back on my running feet after my fall before Christmas so I thought I’d ease myself in gently.

The minute we set off from the ancient fort my legs dragged and I struggled to breathe. Everything was leaden. It was so demoralising. And of course my dreaded inner voice started its attack:

How can you not even manage this?
You’re rubbish at running and are never going to get any better.
You might as well pack it in now.

And I felt sick-oh SO sick! All the way round it was a toss up between managing my ragged breathing and gulping down all the vomity burps of acid liquid.

There’s a picture of me at the finish actually leaping over the line. “Wow! Looks like you had plenty of energy left” everyone has remarked.

In fact, I leapt over the line, hit the ground and kept on running in a supreme effort to stop myself throwing up on the finish line. I was vaguely aware of someone trying to thrust a banana and a pint of beer my way. I went right up to the sea where I squeezed between two bobbing fishing boats and retched towards the water.

Of course within minutes I felt great and was climbing up onto the No 1 spot on the podium whilst it was still empty and brandishing my medal.

I’m gonna crack this 5K if it kills me.