Friday, April 29, 2005

Good news, bad news

OK. The main good news is that on Monday I ran for 18 minutes. I was extremely proud of myself for not wimping out around the 14-minute mark.

The bad news? In doing so I managed to give myself a really huge blister. There is a definite "hotspot" on each of my feet, on the inside arch, which tends to rub in the later stages of a run. I thought the new trainers had cracked this problem - and to some extent they have, for shorter runs. I didn't really feel the pain until I had stopped.

I was fully intending to run on Wednesday, blister or no blister - it had stopped hurting by then. However, I woke up that morning with my customary lack of enthusiasm and rubbed my nose. Next thing I knew, large drops of blood were splashing on to my bare foot.

It was the alarming kind of nosebleed which makes you wonder if it's ever going to stop. I got dressed as best I could, one-handed, while holding a wad of toilet paper to my nose, and got myself downstairs feeling increasingly ill. Unfortunately blood takes me that way. My family rallied round with tissues and sympathy, but it was about half an hour before it completely stopped.

I haven't had a severe nosebleed for years and was not prepared for the way it made me feel all morning: mildly sick, headachey and generally weak and wobbly.

Because of how my day works, I have to eat lunch before going to the gym, so it's usually pretty light: cottage cheese and fruit, or similar. But that day my system was saying, loud and clear, that it wanted something warm and carbohydratey and a hot drink. I was in no state to resist so I went and had a toasted ciabatta with mozzarella and roasted peppers, and a latte. I would not normally pick that as a pre-gym meal - indeed, I'm well aware that it's not going to feature on any low-GI eating plans. But it made me feel enormously better. So much so that I could easily face the gym. I'd decided not to run in case it started the nose going again, but I did 25 minutes on the stationary bike and the usual weights. Oddly, I found it easier going than usual - must have been something to do with raised blood sugar levels and caffeine. And I felt fine for the rest of the day, and since.

I can't normally listen to what my body's telling me, as in no way does it have the same agenda as my brain. But I think it paid off that day.

Other stuff: I've been noticing for a while that my abdominal muscles have toned up quite a bit. At choir yesterday - the first rehearsal in a few weeks - I found that I've got a greater degree of control over my breathing and support than I did before. If any non-singers are reading this, support is when you regulate the air coming out of your lungs to ensure you don't run out of breath before the end of a long note or phrase of music. You kind of squeeze from the bottom as though your lungs were a tube of toothpaste. I hadn't anticipated this improvement - in fact, I'd worried that I wouldn't be able to breathe so deeply if my abs were tighter. Which doesn't seem to be true. Concert on Saturday!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Running just as fast as we can

I walk up to the treadmills, glad to see there aren't too many people here. I was hoping to get the one treadmill where you can't see yourself in the mirror, but it's occupied. Heigh ho. I climb on to another one and enter in a 12-minute course. My new running shoes feel a bit too loosely laced but I've learned that if I lace them so they feel right with my feet cool, they'll be far too tight before long.

Off we go. I start off jogging fairly slowly. I want to be able to keep this up for the whole course.

I have never been much of a runner. When I was little, I had tons of energy but mostly came last in races at school. Lack of a competitive instinct, I suppose - also I was extremely uncoordinated, and I've been told that I "ran funny" back then, with an awkward gait. Maybe I still do.

Two minutes into the course, doing fine, I speed up a bit. At this point, the major problem is boredom. I can't read while running: often I start counting steps in my head just to keep myself focused. I look at myself in the mirror and am discouraged, as usual, by the sheer inelegance of my appearance. My legs in particular look thick and clumsy, and I really need to try to find a sports bra with more restraint... and even my face seems to have gone formless and vacant. I'm breathing through my mouth, which doesn't help the general air of an idiot in search of a village. I cross my arms on my chest for a moment to try to calm the (ummm...) bouncing, and am struck by how weirdly tiny my hands are. I shake my head and concentrate on the figures on the readout. 20 percent complete...

I've just been reading "Nature Via Nurture" by Matt Ridley, which suggests (among other insights) that innate talents become more pronounced as children grow up, because we're programmed to like doing the things in which we have a small edge over others. Conversely, we don't enjoy the things we're less good at. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but it makes sense to me. My best friend at primary school was the fastest runner in the class, and although I admired her athletic prowess, I certainly didn't think of emulating it. No, I was the girl with the book. And I still am.

Five minutes in, and I've gone rather red in the face. I'm beginning to give myself the mental pep talk which I need to keep going to the end. Not really feeling the need to stop - it's just difficult to throw off years of being a complete wuss and giving up at the first signs of fatigue. Only seven minutes to go! You can run for seven minutes. You ran for much longer than that on Friday. Look, 20 seconds, 15, 10, 5... now it's only six minutes. Halfway there. You're on your third lap. You can do it.

From being rubbish at running, I rapidly became convinced that I was Just Not Sporty. I hated hockey. I hated cross-country running or anything that got you cold and muddy. One of my abiding memories is a gym teacher telling me, not particularly unkindly, that nobody had ever taken as long to do a particular cross-country route. I suppose she was trying to spur me on to greater effort, but it didn't work.

"The distance to the ropes seemed several hundred shiny yards. Nan's legs, in the floppy divided skirts they wore for Gym, had gone mauve and wide, and her arms felt like weak pink puddings. When she reached the rope, the knot on the end of it seemed to hang rather higher than her head. And she was supposed to stand on that knot somehow." Witch Week, Diana Wynne Jones. This captures exactly how I used to feel about climbing ropes. How do we encourage the children who don't find that sport comes naturally to feel better about doing it? Physical Education was almost entirely humiliating to me, and I would guess that teaching me was not a lot of fun either.

Strange, but true: it wasn't the cold and the mud that put me off outdoor sports, although that's what I thought at the time. I think it was the compulsory aspect. Later, at college, I was on a women's football team and got cold, muddy, wet, and bruised, and enjoyed it enormously. (A great many people did tell me that I don't look the type. I found that rather satisfying.) Another key aspect, I think, was the chance to start again, among people who didn't know I had a reputation for being hopelessly unsporty.

Eight minutes in. "Mauve" would certainly be a good description of my face now, and my forearms are rather pink too. I go red all over when I exercise, which is supposed to be a sign of a good circulation, although it doesn't look good! I'm extremely warm, and my feet don't exactly hurt but I can tell that they will before the end of the run. Nine minutes. I'm alternating between glancing at the mirror and at the time readout, which seems to be moving frustratingly slowly. My face is shiny with sweat, and my mouth is lipstick-red (an effect which seems to persist some time after the rest of me has returned to its normal paleness). I barely have any concentration to spare for abstract thought anymore. Eighty percent complete. I realise that I'm chanting "you can DO it! you can DO it!" under my breath, which is slightly less embarassing than the other day, when I found myself silently chanting "YOU'RE gonna BE a SUPERheroINE" in rhythm with my steps. I had just been reading a graphic novel, but I don't think that's any excuse. Ten minutes. I try to kid myself that because the readout now starts with 1, I only have one minute to go, rather than nearly two. But the seconds are ticking down. Now there really is only one minute to go. Come on, woman, you can run for one paltry minute more. Forty seconds. You want this, you want this. Thirty. Ten more seconds and you can start counting down. I look away at this point, and start counting for real at seventeen seconds. They tick by. Five, four, two, one... COURSE COMPLETE. BEGIN COOLDOWN.

As I slow the belt down and begin the five-minute walk, I'm pink, my face is wet, my feet ache a bit and my calf muscles feel strangely rigid, as if they were made of hard rubber. But I feel very happy indeed.

Footnote: I started writing this on Monday. Since then I've done two more runs. Yesterday's was sixteen minutes long, plus five minutes' cooldown. Unfortunately, this is still less than two kilometers at the speed I run, but hey, everyone has to start somewhere. I intend to train for endurance rather than speed, and to keep upping the time by small increments.

Next week will probably be Food Week.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tell you tomorrow?

No, I won't, I'll take a mysterious two-week hiatus.

There was really no good reason for not posting. I haven't thrown in the towel. I've been going to the gym like a good girl, and although the weight isn't going down very fast, it is going down (190lb). My legs are definitely toning up a bit - you can see the muscles in my calves. For some reason, however, I've been completely worn out in the evenings, and only fit for sitting around in a heap then having an early night. As I am usually a complete night owl, this means I don't get nearly as much done as I should.

I also seem to have been shopping like a mad thing. Some of it is stuff I needed - new running shoes, tracky bottoms (Scottish for jogging pants). The rest... I don't know. It seems stupid to buy new clothes when I'm hoping to be much smaller. But I now have a spring coat (on sale) and a very cool stripy wrap skirt which is flattering and cheers me up a lot. I think it's a reaction against the near-unrelieved black I've been wearing all winter. However, I shall try leaving my Switch card at home for a while.


I was a bit worried about buying running shoes, as I always have trouble finding trainers I don't hate, even when they're just for walking around the place. My perfect trainers would be black and as un-girly as possible. As I have small but broad feet, I've ended up with little boys' trainers for the past several years.

Not knowing a specialized running shoe from a moon boot, I was rather dreading exposing my ignorance to the shop assistants. Looking lost may have been an advantage, because as soon as I got into Allsports I was gathered in by a very helpful guy (shorter than me again. Is this some kind of requirement for working in a sports-related job in Edinburgh?) who was quite prepared fetch several sizes of the same shoe and tell me all about the different advantages of each design.

"Any style preferences?"
"Oh, anything," I said, trying not to be difficult. "So long as it's not pink."

Wouldn't you know, none of the boys' trainers, which (going on past experience) I was starting out with, fitted - too loose at the heels. So I tried on some girls' trainers. They were white with large hot-pink panels. And they were too small in my normal size. The assistant went off to get them a size up. "Sorry, we only have the black version left... I don't suppose you want that?"

They fitted, they're black, and for some reason the pink element has been reduced to three little Adidas stripes which I can easily live with (like this. Imagine the stripes are pink.) I've been running in them three times (on the treadmill) and they don't give me blisters.

Cultural rundown of the past two weeks? Lots of Lindsey Davis books, all re-reads; now reading The Magical Maze by Ian Stewart. Went to see Sahara with my brother at the weekend. Very silly indeed - we enjoyed ourselves immensely... The plot is ludicrous, but has the best McGuffin I've seen in ages, while we felt the main characters worked well together. By the end we didn't care about the occasional cheesiness - we were just having too much fun.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Back into action

When I went to the gym last Monday, I weighed myself and found I was down five pounds. Woo hoo! I'm slightly suspicious of this - I mean, no movement for three weeks, then suddenly five pounds? Really? But I'm not knocking it.

I'll be frankly amazed if there is a loss this week, however, and I'll count myself lucky if there isn't a gain. I was on holiday from work, it being Easter and my d. b. being here, and while the week did contain quite a lot of walking, I only went to the gym once and the pub twice. This doesn't seem like the right way round. Chocolate was consumed, as was gooey lasagne, wine, and cake. Not all at once, I hasten to add, or at every meal. But in general, I didn't eat as healthily as I meant to.

The plan was to go on lots of hikes and bike rides in the lovely sunshine, but - alas - it was cold and wet most days. However, we managed a walk of some kind every day, and did go for a long country walk on Thursday. We were probably going for about three hours over fairly hilly country - it's hard to estimate our exact distance because we were partly on walking trails, partly roadway, and we retraced our steps a couple of times. But it all felt good.

As for what I did today - I'll tell you about that tomorrow...