Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Twilight Zone: walk-run theory

There’s an article on National Geographic’s news website which my husband has just forwarded to Maria and I. You can read it for yourself here.

I just read it and smiled. It’s opening paragraph was me just two days ago.

I was in London, dashing between classes and workshops in different locations. Time was tight and although I couldn’t do anything about the bumbling buses and trains, when it was me and the pavement, I ran. Then I walked a bit. Then I ran some more. Then I walked again. Then I ran, my backpack juggling around on my back and my other bags swinging from side to side. I didn’t want to be late. I hate being late.

Apparently, this walk-run scenario I’ve just described happens to us humans a lot. Knowing we are pushed for time, we don’t necessarily run the whole way. Instead, we combine walking and running250px-TheTwilightZoneLogo to conserve energy and still get there quicker. Manoj Srinivasan, professor at Ohio State University studying this theory calls this ‘the Twilight Zone’. I love this description. It’s “where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now” he explains.

And for those runners who are pushing the distance, adding the miles, it’s a great theory to incorporate. I read a couple of years ago about a runner who wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon (that’ll be a sub-3.05 please, Sir, if you’re under 34 and a 3.35, Madam, if you will) and started to train using walk-run techniques. In his short walks on the longer runs, he was able to recover, conserve energy and ended up with faster overall times.

And you don’t have to be a super runner to see the benefits of this. New runners will also use the walk-run method when they first start out. It’s daunting to say you’re going to run without stopping at first. Walking and running makes sense. As Srinivasan points out, “It’s basically an evolutionary argument” and has served us well from caves to now.

There will be purists out there who say running isn’t running if there’s walking involved. I understand that. But let’s not be pig-headed about it. I’ve had horrendously tiring runs (my 18 miles in marathon training, which I’ve mentioned here before, was one of note) and I believe that if I had just taken some steps walking in amongst the hours of running, I would have finished quicker and a lot less sore.

imagesAnd if that doesn’t make you feel better about a bit of walking, then being in The Twilight Zone certainly should.

Signing up, up and away

Sometimes your inbox is trying to tell you

Yesterday I got four emails about running events, different ones around the Europe: a woodland 10km in the south-east; a hilly affair in the west; an exciting half marathon in a city best known for shopping rather than running; and a lovely little jog around a park in the capital.

They will only keep coming, I know that. The weather is no longer a danger to limbs and lungs and it now gets light before you get up, which helps. These race organisers know that now is the time to whet the competitive spirit, thrust a challenge onto the unsuspecting new runner and lay down the gauntlet to running heroes and villains. It’s the time to sort out those training plans and work out just how many weekends you can dedicate to charity runs in places where you know people. Now is the time to set a goal.

I say now, in February, because January is filled with so much pressure on doing/not doing/target-setting/changing that now all that waffle is over, you can be realistic and pick stuff that you want to do; that you’re going to do. In the fever of January (and this has happened to me before) you can sign up for all sorts and then forget about them until they come knocking one week before and you are in no way prepared physically/economically (how much?)/practically (how do you get to those woods in Wales on a Sunday morning?)

So, now the idea is making your neurons dance and legs twitch in anticipation, the dilemma is: which race? Fun and for charity? Something for a distance personal best? A route with mountains to distract you? One to combine with a holiday/city break? The choice is endless.

And once you’ve signed up, what then? The adrenalin kicks in, the planning starts, the trainers get on, maybe a new piece of kit gets bought. You work out how to get there. You let everyone know you’re doing it, so there’s no wimping out. Perhaps you get a mate or loved one involved for support and inspiration. Or maybe you go it alone: it is your challenge, your personal quest.

In life as much as in running, we need something to aim for, to look forward to; a date in the diary for something we have chosen. And when the moment comes, we soar. From the start line, up, up and away we go. We’ve worked towards it. It’s our freedom as livers and runners and we must enjoy it, remembering the joy at the click: SIGN UP HERE.

So, back to my inbox. Where do I go? How far? Who with?

Ping! And there’s another running event to put into the melting pot.


What running events are you doing this year in the UK, USA or anywhere? Let us know, tips and recommendations welcome!




Getting cross

After my last post – you know, the one where because I was exercising again I was a serene angel of peace and calm and not cranky whatsoever – I feel bad about writing this. But I have to be honest. I am sitting here all cross and angry and… OK, OK, I’ll admit it:


A while back someone wrote to us at this blog asking for tips on Cruce de los Andes; the annual 3-day race through the Andes from Chile to Argentina, which takes a different, crazy route each time. Last year Maria and I, as M&MRC, completed it together. We did Equipo 90 (Team 90) proud and it was an incredible three days, documented here.

Anyway, as I told our enquirer, I hadn’t had a look at where Cruce was going this year. Other life stuff had taken over. We were both in new places again. And I couldn’t bear to see what I’d be missing out on.

Llegada_1Then yesterday came. February 5th: this day one year ago was when we ran over the finishing line on day three of Cruce de los Andes. Can it be a whole year? Time has flown. We have run many more steps since (and some of them together). But we haven’t run anything as important or special as those we made a year ago.

DSC_0448So, curious, today I look up Cruce and see what’s going on. Again, it looks like a very special race. They haven’t started yet. The favourites are there, on the website and Facebook. Everyone is gathering in Pucon, Chile… WHAT? The race starts in Pucon! Only one of my favourite places in the world! And just the other day were discussing volcanoes over dinner and I was telling people about climbing Volcán Villarrica. Oh how I would love to be there…

And the routes! Amazing! A few less kilometres (although we know those Argentines can’t count very well!) AND less inclines! AND more volcanoes (now that Maria and I are experts at them and the slide-down-snow-technique)! I could go on, but there would just be more, annoying !!!

The sun has just poked its head out from behind the grey, miserable clouds it’s been hiding behind all day. The rain has stopped. Are the Running Gods trying to tell me something? Laura, put on your trainers and go for a run. Join them.

But I sit here, reliving, refreshing, recounting. I want to join them, I really do.

But there, not here.

Your chemically induced happiness

What makes you happy? Love? Friends? A perfectly cooked steak? A gorgeous glass of wine? Children laughing? Booking a trip? Ticking off a job? Ticking off another job? Getting sweaty?

Or all of the above?

Sure, our happiness can come from all sorts of sources, but it ultimately depends on us: how we think and what we do – to the extent of what’s in our diet, how well and how much we sleep and our activity levels.

You don’t have to search far in books and online to read about the mood boosting benefits of exercise. The release of all those mood enhancing chemicals when you work up a sweat has been proven to affect emotions in a positive way. Exercise makes you feel good. It’s even been shown to be as effective as medication in people who are mildly or moderately depressed. What a job those endorphins have; you work out and they work to make you happy. Job satisfaction guaranteed.

I was discussing this with Maria when we last ran together in Buenos Aires over the holidays. We had both had a busy end to the year and our running was one of the things that had got pushed to the side. As we ran in the morning sun along those familiar streets we had missed, I told her I thought that some of my crankiness over the last two months had been down to the fact I hadn’t been running. She knew exactly what I meant.

I had been really busy, juggling jobs, travel and wedding planning. I am usually someone who secretly likes a to-do list and relishes variety in life and a lot of it. But I wasn’t always the usual positive, on-top-of-it, loving-it-all person I normally am. There was something missing. It wasn’t until I got on that plane to Argentina, knowing a run was on the cards, and finally had time to think, breathe and assess how the last few weeks had been that I realised it. I had missed my chemicals: those mood boosters which only need trainers to work.

I had missed my runner’s high.

It’s easy to make excuses when the wind is blowing like an Arctic storm around your house and the streets are piled with ice and snow. It’s easy to put a million important things on the list before a run. But it’s even easier to forget how you feel when you do get to do exercise.

I saw it this week as I’ve got back ‘on it’: two runs, a mile swim and a weights session (Hello obliques! Remember me?!) Even today with a wind to bring tears to your eyes; out I went. Just me, my trainers and then… those wonderful chemicals.

Stress and limits on our time are part of the norm these days. They bring people down. Misery can prevail. Don’t let it. Walk quickly, use wine bottles as weights, go swimming, have vigorous sex, practise your tree pose or just get out there and run.

It won’t make you feel better. You will. P1060187