Category Archives: Psychology

Writing and running

Writing and running are very similar. Sometimes you go slowly, painfully slowly. All you want to do is stop and do something else. Other times you are flying. There is no stopping you and you sail through 10 miles/2000 words feeling energetic.

Both of these activities bring me happiness. I know this. And yet I sometimes let them both slide although I know that as soon as I write even one sentence, or run even 100 metres the happiness chemicals kick in and I immediately feel incredible. Both are always good reminders of who I am and what it means to Be Laura.

A lot has happened since I last posted here (which admittedly was way too long ago): Last September Maria and I took a 9-day trip around Iceland with Nahuel. It was the most amazing experience and I think I can use the royal ‘we’ when I say we definitely recommend visiting, and spending as much time there as you can to get around and see the country. The landscapes will astound you. Nahuel turned one with a big party at home at the end of September which was fantastic. He’s 17 months today and just a fabulous little boy. We travelled to spend Christmas with family in the UK and then had 12 days in Denmark over New Year. This was all wonderful.

But on top of that, in early December, I had a miscarriage. It was heart-breaking and painful and sad. We received a lot of support from friends and family here in Luxembourg around the world and we got through it. But while it was happening and in order to help me deal with it there were two things I had to do: write and run.

Writing a post on my other blog (which you can read HERE) really helped me deal with what was happening and express my feelings. It was extremely cathartic.

And then there was the run I will never forget. It was the Sunday evening of the worst weekend ever. I was in some pain and I decided to go for a run. I laced up, bundled up and set out along the river. My iPod chose which songs to stream into my ears and I just tried to focus on my body, the water drifting by next to me and any feelings which cropped up. There were a lot of emotions as I ran. One surprising one was gratitude. The last kilometre a song came on which just seemed to speak straight to me (I forget what it was now) and I pumped my arms and filled my lungs and pounded forwards. My body still worked! It could still do powerful things, despite not working with nature to keep the child we had made. I could still rely on it in so many ways. Thank you! Twilight descended. I sprinted towards home racing to the ‘finish line’ barely able to breathe and tears streaming down my face.

I stayed outside for a long while, letting out my sadness but also being grateful. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything. Writing and running helped me deal with that, and that just felt so good.

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Dick running motivation

Some of you runners and/or Guardian readers might already have come across this, but it’s worth a share if you haven’t. Claire Wyckoff, a runner based in San Francisco, makes her runs all the more inviting, motivating and special by using her Nike+ to map out interesting routes. What’s new about this? you might ask.

Her routes are penises, dogs and generally cool shapes. Space invaders, anyone? I can imagine there’s nothing like knowing you’re rounding the curve of a penis to push you that bit further and get to the sweaty balls to finish your run.

Some of us invest time in searching for new kit, new gadgets, new training programmes. Isn’t this just plain silliness, mapping out weird and wonderful shapes? I would disagree. While the latest scarily pink head band might get some out there exercising, this gets Claire out there. Fun and fitness in one fell swoop, with a little bit of gadgetry art thrown in for good measure. I’m all for it. Go plan a penis.

Picture from Claire Wyckoff – see more of Claire’s running art work on her website: http://clairewyckoff.com/Running-Drawing

Or read the full Guardian article here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/06/runner-nike-san-francisco-penis

The competitive edge

As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.

Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!

I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.

You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.

Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a  sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.

You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.

I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.

Plum, we’re back in the race.

Don’t stop

There are people around me training for marathons. The training is to be expected: up and down, hit and miss, fabulous and like death. I saw this today and thought of my previous marathon training and the super tough long run when I hit 16 miles. It was evil and hard and I thought I was going to die, but something, something in me made me not walk. Stubbornness, idiocy, a second, third, fortieth wind; whatever it was, I didn’t stop.

IT PAINS ME TO CONTINUE. IT HURTS MUCH MORE TO STOP

Keep going, friends.

 

 

The smoked ham motivation

There’s a smoked ham in the Black Forest which smells and tastes divine. I’m not sure I can do it justice in my description here: it’s not just smoky and it’s not just hammy, it’s a whole new level of cured meat fabulousness. And the taste is a lingering wonder of smouldering meaty goodness. Your ham and cheese sandwich will never be the same again.

Has M&MRC taken up writing a food blog? you ask. No, but we need to be clear about something. Food is a wonderful motivator. Let me explain.

DSC_0590My husband and I had rented an apartment at the top of the hill in a small village outside Triberg. We had views down to the village and the hills and forest beyond. When we arrived I had joked about having to walk up the hill with your shopping (there were a lot of old, retired folks living up by us). I had also joked about the road up to our apartment being an excellent toboggan run in winter. Joke not, Laura.

After a weekend of typical holiday excess – champagne, cherry wine, black sausage, breakfasts that last an hour and many local beers – we woke on the Monday morning to a sunny scene below. We needed provisions. And it was also time for a run. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is something very noble about running on holiday. So, nobly, we donned our running gear and headed out.

When I say out, I mean down. Because there was no other way to go. The road led down, the village was down, the German deli was down, the park was down. We had no choice. As we ran, breakfast smells wafted into the streets from small pensions. It was the smell of that special ham, a smell to die for.

“We need to get some of that stuff,” I said to Martín as we rolled down the hill. We went past the little supermarket and into a park.

“OK, once round the park and then we go get breakfast.” I don’t know why I didn’t think about how we were DSC_0808getting back.

I felt like one of those geek runners in the shop: trainers, running leggings, headband. The old locals looked at us funny. But I didn’t care. I needed a packet of that smoky ham, a round of that wonderful dark brown bread with sesame and pumpkin seeds, some of that wonderfully heavy hard cheese.

Martín loaded up the backpack and took care of that. We stepped out into the street. And then I remembered. The way back wasn’t back. It was up.

It started mildly enough. It actually felt OK going up, the opposite muscles getting a workout they had missed out on on the way down. And then the road winded further, curving upwards, steeper and scarier. I knew the last part was the worst, so I focused on Martín just ahead, the smoky ham made in heaven in his pack. Talk about donkey and carrot.

I thought I wouldn’t make it past the turning up to our little plateau above the village, but I kept going. The houses and pensions en route were still pumping out their own, edible breakfast smells, tempting me to stop and just lick the air. I didn’t. Up, up, up we went.

I stopped at the final turn. The gradient was volcano-like and my legs were now worn and jelly. Pumping my arms I attacked it walking, every step taking me closer to breakfast. The car park flattened out and the last hundred metres I ran again, sprinting to catch up with Martín.

I mean the ham. Which I did.

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This is the black sausage from the area – also to die for. I was never quick enough to get a photo of the smoky ham motivator.

Runner’s high, just try

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“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” (Dean Karnazes) I haven’t been able to run for a week, so am heading out today to give it a go. And I’ll walk if I have to. Sometimes you can get that runner’s high just from trying.

When we are young

Last weekend I was laying in the park in the hot and beautiful Luxembourg sun. All around me were families and couples enjoying a relaxing afternoon: reading, picnicking, wandering, eating ice-creams.

Well, the adults were. During my people watching, I noticed that the park’s population fell into two categories. The Lazies and The Actives. I, for one, was in The Lazies. If I had had a four-year-old with me, they would certainly have been part of The Actives.

To my right was a family with three boys and a baby girl. The three boys spent all afternoon chasing each other with water pistols. Near them was another family, of three girls and Mum. The two older girls were playing a game with sticky plate-sized discs and throwing a ball to each other, trying to catch it on them. At first, they weren’t very good. The younger girl, about four years old, would run after the ball each time they dropped it. Je cherche! I’ll look for it! And she ran and ran picking up wayward balls. This was her game – the part she was able to play.

kids runningA toddler on the other side of us was chased by his dad. He just kept running in circles, screaming with delight. After a while the dad had to sit down.

Another group of boys passed every now and then. They all had bikes and simple peddled around the outer path of park: never veering off track, never changing direction. Just peddling as fast their legs would let them.

It made me think. At what point do we stop running as children? These kids were running the whole afternoon, stopping only for bites of sandwiches. Ice-creams in hand, water pistols in the other, they kept running. It was a beautiful thing to see. No time trials, no routes mapped: just space and running for joy.

When did running stop being a game for us adults? Why did it get so serious? I’m not a runner who takes their running that seriously; I need to enjoy it otherwise I won’t go. But I do think about pace and routes and the physical and mental benefits running gives me.

When we are young we are pure and untainted by the knowledge we have when we are older. I hope those children from the park keep running free as long as they can; that running all afternoon is a worthy game; that they continue to run without the need for the perfect trainers, a GPS watch and Nike dri fit clothes.

It’s a lesson all of us could take to our running and beyond.

“Did you know that childhood is the only time in our lives when insanity is not only permitted to us, but expected?” 

Louis de Bernières

How wonderful life is

Maria sent me an email the other day. As well as the countdown to our trip (14 days!) she had come across a running quote she knew I’d like, and I want to share it with you today. I thought about it as I ran yesterday morning and it totally got me through the last mile with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.

Whenever your next run is, hope it gives you that wonderful view on your life.

“That’s the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” – Kara Goucher

Double chin, double quick

You’ve read those stories.

Jean from Milton Keynes saw a picture of herself on holiday in Corfu and decided to lose weight. “I didn’t realise how fat I’d got, so I went on a diet and lost 10 stone eating yoghurt and melons. Now I feel great and I keep that photo stuck to my fridge so I’m never tempted to go in there and snack on the packets of mini chipolatas and sausage rolls my (16-stone) husband still buys.” 

I have no intention of turning this blog into a weight-loss-tips-for-success site, but it is amazing how a dodgy shot of you can prompt a rush of angry blood around the body as trainers and leggings get put on and out you trot.

Actually, make that gallop. Yesterday I made a video for a friend of mine and while watching it back there was this horrible double chin moment. Nobody likes a double chin. And I know, it happens to us all (even Kate Moss as she stumbles drunkenly out of a concert guffawing at something), but, we’ll, it’s just not nice.

I needed to go for a run. I hadn’t been since the weekend. Now the days are longer you can actually get back from work (a school in my case), do some more work (marking in my case) and still hit the pavement in daylight hours. Brilliant. Last night it wasn’t windy at all (unlike today’s gales causing chaos around the UK), the sea was without a wave, almost glass-like and nothing daunted me.

Because here’s the thing: running when you’re angry or not happy with something SPURS. YOU. ON. Think about it. When you’re angry or frustrated you do everything faster: make decisions, sign cheques, walk, eat, talk/shout/moan, stab out texts/emails on your phone. So it goes without saying that the same goes for exercise.

The double chin had already made me put my trainers on. Then, for the first time in, well, years, I wanted some music to run to. My husband couldn’t find his iPod. Mine no longer works at all. My mum’s doesn’t work if it’s off its speakers. There was nothing to plug into. After ten minutes searching all ‘his’ drawers, still no iPod. (That’s a total other post on a totally other blog about him and losing/misplacing/never seeing again his things). Anyway, I needed to get out. I was ready so I just left: fuming at the world, its double chins and losing of things.

And I ran fast. I even laughed to myself as I went along, thinking how ridiculous it was to be running faster because I was mad. But it worked. I finished up the hill and could even exchange some jokes with an old lady as I passed her standing at the top. She had been watching me come up from the bottom.

“You made it!”

old lady

“Yes, thankfully you’ve been getting bigger and not smaller!”

“Keep going!”

Ah, old people. The ones round here love to joke with runners. “Are you tired yet?”, “Nearly done?” or “You’re going too fast!” are favourites of the Hunstanton Old Set.

So, next time you’re sitting there, wondering whether to go out running, get angry. Think about that idiotic thing your boss said; the injustice in the world; or just give my husband something to look after for you.

When you never see it again, you’ll run doubly quick.

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