Category Archives: Running and the body

Baby runner

Oh it’s been too long since I wrote here. I’d like to say I’ve been running up mountains, being chased by goats and having wonderful post-run massages. But I can’t, because that’s me dreaming on this Wednesday morning.

The reality is that life has taken over. Life, with an extra layer added to it these days. I am pregnant. We are approaching 20 weeks this weekend, so nearly half way there. It is, of course, extremely exciting and Martín and I are totally thrilled (dumbfounded/petrified too) at the thought of becoming parents in September.

plum-300We found out really early on in the pregnancy and I kept up my running, three times a week. Running knowing that ‘Plum’ was with me was a joy, as if I had a mini training partner with me; that I was already sharing this important activity of mine with my prospective son or daughter (we are not finding out the sex until D-day). The doctor gave me the green light to keep running, albeit a bit more gently than usual. I assured her it wasn’t as if I was a 5-minute mile runner anyway!

Then, this month, that green light turned to red. The placenta was in the wrong place and I needed to rest. No running, swimming, power-walking. Boo! Two weeks of frustration ensued, along with those natural worries and niggles. Is everything OK in there? We had extra scans and Plum was grand, moving lots and generally being a well behaved super-mini human. At our last appointment I was given good news: the placenta was moving in the right direction and I could exercise, but low impact. I am willing to compromise!

The truth is, exercise makes me feel better, less stressed; it’s easier to sleep and it gives me a normal appetite. As someone who is usually really in tune with her body and its capabilities, I was finding this lack of control over what was happening annoying. But now, at least, with swimming, power-walking and yoga I am back to giving Plum a healthy ride until September, which is the most important thing.

So, over the next few months, my posts might not be about running per se, but I’ll be keeping you posted on health, exercise and supporting those around me who are running marathons, while with an ever-growing bump.

And fear not, I’ve already got my sights on the running buggy of my dreams… watch this space!



The inside leg, right?

I’ve said more than once that I need a right leg transplant. I know I shouldn’t joke. There are people with no legs. I should be grateful. But it’s always my right leg that kicks up a fuss and gets injured.

I finally got round to seeing the doctor and he ordered a scan on my leg. I treated this information with a yucky look and he simply abated my worries by saying, “Don’t worry, this is Luxembourg. You don’t have to wait or to pay.” Excellent news. I also liked this doctor for another two reasons: he had a huge print of Audrey Hepburn on his office wall, and after feeling my legs he told me they were “very strong”. Perfect! (But why is the right one not right?)

So, Monday I found myself laying face down as another doctor took a scan of my right heel. Well, I thought he was going to investigate my heel, you know, where it hurts. Nope. I was there for about fifteen minutes as he took long looks at the inside of my leg and foot, up behind and around my knee too. It was amazing. He must have taken a hundred shots of my leg. I like these thorough Luxembourg doctors. Straight to it.

He happily told me the pain has nothing to do with any “serious disease” and that although I have an old scar there, there is also a slight pull or tendonitis. Well, that doesn’t sound too threatening to my running dreams. I now await to see my Audrey Hepburn doctor with excitement, especially at being able to click through all the photos of my leg inside. What does it really look like in there?

This positive news, and the fact that the pills the Audrey Hepburn doctor had given me meanwhile were working, meant I treated myself to a little trot yesterday. It was a beautiful day and I ran along the river in the sunshine, following the swans and dodging the German cyclists. Heaven.

I know I need to be patient and there are no short cuts to health and fitness, but a little more of this and I’ll be as right as rain.

Your Achilles’ heel

Every runner has them, right? Those points of weakness; niggling old injuries which can rear their ugly heads when you least expect them. I am hoping this is the case. Be it knees, hips, back, neck, heels, tendons, feet, muscles, bones… runners have a long list of niggles to choose from. Pros aren’t immune, although they do have people to help them look after themselves a lot better than your average runner Joe. Which is me.

Two days before my 16-week marathon training plan was due to start back in 2009 in Buenos Aires (Is that four years ago? Really?) I was running and from one second to the next a searing pain went up my right heel and I couldn’t stand on it. I ground to a halt. People came over. Está bien? Are you OK? No, I wasn’t. I borrowed a phone and called my boyfriend in almost tears. He met me in a taxi at the corner of our street with money to pay the driver. I run with nothing. He helped me hobble home.

So, I had pulled my Achilles and was out for three weeks. That put my 16-week training plan to a 12-week training plan. Still doable. I spent 1 entire week with my foot up, icing it every so often and being a super grumpy pain the arse. But I recovered, got back to it, completed the marathon and got on with running and running my life.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was running a regular 4-mile route in the Luxembourg sunshine. I had just got to the top of a hill and was on my way down when I felt a sharp pain in my right heel. It wasn’t like my experience four years before, but I wound down the hill gently and came to a stop. I stretched it out on the kerb for a bit. The pain subsided, so I carried on. Then going up the next hill, it came back. It got worse. I had to stop. Having had that moment of a pull those years before, I did not want a repeat of it. Plus, again, I was without a phone, this isn’t a place where taxis pass, I had no money and only my wobbly French. So I walked. It was OK, I could feel it was tight, but walking was fine. Not perfect, but fine.

Back home, I stretched my upper and lower calves and ran cold water on my heel. And continued with life. This wasn’t the same. It wasn’t four years ago. But this morning, it’s still a tight. It must be all these hills, newly built into the running schedule here as you can’t run and avoid them. Must keep stretching, and a couple more days’ rest.

Because that’s something you learn. When you have Achilles’ heels (And I have a couple of them) you learn to not ignore the pain; to listen; to do something before it gets to the point you’ve experience before – where the only solution is being a grumpy pain in the arse for a while.

They are our weak spots. But they make us stronger.

Match fit

Last week it was time to dust off the racket bag and see if we could remember how to hit a ball over a net. We went to play tennis.

Having been running, doing yoga and swimming, a mix in of tennis was going to be good thing. Until we realised after a couple of rallies that a) not only we were rubbish at tennis again, having last played about 9 months ago, but b) we were not match fit.

Running for miles at a steady pace, or even a shorter route at a faster pace has totally different fitness needs to a game of tennis. I loved playing tennis when I was younger and spent all summer at the school courts and all winter at Saturday morning tennis coaching. But I’ve played less as I’ve been on my travels and living here, there and everywhere. Then Martin and I started played in Buenos Aires. It was great because although we have very different strengths on the court, we’re quite evenly matched. Sometimes I would win, sometimes he would: the game was always worth it.

Until last weekend. The score is irrelevant (oh, go on then, I won) but what was interesting was the fact were knackered and breathless after a few rallies. Having to dart around the court for a few shots left us panting more than we thought it would. The pause between points got longer as we laughed at ourselves. The short, explosive bursts required in tennis are just not what we’re used to with our long running or swimming sessions.

What to do? Well, we need some match fitness practice and especially speed work which will no doubt help our overall fitness and not leave us bent double after a few points. Here are some ideas I remember from tennis club at school. Ah, the days of those drills…

  • Ball retrieval: put some balls randomly around the court and sprint to get each one and back to the base line in between. I emphasis the point of sprinting. Not for joggers!
  • Shuttle sprints: running from the base line to the service box line, back and then to the net and back and so forth. Again, as fast as you can. (In class we would race against each other and try not to puke.)
  • Blind ball: this was a favourite of my tennis coach when I was 14. You stand with your eyes shut and back to the net on your half of the court. Your partner throws or hits the ball with a shout of “Go!” and you open you eyes and run to get it as quickly as possible. Yes, you guessed it, sprinting. Repeat until knackered.

old tennisThinking about all this, I am now marvelling at my younger self, a middle distance runner with tennis match fitness. Ah, those were the days. I wonder if, even before my time, they worried about these things? Something tells me it wasn’t a priority for tennis ladies like this one. You would be more worried about tripping over the skirts before even reaching the ball in the first place.

Got any match fitness tips? Let us know!

Running from the orange peel

Warning: this post is one for the ladies.

Cellulite. Orange peel skin. Wobbly thighs. Dimpled bum. However you call it, we all have it: loitering in full view or just lurking under the surface. If super models have it we can all stop worrying and complaining about it. It’s there. It’s with us. We’re women. There’s a lot more we have to deal with, so let’s just forget about a bumpy ride at the top of our thighs and get on with life, shall we?

Or not? In my twenties cellulite wasn’t a word I wrote or considered. But in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more those dimpled parts at the top back of my thighs. I’m not someone who would ever spend £50 on a miracle thimble of cream (I love creams, but cheap, normal ones that don’t do any magic, just smell and feel nice) and I cannot be bothered with what beauty writers call ‘body brushing’. What is that? I’m no ape. Brushing is for hair. I do subscribe to massages, for any reason. But again, I can’t afford one of those every day/week/month. So, the next best thing I know for looking and feeling good is boring, simple, old-fashioned exercise.

And with the last 5 weeks of half marathon training, running four times a week has been my exercise. I do love a good swim and yoga session and these are sometimes slipped in at the moment with a few weights. But, primarily, running the roads of west London has been my way of burning calories.

You can see where this post is going, I think. It’s going to a far away place, called Cellulite Land, where my own cellulite has disappeared to over the past couple of months. Running has literally run it off. My thighs and bum are by no means super model worthy, don’t get me wrong, but there is a definite improvement in smoothness. Pits and dimples have given way to something resembling solids rather than liquids.

In my cellulite and running reading before writing this I found nothing conclusive about running helping cellulite. In fact one site claimed it caused cellulite. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it. And my husband’s: “Your a*se looks good in that,” he commented the other day.

Running, I salute you. Cellulite, I banish you.

Wiggle Room

 My running shoes look like this.  They aren’t what most people would consider normal, but I haven’t run in ‘real’ running shoes in a year and a half.

A couple weeks ago I had the realization that as much as I wanted them to, my FiveFingers just weren’t going to cut it for running across a snow-covered volcano (just to name one).  I’d planned on testing my old shoes out this weekend for my long run, but as my mom suggested maybe I should start with a shorter distance just in case they aren’t comfortable.

So taking her advice, I tied up the laces and suddenly felt that my feet were being suffocated.  I made it to the street and was off: clump, clump, clump.  I felt like I had boxes around my feet.  Not heavy boxes like when it feels as if someone put cement in your shoes, but that my feet doubled in size.  I also felt as if I’d lost traction even though these shoes have much more grip.  I felt like I was going to slip as I couldn’t feel the ground beneath my feet.

Then, I began to kick myself, literally.  I used to do this, but thankfully have stopped as it’s due to poor running form.  My right heel hits the back of my left leg just below the calf creating what is called a heel whip.  This left me a nice souvenir of a small mark on my leg.  This makes me think I should file down the heel of my shoes.

It was good to use the shoes early as now I know where to use tape for the next one.  Another souvenir is the blister on my pinky toe.  Although it doesn’t even compare to the ones Laura is currently battling with.  I might have to try my toe socks on Saturday to see if that helps as I really missed that wiggle room between my toes and feeling the rocks under me.

Stress works

So, I’ve been telling everyone that I must have a stress test. Having quit my job recently, many have given me puzzled looks, wondering how I can be stressed. In this tough economic climate and these challenging times for both employers trying to keep going and employees trying to hang on, it’s no wonder people automatically assume my GP has seen too many frown lines on my forehead and ordered some kind of test for me.

This is not so. Joining Cruce de los Andes requires a fit note from your doctor and an exercise ECG test, otherwise known as a stress test to make sure your heart is working properly. It’s the one where they put you on a treadmill, up the inclination and keep doing so as it gets faster and faster. Meanwhile, you are hooked up via a load of cables to a heart spying machine and they take your blood pressure every 3 minutes as well. It’s all very Dr House – especially when you have to go private and you’re hooked up in a  jiffy.

I had my stress test yesterday. Off I trotted to Wimpole Street and the London Heart Centre. Located in a beautiful old house, I half expected a Dickens’ era doctor to pop his head round the corner and whisk me off to be dragged by horses, or however they did these things back then.

But no, treadmill and beeping machines there were. Having run 12 miles the previous day, I was hoping my legs were still up for some hilly fun. They did OK. I couldn’t get to my maximum heart rate, which I was assured means I am fit. I see the doctor tomorrow after my results are checked by a cardiologist. She will hopefully confirm this and sign on the dotted line which will let me do the most challenging thing of my life to date.

Makes finding a job look a sinch.

Time for bed

The first time I trained for the marathon, I was surprised by 2 things. One was how quickly the body can adapt to doing something as not normal as running for miles and hours on end. The second was how, in order to do it, the body needed time to also rest and recover.

In my twenties I used to be able to fly and live in the face of sleep, going from runs to nights out to more drinks and into a day’s worth of classes with a mere sweep of my bed in between. It didn’t help that I felt sleep was a waste of time: there’s no conversation, no eating, no dancing. It’s all quite boring really, being asleep.

As the training intensified and the runs became longer, however (and as I neared the end of my twenties!) I realised that my body needed those hours when I was unconscious. It needed to lay still, rest, refresh itself for the next manic day ahead. I also realised that my brain needed the same thing.

I was thinking about this as last night laying in bed. I had been chatting to Maria all afternoon, sharing the wonderful comments on the Cruce de los Andes Facebook page and watching their latest promo video (see previous posts). I couldn’t sleep. I was making lists in my head (safety pins, blister plasters, pins, our laminated photos, flags) and thinking about each rock, tree and river we might pass or go through. Heart pumping, I was mentally already running it.

While this is a good thing – I imagine mental strength is most of the battle in these endurance events – I still need to make sure that what I learnt in my first marathon happens: sleep.

Last night I dreamt about Cruce de los Andes and that David Cameron and Nick Clegg were also doing it, but that they somehow had these little carts that they were using.

When I got up this morning to go for powerwalking in the frost, all that played in my mind was waking up in that tent with Maria in just 3 weeks’ time and our crazy and fabulous day we will have ahead of us.

And that it won’t be a dream.

Check out the official Facebook page for Cruce de los Andes 2012:

Time to pop

Today is day 2 of doing back-to-back runs. It’s only 6.5 miles each time, but I’ve never run that far on consecutive days. Am just having my breakfast, because if I didn’t, Maria would probably growl at me. (She’s very good at training eating, I tend to forget about it and wonder why I am actually feeling hungry at 10pm while making lunch!)

Anyway, I digress. I was laying in bed last night and I realised that, as well as my beating heart (a good thing) there was another throbbing going on at the opposite end of my body.

My feet and their blisters. I have been trying to ignore them, but now they have a pulse of their own, it’s proving quite difficult. I need to attack with pins, salt water, surgical spirit and those incredible blister plasters from Boots. And I need to keep running on them. Eeeeeeek.

With three weeks to go, it’s making me wonder, with a kind of detached interest as if they are not part of me, what they are going to finish Cruce de los Andes looking like. Actually, I don’t care what they look like, as long as they can support me. I’m not sure I’d be that good at running without feet.

The trusted vaseline


The organisers at Cruce tell us that we will get blisters, no matter how comfy and right our trainers are. It’s all about the terrain, corners, our feet going in different positions to what we are used to. Great. My feet don’t like the relatively straight, if hilly, roads of west London. This is going to be interesting.

Pass the vaseline. I’ll deal with them on my return.