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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.


Marathon birth

Those stories about women going to the toilet and giving birth now have me in stitches (actually, I am in stitches, real ones) because my perspective on this whole labour thing comes from a place far removed from that fart-out-a-baby experience. Still, lucky them, I say!

Nahuel joined us on 25 September after 21 hours of announcing he was on his way. Yep, obviously a little man who takes his time on a journey and enjoys the process. It’s not always about the destination, how many times do we say that to ourselves?! Anyway, I’ve decided to share the experience on this blog because it was a test of endurance and mental and physical strength. And because it was a marathon.

24/09/14, 17:30h – The Warm Up: I go with my mum to the hospital. Been losing some liquids and you can’t start a marathon that way. Martin meets us there. Doctor wants to keep me in over night and check my status in the morning again before the starting line.

24/09/14, 23h – The Starting Line: The marathon as been brought forward, luckily I am already there with my number on, just in case. First contractions start. Getting pumped and also worrying if I’ve done enough training.

25/09/14, 06:50h – Mile 5: The first part of any run is always the worst for me until I find my groove. On no sleep due to contractions I call the nurses and they send me to the delivery ward. This is much better, will get into my rhythm.

25/09/14, 08h – Mile 7: The midwife breaks my waters and that groove I was looking for suddenly hits. Managing the contractions with breathing, feeling a good pace. Doctor comes and tells me Plum will arrive today. Glad to hear the finishing line is today!

25/09/14, 10:20h – Mile 10: Happy to have made it to double figures, but feeling weary of the course. Get up to walk around and immediately vomit. Am hungry, but no food stops allowed on this route.

25/09/14, 12h – Mile 13: Pace has slowed and am feeling the pain as contractions come faster and harder and I can no longer deal with them. Have an epidural and the relief is immediate. Get back into my groove.

25/09/14, 12:38h – Mile 14: Massive uphill. Epidural stops working. Midwife tries top-ups. Pumping arms, working legs, breathing, but this slope seems effing vertical!

25/09/14, 14:45h  – Mile 17: Trying some music to distract me from overwhelming exhaustion, pain and a general feeling that the finishing line is still a very, very long way off. Is that The Wall I see in front of me?

25/09/14, 15:20h – Mile 18.5: At last, the drug man comes back and gets the epidural right! I feel weightless and in control of my race again. A bit. But realise I am totally not. Support team are brilliant.

25/09/14, 17:50h – Mile 22: Pushing for the finishing line like my life depends on it. Feel like I am running through mud. Starting to think the race organisers have changed what a marathon means and I’ll be here forever. Try to chill in between bursts of speed.

25/09/14, 19:35h – Mile 24: The mud is getting thicker and I’m running through fog. This race will never end.

25/09/14, 20:10h – Mile 25: I see the one-mile-to-go marker when the doctor comes and announces we’ll use some forceps to get over the line. Still don’t believe there’s a measly mile to go. I think it’s a precursor to the home straight and don’t let myself get too excited.

25/09/14, 20:40h – Mile 26: The midwife is shouting that the finishing line is close. I cannot believe her. I still think she’s just motivating me. I can’t see it through all the mud and fog.

25/09/14, 20:42h – Mile 26.2: Suddenly there is a massive cry from the sidelines and I am over the line! Pure joy and relief sweep over me as I am handed my prize: a big, beautiful baby boy.


DSC_0536Nahuel Darwin Alonso, newest member of M&MRC.

The good ache

Excuses could flow from me for not posting for so long as much as they can flow from ‘runners’ who don’t run. It’s been a couple of busy months with lots of travelling and visitors, for which I am not complaining at all. It has just meant sitting down to write about my fitness during pregnancy has not been possible. Until now.

As you can also imagine, with all the trips and visitors my pregnancy fitness regime also took a back seat. In my second trimester I actually had a lot of energy, especially in the mornings. Once I was awake, I had to get up. And, although I faded by about 11pm, the days were full and I didn’t feel beat.

DSC_0491Things are a bit different now, which is why, this week, it has been important for me to get back to some kind of exercise routine. My bump has grown A LOT, wildly it feels. On one hand, I love the thought of our son or daughter growing inside there and forming into a healthy, tiny human being. On the other hand, the complete lack of control I have over my body is frustrating and bewildering. I hate sitting down and feeling my belly on the very top of my legs; not being able to see ‘down there’; having to bend with my legs apart to the side. And then I realise, there are people who live this way (and worse) for a lot of their lives. I don’t understand it. I’m not a model size 6 in my non-pregnant life and I don’t conform, nor agree, with the pressure that exists to be stick thin. However, being bigger and carrying more weight that I normally do, albeit not a grand difference, has shown me just how uncomfortable it is.

So, now into my third trimester and with life returning to normal this week, I was really happy to get back to exercise. Monday was a 40-minute power-walk, arms-a-pumping, music blasting. Although, as it was the day after the World Cup Final, I couldn’t bring myself to take a route through Germany (I got half way over the bridge and turned back) it felt amazing. I stretched afterwards in the sun by the river, watching the ferry glide back and forth.

Yesterday after classes I got back to the pool. Now, don’t get me wrong, with my recent trips to Greece and Texas, there hasDSC_1076 of course been lots of bathing time, just not of the swimming for exercise variety. It was more wallowing in the pool with a (non-alcoholic) beer, or bobbing in the sea looking at fish. When I did muster 120 lengths of my friend’s pool, it didn’t feel like a workout as it’s not a very long pool. Though it was something. So, it was brilliant to get into Olympic-sized pool we have here in Luxembourg and swim a kilometre non-stop, mixing up breast stroke and front crawl.

Now this morning, I wake up and I can feel the ache in my shoulders and back. But it’s not a horrible feeling. It’s an ache that tells me those muscles are working for me when I need them. After a pause, it’s good to know they are still there. With all that’s coming in the next couple of months and beyond, I’m going to need them.

Summer solstice run


The longest day of the year, Kotor, Montenegro. M&MRC take their running club responsibilities very seriously and although a lot had happened that day, they run a 5k around the Bay of Kotor, stars shining and an almost-full moon gazing down on them.

Run up to Christmas

Again, the title of the post is a little misleading. Since running the Behobia-San Sebastian 20km in November, I’ve only been on one run. And I owe posts about both of those runs, which will come in due course… luckily a calmer 2013 is just around the corner and I envisage weekends curled up with my laptop catching up on running news and sharing stories and plans.

But I wander off the trail of this post, which is all about M&MRC’s run up to Christmas and our plans for the festive season. Because, for the first time since we conquered the Andes in February, we will be back together again, in Argentina. While we’re both now in wintry climes, we’re heading south for a hot and sweaty Christmas and New Year’s break with family down there and in between, my wedding.

And we’ve planned a run for the morning of my nuptials (the wedding doesn’t start until 8pm so we’re not being freaky!) It’s going to be a magic four mile trot around the parks of Palermo. Maria will be breaking in her new orange Vibrams and I will be my normal orangeness with my sunnies and socks. We could actually run straight into the wedding like that and continue the orange theme, no one would notice…

When I told Martín this morning about the pre-wedding run he looked at me with those eyebrows raised and said, “Please don’t go and injure yourself.” Hmm, he knows me too well. But I won’t. It’ll be a fun run, we’ll enjoy it. Because it’s the run up to a very special event. Because it’s our last run of 2012 and to celebrate the running challenges we’ve achieved this year.

And we’ll enjoy it because M&MRC are back together again and love to run.


On your shoulder

It’s been a while since my last post, but there’s been a lot going on. Weddings, new jobs, some freaky Norfolk weather which made me look outside and go URGH, NO!

I now write from my friend Jenny’s apartment in Pamplona, Spain. I arrived last night in order to spend the weekend and run the Behobia 20km. It’s like the Great North Run of Spain: a bit tough, super popular (25,000 runners) and finishes by the sea. The only thing it doesn’t do is raise a tonne of money for charity. They’re not accustomed to that here. The one thing it does do is finish in San Sebastián, gourmet central of Spain. If there’s anything that’s going to get me up those hills it’s the thought of fine Spanish wine, fantastic tapas and a dip in the water post-run. If I can get in that freezing lake after Day 1 of Cruce de los Andes, a cool-down in the bay of San Sebastián is going to be a breeze. And the wine, the wine will be waiting.

Anyway, Nando (Jen’s boyfriend) and I have just got back from a run along the river bordering Pamplona. This is the second time in two weeks that I have run with someone so I thought I better write about it; so used to running solo I now am.

Last week, I ran 8 windy, sunny, cloudy, muddy miles with Martín. Actually, that’s not quite right. He ran with me, which was a new experience. There he stayed, on my shoulder, 5 millimetres behind. Enough for us both to know it was my run, my pace, my route, my sprint, my ‘Come on!’ to get us up the hill in the wind. I was expecting a solid run, but fairly sedate and slow. I knew I was running faster with him on my shoulder. And him staying on my shoulder, lessening the pressure to keep up, but keeping up the pressure to stay at that pace helped. I finished stronger and quicker and felt a gratitude towards him becoming a runner that I never have before.

So, today it was with Nando, a very decent runner who  especially loves mountains, and Mario, a Cuban guy more at home pumping weights in the gym than using his legs to move him more than walking pace. I ranked somewhere in the middle. I needed a run; it had been just over a week and with Sunday’s run looming I also needed a buddy, someone on my shoulder. Nando is a pace specialist. After about 15 minutes he said, “We’re doing about 5-minute-10, 5-minute-12 seconds per kilometer.” How did he know that?! Anyway, it worked. It was good to have someone there, making me talk, being at my shoulder which means no going back, only forwards. It was a lovely 6-miler along the river and parks and am I looking forward to Sunday’s endeavours.

Running is a great way to get alone time, a space to think, to leave the pressures of the day behind. But running with someone on your shoulder can give you a certain amount of good pressure, a little push which gets you to the end.

And that can be one weight off your shoulders.


The mysteriousness of wind

After debating whether to sign up for the 30k I’d had my eyes on for weeks, I finally decided to cross it off my list.  I only had a few more weeks in Buenos Aires and I didn’t want to have to plan my weekend activities around my longer runs.  There was also the factor that my mom mentioned of going from winter to summer and getting acclimated before charging along.  While I don’t know if it would have really been that big of a deal it was another reason to cancel the run.

I then took a step back from running and even had about a 2 week break in there.  But now I’m back in Texas and I’m working on getting  back in the routine again.  I went out for what I thought would be 3 miles at 10:30 a.m. on the first try and couldn’t make it.  Lesson learned: I must wake up earlier to beat the heat.

The second go was more successful. Although, I had a love/hate relationship with the wind. I went up the hill to the corner and felt good.  I had to head down before doing the same route again to get in my planned 4 miles.  As I turned to go downhill I suddenly realized there was a cool wind blowing.  It’d been pushing me along the whole way, but I hadn’t even noticed. While I was thankful to have the air move around me to cool me off a bit, it was also annoying to feel the wind in only one direction. I headed back up the hill again and while knowing there was wind helping me along I still didn’t really notice it’s presence as I had while heading directly into it.

Isn’t it amazing how different a tailwind is to a headwind?  They are both there yet one makes its presence much more obvious than the other. I’ve even had moments where  I had the sensation that the air would just swirl around me as I was headed into the wind no matter my direction, but at least this time I knew it had to be helping me when I needed it most…going up the hill.

M is for making it

As Maria has already written, and as you will guess from the title, M&MRC, Equipo 90 (and all the other names we are now known by!) have made it through the Cruce de los Andes. We have run, climbed, slid, stepped, walked, waded, ducked, rolled over, pounded, staggered, shuffled and run a bit more as if our lives depended on it to cross the line three days in a row and complete what I have to say has been the challenge of a lifetime, thus far.

It has been marvellous, magical and momentous. We have minged; we have mocked; and we have marvelled.

And we have made a mountain of memories.

As stories filter through on this blog over the next days/weeks/months/years/decades (you can be sure) I just wanted to pause a second and reflect on something we discussed yesterday and which came up again in conversation with my mum.

With grins a mile wide, tired eyes and quads which were aching for a massage, we sat on the bus leaving San Martín de los Andes on Monday. We remembered our worst five minutes of the race, we did impressions of those we had met and we generally distracted ourselves from the reality we were facing once it was all well and truly over.

At one point, I said: “I think this has been good for M and F (our boyfriends).”

“Why is that?” Maria replied.

“It will get them used to it, won’t it?”

The fact there was a laugh and a knowing smile instead of words told me all I needed to know.

For, now this challenge is over, there are expectations in other areas of our lives. Another two ‘M’s that like to be thrown at us: Marriage and Motherhood.

I ask myself, are they mutually exclusive? Surely not. We have met people from all over Latin America and beyond who were doing El Cruce 2012 and it was such a mixed bag: old couples, youngish friends, women pushing their boundaries while their teenage children waited for them at the finish line. We met men who train 6 days a week. And they have wives, ex-wives, children and jobs to deal with. But everyone agreed on one thing: the support of their family.

We have had amazing support from our families and friends, both near and far. And I think we’ve both realized that we’re going to have to ask for it time and again as live goes on and M&MRC throws itself at more challenges and feats.

These experiences become part of who you are: woman, wife, mother, employee, boss, runner, writer… whatever other labels you might have.

We have proved we can make it. Now we’ve got to prove we can make it work in our lives.

Different makes a difference

I completely agree with Maria. A change can be a great idea.

Today, I did everything different for the second of the back-to-back 13 milers. I got up a bit earlier. I had a completely different breakfast (dont’ tell Maria there was no peanut butter involved). I wore the other trainers. I put on different running clothes. Different weights went into the camelbak, as well as a different flavoured Lucozade.

The weather was also different today; there was no sun, so I went without shades. I haven’t been using music for a long time, so I got a different annoying song/advert jingle into my head to accompany me.

The new route I had mapped for yesterday was done the other way round. The hills came first, and the last 5 miles were on the mostly flat. This would also make a difference.

The body is an amazing thing, and I might devote a book/poem/anthology to my legs, I am in awe of them so much. It’s not that they are the strongest/fastest/most beautiful legs in the world (they are not), but they always come through for me when I need it most. Through fractures and wonky spine sitting on nerves, dodgy knees and pulled Achilles, they are there for me, on my side, just at the right moment. I love my legs.

And so they got me through the second loaf of my half marathon sandwich. Doing the hills in the first 8 miles was a good idea, as the legs were fresher. But it also knackered them a bit more for later on. I totally agree with Maria’s comments about being excited. Just knowing with each step that I was closer to completing the pinnacle of our training sparked something in my body, which certainly did not come from my breakfast. Getting closer to that finishing line and the energy rose, I know not where from. But we’ll be counting on it in 10 days’ time.

So, mixing it up, changing routes, colours, packs, music, breakfast, drink and pants really helps. Changing west London for the Andes. That will help. Changing our flat for the great outdoors. That will help. Changing running solo and only chatting about it with Maria to having her there each step of the way. That will help. Changing lives with the money we raise. That will help.

Doing this, being different, will help. We will make a difference.

Help find a cure

This morning I opened Reuters to find an article saying the US government has set an ambitious goal of finding a cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Although this isn’t going to mean more funds allotted to research, it’s a good sign that more importance is being put on a disease that is believed to effect 37 million people throughout the world.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that hits close to home as my grandma is currently battling it. She has her good days and bad days, but sadly she isn’t the woman she used to be. Having watched her and those around her suffer for the past several years, I am determined to help find a cure. It is with this purpose that I decided to raise funds for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.

They are a non-profit organization that designates 100% of the money raised to research. They are constantly discovering new genes that are involved in the progression of the disease. The hope is that with more research they will be able to pinpoint the cause of the disease in order to prevent millions at risk and treat those that are already diagnosed.

So with the goals of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, my grandmother on my mind and Cruce de los Andes as an excuse, I set up a fundraising page so everyone can help find a cure. Click on the logo below to learn more about my personal story and donate to this great cause.