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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.

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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.

Enter, Sun.

Day One: There is blue sky and everyone, at first, is squinting. We look east, we look west. There is not a cloud in sight. And we smile and enjoy it.

Day Two: It’s here again. Pure sunshine without a cloud in the sky. It’s too good to be true. After work, I don my trainers and, for the first time this year, my running sunglasses. I feel like I run faster, powered by that glowing yellow ball in the sky. A great start to the weekend.

Day Three: Martin goes running and sweats too much in long jogging bottoms and a fleece top. Why? It’s still sunny. photo 5 (1)It’s warm. We fling open the windows at the front of the house and let in spring. I sit in the window and wait for him to run past, clapping when I see him. Afterwards, we make a picnic and visit Bernkastel, sitting at the top of the hill by the ruins lazing in the first real warmth of the year. We are surrounded by vineyards and the river glimmers below us.

Day Four: We do still live in Luxembourg, right? We haven’t suddenly moved to a Caribbean island? Another warm day and another sunny river run. I head west, following the river to the next village and do a loop around. Martin heads east. The paths are full of Nordic walkers with their poles, runners smiling, families on bikes, families with strollers, couples with heads tilted upwards. I run in shorts and t-shirt for the first time in 2014 and when I get back there is that joyous line across of the top of my thighs. A running tan line.

Day Five: Commuters look different. It’s the sunglasses and the lack of gloves and hats. I cross the street and walk on the sunny side to my classes. I enjoy wearing pumps with no tights; in class with bare feet.

Day Six: It’s time for the pool. After swimming a mile, I head to the relax terrace to read a bit. It’s inside, but the wall of windows lets in the late afternoon sun. I’m soon dry; my skin is warm.

Day Seven: We are getting too used to this. I open the blinds each morning and expect the rays to hit me and, again, they do. I take a walk along the river and then head to Trier for some shopping. It hits 21 degrees in the afternoon and I sit in the main square with a bratwurst and mustard. My toes cold on the cobbles are warmed in the afternoon sunshine.

Day Eight: A long teaching day, but we still have blue sky. I ignore the bus and walk to the station, again on the sunny side of the street. All the restaurants and cafes have dug out their outside eating furniture and the plazas are humming with early diners, keen to take advantage of the al fresco temperatures. I’m tired when I get home, but change into my running gear straight away and head out for a quick 5km. Again in shorts and t-shirt; again the blue sky brings me home.

Day Nine: Teaching in an office with no windows sucks, but at least I’m only there for a couple of hours. My students have to stay all day. I tell them to get outside for lunch after class. Spring still shows no signs of leaving us. I walk back from the station, the sun behind me highlighting the pink blossom trees lining the path. As I go to meet friends for dinner that night, I drive into the burnt orange sunset, the sky aglow with streaks of pink and red. I turn on the radio. U2 is playing. It’s A Beautiful Day.

Spring Blossom

Oh, deception

I am not a runner. You can’t not run and be a runner, can you? Runners, please forgive me.

After my last post, I wanted my first post-holiday write to be full of sweat and smiles at the miles I ran in Buenos Aires. This was my intention. This was no lie.

But my mile total for the two week-vacation? A big, fat zero.

I only have myself to blame. The chances we had to run in Puerto Madero when we were staying in the city, I forgot my all running stuff. Then came a huge storm. Then I just overslept. We sat at a cafe in the sun as some rowers glided through the shimmering water of the docks; as rollerbladers sailed by; and as runners trotted past on this well-worn and much-loved old route of mine. I watched them with a half-smile, but it was as if I was behind a pane of glass. I wanted to reach out and join them, but there was no way through.

I am an idiot.

So, it was up to the pool and miles and miles of blocks to walk for exercise. Which worked. But it’s not romantic like running is.

We got back to Luxembourg this week and the routine of running along the rivers has already set in. It’s not as cold as last winter by any means. Crisp and showery, yes. Cold and biting, no. Martín has started his marathon training. He’ll be running the Luxembourg marathon at the end of May. Maria is well into her training plan. Another friend is gunning for her first half marathon this weekend. I am surrounded by people with running goals. I need one.

I think the first is just to remember my trainers, don’t you?

Everything running swimmingly

I love sport. Except golf. And perhaps American football which makes absolutely no sense to me (wait for Maria’s comment below). And if someone asks I will first describe myself as a runner. After all, I run. And I love it. And I marvel at others that run. And I like watching and sharing it with them.

But I also love swimming. Last year when I was injured and on a running embargo, I set myself a swimming marathon challenge: 26.2 miles in 26 days. I completed it in 24. And my hair didn’t go green and I didn’t grow fins, which was a bonus. Actually, I was in the best shape ever. Swimming a mile or two a day did sharpen my already broad ‘swimmer’s shoulders’ (“Do you swim?” I have been asked by strangers in pubs. “Are you asking because of my shoulders?” “Well…”) and leaned me out. Plus with post swim saunas and steam rooms my skin always felt totally clean and soft.

In the past few weeks I have been swimming at least once a week, sometimes twice. And I have noticed how it has made a difference on my runs. And in turn how running has helped my swimming. The muscles I use and build swimming seem to be stronger when I run and help to power me along (I am always trying to use my arms a bit more). And I feel running has helped my breathing when swimming. I breathe slower and easier rather than in gulps at each stroke. And they both help with fitness.

Alternating between swimming and running makes me feel I am getting the best of both  worlds: the diversity and interest of the streets when I run and the serenity and solitude of the pool (if only I lived in hotter climes, next to a clear blue ocean…) when I swim. And they compliment each other physically: the hard pounding of the pavement and then the gentler kicking through water; the shoulders powering through the pool and then the softer rhythm they employ when running.

Here is a quote from a swimming great, Aleksandr Popov. “The water is your friend… you don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.”

Maybe us runners can look at our roads and parks, or wherever we run, in the same way swimmers see their water.