Pretending I’m a runner

Standard

About a month ago I completed my first half-marathon, which was one of my 2015 resolutions. I had wanted to run the half-marathon as part of the Geneva Marathon in May. This would have been a big event with thousands of participants and spectators to cheer me and all the other runners on.

In 2014 I ran the 10k as part of the Geneva Marathon events and really enjoyed myself, despite the physical challenge, so I assumed that the half-marathon in this setting would have been more of the same (more effort, more kilometers but also more spectators and more satisfaction). Alas, this event clashed with one of the many UK weddings we had this year so I had to give it a miss and my enthusiasm for running started to dry up without the motivation to put on my trainers, that is until I found another half-marathon in Geneva, the Demi-de-Jussy, taking place at night.

I thought a nighttime run sounded nice, it’d be cooler than running at daytime and perhaps a smaller event would be a better place to start. In hindsight, I’m pretty certain that running the smaller event as my first attempt was not a great idea. Or at least I think I might have enjoyed the half-marathon in a bigger setting for a little while longer before the intense misery associated to the physical pain kicked in. What I hadn’t reckoned on in tackling the smaller event was just how lonely it would be.

The loneliness in itself wouldn’t have been much of a problem, I usually run alone and often late at night, although always along well lit streets. However, I made the mistake many runners do and completely failed to pace myself. I was excited when the race began and was running kilometers in record times, not thinking that my body wasn’t prepared to be going at these unprecedented speeds. Perhaps I had hoped that hoards of spectators cheering away would have helped me keep up the pace but the few spectators that had been cheering us on for the first lap had clearly given up by the second, contributing to the growing sense of isolation I felt as the race progressed.

The course was two laps and it was dark. Runners had been advised to bring headlamps, and before the race I had wondered how essential this would be but was really glad the fiancé had managed to find me one the day before the race. As the course wound its way through mostly unlit country roads and sometimes wooded areas I was very grateful for the lamp, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable addition to my running gear!

For each lap there were about 3 or 4 themed stations along the way (which seemed to be based on seasons). At each station were people dressed up shouting encouragement, there was music and fun things to look at. On the first lap this was highly entertaining on the second lap these stations made me all the more conscious of how fast I wasn’t running and how alone I happened to be.

At the penultimate station, one man in drag tried to motivate me with falsetto words of encouragement and sympathy as he jogged beside me for a little while. If I had had the energy I would have punched him in the face, but he did at least encourage me to run a little faster to get away from him. I knew he meant well but by this point my mood had already plummeted from the optimistic high of ‘look at me I’m running a half-marathon’ to something much darker along the lines of ‘why am I doing this? Everything hurts. I haven’t seen anyone in a while and I’m probably going to get murdered in the woods any moment now.’ I was not in the mood for some light joshing from anyone who seemed remotely happy!

I had been prepared for the fact that a smaller event and tighter time limit (only 2.5 hours to complete) would have meant this event was likely to appeal to more serious runners than I could pretend to be. I expected to be somewhere near the back, but assumed I’d still be bumbling along with others in sight, but almost everyone had outstripped me by the 14k point. Although I wasn’t last, I was second from last.

I only managed to hobble, cramp had struck by this point, past the final person in the final kilometer, so for 5k or so I was actually last, with the constant annoyance of the sweeper car following behind me, which I resented for reminding me of my rubbish effort. (Although I appreciated the car whilst running through the woods with nothing but my little headlamp and all too many thought of how many horror stories start and end in dense woodland.

I managed to complete the course within the time limit and there were even a few stragglers at the end to applaud me, but my fiancé wasn’t among them. He’d agreed to meet me at the finish but the place wasn’t easy to access with one bus an hour so he only made it a few minutes after I finished. I had cramp, I was exhausted and I had thoroughly not enjoyed myself. When I finally saw him I promptly burst into tears and collapsed into his arms. It was a far cry from the euphoria I felt upon completing the 10k last year.

After the race, actually about 3/4 of the way through, I vowed I would never run again. But now the physical and psychological pain has faded, I am actually keen to put the running shoes back on and have signed up for the course d’escalade in Geneva this December to motivate me to get going again. I also want to run another half-marathon next year to try to put in a better effort than this performance. Memory loss is clearly a dangerous thing!

Advertisements

A tale of tea in three parts

Standard

I love tea!

tea tale 1 - bp image

But sadly in Switzerland tea bags and water don’t seem to like each other very much…

tea tale 2 - bp image

So I force them together for some time until they hate each other less and I can have a nice cuppa!

tea tale 3 - bp image

The end!

 

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Standard

The common phrase ‘Rome wasn’t built in day’ is usually understood as saying great achievements don’t happen immediately. However, I wonder if maybe the phrase could be commandeered by people, all over the globe, afflicted by what can only scientifically be known as ‘night-person-afflictio’. Maybe ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, because it was actually built at night time by us under acknowledged night people.*

In case you were unclear the world is divided into two types of people: night people and morning people.

I fall into the latter category and feel that as a consequence I’ve been discriminated against all my life. Yes, that’s right almost since birth I have been subjected to night-personism and discriminated for my nocturnal-favouring tendencies.

When society was drawn up it was drawn up on the terms of morning-people, probably because they got to discussions first before night-people had woken up and made all the decisions before everyone was fairly represented.

Anyway, morning-people decided that society should operate on a timetable that suits their morning-loving proclivities and from the get-go we are forced to conform to the AM-people’s world, regardless of how well this is adapted to us unfairly persecuted night-persons. School, work, shop opening hours are all fixed in accordance with those pesky morning-persons who deiced that the day should generally start at 9am.

These morning persons cheerily start their days from 9am and by the time they reach mid-afternoon can start to doze off, confident that the best part of their day is already over. Us night-people, on the other hand are forced to garble through those horrible early hours, when all these important day-people’s meetings are taking place, and then by the time we are really raring to go, most early-risers have already mentally clocked off for the day.

I am all too enthusiastic when a weekend or public holiday approaches not for excitedly relishing a day of non-workingness but because I am pleased that I can stay up late completing whatever activity I’m trying to get done, without fear of being rudely awakened by a 7am alarm after not nearly enough hours of sleep. The early bird may catch the worm but the night owl catches the mouse.

Undeniably I am at my most productive between the hours of 10pm and 2am. During these four hours I am focused and can achieve so much more than I can during the entire 9-5 normal working period. It’s great to know at what time I will be at my most efficient. It is incredibly frustrating that my productive hours do not fit in with the morning-person shaped society I’m confined to live in.

The exception to the 9-5 schedulers, the lucky night people who escape such working sanctions are those that undertake shift work: the nurses, policemen, 24-hour opening grocery employees and so on. However night people shouldn’t be forced into certain careers because of their penchant for the hours of darkness.

Arguing that night people are catered for with employment opportunities because they can work in a limited number of professions is like saying women aren’t discriminated against because they can work as telephone operators or cleaners and they don’t need to take on any troublesome male dominated work such as managing banks or building bridges.

Even if those night-timers have happily chosen these professions that fit in with their ways they are still discriminated against by everything else being geared around morning-people’s schedules. If they have kids they need to get them to school at day time hours, if they need a dentist appointment they will have to schedule this for a time they should be sleeping. The whole system continues to be prejudiced against us creatures of the night, regardless of what time of day we work!

However, there is hope, a recent study concluded that students would learn better and employees would be more productive if the school and working day started an hour later. They are actually going to experiment in the near future on some sleepy students in Oxford to proved these theories night-timers have known as facts for many years. An extra hour in bed doesn’t go far enough but Rome wasn’t built in a day. This could be the start of a flexible working revolution that fits work to people and not the other way around.


 

*If you actually want to know where the phrase came from, this site seems fairly good: http://www.italiannotebook.com/local-interest/origin-rome-wasnt-built-in-a-day/ and in the 23.4 seconds it took me to find and peruse I can unequivocally and quite uncertainly say it looks fairly reliable so may or may not in fact be true.

Spamtastic? Get the spam out of here!

Standard

When I was younger Spam meant to me a disgusting processed meat product that came out of a tin and would occasionally, much to my disgust. find it’s way into our sandwiches. (Spam was clearly disgusting and a world apart from corned beef, which was a delicious processed meat product that come out of a tin and was best enjoyed with cheese in a toasted sandwich) Spam! It not only sounded like someone just threw it up but it was also very close to the commonly used, if wholly politically incorrect, insult kids would throw at each other on the playground (Spaz).

So spam never had great connotations and maybe that’s why the name applied to junk mail you used to get through your post but now more commonly and in greater quantities get through the inbox or in your blog comments.

When I first started blogging I didn’t get much spam and I would carefully sift through the comments WordPress decided were better off in Spam hoping to find some dedicated followers that inadvertently got rejected by the electronic bouncers of the blog platform entrance. Maybe I’d find some gems hidden in the junk.

I’m partly proud of the fact I now get more spam because I assume it means that my blog is featuring a bit more prominently on search engines or my readership now makes spammers think there may be some merit in targeting my blog or whatever. (If the actual reason is simply about getting their website links on as many sites as possible and has nothing to do with my slightly increasing blog popularity then please don’t ruin the illusion for me!)

Spam for me seems to fall into four categories: obvious junk, delusional confidence-boosters, soliciting advice and downright insulting.

Obvious junk

This is the easiest to deal with, it’s the spam that doesn’t really pretend to be anything other than what it is, pushing you to buy miracle cures from dodgy websites, etc. It might include long comments about weight loss miracles or a generic ‘site is good’ with a not overly well hidden link to a website selling dodgy weight loss miracle pills.

 Delusional confidence-boosters

These are the spam comments that are more craftily put together hoping you’ll accept the comment and publish the links hidden behind some ego stoking sentences about how marvelous your website is and how your blog definitely deserves global recognition. These, you might find yourself nodding along in agreement ‘why, yes, my blog is marvelous, how kind of you to notice’ before you realize that something is a little off.

It might be the link to the website selling the weight loss miracle pills or it might be the fact the comment is telling you how useful our advice was and how it’s saved their marriage and you realize the comment is attached to a post about your cat being chased by a dog and try as you might you can’t find any subconscious, reading-between-the-lines, advice you have inadvertently given anywhere that might help repair someone’s marriage.

Soliciting advice

The cleverer spam posts are ones that ask a plausible looking question to try to get you to respond, they might ask for your help with something or raise a technical question about the website. This taps into the psychology that if you want to get someone on side ask them a favour, this appeals to a person’s ego by acknowledging their expertise in something.

Whilst I find the uncovering of these ‘potential fan’ comments as ‘spam’ invariably disappointing, I can’t help but admire the tactics that have gone into these and I almost want to accept the comments in recognition of their attempts at clever game play.

Downright insulting

The final category of spam is undoubtedly the most insidious and most likely to work (on me anyway). It’s put together well, it includes references in the comment to the actual post and on first glance appears genuine. What really hooks you into these kind of posts, though, are the insults. Again, it’s clever psychology of combining compliments with comedowns to shake the insecurity of the author and elicit a desire to engage.

Here’s an example:

Everything published made a great deal of sense.
But, consider this, what if you composed a catchier plst title?
I am not saying your content isn’t solid, however suppose you added something that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean L’escalade part 2 | Fear of the reaper is
a little boring. You could glance at Yahoo’s front page and note how they creae post headlines to get viewers to click.
You might add a video or a pic or two to grab people interested about everything’ve written. In my
opinion, it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

It starts off well, first sentence is a solid ego boost (everything made sense) and then it comes with a confidence wobble (suggesting room for improvement), followed by a quick blow to the head (your title is boring), what looks like a hand being offered to pick you up (maybe look at Yahoo or try this) followed by a knockout punch (your post is currently boring).

I’m going to be honest this spam really bothers me. And even though I know it’s spam and not actually targeting me personally, most notably because I already have pictures and things on my website so the advice doesn’t match my content, nonetheless I can’t help but feel offended to be told my blog is boring and it puts me in defensive mode. I want to approve it so I can comment and point out the error of the spammers ways, but I know this would just be playing into their hands and giving their weblinks (yup those miracle weight loss pills again!) the prominence they are seeking.

Of course I’m secretly hoping this post will invite some dedicated spam comments telling me how great/boring I am and how this information is exactly the information they were looking for on this subject (albeit without enough pictures). I shall wrangle my hands in glee at the irony and do my level best not to engage with the spam further than that.

Dear 15 Year Old Me

Standard

As I happen to be in Johannesburg for South African Women’s Day I thought I’d post something in keeping with the day. So I’m posting today to raise awareness of a campaign a friend of mine has set up to combat depression amongst teenagers. Her idea is to invite no-longer teenagers to offer a bit of advice to their younger selves, so that teenagers of today can read through some of the issues the seemingly confident adults around them experienced at their age, and feel a little bit less alone.

This is not an exclusively women’s related problem but I think it’s appropriate for the day as I am a woman and I was a young female once upon a time. But I’d invite anyone who wants to take part to do so, you’ll find no gender discrimination here!

If like me you think this is a great idea and would like to get involved you can add your own advice to the Tumblr page http://selfesteemat15.tumblr.com/, where the words of advice to many a younger self are swelling the archives on a daily basis, or you could create your own blog entry and link to the twitter feed #SelfEsteemAt15‬. If you want to see what other people are posting follow @SelfEsteemAt15.

If you’d like to share your words of wisdom or a link to your entry here too, I’d love to know what 15 year old you and 15 year old me might have had in common.

Below is the advice I quickly scribbled out to younger me.

Dear 15 year old me

I will give you a quick piece of advice because I am currently taking a quick break from a job I am passionate about. So it is possible to make a difference in the world and to ‘be the change you want to see’, even if you currently have no clue what to do with yourself. I can’t remember who said that but even at 15 you had the internet so you can google it.

There are two pieces of advice I would like to give to you. Firstly, be true to what you know is right. Sometimes we all get led astray and it’s easier to join in with the crowd mocking others than to be the one who is mocked but you know this is wrong so if you aren’t yet brave enough to defend those lone rangers at least don’t add to their misery and maybe throw them a little bit of kindness now and again. It will help them and it will help you more than you can realise.

Secondly, don’t be afraid of failure. Yes you have always been pretty good with the smarts and I know you embarrass easily and are currently afraid to try new things, unless everyone else is already on board, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes they will work out amazingly well and you’ll wonder why you were so worried in the first place, sometimes you’ll fail a couple of times before you get it right and sometimes you’ll just fail. But there is nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I know that sometimes you will reach points when everything seems so terrible and you want to curl up into a ball and disappear, but trust me, these hurts and pains you experience they will heal and you will be a stronger person and know yourself better because of it. So don’t be so hard on yourself and when everything really seems so terrible then just trust me and just keep putting one foot in front of the other because these times will pass.

Oh and very quickly, as for what you look like, give yourself a break and stop comparing yourself to others, you are you and that’s damn awesome.

Love 30 year old me xxx

p.s. life doesn’t get boring as you grow up, I’m excited to meet 45 and 60 year old me, I think we are going to be great 😉

A cultural croissant crisis

Standard

For the last week or so I have been in southern Africa for work. Yes, my job is awesome but trust me this is no jolly trip to another continent. I am working, working and then working some more, evenings and weekends are not exempt. Add to this some very temperamental internet connections and there’s my excuse for not having posted for a couple of weeks (for those of you who noticed my absence and thought my standards slipping).

I was in Swaziland for the first four days and have been in Johannesburg, South Africa since then and I’m out here for just over two weeks in total. In case you think I am exaggerating about the amount of work, it is true, I did fib a bit because I did have Sunday afternoon off and a colleague took me to the zoo and then to the cinema where we saw Women in Gold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I picked the film on the basis that Meryl Streep was in it but other than that knew absolutely nothing about the film. Incidentally, it’s a very strange experience to sit down at the cinema with no idea what you are about to see. Anyway, it was about a famous Klimt painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, also known as the woman in gold but I’m giving the full title too for reasons that are obvious if you watch the film, and the restitution of art stolen by Nazis from Jewish families during the Second World War. Meryl didn’t let me down, it’s a very good film and I’m happy to recommend it to all of you.

Anyway, back to the point I’m trying to make, which is, obviously, about croissants. I am currently staying in a very nice hotel in Johannesburg and, as in all hotels, you can tell if it’s a decent choice because of the breakfast. Whenever I stay anywhere with breakfast included, particularly where there’s a buffet, I try to eat as much as possible to, one, get my money’s worth and, two, potentially avoid the need for lunch enabling extra dosh for dinner time.

The buffet at the Capital Moloko is excellent and I have been approaching it in the strategic way that I approach all buffets. For starters I’ll go for a bowl of muesli, yoghurt and fresh fruit salad with pumpkin seeds scattered on top. Round two and I’m digging into the cooked breakfast items, particularly relishing the bacon which Switzerland deprives me of. Finally, I will conclude with some toast and jam, perhaps a Danish or both. Yes, I do have a three course breakfast and yes, I am aware that I am probably eating my entire daily recommended allowance of calories in one go but I’ve already explained my reasoning.

Yesterday, on my final round of breakfast I selected a lovely fresh looking croissant. I then spied a collection of breakfast accompaniments in little white dishes. One of these was obviously peanut butter, the other was something dark and red I didn’t recognize and the third was a dark brown syrupy liquid that my immersion in Swiss culture taught me must be chocolate.

I had a lightbulb moment and thought I could upgrade my normal croissant to a chocolate supreme version by thickly drizzling, but artistically you understand, the sticky brown liquid all over my croissant. I felt so smug that I’d combined the two in this genius manner and even caught a couple of my fellow diners giving me what I could only assume to be envious glances. I took my croissant creation back to my desk, sat down to bite into this sweet breakfast delight only to discover that the ‘chocolate’ was in fact marmite.

Now don’t get me wrong I like marmite but I also like it thinly spread over buttery toast not dripping in thick clumps off a croissant. Perhaps with full appreciation of what I was eating a croissant and marmite could be a nice savoury option on this French breakfast treat but I cannot begin to explain the shock as I chomped into the pastry expecting a sugary sensation only to be hit by the bitter saltiness of marmite. I understood my fellow diners glances had not been envy so much as incredulity.

I never would have imagined that marmite might actually be popular in some places outside of the UK, so much so that it is easily offered without labeling as though all diners will automatically know exactly what it is. Should I be ashamed that as a British person I didn’t automatically recognise marmite? Has my time in Geneva turned me into a real European?

From running with butterflies to hobbling with bluebottles

Standard

I signed up for a half marathon this September and I’m keen to complete the distance within the allocated, and quite limited for a beginner, running time. I know half a marathon is a long way and this isn’t something that I can optimistically train for a week or two in advance, so I found a training schedule online and have been determinedly sticking to this.

I’ve been in and around the UK of late, back for a wedding and sticking around for some parental performances (one play and one choral production). However, being away for a prolonged period presented me with two options, either I temporarily suspend training activities or I adapt to my UK environment, bring my running gear with me and find some new running locations.

I chose the latter option and have been experimenting with where to go for my runs. Each week my schedule has me undertake two shorter and one longer run, that gradually increases my distance on a weekly basis. The idea being that by the time I get to half marathon day the idea of 20+km doesn’t induce a heart attack before I even cross the starting line.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of the UK heatwave I started out on my long run of the week. The first few km, were pretty challenging, more so than usual but I think this is partly a psychological thing as I fear that running a further distance each week will be beyond my capabilities. Anyway, after 20 minutes or so I settled into a happy pace.

Past the half way mark, emerging from shaded woodlands in the early morning sunshine, I found myself running along the edge of a field, trying to navigate a way back into the less heat-oppressive woods, when I became conscious of a number of butterflies. At first there were just one or two that seemed to be fluttering along in my direction and then there must have been twenty, flitttering about my head and engulfing me in my own personal cloud of winged supporters. This happened as the wonderfully catchy Andrews Sisters rendition of ‘I don’t want him, you can have him, he’s too fat for me’ came on through the headphones.

I am not sure if it was too much sun to the brain, the ridiculous song, or some sort of butterfly induced hallucination but I started to laugh out loud in what I can only explain as a moment of pure euphoria. It felt as though everything in my life at that very moment, had come together in one wonderful joyous union.

It was just as well I wasn’t running along the main roads and wasn’t currently in sight of any dog walkers as I must have looked like an absolute maniac, padding along with a swarm of butterflies, a huge grin on my face and some very loud outburst of laughter. Had I seen me, I think I’d have nervously hid in the undergrowth until the guffawing lunatic passed on their way, and then quietly called the relevant authorities to resolve the situation.

Last week I prepared for my long run again and as I was staying in a different part of the UK, chose a different route. Even at 9am it was roasting and regretablly the route I had chosen offered almost nothing in the way of relief from the sun and, although it was a designated walking path through the countryside, mostly it was running in a straight surrounded by similar looking hedges so the route was pretty dull.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 14.42.39After my first 2km the running app suddenly got confused and decided to add an extra 12 minutes to the next km and promptly threw my average running time off kilter so I no longer had any idea if I was maintaining pace, speeding up or slowing down. The blisters that had gradually been getting worse since I started longer distance runs (with some fairly old trainers) held their designated plasters in place for the first 6k before promptly giving up, wandering down my socks and agonisingly exposing already damaged skin to the hard impact of running. I hobbled on for a bit longer, suddenly found a lot of flies chasing me and some bastard insect bit me. I decided enough was enough and cut my losses for the day.

As I had been running a straight route, planning to double back and run the remainder of the course at half way point, when I decided to give up was a good 6km from where I started. I limped back for a couple of kilometers until I reached a point where I could get my mum to rescue me in the car. This was my worst run since I started training.

But running is like that, sometime it is wonderful and you can fill full of ecstatic joy as your legs pump along the countryside swirling up endorphins and beautiful swathes of butterflies and then other days it just seems that everything, yourself included, works against you and you cannot emerge from the funk of a depressing and painful run.

The good thing about having committed to the half marathon though is that although I have leave to allow myself a week to recover and heal those blisters I cannot indulge in the temptation of giving up completely and will have to relace my new (and therefore obvioulsy blister resistant) trainers and hit the trails again soon. Hopefully the next run will be an endorphin blasting confidence booster that convinces me there’s nothing I want to do more than just keep going and if not I’ll have to just glue myself to my run schedule until I can convince myself I enjoy this exercise malarky again!