Monthly Archives: April 2013

Feminism and Running

I never thought I’d be writing that title on my running blog. I never even considered that running and feminism were issues that would cross each other, although I guess when you read about women’s fight to be included in marathon racing and the IAAF trying to over turn Paula Radcliffe’s world record, I suppose feminism and issues of equality do come into the sport more often than it ought to. I always feel that where feminism and sociology are concerned I’m a bit naive and a bit thick. But I feel I’m intelligent enough to know when something or someone is being derogatory to women or not.

Yesterday Runner’s World sent a tweet asking their female followers a question:

‘Question for lady runners: has PMS ever struck before a long training run or big race? How did you cope with cramps on the go?’

The few replies they received answered honestly as to how they dealt with it: pain killers, gritted teeth, will power. However there was a tweeter who objected. They suggested that they might unfollow Runner’s World on feminist grounds. Or suggested that she just ran whatever hormonal state she was in. They felt there should be no genderisms in running. I tweeted with this fellow runner that I disagreed and we exchanged a couple of polite tweets  and that was that. But I just wanted to expand on this to explain, in my own opinion, why I don’t think Runner’s World were being ‘unfeminist’.

Firstly, Pre Menstrual Syndrome is a very real syndrome. As a teenager I suffered and it could affect my running. My cramps used to get so bad that on occasion I would pass out from the pain. If I’m honest I always struggle running at ‘the time of the month’. I feel more lethargic, my immune system suffers and I have back pain. So I believe Runner’s World were genuinely asking followers how they deal with these symptoms. Symptoms that are as real as those of IBS, ITBS, PF, CLBP or any other abbreviated condition. They did not mention ‘hormones’ anywhere in the tweet.

Secondly we cannot deny biology. If the tweet had been asking female runner’s how they cope with running while pregnant would the tweet have caused the same reaction from this person? Probably not. The fact is women have a menstrual cycle, men don’t. Women have a womb and ovaries, men don’t. Runner’s World were addressing an issue that affects 50% of the population. For me, to do that rather than leave it solely to publications directed at women means that they are being inclusive of their female readership.

Thirdly I feel that Runner’s World did the right thing asking their female readers. If they’re doing a feature then why not ask their female readers? I would find it more patriarchal if they asked a male doctor what women should do to cope with PMS coming into a race. PMS affects all women differently and as we’ve already established, males don’t have the kit that we do in there, so how can a man have the experience to tell us how us women should manage it. Instead Runner’s World have taken a ‘Twitter focus group’ approach to ask the women who are affected by this how they manage the variety of symptoms it causes (however saying that I was put on iron by a male doctor to manage the anaemia caused by heavy bleeding so I guess my last point doesn’t really stand up there. Bugger).

In a nutshell what I’m trying to get at is that I didn’t agree with the other person. I didn’t see what was unfeminist about the question. Surely to ignore a fact of biology that affects half their readers would be unequal and less feminist. I assume they were working on a feature triggered by inquiries from their female readers. They may be acknowledging that running is becoming increasingly popular among women and are finding ways to connect with them. Maybe it’ll give some insight to men who are eager to blame ‘er bloody hormones’ rather than understand that what some women experience at that time can be as debilitating as a pulled hamstring. Or maybe I just don’t understand feminism and what it is at all. I better go and burn my sports bra.

P.S For the record I find this offensive to my feminist leanings. This picture appeared on the page of a company I follow asking followers on FB to ‘tag’ female friends that they felt the picture applied to. This gave me rage. Or am I being unreasonable? I haven’t included the whole image or the name of the company. I’ve cropped that lower part out because I really don’t get why seeing a women’s buttocks are relevant to women’s sport or fitness. Rather than a ‘what can she achieve’ she is reduced to ‘wow look at her butt’. Am I being a fuddy duddy killjoy?

heavy rep gear

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Reliving Olympic Fever At The London Anniversary Games

I am stunned. Some how I have managed to buy tickets for the Sainsbury’s London Anniversary Games in July. I am even more thrilled that I was able to buy enough tickets for the whole family to go. I can’t wait to take the boys to the Olympic Stadium. No doubt we’ll be up in the rafters but I’m guessing the boys will love that even more. Usain Bolt will be the size of an ant but we will be there to see some breath taking elite athletics. I only wish it had been this easy to buy Olympic tickets!

We are attending the Friday evening session. Events on the schedule include the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, discus and high jump. For the women it’s the 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 400m hurdles, pole vault and triple jump. I am itching with excitement as I think of the athletes who will be on the start lists for these events. A fantastic opportunity to see Olympic champions and competitors back in London.

Right now I keep looking back at the confirmation email because I’m convinced it’s a trick. When I told my husband that four of us would be going for under £75 he was astounded. Apparently that’s cheaper than a ticket for the Six Nations at the Millenium Stadium these days!

P1000572I think I might do a little kitchen disco to celebrate my tickets and a return to running and training this week. My body is still aching and sore from my Monday session of shoulder to overheads, front squats and squats and step ups with a 10kg weight. However I’ve managed to do two runs this week with no heel or achilles pain. I’ve kept it short and sweet to avoid ‘poking the bear’ too much. So let’s have a little bounce around the kitchen to this. If I carried an iPod while I went running I’d be tempted to add this to the playlist. Plus I think the video is a bit unusual as music videos go.

 

 

 

 

Twatchops AKA: my GPS watch

I hate my GPS watch right now. After many months of injury I am actively avoiding it. I hardly ever charge it up anymore. The watch is feeling neglected too. It’s sat in the hallway, unused and rejected by it’s owner. It’s been sat there so long that it’s reset itself to January 2007 in some kind of attention seeking blip, begging for a software update. Well right now it’s not getting one.

Ok, I’ve told an untruth. I have used it recently. I used it for a 4 mile run just after I started running again. I’m still none the wiser as to why I set it to track my run and my pace. I kept looking at it and was continually depressed by the fact I was running slower than my marathon pace. Every time I looked down at it I felt like I was having my nose rubbed in how slow I was. My watch was taunting me, ‘Look at you, you’re pathetic. Why are you even bothering? Just walk, it’s all you’re good for!’

When I finished the run, which felt dreadful anyway, it just stopped. No ‘well done’ or ‘you smashed it’ message on the screen like it used to. It was a run where the least said the better. I left the watch on the side and walked away, not even flinching when my son took it to pretend it was a Ben 10 Omnitrix.

So my watch and I haven’t spent a lot of time together since then. I feel that I’m enjoying my running more without it. No pressure, no furtive looks to see how fast I’m going and no feelings of failure at the end of the run however or whatever I’m feeling.

Technology and running can be a blessing but occasionally it can become a bit of a curse. We can become so dependent on it that we forget to run for the love of running and instead have our run dictated to us. This is fine if we are doing tempo runs or have a specific training goal but this isn’t me right now. I need to learn to run and enjoy training again. I’m still building back up to regular running which after 6 months of injury I’m finding tough, mentally and physically. So until I get my fitness back up the GPS is staying at home where it can’t mess with my head and we won’t fall out.

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(Twatchops is an anagram for Stopwatch)

Thinking of Boston

I came in bouncing last night from my first gym class in 6 months. I was buzzing and as I skipped in the door into our living room I realised my husband had the news on. I immediately thought this odd as he never watches the news. And then I saw the word Boston and thought ‘but the marathon was in Boston today’…and then I took in the scenes on my screen not really believing what I was seeing. I felt sick. I felt shock. A terrorist attack at a marathon event had never even crossed my mind before but the horrible truth is that something I thought unthinkable has happened. 3 people dead and many many others injured. It beggars belief.

As I watched I felt upset for running and for athletics. I started to feel tearful because in a weird way I felt like someone had attacked my friends, my community. When tell people about my marathon experience last year always describe how overwhelmed I had been by the kindness of other runners and the positivity and support of the spectators, young and old. I tell people how a marathon event brings out the best in everyone involved. For the individuals running it brings out their tenacity, their drive to better themselves, to make their loved ones proud of them. For the spectators it brings out the urge to see people do well, to shout for those nailing it but to save your biggest cheers and words of support for the runners who are struggling. In short a marathon day brings out the best attributes of human beings, runners and spectators alike.

I started asking myself why sport? Who there had hurt anyone enough to fuel this hatred? The majority of runners would have been selflessly raising money for charity. They were running in their own small way to make the world a better place and to ease the suffering of others. They were trying to make a difference. The people watching them would have been supporting them in this endeavour  But then I remembered that history has shown us that sport has never been immune and I wondered if the reason Boston was attacked was because the perpetrators have never experienced the joy, elation and community spirit that unfolds at a sport event. They wanted to disrupt that, to jolt faith in these big sporting events, our feelings of safety and to fracture a community being united. We cannot let that happen. Marathons need to continue. People need to keep running and supporters need to keep lining the roads to cheer those people on.

Over here in the UK I feel futile but I am thinking of all the people involved yesterday. I also think of the people involved in bomb blasts in Iraq yesterday. Yesterday felt pretty senseless and as yet I don’t know how it can be made better. My sport was attacked by evil and it really hurts but we can’t let this stop us. We can’t and we won’t let it stop us running.

Running and A Massive Rambling Rant.

There were two pieces doing the rounds recently regarding marathon running and the detrimental effects that charity running have had for ‘serious’ runners. These pieces were written in relation to the larger races such as the London Marathon which is just around the corner. What frustrated me as someone who has been around athletics and running since the age of eleven was the cynicism and the ‘serious runners vs recreational runner’ implication of the articles.

Big commercial races no doubt become victims of their own success. They become gigantic beasts which in the end become money making machines. Who knows whether Hugh Brasher and John Disley envisaged that thousands of people would clamour to enter this race each year. Today it is on the World Marathon Majors list and a bucket list race for many people. Along the way though it became about the money. And I’m afraid it’s this that has lead to so many places being given to charity. The London Marathon charges thousands per guaranteed charity place. Subsequently the charities have to claw that money back somehow. They therefore have to ask their charity runners to raise unbelievable amounts of money to justify their place. It is not unusual for a charity to ask someone to raise in excess of £1500 but I really think it is unfair to blame charities or indeed charity runners for the fact that you can’t run the London Marathon.

As someone who has applied to the ballot many times and never been successful I understand the frustration of not getting in. But when you think that they take 180,000 names into the ballot it’s hardly surprising. So I ask you, why does it have to be the London Marathon? 26.2 miles in Tewkesbury is the same achievement as running 26.2 in a famous race. In 2012 I wanted to run a marathon. I didn’t get in through the ballot for London so I entered Edinburgh. A lower profile race, in a great city location, with great organisation. It was still measured as 26.2 and it still counted even though it wasn’t London. I got a phallus shaped medal and shared chips with an elderly German runner. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I did happen to raise a small amount of money for Macmillan along the way, and do you know what it felt good. I had set myself a running goal and I achieved it without being swayed by more commercial races.

So I ran a marathon and yet I’m still cross. Well as Uncle Bryn in Gavin and Stacey says ‘I’ll tell you for why’. There has been a change in running since I started all those years ago *cough 22 years cough*. People don’t use athletics clubs any more. They don’t use running groups. However running has become uber popular and has become really trendy and cool. But instead of joining clubs or supporting the sport, people are signing up to races run by huge brands owned by multi-national companies who offer great goody bags and a catalogue with their latest gear. All of a sudden people believe that this is the only way to run or race and it breaks my heart for the sport I love. The way running has gone lately has made me cynical about it. People shout about what was in the goody bag and I feel for the folks who organise the smaller races who can’t offer medals or t-shirts, just the thrill of having run a PB or completing a race for the first time. Running clubs that aren’t lucky enough to have an attachment to a sports brand are suffering and I really do think it will be do the detriment of the sport and the Olympic Legacy.

Over the weekend I learnt that Belgrave Harriers, at one time one of the most successful clubs in the UK, the home club of Dwain Chambers, are stepping down from the British League. The man who is resigning as team manager stated that the sport isn’t seeing any of the Olympic Legacy and that they are not seeing the elite athletes coming through like they used to. Elite athletes can help prop up athletics clubs. As does organising your own races. Many clubs run their own races for a pittance of an entry fee compared with large races. These clubs do this because they are passionate about the sport, wish to support it’s existence and the access to tracks that we take for granted and hope to provide a place for the next generation of athletes. But people prefer the big races and the kudos that apparently goes with the big name, commercial races and I feel as a result the athletics and running scene at club level will suffer.

So runners what are you going to do? You want to run a 10k/half marathon/marathon. You can’t get into the big fancy, glow stick race you want to do. You may as well not bother ‘eh because they’re the only races worth doing right? Wrong. On the weekend West 4 Harriers ran a Thames Towpath 10. Ealing Eagles are running a 10k for the paltry price of £12 (compare that to the £50 that is asked of entrants to one of the larger 10k races). Turn to the back of Runner’s World and you will find a plethora of races that have plenty of places available for runners. Join a club and get the low down on races that you would otherwise be unaware of. If you have the means set up your own local race and be a bigger part of the running community. Because if you really want to run that race, that distance, smash that goal you will. You won’t just wait around for the one race that all us runners have been brainwashed into thinking is the only one worth doing. If we don’t start supporting our sport rather than blindly paying money and expecting the earth in a goody bag there won’t be a legacy left at all.

Hills: Get Over ‘Em.

Hills are a nemesis for many. It can be the undoing of so many runners and you can learn to fear them and seek to avoid them. The thing is that the only way to get better at hills is to train on them and run them regularly. After a while hills become no big deal. Yes, they are tough but I think I’ve learnt that the key is to show the hill no fear. Once you show the hill the slightest bit of weakness it will consume you and spit you out crying at the top.

Living in South Wales means that I can’t run very far without finding a hill in my run. They can vary from the obvious steep inclines that feel like you’re walking up a mountain or they can be creepers, the sort that gradually increase their incline without you really realising. Or they can be crafty hills, where you think you’ve reached the top and you’re on the flat and yet you turn a corner to discover you’re still going up.

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We are all bound to have a particular hill that we have on our regular routes that challenges us. You’ve just got to reconcile that as a runner you’ve got to deal with them. The more hills you learn to conquer the better and fitter you become. And then when you come to a race that has a hill you can be like ‘A hill? You call that a hill? That is a mere bump in the road. I laugh at your ‘hill’.  Or you can just run up it without stopping and keep going when you get to the top.

I came across this tee by Thoosa that sums up how I feel about hills. Get up ’em and Get over it!

Idiots In Cars

When I was a teenager my coach used to give us training programmes for sessions we should do when we weren’t under his watchful eye at the track. This would usually involve a run of some kind which I’d undertake along the roads near my house. Back then my mum would insist on sending my brother out on his bike to ‘keep me company’. I would agree grudgingly but looking back it was her way of feeling her 14 year old daughter was safe.

Fast forward to today and I am nearing my 33rd birthday. I am a grown woman. I am confident and I am fairly sensible. If I go running then I stick to my familiar routes and tell my husband where I’m going. This however does not make me immune to what has become a regular occurrence during my runs. Young men, in groups, in cars, shouting abuse and obscenities at me while I’m running.

Last week it happened to me twice during one run, in broad daylight, and for some reason this time I couldn’t ignore it. I was angry and fed up. One of the groups had shouted so loudly at me that I had jumped in fright. The second car yelled something disgusting at me and I’m afraid I yelled something back about them being a Considerate Understanding Nice Type. I came back and I unleashed my bad temper on Twitter, which was probably a bit pointless and my swearing probably upset people but I was upset. Really upset.

I’ve been shouted at and catcalled during runs before and I haven’t let it bother me so why did it get to me this time? Probably because these boys (and that’s what they are) think it’s acceptable to shout at a lone woman out running, something that can make you feel vulnerable at times. Maybe it’s because I’m fed up with the attitudes to women and those who think it’s ok to treat women like this. And yes I am a feminist. Maybe I don’t think of it as flattering because I don’t run to satisfy the urges of pathetic idiots. Maybe I worry about the teenage girls I have seen out running who may be intimidated by these men and might stop training.

We shouldn’t ignore it. We shouldn’t put up with it. I shouldn’t have to find people to go running with so that I’m safe. They don’t shout at men who are running. Why should it be different for me? Why should I change my behaviour when it is they that are in the wrong?

For some reason a woman trying to better herself seems to bring out the insecurities of these clowns and they feel the need to take them out on female runners. Next time I’m shouted at, if I can, I will take the number plates of the cars transporting these idiots and I will be reporting them to the police. It is sexual harassment and it is unacceptable. Ladies if you are intimidated by men in cars while running then I suggest you should do the same.