Tag Archives: marathon running

Some Perspective Please!

The internet and social media loves a bit of hysteria and exercise and fitness are no exceptions to this. Recently there were a few articles posted online which related to CrossFit and a condition called Rhabdomylosis (for more information read more here). First there was this article in the Huffington Post referring to Rhabdomylosis as ‘CrossFit’s dirty little secret’. This was then followed by a few other articles screeching the same thing: CrossFit might kill you via Rhabdomylosis!

Then of course there were the pro-CrossFit articles which accused people who didn’t do CrossFit of being jealous and blamed the participants of CrossFit who have suffered from this life threatening condition for their own demise. Not brilliantly helpful but I understand why people want to defend what they enjoy.

So these were the two sides of the coin. Neither particularly constructive and both with the potential to put people off from ever trying CrossFit or maybe any other form of exercise. Yey, well done everyone for giving people yet ANOTHER reason not to get moving.

Now I come at this from a completely different perspective. I am a runner first and foremost. I do CrossFit and I enjoy it but running has and always will be my first love. But I would like to go through some things that might help us get a bit of perspective on a rare condition, exercise and illness in general.

All you have to do to find out a bit about Rhabdomylosis, specifically exertional Rhabdomylosis is to chuck a search into Google Scholar. Participants in many of the studies that come up are military recruits, ultra runners, marathon runners (dammit) and, umm, horses. Plus a case study about a hockey player who played a tournament, became ill, was rushed to hospital and discovered to have Rhabdomylosis.

This very quick search tells me it is not a condition that is limited to those who do CrossFit. Further reading showed that some individuals have an unfortunate genetic predisposition to develop Rhabdomylosis which they would have had no idea about before exercising (this was found to be the case in the hockey player case study). Plus people on prescribed statins are at risk and those with underlying thyroid conditions (which they may not know about). The Huff Post article quotes a US study as giving a 0.06% incidence of Rhabdomylosis for the US population but I couldn’t find figures for the UK population. So all in all I’m not overly worried about Rhabdomylosis and CrossFit. A couple of case reports do not make an epidemic.

Moving on I wanted to address the pro-CrossFit posts which blame individuals for ‘bringing it on themselves and not taking responsibility’. Well I would just like to ask: do people who get a knee injury playing football bring it on themselves? Do marathon runners bring it on themselves when they collapse from a heart condition they didn’t know they had? Do horse riders bring it on themselves when they fall from a horse? Did the hockey player deserve what he got for trying to do his best for his team? I just don’t get this argument and I really think it is counter-productive. As mentioned above, people may have a predisposition to Rhabdomylosis (I hate typing that word). They might be in an ‘at risk’ group that they have no idea they are in. So a little bit more empathy please for people who do happen to develop this condition.

I get that not everyone likes the same kind of exercise. CrossFit is still relatively new and people are probably still trying to get used to it being around. Plus people tend to be ignorant of things they don’t know or don’t understand. I could argue that running has been around since the dawn of time, no doubt one of the oldest forms of exercise going, yet people still hate it and ask me why on earth I want to do it. But as long as I enjoy it and do my best to maintain my health and wellbeing, who cares? A small study of runners who completed a marathon in Taiwan found that everyone who finished had sustained some damage to their hearts. Would this stop me from running? Never. Life is too short to freak out about something that may or may not happen.

So pro and anti CrossFitters. Consider your heads well and truly knocked together. The articles from both sides are completely unhelpful and bordering on hysterical. There is no clear research to say CrossFitters are more at risk than those who take on 100 mile Ultra runs. There is probably more research out there about why running is harmful (la, la, la, la I’m not listening) but the research on obesity, heart conditions and diabetes, all consequences of not exercising or being active, concerns me more. Take a step back and gain some perspective and help people to fall in love with moving and being healthy.

Run With An Idea: What’s so special about running a marathon?

This week’s Run With An Idea topic is about the big 26.2: What’s so special about running a marathon?

I have only done one marathon and that was Edinburgh in 2012. For me it was a fantastic experience with highs and lows but something I am so proud I did. So I thought I’d draw on my one and only marathon experience to convince you why it is something so special.

You learn about yourself.

By this I mean that you discover elements of your character that you never knew you had. You experience overwhelming lows where you feel like giving up. I felt very much like this after an awful 18 mile training run which left me delirious and feeling like all hope was lost thinking about trying to run another 8.2 miles. You are forced to face the very worst, negative emotions you feel about yourself, running or about the task you have taken on. But in confronting these demons you also learn how to draw on the best of yourself and your inner strength. When you realise you do have that inner strength it can be an empowering light bulb moment.

The overwhelming support of family and friends.

When you tell people you are running a marathon (and after you inform them that it is in fact 26.2 miles, not 18) there is a look of awe that appears on their faces. Followed by ‘you’re amazing’ and ‘I could never do that’ and many other compliments. Yes there will be the odd person who will try and pull you down a bit or tell you you’re mad but it’s the people who matter that really help to get you through.

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Good luck hugs!

There are offers of help to raise money for your charity. There are also occasional offers from neighbours or friends to accompany you for a short distance during a long run. Embrace all offers of help. Training for a marathon can feel like such a selfish act at times. Accepting the support your loved ones offer you can make it feel like more of a team effort. They cheer you on and pick you up during training and will be there with banners and hugs at the end of the race. The one’s who love you want you to succeed!

A marathon event brings out the best in people.

I am aware that this line comes across as gushing and I probably wouldn’t have believed it myself until I ran the Edinburgh Marathon. Supporters came out of their houses along the route to watch complete strangers run 26.2 miles. One brought out their stereo to play Chariots of Fire as we ran by. People cheered for you if they saw the name on your vest. Families at many houses were handing out cups of water and jelly babies. Kids brought out their super soakers and water pistols to cool us down and other households brought out their hoses on what was an incredibly hot day in Scotland. They didn’t have to do any of this. They could have grumbled about the marathon being on but they didn’t. They joined in, became part of it and helped the runners. Marathon brings out the community spirit. I think you only have to look at the reaction of people after the Boston Marathon bombing to realise that.

It’s liberating

‘It’s amazing what you can do when you accept the high chance of failure and do it anyway.’

Laura from Lazy Girl Running tweeted this in reply to me after her Half Ironman (gulp) but I think it’s something that can easily be applied to running a marathon.

Once you’ve decided to enter one you have to face it head on, there is no turning back. And once the elation of crossing that finish line has passed it may occur to you (it did for me) that the body and mind are amazing things and that if you are capable of running 26.2 miles what else could you do? I found this liberating. I was liberated from the fear of it, other people’s attitudes towards it and that high chance of failure. That for me was a true epiphany that I got from running a marathon and it made me realise that other things were possible.

So that is why I found running a marathon special, a very individual approach to this debate but I don’t think you can deny that running a marathon is a pretty amazing thing.

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Yey for Edinburgh and pink bubbles and marathon running!

One Year Ago: A Running Recap of the Edinburgh Marathon 2012

I can’t quite believe that this picture was taken one year ago this weekend. This weekend sees the festival of running in Edinburgh and last year I took part in the Edinburgh Marathon as my first attempt at the distance. When I look back at everything that happened  to my family last year and the things that I had taken on alongside training for the marathon I do feel a sense of pride in myself that I got to the start line and that I completed it.

After training for nearly 6 months in the cold and dark I don’t think anyone could have predicted the scorching heat that welcomed us in Scotland. I had picked Edinburgh as I thought there would be a chance of drizzle and that the temperature would have been comfortably cool. Well the Running Gods were clearly having the last laugh that day as Edinburgh turned out to be the hottest place in the country at a balmy 30 degrees. The sun bounced off the tarmac everywhere, blinding you as you walked round the city. I therefore decided that I MUST have sunglasses. Cue my husband and I walking around Edinburgh for most of the day before the marathon looking for some. Not good marathon prep!

The evening before the marathon we ate at a beautiful Italian restaurant. It was no real surprise that it was full of runners and the lady serving us said they had been really busy. Back in the hotel I made my pre race preparations: painting nails, defuzzing, arguing with myself over which shorts to wear, ironing on my name letters. I remember the Eurovision song contest being on and drifting off with Graham Norton’s commentary in the background.

I woke fairly early, probably way before 6am on the morning of the marathon and headed over to Cafe Rouge where the hotel breakfast was served. The options were really limited. There was porridge but I’d stopped eating porridge before running as it messed with my stomach. I asked for toast. The waiter looked at me with concern and made sure I was certain that was all I wanted. It was, I felt sick to the stomach with nerves and the thought of putting anything in my mouth to eat made he physically heave. The waiter must have taken pity on me though because along with toast he brought out a basket of pastries which I did nibble on under the watchful eye of my husband. I recall two women in running gear coming in and both asking for Full Breakfasts and I remember thinking how on earth can anyone eat a plate of fatty food before they run?

After breakfast and a final check in the hotel that I had everything, we walked down to the start line at the end of Princes Street. The sun was already high in the sky and you could tell it was going to be a scorcher. I checked Twitter and Liz Yelling had tweeted good luck to Edinburgh Marathon runners with words of caution which were along the lines of: it’s hot, don’t go for PB’s, in this heat run to perceived comfort. Perceived comfort, perceived comfort. These words from a marathon expert, an international athlete, lodged themselves into my brain. I think it was the best advice I ever had.

Running the marathon in that heat last year was brutal but I did as Liz Yelling said. I found a pace that felt comfortable in the heat and one that I could maintain. Before long you could tell the people that had started off maybe too quickly and had started to walk. By mile 16 the number of people walking had increased further but with no real tree cover we continued to be exposed to the beaming sun. The organisers of the marathon brought out extra water supplies but I think my favourite part of running for me had to be the people of Edinburgh and Musselburgh. They brought out their hoses and sprinklers. They handed out cups of water and jelly beans. Little kids sprayed us with super soakers (though I’m sure that was also for their own entertainment). People were generous and supportive and yet again a marathon brought out the best in both runners and supporters.

Running through the grounds of Musselburgh House at around 19 miles it got tough for me. The heat was taking it’s toll and I really had to dig deep mentally to keep my legs moving. It hadn’t helped that I had accepted a gel from a volunteer. Yes, rookie error. I learnt from my mistake the hard way by taking a gel that I was unfamiliar with. It had caffeine in it, something that I hadn’t tried during runs, and I had a massive head rush and felt dizzy and sick. Once I realised what the problem was I drank plenty of water to try and flush it through a bit. Gradually I felt a bit better and carried on with the ‘digging deep’ efforts.

By about 21 miles the course was not a pretty sight. We were starting to see more supporters again but this didn’t stop many runners dashing off to the side to vomit as the heat really started to effect people. Seeing vomit usually makes me want to vomit so I had to put my head down and blinker myself to the vomit fest around me.

The benefit of having my name on my vest soon occurred to me as I realised that the Kat everyone was shouting for was me. My whole body was screaming at me to stop but instead I decided to take the Madagascar penguin approach ‘Smile and Wave Kat, Smile and Wave’. Someone shouted that I was looking fresh. I wanted to stop and say ‘seriously, you think that helps? I don’t feel fresh, I’ve run 23 frigging miles’. It was weird little conversations with myself like this that helped to distract me from how far to go. But then something amazing seemed to happen. 23 turned to 24 and 24 turned into 25 and then 26 and a grin erupted on my face as I realised I was turning a corner into Musselburgh Primary School. And there was the finish line.

I shouted and yelped and screamed as I crossed the line and the volunteer in front of me asked me if I was ok. Seriously? I wanted a high five and a bear hug from someone, not a concerned look! It took me a few minutes to find my husband but it felt like 10 or even 15 minutes as I tried to keep moving my aching legs to find him. Then it was a quick stop in the Macmillan tent with the fantastic Physiotherapy Student volunteers and the best cup of tea I’ve had since the one I had after giving birth for the first time (I’m not joking, if you have a baby or run a marathon, those cups of tea are the best).

A hot sweaty bus ride then had to happen (boo) where husband presented me with this:

20120527_150213 (1)And then when we jumped off the bus at the end of Princes Street my husband dragged me into the first pub we saw by the theatre where this happened, plus some chips and a chat with a German man in is seventies who had also run some marathon. I shared my chips with him, seemed only right.

After the marathon I had some time off and I had a plan in my head about what I wanted to do in running. I had set myself some goals but as with life and sometimes our races, things don’t always go the way you want them to. A stressful year, illness and injury were the prevailing themes for the rest of the year so I still can’t quite believe I managed to train for that marathon and run it in that time on my first attempt (3.39 baby). Writing this has made me wonder if I will run another marathon. I hope I do because it seems a bit cheeky to refer to myself as a Marathoner when I’ve only done it the one time.

Good luck to everyone running in Edinburgh this weekend. It is my favourite city in the UK and it is a fantastic place to run a marathon. I also highly recommend getting everyone to give you a pre marathon bear hug to fill you with positive, good luck vibes. Enjoy it, embrace the atmosphere and smile!!

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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.