The Incredible Shrinking Woman

Days 624 to 646 – Seeking Inspiration 28 October 2009

OK, here comes another distance running cliche for you.  It’s a lonely old business, isn’t it?  Just you, your thoughts and the plod-plod-plod-plod of your feet hitting the ground.

Clearly there’s good and bad in that.  It’s a great opportunity to lose yourself for a while (as a friend eloquently puts it: ‘when I run I disappear’), empty your head and pound away the stresses of the day.  Brilliant.  I prefer not to run in total silence (mainly because I find the sound of my own breathing very distracting!) and am glued to my trusty iPod, but even with background music I still manage to drift away to other places.

The bad side of it is the fact that you are the only person that can motivate yourself.  You get yourself out of bed (you’re not letting a team down if you don’t show up), you choose your route, you damn well get on with it.  And, as distances increase, you’re often getting on with it while friends and family and loved ones are doing exciting things that you’d otherwise be a part of too.  It’s a bit alienating, not to mention socially disruptive.  I have considered finding a running partner to ensure that I stick to my routine, but the absolute truth is that I don’t think I could bear to have to make breathless chit-chat for mile after mile.

So, given that I’m stuck between loving the solitude and yet needing external encouragement, I’m taking some steps to motivate myself over the next six months (oh my god that makes it sound so close!).  Firstly, I’m off to New York to watch the marathon this Sunday.  I think there will be nothing more inspiring than installing myself in Central Park to watch those brilliant people racing towards the finish line.  Then, back in London and reality, I’m going to seek out some running events to complement my training schedule.  There’s a tendency to think ‘oh, I’m doing the Big One in April, so there’s no need’, but the sense of solidarity and enthusiasm that comes from other runners is damn motivating.  It’s a bit like when you’re running along an empty road and suddenly another runner passes you … it really lifts your spirits and makes you feel part of ‘the club’.

Weight-wise, I’m edging in the wrong direction again.  I did anticipate this, as I’ve had an October full of wining, dining and important social events.  This means that I’m going to behave myself in November, otherwise it’s just a lardy, boozy slide into Christmas, which would be disastrous.  I’m seriously contemplating steering clear of the demon drink for a month … well, I’m going to have to cut it out next year anyway, so I should probably get some practice in!

All that remains is to wish the best of British luck to anyone running in New York on Sunday.  I’ll be there to cheer you on, you crazy fools! 🙂


Days 618 to 623 – Fighting My Demons 5 October 2009

On Sunday I asked the Boy to drop me off six and a half miles from home and leave me there to run back (actually, I wanted it to be seven and a half but, despite calculations on, I came up short).  It was quite tough going, and left alone with my thoughts for that hour or so I came to an important realisation.  This marathon for me is not about the physical challenge of going that distance, it’s about the competition between me and myself.

‘No shit, sherlock’, I hear some of you mutter, as you roll your eyes and wish you’d opted to do something else with your spare five minutes.  However, I was having that thought in the context of lighter life and everything that I’ve learned over the past eighteen months or so.  Let me explain.  I began lighter life with a very broken mind (you may recall that my response to my counseller’s reference to ‘overeaters’ was ‘I’m not an overeater’, which was clearly nonsense) and one of the keys to unlocking my weight problems was acknowledging my disordered relationship with food.  Part of that was coming to the understanding that I’m in control of my life, in control of what I eat and, if you like, the person with whom the buck stops.

The slightly cruel flip side of that is the realisation that I have consistently and deliberately sabotaged myself for years.  I know that because, at the drop of a hat, I can slip back into my bad habits.  I can happily be a willing spectator while I go into self-destruct mode … and for the life of me I don’t know why.  What I do know is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I have knowledge and tools at my disposal to enable me to live the life that I want and to be the person that I would like to be.

Running is one of those things.  I was lucky, in a way, to find that physically I can do it and mentally I enjoy it.  I’m at a point now where I can run a reasonable distance without too much strain or effort, and I’m increasing that distance gradually over time.  But here’s the worrying thing.  Slowly and insidiously I’m starting to sabotage myself again.  I was less than three miles into the run on Sunday and at the bottom of a hill.  I knew the hill was coming (because an old school friend lives at the top!) and also knew that it was going to be the only real challenge of the whole run.  About a third of the way up I stopped, almost in tears, telling myself that I couldn’t do it … ‘it’ being that actual run and the whole bloody marathon to boot!  I wasn’t in pain, or out of breath, and nor had I really slowed down as the incline went up, but I was telling myself that I couldn’t do it.  With a supreme effort of will I pushed on, only to stop again a few hundred yards later.  At that point I was angry with myself (‘why did you ever tell yourself you could do this, you idiot?’ was going round and round inside my head) and I seriously considered phoning home to be picked up.  Luckily I realised what I was doing.  I was convincing myself of my imminent failure, with no justification for doing so.  That is self-sabotage, pure and simple.

It’s the same mentality that allowed me to become as overweight as I did.  I mean, if you’re fat anyway, why should you even bother to try?  Just reach for another cake!  I find it alarming that I still think this way … hence the dawning realisation that I won’t be battling the miles but battling myself.  At that point I literally shouted at myself (if you ever hear a runner grunting ‘come on!’ at herself somewhere in South London then it’s probably me) and kept going.  I ran all the way home, too … despite the fact that at four miles a wasp managed to fly under the tongue of my left shoe and sting me, the little git (though I give him kudos for his accuracy).

How pleased am I to have managed six and a half miles?  Very.  How furious with myself would I have been if I’d given up on that hill?  Extremely.  My willingness to believe that I can achieve something is inherently tied to my self-esteem, and I’m sure as hell not going to allow myself to erode it, bit by bit, until I’m right back where I was at the beginning of 2008.

Interval training is on the schedule tomorrow.  I hate it, I really do, which is all the more reason for me to attack it with gusto!  I just need to keep reminding myself who the real enemy is here 🙂

So … the London Marathon ballot results are out.  I really hope that those of you who want to run will be able to.  I was politely rejected by the organisers, but have my charity place secured.  They did send me a rather fetching jacket by way of compensation, mind you!  Good luck to those of you who got through, and commiserations to those of you who didn’t.