Born to Run

So several years behind every other person who’s ever put one leg in front of the other faster than a walk, I have finally read Born to Run. And when I say read, I mean devoured. We’re talking can’t tear your eyes off the page, picking it up to read for 30 seconds while James pauses a film to pour a glass of wine, talking about it when I’m not reading it. Blogging about it despite the fact every one except me has almost certainly read it already.


When people recommended this book to me, I said I’d read it, but I didn’t fully understand… It’s just a book about running, I’m sure it will be good but how fantastic can a book about running be, really? So it sat, unread, on my kindle until I had exhausted other options. I started reading it on the train back from visiting my mum last Friday and was immediately hooked.

The author begins by telling you how awful running is – that 8 out of 10 runners are injured EVERY year, of the huge amounts of weight pounding into your legs and feet, the “outrageous threat to the integrity of the knee” that makes injury pretty much inevitable for any runner. I’m interested, but slightly annoyed – I thought this was a book about running? Why is it telling me how bad running is? But a small voice in the back of my mind tells me that is probably not the whole story… and that voice is right.

Born to Run is really the story of the Tarahumara – a tribe of people living in Mexico who run, virtually barefoot, and run, and run, and run. They run huge distances at great speeds, and they never get injured. What are they doing that we are not? Are humans really just not designed to run?

McDougall’s book neatly links the story of the Tarahumara, the development of ultrarunning in the US and a scientific / historical exploration of whether we were actually born to run. Every aspect of the book is really fascinating, from the African hunters who literally out-run their prey, to the development of humans who were able to stand upright. Interspersed with all this are the personalities of top ultrarunners in the US, Jenn Shelton, Ann Trason, Barefoot Ted…. and one incredible race in Mexico between the Tarahumara and the US ultrarunners.

He delves into the personalities of each of the US ultrarunners, and while some of them have apparently been less than happy with how they were depicted (Ann Trason, Jenn Shelton), you feel like you get to know these characters in the book, you really care about how they do in the ultimate showdown race, you admire them as individuals. By building up their personalities, McDougall builds up the tension leading into the race in Mexico so that the reader can’t wait for it to begin, can’t put the book down.

Having said that, I lost interest slightly on the long passages about barefoot running. McDougall basically blames all running injuries on Nike for inventing ever more expensive and padded trainers that have removed the foot’s natural strength and changed its position. He makes this point quite quickly, then goes on to labour the point for chapters…. I live in central London. There is no way I am going to run barefoot. He doesn’t even run barefoot himself and neither do the Tarahumara! It just goes on slightly too long….

On the other hand, while reading the book I was converted into thinking that I MUST eat chia seeds. Now I am a good week away from actually reading it, I have reverted to my usual extreme scepticism regarding the nutrition industry and so-called “super foods”. Phew, that was close. But the writing was good enough to completely persuade me at the time.

By the time I finished the book, curled up in bed, slightly hungover on a rainy Saturday morning, I knew I was an ultrarunner. Inside. All I had to do was get out there and actually run 100 miles – didn’t matter the longest I’d ever run was 18 miles, I could be an ultrarunner. All I wanted to do was go and run really long distances in beautiful places. Only a small matter of ….. oh and ….. and that too…. I snuggled back down into bed for a nap.

Swim sets – 9 x 200m and more sprints

These are my swims from last week … blogging ended up taking a bit of back-seat last week / beginning of this week so I am running behind!

An endurance swim doesn’t mean being in the pool for hours and hours, in the same way that a sprint session doesn’t mean it’s over quickly. Endurance sets are very easily adapted to your particular swim-fitness level – just reduce the number of sets OR the distance of each slightly. What is important is that these are long efforts for you, done at a steady speed. So you have the 3 x 800m swim I did the other week as an example of a long endurance swim. Here is a shorter, and more easily adapted example:

9 x 200m

Total: 2000m

Warmup: 100m – mix of front crawl / drills / other strokes. Whatever you need to get yourself warmed up and used to swimming, at your particular level. (NB: this warm-up can be greatly increased – for example 300m of 100m front crawl, 100m kick, 100m drills – it depends on what time you have.)

Main set: as it says on the tin. 9 x 200m.
First 3 = front crawl.
Mid 3 = front crawl with pull buoy.
Last 3 = front crawl.

Annoyingly I didn’t have a watch so wasn’t timing myself for each 200m – I would like to do this swim again with a watch so I can see how my 200m times come down.

Cool-down: 100m easy swim in whatever stroke you want (I only had time for 2 lengths of backstroke so didn’t quite make the 2000m!)

Half an hour sprints

This is a very easy and fun work-out to fit into a lunch break. And I mean really fit into a lunch break. I find most of these “lunch break workouts” are an hour long, which presumes that (1) you work in your swimming costume, (2) your pool is basically beside your desk and (3) you don’t actually need lunch. So this session is 30 minutes long which should leave just enough time for all the getting ready / showering / blow-drying hair / buying or heating up lunch.

Total: depends how fast you swim…

Warmup: 10 minutes. Front crawl, other strokes, drills. Really annoyingly I didn’t keep a track of what I did for these ten minutes and now have completely forgotten – I’m sorry!

Main set: 10 minutes of one length sprints. My pool is only 20m and I think this would work better on a 25m pool, but 20m is enough. Take 20 seconds rest between each. You will be resting almost as long, if not longer, than you are sprinting, and you will feel absolutely fine for the first few, but by the last five minutes those 20 seconds will not seem like long enough and your arms will be aching!

I cheated slightly by doing the sprints for five minutes, then doing two slow lengths of recovery breast stroke, then doing another five minutes of sprints and reducing cool-down time.

Cool-down: 10 minutes easy swim. Start off with a different stroke that will allow you to get your breath back and work some different muscles. Maybe throw some drills in there as well, focussing on whatever you feel you need to work on.


Marathon Training week 15 – starting over

This week I almost started marathon training again. I feel a lot like I’m starting at the beginning and am slightly stressed by the thought of 26.2 in THREE WEEKS which is not very much time at all. Five weeks of tapering may end up having its benefits….

There was more to worry about this week than merely marathon training anyway, what with a horrible cold that hit me on Tuesday, a busy week at work, a university reunion on Friday matter and a small matter of moving to a completely different country a week today….!

Run 1 – the short one

Was planned for Tuesday but a difficult day of work meant it was pushed back to Friday lunch time. Also a difficult day at work and it would have been all too easy not to do it but as I had only planned a short run I rushed out of my office and on the way. I had planned just 20 minutes to build back into it and see if my knee hurt – 10 minutes out, 10 minutes back. This meant most of the run was running through Canary Wharf as the turnover point was JUST before the canal but never mind. Only a few twinges from the knee and no more pain afterwards, plus the run was quite fast and I had a big smile on my face for most of it. So all good there.

Run 2 – the “long” run

I had some idea in my head that I was going to run 20 miles. It wouldn’t matter that I hadn’t really run in almost 2 weeks, I was just going to go out there and run 20 miles…. The run was planned for Sunday. Saturday rolled around and I was horribly hungover after a university reunion that hadn’t gone quite as planned (one drink, half an hour, home to bed). Twenty miles seemed like a horribly long way and I started planning for maybe 10, maybe 12, maybe 13.1. The knee was still giving me occasional pain. This knee pain started in my right knee and gradually spread to both of them – now both of them just give me occasional shoots of pain. Sunday morning, after a takeaway, film and one glass of wine on Saturday night, I still felt exhausted. Plus it was my last Sunday at home with James before going to Madrid and I just didn’t want to spend the whole day away from him running. I was still planning for 10 miles in the afternoon until ….. the rain started bucketing it down. Yes this is a whole paragraph of excuses.

To finish a long story, I went to the gym and ran for an hour. I didn’t even manage 10k. My knee was fine for the first half an hour then started hurting, so every time it hurt I lowered the speed and walked until there was no more pain, then ran a little bit more. I did this for an hour then stopped.

I MISS MARATHON TRAINING. Seriously – I really miss those big weeks, those 9 mile runs before work, the pride in ticking yet another “long run” off the calendar every weekend. I want to do it all over again. Now I’m just taking it slowly but surely, stepping up the mileage this week with 4 short runs planned. Marathon day will go as it goes and there’s not much more I can say about it than that!


Two swims (more on them later – I’ve been rubbish at blogging as well as marathon training), a few cycles to work and home, and a few 15 min yoga vids, planks and leg raises.

Something fun that was nothing to do with running

Watching the incredible Selma on Saturday night, seeing old friends and drinking far too much wine on Friday night. (Something horrendous – the way I felt on Saturday.)

Happy Birthday!

I made some bad choices last night. I came home late as I’d been volunteering (that was a good decision!), around 9.30pm. With a stinking cold and a headache. Instead of getting into bed with some hot herbal tea I poured myself a large glass of red wine and ate a creme egg. Now a creme egg every now and again is a great decision … but not half an hour before bed time! Cue a massive sugar rush, lying in bed awake for ages and struggling to get up this morning. Note to self: 9.30pm on a week night is not the time for chocolate / wine!

In happier news, this week was my blog’s first birthday! I was expecting some kind of reminder or congratulations from wordpress but none was forthcoming so I had to work it out myself…. My first post was on 18 February 2014 – “Why I am a beginner triathlete”. I’ve come so far since then! My goals this time last year were to be able to swim front crawl for at least half of a 750m sprint distance tri. Getting round the swim is no longer a worry whatsoever and I am focussing on improving my times over 1500m. Sprint was the longest distance I could even contemplate, now I am thinking of doing half ironmans this year and graduating to the actual Ironman at some point in the future….

The blog has also come so far… I now post regularly and have a whole 147 followers – hi everyone!!! Feel free to say hi and introduce yourself in the comments if you haven’t done so before :)

I wanted to tell you what my most popular post was but as they are all visible from my “Home” page – my most popular post was the “Home” page. Maybe I should change up what my site looks like when you first go on it as a birthday treat…..

Instead, in order to celebrate, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite posts over the past year:

A love letter to cycling in London – sometimes I need to re-read this to remind myself when I am feeling slightly lazy….

misty morning

How to be a triathlete when you can’t swim – a lot of people find my blog through googling similar things – and I know I also googled pretty much exactly this in the pre-blog, pre-triathlon days. I like re-reading the post because it shows how far I’ve come but I think it is also pretty useful for other beginners!

photo 4 (4)

Open water swimming – because one of my main achievements this year was conquering my fear of open water swimming. In fact, not just conquering it, but learning to love it!

ham lake

Mont Ventoux – the recap – one of my favourite days from the past year – a real physical triumph, a family occasion and a beautiful cycle


Five reasons why I do triathlon – and this is all still true

photo 2 (14)

My first Olympic distance triathlon – because I was so long leading up to this event, and the Chichester triathlon is awesome – I recommend you do it if you’re near the south coast!


Running and Hiking in Andalucia – this was one day from a fantastic holiday full of exercise and good food – and look at how beautiful the pictures are!


So that’s it from me on my birthday, and thank you for reading for the first year. The next year will be more of the same BUT will include (1) a marathon (hopefully) and (2) six months living in Spain (look out for lots of travel-related / adapting to life in a new country posts).

I always used to keep a diary when I was growing up. I don’t really have time to scribble stuff down or room in my handbag / backpack anymore, so the blog is just my new way of doing that – and I love it!

Seven things about me and seven great blogs

So a cool thing happened last week. I was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award by Bri at Bike Like Crazy.

Her blog is awesome – actually pretty awe-inspiring at the moment as she chroncicles her attempts to cycle throughout the winter. And we are not just talking about torrential rain, wind, cold temperatures or a little bit of ice (although those things are horrible). No, we are talking about adapting to cycle in full-on snow, at -7.5F (which it turns out is 22 degrees celcius below freezing). And to top it off, her working hours means her commute to work is between 3.30am and 5am. This is hardcore. “Bike like Crazy” is a pretty apt name for the blog! Check it out :)

The rules of the award are that you have to:
– Show the award on your blog
– Thank the person who nominated you
– Share 7 facts about yourself
– Nominate 15 blogs (I am going to cheat here – 15 seems like a LOT and I don’t want to just list all of the blogs I read but instead limit it to a few I REALLY enjoy and would recommend. So we are going for 7 blogs here…)
– Link to them and let the other bloggers know

What a fantastic way of discovering new blogs!! I have already started following a few new interesting blogs from Bri’s list.

Without further ado – seven facts about myself:

1. four years ago I spent a year sailing with my mum and sister. We sailed across the Atlantic Ocean twice, just the three of us, and cruised through the Caribbean for several months. It was fantastic, challenging, emotional, wonderful.


2. I have a job that I LOVE despite the full-on days and long hours. But I am currently spending a lot of time dreaming about bike touring.

3. This time last year was the first time I ever ran farther than 5k and only because I got lost. I ended up with 7 slow kilometres under my belt and was so happy with myself.

4. in fact it was this time last year where I decided to compete properly in triathlon – the beginning of my fitness journey. I came from a base of literally nothing.


5. My favourite TV show is the Walking Dead and I am not ashamed to say it. I LOVE Daryl.


6. I am really interested in things. It sounds lame but I love learning and get a bit obsessed with various places / periods in history. At the moment I am trying to learn all I can about the Middle East.

7. I studied history at university and I loved it. I would love to go back and do another history degree. I studied really diverse topics, from the French Revolution and Europe in the early modern period, to Africa from 1800 to the present day. But my dissertation was on American masculinity in the 1980s, with US films as my sources. I still did a lot of reading but the bulk of my research was watching films and then writing about it. It was awesome. I now think it would be really interesting to do a comparison between Vietnamese war films and Iraq war films and what that says about the American idea of war and masculinity.

Okay now for 7 great blogs……

1) The Wandering Nomads. What can I say about this? This is my all-time favourite blog. If the writer, Shirine, brought out a book, especially if it was a photo book, I would buy it immediately. She is touring the world on a bike with her boyfriend, Kevin – although she started the journey just completely by herself. She is currently cycling up through Patagonia in South America. Read it to dream about cycle touring around the world, new cultures, camping under the stars, and beautiful, beautiful photos.

2) Sweat Once A Day - I like blogs with beautiful pictures. And Emily’s blog is also pretty awe-inspiring – she is an ultra-runner living in Oregon and I love her blog because it is so upbeat about running. It is impossible to read one of her posts about a run, any run, and not want to lace up your own trainers and get out the door. Even if I am faced with the pavements of South London instead of the incredible trails of Oregon.

3) That Emily Chappell – here is another bike tourer. Emily is a bike courier in London who is currently off on a trip cycling thorugh Alaska in the middle of the winter. Some cyclists appear to have replaced the “sensible thought” parts of their brains with overdoses of the “adventure” part (yes, I know that’s not how brains work). Her blog is great (1) because she’s cycle touring, so why not and (2) for the levels of honesty about how shit it is sometimes – like when the tube to her water freezes over so she can’t drink all day, or the fact that, if you’re a woman, being on your period once a month will really affect your ability to cycle long distances and enjoy it!

4) One Step Closer - Jess’s (Jess’?) running blog is a really personal account of the ups and downs of running – from running long distances at speeds I can barely manage for 5k, to debilitating injuries.  She is also a vegan and I’ve always found her posts on food and different ways of eating really informative – even though there is no way I’ll be giving up meat any time soon! Jess is also an incredibly kind-hearted and generous blogger – this really comes across both in her blog and in her comments

5) Laura Fountain is a runner, blogger and run coach who has just brought out a book – Lazy Girl Running. Like most of us, she started of from nothing and gradually got into running, triathlon and now ultra running. She is friendly, open and honest and a London blogger – there is something I really enjoy about reading people running, cycling and swimming in my own backyard.

6) Fit and Feminist -“because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy” – yay. I have linked to her blog before because her posts make me laugh, smile and say YES as I recognise some of the things she says in myself. I love this post on the Women Against Feminism meme on the internet. Caitlin points out that a lot of the posts referred to men’s skills at opening jars as reasons why women don’t need feminism. Now let’s be honest, I’m always getting James to open jars, lift heavy things, change high-up lightbulbs…. the point is that this is quite a sad reason to value men!

If you asked me to list the top million things I like about Brian, his ability to open jars and lift heavy things might show up somewhere in the 990,000s. Here are things that would show up long before: because he makes me laugh, because we have the best conversations over Sunday morning coffee……

She continues and it is lovely and one of the main reasons I love her blog.

10) DC Rainmaker – for pure utility. I’ll never buy a piece of sports tech without checking it out on DC Rainmaker’s blog first. His indepth reviews are incredibly helpful when you are faced with a wealth of similar products. Plus I really enjoy reading about his runs and cycles and his general life in Paris.

What are your favourite blogs? Any recommendations for me?! In other news – my team came second last in a pub quiz last night, I bet one of my friends £10 on the answer to a history question and got it wrong (argh), my knee is still sore but less sore AND I am getting ill. On the other hand, the sun is shining brightly for the second day in a row and I have lots of banana bread to eat :)

Marathon training week 14 – self-diagnosing the problem

Another week that you couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination class as marathon training. Or any type of training. I got incredibly frustrated with my knee this week and spent a large proportion of the time moaning about how unfair it was – just as I had learned to love running I could no longer do it. I had Thursday and Friday off work so went to visit my mum – so poor mum had to bear the brunt of it.

Run 1 – the only run

I had planned for a lunch time run on Wednesday but I knew it was a bad idea as my knee still hurt so ended up doing some yoga instead. Then mum and I were planning on going out on Friday afternoon, but after a packed Thursday, the pain in my knee had kept me awake what felt like all night so again, it seemed like a bad idea. Another day of rest with yoga instead of a run. I also got to take my mum’s Scottish Deerhound puppy for a walk. She is ginormous but adorable.



However, by Sunday the pain had (mainly) subsided – still a bit of pain in standing up and sitting down but walking felt fine. I went out for a really slow 40 minute run, just over 6k around Brockwell Park and home. It was an easy run and I made sure to slow myself down every time I felt the slightest bit fast. My knee was absolutely fine for most of the run. I definitely felt an ache for the last km or so but I wouldn’t class it as pain … if I had felt pain I would have stopped and walked home. It is now no sorer (more sore?) than it was before (I am writing this on Sunday night) so I think I might be alright to start again next week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, all those exclamation marks can tell you how excited I am about this. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face today, it was so lovely to be in the park with the sun shining, actually running. I will be keeping it slow and short mid-week next week and seeing what happens before I decide whether or not to go for 20 miles next Sunday. I have decided that the knee pain isn’t actually caused by running, although both running and cycling does exacerbate it. I have decided it comes from long days sat at my desk at work. I last had it this bad around November 2013, when I was doing less than half the amount of exercise I currently do and no runs longer than 5k. However, it was at a time where I was working incredibly long hours (i.e. 10am until 4am for a whole week) and my work involves sat at a desk, staring at a computer. I try to have good posture, but keeping your legs in the same position for hours is not good. Humans are not designed to sit like this for hours at a time.

I only have two weeks left in my current office before I move to Madrid. However, one of the first things I am going to do when I get into work on Monday is call Facilities and enquire about getting a standing desk. I have seen people have them, they move up and down and so you can easily change between the two positions. It may be too much of a hassle to put into place for just two weeks, in which case I will need to think of something else.


One lovely two hour cycle ride with my mum on Thursday afternoon. We went up and over the south downs on tiny, narrow roads without another person in sight, alternating between pedalling slowly and chatting, zooming on the downhills and taking it in turns to push it on the flats. We stopped about 20 minutes from home for a flapjack and a cup of tea – it was so cold when we got on our bikes!

I also managed two swim sessions, which I blogged about previously, and a total of SIX short yoga videos. Several times I linked two together to make a slightly longer yoga workout. I’m using the Do You Yoga 30 day challenge – I started this in December so quite obviously am not doing one video a day as you are meant to but skipping around depending on what my body feels like that particular day. I.e. if I want to stretch out my legs then I won’t pick a yoga vid teaching us how to do Crow or how to stretch the wrists and hands!

Something fun that’s nothing to do with running

It was my friend’s birthday on Friday so we went out for dinner at the Canton Arms, a lovely pub with incredible food just down the road. Think huge trays of slow-cooked lamb that falls off the bone, that we can all dig into. My starter was mushrooms on toast with a fried egg which was just delicious. We then went on to Shrub & Shutter for cocktails. One way of getting over not being able to run is being really, really hungover – I barely thought about running on Saturday as running would have been about the last thing I wanted to do!


Then James and I spent Valentines Day eating a lovely meal at home and watching the Hunger Games – I am slightly in love with Jennifer Lawrence. We drank lots of nice wine and had cuddles on the sofa with our Oscar-cat – a perfect evening.


Swim sets – proper endurance

This week’s first swim was another CSS set as I’ve blogged about previously – 3 x 200m, 160m, 100m, 60m. My times have improved again which is great – 200s were 4:02, 4:09, 4:10 (around 4:20 last week), 160s were 3:18, 3:20, 3:20 (3:26 last week), 100s were 2:02, 2:07, 2:02 (2:08 last week) and 60s were 1:12, 1:14, 1:11 (1:15 last week). Just a reminder that these are threshold times not sprints – ideally my threshold time would be below 2 minutes a 100m so I do have a way to go yet but we are getting there! Perseverance.

For my second swim, I stole one of my mum’s sets. She is training to qualify for the Olympic distance worlds this year or Europeans next year and has a proper triathlon coach and everything. She is swimming twice a week at the moment, which will increase once open water swims begin. One swim a week is sets with her swim club, the second (at the moment) is an endurance swim.

On the cards this week was 3 x 800m with 2 min rest intervals in between. That’s 2400m overall. To put that in some perspective, the longest I’ve swim since way before Christmas is around 1700m. This time last year I was just beginning to train for a sprint distance tri in May and couldn’t swim anywhere near 750m in one go. If I even managed that distance in one swim session I would have been impressed with myself. And the last time I swam in my mum’s 33.3m pool, I struggled to make one length. Now I was planning on swimming 72 of them.

We jumped in and set off, mum in front for the first set. 800m took 16 and a half minutes – not too shabby! Then set two. This time I was ahead and it took 17 and a half minutes… Mum said on the first set she thought I was catching up with her but on the second she felt like she could have gone faster – Yep I felt like I was flagging. I decided I would probably just do 600m for my last set. My knee was hurting and as I got towards the end my tummy was feeling very funny – not a good feeling in a swimming pool! I managed the 600m and then cooled down with two slow lengths of back crawl.

I was really pleased with myself – I have come a very long way in a year and that was the farthest I have ever swam in one session. An endurance swim is a great one to add to your weekly routine as, let’s be honest, when we race we are swimming long distances without breaks to hold onto the edge of the pool.

BUT. I am not sure whether I will be doing this one again. 800m in my tiny 20m pool – that’s 120 lengths for the three sets. That’s pretty mind-numbingly boring. A mental workout as well as a physical workout. It was made better by doing it with my mum so I can’t imagine how I would manage to keep going if it was just myself! Maybe one for if I get myself to a 50m pool but I just don’t think I have the willpower to splash up and down a 20m pool that many times!