Yet more beginners’ running (and some other stuff, too)

So, I have to be honest with you about something, which is not going to be fun to hear if you’re just wavering on the edge of putting your trainers on and getting out there. But I don’t say it to discourage you. On the contrary, I say it because you’re going to hit this patch, just as I did, and you need to know it’s coming and not let yourself get disheartened by it.

Here’s the secret:

Running – or any regular exercise worth doing – never gets easy.

Sure it gets easier to go further. And it’s easier to go faster. But it doesn’t get easy. And as soon as it’s threatening to, you have to dial up the input, and it gets hard again.

I’ve faltered at week six of the C25K. I managed the two interval runs (the second one after two attempts: two intervals of ten minutes are harder than one of twenty). But the 25 minute run has defeated me twice. The first time after 15 minutes – though I was generally not together that morning – and the second time after just over 20, which frankly I still consider a win.

I should do week six again and get my fitness up, but frankly the thought of doing those intervals again is making me want to cry. So I’m going to risk slightly messing this up and do my own deviation from the plan, which is a couple more 20-minute runs, then an attempt at three 25-minute runs and, should that go well I’ll rejoin the plan at week seven and do the three 28-minute runs followed by the three 30-minute runs.

Or, as I pointed out to Ash today: I’m two-thirds of the way to a 5k. A few weeks ago, I was barely a tenth of the way and was refusing to even think “5k” for fear I would totally terrify myself back onto the couch.

Part of the reason for the slow down is that as the runs are getting longer, it’s been harder to fit them in. I can’t run with a stroller, it bugs me, so I have to find time to go alone which means 6am. I’m often too exhausted, which means instead of going on a couple of consecutive days, then having one day off and going back to it, I’m sometimes leaving up to three or four days between runs and my muscles are not up to the next run. But I’ve managed to never let a week go by without at least two runs, preferably three, and I’m going to keep aiming for that.

When I go away I’ll be in the car for three days and I don’t think I’ll get to run. I’m also not sure if I’ll manage it around Athens, but I’m determined to get in some good walking and as much running and swimming on the island as I can for the week I’m there. Especially as I’ll probably eat my body weight in whitebait, octopus and fried courgette while I’m there, too.

That’s where you can stop reading if you were just here for the running. If you’re here for babies too – or just to read my ramblings – then you’re in luck…

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think I’ve managed to make a shortlist of the things that were affecting Ramona and making her screech. As I’ve begun to address them – in as much as I can – I think I’ve made some headway and we’ve had a couple of much less deafening days. In addition, I feel a lot more in control of my parenting, or at least I have a far more convincing pretence of that.

So, the screech inducers are:

  • Me talking to anyone that’s not her. Especially if they’re on the phone.
  • Feeding frustrations.

The talking to thing I’m having to address with a bit of ignoring. Putting her down with toys and walking out of the room, or simply not acknowledging it and carrying on with my conversation. This one is clearly a long war, and it’s going to be fought battle by battle. And actually ever time I ignore her she learns something new, like how to stand up alone, or try to push herself upright, so bit by bit I’m learning to stop the rotor blades a bit and be less of a helicopter parent.

The feeding thing took me a few days to cotton onto fully. Because she weaned quite early, we didn’t go to baby led weaning route, but she came off purees quite happily a couple of months ago onto more chunky stuff. She had pretty much got to the stage where she could just feed herself finger food, and all was well. And then, a couple of weeks ago, just as the screeching reappeared, she started to bite, chew and then spit out her food rather than actually eating it.

For a couple of days I reasoned that it was a phase as she was examining textures. Though I fretted about the amount she was taking in, she wasn’t sluggish, drinking more milk or losing weight. She could – can – still eat bread and loves toast with cream cheese (just as well, as she refuses to eat anything else at breakfast, apart from yogurt). But gradually, she started spitting more and more things out unless they were in really tiny pieces. Soft ripe pear sticks that she used to enjoy were being sucked and spat; so was the odd baby cookie I gave her. The only things staying down were bread, sauces, yogurts, really overcooked pasta, strawberries and those carrot puff snack things which I occasionally give her one or two of.

So as I realised she must be hungry and frustrated and I didn’t want mealtimes to be reduced to hours of me feeding her tiny tidbits, I began reluctantly to reintroduce the stage we left a while ago: lumpy mash. I was scared to go backwards, as I thought it might be an eating phase and that I’d be stuck with a child still eating purees when she turns fifteen. But as she gratefully nommed it all, I realised this was very likely not a battle of wills or a preference or phases, since she actually really enjoys feeding herself (although doesn’t try to grab the spoon when it’s not quite solid stuff, weirdly!). It’s her teeth – or lack of them.

She’s been chewing her fingers like there’s no tomorrow, and even bit my chin with frustration the other day. She’s dribbling like a demon. After nine and a half months – six and a half of which have been spent showing signs of teething and full of frustrated gnawing – she still doesn’t have a single damn tooth. I didn’t either until I was about 11 months, so I think I might have sadly passed that on to her (though I’ll blame Ashley as he was a late teether too). So I’ve come to the conclusion that her gums are now just too sensitive to chew bigger lumps down unless it’s gooey, chewy stuff like bread or soothingly cold and smushy fare like strawberries.

It’s not an entire backwards step, as she’s still having some finger food, but she’s eating about three times as much and seems much more content. She’s sleeping as well as ever – if not better – and is happy with three hearty milk feeds a day, as well as producing several more grim nappies. She seems more content to play and surf the furniture with about a quarter as many bloodcurdling screams.

So there we have it. Why does my baby scream? Attention-seeking, hunger and teething.

The first I’m learning to take care of, the second is sorted and the third is being managed until it takes care of itself.

I’d call that a win… wouldn’t you?

More thoughts on running for beginners

This morning I went for my first run since the Big Run. It was the next stage of the Couch-2-5k programme, which means I go back to interval for a couple of runs before attempting a 25 minute run by the end of the week. It was actually much harder in its own way – running and stopping sort of seems to shock your body – but I did it and set a small distance record for myself by about a fifth of a mile. Baby steps.

While I was running I was actually thinking about this post, and how most blogs on running I come across are people who have left this stage far behind and talk about things like which super running trainers to invest in next, or what their personal trainer told them about their running form. Which is really good stuff if you’re at intermediate level (whatever that is) or beyond, but when you’re just still having to talk yourself into putting one foot in front of the other it’s a bit too much to take in.

Every obstacle you put in your way to prevent you running will be heavy on your heart – they will all stand for more than the good reasons you give yourself, because they’re easier to give in to. So I thought I’ll share what’s helped me make it a bit easier and a bit more fun.


All you need is a pair of decent, comfortable, well-fitting trainers, preferably designed for running, and, if you’re a woman, a good sports bra. The latter is as indispensable as the former; even if you’re not in danger of taking your own eyes out with your giant frontage, it’s still uncomfortable having it jiggle up front, and too much flinging around will cause sagging. Which while hardly life threatening isn’t very comfortable.

However, if you want to go the extra mile and splash out a little on stuff you want, I do recommend a little bit of a running gear. Nothing major or scary. My only piece is a pair of knee-length cycling-short type running pants, which have a little skirt built in over the top so that I don’t feel self-conscious about my rear hanging out. The synthetic material is light and, crucially, stays that way when you start getting sweaty. Although I was wearing cotton sweats when I did the longer run, the material felt bulky, obstructive and hot flapping around my heels after a few minutes.

An iPod or similar is also really useful, and I do enjoy using the RunKeeper app on my iPhone to record my runs and help me view my progress visually. I use a belt from a Wii Zumba game to tie my iPhone to myself for my runs! So some sort of zipped pocket, belt or arm band is helpful there.

I do find carrying water is the biggest hassle. I don’t drink for an hour before I run because otherwise I have to abort my runs to find a loo (the beauty of a weak pelvic floor after childbirth, even thousands of Kegels later). So I do need to sip as I’m running and rehydrate after. I managed one run with a bottle slung into that velcro Wii belt, but it was very uncomfortable. To that end I’ve ordered some Swiggies, and will comment on those when they arrive.

That’s really it. I’m thinking about buying a running top for summer; might reward myself with one if I’m still running in a month’s time.

Oh, hang on, one more thing! Sun cream. I keep forgetting to apply it and am nursing a slight tanned-but-threatening-to-go-red patch on my chest. Ugly and unsafe; don’t do as I do, kids.


We’ve already talked about the bra. Now what about the emotional support? It might surprise you that you need it, but it does come in awfully helpful.

I don’t have a running partner because I find myself getting competitive and dispirited if I can’t keep up. But I do have several friends who are also running. Exchanging ‘go you!’ comments with great people like Cate, Helen, Martin, Amber and in particular Anne-Marie and Keris  on Twitter has been a really good way to keep me putting one foot in front of the other. Just today when it was getting tough on the last stretch I pictured Anne-Marie with pom poms cheering me along, because that’s what she says in her tweets!

The comments that I get on this blog are also great motivators. At first, I admit, I was a little gutted I wasn’t losing weight (mainly cos I’m an eater – ah, well, what can you do?!). But then I realised I started to get up and move because it was good for me, not because of any particular weight loss target. I started to realise my goals were adding something to myself – strength, speed, fitness – not taking something away. And having friends support me by tweeting along was also adding something to the mix: a social, friendly element. Plus it’s stick as well as carrot, since you don’t want to go letting your friends down.

Some of us started to run at the same time as each other but not with each other, so there’s also no element of competition. I’m doing the C25K, but Anne-Marie and Keris are doing the excellent-sounding Up and Running e-course; we’re at different weeks and running in different ways. And although we’ve exchanged comments on the way we’re each running because I’m curious about the difference in the programmes, we haven’t tried to meet the same targets. In fact, I haven’t ever tweeted my distance or speed records, because they’re for me only.

And that brings me onto:


Remember, you’re only in competition with yourself.

That really bears repeating many, many times. To that end, don’t check out all the other runners, unless it’s in a ‘hey, look at us being healthy at 6am on Tuesday!‘ kind of way. You will probably get lapped by people considerably older and bigger than you (I am all the time), but that’s okay. You’re not trying to keep pace with them. You’re not running against them.

You are only in competition with yourself.

And while distractions like music and timing cues can help, I think it really helps if you don’t have too many. Although I like to hear my split-speed and get told the time every five minutes on RunKeeper, I don’t have my phone where I can see the timer. Because if I know there’s only half a minute to go, I’ll slow down, or every second will seem far too l…o…n…g…. So I try not to calculate how long I’ve got left, and every so often I rearrange the songs on my playlist so that I don’t think “oh, last time at this point there was about a minute to go”. I also vary my route around the park for the same reason.

Before I’ve achieved a certain milestone, I have a mantra in my head of “you can do this… you’ve given birth to a child… this is going to be totally easy!”. And after I’ve done something I’m proud of, then it’s “you can do this… you’ve run for 20 minutes!”. My goals are about what I can do, not what I can’t, or what I want to do in the distant future, or what my friends can do.

Because I am only in competition with myself. 

There will come a time when I can run and race and beat someone. But right now, I’m at the starting line, and that’s okay. Everyone has to pass this way at some point.

Which leads me to my final point. Every time I say ‘run’, I mean ‘jog’. My pace is barely faster than a brisk walk, but it’s what I can manage. I’d rather put in less power and find I have more to spend and can do some extra at the end than put in too much and find I’ve got nothing left in the tank and have to stop early. I can improve speed later; now is about just getting the stamina, the distance, up to a certain level. Maybe that was why I couldn’t finish week one’s runs the first time I tried, and had to stop early twice or maybe I just needed a pre-week one exercise to get me into it. But I kept doing it, and once I got to week three, I found I didn’t need to repeat a week again. Although now I’m on week six, I might have a few repeats before I get to week nine – who knows? Now I’ve proved to myself that by repeating it I can get better, I’m less likely to give up.

I hope that helped. It actually helped me get my head together and remind myself why I’m still doing this, and why I want to keep going.

If you’re strapping on your trainers this weekend, whether for the first time in forever or as part of a regular training programme, good luck to you, and enjoy the dry weather while it lasts!

Why (almost) anyone can run

I did something almost unthinkable today. I woke up at 5:50am, and by 6:30am I had shuffled out of the door, still bleary, powered by a banana, while even my infant child still slept soundly. And I did a five minute warm-up, then jogged for twenty minutes without stopping.

There are so many inspirational posts about marathon runners and this that and the other about, that that probably doesn’t sound very impressive. I mean, I was jogging, not running, and it was only twenty minutes, not five hours. But I’m not here to impress fit people. I’m here to tell myself, primarily, but then people like me, that this is something almost anyone can do.

Here are all the reasons why I thought I couldn’t ever do this:

I’ve been overweight since I was 9. Seriously, as a teenager (like 16 stone at 14 years old seriously) then less so. For a brief period in my late twenties I was within a half stone of a healthy weight for my height, and now I’m rather more and a size 14-16.

I’ve never enjoyed exercise. I quite like swimming, but it can be a bit of a hassle, and I’m not terribly good at it. School PE lessons were a nightmare and I spent a lot of time getting out of them with spurious injuries. Also:

I hate being coached, and I thought people should have ‘running buddies’. I don’t find it motivating. I also realised I don’t like training with other people because I can get discouraged if they do better than me and resentment is not a good motivator. More about this later.

I’ve had a slipped disc, and spinal surgery to correct it. Also, I have really awkward feet, with inherited b-words. (You know what I mean. The bumpy bone thing. I don’t like to say the word. It’s ugly.) So I could use all sorts of physical excuses not to try.

I had a baby last year. I was never fit before and then I shared my body with another human being. And as if that wasn’t enough, I then shoved that human being through a rather delicate anatomical area! And although she’s slept through the night from three months – thank God! – she doesn’t always sleep peacefully and she’s a thoroughly energetic and exhausting individual. So I spend most of my time being Extremely. Freaking. Tired.

And yet… there I was, pounding the pavements and pathways of London at arse o’clock. I punched the sky at the end, Judd Nelson style. And a man walking his dog saw me. And I didn’t care.

I could put it down to a lot of things, like doing it ‘for Ramona’ or ‘to lose weight’ but in the end I think the reason that this attempt to do something and stick to it, for two months so far, is currently working is because I’m not actually doing it for anyone else. Or for any other reason than just because it’s good for me, and I want to push myself.

I’ve always been perfectly motivated at work, not so motivated to do things for myself. Some of it is pure idleness, some of it a lack of self-confidence. The shuffling, weird fat kid who liked the odd music and books and had a small band of equally odd-bod friends is still with me in some ways (actually the friends are still with me too, which should tell you something about the loyalty of freaks and geeks). But now I see more and more good in her.

I find myself being able to accept a compliment with a simple ‘thank you’. I still qualify some of my statements – “I ran! But I was slow…” – but I’m consciously trying to do that less. Even though my tummy is bigger than ever post-baby and I needed to go up a size in swimwear, I have bought only two-piece bathing stuff for my holiday – I only managed to wear those for the first time at my thinnest but I refuse to go backwards in confidence. I feel the pressure to be a good role model for Ramona by at the very least convincingly faking happiness in my own skin, and you know, as a wise woman once said, if you keep pretending eventually you find that it’s real.

I’ve finally begun the process of accepting that the only person I need to be in competition with is myself. When I started running two months ago I couldn’t complete the exercise (which involved eight one-minute intervals). I couldn’t complete it the first two times. I had to do week one of the programme for two and a half weeks. And there were times when I followed people calling a four mile run ‘easy’ or transforming themselves in just a month of exercise and I wanted to quit and cried. But I kept putting myself through it, until I could achieve something I was proud of.

Today was that day. Now comes the hardest bit – pushing on to the next stage. There’s a balance between celebrating each achievement and getting complacent, between setting the next goal and never accepting a stage as good enough (for now). I didn’t dare to think about a 5k in real terms before now, but I sort of am now.

I don’t want to give up this time. I hope blogging about it will be another reason to have to continue, so I don’t have to write a sheepish “remember that? Yeah, then I quit” post.

And if you’re like me, now you know. If I can do it, anyone can. Well, okay, there are probably some people who have a killer excuse, like a particular disability (although I do know two runners with arthritic / orthopaedic conditions. Ask a doctor, it might not be impossible!) or they work three jobs and have fourteen kids. But most of us are just stopped by our own mental demons.

If I can help you out of the door, to puff alongside me in spirit, and go all red-faced and sweaty but accomplished, then so much the better for us both.

Running, Mumming and Baking: It’s all go here…

Today is one of those days when I want to blog about six different things, and I only have time to blog once – if that. It’ll be a miracle if I get to say everything I want to say and considerably more miraculous if anyone’s still with me at the end. For ease of skimming, therefore, I’ve split things into three categories: running (as in the exercise), mumming (as in a made-up word for parenthood, not a seasonal, traditional folk play) and baking. Baking is the shortest, so we’ll start there, in reverse Miss World (ugh) order:


I haven’t had time to do much baking at all since Ramona’s been born as she’s a light napper during the day and I’m freakin’ exhausted at night. But I’ve discovered she’s not much of a breakfast eater, except if it’s toast, eggs or yogurt. In a bid to get her to eat a little more, I’m investigating some low-sugar banana bread options. All the recipes are online, so once I’ve decided which one to make and I know how it’s turned out, I’ll post links and descriptions. Cake is certainly the quickest baking option, non-iced cake even quicker and loaf-style bready cakes the easiest of all as the vast majority of the time is spent with it maturing in the oven. Plus they freeze and keep really well, so if she likes it I can churn out a bigger batch next time and freeze it in 1/4 or 1/2 loaf batches for occasional breakfasting / dessert.

She loves bananas, so it should go well; plus it’s never to early to get her in on the Roumbas family addiction to cinnamon. (The Goldsteins are a bit indifferent towards it, but some of them are also incredibly fussy eaters which is not going to be tolerated from the smallest Goldstein).

Mumming (and a bit of Working)

Dear God, it’s been a trying few weeks. I refer you to BitchBuzz and my ‘Stay Confident Through Baby Phases‘ post to see what I mean, although recently we’ve had an unwelcome addition to the fun and games – as the screeching has started to recede – just to keep us on our toes: waking up in the night. It’s only twice so far, and she is only eight months old, but it’s all the worse for being somewhat unfamiliar to us (yeah, I know, there are going to be parents out there thinking ‘cry me a river’ as they go through their 300th consecutive disturbed night. Sorry guys. I feel for you, I really do).

I’m not even sure it’s a good thing for the baby if she sleeps through the night early but ours did and we were bloody grateful for it. Unfortunately it means that when she has been waking up recently, we’re slightly at a loss as to what to do because it’s not like at the beginning when all she wanted was a drink and a burp. We usually tick off the checklist first: water, milk feed, change, cuddle and shushing, soothe. Once we’re sure her basic needs are met and she’s not ill, we try a bit of gentle ignoring for a few minutes at a time, stroke hair, ignore some more. But last night she built up to a fever pitch of upset which culminated in a river of projectile recycled milk all over her dad’s chest. We should be thankful it was a warm night and he wasn’t wearing a top.

Funnily enough the vomiting seemed to calm her down. After a cuddle and some more milk she was out for the count until her normal waking up time. But meanwhile she’d been awake for two hours in the middle of the night. I should be sleeping now as it’s her nap time, but can’t, and Ash is at work. He adores his job; and thank goodness, as it gives him a reason to be upright and alert!

So, yes, mumming is being rather challenging at the moment.

But on the other hand, the last thing I do at night before I go to sleep is cast an eye into her cot, and there is simply nothing in the world more beautiful to me than the site of my snoozing, pouty-mouthed little bundle of gorgeousness looking calm and quiet, arms flung out to the side, or occasionally raised to either side of her head as she used to have them when she was really tiny: the traditional baby ‘pea on a fork’ pose.

I do so adore being a mummy. Although I am also looking forward to being a worker ant again. April 7th marked three years at Dogs Trust, and I have missed the digital team and the exciting and fun things we get to do. It will be a wrench tearing myself from Ramona just as she gets even more independent and interesting, but it would be a wrench to tear myself away from the things that I’m good at: community management, customer service and all that jazz.


I’m not a runner. I’m barely even a jogger. But it seems to be the Done Thing at the moment, doesn’t it? People are giving up the gym left, right and centre – I’ve just quit after going twice in three months and simply not having the time or inclination to make more of an effort – and taking to the streets. It’s cheap; all you need is a pair of decent running shoes. It’s less time consuming; just exit the door of your house, go as far as you can and come back again. It’s flexible; no peak times, opening hours or people taking up machines you want to use. It’s less pressured; little if any comparing goes on, as the other runners are far more focussed on themselves than you and you all look equally red and sweaty. But it’s also quite hard. Running outside is harder work than running on a gym treadmill for all sorts of reasons, including the weather, uneven terrain, not keeping to a steady pace and a harder surface not taking the impact from your joints so well.

So, anyway, I started ‘running’. Actually what I do is interval training, similar to week one of the couch-to-5k (C25K) programme, only it’s the ‘easy’ (ha!) workout on RunKeeper. Basically it means brisk walking for one and a half minutes and then jogging for one minute and doing that eight times, with five minutes walking at the beginning and end for a warm up and cool down respectively.

I’ve been seven or eight times over the last three weeks which is something of a record for me. And though it was impossibly difficult at first – I could only do three-quarters of the workout and just added ten to fifteen minutes of as brisk a walk as I could manage to try and make it up – it got a little easier every time. After one more workout I’m going to start adding 5-10 seconds of extra jogging to each fast interval, so the whole exercise is only about a minute longer but it’s harder work. I expect this means my pace, which is poor but improving, will dip again but now I’ve seen how it can keep going up from session to session I have more faith that it will go well. I’ve found my speed slightly increased even after several days’ break, and even on a day when I felt tired and demotivated but forced myself out of the door so I wouldn’t have any excuse to feel guilty and beat up on myself.

So many people have told me that they couldn’t run to the end of the street when they started but improved very quickly once they got into it. I’ve started exercise programmes over and over again and hardly stuck to them, but this does feel a little different. For one, Ash said he felt a sort of ‘joy’ (his word, not mine!) radiating from me when he saw me running. I can’t say I exactly felt that, as I was desperately repeating ‘you gave birth to a child, you can do another interval’ over and over in my head, but I do feel a sort of determination that I hope will stay with me. I usually don’t say this sort of stuff publicly so I don’t feel all humiliated when I give up, but maybe humiliation will keep me on track. If I can’t think positively, maybe fear of negativity will keep me going instead! I prefer to try and focus on the former, though. I know from HypnoBirthing that positive thinking and mental preparation can do amazing things, so here’s hoping.

And in the meantime, I try to inspire myself by reading posts like this, by the lovely CupCate, who is the founder of and my editor at BitchBuzz, and one of life’s good guys.

And I wrote that literally just as the Ramona alarm went off from her cot. Nap time is over, and so is blogging time. Ding.