Monday, 5 October 2015

..."Dann sind wir Helden"...

Ok, here's the biggie. Berlin Marathon and Glasgow Half Marathon in the space of a week. Let's do it.


I think Berlin Marathon was the best run of my life. 

No, it was definitely the best run of my life. The most consistent run I've ever done - I'm a bit baffled by it all, to be honest. And when the official photos landed in my inbox this week, I couldn't help feeling I wasn't trying hard enough.

Who smiles like an idiot at 41km!? Not David on the right there - poor guy, almost over. It's horrible when things go wrong at the end, but I do look disgustingly pleased with myself. 


41km - the final push! 
It certainly felt like I was trying hard. I wonder if this doubt about putting enough effort in comes along with surviving a marathon? If you're not crawling over the finish line then you didn't give it your all? You can't really remember the pain because you are instantly rewarded with euphoria? 

But it's the efforts in the weeks and months of training before this run that meant I wasn't collapsing into a screaming heap of weak limbs at the end. I trained really hard for this one, and fortunately it all came together on the day. I'm so happy and so grateful that it did because I'm all too aware that anything can happen.

I arrived in Berlin on the Thursday evening and was greeted with an epic home cooked vegan bake - carb loading was apparently well underway. When I ran LA Marathon, carbs were scarce in Abbot Kinney (where even the chairs are gluten free, it seems) but that is definitely not a problem in good old Deutschland. Every food comes wrapped in a small loaf or perched atop a generous pile of potatoes. It's every carb loader's dream. But it didn't stop me having a complete meltdown at the Oktoberfest market on Friday night.

I've spent months planning everything so meticulously, and I was so keen to arrive in Berlin and see my friends that I hadn't even thought about how the loss of control would affect me in the final days of preparation. The thought of street food suddenly terrified me and I didn't know what I wanted but I knew I didn't want anything that was around me. I'd barely eaten a meal out of my home in over a month - I'd become addicted to having complete control of my nutrition, timetable and exercise. Then suddenly it was all gone.  

I ventured into the dark territory of "this is going to be baaaaad", and from there it's a slippery slope. As soon as you even start thinking it's going to go badly, you rapidly become absolutely convinced it will inevitably be awful. Cue tears, panic, whimpering "Oh noooo" from behind interlaced fingers over the face...

It was proper head-in-hands stuff. Worsened by the fact I was out with lots of people I'd only met about an hour earlier - I didn't want to be that dickhead...and then that additional self-generated pressure just made me feel even more sad and lonely.

Thankfully I got home, had some rice cakes and almond butter, took myself off to bed and slept off the completely self-induced drama.

After the awesome expo at Templehof on Friday, Saturday was all about rest, nutrition and making sure everything was going to go right on Sunday. 

My love for Berlin is not news...so I'll spare you the gushing introduction.

It's a funny feeling, being on a tram with a couple of hundred other runners before dawn...then you get on to the S Bahn and the runners gradually multiply, then you arrive at the station by the start area and you keep building and building again, until eventually there are just swarms of people all about to do the same thing as you. #Together42. It's like you go from training alone to being embraced by your family who all understand what you're feeling.

Hauptbahnhof at dawn - We are Marathoners
I eventually found where to check my bag (no mean feat of organisation) and headed to the start line with 40,000 other runners. Filtering out onto the street through Tiergarten was amazing and the sight towards the victory column definitely got the emotions flaring up. Runners as far as you could see. Very exciting. All my nerves were gone and I just couldn't wait to put all my hard months of training in to action.

Marathon Number Two - Berlin 2015
It was over 40mins after the gun went off that I finally managed to get across the start line, but from the moment we got moving the crowd support was kicking off! Kudos to the lady with the Saltire flag who I saw twice around the route and with whom I shared a wee cheer both times. Brilliant. But the noise just never stopped - from live brass bands and huge groups of drummers to locals with PA systems and "Jan's Drumming"(Estb 2008)...one teenager and his drum kit. 

The route was wonderful - no backtracking, lots of long stretches to get stuck into and plenty of beautiful things to see along the way. The landmarks were all there, and we passed some awesome wall art too - standard Berlin. 

Water stops along the route were well placed, the little flimsy cups were a bit tricky to deal with but I got into the swing of things by the second hydration station at 9km. The only thing that niggled me a bit was the lack of visible km markers along the route. I knew I was passing timing checkpoints every 5k, but up until about 32k I was struggling to know how far I'd run. I think that might have worked in my favour though, as I ran a solidly even pace the whole way through. 

And I mean solid...

Every single 5k bar one (34.04) was between 33 and 34mins, running a steady 6.40 to 6.50 per km pace throughout the first 40km. Then in the final 2km I picked up the pace to 6.30 per km and crossed the line with a positive split of 48seconds...meaning I ran the first Half Marathon only 48s faster than the second half. 

Crazy. 

I use no timing or tracking tools. I don't even wear a watch so had no idea how long I'd been running for, nor how far I'd run. I just...kept running. Possibly the worst advert for GPS pace watches in the world. I don't think I'll ever be able to do that again. 

So, things I learnt from this experience...

Training is everything.

Listen to your body and respond to it - I didn't stop at every water station, I only drank to my thirst and sipped at the water instead of gulping down huge cupfuls at every opportunity. Do everything as you did it in training, even when friendly people are holding out armfulls of pretzels or oranges, resist temptation, stick to what you know. I took my energy gels at what felt like the right and regular intervals and never once hit a wall or felt deficient in anything. I didn't focus on a beeping watch, I focused on settling into my natural pace and running comfortably for as long as I could. I trained throughout those long lonely miles in Scotland to run at a steady pace, and on the day I just put my faith in the hands of my body to deliver what we'd prepared to do.

Crowd support is a fuel source to dip into as and when you need it. There wasn't a moment around that route when there wasn't some kind of entertainment. Lots of kids holding out their hands for high fives, lots of people with colourful signs saying things like "I'm proud of you, random stranger" and lots of musicians who seemed genuinely thankful for the mutual appreciation that was shared between them and runners doling out applause, waves and thumbs up of thanks. 

There's a lot of things that you can plan and foresee when you're running a marathon, but there are other things you can't really prepare yourself for. I learnt how to use crowd support during this marathon. Yes, it can get a bit boring when you run for 4hrs 43mins and you do sometimes get a feeling of "Oh God, I've still got 2hrs to go"- I have some methods that get me through long, lonely training runs but this race taught me more about how to retain my focus to pick off the miles and stay in control while still acknowledging all the wonderful people who came out to cheer us all on.

I love getting the high fives, dancing my way past the live music and getting my groove on with the crowds (all while moving forwards, of course), but then I'd get my visor on and move to the middle of the road, get my head down and focus on picking off a few more miles before "coming up for air", I guess. Then again taking my visor off, moving to the edge of the street and enjoying some more of that amazing interaction where you feel so encouraged and supported. Then visor on, head down, off we go again. 

I have a few daydreams I like to indulge in when the going gets tough - I think we all need a few of those guilty pleasures in the backup tank for when the fatigue starts to creep in. Anything you can focus on for long enough to push the pain out of your thoughts and avoid hitting a wall.

Thank goodness...there was no sign of a wall for me at any point. All the dedicated training paid off and it's really spurred me on for the future. To get faster and get some more of these big marathons under my belt. I've got faith that training pays off and this whole experience has made me very focused on a solid training plan for anything I want to achieve.

My littlest supporter was out on the route, my 11 month old best buddy, Theo. I got some cheeky smiles at Mile 7 and then a surprise wave again at Mile 23, just when I really needed it. I just remember hearing my name being yelled over and over and when I saw the faces of people I knew it just filled me with focus and energy. After seeing them at that 37km mark, I decided that was me until the finish. I took my last mouthful of water at the nearby hydration point, got my visor on, got into the middle of the road and focused on nothing but the finish line.

The final 2km was a right bitch though! Weaving through such a beautiful part of the city, but all I kept thinking was "after this corner I'll see the gate"- alas, I turned about five corners and was disappointed every time; "OH MY GOD WHERE IS THIS GODDAMN GATE!!??"

Eventually it was THE corner and I caught sight of that beautiful stone gate that signalled the finish line in 200m. The noise was overwhelming - thousands of people in grandstand seating and at least six deep at the edges of the route, screaming at us to go go go - I ran hard to fly over the finish line and was definitely feeling emotional with the happy tears at the end. It feels overwhelming because you keep imagining this moment when you're out training...and then it all happens so quickly.


Took the bling back to the Tor for a close up...
It's a weird feeling - but a beautiful one, and it's hard to describe it to people when they ask you why you enjoy running marathons...unless you've felt that blend of exhaustion and euphoria pouring through your body, I don't know if it can truly be understood. It's unlike anything else I've ever experienced; it's unique.

I got my gorgeous medal, my not so gorgeous bright yellow plastic blanket and an armful of water and Erdinger Alkoholfrei. That stuff is AMAZING and it was free in droves. Happy days. 

Reichstag finish zone pic - I dreamed of this as soon as I signed up to run...
The pain and stiffness was pretty much instant after I stopped running and it was only moments later that I felt a horrible tendon pain in my right foot. I first felt it go at 9km, just before getting to Bryony and Theo at the cheering point...but there was only a split second consideration that I might not be able to finish with whatever was happening to me. 

I kept thinking of my friend Caroline who has run an Ultra Marathon with a fracture and I just thought that no matter what, I was getting round this course. And I pushed it out of my mind, clearly, because it was pretty agonising when I had to walk out of the secure area and find my friends. I was worried it was perhaps the start of a stress fracture, which wasn't a pretty prospect and the pain was a brand new one.

After a bit of manipulation and some tip-toe action, the general consensus was that it's a tendon strain. Runner's World forums agree.

I met my crew for some more of that Erdinger stuff...seriously though...and that was when I first saw my splits and finish time. I was at a table with a sub 3hr runner and we were both a bit baffled by how I'd managed to wangle that pace without any GPS timing. I learned that maths on fatigue is really difficult too. Time maths is just IMPOSSIBLE.

Sunday night we enjoyed a feast at The Bird in Kreutzberg - best burger I've ever had, but the night was one of the worst. I wonder if I really slept at all - I've never been in so much pain from running - my hip flexors were totally shot, my knees felt like I'd landed on them from about 20ft, my lower back was void of skin thanks to my running belt, and the tendon in my very swollen foot was absolutely screaming. Basically every time I stirred in my sleep, I woke myself up with the pain. Anywhere that connected my lower limbs to my body was in a sorry state. 

Thankfully it didn't last long and by Tuesday I was raring to go again, aside from the tendon. It's better now...but I think after Sunday's Half Marathon in Glasgow, we could be resting up for a while to avoid any nasty long-term problems. 

Berlin has been a beauty as always. I love going there to wander about and explore, and of course to see the people I love who I only get to spend small amounts of time with. Nine days has been a treat - the crushing comedown is imminent. 

So yes - then I flew home and despite my friend's pretty clear communication that she thought running would be a BAD idea...I ran the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon in Glasgow yesterday. One week after running Berlin. 

Flying on endorphins
And...it was amazing. I was a bit concerned about my foot, but I couldn't sit it out and be left wondering if I could have managed it. I told myself if I needed to stop at any point, I would just stop...but I'd regret not trying. I'm so glad I made that call...I got round in 2hr 07mins, just 5mins off my Half Marathon PB and I finished nice and strong, running a negative split with no significant pain. If anything, my tendon feels looser for the run - I'm really pleased, and what an amazing atmosphere. I do love Scottish people for their support and Glasgow did themselves proud yesterday - it was beautiful.

The Beautiful People
The skin situation, however, is not great - distance running and seams do not bode well for certain parts of the upper body. Let's just say that. It looks like something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre...I'm taking a week off to heal up, have some nice red wine with my dinners and catch up on GBBO. Let's not pretend I'm not already researching 2016 marathons and I don't already have Berlin 16 registration date in my diary...

Next up is a potential torchlight trail 10k in the Pentlands on 4th Nov (purse-strings depending) and then I'm going to be cracking on with a serious schedule to get me a nice PB at Innsbruck Half Marathon next April, the day before my birthday. What's not to love!?

Running for Alzheimer's Society has been humbling and rewarding. The team there made me feel so special and it was good for me to be on the other side of fundraising support, because it highlighted some aspects of being a community fundraiser that I hadn't really understood before. Most of all though, I hope the funds we raised will go some way towards improving the lives of those affected by dementia. I think my Grandad would be pretty pleased - I know my Nan would be more worried than anything! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a coincidence - I believe that everything happens for a reason; not that everything is mapped out, but that good and bad things happen and they are all signposts to point us in the right direction. Various things directed me to Berlin - and I'm so happy they did. 

My Nan's name was Mona...and when I got this photo from the 30.5km mark, I like to take a little bit of comfort in the coincidental fact that the lady running beside me...is called Mona. 



Thank you again for your support, sponsorship and just being there to listen to me ramble on about running. I know that 70% of all conversations I enter into seem to descend into running chat within 10 minutes, but I never really anticipated this becoming such a big part of my identity. This is what I do now, I guess. 

Eat. Sleep. Run. Repeat.

Love you. xxx


Monday, 21 September 2015

#Together42 #WeAreMarathoners

When everything else seems to be going wrong, at least running will always be right.

It's race week, baby!

Despite having a complete arse of a work week, I'm in the final phases of tapering for my second marathon and finally things are coming together. Finally my chewed up and blistered toes are healing and they held up well yesterday afternoon. 


I never wanted them anyway...

Yesterday involved a 4.30am wake up call, a drive up to Perthshire to don some hi-vis and marshal my way through the morning at the awesome Iron Ride cycling sportive, a drive back down the road, a quick bagel, a nap on the sofa and then a speedy wee 8 mile run. 

The nap really made it. 

I may or may not have had to dance around the flat in my pants before I was geared up enough to get outside and do some real exercise though. And I may or may not have had peanut M&Ms for my dinner while sat on the sofa watching Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. 

Oh, the shame.

Overall this taper has been different and possibly less anxious than the run up to LA Marathon. Sleep hasn't been too forthcoming over the past couple of weeks but it's ok, I'm trusting my body to tell me if it needs a nap. I'm also getting up at 5am every morning so my body clock can adjust in time for Sunday. This time round I've been consumed with fear that my poor toes wouldn't heal in time for race day and that I'd be distracted by painful blisters which would scupper my chances of a good finishing time. 

I haven't ever suffered with blisters before - this suddenly started about six weeks ago and seemed to only affect my tiptoes! But ouch...I was massacred with it, and never being able to leave more than a day between runs wasn't helping matters. The misery was tough to run through and it's what started me on my negative funk that day when I hit the wall - the start of the slippery slope to absolute doom. 

Thankfully I've finally cracked it - but I was getting worried. What I couldn't accept was that I'd done all this training, strategically lost 11lb through some seriously controlled calorie intake, and gone without my cherished vino for a small eternity...yet I was about to have everything scuppered by sore tiptoes. It seemed ridiculous! But thankfully it's becoming less and less of a threat as the days creep by. 

I'm running faster on my mid-distance runs, and I mean noticeably faster. I ran a 21.4mile negative split and my fastest miles were 20 and 21. I am averaging 9min miles on anything up to 10k. I'm seriously excited to see what I can pull out of the bag on Sunday, but need to keep calm and not get too ahead of myself. 

I enjoyed a bit of FaceTime with Tully last night - she applauded my projection of my anxiety into some pretty hardcore list-making. You should see these bad-boys though - I have lists that are so beautiful they'd make you weep. Tick boxes and everything. Beasts. 

True to form then, here's a few condensed facts that every Marathon runner will live by this week, and every normal person will have never needed to consider:

  • We will travel in our race shoes, making sure that even in the event of luggage being lost by an airline, we needn't worry about our feet. We probably already have our travel outfit and hand luggage ready to go.
  • We have mapped the route on our fitness apps and can almost taste the smugness of swiping that sexy sexy "Share Workout" button. Ohhh yyyyeah.
  • We have every meal for the next 5 days meticulously planned; oats and sweet potatoes are the order of the day.
  • We don't take kindly to people assuming we can eat whatever we want just because we run.
  • We don't take kindly to people telling us that running is bad for our knees. 
  • We are taking buses or the car for even the shortest of journeys so as to conserve energy and only run the precise miles we have scheduled into our tapering plans.
  • We will run the day before the Marathon. It is just a thing that we will do.
  • We have a selection of lists for hand luggage, case, race bag and a separate one for how to get to the start line...in case following 40,000 other lycra-clad people wasn't going to give it away.
  • We can't explain why we love putting ourselves through all of this...or why we are quite so excited.

Thankfully I don't need to think about a playlist because I've not run with music or anything other than the sound around me for the past two years now. Hearing the patter of thousands of rubber-soled feet purring on hard tarmac is a beautiful noise and the feeling it evokes is unlike anything else. I can't wait to get to Germany on Thursday.

It's hard to explain. Other than to say, we are marathoners...



Next one will be the big one. Thank you so much for being really patient, supportive and kind to me over the past months. Here's to an uneventful 26.2miles in beautiful Berlin. 

Nikki. xxx

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

..."Sleepwise I'm Medium to Well Done, for sure"...

First off, I have to make an apology to Scotland. I, along with many others, have been flippantly commenting on the "rubbish summer" we have had up here this year. I feel the need to put this into context slightly as I feel we have been misrepresenting you, Scotland. I have been out running every weekend for the past 19 weeks and I have to say that throughout that time, I haven't been rained on once during any of my long runs. I have tan lines like a retired accountant in Benidorm; I am hobbling proof that Scotland has indeed seen sunshine this summer and I'm standing on the Scottish defensive weather front.

Moving swiftly on from that favourite British pastime of chatting about the weather, it's all been very tame over the past week. After that blinding 21.4miler, I feel pretty happy to wind down and taper. I'm rocking a cut calorie and lower carb version of my normal diet, which combined with less running will effect a natural carb load over the next 2.5weeks leading up to race day. I'm feeling lighter already. Lots of tasty low fat proteins and piles of raw courgetti with every meal. What's not to love!?

The only game-shaker this week came in the form of uncertainty surrounding running shoes. Without getting into too much gory detail, I've been battling some pretty grim issues with my big toe and blisters on one foot. Really dreadful blistering beneath my nail that has caused all sorts of whining and complaining while limping around the flat. Poor Tom. 

I'd also pretty much shit-canned my old trainers too - 360 miles on tarmac and the soles were starting to wear away enough for me to definitely consider breaking in a new pair for race day. AC said this was easy done and that I definitely wasn't too late to run a fresh pair in. Sold. As always, Run 4 It went the extra mile so I didn't have to, and they sorted me out a treat with a pair of the exact same shoes, just half the price I paid for my first pair (le sigh) and in a much less garish pink. Winning. 

Yummy scrummy Asics Gel Cumulus 16s for the devouring
So new shoes were a good idea. What perhaps wasn't such a good idea then was choosing to break them in on a 13.1mile run back along the gravel-ridden A702 in 18degree sunshine. A bit on the snug side, I'd say! Slightly sore on the old soles there, but I went out tonight and shaved 2mins off my 6mile time with zero toe pain so I'm back in the zone of confident/calm again with them now. They can stay. We are friends now. Blue Team is the way forward. Go Blue Team.

It's funny how the mental aspect of running is SO significant, but it really makes all the difference. Thankfully even after the more difficult runs, I've found the grit and resolve to get back out and keep going with all my training. Skipping runs and giving up has not been an option unless I've genuinely known that my body needed an extra day to recover. Having everyone's kind sponsorship and support has made a huge impact too, and has been really encouraging on those harder days when an extra hour in bed feels really tempting. Thank you again for that. If you'd still like to sponsor my journey to the finish line of this year's Berlin Marathon, please just head to my JustGiving page

Anyway, back to the feet thing, I've been donning some pretty swish running socks with the ends cut off in a last bid attempt to aid the healing process after #ToeGate2015. These bad boys, combined with Epsom salt baths, seem to be doing ok - so far, so good, as they say. :)

All in all I'm feeling a lot less anxious than at this point in my taper for LA. I remember having all these crazy anxiety dreams about missing flights and being lost and naked in public. Anxiety's Greatest Hits as I call it. But this time I've just been rocking 10 hours of sleep at night and who even knows what I'm dreaming about for that crazy amount of time..? Probably MY BEST FRIEND'S TOTALLY AWESOME WEDDING...

#TullymeadFTW
Never over it. I miss everyone so much!

Whatever it is, my body must be really enjoying the healing process. Lots of lovely sleep to get these hard-worked muscles all ready for race day - I'm excited beyond belief. I even had an outrageous thought and started talking CRAZY TALK about Boston one day. But that's a distant dream I daren't get too attached to for a long while yet...

It's a nice dream to hold in the back of my mind though. Anything is possible.

Not much else to report really...it's all going to plan. So I'll shut up and stop being so goddamn smug before I fall down some stairs or something, eh...

(ZOMG DON'T!!)

Love you millions, 
Nikki. xxx


Monday, 31 August 2015

Keep On...

Well what a weekend of highs! Possibly the polar opposite of last weekend, thanks to a really successful last long run on Sunday.

I can't believe I'm at the point of tapering again already. It feels amazing, and now is my chance to drop a few cheeky pounds in order to speed things up for race day. Not needing to take in so many carb-heavy meals to deal with the long 20+ mile runs is refreshing - most importantly I'm feeling strong, happy and healthy. Things are bang on track and I'm so excited to get to the Race Expo at Templehof and pick up my race number...then it'll definitely feel real.

After last week's mentally gruelling battle with glycogen depletion, I was determined to make this run far more positive and to go out with confidence and determination that I could complete 21 miles without any issues. I wasn't going to dwell on one bad run.

I'd decided to take the train out to Linlithgow and run the exact 21.5miles back to Viewforth along the Union Canal...so things didn't bode well when the bus broke down on the way to the station. Needless to say, I missed two trains and had to mill about for another 30mins waiting for the next one...but I was keeping my chill...just. 


It was written in the stars!
The run itself was URMAAAAZING - admittedly the tow path was a bit narrow and uneven underfoot up until about Mile 14, but once I got to Ratho the path widened and I no longer had to dart into the rushes to escape the sporadic onslaught of cyclists. The lack of bins along the route meant shoving sticky gel wrappers back into my pocket, but the conveniently placed canal meant I could rinse those sticky fingers no bother. 

Every cloud...

Everything was perfect - the weather was spot on and everything went to plan. I'd scheduled myself 4hrs to complete the run, so when I reached Mile 20 feeling strong and mentally really focused, I upped the pace and pushed through the final 2.4miles in a faster pace than I'd completed any of the miles before that point. When I hit the finish line in 3hrs52mins I was absolutely ECSTATIC and felt really strong to have continued, so mentally that really spurred me on that I can complete the 26miles in Berlin in pretty good form and hopefully a pretty respectable time too.

When I ran LA I just wanted to finish...now I want a time.

I don't use a GPS watch while running, so pace-wise I just run to my own pace and "find my rhythm" as I call it. I'm possibly the world's worst advert for GPS pacing tools as I ran a pretty even pace throughout. I also noticed when I checked my splits that I'd run a 21.4mile negative split...meaning I ran the last 10miles faster than the first 10miles...and my fastest miles were miles 20 and 21. Unbelievable...I honestly didn't think I was capable - I'm overwhelmed and I was a bit emotional to have got to this stage of training to see that the sacrifices have all paid off. All those early mornings, all those refusals of lovely vino or beers during the festival...it all paid off. 
Negative Split FTW
The icing on the cake came when I arrived home and checked my email to see a notification from JustGiving to say I'd had a donation on my page. To my wonderful surprise, my very generous friend Mac had made the final donation I needed to hit my £1,000 for Alzheimer's Society - it all came together on that day. The hardest training was done, the fundraising was a success; I felt thankful, relieved, overwhelmed and excited all at the same time, and yes...I cried a little tear of grateful happiness.

Thank you to everyone who has listened to me ramble on about running, to everyone who has sponsored me, and to everyone reading this...because it really makes me committed to keep going and to keep running...and running has changed my life for the better in so many ways. 

Also this weekend I saw C!rca, my fave Aussie circus company - that was a massive inspiration to keep moving on Sunday. There's something about watching incredibly physically strong and agile people pushing their bodies to the extreme and demonstrating just what amazing things can come of dedication and hard work through training. It was beautiful and made me excited to get out and put my body through its paces on my long run. 

Equally inspiring is a new friend of mine who completed the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc over the weekend - an ultra marathon that comprises 106miles, three countries, 9,500m elevation and is widely considered the toughest ultra in Europe. Caroline completed it non-stop in a little over 30hrs. Unbelievable...she said herself that she reached entirely new levels of digging deep, and I can't even begin to imagine what her body went through...but I was so inspired tracking her progress through the nights and watching her pass through those checkpoints knowing she was nailing it. Absolutely amazing. It made me think when I set off on Sunday "It's only 21miles"...weird, I know, but it helped me put things into perspective and not be daunted by the distance. 

All in all, it's been an inspiring weekend, and I got to spend some time with my best friend of 17 years while she was beasting the Fringe for a couple of days...made me this happy...

Straight down the line to Boogie Town...

Edinburgh is the place I love more than any other. This festival has been the best ever. I've seen poets, comedians, circus performers, buskers, choirs, preachers and dancers lining the streets on a daily basis. I've watched 100 people dance through George Square in headphones while all singing "Celebration" in unison and completely out of tune. I've learned salsa dancing in the Grassmarket while eating Stilton and grape ice cream from Mary's Milk Bar.  I've got a loyalty card from the German Bratwurst stand where if I buy eight brats I get my ninth free. I've also inadvertently become the subject of an active pool titled "What will Nikki get first: a free Bratwurst or a date?" 


Place your bets now because it's fucking ON.

In short, it's been mega. 

After 11 years living in Edinburgh, I love and appreciate this beautiful city more than I ever have and I am so so grateful to be able to make a happy, healthy and productive life for myself here. If you've never visited Edinburgh, I encourage you to put it on your destination list immediately - this isn't a new feeling, I just feel the urge to remind and reinforce.

So, from this gushingly excited runner to my beloved friends and support posse, here's to living the dream, embracing a challenge and paying attention to the little things that can bring you such simple joy on an otherwise entirely average day. 

Lots of love,
Nikki. xxx

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Wall...and other tales of Tempest...

I'm going to get the running chat out of the way first.

This week was my highest mileage, busting out 42.8miles (69km) over four runs. The first three runs were amazing and I went into today's 20.7miler feeling optimistic. But I hit the wall at 18/19 and it was rough, man. It doesn't help that I hit it in Holyrood Park, surrounded by ALL THE IDIOTS IN THE WORLD. Then had to climb that bitchin' great incline between the lochs.

Basically "The Wall" is the point at which your body has used up all its glycogen stores in the liver and muscles and has to transition into burning other fuels it can find. It hits around the 20mile mark and causes sudden fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and ABSOLUTE DESPAIR. Your serotonin levels increase, causing your dopamine to drop which results in a severe lack of motivation and real mental feelings of "I can't do this". In short, it's a really shitty place to find yourself.

I'd been on track with my buddy Rowland for the most part, but he recognised this was a battle I had to fight alone and I encouraged him to run ahead while I spent a hard 3mins pulling myself back together (I called my Mum for equal parts comfort and an ass-kicking pep-talk). Although short periods of rest won't help you get through the chemical turmoil you're body is in, it worked and I ran the final miles home, albeit slowly.

Everything was hurting, and I'm pretty sure that consuming a strict 1,900 calories per day to drop some weight is not conducive to getting me over that mentally and physically crushing hurdle at 20miles. I'mma need to reassess and regroup.

Tonight, my IT Bands are screaming...it's been a niggle for the past 3yrs, but tonight I'm miserable and the only rational place to be feels like the kitchen floor with my foam roller. I have been sat here for an hour, rolling about and complaining to myself. I have no appetite and Tom isn't home to feeeeeed meeeeee, so I've had half a pineapple for my dinner.

Running Reality: The hardest line to get to is the start line...

I'm fully aware that none of this behaviour is ideal - my point being that, mentally, a really difficult run can shred you and strip you of all common sense. I burned in excess of 3,100 calories on my run today and all I've had since is pineapple and a litre of 1% fat chocolate milk at 700cals. But I am uninspired and sore and the hours are ticking by.

Tomorrow will be better. This is what your sponsorship is for...getting me through these miles and mental hurdles...because today is harder than any race day will ever be.

Puhleeease sponsor me!!

...and if anyone wants to bring me some dinner, I am all about that too.

Other things this week - I went to see Kate Tempest.

DID I TELL YOU THAT I WENT TO SEE KATE TEMPEST!?

*Cue overexcited enthusiasm*

Being in a room with Kate Tempest is like standing in front of a moving train. She flies at you, unstoppable, yet you’re completely frozen to the spot and you can’t wait to be knocked down by the weight of her words and the ferocity of her passionate delivery.

Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2014, aficionados will be familiar her debut rap album Everybody Down, but rapping is just one branch of Kate Tempest’s immense talents, the roots of which run so deep and promise untold greatness yet to be unearthed.

Not only did she receive a Mercury nomination for Everybody Down, she is also the youngest ever winner of the Ted Hughes Prize for poetry for her epic poem Brand New Ancients and has since been commissioned to write for the Royal Shakespeare Company amongst other serious theatre peeps.

Here is a woman whose love of hip hop music and the lyrically sublime such as Saul Williams lead her on a path to promoting spoken word performance poetry and hauling it into the limelight, where it absolutely belongs to be. I relate to Kate Tempest when she talks about appreciating lyrics above everything when she listens to music. This is why I loved Roisin Murphy's music so much as a teenager, and of course I still love it now...I was hearing Roisin's words, and it made her music speak to me differently to anything I'd really heard before.

It's also why I stopped writing music - I felt like I didn't have any experiences to write about...nobody wants a pretty rhyming couplet for the sake of it.



Kate Tempest: The Poet Performs was a showcase of the poems from her new collection called Hold Your Own. It was set in the thin-walled ramshackle structure that is the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, and not even the roar of two RAF Typhoon jets flying low overhead could distract from her awesome flow and beautiful narrative, telling stories of sex, love, youth, alienation and human disparity, with the odd Greek myth thrown in for good measure.

Kate the person and Kate the performer almost feel like two very different people. The former is a very quiet, softly spoken, youthful looking woman from Lewisham who explains with a shrug of her shoulders and a little pacing back and forth that the best way to tell the stories of all the voices in Hold Your Own is to let them flow as one piece. So we shouldn’t be thinking “This is a bit rude, she ain’t even said ‘ello after 45minutes”, in her own words.

Yet after a charming and eloquent introduction of “Ladies, Gentlemen and everything in between, these are the poems from Hold Your Own”, omg, the poet truly did perform and the room was silent. 

Much should be praised when we consider a young woman commandeering a room of 600 people, all different ages and walks of life, many there alone (that’s what poetry is for), engrossed and not even flinching at a pre-watershed dropping of the c-bomb. It’s all about dropping it with class you see, dahling, and I came away feeling inspired and enlightened and ready to write again.

So to those who question the intelligence of hip hop music, I'm going to encourage you to explore the varied works of Kate Tempest and broaden your musical harvests. Let the unusual in and embrace it, you never know what you might discover.

Hip hop ignited the fire within this intelligent and incredibly engaging young rapper; what’s more it took her around the world and placed her in front of 600 people and a two minute standing ovation on a rainy Wednesday night at a literature festival.

Bish. Bash. Bosh.


I love her. She inspires me in a way I haven't felt in 15 years.

Enjoy. 

Nikki. xxx

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Fringes of Society: "This is a blog about cat-calling"...

Hard to know where to start this week. It's been a busy one of Fringe-fuelled-fun, alongside a few great runs and an exciting, challenging and encouraging week at work. 

It never rains but it pours, as they say. 

Ultimately this post is worth sticking with...once I've rambled through the usual weekly running chat as standard. I get stuck into my feminist stride about half way through. #Justsaying

Highlights this weekend - bit of a 4am singalong with my lovely Big Hand boys at Late 'n' Live..


Oh hold me up
...and an amazing short film about a little known act of solidarity by some engineers at Rolls Royce in East Kilbride during the Chilean coup d'etat in the 70s. 



Running-wise...

Last Monday was perfect for churning out a hard 10 miles in some of Edinburgh's finest headwinds. I'll never figure out how this city manages it...how you can run 10 miles, made up of two 360 loops, and yet you're always running against the ferocious wind. If nothing else, I've perfected my "running man". 

Having said that, it was a great run and I made it up the long, steady 1.2 mile incline round the back of Arthur's Seat without stopping a step. Then I did the same thing last night on a quick 11 miler, at bang on 10min/mile pace, and a successful negative split...all after the long run on Sunday. I can't believe it. 

Those kind of achievements make all the difference to the mental game when it comes to marathon training. Sometimes pounding out the same, long miles can ebb away at your resolve to keep pushing yourself, and you get stuck in a rut of only doing what is comfortable, never pushing yourself. Thankfully, pushing against the elements in Scotland definitely adds to a very useful sense of accomplishment. Hill reps also help, because it's encouraging when you notice an improvement in ability to sprint to the top of a ruddy great big incline.

In the name of actively combatting the boredom of running the same pavements any longer, I went on a gorgeous jaunt through the countryside on Saturday morning. I took the bus out to Carlops in the Scottish Borders and ran the 14miles back to town, then threw in a loop of my favourite run in the city to make it up to a swift, painless and entirely enjoyable 16.5miles. The only thing that wasn't encouraging was the number of carcasses on the side of the A702....



The long and beautiful road home

There's nothing quite like the smell of festering roadkill on a warm summer's day to keep you moving.

And badgers are MASSIVE!

Anyway. It was a great run and I'm now super motivated for my last two long runs before I start tapering. Ah...my sweet, sweet taper. 

Then, in the name of carb-loading, I'm going to eat ALL ZE POTATOES IN BERLIN, JA! Should be a far cry from the challenge that was sourcing carbs on Abbot Kinney. That shit was ridiculous; this time I'm ready. This time I've got my head in the carbs game and I'm going to a city with 24hr access to bread and teddy bear ham. 

(It's a long story for another time...)

I've been sitting here trying to think of a clever transition into talking about cat-calling, but I haven't found it. 

So this is a blog about cat-calling.

You'll have to forgive me for the potentially chop-change direction this may go in, but the topic is something I feel so passionately about and something I feel vaguely qualified to comment on from a feminist perspective. Not only do I experience it a lot, between running or just walking down the street both in the UK and abroad, it's something I've spoken about at length with other women, and men, with various personal experiences. 

First thing. Yes, it does "still happen" and yes it happens to me at least once a week. Secondly, no, it's not flattering, and it's not intended to be. Thirdly, it is absolutely imperative for me to highlight that nothing a victim does, the way they dress or the way they wear their hair, the hobbies they choose to pursue and the time of day they leave the house, none of it solicits cat-calls. This has nothing to do with the way someone chooses to present themselves - it comes down to age old misogynistic ignorance and it's nothing clever or witty or complimentary...it's just plain old harassment. It's abuse. And it's not just verbal either.

A couple of weeks ago I'd been sharing some of my cat-calling "howlers" with a friend over lunch. I also mentioned that more recently I'd become so enraged by it that, in certain cases, I'd started to challenge those who said something to me, by stopping, turning around and questioning their behaviour in a calm and genuinely quizzing way. Because I genuinely do want to know what they are possibly getting out of their actions...or what they hope to achieve. 

I've become sick of feeling that I should "just ignore it, Nik". I've been told this all my life by my parents, my colleagues, when someone behaves in a way I feel is unjustified. We are told all the time "Just ignore them, they're jealous/insecure/just doing it to provoke you"..."just walk away". Why should I be the one to walk away?! Why am I letting this continue? Why shouldn't we be challenging this behaviour? Should we also "just ignore" incidents of systemic racism? Or should we "just walk away" from our responsibilities to curb climate change? Why aren't we being encouraged to just ignore those issues?

As far as I see it (and this isn't a criticism of the lovely men I know who would never dream of being such idiots), it's left to women to step up and challenge male behaviour because male peers have clearly failed to do it for generations. I realise I'm also using men calling after women as a general example here, and that it does work both ways, but I'm going off what's most common for the sake of argument (and to keep this within 5hrs of ranting).

When someone yells after me in the street, they have the power and the control in that situation. Although I'm plenty big and strong, I am still physically less big and strong than a man...generally speaking. 

I have now started to turn around and walk into that male-dominated power-space...to reclaim the power for myself and to take control of the situation. And that's a scary place to be - I'm not going to suggest it's easy and not frightening. And I get mixed reactions when I calmly walk over and ask a man "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch what you said - were you trying to speak to me about something?" For the most part it works...it creates slight panic and it jolts people off the expected course of action. It has a slightly different effect to blowing snot from both nostrils through the open window of a car full of fat, middle aged men who were FOOLISHLY stopped at traffic lights when they decided to jeer, hiss, whistle and groan at me. Word of warning. Don't cat-call a runner when they are jacked up on endorphins and have hashed out plans for most cat-calling scenarios after being subjected to countless incidents.

I'm surprised these guys are even walking upright they're so under-evolved...

And this is a specific kind of scenario...not the kind when people want to start a conversation with you and start walking alongside you. They are the creepiest, the most nerve-wracking and unpleasant situations.

But then things also get more serious in other ways. My friend told me last week about when she was walking for dinner with friends to a restaurant in Edinburgh and a man came along and smacked her ass really hard, then wandered off laughing. A complete stranger. If you laughed reading that, shame on you...I'm so glad you think that unprovoked assault of a woman is so funny.

My friend was obviously shocked, and there is an unnecessary yet natural feeling of embarrassment that coincides with this abject horror. Her friends did nothing, and to make everything worse they were concealing their laughter (why it feels like a waste of breath sometimes). Two other men came along and asked what happened...when she told them the guy had hit her on the ass, they laughed and replied "Oh, right, ok" and walked on. 

Errrrm...sorry, NO. Not ok. 

NOT OK. 

If she'd told them the guy had smacked her across the face, would they have still laughed and walked on without offering any help or support? Would you still have laughed reading my introduction to the story of what happened, above? I'm thinking not...because hitting someone in the face is considered to be assault. Yet because this action was intended as something indirectly sexual towards a woman...oh, that's ok, is it? That's not assault? That's ok. 

It's not ok. It is assault.

We as women run a risk, even when calling men out in a calm way - if we don't do it calmly, we're branded as "psycho bitches". That again is a whooooole other issue for another rainy day. But more importantly I want men to realise that they are our much-needed ally here. The only way men will behave differently is if other men call them out on their shitty actions. The same applies with verbal abuse, especially when it's conducted in public and everyone sits in silence because we are a backwards nation of awkward, perennial conflict avoiders. 

I am done with avoiding conflict. I've done it all my life and I'm taking a supportive stand for my fellow victims...and myself. 

Here's a video that's equal parts fabulous and annoying - aside from suggesting that cat-calling is only "real" once it's been witnessed by a man...and that victims of cat-calling are only validated by their relationship to a man ("someone's daughter, someone's wife") *le sigh* it hints at what I'm sick and tired of experiencing...



Imagine that...

Nikki. xxx

Monday, 10 August 2015

"That time I ate leftover lentils for three days"...

Oh hello! 

Slightly late to the blogging party this week, due to having an actual party in my garden on Saturday and scoring some much appreciated dolla dolla for Alzheimer's Society. 

I skipped the long run in exchange for approximately 18 gazillion trips up and down the stairs to my top floor flat, getting everything sorted for all you generous hungry people to come and devour "flame grilled" goodness for a great cause. Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

In short, I held a fundraising BBQ in my back garden and asked guests to pop some sponsorship in the collection can, along with sharing a memory or two on my timeline (aka the washing line). 

"That time when"...
I wanted the timeline to act as a gentle reminder of why we were all there and why I was fundraising in the first place. We're lucky to be able to delve into so many vivid memories and it's important to share them with each other - those with dementia struggle to form and store new memories and I thought a little memory activity would be a nice addition to the day. 

Some sunshine would have been a nice addition too. It started off so well...

Overall it was a great day though, and I can't say thank you enough to all the people who came, ate, drank, donated, shared, laughed, listened. You are all wonderful and I hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did. 

I also have to say a mahoosive thank you to local brewery Stewart Brewing for donating all those bottles of scrummy Pils, and to Brew Lab for donating a keg of super cool Nitro Cold Brew coffee for those of us avoiding the alcomahol.

I'm now 80% of the way towards my fundraising target and I'm genuinely so grateful for all the generous sponsorship I've received so far. It really helps as I head into the final weeks of serious mileage. 

Last Saturday I did indeed head out on the usual roads to run 18.1 miles. After all that moaning and whining it was actually a really nice run; I felt in much better shape than I did the week before. I even pulled a "sprint" finish out of the bag! Maybe I was just that desperate to get inside for a chocolate milkshake? 

Whatever the reason, the run went really well - I've finally worked out that the back eight miles are slightly uphill all the way, so it's hardly surprising they feel utterly soul-destroying. Totally different head game once you realise it though - I can't believe I've not worked out why I felt so tired running it before.

Ah yes, I said I'd review the Lulu Lemon socks too...well there was no blood, which is always a good start. However, they felt a lot less secure than my Asics marathon socks do - the weaving is a lot looser (I'm guessing for breatheability) and I came back with a few little blisters here and there. They're lovely for anything up to 10k, but I'd recommend tighter fitting layered marathon socks for anything over that. I felt like they were slipping around a lot and I prefer something much more snug-fitting and tightly woven. They look lovely and they've washed well - but whether they are worth a tenner, I'm not really that sure. 

So what's coming up? The weather is uninspiring and the Fringe is upon us, which means the streets are teeming with people and umbrellas. As such I've planned my next three long runs to avoid the city as best possible: 

1) Take the bus to Carlops in the Scottish Borders and run 18 miles home. 
2) Take the train to Drem in East Lothian and run 19.5 miles home.
3) Take the train to Linlithgow in West Lothian and run 21.5 miles along the Union Canal back home.

DOES THIS PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE HOW FAR I AM TRAVELLING ON FOOT?! It's blowing my tiny mind how far this is. Anyway, after that it's the blessed taper - I'm so excited. I'm even more excited to get to Berlin, see my friends there, explore the Expo at Templehof, carb load on outrageous amounts of all you can eat Russian brunch...

...if I think about it too much I get properly emotional. 

Best stop there - I'm off out on a cheeky 10 miler now to get a nice bit of distance in the legs, so I feel marginally less guilty for skipping a long run this weekend. Thank you again for those who have sponsored me so far, and if you would still like to do that thing, head to my JustGiving page

Lots of love and a bit of boogie. xxx

Saturday, 1 August 2015

"Yarp..? Narrrrrrp"

I sat for over an hour last night, and have been sat for another 45mins this morning, trying to plan out a 17-18mile route that doesn't include that god-forsaken stretch of Portobello promenade and Brunstane Burn that I pound out every weekend...because I swear, if I have to run that stretch one more time, I'm going to lose the will to live. 

I had to take a time out to write this down because I guess it's just another aspect of marathon prep that people don't really notice or think about. I always say that being sponsored to run a marathon isn't really about the race at all...it's all the prep and arduous hours it takes to get to race day. This frustrating, head-in-hands process is one of the more mentally challenging things to contend with.


#Frustratesballs

It sounds like such a silly thing to say - surely running is running and it's always boring, no matter where you run, right? Well, not if you really enjoy running and you have to run a really long way on a regular basis. Imagine watching the same film every Saturday morning ten weeks in a row. Then watch the same episode of the same show four times a week on top of that. Sounds like it would get pretty boring pretty quickly, right? 

That's exactly how I'm feeling - except I can't seem to find a new film to watch. I'm doing the equivalent of sitting in front of the Netflix menu for two hours when you can't quite come up with anything you feel comfortable committing to, so you end up just watching Hot Fuzz again because it's on the telly anyway.

Yarrp. 

My way of phrasing it is this: the hardest line that you'll cross in a marathon isn't the finish line, it's the start line. 

Once race day arrives you're all set. You've done all the hard work, all the preparation and training; you've got fresh legs, the route is brand new and exciting and the atmosphere will carry you through no matter what. But running for 3-4 solid hours, alone, every weekend before that point is potentially soul destroying if you don't keep things interesting. 

So I'm probably going to end up running the same route as usual in an hour's time, the thought of which is already bringing me close to tears this morning. It doesn't really bode well for my mental focus when the fatigue starts to kick in. 

I don't have a witty answer to my conundrum this week. I'm genuinely feeling deflated and just needed to share the downs as well as the ups with you all while on this marathon journey. These are the harder days, and though I usually have a silver lining to share, all I'm seeing today is a big fat moody cloud ready to rain all over me as soon as I leave the flat.

I did however score some free £10 socks from Lulu Lemon this week after popping in for a look round and an obligatory schmooze with the handsome sales assistant. Winning. All in the name of "product testing" apparently - I'll take them for a spin and deliver my verdict. I also painted my nails with some suitably Deutsch farben to keep me motivated for Berlin. Saddo Ganders ought to get out more.


                  
Go faster stripes
Lulu Lemon freebies!

I'd love to see a few more donations popping up on my JustGiving page if we can. I'm now into my 60 alcohol free days before race day, so if you think I deserve a pint after an 18mile run this weekend, please please please just donate the price of that pint to Alzheimer's Society instead. It really will make all the difference, seeing as I'm now on a nutrition plan that sadly omits ALL THE TASTY TASTY BEER.

Your sponsorship genuinely helps me to stay positive and focused when out on these long, hard runs at the weekend. I'm committed to raising £1,000 for Alzheimer's Society in order to run Berlin Marathon, so please consider donating a cheeky few pounds while payday is fresh in our pockets!

Thank you so much as always to everyone who has supported my fundraising and tolerated my dull running chat so far - time to get my trainers on for y'all! 

Nik. xxx