The Human Interaction Conundrum in The Information Age

As humans we have evolved over the discourse of millions of years. There have been generation after generation before us through which we have evolved for the greater survival of our species. In recent years technology built the internet and made it accessible to most of us most of the time, introducing The Information Revolution. We are now more globally connected and informed than ever: we’re in group chats that are kind of like hanging out; we’re in Facebook groups of people with similar interests to us, most of whom we’ve never met; we follow people’s lives on social media, especially Instagram which is largely based on visuals that we come to feel like we know these people whose content we follow, comment on and share when we really don’t know them at all.

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Tea for One

In becoming more connected with others via technology we are less connected in reality as we use our smart phones to for more and more tasks. Gone are the days of asking someone for directions, of going in person into a cab reception and making conversation whilst waiting, and now coffee chains have even made it possible to order without talking to anyone via our phones without having to even speak or look at another human being, all of which allow for as little human interaction in person as possible (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Unfortunately, this trend bucks our evolutionary DNA for healthy fulfillment; social interaction has long been an established an innate human need, and is central to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ((Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017). Although originally considered to be related only to close relationships such as family, partners and close friends it has transpired over time that the little interactions with strangers as we go about our day are also important (Kushlev, Proulx & Dunn, 2017).

I am very good at spending a lot of time on my own. I can go a while without really seeing anyone and only realise on day 3 or so. The downside to this is that I am quite a socially anxious person. I wouldn’t go as far to suggest I have social anxiety but I get overwhelmed for sure. I get so much anxiety in my stomach when I need to leave the house to go somewhere where I may meet or talk with others so intense that I frequently freeze until it’s too late to go anymore. So when my psychiatrist says to me that I need to get out and interact with people more, in person and preferably doing activities that aren’t solitary, it feels like a the hardest of recommendations to accomplish. It’s a tall order when just being around others can make me cry even though I k now it’s irrational. Consequently, I miss many social plans. Each time gives me a short space of relief but in the long run my anxieties just deepen and grow. It’s fair to say that I’ve been letting anxiety physically stop me from giving myself a chance at getting my human needs met.

So here’s the challenge for the next year or so:

  • Go to more social activities, will opt for sports closer to home to begin with.
  • Use mindfulness and breathing exercises to remain calm
  • Try to scowl less when I am out and about. Apparently this makes me seem unapproachable.
  • Use mood monitoring app to record anxiety levels around social events, whether I succeeded in going or not, what went well and what didn’t.

 


Sources:

Kushlev, K., Proulx, J.D.E. & Dunn, E. (2017) Digitally connected, socially disconnected: The effects of relying on technology rather than other people. Computers in Human Behaviour. 76pp.68-74. (Link)

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Getting Active: Becoming a Kinetic Energetic

In the final stage of starting to get active the focus is on actually starting to move. Feel free to move in any way which suits you and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way when turning getting active into part of my permanent lifestyle.

This stage is called, Becoming the Kinetic Energetic.

Balance Ambition and Attainability

With running, it is tempting to go for straight for the big distances. A training plan says you can run a half marathon in 8 weeks, so why shouldn’t you? If you train hard you’ll get results quickly right?

Unfortunately, fitness isn’t always a direct correlative relationship of input vs results. We are human beings not machines: we can’t force out bodies to stick to a constant progressive plan as figured by an algorithm. Injuries happen. Overuse injuries and obtaining injuries from increasing your exercise load too quickly are very real – and are not something be ploughed on through in the name of ‘mind over matter’.

Our bodies do things that may not fall in line with our plans and ambitions. Being realistic with self expectations and self compassionate throughout your journey will harbour much greater results than literally beating your body up physically in order to run too far a distance in too short a time, or dead lift too many kilograms too quickly – and that’s OK.

I can however, make slow progress in line with how my body adapts. I can gain more than climbing higher grades and running faster miles from my journey. This way I maintain a level of ambition and sense of progress that becomes very enticing from exercising, whilst also respecting my body and capabilities. You can too.

Engage with Online Communities for your Activity

I don’t mean follow a bunch of Instagram models with chiseled muscle definition and a body shape that requires an unhealthy level of obsession to achieve. What I mean is, if you don’t know anyone who wants to get into your activity with you, go find your people.

One way of doing this is the web – Meet Up, and local clubs and Facebook groups are a great place to start. Engaging in an ongoing conversation with others like you about your journeys, encouraging one another is a great source or virtual community. Some members may be inspiring to you, and you never know, you may yourself inspire others.  You may meet up at an event and do it together – there are hundreds of people just like you who have done just that, and for as scary as that may initially seem – you’ll meet some bloody brilliant people.

Together we’re stronger.

Make it social

Working out alone can be a good time to clear your mind, focus on yourself and take time out from your day. For years, I ran solo, I went to the gym on my own, and I only climbed in a group because you kind of need someone to belay you – until I discovered bouldering could become a solitary activity also. I enjoy being alone, and know that not everyone likes being alone as much as I do.

For years I totally underestimated the value of working out with others, undervaluing the greater benefit of running with friends, and enjoying the company of other people in a positive space. Since this bomb has dropped, I regularly go to running crew each week.

It has become a place to forge friendships who share my passions. It has become a place to shake out the cobwebs of stagnation from a low mood in the company of others, a place to celebrate achievements of one another and a safe place of acceptance.

The benefit of human contact on a regular basis is something I never valued, until now. And as an awkward introvert who is usually immersed in swathes of social awkwardness I have found the fitness people, and the running crew to be a very non-judgmental and friendly bunch. It may not feel right with the first group you run, yogi or climb with, but keep trying – eventually a you’ll find yourself a you-shaped space to be the missing piece to a jigsaw of a crew you never even knew about before.

Embrace the Power of Post Exercise Mindfulness 

After a work out take time to sit, breathe and be mindful about how your body and mind are feeling. Just taking a moment to do so gives you time to reflect on where you’re at, how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Is something bothering you? Is there something you want to work on? Is there a niggle in your knee that needs attention? Or are you just feeling totally zen and absorbing as much of that as possible for a moment? Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t Focus on Weight or Size

Weight loss is a viable goal for many but I would definitely never advocate obtaining a certain clothes size or goal weight to be the main or only reason for incorporating physical activity into your life. It is claimed that weighing yourself regularly can help with weight loss in numerous research papers.

However, focusing on weight alone can become very disheartening and a very damaging relationship with yourself. There is no self compassion or love in weighing yourself every day. This gives the scales too much power.

Use the scales if you need to but don’t enslave yourself to them. They’re a tool and deserve no power in your life beyond that. Be real with the scales and let them be real with you – and leave it at that.

Pushing your physical boundaries can be an emotional journey. Let it.

Pushing yourself, breaking yourself down in order to build yourself up is so much more than a physical journey. ‘Your body is capable, it’s your mind you have to convince’ and this can be a very complicated and windy path of self realisation and discovery.

Sometimes it will be a struggle, other times you’ll smash your own expectations and it’ll feel emotional. You may want to shout or cheer, or even cry – this is entirely OK. Emotions are OK, and pushing yourself in order to break self-inflicted boundaries and  achieving your fitness goals can be an emotional journey. Let yourself own it.

Stop believing in tomorrow. Start today

Tomorrow I’ll start running. Ok, It’s Wednesday and I didn’t go – I’ll start over on Monday. Next week is definitely the day I’m going to start going to the gym. I’ve signed up now, there’s no excuse, other than the excuse you’ll give to yourself when Monday comes.

Sound familiar?

Stop giving tomorrow so much power. The day is today. What can you do today to prepare yourself and take a step in the right direction? It might not be lacing up right now, but maybe it’s thinking of how you could start. Something may be in the way at the moment: work, study or commitments, so tomorrow may be necessary sometimes but put a deadline on it.

After a month of tomorrow’s start switching to today thinking. Tomorrow will be better from the actions you make today. Get yourself out there. Show yourself what you’re made of – and have a bloody good time doing it!


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

1. The Preparation Position

2. Find Your Mind

Getting Active: The Preparation Position

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Getting active is and isn’t as simple as lacing up and getting out the door. Sure, to get out the door you just have to get dressed and lace up, turn the handle and put one foot in front of the other. It sounds simple right? Then why is it, that getting active is such an up hill struggle of a habit to establish into our every day lifestyles?

Excuses come up – often behind these excuses there is a reason that is stopping us from putting one foot in front of the other. Instead of inciting Nike and saying ‘Just Do It!’, which can be useful to a degree, it isn’t always an applicable attitude towards ourselves. Just Do It doesn’t harbour self compassion and reflection into why we can’t keep going out the door a few times a week on a regular basis to put one foot in front of the other.

This is a struggle I am well acquainted with. A year ago I swore I’d start running again and get active. It didn’t really happen on a regular basis and become part of my daily habit until February this year. So what was I doing for 10 months whilst I wasn’t exercising – I was engaging with a mental battle in order to get myself out the door to put one foot in front of the other – and I am 100% convinced that I’m not the only person to have undergone a journey just to establish the habit of movement.

I learned a lot during this period of time. I approached my hurdles with a problem solving mind-set, and trialled a number of solutions in order to conquer myself and the barriers that were holding me back from achieving my goal of running and climbing regularly. I have compiled a list of 15 steps that I took and learned of and from during this past year in getting active.


The Preparation Position

In order to decode the puzzle of movement, I have separated the list into 3 phases. In this phase, The Preparation Position, I address the pre-lace up hurdles that I’ve faced and how I’ve managed to push beyond them. Maybe you see yourself in here somewhere, or maybe someone you know.

The Preparation Position is as valid as any other position in our journeys to getting active – in the early days, these can be some of the most important hurdles to overcome in order to develop the habit of movement.

Despite best intentions, plans don’t work out for a reason: Find it

Over the years I have made numerous ‘fitness plans’, ‘exercise schedules’ and penned runs into my diary – which in my mind makes it an automatic commitment because y’know, pen! Until I close my Filo Fax and forget about all my plans, including those in pen.

What I came to realise this year, was that sometimes getting yourself into a routine of physical activity that you enjoy can be quite the process. At first, the excuses come along from every angle knocking you off your well-intentioned uni-cycle and underneath each excuse is a reason. You could opt to pick those excuses up and use them beat yourself up about making pathetic excuses to yourself – or you could take a step back and ask yourself ‘why?’ and therefore arming yourself with something much more powerful than self-defeating talk – you could arm yourself with an inquisitive mind of self-reflection.

Why is it always too hot, too cold, I’m too dehydrated, the roads are too narrow, it’s too dark, it’s too early? When I started asking myself these questions, I got down to the crux of what was holding me back. Most of the time it was anxiety.

I was anxious about being dehydrated and feeling awful.
I was anxious about not having enough energy to complete a run.
I was anxious about running in public and the attention that might attract, or the looks and judgements I might receive.
I was anxious about collapsing.
I was anxious about getting lost or stuck far away from home with no option to get home other than to run.
I was anxious about the discomfort of exercise.

The list could really go on and on and on. By acknowledging these anxieties and validating them I was able to think of solutions.

I began taking water with me for every run, even if it was just 2km around the block until I gained the confidence that I could handle my hydration more effectively. I started slow, and never set off running whilst hungry and realised that if I had more faith in my body it managed my energy availability and usage much more effectively than I gave it credit for. I chose to stop caring what others thought and felt about my body – I exercise for myself and no-one else.

So if you’re finding yourself reeling off excuses to yourself and others about why you don’t exercise despite wanting to get active – ask yourself why. The real why, and don’t be ashamed of the answer – by doing so you’re already a step ahead of where you were when you accepted your excuses.

Start Simple

When I first tried running and felt that god-awful burn in my lungs coughing up that metallic blood taste on my first try I decided running wasn’t for me. Instead I went to a big patch of grass and said I would just move vigorously and enjoyably for 30 minutes. I had music and I danced. I did some side steps and waved my arms around and just generally learned to enjoy movement of my body again. This is what I imagined discovering the idea of play for the first time would feel like – it was a freeing and liberating decision to just not care.

It’s perfectly fine to go gentle, it’s perfectly fine to not know which activity grabs you straight away. Embarking on a fitness lifestyle change can very much be a journey about discovering and learning about yourself in new ways that don’t occur otherwise. You learn to push your limits, make peace with your body and mind, and appreciate what your body can do.

Take it slow

Initially there was no purpose or method to my movement other than to move and enjoy it, which is purpose enough. I learned that I felt better for doing it, and I kept on until I felt a genuine urge to try running.

Don’t force yourself to do something you hate. Don’t listen to the media about how you should and shouldn’t exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym and lift or run Kms if you’re not ready. Boogieing around your house for 5-10 minutes is a perfectly good start place as any. Be flexible with yourself. Be kind to yourself.

Make it manageable and really put focus and energy on enjoyment, and the fact that you just did it was enough. No pressure for a distance. No pressure to get better. The focus became doing it for the fun of it, the good of it and essentially, the sake of it. Without trying, it will become easier.

Reframe Your Thinking

At 15 I started running because I thought I was fat. I felt like I needed to lose weight. My internal narrative during running at that time went something like,

“keep moving you fat bitch’

‘don’t stop, you’re pathetic’

‘youre so fat, that’s why you have to do this, youre disgusting, keep going you fat pig. you deserve this as punishment for eating’

In those 3 snippets of self-talk it is very evident that I wasn’t coming at myself from a place of compassion. This narrative enforced exercise as a punishment for just being. I did have an eating disorder at the time, so I’m not sure if this is actually an extreme example of negative self talk or if this is the average inner monologue if you’re dissatisfied with yourself.

Exercising as punishment isn’t healthy. Exercising to bring yourself into a constant energy deficit isn’t healthy. I managed to stick at it for a while – because I was unwell and the hatred was so ingrained. Unsurprisingly and much to my frustration, my running habit never lasted. I would never advocate anyone talks to themselves in this way, so why is it acceptable to talk to myself like this? It’s not, I deserved better and you deserve better.

It has taken a long time and may be a whole other journey to learn to love yourself, but through learning to love myself I have an entirely different narrative. It is one of self encouragement, self compassion, and self value.  Sometimes, I even hear my own voice as if it is a cheerleader, cheering myself on. So even if I’m running to that tree on the horizon with my face screwed up I will, somewhere within that creased up face, be smiling. I made it. I’m doing well.

Practicing self compassionate self talk in all areas of life helps build the habit of self-love, which can over-spill into when  you’re running up a hill that  isn’t even steep but is making a bloody big difference to the burn in your legs, the depths of your breath and getting up it is a challenge. Accept the challenge. Embrace the challenge. And congratulate yourself on even taking on the challenge. You’re allowed to feel good about yourself.

Address Health Barriers: Physical and Mental

Some barriers to engaging in an active lifestyle can be overcome with some motivation and positive self-talk and validation. There are some barriers that are physical, maybe you have a dodgy knee that needs specific attention to heal and function well? There is no use pushing through injury to strain your body further – although, maybe getting the medical and physical help you need to heal it would be a positive first step.

Maybe you’re nervous because you’re worried about the effect of exercise on you whilst  taking a medication – it is perfectly fine to seek advice on this. Pharmacists are great for this kind of thing, and massively underrated. They know their shit!

Currently, my meds can make me pretty thirsty, so I often drink a lot pre-workout and during if I can. Sometimes I feel like I’m a camel prepping to trek across the desert for 3 weeks but it helps and as a result it doesn’t stop me working out. If you’re feeling really depressed, then addressing that before you can exercise may be the way forward. Sometimes you need to improve your mood in order to exercise and improve your mood.  It seems odd, but when you contemplate sitting in your own urine because going to the toilet seems like too much of an ordeal, exercising is pretty much not going to happen. This is OK. You deserve help. We all need help in order to help ourselves sometimes. We can’t conquer ourselves on our own.

Most importantly, in this first stage of prepping to get active, you’ve taken the first step even if you haven’t laced up yet. That’s worth celebrating. Every little thing is worth celebrating and acknowledging. It’s not easy, and you can do it.


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

2.  Find Your Mind

3. Becoming a Kinetic Energetic

 

I Move London Relay – The Finale 5K

This guy, Danny Bent, had this pretty cool idea to break the world record for the longest relay race. The previous record was 5639.6 Km in 2012, achieved by Keep On Running. The #IMoveLondon attempt was to hit 4000miles over the course of the month. It’s a pretty sweet idea that needed a lot of involvement from a lot of people. Perfect then, is the idea for getting people involved, inspired and encouraged to get moving, especially the party pace segments held each week, making the race really accessible to most people.

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Danny Bent with the celebratory Pale Ale and Lager

Bent teamed up with Asics, whose brand philosophy is to empower your personal movement so that you get the best out of life. Asics really believe in the power of movement to connect your body and mind even when it’s not easy and it gets tough, they really believe in the power of movement. Naturally then, these guys were the ideal sponsors for helping host, launch and support such a mammoth challenge.

All funds raised were dedicated to 3 charities in which Asics and Danny Bent believe in: The Running Charity, which helps homeless people by empowering them through running; Sported, which helps young people have safe spaces to play sports; and Laureus, another charity based around helping people through the power of sport. As of right now, £46, 981 has been raised so far to help these fantastic charities to keep empowering people through movement and sports.

The final 5k party stage happened on Sunday 29th July at 6pm. It was a riot, but in a good way. It was the kind of riot for a good cause, celebrating and not causing anything close to being considered a “violent clash” kind of riot. It was the kind of riot that gets you hyped and excited to be part of a crowd that is doing something for a good cause and all the while having fun. Starting at City Hall we ran a 5k loop along the Thames, across the Millennium bridge and back down the Thames bank to cross Tower Bridge to complete the loop.

There were some sound smash ups from multiple speakers and people dancing whilst we gathered along the route. It really did feel a bit like a flash mob of happy runners making a lot of noise via whoops, cheers and bellows of ‘I MOVE LONDON” throughout the crowd. I have to say I left feeling really great and full of smiles from the sheer fun of running as a huge crowd taking over wherever we ran. I hope for someone who saw the sea of blue t-shirts flooding the streets around the Thames that evening and felt inspired to get involved with getting moving. It really is an incredibly simple yet empowering thing this just moving malarkey.

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As a part of the Backpackers running crew we went along to be the official tail walkers and back pacers so that everyone who took part or wanted to take part could do so and feel included. We made sure no-one was left behind. This is the whole crew philosophy at Backpackers, and there’s a Facebook page if you have any questions. Come along, Thursdays at 18:45 Asics on Regent Street, London.

Cheer Dem at The British 10k 2018

The British 10k was a first for me. It wasn’t my first 10k, it wasn’t my first race and it wasn’t a first sub-60 PB. For a lot of people it has been all of these things. Instead it was the first Chasing Lights x Backpackers cheer zone I made it to and took part in. I think I enjoyed the cheer zone for this race much, much more than I would have possibly enjoyed to running it. A 10k route designed for smashing PB’s and being a sightseeing course is good and all, unless it’s 28°C. In which case I have a very strong suspicion that I would always find the cheer zone much more enjoyable than running.

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I’ve never made it to a Backpackers and Chasing Lights cheer zone before because of various reasons that are incredibly boring, from the usual anxiety to getting lost en route. Even with a smart phone and City Mapper it remains entirely plausible to take a wrong turn and wind up 3 miles away, apparently.

At the cheer zone there was music, whistles and cowbells alongside some very witty signs made by fellow crew members. With no shortage of high fives and good vibes for crew members, pacers and runners it was a real celebration of running in London. The Backpackers philosophy is to celebrate all runners who get out there and smash it regardless of times or pace.

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We are a pack at the back and we celebrate that. The pacers out representing did a great job of leading Joggier, Joggy and Walk/Jog and helping encourage people for whom time is not of the essence to keep going until the end. We believe in everyone and that they can do it. The people at the back for whom running 10K is not an easy distance to just knock out. Even more beautifully so many runners at the back of the pack have such varied and personal reasons for why they run.

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When the final pacer, Jarnail, came through the cheer zone with Helen (Hi Helen!) we all grabbed our stuff and walked the last kilometer together, as a team to celebrate her achievement. This seed of a nice idea blossomed very quickly into something that really was incredibly special. Helen was leading the pack whilst we donned our flags as super hero capes. Cheers, whistles and a megaphone siren accompanied our marching with some noise. Then we passed the marching band.

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The band took it upon themselves to join in. So there we are, Helen, Jarnail (Insta: themightysingh13) the walk/jog pacer and the cheer crew marching our way together through the final kilometer playing tunes like Rocky and Celebrate Good Times alongside Nav with the megaphone siren with cheers by onlookers and tourists who all cheered, clapped and celebrated Helen and her efforts to go out there and smash that 10K. It wasn’t fast but it was certainly done – and dare I say it, it was done in real style. Good one Helen! I’m glad we could cheer you through the final Km.

Man Vs Coast – The First Run

If you’ve ever visited the Rat Race website you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that we signed up to Man Vs Coast following a brief episode of excitement from watching the promo film. It’s the music, I’m telling you, it gets you riled up and wishing you could teleport to the start line right now. Man Vs Coast was sold as 20+ miles and closer to 20 than 30, from my understanding. My understanding could have been off, who knows? In my mind I thought “what’s 20 miles of adventure after 26.2 at the London marathon? I could definitely knock out 20 after the marathon, easy!” as I would be, here’s the cinch, trained for it as a by-product of my London Marathon training. Ah, well, things haven’t quite panned out this year as I had planned although they certainly haven’t panned out bad either. I can’t complain but I definitely do not have a season of marathon training behind me, or in my legs.

The only training I have managed for either event is a general improvement in my fitness from working on exercising more consistently. I’ve not exactly done nothing, I’ve just done nothing specific to either event. I’ll say this now, I don’t and would never recommend this approach to either event. I also wouldn’t intentionally do each event without training again.

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We registered the night before and you can either camp or stay locally. We camped. I love camping and it really is much easier to wake up at the crack of dawn because you get all the natural light induced wakefulness. There was quite an extensive kit list that was checked at registration, however having done the race the only thing I would skimp on next time if the weather was similar would be the optional extra layer I carried; I didn’t need it and there was no way I was going to get cold sitting still if my leg fell off at all, except perhaps from a shock reaction, maybe?

We got a shuttle bus to the start at Marazion Beach by St Michael’s Mount where we waited for a good while. My only complaint would be that the shuttle buses were far too early for the start time.

First things first we dumped our bags on the beach after 100m and swam out to a Rat Race float which was definitely at not-standing-depth, except for the incredibly tall, into the Channel Sea. It was good fun and great to be jumping into the sea at 9am. I found that the peer pressure of being surrounded by people just getting on with it gave me the encouragement and guts to do exactly that and suck it up: a really refreshing and great way to start a race. If it was pissing it down and blowing a gale I’m pretty sure I’d feel very differently.

We ran along the beach for a few miles. Then another swim before leaving the awkward underfoot of trying to run on sand. By trying I mean really trying! This time the swim was much further but the reward? Climbing on a rigged float and jumping off like a kid at the swimming pool. At the lido I still jump in anyway but in general swimming it’s frowned upon for a nearly 30-year-old woman on her own to bomb into the water repeatedly. It’s a shame really because it’s still fun no matter your age – so I really appreciated the chance to do exactly that before the slog back to land against the undercurrent. It was a brilliant way to get us smiling for the first few miles and really not thinking about the momentous task ahead of us. Trust me when I say this, the task ahead was mammoth.

This was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done, thanks to my trail shoes being too small for me on race day for some unknown reason, this was fucking hard. We cut up from the beach along a river bed. I didn’t knock my head on the bridge over the river because I was fiddling with my GoPro at all. Nope, that wasn’t me. After a while we were cutting through villages and cul de sacs until we hit the country lanes winding up to the moorland and over to the north coast.

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I honestly thought that once we hit the north coast trail we’d be grand. I thought it would be relatively undulating but not brutal all the way to Land’s End. If you ran it or know the Southwest coast trail on the north coast of Cornwall, you’ll know what a ridiculous idea this is: laughingly ridiculous. It turns out that we had severely underestimated this race, the distance, relentlessness and difficulty.

It has to be said, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal. I mean ‘are we even in the UK right now?’ phenomenal. We followed the coast up and down, up and down, for what felt like eternity. Eventually we snaked down to a boat slope leading into the sea at the end of the most enticing and beautiful beach there could have been at that moment. For miles, we were gawping at the stunning beauty of that beach and desperately pining to jump in the water. Luckily Rat Race had this figured out and that’s exactly how that leg of the race ended; with the most refreshing and welcome dip in the Atlantic Sea you’ve ever witnessed. It was bliss. I didn’t want to get out, I wanted to stay and float and bob around like an overheated seal, alas we had 14 more miles to cover and thought we were a mile out from half way. Nope. Not at all. We didn’t have a clue.

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For added excitement, because running 25 miles on coastal paths just isn’t exciting enough for Rat Race, there were scrambling activities on the rocks way off the beaten track, there was a cliff jump, more scrambling, endless brutal hills that made the genuine ‘Vertical Kilometer’ look like satire; I swear we climbed much tougher and longer hills than the one assigned official ‘Vertical Kilometer’ status. Navigating through bracken and overgrowth taller than ourselves, dipping my hat in rivers and eating my snacks definitely made for much more adventure than any road race could ever dare to imagine. Early on I had joked that I was going to eat my way around the course. That turned out to not be that much of a joke; I really did eat my way around the course.

Finally we hit the final beach, Sennen Cove, which went on for what felt like forever. After a clumsy and painful scramble across some rocks we were on our final ascent to Land’s End. The finish was in touching distance. Despite being told a number of times about how close we really were to the finish line that last mile was the slowest most painful mile of my life. I really wish I was being a drama queen here but I’m not. We trudged and we trudged. People overtook us and one woman said “that looks painful” when I was walking. It was indeed very fucking painful.

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My feet had swollen as you would expect on a 25 mile route and my shoes had felt tight as soon as I put them on in the morning. Eventually we came around the corner then finally, and it really was a finally, the finish line was in sight. We could see it, someone announced our arrival on the microphone and we were cheered in by our fellow rat racers who looked much less broken than I felt at that moment. My Dad and I hugged a long drawn out hug before getting our medals, our finishers photo and some hot soup. Finally I could allow myself to sit down because it didn’t matter now if I didn’t want to get up for ages, and I didn’t.

Finishing Man Vs Coast brought such a smile of relief, pride and absolute joy that we had conquered the coast.

“It was Man VS Coast, so she came from London and Mon Vs Coast commenced….and she wonnnnnnnnn” *crowd cheers and I hold up an imaginary huge trophy belt*

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The end wasn’t as glamorous as my imagination paints it to be but it was the most welcome finish line I’ve ever crossed in my life just above Hackney Half 2017. Despite all the pain and just plodding on I would also definitely do it again. I will wear Size 8s next time and do some training so I don’t have to pull an awkward face when the medic asks me how I was with fluid retention during my training after I’ve asked for a paracetamol for my headache.

“Did you do any training?” *shrugs with an awkward face* It’s apparently impressive that we even finished without training and I think he might be right considering there was a 30% DNF rate from the starting and finishing stats. I’m proud of myself for finishing and pleased that I didn’t give up. I will also have all the views and memories and joy from skipping through bracken on the moorland to the north coast thinking we were so much closer to the finish than we were, and the joy of swimming in the Atlantic after a scorching trek along the trail, and the shower afterwards feeling like a miracle healer on my broken self.

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It truly was an adventure. Man Vs Coast definitely didn’t fall short on delivering a real adventure exactly like I’d been hoping for. If you’ve got the guts and the grit go for it. It’s bloody brilliant and I hope to see you at the start line next year.

Dumping “Body Image” in Return for “Body Love”

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Diet culture is everywhere. It is pretty difficult to avoid, especially when dental adverts are colluding success rates with weight loss rates, and big influencers like Kim Kardashian are partnering with companies like Flat Tummy Co. to promote appetite suppressing products to their hoards of followers. It is difficult to believe that being in a body that doesn’t fit the beauty ideal of slim, toned and strong is OK. It’s hard to believe that you too are an acceptable body or that you can run a marathon.

Bryony Gordon and Jayda Seza ran the marathon this year in their underwear to show that runner’s bodies come in many different shapes and sizes. Being a different size to the bountifully pushed ideal does not mean you can’t enjoy physical activity, that you can’t be strong and most of all that you can’t be healthy. There are so many brilliant body positivity activists now showcasing that you can be “bigger” and healthy. There is a wave of activists fighting back against the body fascism and fat phobia in the name of “health”.

Since recovering from my eating disorder admittedly with a helping push from my meds increasing my weight in a way that was out of my control, I learned to relinquish any form of “control” over my body. I knew this time around on Quetiapine that it worked for me, but for it to keep on working for me I had to stay on it. Without it I relapse, plain and simple. A toss-up occurred between keeping a sense of control over my “recovered” weight and remaining mentally unwell, or relinquishing such control and giving the Quetiapine a real chance to work in the longer term. This was a very scary time for me. I have spent a decade of my life at war with my body, trying to control it and living in the safety confines of my eating disorder. Suddenly, recovery took a whole new turn – I wasn’t only maintaining a “healthy” weight, I was letting this medication cause havoc with my appetite and metabolism. If I had any hope of maintaining some stability with my moods though, this was it. Having tried most other medications suitable for my illness that this was the one that worked if I let it – and by let it I mean staying on it regardless of the weight gain. I made the only decision I could if I wanted to really start building any sort of future for myself. I stayed on the medication.

I learned a lot during this time. I learned that being well in a bigger body was definitely the right decision. My fitness journey into running, climbing and falling in love with movement, in addition to my studies in anatomy and physiology have caused a complete dimensional shift, and ultimately an entirely different view for me, on what body image is.

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Although I am no longer a skinny, my stomach has an extra padding of fat as opposed to the almost concave structure of previous years, and my thighs touch for the first time in my life. I have boobs, which are great although still slight, and it is easier to catch myself at an angle wherein which I have a double chin on show. I can shake my arms, and they wibble a little, and I have speckled cellulite over my thighs and bum when I tense. Speaking of which, I still have absolutely no bum. I need a larger size of clothes than I ever have previously yet still, no bum, and you know what? I am the most comfortable I have ever been with my body.

Yes, it looks a certain way in pictures and mirrors – but really, my body is not a picture. My body was not made solely to look a certain way. My body was made to function, to breathe, contract, relax, move, jump, run and skip for joy. My body lets me enjoy the senses of living be they the smell of fresh bread or dog shit on my shoe. My body brings me enjoyment in food, and digests it pretty well as energy in order to continue functioning as the amazing, complex piece of biological machinery that I am. Not only do I function, but my body allows for me to have a mind and a conscience. My body allows for emotions, and it fights diseases so I can still keep on enjoying experiences and living healthily. My body is not a picture. My body is so much more than that.

The sum of all this? I value my body more for what it can do, where it can take me, and the experiences it can give me. I’m no longer so hung up or concerned with looking a particular way, but more in doing particular things. Sure sometimes I have a momentary dip in confidence, sometimes I catch myself iterating diet culture messages of too much, need to lose weight, pain is gain and all that tom fuckery – but my choice in responding is to try to check in with myself when I notice these thoughts cropping up. I remind myself I am more than my mirror image and always will be.

I want to climb walls, and climb them better. I want to gain strength and resilience, and run all these races that I’ve signed up for. I want to dance, and move, and shake and enjoy what my body makes achievable for me every single day. I want to celebrate my strengths, and work on enjoying my body in more ways than I can possibly imagine. I can eat wonderful foods thanks to my body. I can conquer feats I never before thought would be possible for me like The London Marathon. I can have sex and enjoy all the sensations that brings. I can get myself around every day, and my legs do a fucking fantastic job of getting me around London on my bike. My arms do a great job at allowing me to do all the things I enjoy:  writing, reading, playing the ukulele really badly, climbing, eating, drinking, and in a hap hazardous way they contribute to my atrocious list of dance moves that I like to bust out when the party’s right. My eyes, they let me see all these beautiful sights that make me thankful to see everything I can: nature, skylines, sunrises and tropical storms. I can smell the warmth of the rain, and the freshness of cut grass and fresh coffee. The complexity of these joys cannot be captured in a photo or a mirror. Life is richer than that and so am I, and so are you.

My awkward smile may hint at the joys I have been experiencing, and my over excited crazy photos may capture a moment, but how my body looks, fuck that. It’s not important. I am healthy. I am capable, and I am taking advantage of those biological wonders that nature has blessed me with. So it no longer matters that I don’t fit into my skinny jeans, and it no longer matters that my arms aren’t spindly spaghetti features. My face is no longer structured by emaciation and malnourishment, and my waist is no longer so tiny it’s to die for, quite literally. My body is giving me life, and it is up to me to capture and cherish that fact.

So for as far as my body image goes, it’s not about image; it’s about sensations, feelings, experiences and love. Instead I will say that my body image is largely irrelevant but my body love is engaging with a pattern of exponential growth.

So there it is. I fucking love my body – and I bet yours is pretty darn fabulous too regardless of how it looks.

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