Growth: The Uncomfortable Comfortable

If I asked you to walk home in the rain, how would you respond? Would you tell me to open my eyes; it’s raining, duh? Or maybe you might feed us both an excuse that you don’t have your umbrella and it’ll ruin your hair? What if I told you that sometimes taking the uncomfortable option can help you grow? Now I know you’re not a thirsty plant, but hear me out! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential for developing resilience, a “Fuck It” attitude and for finding out what you are really made of. Most of the time, these uncomfortable situations that we frantically avoid aren’t all that bad, such as walking home in the rain. Sometimes they may even be a source of joy, imagine that! Walking home in the piss wet rain could be a highlight of your day? Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Maybe I am, but let’s ignore that for a moment because there is one person who we owe it to to do the things that make us feel uncomfortable – and that is ourselves.

Every day I see people that inspire me to push myself, whether it’s that they have something that I want *ahem a Marathon Majors 6-Star Medal cough* or they’re holding the first copies of their newly published book – I’m jealous, so shoot me! I just want to smell crisp new pages covered in my words! What lies between where I am now, and where I want to be is very simple and very painful: a whole lotta growth.

Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul – W.E.B. Du Bois

This is where owing it to yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable comes into its own. Do you remember any of your teenaged growth spurts? Those HURT! Growth is uncomfortable, and of course, it takes effort to grow, relentlessly unforgiving and continuous effort. You owe it to yourself to challenge yourself and get comfortable being uncomfortable. By becoming comfortable with discomfort we learn how much we can push ourselves, we realize and learn our limits, and that our resilience reaches beyond our own imaginations.

The option to stay exactly where we are is always there. When we have had enough we can always stop and decide if we like it just as it is. Maybe you do, or maybe it’s just easier to stop, for a long time self-harming was more comfortable than facing the rawness of my psychology and mind, learning to eat was more uncomfortable than starving myself and there came a point when being unwell becomes more comfortable than undertaking the journey to becoming well because being unwell was all I knew- I soon learned that growth happens in the most treacherous and uncomfortable of waters, as the adage and many a meme go. It’s true. That shit is scary and itchy ants-in-your-pants uncomfortable. The best teacher and arena I have found in persevering through discomfort has been exercising, without it, I doubt I would have recovered as much as I have.

Sometimes when you’re covering a large distance in one go, hi there marathon, or hiking and climbing up a mountainside (Tryffan, we have unfinished business), it is uncomfortable. It is hard. In each task, by putting one foot in front of another, a very simple yet vastly symbolic act, the finish goal will eventually appear. In continuing to show up for yourself through the challenge and continuing to push on through the burning quads, aching knees, jarring concrete and absolute monotony that can be associated with covering distance, you get there and all of a sudden the intense and immense gratitude, pride, sense of accomplishment that you feel makes it all completely 100% worth it. You don’t forget the pain, this isn’t childbirth, it just all becomes worth it.

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So taking this ideology into a bigger playing field is the next step, and they don’t always have to be huge strides of progress that are acquired during an activity for it to be worth it, next time it’s raining, which if you’re in London is probably tomorrow lets be honest, walk for a bit in the rain even though you don’t want to go out in it. Go for that walk in the cold. Take your shoes off, feel the ground and the cold iciness of a wintery puddle submerge your toes. Practice different types of discomfort, physical, emotional, mental: turn the heating down to below comfortable for a day, have a cold shower, go for a run up a hill. This is the reality. Life isn’t always sweet, it’s mostly pretty grim. In practise, you empower yourself to manage situations when you lack control over a situation. Sit in the overwhelm and when exposing yourself to uncomfortable situations, go ahead and nurture yourself as well. Self-soothe yourself through the discomfort, learn how to do this for yourself. Figure out whether it’s a mantra that you repeat in your head, a texture that you feel, a particular way of fidgeting your fingers that is soothing. This is great practice for self-soothing in situations that are uncomfortable where you have no control over being able to escape them, i.e. depression, anxiety, that presentation in front of your colleagues, public speaking, a race, a challenge, commuting on an overpacked tube at rush hour. It doesn’t mean you always succeed, just that you will succeed more than when you couldn’t tolerate any discomfort.

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What Respecting Your Body Might Look Like

What does it mean to respect our bodies? If you follow me on Instagram, then you may be painfully aware that I’ve developed infection action a week before Ride 100. In the end, I realised the right thing to do for my self and my body, was to defer until 2020 and this got me thinking about what it means to respect our bodies.

So often you see and hear of people who have injuries yet persevere without any let up on their bodies, in order to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The thing is, the more broken your body becomes the less able you will be able to achieve those goals and challenges that your heart is so very set upon. Resting and not exercising can be pretty rough when you’re used to being active and you enjoy being active, but in the long run, treating your body well and knowing when to rest, knowing when to take it easy, and when to not push on through with brute determination can be just as important as being able to commit to any form of training plan at all.

How we relate to and treat our bodies really affects our performance and ability to achieve. Instagram is littered with stories of injuries, permanently damaged ligaments and sad stories of people who fell in love with running until it destroyed a part of their body, usually in the lower limbs. It’s great that the love of running has become a popular love to have, but overdoing it only shoots yourself in the foot; rest, as uncool as it may be on Instagram, is essential. So back to the original query, what could respecting your body actually look like? Here’s a list of what I personally consider to be essential components in treating your body with the respect it deserves.

1. Listening
You know when you have a plan but your body aches with tiredness? Or when you feel so hungry after increasing your training load, and it goes against your planned intake? This could be an ideal time to practice listening to your body. Sometimes you need to eat more, and at other times you need more rest. It’s very easy to schedule plans without forethought to how your body might respond, or need. Just remember, our bodies are not computers or robots that can be mathematically figured out in an absolute formula. Sure there a formulas in nutritional science for guidance, but these are really for guidance only – so treat them as such!

2. Nourishing
Sometimes when you’re training you may have a dietary plan that you’re following. Maybe you are trying to gain muscle, or lose fat mass for your sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nourishing your body looks like choosing a varied diet, plenty of fruit and veg, some good quality protein and plenty of carbohydrates. Yes, carbs! We need carbs and the occasional treat. Don’t forget to have your cake and eat it!

3. Resting your body
You may have heard before that when you’re training for a marathon, ideally you need closer to 10 hours of sleep than the original 7-8 recomended in The Sleep Foundation guidelines. Sometimes you’ll be feeling fine on less sleep, and sometimes you will need more. If you’re feeling sluggish and a bit out of it, maybe it’s time to hit the sack for a nap ,or even better, an early night?

4. No Pain, No Gain? Within reason
Sport doesn’t come without its risks of injury and a good session lifting weights can leave you sore for days with DOMS. However, there is a difference between DOMS and an agonising cramp in your Achilles. A lot of people push through and persevere despite their bodies telling them to stop and attend to a niggle or injury. It isn’t heroic to persevere through your pain at the expense of your body. So when you’re calf is giving you grief, or your knee feels a bit knackered, instead of seeing it as something to push through, how about seeing it as an opportunity to care for your body and show yourself some love?

5. Showing some appreciation
Without our bodies we wouldn’t be able to do anything. We wouldn’t be able to run, play our A-game on the pitch, or travel easily from A to B. Our bodies fight infections and repel illnesses, they make babies from two cells, and they maintain a very delicate and complicated balance within our bodies called homeostasis. If we had to think about all of the mechanisms that our body does to maintain this balance, we’d not have much time for anything else.

6. Trusting our bodies
By not undermining your bodies’ ability to do what it needs to in order to stay well, as is assumed when going on a detox diet or cleanse we allow our bodies to get on with what they’re designed to do. Sometimes things go wrong and eventually we all die, but in the meantime, put faith in your kidneys and liver, because detoxing sends you the message to yourself that your body isn’t capable or adequate enough already, and usually it is.

7. Wearing clothes that fit
Feeling comfortable in your clothes, instead of trying to fit into a specific size can make a real difference in how fat you feel, from anecdotal experience. Anyone wearing clothes 1-2 sizes too small is going to feel out of sorts, lumpy and frumpy here, and spilling out of your clothes there. Just wear whatever fits irrespective of the clothing size label. To put this in perspective I have clothes from a 10 (apparently), up to a 14. I’m more a solid 14. This means I don’t look at or buy clothes in a 10-12 anymore, and I have passed all of these sizes in my wardrobe onto the charity shop. As soon as I stopped trying to squeeze into these sizes, or trying to lose weight so I could fit into them again, I started to feel more comfortable and at ease with my body.

8. Tend to your illnesses
Getting the right help and treatment if you are unwell is a great way of showing your body some love. Sometimes they can’t fight illness on its own, and a little help is needed. Maybe this is via using antibiotics for a nasty infection, such as the one that inspired this post, or taking antidepressants to manage a depressive episode. This might mean visiting the pharmacist, who are very highly trained medical professionals in their own right, or your GP. Don’t try to muscle through without advice or try to outdo an infection if it gets ya; modern medicine is wonderful at helping us to overcome such ailments as they arise.

 

Cycling London to Brighton

Sticking to individual training plans has never been something I am good at. I could spend some time thinking about why this is, I could even spend some time making elaborate excuses that are as convincing as they are imaginative. Another thing I could do is focus on what I have managed to do, how I’ve managed to do it and take the decision to do more of that because that works, whatever “that” may be.

On the 4th August it is The Prudential Ride 100. I was lucky enough to get a ballot place and eager enough to say yes straight away. Getting excited and carried away with thinking it’ll all be amazing and committing financially to paying the fee is the easy bit. It’s the next step that I haven’t mastered, i.e. training.

To start with in my training as with any big looming challenge in my life, I became too anxious to get on my bike. I didn’t want to train on stationary bikes in the gym (so boring!), and I had finally got my bike serviced after months of meaning to and never quite getting around to it. I still didn’t go on training rides until a particularly bad mood struck and I said “Fuck it!”, the grail more holy than Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra. I enjoyed myself. I felt better. I peddled out my frustrations and upset. I sped down hills as fast as I could, cackling with adrenaline on my way. I pushed myself to push up hills I would’ve thought I couldn’t and it was great. What a result? I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect at that moment in time.

Having done a longish lap I decided the next step would be to cycle to Brighton. It’s a challenge I’ve wanted to do for a few years now as an event, and instead of paying cray prices to enter an event I decided to solo it. I found a route online (Here) at Cycle.Travel and tapped it into DwMap so my Garmin could act as a sat nav (Best IQ Store app for Garmin by far!). I chilled in the morning and proceeded to tell everyone of my plans. I went for coffee with my mate, I told her of my plans, saw someone from climbing I’ve met once, and told them too. Behind them in the coffee shop queue I saw someone from where I live and I told them as well. The woman sat on the table next to where I was standing couldn’t help but hear of my amazing plans, so I projected my voice a little louder for her to hear my them as well. I may have even told the pharmacist, and the day before I had told my therapist. Midday arrived on the day of my plans and I had not yet set off. #Procrastination #FuckIt #LetsGo and eventually, in the heat of the day, I set off on a 60 mile bike ride with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss!

With many pit stops to accompany a major underestimation of difficulty, length and energy requirements I had to stop for supplies along the way. It is in instances like this that the sugar tax pisses me off; the lack of sugar filled drinks that have been replaced with 0 sugar versions – super unhelpful in this instance. I needed energy, I needed sugar for that energy and there I was reading labels already half exhausted and some what overheated. Some might have assumed I was reading labels to choose a “healthy option” *sigh, eye-roll, sigh*, instead I was seeing which drinks had enough energy in it to fuel my adventure. Happy with my choices I scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled my way to Brighton.

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Highlights include seeing more nature than I usually do beyond the usual squirrels and rats of London: wild rabbits, a pony, a horse and her foal, some goats and baby goats, I’m going to say I even saw a fish. I’m not sure if I did but I feel like I did. I saw ducklings and miniature fluff balls bobbing along a lake. I sang to myself, had in depth conversations with myself, laughed with myself and gave myself many pep talks along the way. (Heads up, if youre cycling Ride 100 and end up near a woman talking and singing to herself on a blue hybrid bike, it’s probably me).

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The free feeling of hurtling down a long windy road is something that will never get old. The adrenaline and excitement that rises through my belly as I hurtle beyond the constraints of being in control is super fun. Those hills and breaking my speed record is definitely the best part of the day.

The worst part? There is a fuck off huge hill at the end of the route which I have heard as if it were an urban legend. I can confirm, it was fuck off huge and there was no way I was going to cycle it. Some people cycled past me, clad in lycra, slim, with some negative percent body fat mass and bulging calves to intimidate anyone thinks a slight shape of in and then out equals a defined calf – i.e. me. These muscles were next level, the bikes were probably the kind that float just above the ground they are so light, and the fiends riding them are probably cycling mad. I’m not one of those people so I pushed, pulling over for the build up of traffic behind me to pass from time to time. I was like a miniature tractor on a country lane, holding everyone up and pulling over to allow everyone to pass. The biggest shocker of all though? Drivers waved a ‘thank you” signal at me from the outskirts of London to Brighton when I gave way. Car drivers were unexpectedly not mad at me for even existing and daring to be on the road with my bike. It was here that I learned that lane cycling is much better than city cycling despite the different speed limits. The air is fresh, the drivers are friendly, the roads are clearer and it’s more freeing an experience.

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The view from the top of Fuck Off Hill

Previously I had thought I preferred city cycling – oh how i was so SO wrong! The difference in hatred directed towards me for even being a cyclist using a road was not experienced once I got further out of London. From this experience I have one message from one road rage prone person to the others in London, calm the fuck down; we can use the road together without hating each other. Politeness and patience don’t cost the earth, and in fact it may make it a more pleasant place for all of us to be together – unless you are a gang of seagulls eating my chips whilst I get ketchup. Then we are definitely not friends and we never will be, and no, I don’t forgive you Mr. Seagull & Co.

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I day dreamed about this moment for hours!! It was magical.

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15 Things I Learned In My First Rugby Season

When I tell people that I play rugby I get a number of responses again and again, “oh goodness!”, a dropped jaw, or a number of questions about where, when and quite frankly, why? We even ask each other when we meet new players because for women and girls, rugby isn’t the most obvious sport to take up. It hasn’t always been the most accessible to women and girls. Times have changed since 2001,  and now women’s rugby is the fastest growing sport in the UK right now.

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So first of all, why? I had a number of people who knew me but not each other all suggest that maybe it would be a good sport for me to get things out in a healthy way. I struggle with managing anger and I used to struggle with anger more so than I do now. There have been times in my life where being angry literally drove me insane. Secondly, at the only Fresher’s Fair I went to, the rugby team table seemed much more welcoming than the other sports I was interested in. I didn’t sign up that year because I was anxious about injuring myself before London, but it remained in the back of my mind that I would like to try it out. So I did and now I have finished one season, I am hooked.

Here’s 15 reasons (one for each player on the pitch) why giving women’s rugby a go would be agreat idea from my experience of my first season:

  1. You will build your confidence, on the pitch and off; your new confidence will seep out into other areas of your life.
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  2. You’ll find your voice, literally, you have to shout and holler for the ball and at your team mates. Screaming at your team mates as they run for the Try line is a wonderful feeling.
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  3. There is a place for every body shape and size on the pitch: small and dainty to big and strong. If you’ve ever had hang ups about your body image rugby will make you appreciate what your body can do.
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  4. You will get strong, feel strong, and want to be stronger.
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  5. Rugby really is a game of getting knocked down 7 times and getting up 8: you will gain strength in your character and resilience to go with it.
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  6. You won’t master the drills straight away, and once you start to see improvements it’s incredibly satisfying.
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  7. You learn to fake it til you make it: you make eye contact to intimidate the opposition, you get ready on the pitch for kick off and it feels like lining up to battle. You learn to emit a bravery and couragousness that you may not naturally have – and after a while you start to have it.
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  8. Resting in the evening of match day, when you are battered and bruised, aching and tired, is a wonderful feeling. You always sleep well after a match!
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  9. Rugby is a sport of strength and resilience on the pitch and in the bar. It’s standard to have a pint after a match, and kind of rude not to.
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  10. Adrenaline is your friend. Sometimes you’ll be marking someone on the opposing team who intimidates you on the pitch. You don’t want to stand in front of them, let alone take them down. In rugby you learn to channel this adrenaline and fear into excitement and courage.
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  11. It’s a sport that really supports the “Fuck it!” mentality as an antidote to fear.
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  12. You will push yourself with yoru team mates. There’s something special about being a part of a team.
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  13. Sometimes it’s just absolute bants.
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  14. Tackling is fun, and so is getting muddy. If the ground is a little bit wet, you can take comfort in your efforts by how muddy you got or did not get during the match.
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  15. There’s always a Moose of the Match, or Dick of the Day – which keeps everyone in check because no-one wants to be gifted with a dirty pint on the regular. It’s also fun to sing the down in 8 song – sometimes a bit of peer pressure to drink up can be a good laugh!

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Brighton Marathon: The Unlikely Road To The Satisfaction of Socks & Sandals

Marathon running is more of an exercise for the mind than the body. Making your body run 26.2 miles in one go without stopping is tiring work, don’t get me wrong. The real task though is how much can you endure on the day? How much can you dig deep and keep going when the sweeper bus stops to ask if you want to climb aboard the not-so-fun bus. Through the window you can see tired broken people, tears, distant stares and silver blankets prematurely adorned.

You may have seen in the media recently the upset caused by London Marathon for the 7:30 pacer and her fellow backpackers, recruits on the day to finish the route in a requested time frame – and even so, they received hurtful words, and constant goading for 26.2 miles. Like I said, a marathon is a mental game of keeping going enough as it is, so for the people who held their chins up and refused to give in – fucking well done! I was offered aboard the sweeper bus three times, on the last coming dangerously close to caving.

It has now been a while since I ran Brighton, fully recovered and got back into the swing of normality without marathon madness, and had time to reflect on what went better than last year, not so much and lessons learned. I got a 20 minute PB on London last year. Brighton is not an overall PB kind of course; it’s hilly, windy, bleak, lonely, miserable and undulating in the most undulating sense of the word undulating. Did I mention it was uncomfortably undulating? I got a PB for half marathon distance, which now stands at a 2:51:44 according to my Garmin.

When Dad and I crossed the start line we were amongst the final handful at the back of the pack, even further back than Dave the Running Samaritans Phone. The course doubles back on itself a lot, which can be motivating and soul destroying in equal capacities. Some times it gave me the illusion that people were not all that far ahead so keep running and that’ll be you on the other side of the road soon. In the same breath, seeing people running the final kilometres of the race as I was just crossing halfway was a very bitter moment for me.

For the first few miles dad and I took it in turns to over take one another, back and to back and to. I took off. (This sounds much faster than it really was.) We thought we had said our goodbyes for the rest of the course, until I stopped for a toilet break. This is all well and good except there was a few of us, and as I waited my dad caught up to me. At the time this was a relief because his phone had pocket dialled me a number of times. I had phoned him back to no answer and consequentially in true anxiety girl style, I jumped to worrisome conclusions of heart attacks, rolled ankles and muscle cramps. He catches up to me and he’s just fine. His version of events is that I keep calling him. He had no idea he’d been phoning me so all was well. Not far behind my Dad though was the sweeper vehicle.

The sweeper vehicle is not for road sweeping; it is for people sweeping. Slow people sweeping, injured people sweeping, poorly people sweeping, the sweeper bus of broken hopes and dreams chased me from that moment in the race right until the end, threatening to gobble me up in a sorry mess. This shit me up. I won’t lie. So I bloody well got a wiggle and a wriggle on to try and make some ground on the sweeper bus of broken people.

With my London Marathon experience having been such a dreamboat, I do wonder if perhaps Brighton was a bit miserable because I had a normal marathon experience. When you hear about people with Bipolar, a classic “mania story” is of someone running a marathon without training. I am by no means special, others have done it including Jedward (way to put myself down there), and I”m sure many other idiots like myself. I’m not sure everyone who commits to such an act of stupidity however has such an epic day out with it. The power station miles in particular were just horrible.

Each time I was running towards the town centre I realised that the view and sightings of Brighton pier were very much deceiving in how close I really was, or was not to the half way point, and on the way back in from the other side, from the finish line. The second half of the race has since been very much talked about as being a wind tunnel of misery amongst fellow Brighton runners on social media. The power station miles provided very little to look at and very much to overthink about, like the pain emanating from my lower half of my body. It was grey. It was cold. It felt more like the march of the hobbling zombies than a marathon at this point. Eventually, the 23 mile marker came and i could finally, finally say to myself “it’s just a park run to go”. It was around this point when i was kidding myself that I saw my Dad on course for the last time before the end. Up until this point, every time we had seen each other we high fived, did a thumbs up and beamed a smile at one another, evidently pleased with the results of our high hopes and poor training. Not this time; I needed a hug.

Just passed 23 miles I could see the pier in the distance, which signified the finish line on the horizon, much like a mirage in a desert, but it wasn’t sunny or sandy, it was grey and concrete. The joy soon wore off as the sighting became a torturous tantaliser of the end that never seemed to come. I kept going and kept going, catching up to the team pushing a dying man in a wheelchair, and eventually saw a friendly face. Jarnail from Chasing Lights was cheering and despite having not seen him for months I dramatically threw myself at him for a hug, and to snatch a brief moment of less gravity on my feet. He ran the remainder with me until he was ushered off the course. It really helped me to have that someone running with me. No amount of sugar, or electrolytes, or sports drinks could have rivalled the support of finding a friendly face in the crowd who is willing to jog along side you. Then another friendly face shouted me, my friend Maryke then joined us too, and then another, Elle. Then the finish line set up came into view, and I could not have been happier tho see the finish I’d been so patiently awaiting to arrive on the horizon since mile 23.

As soon as I sat down on the other side, having survived my second marathon, I put on my socks and sandals. I felt like a very stiff and rigid champion wearing the footwear of dreams: socks and sandals after a long race are indescribably wonderful. When I saw my Dad coming out of the finishing area we had another longer hug. I think he was a bit broken because we don’t do long hugs very often, but after gruelling distances and challenges when he admits he’d like to cry and doesn’t, we instead have a long hug.

In the end, I feel blessed to have the privilege to run a marathon for the sheer challenge of it. I felt blessed that my friends had come to support me, eat food with me, and that my dad was there too. After all the life difficulties I have had with my dad, I think running sickly distances together has really brought us closer together – and that is as good a reason as any to keep doing them. It was hard, and I probably won’t be doing Brighton again next year but never say never.

Brighton Marathon: Hopes, Nopes and Notes

There’s all sorts of bugs to be caught as we go through our lives: the travel bug, an influenza bug, the reading bug, and hopefully not the Ebola bug. I’m not sure if I have caught the running bug as such, but I am quite sure that I have caught the “Challenge Yourself with Disgusting Feats” bug. Is that a bug?It’s not as catchy a name as Ebola but I think we’ll roll with it.

As I am starting to be more serious about my training commitment and overall role that exercise plays in my life and health maintenance, I am pleased and slightly sickened with nerves, to be running Brighton Marathon in April. Does anyone ever stop at one marathon? I’m hoping to be quite firmly in the multiple marathon runner camp by the end of the year. Not every runner chooses to run marathons, 45% of runners have run 2-5 half marathons whilst 50% have never tried a full marathon [1]. Of those mad enough to opt for the full marathon distance though, I am convinced that not many people stick to running just one.

I am running Brighton with my Dad for CHICKS [2], a charity that gives children who are carers, living in difficult circumstance such as care or have been living in abject poverty a break away at a holiday camp. [Sponsor Link].

Maybe I caught a special type of madness during London last year for arduous challenges and pushing myself to my limits, repeatedly and all in the name of adventure? The thought of another marathon excites me and fills me with dread: I had such an epic experience last year and I’m wondering what other experiences there are to be had whilst running for a sickening distance. Every race we participate in as amateur runners is only against ourselves. Naturally I’m going to have some hopes for this marathon, some nopes and some notes based on last years “THIS IS NOT A RECOMMENDED METHOD” experience.

Hopes
– Get a PB from last year’s result
– For good running weather, not too hot and not too cold or rainy.
– To enjoy myself.
– Survive in one solid piece as a human being (fingers and toes are all crossed for no injuries)
– That my training although far from perfect is adequate.

Nopes
– Not training. I may not be very good at sticking to training plans but I am actually doing some this year!
– Over hydrating without electrolytes or salty snacks!
– Relying on gels for energy and glucose

Notes
– Get Body Glide without SPF because it is more glidey without the SPF
– Carry electrolyte tabs, SIS Lemon flavour, for adding to water on course
– Flapjack is a good snack for half way energy, Chia Charge all the way!
– Sun cream with a super high SPF that is water resistant so will survive my sweating buckets – maybe carry some extra if you can?
– Music is your best ally on race day

Sources:
[1] http://www.marathontrainingschedule.com/blog/45-mind-numbing-facts-figures-statistics-running-2/
[2] https://www.chicks.org.uk/

The Face of Diet Culture: The 10 Year Challenge

The 10 year challenge shines a light on how much we as individuals have changed but how much has the face of diet culture changed in the last 10 years? In 2009, the same year that I left home to go to fashion school in London, starving yourself skinny was still cool. The severity of health implications related to the thin ideal came to a spearhead in 2006 when fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died whilst participating in a fashion show. She died from heart failure related to malnutrition and ultimately anorexia. 6 months later her sister, Eliana Ramos who was also a model died due to complications related to malnutrition and anorexia nervosa. The same year, Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian fashion model also died due to complications from Anorexia Nervosa. The size 0 debate was started and the fashion world came under the spotlight – and this wasn’t a case of any press is good press. Many government and health bodies made the call for a minimum BMI requirement to be implemented for all models participating in fashion week events. In research links were drawn between the portrayal of excessively thin bodies as desirable, and the social pressures this placed on women to conform [2]. Size 0 was sold to us and we bought it with dire consequences: thin was in.

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During my 2 years at fashion school I remember hearing club kids talking about how many drugs they were doing and how long they’d managed to not eat for, with the aid of said drugs. Cheekbones and collar bones were in, even if that meant looking gaunt.With the rise of mephedrone at the time whilst it was legal, this wasn’t a difficult feat to be achieved. There were numerous times people weren’t in the studio from dealing with the aftermath of having taken mephedrone (Meow meow/Mcat) [3]. In fact, gaunt was good and not eating was cool. Some tutors would joke about how the cheesy carb fest the canteen was bad for your waistline. Thin was in at whatever cost, health was out.

Needless to say, in this environment I relapsed into my eating disorder and I relapsed hard. At my lowest weight, whilst I was an outpatient at an Eating Disorder Service I received the most praise for my appearance I have ever received to date: “you’re so beautiful”, “how do you do it?”, and on Facebook photos, “OMG gorgeous

This trend is evident beyond the realms of my fashion school anecdotes and misadventures with anorexia; a lot of people are reminiscing about similar changes in their 10 year challenge posts. It turns out that a lot of people in 2009 were skinny and in retrospect, feeling weak, unhappy and generally like a bag of shit. That’s how forcing your body to weigh much less than it is wants to be feels, like an absolute huge bag of shit. Fatphobia was high, and even healthy weight individuals were deemed as “curvy” or “plus size” – I mean honestly, just fuck right off.

These social pressures and appraisal did nothing to help me towards recovery and subsequently a few years later I left the fashion world pretty much over night. Size 0 sucked and the fashion world soon realised how much it sucked for business due to the public health, government and public backlash to promoting such severe thinness ideals. Surely this was a good thing? We were moving away from aiming for waists comparable to the average 7-year-old.

Heroin chic of the 90s had gone and pro-ana sites, blogs and forums were easily found and plentiful online. Entire communities gathered amongst the anonymity of the online world. Safe havens to encourage the pursuit of thin, and the glorification of such ideals became known as thinspiration, or thinspo for short. Fast forward a decade and strong is the new skinny; thinspo has been replaced with fitspo. Instead of collar bones and rib cages we now idolize sculpted bodies, low body fat percentages and big muscles. On the surface it seems health driven but when you get down to it, maintaining such low body fat percentages and building such quantities of muscle mass is just as difficult an ideal to work towards: it is also big business. It costs to get those muscles, cue the introduction of “clean eating” instead of dieting, phrases like “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle choice” and the rise of the social media influencers. Now people are paying crazy amounts of money to try to achieve a particular aesthetic. When you dig deep, it’s not all that much different, but instead with the introduction of classism – not eating is essentially free whereas superfoods and trendy gym classes are in the KERCHING!  regions, cue M.I.A. “I just want your money” (song title ‘paper planes’).

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The rise of visual social media platforms and smartphones making everyone a photographer, instagram has been a mass playground and propagator for fitspo, clean eating and ultimately a shit ton of social comparisons based on these visuals. Does my smoothie bowl look Michelin start enough? Are my abs clean-cut enough? How about in this pose? Additionally there are apps to add abs and change your photos to be who you want to be – so god knows how much of this stuff we see online isn’t even real, and here’s the catch, we compare ourselves anyway; it’s natural. Of course, we’re always going to come up short in such comparisons. Just as we always came up short to the photoshopped thinness of models in magazines and on billboards.

There have been associations made between exposure and engagement with healthy eating communities on Instagram and orthorexia tendencies [4]. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating clean foods, without impurities. It manifests as an obsessive preoccupation with eating perfectly and results in the cutting out of food groups deemed not pure enough [1]. In the rise of clean eating and the idea of purity invading in on our eating practices it’s a wonder of whether we are eating something because we like it and it tastes nice, or whether it’s trendy, seen as the new cult super food or looks good on Insta? The social pressures amongst these online communities is high, and food shaming is definitely rife like a plague amongst these online circles. Just as with starvation practices, this takes us away from listening to our bodies and their needs because external forces are dictating what, how much and when we eat.

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Although we might not be starving ourselves, models might not be collapsing and dying at fashion shows and smoking cigarettes instead of eating lunch the question lies in really contemplating just how much has really changed? How much of this change is a mask of the same old issues? The same motivations, feeding into the same desires and issues around controlling our bodies, minds and emotions? When we are so focused on our bodies and controlling them down to every minute detail, we do not have the energy to focus on bigger things. Being super lean and strong is not empowering if you’re obsessed with what you can and cannot eat. Fitspo is not empowering if it makes you feel like shit. Being enslaved to your reflection and how you look is not empowering. It might feel as such sometimes but if it’s taking away from your life in any way then it’s time to reconsider how we relate to fitspo and slogans such as “strong is the new skinny”.

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The irony of a lack of focus on holistic health in the health and wellness industries is laughable at best and shameful at worst. Are we really progressing away from hyper-vigilience around what we put in our mouths and the impacts this ha son our body shape in the pursuit of health, or is this a new era of diet, health and wellness fuck uppery? My advice for seeing between the lines? Be critical, be analytic and if an image is prescribing an aesthetic ideal get the fuck outta there quick sharp. Being pained by attaining a certain look is not progress, but instead the falsification of progress. For real change we need to call this shit out and disempower the hold they have over us as individuals, communities, men, women, and especially for our children. We need to learn to know better.


Sources:
[1] Beat (2017) Orthorexia. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/types/orthorexia .
[2] Costa-Font, J. & Jofre-Bonet, M. (2011) Anorexia, Body Image and Peer Effects: Evidence from a Sample of European Women. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
[3] Rebekah Brennan, Marie Claire Van Hout, (2012) “Miaow miaow: a review of the new psychoactive drug mephedrone”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 12 Issue: 4, pp.241-253, https://doi.org/10.1108/17459261211286654
[4] Turner, P.G. & Lefevre, C.E. Eat Weight Disord (2017) 22: 277. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2