February 29, 2012

The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements was recommended to me by Paul a few years ago and I have found myself returning to it again and again. Based on Toltec wisdom, it addresses the self-limiting beliefs most of us have that create self inflicted and needless suffering in our lives. I guess it officially comes under the genre of a self-help book though I don't feel like it is typical for this category as many similar books are full of unrealistic ideas and stories that don't transpose into real life. This book is different ... it has 4 rules to follow that are easy to remember, achievable and applicable to everyday life. 

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you an to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance simply do your best, and you will avoid self judgement, self abuse and regret.

I find it hard to express the points made about domestication and the unrealistic requirements we put on ourselves to please others but I hope this helps sum it up:
'During the process of domestication, we form an image of what perfection is in order to try to be good enough. We create an image of how we should be in order to be accepted by everybody. We especially try to please the ones who love us... ...Trying to be good enough for them we create an image of perfection, but we don't fit this image. We create this image, but this image is not real. We are never going to be perfect from this point of view. Never.
Not being perfect we reject ourselves... ... We are not good enough for ourselves because we don't fit with our own image of perfection. We cannot forgive ourselves for not being what we wish to be, or rather what we believe we should be'
I felt this book really applied to me. I know I have a bad habit of taking things personally and I'm the worst for assuming what others are thinking, or believing that I am not living up to their expectations (as set by my own unachievable image of perfection mentioned in the above excerpt!). It helped me understand these things and address them, encouraging me to ask more questions about what people want, expect and feel as well as not taking everything so personally in life.

This really only scratches the surface of what this relatively short book has taught me. As I said earlier, the four agreements are easy to remember, though it's easy to fall off the wagon and revert back to your old ways. However... following rule 4 'always do your best', rather than giving yourself a hard time and punishing yourself for not being perfect, it's possible to just move on and try again.

As the months and years go by you'll find yourself reading this book again and again. I have no doubt that you'll end up giving it to a family member or friend....

....Then, most likely, you'll buy another one as you're going to want to refer back to it in years to come!

February 23, 2012

The Key

People often talk about 'THE KEY' ... 
...the key to success
the key to happiness.... 
Well.... this is my key.....
 We found this in a quirky little shop yesterday and I knew it was just what I'd been looking for...
For some time I've been wondering what to do with my race medals
I don't feel like I need them on show to everyone (they're not Olympic medals or anything flashy like that!) but I wanted them somewhere I would see them
Amongst other things, race medals remind me of the achievements and great memories of each race I've run
This key and the medals it holds signify many things that running has unlocked in my life...
my ability to overcome challenges and my determination and commitment to training.
Running has opened doors for me and introduced new friendships.
These little mementos inspire me in many aspects of my day to day life as well as in training and races
This will be a daily reminder of what I'm capable of and how strong I can be

Ever wonder if you've watched too many home improvement shows??

All this fair weather has got me excited about being outside again this week. I love to sit out and read and I get a lot of beautiful weather to enjoy here in Texas. Paul has a sweet swing at the end of the porch that I often relax on while he is tinkering with engines or working on garden. Plus we enjoy sitting out in the evening and enjoying a drink, playing some cards or listening to Paul play his guitar. However over time the outdoors take their toll on the furniture. For some reason I got all giddy this week and decided I wanted to do a little bit of work outside! 
So we took the swing down from it's rusting chains.... it's difficult to see here but the wood was rough and the varnish had worn off most of it  

 and we took the table which was also feeling a little bit sorry for itself...
A little bit of sanding and varnish...
and a can of spray paint later...
We had ourselves a lovely good-as-new swing and table. It's hard to capture in a photo but they look great!
Not only did we save ourselves money by not just buying new stuff, Paul and I had a great time doing it and got to enjoy a beautiful day outside!
'Do a little more each day 
than you think you possibly can'

Lowell Thomas

February 17, 2012


So after realising where I was going wrong the other day, I attempted a bit of a mental reset and so far it's worked. Yesterday's run was an example of this and I realised a few really important things...
  • Marathon training is not supposed to be easy
  • I'm not the only one that has ever felt overwhelmed by marathon training... it's supposed to push you
  • I need to stop giving myself such a hard time, and just do my best
Yesterday I ran without my Garmin or ipod (the ipod wasn't intentional but it was dead as a dodo) and it did me the world of good. I didn't need GPS as I knew exactly where I was going to run and run it so often I know how far it is. I hadn't realised how much I look at my watch for distance and pace and I really enjoyed this run without that subconscious pressure. It was mild outside but not too hot, I could run comfortably in a singlet and shorts and the only thing I could've done with was a drink half way around!
Here comes the bit that made the difference though... Instead of analysing how far I had left to run (and torturing myself with it) I thought about how I should go about raising some money for the YAMND. Once I'd tackled that (which took about 9km by the time I'd thought about it then repeated everything enough times to commit it to memory), I occupied the rest of my run (7km) with thoughts about positive things. These things are varied in their subject matter but I would only think about something if I was thinking about it in a positive way. I set myself some rules where 'can't' and 'won't' and similar negative words were banned from my thoughts. If they crept in I'd have to find a way of expressing what I was thinking in a positive way (all the time this is keeping my mind busy and I'm not thinking about how far I've run and how far I have left to go!!)
If I ran out of things to think about I would repeat positive phrases, almost like a song, through my mind again and again. Running up hills involved 'I can do this' 'I am strong' and 'hills are awesome!'. (Rubbish song, I know, but it got me up them and I didn't stop at any point though the full 16km!). I noticed that in order for this to work I had to approach it as 'I can do this' rather than 'you can do this' as that would make me feel like I was telling someone else.
Somehow these things got me through the full distance comfortably with no desire to quit and no physical pain. Although this all involves admitting that I talk to myself (though I don't think it was out loud except maybe when I was going uphill), it does prove that my problems recently have been in my head and not with my physical ability!

'Our greatest battles are 
with our own minds'
                               Jameson Frank

York and District Against Motor Neurone Disease

I've suddenly realised that the marathon is fast approaching so I thought I would talk about the charity that I'm running for. This year I'm raising money for York and District Against Motor Neurone Disease as they are providing my Godmother Sue with both the technology and support that she needs.

York and District against Motor Neurone Disease is an independent charity (#1000356) which was founded in 1989. They offer practical and emotional support for victims and their families and also provide information about MND. Operating in York and the surrounding area, YAMND can loan equipment such as light writers and electric reclining chairs, and make financial contributions towards some of the more expensive equipment that sufferers of this disease need to make day to day tasks possible. They employ a part time nurse to help the group provide an outstanding level of care for patients in the area. Doreen Foster, the nurse employed by YAMND, was awarded the Health Service Hero 2011 in the York Press Community Pride Awards for her outstanding work over the last 16 years, and for returning to work after her own serious health issues. All other members of the group volunteer their services.
I have set my target to £1000 though understand this could be difficult as many people waited until very late last year to sponsor my last challenge and seem hesitant to donate again. However I will definitely do my best for them.
If you would like to support my race and donate to YAMND please go to my justgiving page . Every little (or lot) helps! Thank you :)

February 14, 2012

Battling my Brain

Running hasn't always been easy for me. I only started a couple of years ago and the initial difficulties were in the physical pain, from injured knees to general fitness issues that manifested in aching limbs and fiery lungs. However I persevered and grew stronger physically and since then my regular training runs have been (fairly) easy... until now.
For a long time running was the thing that helped me deal with challenges and gave me time to think. But right now everything is going my way in life and I'm happy....
....and for some reason this seems to be making my running more difficult. I have nothing to fight though, nothing is making me so angry that I need to sprint through it and conquer my mind with burning lungs and heavy legs. On long runs I used to plan things and think through conversations and strategies. I'd think about friendships that were in turmoil and go through my options of saving them or letting them go. Basically the reason I started running was that I had a lot to think about.
I'm thankful that my life has settled down a lot since then, but it left my head with a lot less to contemplate. During that time the 2011 challenge became part of my mentality, something to strive towards and focus on. As a result my weekly running target was always a set total but I could regularly do more, and that in itself was a positive influence on my life.
This year however I'm in marathon training and I've never done anything like it. The requirements of the plan I chose are steep to say the least and, although I don't think I chose a particularly difficult plan, the km/week requirement makes my 2011 challenge seem like a walk in the park! Not being able to keep up with the plan in itself is having a negative affect on my mindset.
Then there's the 'Long Slow Run'..... Oh my word!!!
The long slow run has increased through the course of my training, however as it turns out, it's not the distance that's doing me in right now. I started off my LSRs in the company of the Sweatshop running club on a Sunday morning by running to them, with them, and then back home to make up the distance I needed. Then I started running with Lou who is a great running partner! She runs long distance, naturally on a negative split (which is awesome), and is great company all the way. But now, here I am in hilly Texas which feels like a million miles away from Lou and our random adventures along the flat city streets, muddy riverside trails and the York-Selby cycle path.
The long run is becoming a nemesis that has started to get the better me. Without the company of fellow runners it is becoming increasingly difficult, especially as (in order to stay safe) my route is either 2 or 3 loops of the same road, and the same big hills again and again. I seem to be talking myself out of everything and losing confidence, often within the first few miles and it's as if the foundations I've built aren't even there right now.
However part of me understands that these runs are supposed to challenge me, and no-one ever said this was going to be easy! On the day I'm hoping that the race environment will keep me going and that I'll be distracted by other runners and spectators, but I need to be ready to run the distance alone. These training runs are designed to prepare me. They will challenge me to be strong both physically and mentally, and to be able to do the distance without encouragement from spectators, friends or family.
The challenge now is both to be strong, and to grow stronger...

February 10, 2012

Sometimes you need another pair of hands!

Now I have successfully completed my first half marathon of 2012, it's time to look forward to the next race. I still can't quite believe I'm going to do a full marathon, but I'm signed up now and training hard so it's going to happen!
However I have one small worry on my mind. I know that there are GU gels around the course on race day but I really can't stomach them when I'm running (or at any time to be honest). Through trial and error I found that Jelly Belly Sport Beans are the best way for me to fuel on the run as they don't make me feel sick, they're easy to eat and they taste good too. 
However during my marathon I expect to need 3 packets, one every 10km or so....
How the heck do I carry them on me when I'm running? 
I don't really want to take my hydration belt as it does restrict me a bit and can get on my nerves. This leaves me with either 'tricks of the trade' that I'm not yet aware of, or a case finding the right combination of running shorts and top that can carry 3 packets of jelly beans.
I'm not a big fan of the look of raceready shorts and I prefer to run in a tank or racerback top. So if any of you have any suggestions of tops/shorts that you find carry enough, or another way of carrying them, please leave a comment
Thank you :)

February 9, 2012

Learning to Cook with Jamie Oliver

For many years I haven't really have the opportunity or requirement to explore cooking. I could do the usual stuff like stir fry type dinners, but never anything that required much more than some chicken, a jar of sauce, maybe an onion and some garlic!
However things have changed quite a bit over the last couple of years. Firstly, when I moved back to my parent's hotel, my Mum taught me the art of cooking traditional English breakfasts for 30+ people. For a start I was very daunted by the prospect and lacked confidence, however now I love a busy breakfast. It can be completely crazy, with everyone ordering at the same time, but there is no bigger sense of satisfaction than when you send out the last breakfast, knowing that everything you sent out was great! I've had many people say to me that our breakfast was the best they've ever had, and that makes me proud. In turn that made me realise that perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on myself, especially when we won a breakfast award on one of the days that I was cooking.
However this still left a big hole in my cooking repertoire! When I first started coming to Texas I would get frustrated by the fact that I couldn't find ingredients that I was used to cooking. There is a LOT of pre-made food but I really don't like the thought of microwave meals either. There were several things I could cook but I still felt quite limited in my variation. So recently I turned to my iPad for some inspiration to learn how to cook some good food, from scratch. I came across the Jamie Oliver app which was just what I needed.
It has a mixture of classic meals, 20 minute meals and 30 minute meals. What I love the most is that it is step by step guidance with photos all the way. I enjoy cooking but lack confidence so it helps to be able to refer to a picture to check that I'm doing things right! 
As well as awesome step by step recipes it also has video's on some of the basics of cooking such as 'cooking the perfect steak', 'knife skills', 'cooking with herbs' and plenty of others. The recipes also are broken down into shopping lists which can be exported, plus moving through the recipe is made even easier (for when you have chickeny fingers) by using the voice activated scroll. By just saying 'next' or 'previous' the recipe will move to the next step or backwards through the recipe you're working on.
I've done several of the recipes over the last couple of weeks ... this was my version of the prawn linguine
And this was tonight's success.. Lemon and herb chicken with mash
His food is awesome, fresh and PACKED with flavour. I would seriously recommend investing in the app whether you are new to cooking or a bit of a pro!
However just because I'm learning to cook proper food, doesn't mean that I'm not still cooking these every so often :D

February 7, 2012

Galveston Half Marathon

Sunday was the day of my first race of 2012.... the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon and Half Marathon. I ran the half in preparation for my marathon next month, although I'd seriously considered signing up for the marathon as I knew it would be a really flat course and quite scenic along the beach front.... I'm so glad I didn't as it couldn't have been a worse day for it! I've never been in Galveston in the winter and hadn't expected such English weather!
Cold, wet and windy does not even begin to describe the weather on Sunday. Sheltering in the truck before the race Paul pointed out that the palm trees looked as though a hurricane was coming! This is the weather map that I looked at in the morning... if you look very closely you can see Galveston Island and this whole weather system (green being rain, yellow being bad rain and red being torrential rain) was moving slowly in a North Easterly direction fighting against a windy cool front moving down from the North... therefore staying over the island the whole morning and on into the afternoon. The one thing I am thankful for is that it didn't start to thunder and lightning like the day before. I don't know what I'd have done if it did because lightning scares me silly plus it was so open, especially at the most northerly part of the course. 
I'm not sure that the rain was the worst of it! I don't ever run with a hat on but the race organisers luckily gave us a cap in our pre-race goodybag.... I decided to wear it to shelter my face from the driving rain and was glad I did as I hate having rain wash out my contact lenses. The worst thing I had to deal with was the wind which was blowing directly at us for what felt like 80% of the race
The race itself was awesome. I have no doubt that it's one of the flattest courses I will ever run, it was also one of the straightest, right along the Seawall Boulevard from one end to the other (hence the problem having to fight that headwind all the way along the front).
Click here to see video of the start of the race (I'm about 1 minute 41)
I had my Garmin Virtual Partner set on my watch to 5.25/km. This is basically the pace at which I ran my last half marathon, so if I wanted to beat my personal best I would need to run at that pace or quicker throughout the race. I had a plan to run a steady first half and strong, fast second half though the wind was making that pretty impossible. I felt like I was spending twice as much energy along the straight than I would usually spend running along a flat length of road. I wasn't sure I'd benefit from a tail wind at any point as the return length was shorter and sheltered in the main streets so I was determined not to drop my pace.
Here's my lap times and, despite my struggles, I think I just about managed to stick with my pace plan and speed up over the last few km. It wasn't the 'start steady, finish strong' that I'd imagined but wasn't bad considering the conditions
km 1: 5.22
km 2: 5.23
km 3: 5.17
km 4: 5.21
km 5: 5.25
km 6: 5.27
km 7: 5.28
km 8: 5.24
km 9: 5.22
km 10: 5.26
km 11: 5.24
km 12: 5.22
km 13: 5.31
km 14: 5.24
km 15: 5.16
km 16: 5.19
km 17: 5.14
km 18: 5.08
km 19: 5.07
km 20: 5.08
km 21: 4.51
click here to see video of my big finish!

I finished 6th in my age group
147th out of 1014 half marathon runners
in a personal best time of 1:52:12 
Overall I had a great race and fantastic time in Galveston with Paul and the puppies. This experience just reminds me why I love to travel and love to race. I'm excited about the marathon next month so after a couple of rest days I'll be right back into my training plan. Wish me luck!

February 2, 2012

A very quick Galveston update...

It looks like it could be a very wet & stormy ferry ride over to Galveston Island on Saturday....
 Followed by a soggy race on Sunday morning!
I've never run a race in the rain before. I'm hoping the forecast is wrong but guess I'm going to have to be prepared for rain!

January Training Update

I've found it really difficult to get back into a good training pattern so far this year though this might have had something to do with all that comes with Christmas and new year then travelling from England to Texas (and all the preparation that takes). Plus Paul and I were doing as much as possible visiting places in England before he left so that we made the most of his trip.
It always takes me a couple of weeks to get back into things here... mainly because I dread running up that huge hill! I'm also finding the temperatures really odd here... I expected it to be nice and cool as it's January, however Texas is having a very mild winter and it was 26c on my run yesterday!
I still find it hard to suppress that feeling when I'm running that I should be running further... something instilled in me from the 2011 challenge where every km counted! Between that and the crazy distances required for my marathon training I feel like I'm never quite doing enough.
However when looking at my stats, despite quite a few days off here and there for festivities and travelling, I've still had a great month! Just because I'm not doing my 2011 challenge doesn't mean I can't be a geek about my stats:
January Total: 179km (111 miles)
Longest run: 32.6km (20.3 miles)
Fastest run: 10.5km @ 5.25/km (8.43/mile)
It's the Galveston Half on Sunday, then I plan to get straight back into my marathon training and hope to stick to it as closely as possible through February!

Why I run...

'When people ask me why I run, I tell them, 
there's not really a reason, 
it's just the adrenalin when you start, 
and the feeling when you cross that finish line, 
and to know that you are a winner no matter what place you got.'
Courtney Parsons

February 1, 2012

Remembering Columbia

This morning Paul and I attended a memorial for the crew of the spaceship Columbia in Hemphill, Texas. The memorial was held at the Patricia Huffman Smith Museum, a museum opened on Feb 1st 2011 to honour the space shuttle Columbia and it's crew.
CREDIT: Creator/Photographer/Source: NASA
Hemphill and it's viciinity were the key search areas for debris from the space shuttle which broke apart during re-entry on Feb 1st 2003. Citizens of the Hemphill and surrounding areas (including Paul) assisted NASA in an unprecedented air, ground and water search. They recovered over 80000 pieces of debris which helped NASA understand the tragedy and put safety measures in place to prevent a similar accident from occurring on future missions.
The museum is awesome and tells the story of space exploration from the first mission of the Columbia to it's last mission, STS-107.
It is a tribute to the efforts made by local citizens during the recovery and has an area dedicated to each crew member and the two people that lost their lives during the recovery. Especially touching is the support given by the family members who have contributed personal items belonging to the crew to be on display. It was hard not to be moved by the displays and emotion shown by those that were involved with the museum and their dedication to providing an informative, yet sensitive, view of the tragedy that happened 9 years ago today. 
This image of the STS-107 shuttle Columbia crew in orbit was recovered from wreckage inside an undeveloped film canister. The shirt colors indicate their mission shifts. From left (bottom row): Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Rick Husband, commander; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. From left (top row) are astronauts David Brown, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Michael Anderson, payload commander. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency.