Monthly Archives: November 2013

The one where I fail at Pilates …

 I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m the worst Pilates student ever but I reckon I’d come a close second (behind the black knight from Monty Python who had his arms and legs chopped off).

 I decided to try Pilates after a previous failed attempt at yoga. All was good until I was overcome with … Emotion? Zen? A bottle of wine from the night before? I’ll never know what exactly happened but the result was me throwing up over myself in the middle of a class. Awful. Just awful. And to make the whole situation worse the teacher wouldn’t let me leave, so worried was she that I might throw up at the wheel of my car. So she insisted I stay. So there I was, reeking of sick, wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a mat while all around me people up dogged and down dogged without any involuntary digestive episodes.

 So it was with a certain degree of trepidation I signed up for Pilates. My knee had given way in my first half marathon and my sports therapist thought it a good idea to work on my core strength which was clearly around the same level as a new born baby.

 I put the vomit episode behind me and signed up for a six week course. It took roughly two minutes before I realised this was going to be another ugly episode in my already comical running career.

 It all started with those magic words ‘engage your pelvic floor’. I think I may have snorted at the absurdity of such a statement and I was about to say ‘You what?’ like an uncultured buffoon when I realised everyone else had a deep look of concentration on their faces as they were clearly ‘engaging’. At this point the screaming voice that so often accompanies me around a cross country course started piping up. Calm down, I thought, just pretend you’re engaging. She’ll never know.

 And it was at this point the teacher said ‘I’m going to come round to make sure you’re all engaging properly’. Shit. Finally she got to me. I tried to make a joke. She didn’t laugh. Instead she lay her hand on my stomach and told me to engage. ‘I am engaging,’ I said in a kind of squeak you might only hear while watching a particularly intense episode of The Muppets.

 What followed was five minutes of excruciating conversation in an otherwise silent room filled with people engaging and trying not laugh out loud.

‘You’re not engaging.’

‘I am.’

‘No you’re not. Pretend you need the loo and you’re trying to stop yourself.’

‘I don’t know how to.’

Long exhale of breath from her. ‘Okay, let’s try something else. Suck your thumb.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Put your thumb in your mouth and suck.’

Nervous laughter from me.

‘It’ll help you to feel your stomach contract when you try to engage.’

 So there I was, once again the lunatic in the class, laying on my mat sucking my thumb whilst wondering if this lack of control over my pelvic floor means I’m going to start wetting myself in the near future.

 The six week course was hardly a glowing success as I haphazardly negotiated Pilates movements with the gracefulness of a rabid dog. So it wasn’t a great shock at the end of the six weeks when out of a 15 people course 14 people progressed to the intermediate class and one, it was agreed, would stay behind and do the beginners course again.

 Surely second time round I would get it? Perhaps I’d be the star pupil? My optimism was misguided. I was still the worst pupil, although there were signs of a slight movement in my pelvic floor which had me and my teacher high fiving like I’d just scored a penalty at Wembley.

  Around week eleven I started to panic that I might be asked to join the beginners class again. Rather than become a veteran beginner I had a plan of action: tell her I’m moving out of the area and never shop locally again. But alas, as the last class finished and whilst everyone else progressed, she looked at me said simply ‘Helen, I think you’ll be okay with a DVD’.

 I should say at this point that she was a great teacher, every time she came over to my mat to correct yet another dodgy position she was always kind and forgiving. And I did actually take away from the class a routine for my legs and hips which I do every morning and which I can genuinely say has helped my running. I’d love to go back and tell her this but I fear there may be some sort of restraining order issued to prevent me ever joining her class again.

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The one where I’m competing in the Hunger Games …

Okay so I mentioned in my last post that I’ve done a couple of cross country races recently and rather than you get the impression that I’m now a seasoned runner, I thought it only right that I dispel this myth. I am still chaotic at best. I should point out that I’ve never done cross country in my life. At school I sang in my choir and chased boys, at no point did I go outside and run up and down hills. That would have seemed stupid.

It is stupid.

Strangely, though, I keep signing up for cross country races. My first experience was a three mile race in North London a couple of weeks ago. It was a nice clear day as I set off for the race, but it quickly turned into a monsoon-style downpour roughly two minutes before my race started. Brilliant. I was soaked, all of my ‘dry clothes’ were soaked and I was caked in mud. As I ran around the course I was screaming in my head whilst simultaneously berating myself for not going to Westfield like normal people do on a Saturday. I came in a few places from last but the most humiliating experience was yet to come as I had to get undressed behind a tree to change into my now equally wet clothing. It was at this point that I considered whether I had actually gone mad and should think about checking into a mental asylum.


The happy smiling face of a cross country champion

One thing I’ve learnt during my running experience is how quickly your mind lets you forget about things so it was a big shock when I found myself lining up again for a cross country race on Saturday. I was all smiles and laughter for the first minute or so, and then I remembered what it had been like the first time round. And this course was longer – 6.6km and MUCH hillier. In fact the whole race was a series of gravity-defying ascents and descents on one big hill. Again, I pretty much handled the whole experience with complete lunacy and chaos, screaming at myself inside my head whilst smiling and waving at anyone who shouted my name.

I finished the race in around 46 minutes (I’m waiting for my official time). I’m pleased with that, although I did stupidly help one woman who seemed to be struggling along the last mile or so, only for her to shoot past me on the home stretch, kicking my ass in front of my entire club. Note to self, do not help runners from other clubs, they are not your friend.

All in all, both experiences have been completely mad, but in a rather twisted way, I think I might have enjoyed them. I’m still not sure. Maybe I’ll do another one to find out.

Helen’s cross country lessons:

  1. Do not talk to people on the course. They don’t care how funny you think you are.
  2. Try not to make squeaking noises as you run downhill. REAL runners will think you are an idiot.
  3. Never take a cloth bag to a wet, muddy field. It will get drenched, as will everything inside your bag.
  4. Wear nice pants. At some point you will get changed behind a tree and you don’t want to be wearing granny pants. You have possibly already embarrassed yourself enough. This will push you over the edge.
  5. Pretending you’ve just been picked for the Hunger Games and you’re running for your life will help for a little while. But after the first few hills you will start to consider whether being shot by an arrow might actually be preferable.
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The one where I change my marathon plan …

So it seems that starting marathon training at the same time as starting a new job and a new commute isn’t easy. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to juggle my insanely long commute – 27 tube stops each way – with new responsibility and the beginning of a 26-week training plan for the London Marathon. What I’ve taken from this last few weeks is that I’m not good with change and I am incredibly talented at falling sleep on the tube regardless of noise levels or general shame.

So I’ve had to rethink my marathon plan. I have managed some training – a lovely 10k run near my parents’ house, two cross country and two road events with my running club and a beautiful early Sunday morning run in Epping Forest, along with my usual club training nights and circuit training. But this isn’t enough if I want to tackle 26 miles in five months. FIVE MONTHS!!

So I’m changing my training plan to a Hal Higdon Novice 2 plan ( It’s 18 weeks long so it means the pressure is off for the next few weeks and I can get myself into a routine with my new job and then turn my attention to running a marathon.

Is anyone else struggling to train?



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