What did you see on your run today? #393 comes from Brussels. And it’s very funny

My cyber-friendship with Myriam is one of the things that make blogging such fun.

I use the word cyber-friendship on purpose, since we have never met.

Myriam is a friend of a friend from my South African days. But through the wonders of technology, I now count Myriam as one of my friends. She’s a runner. a generous contributor to this blog and she’s damn funny with it!

Earlier his year, Myriam had shared the story of an urban trail run through the official buildings and public areas of Antwerp, where she lives – here’s the link & do please read her post – & I remember thinking at the time that it was such a fun concept.

And one, sadly, that will NEVER take off here.

In this VIP-obsessed city of Delhi, imagine the authorities opening up public buildings so we could all run through them…

So, since it’ll never happen here, let’s enjoy this urban trail run through the iconic monuments of Brussels.

Over to you, Myriam :

“The last weekend of June I’ve run an urban trail in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, with my daughter An and my husband Dirk, who walked the trail.
Like always it was a good plan to run and, it must be said, the organisation was perfect.

We had the wave at 9AM, so we took the train to Brussels at 7.30AM.

Too early for me. I’m not a morning runner.

In Brussels we collected a T-shirt and our labels; a drink to go and at 9AM after a few minutes of warming up, we started to run.

We did the Bozaar – it’s a concert hall.

We ran through the Federal Parliament (no one was working at the moment or any other moments… ),

(Editor: Myriam, naughty naughty 🙂 )

We ran through the station, the stock exchange building, the museum of “Manneke Pis – the symbol of Brussels”, and of course the town hall where I stood there for a moment to wave at the crowd below (like a real VIP).

A true VIP moment, my friend !!


And like always it was a good time. The weather was nice, the trail was more than OK, we had fun.

On the urban trails you can’t run the whole time : you have to take pictures, stairs up and down, avoiding tourists, etc.”

Now, how cool a concept is this urban trail running?

I would LOVE to do such a run through Delhi.

But in the meantime, thanks to Myriam, we can enjoy her VIP moments in her capital city’s iconic places.

Thanks my friend, and #keeprunning #keepinspiring

Running as therapy

On a scale of grief-inducing moments, the sudden, totally unexpected death of an adored pet must rank pretty highly.

One minute you’re walking in the forest with your darling dog.

15 minutes later, he’s gone.

Like that.

With no warning.

This was my yesterday.

I’d be exaggerating if I said that in losing Yoko, I’ve also lost a running companion, because we only ran together once a week. Every Monday, without fail.

Well, actually, sometimes it was twice a week. Like last week. And the week before, and…

Heartbroken, and very emotional because of the wonderful kind messages I received yesterday and overnight, I didn’t feel “strong” enough to go to my regular running club meet.

I knew I’d start crying if anyone said anything.

I cried at their WhatsApp messages, so in person would’ve been that much more difficult.

But I knew I needed to run, so I went to my local park and did a slow, tearful 10km.

This park does not allow dogs inside (so obviously it’s full of strays), so Yoko and I have no shared running history there. Which helped.

I wanted to test the theory that running helps cope with grief.

I remember a very emotional run after my mother died, where I ended up sitting in a dusty Muslim shrine in Delhi, crying my eyes out.

I’ve run before to clear my head from stressful situations, like a week of back-to-back funerals late last year. But being brutally honest, these were funerals of relatives of my husband, so I wasn’t prostrate with grief.

I’ve run when I’m stuck with a work problem, or can’t think how to write an article with a looming deadline.

I’ve run many times to keep the crazy at bay.

So even though I felt raw this morning, I laced up and headed to the park, to see if running would once again help.

Initially it didn’t – which was the stage at which I posted my Instagram stories – instagram.

But by the end of my slow 10km I definitely felt better.

I sort of knew in advance that I’d definitely feel better after a run.

But why?

Why is running such good therapy?

I trawled the internet and one thing came across loud & clear, everyone is in agreement that exercise most definitely helps with stress or trauma or grief.

In a word – running is therapy.

(Yeah, that’s 3 words. Thanks)

Not one article pooh poohed the benefits of exercise in dealing with the traumatic moments life throws at us all:

“Any significant loss in your life can trigger a powerful grieving process. A death in your family, the loss of a pet, divorce, or even being laid off may send you whirling down a roller-coaster ride of emotions; numbness, anger, denial, despair, isolation, and depression… all are par for the course when you’re grieving.”

This article sets out very succinctly the benefits of exercise in combating grief in so many ways – mental, psychological and physical.

“Grief can lead to many physical symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, insomnia, worsened aches and pains, loss of appetite, weakness, and more. While helping your mind, exercise can help to relieve many of these physical symptoms. If you’re having trouble sleeping, for example (common among grief-stricken individuals), exercise can help. Research shows that regular exercisers report sleeping better, including falling asleep faster and having a decreased need for sleeping pills, than they did prior to the start of their exercise program.

If you have pain, which is often made worse during psychological stress, exercise may help to relieve it, while at the same time banishing those potentially overwhelming feelings of fatigue. When you’re under extreme stress, your immune system also takes a hit, leaving you vulnerable to infectious disease, excessive inflammation and more. Here, too, exercise can be invaluable.

When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body.”

What I found this morning was that for the first half of the run I kept thinking about Yoko, and then I’d tear up (not helped by seeing a Golden Retriever right outside my house, and for a second my heart skipped a beat…) but as I got into the rhythm of my run, I was thinking less and less, and just running.

So by the end of 10km, it almost seemed as though I’d moved a tiny distance down the road to recovery, less than 24 hours after we lost him. I’d managed not to think about him for a few kilometres…

Exercise may not extinguish grief but it can play a valuable role in helping people adapt to loss. Physical activity releases brain chemicals such as endorphins, which help to relieve discomfort and boost our mood.”

Even though the consensus appears to be that any exercise is beneficial, running seems to be one of the best ways of coping with grief and stress, and I refer you to this interesting article on the subject.

“You’re both really powerful and really vulnerable at the same time when you’re running, just physically,” says Sepideh Saremi, a licensed psychotherapist who believes so strongly in the power of the sport that she incorporates it into therapy sessions at Los Angeles-based Run Walk Talk. “There is an intensity when you’re running that makes other types of intensity more tolerable or less intense, in contrast to what’s happening in your body.”

Some of the psychological benefits of running are neurochemical. Molecules called endocannabanoids flow through your bloodstream at higher levels after a run, and then slip through your blood-brain barrier to fill the same slots as pot, stimulating similar feelings of calmness and peace (there’s a reason they call it runner’s high).

I liked the uplifting end to this article in Vice.com:

“For those who can run and choose to use it as a coping mechanism, Saremi sees a striking symbolism in forward momentum. “When you’re in grief like that, it’s like being in tar. It feels so bad,” she says. “I think running is the opposite of being stuck. It gives you hope that even though you can’t do anything to bring that person back, you’re still alive, and your life can go on.”

So there you go.

We all knew it already, but here you have proof scientific that running truly is a form of therapy.

It definitely helped me this morning.

I know it will take many weeks and many kilometres to ease the pain, but I’m going to heal myself, one run at a time.

Always something new to learn

There are mornings when it is SO tempting to switch off the 4.30am alarm and go back to sleep – like this morning, after yet another wretched power cut made for a poor night’s sleep.

But I somehow dragged myself out of bed and headed off to meet my ASICS Running Club.

And then the magic started.

Despite the searing humidity – jeez, we only had a couple of hours rain, Delhi, so what’s with the bonkers humidity? – so yes, where was I? Despite the searing humidity, we had a fabulous session.

Fabulous.

Exhausting.

Humiliating (when you’re the only one unable to do a particular drill 😛 )

And yes, I learned something new.

Something as simple as how to jump properly.

Pause for everyone to roll their eyes and mutter, “Crikey, what a slow learner SHE must be, if she’s only just found out how to jump!”

Coach made us do a lot of training and agility drills this morning, and one of them involved jumping over a small object (for me, it was my cap) – side to side, forward and backwards.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, yes, I guess it is, except that I haven’t jumped like that for years – seriously, how many adults jump?

I was making a bit of a dog’s breakfast of it, and have a few footprints on my cap to prove how I landed on it rather than to the side if it – and then, voila!

Coach made one of the fitter and more agile young women in the group demonstrate how to jump, which she did at lightning speed.

And then Coach said the magic words, “Notice how she’s landing on her toes, not the whole of her foot.”

Lightbulb moment.

Next repetition, I did my 30, without a break, did ’em fast, and boy, did I feel pretty damn pleased with myself.

Pause for everyone to roll their eyes Mark II and mutter “Boy, she’s easily pleased.”

Joking aside, it’s moments like this that make running and training such enormous fun.

Accomplishing yet another tiny skill set.

#nevertoolatetolearn

We did a lot of our drills up a slope this morning, adding to the difficulty level.

Like this drill (below) where we had to balance on one leg as we made our way up the hill:

Not half as easy as it looks, my friends, let me tell you.

We also did our version of a spiderman crawl up the hill:

Christine, you need to work on this drill.
Not close enough to the ground… 😛

Much of the focus today was on balance:

Neha showing how it’s done!

We did planks, and drills with a partner, and exhausting though it was, there was such a great sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that it was a really super session.

Moral of the story?

  1. Always, always, always get up & head out to exercise. There is NO better way to start a day.
  2. There are ALWAYS things to learn, every day. Like how to jump 🙂
  3. Team work really does make the dream work. Without Coach & my mates this morning, none of this would’ve happened.

All of the photo/video credits got to one of our team, Sunil Punshi, who is a seriously good photographer.

If you love looking at beautiful images, do yourself a favour & follow Sunil on Instagram.

And, while you’re at it – you can also follow my dedicated running Insta feed, too!

Please, thank you very much 🙂

Now about that muscle memory…

Jeez Louise.

You take less than a month off from running, to go trekking in the mountains, and then you come back and you are a total ZERO.

That was the reality check awaiting me this hot & humid Delhi morning, when I re-joined my ASICS Running Club mates after a break.

I know I’m still tired from the trek, which took more out of me than I had bargained for, but I honestly didn’t expect to feel so winded, so exhausted, so headache-y, after what isn’t actually that big a break.

The lovely lady who gives me massages told me today that I have a low grade fever that she can “feel” when she massages me, so perhaps I’ll use that as an excuse for a shockingly wimpish performance this morning.

We did intervals this morning, and even though I was in the slowest group, I still had to skip a couple of them, because I was feeling borderline nauseous (I blame it all on that fever I didn’t know I had 😛 )

I’d heard of muscle memory, so I kinda thought that meant that my body would automatically snap back into running mode. I mean I’m not injured, I didn’t spend the last 3 weeks lolling around, I was climbing a bloody great mountain, so being active, basically…but no.

Body had pretty much forgotten what running is all about.

Super depressing.

So I decided I’d look into this whole muscle memory thing and see if I could make any sense of it.

If nothing else, it’ll give me a scapegoat for my lousy performance.

Since I am so far from being a scientist it’s not funny, I’m not going to try and explain the articles I’ve read.

I’d only make a hash of it, so let me share with you here the most useful articles I found, which explain simply, in words people like me can understand, what muscle memory actually is.

I found this article very useful – https://www.popsci.com/what-is-muscle-memory/

This article from Forbes.com is a fun read (no, truly!) and I love the idea of zombie agents at work 🙂

I read loads more, and it was interesting how the 2 sports referred to the most as benefiting from muscle memory are cycling and weight-lifting.

This succinct little piece from the Beeb is pretty straightforward – https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/is-muscle-memory-real/

So, where does this leave us?

Yes, theredoes appear to be something called muscle memory, though it is perhaps a misnomer:

How long does it last?

3-6 month, huh?
So perhaps I shouldn’t despair, then, after all…

There does, thank goodness, appear to be a glimmer of hope for the likes of me:

So.

I guess the fact that my poor old legs remembered how to run – albeit slowly – means some muscle memory was at work. So there’s that much to be grateful for, right?

Clearly the only way to regain lost form is…sigh…to work hard.

Go back to basics.

Build up strength and energy.

No shortcuts in other words, and no blaming muscle memory.

Yikes! It’s already half way through 2019!

Now how on earth did that happen?

One minute it’s the end of February & I’m telling myself I’ve got the w-h-o-l-e of the summer to unwind, and train, and make major improvements to my running form…

…and then, wham, suddenly it’s the end of June, which means that it is half way through 2019, & I’m getting reminders to sign up for the Mumbai Marathon in January 2020, which is next year and that’ll mean 2019 is gone, and yes yes yes, can you hear the rising panic?!

So in true ex-auditor fashion (God, I used to lead a dull life… 😛 ) it is time for a half-yearly balance sheet.

I’ll stop exclaiming about how quickly 6 months have flown by – though I did watch a BBC thingy about how time seems to speed by faster for we oldies, so perhaps that explains some of my astonishment – but whatever it is, half of the year is done & dusted, and what do I have to show for it?

Not HUGE amounts of progress on the running front, sad to say, since I haven’t really challenged myself since my 2 marathons within a month in January & February.

I ended the winter running season with a jolly 5km in the rain in early March, getting a PB in the process – and that is, ahem. well, kinda that…

I dabbled a bit with going to the gym.

Took a few Barre classes.

I’ve swum a bit.

I’ve started yoga.

I went on a high altitude trek in the Himalayas, and came back absolutely knackered.

So much for using the long Delhi summer to up my game.

What I have done is travel quite a bit and, naturally, I dutifully ran in all the lovely places I’ve visited.

Yangon, Mandalay, Shanghai, Bangkok all gave me city running, most of it hot and humid, except for Shanghai which couldn’t make its mind up whether it was winter/spring/summer the week we were there.

I did a bit of trail running in Himachal Pradesh, in the Himalayas.

I’ve done lots of slow, gentle runs in the Delhi forest with my 2 dogs.

But if I am to be in ANY shape whatsoever come the winter racing season here in India, I need to get my A into G, and ek dum jaldi.

I don’t know why I do this to myself every year.

I imagine the summer is going to last for ever – which of course it does but it is SO damn hot here that running and exercising become a real chore.

Waking up to 32C every morning at 5am, makes it a tad difficult to stay motivated.

But every year I forget, and every year I pledge to “use” the summer to train and improve…

You think I’d have learned by now.

Anyway, onwards & upwards & all that jazz.

My post-Himalayan-trek rest is now officially OVER.

And to kick start the second half of the year, I dutifully dusted off my stationary bike (which sits totally stationary in my bedroom) and I offloaded the clothes that were draped on it 😛 and pedalled slowly for half an hour.

Operation Get Fit Again is officially launched.

I marked the moment.
Well, yes, technically it was a day early, but you get my point

What did you see on your run today? #392 comes from Athens

The lovely Kathakoli Dasgupta shared her running story from a Greek island, here in the blog yesterday.

Today’s chapter of her wedding-anniversary-Greek-adventure comes from Athens where, in her own words:

“the Acropolis was boiling, it was bustling but I couldn’t let go of the opportunity.”

It does look very un-running-friendly, to be honest

Katha explains that “you can’t run up and down on the Acropolis slopes (it’s too slippery and dangerous) so I did the majority of my runs around the path below the ancient citadel.”

Stunning, Katha

Katha freely admits that she fell in love with Greece, and one of the things she loved were the ubiquitous olive trees:

“One off the many olive trees (can you see baby olives?) that dotted the landscape below.

Legend has it that the city adopted the name Athens to honour the goddess Athena, who gave the city its first olive tree.”

Katha adds that olive trees are everywhere in Greece, providing shade and respite from the heat as well as (& I quote!) “the best-est olives ever!!”

Dear happy Katha, thank you SO much for sharing some of your Greek adventures with us 🙂

#keeprunning

#keepinspiring

What did you see on your run? #391 comes from a gorgeous Greek island

One of my dearest running friends, the lovely, UK-based Kathakoli Dasgupta, recently celebrated her wedding anniversary in Greece.

(Many congrats, by the way, you two love bugs 🙂 )

Katha shared some amazing photos of runs through the countryside on the pretty island of Kefalonia.

Here she is, in her own enthusiastic words:

“What I saw during my run today in Kefalonia – Petani beach overlooking the crystal clear blue-green Ionian sea from the road above.

Too gorgeous!

As I ran back up (it was hard work in the heat – I realised that I am now acclimatised to the weather in Blighty!) & went to the other side of the bay, I saw the rugged hills that dot the Kefalonia landscape.

Beehives everywhere, probably owing to the island’s unique biodiversity.

We had local honey with yogurt this morning – it was so fragrant and floral.

My nose was working as hard as my legs, trying to identify the scents of the herb that are wild along the path. Fennel, which features in a lot of the dishes we’ve tried here. was one of them.

Katha helpfully added that Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands and that it is also where the film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” was filmed.

So now you know 🙂

Thanks, as ever, Katha for such a vivid picture of your morning run.

Sounds fabulous.

#keeprunning

#keepinspiring

“START ACTING YOUR AGE”

Ugh. Those words.

The death knell of enthusiasm.

You come back from an epic trip (as I have just done) & your heart and your soul are filled to the brim with happiness and peace and the overwhelming beauty that only the mountains can give.

You have struggled, achieved your goal, and been rendered awestruck by the sheer size and splendour of the mountains.

You feel as though you’ve finally got some sort of perspective on life.

On your return, secretly, in your heart of hearts, you hope that people will ask about your trip and your adventures, but of course they don’t.

At best they’ll say, “God, you look awful. All puffy and swollen.”

At worst they’ll stare irritably at you and say those fateful words, “It’s time you started acting your age.”

This happened to me yesterday, courtesy one of the most waspish people in my husband’s family.

But still safely & happily on my rocky mountain high, I ignored the barb.

And then, bang on cue, I happened to check Instagram, and read the following post from Tanya Agarwal, one of my impossibly young & glamorous running girlfriends.

And I quote:

“I don’t know how to act my age because I’ve never been there before. If you didn’t know how old you were, would you still behave/function the way you did? Does your age bind you to conform to “should” or “would”? Does age play at the back of your mind as you go along playing the many roles in your life?”

Spot on, Tanya.

100% spot on!

I repeat: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO ACT MY AGE BECAUSE I’VE NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE.

I’ve never been this old before, and there doesn’t seem to be a manual of Appropriate Behaviour for Old Ladies.

I don’t know any other 60+ women, who dream of climbing ever higher and higher (though I am sure there must be loads of us out there).

I don’t know of any other 60+ women yearning to break sub-2 in the half marathon and, well, let’s say 4;30 for a full. (I know my limits!!)

What I do know for sure is that there are loads of super accomplished senior runners in the world & here in India, and I take comfort from that fact.

But going back to the suggestion to act my age: What are the options?

Seriously?

“Start acting my age” and then what?

Stop running? Stop trekking? Stop climbing?

And do what, pray?

Knit?

Watch the afternoon soaps?

Not on your nelly 😛

As long as my legs hold out, as long as I can reach down to tie my running shoes or lace up my hiking boots, I’m gonna be out there, pushing my limits, challenging myself, because the options are too grim to contemplate.

Who the hell wants to knit or watch soap operas, when you could be standing on a thin ledge in the snow, shivering, a little bit scared, but overall excited, as steps are cut in the ice for you to cross a narrow ridge?

That is living, in my book.

Not lolling on the sofa.

Heading out to run in the early morning heat and humidity, knowing you are pushing yourself towards your next race goals – THAT is living, not sitting quietly at home, watching life pass you by.

There is simply too much gorgeousness in the world still to be explored.

There are still so many challenges and goals out there.

Yeah, there may well have been moments on my just-concluded high altitude trek when I quietly muttered to myself, “”I’m getting too old for this shit”, but that was nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek figure of speech.

So, am I going to start “acting my age”?

If age appropriate behaviour involves pushing my limits & trying to be stronger & faster, then hells yeah, count me in.

If, however, it involves slowing down & hanging up my boots, well that ain’t happening.

I’m choosing to ignore the mean-spirited nay-sayers, and take comfort in these words from the great C.S.Lewis:

Oh, and to answer Tanya’s questions from the beginning of this blog post:

“If you didn’t know how old you were, would you still behave/function the way you did?” YUP

“Does your age bind you to conform to “should” or “would”?” NO

“Does age play at the back of your mind as you go along playing the many roles in your life?” NO

Balance: by special demand

One of my oldest & dearest friends – who is not a runner, which makes it even more wonderful that she reads my running blog – so, yes, Liz asked me to share the article about balance again, only in a more legible format.

Here you go 🙂

Apologies to anyone else who couldn’t read this in the original blog post.

Do please always let me know if there’s a problem!

When running goes oh-so-right

I’m not talking about racing here.

But running.

As in regular running group session.

As in a hot (actually a very hot) mid-week morning training session.

And everything goes so, so right that you feel like a million dollars afterwards.

And the whole joy of running is happening, right there, for you!

Sorry, sorry, don’t mean to get too OTT, but a routine interval training session with my running group was exactly what was needed, to boost flagging confidence after a string of lacklustre training sessions of late.

For those of you who don’t run with me, I am quite possibly the slowest runner on Planet Earth.

So when we ran an average pace of 5:08…well, for me that is EPIC.

And some laps were much faster, she adds, showing off like crazy 😛

Hells yeah! I ran fast. For me.

Of course it was only over a distance of a few kilometres, but it was pure magic, I tell you, to be able to run fast and keep it up, with only one brief, nauseous moment in the final 100metres of the final lap.

Everything you read about running exhorts you to do it for yourself/not to compare yourself to others/it’s a personal journey etc etc etc.

So, let me reiterate: even though an average pace of 5:08 pace is nothing unusual for so many of you wonderfully talented and swift runners, for me it was A Big Deal.

I felt so ridiculously proud afterwards.

Nauseous. Sweaty. Red-faced. But oh-so-proud.

BUT.

There’s always a but, right?

I could never in a million years done such a workout without my squad.

My team.

However much I enjoy solo runs in the forest, or running through the landmark-filled streets of New Delhi (where I live), the nitty gritty of training HAS to be done with my running group.

I just won’t do it alone. I know it.

No point hiding from the truth.

So the tough but satisfying intervals session could never have happened without my running mates.

Take a bow, team!

To round off a super session, I arm-twisted one of my mates, Mudit, into taking a few photos of me with the amaltas which are in stunning form at the moment.

They look so amazing, transforming the park into a blaze of yellow.

In my other blog – the non-running one – I have written about amaltas & posted a whole series of photos, ‘cos they are just SO stunning at the moment.

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