Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Go the extra mile, your legs will forgive you

Running the marathon was almost the way I dreamed it would be. Some parts surpassed my every expectation. The cloudless blue ‘Auckland’ sky in Greenwich Park at the start felt like a gift. The atmosphere in the starting pens: pure carnival, helped perhaps by being just one pen in front of fancy dress costumes including two people running as a Bactrican camel, a man encircled by the Blackpool Tower and a runaway bride. It's true too that I felt a little less celebratory at mile 17, when they had all overtaken me, but being beaten by a Bactrican aside, this was a day of dreams and achievement.  

The moment I decided to run the marathon was 11 months ago. I had a three day old baby and could barely walk. After hobbling into my local park, I decided that it was time to follow that long cherished aspiration. 
And yes, I’m glad that I did. I’ve learned so much about friendship, about being flexible without getting too far off course, about the small steps that close the distance between where we stand and where we want to be. 

Aside from the buzz in Greenwich Park, other highlights were: crossing Tower Bridge, passing the Cutty Sark, the first glimpse of Big Ben, and going over the finish line without blisters. Getting my medal was an amazing moment: one I can neither describe nor forget.
Many, many people went ‘the extra mile’  so I could run 26.2 miles. I won’t do a ‘Gwinnie”, you know who you are, and I would like to say thank you to everyone who sponsored me, sent encouraging texts, phoned with the latest nutrition advice, cared enough to worry, looked after me, gave me somewhere to stay when the tube lines were offline, and cheered me on. A special thank you also to my family, whose love, encouragement and practical support are simply incredible. The kind lady in Narrow Street, who gave me a banana when I was suddenly starving was like a longed-for angel. Never before has a banana been so luscious and alluring. Bless you.
My post-run celebrations were a little clouded by collapsing on the underground, and spending the evening in A and E at St Thomas’ Hospital, but even there, I felt I couldn’t have been among nicer, more interesting colleagues. A huge thank you to the team who sorted my sodium. 
I did this run for the Merlin doctors who are more altruistic and brave than I could hope to be. Their work inspired me throughout my training. Their brave example, and the courage of so many helped by Merlin, got me through the tough moments in the race. 
As I write this, three parakeets of the same vibrant green feather that I spotted on my first long run around Richmond Park back in December, are trilling in the tree outside my window. 
Seeing them reminds me of how far I’ve travelled on this journey. Of the many thoughts I had during my training, along the marathon course and in the days since, three have been loudest and most persistent. I’d like to close this blog with that trio: Don’t limit yourself.  Go as far as your mind takes you. Your legs will forgive you. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Virgins and veterans or lights, camera, podiatrist

This week has had three high points: lights, a camera and a podiatrist. 

Firstly, the 'lights'. I've been to register at the Marathon Expo in Excel. What I thought would be a tedious day of queuing and waiting, was in fact a well organised, slick event; not just painless, but rather party like. 

After registering, I had a meander around diverse stalls and met several other 'first timers'. This Expo seemed a celebration of many types of people running a marathon, from virgins to veterans. It really was much better than any registration event has the right to be. Over a bowl of pasta, I was privileged to listen to former boxer Michael Watson. 

Michael Watson completes the London Marathon

Watson completed the London Marathon in 2003 just 12 years after he’d recovered from a 40-day coma and been told he would never walk again.  He spoke about feeling focussed, staying in the moment and always being a fighter. When I saw him on the stage, I didn't see the fighter, I saw a man full of light, despite being faced with so much darkness; I was inspired.

My journey home was marked by forked lightening blazing across Dockland skies. Although I've been back in London for a while, I am still mostly in denial about the weather, and had been ignoring the possibility of rain this Sunday. The lightening brought an epiphany, a flash of practicality: I have now prepared for a downpour, although I'd still prefer to run in my Merlin 'white van man' singlet if I can. 

The sun always shines on TV

Speaking of attire brings me to the camera, as I shall be wearing one on my head. BBC Panorama are making a programme about the science behind marathon preparation, and I've agreed to help out by providing some views from the track. I've broken my own rule of not trying anything for the first time on race day, but it's 'only' from mile 23 to the finish line. It's a fantastic opportunity, and I'm grateful to them for allowing me to take part in this way. 

From head to toes: earlier in the week, I saw a podiatrist for the first time, on the advice of a good friend, and was pleased to be told my feet are more than up to the task ahead. 

I won't write again before the race, but will be carb loading and aiming to get two good nights' sleep. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Baby love: be a 'lave save'

Two things happened this morning.

I didn't run, in fact I'm not running again until the marathon. This meant I was home when the post arrived. A letter that stood out was from Dr Samson Agbo, Merlin's Head of Health.

He writes:
"If the people we've helped in Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan knew your name, they wouldn't call you Dr Dosani. They'd call you a 'lavi save'. In English, quite simply, a lifesaver."

A Merlin Baby

Immediately I wanted to send that thought out to all those who have sponsored me, and to all those who are still thinking about whether to.

This time last year I was regularly cancelling social engagements. It was hot, much hotter than this Easter, and I was heavily pregnant. 'I just can't walk that far today,' friends became used to me saying, and many kindly came to me, where we sought shade and chatted. 

Dr Agbo's letter also tells me that in Afghanistan, expectant mothers can walk up to 20 days to see a qualified midwife. More women die in childbirth there than in many other countries worldwide. Merlin's birthing teams travel by any means necessary, including on horseback to reach remote areas, to reach these women.

So please support me in running, so that they don't have to walk and risk not only their own lives, but that of their unborn child as well.

£20 provides Merlin mobile birth attendants with two delivery kits to give these mothers and their babies the best and safest start.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Final countdown

I've got to admit, running hasn't been much of a muse recently.
Same runs, same tunes: what to write?
I'm feeling glad the marathon is just days away, as I'm excited about taking part, and giving it my all.
This week I'll do a couple of 'shorts' but no more 'longs', and then rest up until the big day.
My plan for the week before is to make a big playlist, clean my kit, go to the Expo to pick up race number and chip and - on the advice of a friend who has 'been there, done that', go and see a podiatrist.
On your marks...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Got the t-shirt

Most of my runs recently have been short, fast bursts, and this blog entry is in that same staccato rhythm. 

My official t-shirt from Merlin arrived a couple of days ago. It's a bit 'white-van-man': a loose fitting singlet with lots of green writing. Nevertheless, it's exciting, and marks a final countdown to the 22nd April. 

Not my Merlin singlet

My motivation has been dwindling a little. A minor health niggle put me back for a few days, and although I'm back on track, in every sense, it has been more difficult than I'd expected. I'm managing this by focusing on each small step, and am now also resting for at least three days a week.

I'm enjoying running by the Thames, which always feels like the heart and soul of London. One of my 'weekly favourites' at the moment is running from the London Eye to Putney. The London Eye is a great place to start a Thames path run. It's easy to walk there from Waterloo, and the post card vista of Parliament is a fantastic motivator. The prospect of leaving the crowds behind also means the run is destined to start well.

detail from a painting by Samuel Scott, mid 18th Century

Just before Lambeth bridge, there is Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the past eight hundred years. It's worth spinning around for a moment here, and looking back on the route to the Eye, Parliament and the Thames. In these recent blue-skied Spring mornings, it's been easy to think this is the best river view in London. 

Next up are the spooks in their cream anti-palace that houses MI6. It's said to be an incredibly ugly building, but for my money there are worse offenders.Beautiful Vauxhall Bridge more than compensates. You need to cross up and over the bridge itself, but stay on the Thames South Side.

Best view in London?

The old towers of Battersea's Power station are visible from some distance and are brilliant to head towards, as they appear closer than they are. After Battersea, there is a lot of riverside visual treats. Chelsea Bridge is as elegant and gracious as the Albert Bridge is sweeping and majestic. 

Battersea Power Station
Between these two, you will pass the Peace Pagoda, which was a gift to London from a Japanese Buddhist Order. 

Peace Pagoda

There are several statues along this stretch of Thames, which instead of enthusing about, I will encourage you to discover. The plain blue and white bridge is Wandsworth Bridge. There has been a bridge here, ever since 1873, when a toll bridge was built in anticipation of a railway line that ended up not being built. From here, it's a short run through the park, and then into Putney where there are trains, buses, tubes and many lovely cafes. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Excitement and trepidation

I haven't run for a little while.  Couple of health issues, nothing major.
Am hoping to be back on the pavements at the end of this week, and can't believe there are just six weeks to go. Excitement and trepidation.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pride comes before it all

I had the worst run of my life, and it’s taken me over a week to write about it. 
Previously, the ‘worst run of my life’ was a 16km Leppin Auckland Off Road series run, that I did on a whim. I say on a whim, but actually I was signed up to the whole series in 2007. Egged on by a friend, I completed a succession of short distance bush runs, through the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen, and learned to love mud, but not hills.

Where's the finish line?

The Leppin series was set up with three distances, short which was a 4-6km run, mid wich was 12-16km and long, which from memory was marathon distance. After a few short distance events, my chickismo got the better of me. Suddenly I was doing ‘mid distance’. On all these runs there was a ‘tail-end-Charlie’, whose job it was to make sure that all the runners completed the course, and that he was the last in. 

Spot the English Girl

10km into the ‘mid distance’, the tail-end-Charlie overtook me. I spent an hour stumbling around in the bush, going over repeatedly on my ankle, feeling sick from the too-strong Powerade in my Camelbak, and having an anti-epiphany. There’d be some elegance in this story if I could write about crossing the finish line, but it, and the last 3km markers and directional arrows, had been taken down before I made it back, and I was collected a few hundred metres from the finish line by concerned friends. So I stumbled over what was once the finish line, a line in the sand, on what I still consider one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. My friends had drunk all the beer. My ankle recovered faster than my pride, and the event became known as ‘the day you thought you could run in the bush’.

Next left, or right

So that’s my gold standard of a ‘bad run’. And last week I bested it. 
A good friend works in the House of Lords. Wouldn’t it be magnificent, I thought, to run along the river, passing London’s glorious landmarks, and meet her at the Lord’s for some light post-run refreshment. 
First day of Spring

Despite seemingly perpetual ‘first day of Spring’ weather of late, my planned run coincided with the greyest, wettest day last week. I made the error of crossing the river to Southside too early, and then discovered that the Thames path along great screeds of South West London is being repaired, in patches, with abysmal sign posting. There can be few things more demoralising than running in drizzle with a buggy, only to find sudden blockades, and arrows pointing me back to non-river backing suburbia. Had I ever wanted to intimately know the backstreets of Putney, Barnes, Fulham and Hammersmith, this would have been my moment in time. Snug in the buggy, under blankets and secured by a raincover, Baby B slept soundly. 
Now you see it...now you don't

I was wet, cold, lost, miserable and chaffed. The vistas I’d hoped for were elusive. Everything was hazy and blurred and there were several times I ran in such big pointless loops, I wondered if it would be better to get the bus home and admit defeat.
In the end, we did make it to parliament. Quite how a drenched running woman with a sleeping baby can look like a security risk is beyond me, but after being scrutinised, scanned and snapped, I changed into a dress and heels (nappy bags are fabulous for so much more than nappies). Was it worth it? Probably not, but I’ve learned a few lessons:
  1. Don’t cross bridges on a whim, follow the map
  2. Getting cold and wet is horrible, but foreseeable. Take a change of clothes other than an evening dress and heels. 
  3. If you’re going a long way along the Thames in the rain, the best place to be is in a buggy with a raincover.
  4. Turning up at our awe inspiring Houses of Parliament chaffed, wet and in running gear is every bit as embarrassing as the finish line being dismantled before getting there.
  5. Nothing ventured...
Over these past few days, I’ve rediscovered the short, fast dash. Necessity more than anything, but I tell myself it is all miles on my cliched clock. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dignity in de feet?

In this past week of running I have experienced every emotion, from joy at completing 16km , to misery and shame when I couldn’t manage even 7km and skulked home after 5km, with two new blisters. 
Blisters are a common, and hopefully minor annoyance. As a doctor, I really ought to know exactly what to do with blisters. In truth, I wasn't really sure.  Most of what I know about blisters I learned in the New Zealand bush, where the standard advice was to pop them and then apply a chemical “second skin”, like Compeed. This seems to have worked well, but these recent blisters, and the plethora of contradictory and confusing advice I’ve had from runners, doctors and other concerned supporters caused me to pause and look for some scientific answers.
It turns out that there isn’t much consensus on blisters. What I was hoping for, a systematic review of the evidence base of friction blister treatment, either isn’t out there or is hiding itself well. I did find this superb review article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

The authors advise lancing painful blisters with something sharp and sterile. Popping blisters with unsterile or blunt objects risks introducing infection, sepsis and cellulitis. 
The old adage “prevention is better than cure” is probably one I was foolish to ignore. So as well as stocking up on compeed and investing in some anti-blister socks, which are just the most comfortable socks ever, I bought some new running shoes.

"No ma'am"

It probably says quite a lot that I’ve always chosen running shoes by colour in the past. Hovering round the imposing wall of running shoes at NikeTown a couple of days ago, a beaming teenage sales-boy approached me with, “huh, you ok there ma’am?”. 
“Yes,” I replied confidently, trying not to exude the un-coolness that NikeTown somehow draws out of me, “I’d like some new running shoes and am trying to decide between these pink and those purpley mauve ones.”
“What are you training for?” the beautiful youth wanted to know.
“The marathon, the London marathon,” I said, feeling my coolness counter rising by the second.
“Have you just started training?” he asked.
Coolness back in the zero stakes. Why would he ask that? 
“You wouldn’t want to run in those pink shoes ma’am. No, those are more dance shoes.”
“But they are on the running shoes wall,” I was indignant.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he shrugged, “But you wouldn’t want to run in them.
Here, try these on.”
And he handed me a pair of chunky looking bright white shoes, with fluorescent peach and intense eye-watering blue trim, that have been designed by someone either profoundly and totally colour blind or with a wry sense of humour. 

They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. Each foot felt pampered in its own four poster bed of a running shoe. But fluorescent peach? 

The future's bright

Needless to say, the shoes didn’t come in any other colour. I haven’t seen such a glow since I got my highlighter pen out for final exams. All this preoccupation with fluorescent trimmed footwear and sore feet made me think again of Merlin, and of literally being “in their shoes”.
A good friend from university, who is currently in Cairo, wrote me a very touching email this week, “most of the hotels here are full of people from Libya and Syria seeking treatment from gunshot wounds. I am glad you are running for Merlin.”
Again, I asked myself, could you put yourself in their shoes? 
I’d like to give all readers a chance to do that, by sharing five impossible choices Merlin workers face

If that exercise has prompted you to sponsor me, you can do so easily here
What happens to your money?
  • £15 could buy enough chlorine tablets to give clean water to over 1,000 people
  • £50 could buy health kits for five community midwives, including basic drugs and supplies
  • £100 could help buy a summer health kit, with the essential drugs to treat waterborne diseases. Each health kit treats 200 people
Thank you to everyone who has been so generous, either with sponsorship, blister advice, or just by not laughing at the fluorescent peach trimmed runners. It all means a lot. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The path less pedalled

My training schedule recently has morphed into a 10km run a few times a week and a longer run once a week. 

When I started out, I had plans to get fancy with things like Fartlek (no sniggering, it's a type of interval training), but it seems I have one pace. Slow but steady. 

A good friend who ran the Berlin marathon a few years ago suggested I might like to try cross training:  a break from running and instead either cycling or swimming for one training session a week. There are lots of good reasons for doing this, not least injury prevention, but it appealed to me for two reasons.

Firstly, cross training can make a runner more efficient. Secondly, it makes us stronger, which means faster. And although this is an endurance race, a little additional speed would be a wonderful thing. 

Today I hopped on my bike and went for a scenic ride along the Thames path. My ride is an Amsterdam style affair, complete with fat tyres and basket. A few years ago I decided that stylish and elegant was better than bent double over the handlebars, flying along. 

On yer bike

Cross training by cycling today had an unexpected bonus. Discovering a new route to revisit on this week's long run. If Thursday goes to plan, I will write about it here.

I'd like to say a very big thank you to everyone who has sponsored me recently. It's so encouraging seeing the total going up, especially on cold mornings when it would otherwise be tough getting out to train. Many thanks to you all, you are starry.

If you haven't yet sponsored me, but would like to help me raise funds for Merlin, you can do so by clicking here.

Lots of people reading this blog have already heard why I'm supporting Merlin. In short, their doctors and health workers work in some of the most difficult environments and some of their health clinics are massively under equipped (and this is one of the things money donated will go to).  Merlin works in war zones where medical staff face untold risks.  Money raised will be used to support some of the world’s most vulnerable people in Haiti, Kenya, Sudan (north and south), Mynamar, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Somali and the Central African Republic.
The main reason I chose Merlin above other medical charities is that they use a big fat 96p in every pound donated directly in the field.  

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Marathon running tips from Lisa Kent, Personal Fitness trainer

Kimberly, who is also running for Merlin, went along to the recent 'Meet the trainer’ get together last Sunday (run by the Virgin 2012 London Marathon). Bless her, she took some notes, and has very kindly passed these on to Merlin. When I got them by email, they were so good I just had to put them on here for everyone else.

Lisa Kent, Personal Fitness trainer notes

Excel Centre Expo
·         If you can go to the Expo before Saturday 21st April, do. It can be extremely busy on the day before, and will mean you will be on your feet for longer than you would like to be before race day
·         The Expo will be open from Wednesday 18 April
·         You MUST go to the Expo to get your race number, timing chip and kit bag

On the day

·         Make sure you choose the right starting pen – don’t go for one which will be too fast for you
·         Enjoy the day and the atmosphere even if you want to get a good race time
·         Don’t forget your timing chip. You won’t get an official time without it
·         Remember that you will be running the same course as the Olympic champions –this is a great thought to spur you on!
·         Don’t get ultra competitive and don’t worry about someone in a costume over taking you. Run your own race!
·         If you are worried that you are running too slowly, you are probably running too fast, hold some energy back for the last few miles
·         Tell your friends and family to cheer you on at a set point along the way –this way you don’t have to worry about not seeing them. Merlin will have a cheer point, so tell them to come and cheer with us!
·         The toilets won’t be nice, if you can find a pub to go to with toilets, use them if you can


·         If you have completed a 10 mile run by this stage, you are on track. If you have run further then this is just a bonus!
·         Don’t peak too soon. You should look to have a 10% increase in either your total mileage or your longer weekly run
·         Be careful if you choose to run over 18 – 20 miles before the run. You don’t really need to go over this prior to the marathon
·         Last long run should be planned for 3-4 weeks before the marathon. Taper your runs from the end of March
·         Stick to short 2- 3 mile runs the week before the run (only do this a couple of times)
·         When you are tapering, slowly reduce your runs down to 10 miles, 7, miles, 5 miles, 2-3 miles
·         Sports massages are nice to have and can soothe aching muscles

Cross training
·         Keeps you mentally involved if you try something new
·         Go swimming, cycle, play tennis...

·         Treat injuries with care
·         Remember: RICE. Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate
·         Don’t run on an injury it will only get worse

·         Hold each stretch for 45 seconds to a minute
·         Better to stretch after a run than before

Hitting the Wall
·         If you are feeling out of energy, and your legs feel heavy, you have hit ‘the wall’
·         The ‘wall’ happens when your muscles run out of glycogen, and your body starts to try and burn fat. You will need mental strength to get through this
·         Remember that pain is only temporary and you will push through
·         If you feel bad, walk, don’t run. Never stop unless you really need to

·         Do not run in anything which you haven’t worn before
·         Wear everything ahead of time and do a few trial runs before the big day
·         Put your name on your running vest ( I will send a new vest in March and lettering)
·         Replace shoes every 400 – 500 miles (don’t get new shoes just before the race)

Food and drink
·         Carbohydrates are good and will help to get you through
·         Experiment with energy gels before the day – they may not agree with you
·         Eat jacket potatoes, porridge, slow release foods
·         Don’t eat much (or anything) during the run
·         Drink regularly but remember you can run for at least 3 miles without needing a drink
·         Have a proper dress rehearsal the week before the run –eat what you will on the day for breakfast, and for dinner the night before

Cramp and chafing
·         If you get a stitch, slow to a walk, and stretch it out. Pushing the area where the stitch is can sometimes relieve pain
·         Rub Vaseline onto any areas you think will rub (under arm pits, on nipples and thighs)