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Dancing to your death

My chest tightens and I try to take a deep breath. I pull over to the side of the road, and through my tears, try to catch another glimpse of the great white monument on top of the hill that has caught me so unawares. Although it’s a modern design, it is unmistakably the shape of people, women, holding hands and getting smaller and smaller as they disappear over the edge of a 30 meter drop. Continue reading “Dancing to your death”

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Barefoot

This year I set myself some pretty lofty running goals. Although it’s not the actual goals themselves that are lofty, more the timing. My bad, as ever.

Obviously after the whole ‘almost marathon’ thing, one of these goals is to actually complete the whole 42km’s. I’ve entered the ballot for the London marathon, but I think I will be more excited to not get in as my wee Scottish BFF, Karen, has PROMISED to run the Roads to Rhodes marathon with me! But even before that event I had resolved to fix my running technique so as too run injury free and curb my dependency on kinesio tape. So I am taking on barefoot running. And the other one is run the Athens marathon in 2017. If you know me and hills, you will understand why this is such a big deal.

One of the few disadvantages of living on a Greek island is that I can’t pop along to my local running club (there isn’t one) and find a coach to guide me through the transition from running in gel numbus to nothing at all. So I’m winging it. I’ve read stuff on line and I’m working my way through ‘Born to run’ and ‘Running with the kenyans’. I do have a very sympathetic physiotherapist who is also a runner and a barefoot one at that.

The theory behind the barefoot thing is this. When running unencumbered by great big, clod hopping, eye wateringly expensive trainers, the front of your foot hits the ground first. Because your body is biomechanically designed to run this way, there is less strain on all of your kinetic chain, but especially shins and knees – the place where runners are most likely to experience injuries. When you run in aforementioned trainers, most people are likely to land on the heel of the foot, an impact which jars your legs. The heel strike, as it is called, also means that your foot is landing ahead of your body when the preferred position is under your centre of gravity, again to lessen the impact on your joints. If you try and land on the front of your foot with a long stride its pretty damn impossible. Trust me, I tried it. Also the action of running ‘on your toes’ builds up strength in your feet and your calves. Important places to be strong when you are running.

It seems to be a bit divided as to whether you have to fully embrace the barefoot thing to the exclusion of ever wearing evil trainers again, or whether you can combine both. I have taken the opinion that even if I do only one barefoot training run a week I will be helping my running technique and strengthening crucial muscles.

At the moment I wear Asics Gel Nimbus with a custom inner sole and I did all my marathon training in these. Admittedly I already had the beginnings of problems with my lower legs before I took on these shoes, but I went on to develop shin splints. I’m not saying the shoes are to blame, but I am saying they didn’t help.   I’m going to put the original soles back in for now and try to move on to flatter, less chunky trainers. If all goes well with the barefoot thing I suppose I will end up with a pair of vibram five fingers. But they are just so damned ugly!!

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…!

I may joke about all this, but I really am taking it seriously. And it’s a big commitment. By going down the barefoot route I will have to re-educate my body to run in this style. It might be the body’s natural way to run, but I have just spent the last 2 years training my body to run a different way. So it’s really like starting all over again. Short runs at first and VERY slowly building up to more time on my naked feet. I honestly haven’t figured it all out yet, but I believe it’s worth a try.

Today was my first bash at it. I warmed up with a 10 minute run around the road, with my trainers on. Then I kicked them off and squelched my toes in the sand for just under 2 kilometers – about 8.30 minutes a kilometer. It’s hard running on the sand, but oh the joy! And the excitement when the sea washed over my feet a couple of times was ridiculous. I can tell you, it’s true what they say. Running barefoot really does make you run ‘on your toes’! I also felt really light and concentrated on short, staccato strides. Towards the end of the 2nd kilometer my feet started to land heavier and more flat footed. As they did, I felt my legs jar at each footfall. I recognized that this was a result of my legs tiring and my form subsequently deteriorating – already! But ok, it’s the first day and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. An added bonus was being able to stand my legs in the sea afterwards, but I cursed myself for not bring a swimming costume.

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That awkward moment when you try to take a selfie pretending that you are not…

And about that timing thing? I’ve sort of signed up for a half marathon in October. Actually, there is no ‘sort of’ about it. I have. So I’ve got 4 months to get on top of 21km’s in minimal footwear and new running technique.

Gulp.

 

 

Why I threw the towel in at 38km (and why that’s ok)

It’s disappointing. And the day after it stings more than my blisters and my aching muscles. I could have filled a salt lake with my sweat and tears. But it’s ok.

The hardest part? How to deal with the congratulatory messages. ‘Yeah, thanks. But I didn’t really finish it’. And the medal. I didn’t want to take that either. And the unofficial finishing time that’s up on the website because my running pals insisted on running me over the finishing line and it recorded my chip? Well that’s just fraudulent – it’s ok, I’ve emailed them.

I’ve had a long time to analyze what went wrong. Six hours on my feet in 30 degrees for starters. But I still haven’t really reached any definitive answers. Was my training to blame? My programme was 3 run’s a week, which some would argue is not enough. Sometimes I only ran twice – choosing to do Pilates or yoga and then running out of time. I did my long runs almost to plan. I reached 30k as my longest run 3 weeks before M-Day. It was grueling, but I ran it with only walking the last 2 or 3 km’s. Did I test out my race day strategy? Not really, but it wasn’t wildly unobtainable. Thirty minutes of running with 3 minute walk intervals. Hmmm. Ok, I never tried it in training, What about the heat? It must have been hovering around 30 degrees on the day. But I am acclimatized to this heat; I have run parts of this course in similar temperatures. Was my nutrition to blame? No, absolutely not. And I can’t blame bad carb loading either – I never hit the wall as I never gave myself a chance to even get to the foot of it.

So what went so desperately, horribly, pitifully wrong?  Continue reading “Why I threw the towel in at 38km (and why that’s ok)”

March on

It’s March!

I love March. It means that spring is here and that can only mean one thing. That summer is just around the corner!

March in Greece starts with the traditional making of the ‘Marti’ bracelets. Here in Rhodes this is a simple affair of red and white embroidery threads being twisted together and tied around the wrists of our children to protect them from the glare of spring sunshine. I’m not sure what the actual SPF is, but the colours reflect rosy cheeks on pale winter faces. The word ‘Marti’ comes from the Greek word for March (Martio). My teenagers are too cool for Marti’s now, but this is my friend’s cutie showing off hers:

Angel's marti
Angeliki showing off her ‘Marti’ bracelet

We wear the bracelets until Easter Saturday when they get thrown in to the big bonfire outside the church. The bonfire is lit with the eternal flame and this ritual symbolises a casting off of sins and a new beginning. It can also cause cinged eyebrows if you get too close.

The almond tree’s are the first to blossom and signal that spring is waking up. They are joy to behold amoung the silvery green of the olive groves.

 

I’m off to dig out my flip flop’s. And my suncream.

The fruits of my labour

I live on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes. We soak up an average of 300 sunny days per year. Today is not one of them.

Normally this wouldn’t bother me: but today we need to harvest our olives. This means 100 trees, spread out over 10 different pieces of land around the village.

You probably have some romantic image in your head. Simple, hardy folk out in their sunny olive groves. The happy chattering and laughter between generations of family. A head scarfed ‘Yia Yia’ (grandmother) happily looking on as her grandchildren chase each other through the trees. An olive laden donkey. Hmmm.

We’ll squash into a smelly pick-up or sit perched in the truck bed, sat on the oily nets and sacks of olives. At each piece of land we’ll pick up the fallen olives, then lay the nets to catch the ones we’ll bash from the trees.

We arrive at the first piece of land and peel ourselves out of the truck; my mother in law trundles off with her bucket. She surveys her kingdom, casting her experienced eye over the trees, deciding which ones are worth harvesting. That would be all of them. My mother in law never leaves so much as an olive pit behind.

The clouds gather above us and the sky darkens. My teenage daughters look daggers at me through bleary, sleep-smudged eyes. ‘We’re staying in the car’ they tell me, huddling into their coats with just one bare hand braving the elements. To hold their phones. Obviously.

‘Shall we start here?’ It’s phrased as a question, but my mother in law isn’t asking. She squats and fishes out olives from between the stones and thistles. I squat down beside her and do the same. Now and then I check what she’s doing to make sure I’m doing it right. This will be the 17th year that I have collected olives. I’ll keep checking until she’s dead.

My husband and brother in law start to unload equipment, unraveling the huge nets and the long poles, (Vitses) which we use to shake the olives from the branches.

We are done under the first tree. My mother in law does a sweep over the area I covered, just in case I missed one. The nets go down and the boys move in, brandishing their long sticks and thwacking the branches. The olives rain down.

My mother in law is sending my husband up the tree with a chain saw. There is a branch we can’t reach with the vitses. No, she won’t ‘leave them for the birds’.

We sit down on the nets and separate the olives from the leaves and twigs. This is my favourite part. I love digging my hands into the piles of olives, turning them to bring up the debris.

The olives look good, firm and oval. I squeeze one and my mother in law nods in approval as the liquid oozes out. The girls have joined us – probably no signal on their phones. We all sit on the ground sorting olives. I breathe in the earthy smell of olives and damp earth. We chat and laugh. Three generations of one family. I look up just as the sun comes out; it warms our backs as it filters through the trees.

And in case you were wondering how olive oil is made have a look below! Today’s olives presses are state of the art, noisy and highly productive. They squeeze every last drop of oil from the fruit. The ratio of olives to oil varies and depends on several factors; the type of olive, the amount of rain. This year 4 kilos of olives produced 1 kilo of olive oil which is about average. Our olive oil is produced for our personal use, others produce it commercially or some families will sell their excess (if the price is right!) Olive oil is mainly used in cooking and for the eternal flame (Candili) that you will always find burning in every Greek household and at the graves of loved ones.

 

This post was originally written for my Boutique Greece blog.

All aboard the weight loss train – next stop ‘Marathon’

Fat, unfit and caught in the limbo land between christmas and New year, I donned a pair of cheap trainers and downloaded the ‘Couch to 5k’ app.  I was desperate.  I mean, I must have been.  No-one takes up running for fun.  They do it to lose weight or win medals, or just keep weight off.  I never for a moment imagined that I would actually be able to run 5km, but i figured that if i could run for 30 minutes, 3 times a week it would help me lose weight.

I’m almost two years, two 5 km races, one 10k and one half-marathon into this running thing now.  Have i lost weight?  Um, not a huge, significant amount.  But its changed me in so many other ways, given me so much more than a drop in the number on the scales could ever have.  It’s changed my body shape, given me amazing muscles (some still blanketed in fat) but the biggest change has undoubtedly come from the inside and reached much, much deeper than owning a pair of size 10 skinny jeans could ever do.

Self knowledge, self belief, determination, organisation, focus, self love, success, achievement,

Now I know that people don’t just run to lose weight, keep weight off or break world records.  The running world is full of people of all ages, shapes and sizes and they run because they just love running.  Yes really, its a thing.  When I see someone out running these days i feel like pumping my fist in the air and have to restrain myself from shouting encouragement.  And the weirdest thing, I feel jealous.  If people ask me why I run, I want to ask them why they don’t.

Despite a nagging doubt that I would never be able to run for 30 minutes without walking, I’m not going to pretend humility and say that I never envisaged myself running a marathon and losing 20 kilos.  It was the first thing that entered my mind when I laced up those trainers and jogged for 1 minute/walked for 11/2 for 20 minutes.  Because that’s me;  take an acorn and see an oak tree. Just like that.  See the end result and wake up one morning and be there.  Never mind what it takes to reach Oak tree status.  Not see the green shoot push through the earth.  Not see the storms that bend and threaten to snap your early days.  You get the picture.  But training and completing my first half-marathon taught me patience, opened my eyes to the planning, diligence and commitment needed to grow, to improve, to achieve.  And that there are no quick fixes, no shortcuts.

Back to the weight loss thing.  So now I am training for a marathon.  But here is the irony.  I am still trying to lose weight.  But I am not running to lose weight anymore, I’m losing weight to run.  Faster, further and healthier. A whole 42 and a bit kilometres faster, further and healthier.  I’m going to document my progress as a personal record for myself and  as a very unscientific experiment to see what changes marathon training will do to my 44 year old body.  I’m not going on a diet, but but I will be eating healthily and mindfully of what my running body needs.  I will find a way to work wine, cheese and biscuits and hobnobs into this because otherwise whats the point in life.  My training plan includes running three times a week and cross training on the other days with TRX, Pilates, Yoga and Greek dancing (yes, really)  I will photograph myself once a month and record my weight, body fat and measurements for the next five months leading up to the ‘Roads to Rhodes Marathon’.

And I will publish the results here.  Proceed with caution, once seen, these images can never be unseen.

The backside that leaves the room 10 minutes after me...
The backside that leaves the room 10 minutes after me…

Oops or Oopah?

I knew when I decided to sign up for a marathon that it was a huge commitment. Weekends wiped out by long runs. A tee-total social life. Wait, what social life? I just committed my weekends to preparing and running long runs! Maybe also a financial commitment – the Physio on speed dial and new trainers. But the one thing I hadn’t reckoned on was the hours of sorting through training programs, reading helpful (and not so) articles about marathon preparation and trying to plot in my other life – you know, the one with kids, a husband and a business?

Just when I think I’ve got this running thing in the bag, little things pop up in my newsfeed to remind me that I am still very wet behind the ears.

‘Yes you can train for a marathon with ONLY 3 days running a week’.

Wait. Am I supposed to run more than 3 times a week? I cross off ‘housework’ from my weekly planner.

Continue reading “Oops or Oopah?”

7 Greek wine’s to put on your shopping list

I love wine. I mean, what 40 something year old woman doesen’t? But I mean I LOVE wine. Especially Greek wine. I would probably love wines of other countries too, but living in Greece it would be stupid to not cultivate a little knowledge of what’s produced here. At this point you need to remove all taste memories of retsina and the jugs of wine from that ‘authentic Greek night’ you might have enjoyed. Because Greece is producing some pretty amazing wines and they don’t need to push you into an overdraft either. So the next time you are here on holiday, or if you are lucky enough to live here, like me (does a little dance inside) these are my recommendations. Don’t worry, they have been thoroughly tried and tested.

You are welcome.

I am not an expert and I don’t have a particularly sophisticated palate. Wines I like only have to satisfy 3 basic criteria. Continue reading “7 Greek wine’s to put on your shopping list”

I did it!

‘No I bloody well can’t cook dinner, I just ran a half marathon!’

‘Mum, that was 3 days ago!’

I can see that one is going to wear thin really soon, but I’m milking it a while longer.

People don’t talk about this. It’s all about the lead up to the event, the training, the fuelling, the stretching.   Nobody actually tells you that afterwards you will feel like you’ve been tied to the railway tracks and left there for several days while trains go backwards and forwards across your body. And the mental fog! It’s taken me 2 full days to trust myself to do anything that required some level of concentration or operate machinery (like the oven).   But it’s uncannily like childbirth. You forget the anguish and the pain and can’t wait to do it again. After all, (but unlike having a baby) when the event is over you are at a bit of a loss as to what to do.

Let me tell you how it went down. Continue reading “I did it!”

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