Category Archives: Running

Run, because We Can

Running has been high on my list of priorities lately – to the point that the obsessive compulsive tag is quite apt.

I’ve done pretty well in my challenge for the mental health charity Mind, to Run Every Day in January, notching up 26 out of 31 days, or an 84% success rate.

Ironically, one of the things that’s diverted me from the physical act of running, is in organising a running event.

womencan-logo_master-2The Women Can Marathon is an idea I had in the summer of last year, when I realised that a landmark milestone in women’s endurance running combined with the same year that outdoor sport took off in my home village.

1967 was the year that Kathrine Switzer defied the men-only rules in the Boston Marathon, to be the first woman to officially cross the finish line, despite a race official trying to rip off her bib. (Photo credit: Boston Herald).

MARATHON

This was at a time when women were believed incapable of racing that distance. The resulting publicity, and Kathrine’s own campaigning, opened up a future for women’s running, inconceivable at the time.

In my village the same year a farmer’s riverside meadow was bought by local people to become the well-used, much-loved Tipton St John Playing Field, the heart of outdoor recreation in our community and starting point of our popular Otter Rail and River Run 10km.

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The scenery around here is stunning and I’d often pondered a longer distance course taking in the spectacular nearby Jurassic coastline, a World Heritage Site.

peak-hill-looking-down-to-sidmouth-smaller

Walking my dogs alongside the river one day. Lightbulb moment!

Why don’t we organise a marathon from the playing field to mark this joint 50th anniversary?

Even brighter lightbulb moment!

Why not make it women only to give it a unique and special context, celebrating how far women’s endurance running has come in 50 years, whilst acknowledging that many women are still unable to access sport for a variety of reasons?

And so for the past few months, I’ve been part of small team beavering away to make the Women Can Marathon a reality.

jo-pavey-3The event is taking off beyond wildest dreams.

In November we received the endorsement of 5-times Olympian Jo Pavey.

Jo has pledged to be there if other commitments allow.

 

We also received a wonderfully warm-hearted personal video message from Kathrine Switzer herself.

In the last few days Women Can has been named as the first UK partner for her 261 Fearless organisation, which empowers women’s running around the globe.

When I told my husband John of my idea back in May last year, he paused, in supping his Sunday lunchtime pint of beer, and said: “I reckon you’ll only get about half a dozen people interested in that. But give it a try if you want.”

Yesterday our 200th runner signed up. This month our website hit a record high of nearly 5,500 visits.

gemma-langford-2We have women coming from across the country and around the world. We have women coming from the village, able to walk to the start from their doorstep.

We have women coming who’ve never run a marathon. We have women coming who’ve run dozens. We have women who are challenged by illness or disability. We have women who are trained athletes.

We have women taking part as paired and team relays and also women who are Nordic walking the 26.2 mile distance.

And we have men too, dozens of them pledging help and support in advance, and to act as marshals on the day – our runners may be women, but our event is about being inclusive.

We have businesses on board – our main sponsor, a telecommunications firm IP Office Ltd, our local gym network LED Leisure, and a host of others.

Dartington Crystal, which also celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is making bespoke trophies. The energy bar people Luna sent two cases of 500 bars for our goody bags.

cakeWithin the local community excitement is building. People are pitching in to offer accommodation, provide transport, bake cakes, make the tea – pulling together at every level to make this happen.

The goodwill and enthusiasm is incredible.

Shortly we will announce our international charity partner, something we hope will further raise awareness and interest.

Marathons with a big profile are normally the big city events.

This is sport at grassroots level, where it happens in the heart of a community.

We may be small, but we’re equally passionate.

This is the Women Can Marathon from Tipton St John reaching out to the wider world – because by running this event together, perhaps one day all Women Can.

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More Marathon Musings…

“If my life is a marathon, how far have I come? How much further have I got to go? And is this course going to get easier or more difficult?”

They’re questions I sometimes ask myself, as a way of aligning struggles in life to the struggles you face on a 26.2 mile challenge.

At the age of 51, it’s probably likely that my distance is more than halfway. Have I just crossed that milestone, am I in the last 10km or is the final straight already looming close?

And if we were aware of our own mortality in the same way we know how far a race is, would we run it any better?

One thing I definitely have learnt from the marathon are the ups and downs, the times when the going is tough, when you hit the wall – but how you keep going, you get through it, over it, out the other side and the road is easier again.

But when you’re standing looking at that red brick-face in front of you – garishly painted, graffiti style with whatever your particular challenge is – it can be hard to imagine there’s anything to look forward to the other side, let alone how to get there.

Yet we do it, time after time – jump over small hurdles, scale dizzying heights, to keep going.

And no one person’s race is the same: for some it’s an all too short sprint; others go the full ultra-distance; some get the ideal 10km, level course, perfect conditions, gliding easily towards a stunning PB; and there are those who battle through Tough Mudder-style obstacles, placed by a course director, who’s a sadistic bully.

We all have our own distance. And each race has its own challenges.

I’ve felt recently as if I’ve hit a bit of wall in life. In comparison to other walls out there, it’s not huge or insurmountable – it’s just that I’ve been choosing to slump one side of it, feeling stripped of the energy to climb over, make progress.

I’m getting there. And running helps, it really does. Running marathons – I’m on 51 now – has benefitted me so much in the last 11 years, I can’t imagine not doing it.

And as someone who’s believed at difficult times in the past that I couldn’t make it to the finish line, considered pulling out of the race, running has enabled me to see I can keep going, that yes, at times it is hard, but you get there one step at a time, you climb over the wall and feel a sense of relief and achievement.

My marathons have varied enormously. The first one I approached with over-optimistic enthusiasm, paying for it with a devastatingly hard final 6 miles. Sometimes I get the pacing just right, am race fit with ideal conditions and breeze to the finish line. You don’t get many like that!

Marathons are a challenge, but they can be a joy too – a wondrous journey, where you learn so much on the way. It’s about giving it your best shot, making the most of it, whatever race you’re in, whatever stage you’re at and whatever the ups and downs of the course.

I’m running my 52nd marathon on Saturday, 3rd September, the City to Sea Marathon from Exeter to Babbacombe, Torquay.

It’s a flat first half, with lots of steep climbs towards the end – I guess I’ll just have to take those hills as they come and enjoy the down bits.

Inspiration

The April edition of Runner’s World has an article about my OCD, and how running helps.

It’s not always easy to be open about having a mental health condition, but anyone who reads my blog, or knows me personally will already know that about me, so I figured the extra exposure in RW wasn’t something to be scared of, and it may help someone else.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole magazine properly yet, but picking up my copy today, to write this post, it fell open on page 55 – “Outrunning the Demons”, written by Greg O’Brien. from America. His personal account of what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s.

Much of what Greg writes about resonates with me. My own family – grandparents and my dad – and their struggle with dementia, my fears about how my own mind works, and how both running and writing help to combat some of the anxiety.

Greg’s story is inspiring – he pushes himself mentally and physically, in a determined refusal to give in to the gradual erosion of his mental capability, which he describes as: “Like a death in slow motion, like having a sliver of your brain shaved every day”.

Running, he says, restores mental as well as physical stamina: “It flicks the lights back on. It reboots my mind, provides a reprieve, so I can do what I love most – write, think and focus.”

As I said, inspiring stuff.

The whole article is well worth a read, being informative and beautifully and intelligently written.

I felt chuffed that things I’ve done have been called inspiring recently – a former colleague having read the RW article said I was their inspiration to become a runner. And at a school presentation, where I was reading my children’s story “Tuamor the Turtle”, one of the 10-year-olds said it was inspirational.

What a thrill to make such a strong connection, gain positive endorsement.

I’ve been into several schools in recent weeks and had great feedback from the children and teachers alike. It’s been incredibly rewarding and sparked wonderful creativity and imagination. This is some artwork done by children at Cranbrook Primary School, near Exeter.

And exciting news today, I had confirmation from a national marine conservation organisation that they will become a main charity partner for the book

For a while after I gave up work, I felt rather uninspired and as if I had nothing much to give.

Greg was worried when his Alzheimer’s was diagnosed that it would rob him of his creativity, but he now devotes his time to speaking and writing about it and has won numerous awards.

I’ve used my OCD as the basis to write this blog for nearly three years now, and it’s helped give me the confidence to publish my first book, which is already leading to other things.

Creativity comes from within – and it’s in all of us – all you need is to find your inspiration.

 

Happy New Life

I had a moment just now when I brushed past a parallel me from a previous life.

Our village primary school grounds had been badly flooded, and the local media had turned out to report the story.

As I walked past in my woolly hat and muddy boots, with two even muddier dogs, I said a cheery hello to former colleagues, thinking in times gone by I would have been with them, the other side of the fence, interviewing the local councillor and rushing back to the office to edit the piece for the lunchtime news.

As I walked on up the hill, a reporter from the local BBC radio station I used to work for drove past. At the same time one of my neighbours was walking down the hill to help with the clean up. He called out: “Thanks for the book Jo,” my turtle story, I’d given his two boys for Christmas.

My past and present writing worlds meeting on the same page, within the same paragraph.

And I walked on without a trace of regret for what I have given up, to become who I am.

Logging in to my computer there was a message from a school asking if I would read my turtle story with them later this month, photos of me dressed as a Christmas parcel running in the recent Portsmouth Marathon, and queries to sort about community events I organise and the charity work I support.

In emails I sign myself as: Writer, runner, fundraiser.

It’s taken a while to feel that description fully fits, but yep, that’s who I am, that is my happy new life.

Happy New Year in whatever life you are living.

A final piece of news, Runner’s World are going to do a piece about my running and how it helps me cope with my OCD. Here’s that picture from Portsmouth, because, yes I am a bit mad as well…

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Fantastic Fifty – or Crazy Woman

edinburgh edit

Wow! What a weekend.

Reaching 50 marathons three days after my 50th birthday – I’m still on a high.

It’s been an incredible journey of ups and downs – but seeing that finish line at Edinburgh on Sunday was just the most adrenaline-fuelled moment of my life.

I remember rounding the corner at the 26 mile point, hearing the crowd cheering, the course lined with spectators, and realising there was just 0.2 of a mile between me and my dream.

I launched into a spontaneous victory sprint, crying out something like: “50 marathons, I’ve done it!” I literally leapt across the finish line, punching the air. It was simply A FANTASTIC 50!

Emotion got the better of me just after, as I sat and remembered my dad – his own challenging journey during the last three years reflecting mine.

Whilst, I’d persevered in ticking off around one marathon a month, 40 since April 2012, dad had struggled with advancing vascular dementia. I was adding to my mileage and my medals. Dad was losing his ability to speak, eat, sleep and recognise me – let alone, my achievements.

His finish line came 8 weeks before, when his heart gave out before his mind did. He’s been firmly in both of mine ever since.

He was definitely with me in spirit on Sunday. When my legs hurt and a howling headwind was hampering progress, his mantra he used when I was a child and we ran together, still rang in my ears: “It’s only pain, it won’t kill you.”

He’s been right you know. So right. Running can be painful. Hugely at times. But I’ve come through those barriers. Seen off my demons. Running has contributed to making me who I am – a stronger person, less afraid of challenge, determined to take on life and live it to the full.

20150531_093226Meeting my marvellous support team of family and friends shortly after the finish, by the local radio stand and hearing Coldplay Viva La Vida over the loudspeaker, I started dancing and couldn’t stop. It was a wild, carefree jam-jar moment.

I asked John, my husband, later: “Did I look a bit crazy when I was dancing to Coldplay?”

“Yes,” he said. “You did.”

“And what about when I jumped over the finish line.”

“Yeah, you looked crazy then as well”.

“Do you mind being married to a crazy woman?” I asked.

“Not a bit,” he replied with a smile.

Many people told me I was crazy to take on this challenge. It seemed total madness to me as well at times.

This journey has taught me – never let your own fear or other people’s doubts stop you from following your dream.

It may be crazy – but it could be fantastic too.

edinburgh girls finishThanks to so many people for helping me realise my dream – especially my stalwart husband John, my always-positive mum Rosemary and all my family and friends.

To all my running pals, who are so inspiring too, those I run with and those I know online, especially the girls who came with me to Edinburgh – Claire Ashby, Becky Robson, Jane Hemsworth and Helen Palmer, all from Sidmouth Running Club, who did the marathon and Amanda Perry and Julie Payne, who did the half.

Also to other people who’ve supported me, especially from our village community – who with family and friends, have collectively helped to boost my fundraising to nearly £5,000.

Thanks to everyone at BRACE, particularly chief executive Mark Poarch, for their support and for doing terrific work in funding much-needed research into dementia.

20150217_152310And finally of course remembering and dedicating this post to my own inspiration, my dear dad Bernard.

http://www.justgiving.com/Jo-EarlamBRACE

PS: Oh, just realised I forgot to say – I got a second best ever time of 4:14. I was about halfway overall, in the top third of all the women and in the top 20% of my age group. Not too bad for a fun runner!

My Secret Shoe Fetish

 

With thanks to Laura Joint http://www.laurajoint.co.uk/ for all photographs

Fresh and raring to go

Fresh and raring to go

When I began running more than 10 years ago I was confidently sure one pair of shoes would see my somewhat non-committal exercise choice to its full.

I’d jogged around my first few Race for Life 5kms in an old pair of trainers, but signing up for a half marathon, I realised I needed to seek out something that was a bit more fit for purpose.

I was dazzled by the choice in the shop. Had not a clue what to even try on, let alone buy. But with the help of the knowledgeable, friendly assistant I settled on a pair of Saucony Jazz trainers – so new, so well-made, so unworn – surely they would carry me all the miles my legs would ever want to run?

The Long Run

The Long Run

I loved those trainers – over the next few years they took me around the Exeter Great West Run three times, a number of local 10kms and many more training miles besides.

My running was a bit sporadic in those days, so they’d  have bursts of wear, then get to rest up in a quiet corner of the wardrobe for weeks on end.

When I decided to run the 2005 London Marathon to celebrate being 40, I dug them out and was surprised, but also quietly proud, to see that my legs and my desire for running had outlasted my shoes – now sitting there without any tread, looking rather sad and forlorn.

Seeking out pair number two, there seemed to be an even wider selection to pick from, in a range of bold colours, and with different support.

Those Jazz shoes had served me well. I decided to stick with what I knew and go for another pair of Saucony’s. They became my new favourite shoe, taking pride of place in the wardrobe. My old Jazz trainers still loved, but now saved for walking or gardening.

Pyramid training

Pyramid training

London was tough. Tougher than anything I’d ever done. I was on my last legs by the time I reached Birdcage Walk, but my shoes gave my feet enough support to cross the finish line. I never intended to run more than one marathon, but something about the whole experience clicked, not least that I developed a shoe fetish.

Each time I wore a pair out, I’d get to savour the delight of unwrapping a new gleaming bright pair from their box, the excitement of putting them on, tying the laces and trotting down the road in them for the first time.

My Saucony’s have taken me around several big city marathons – London twice, along with Paris, New York, Rome, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Barcelona and Palma, three times.

Group stretches

Group stretches

They’ve pounded 26.2 miles around the quiet country lanes of North Dorset, Kent, Somerset, Suffolk, Pembrokeshire, Devon and Cornwall.

I’ve ventured into trail running in off-road pairs as well, completing The Grizzly three times, and Hadrian’s Wall, along with the Cheddar Gorge, Beachy Head and Bath Marathons.

I’m now on Saucony pairs number 12 and 13 – the gorgeous Guide 8 in white and twilight, with pink soles; the off road Peregrine 5 a deep shade of purple, red and green, with red soles like flat, comfortable Louboutins.

I’m excited already about breaking in gently those new Guide 8s to wear in my, what I hope will be my 50th marathon, Edinburgh on May 31st, three days after my 50th birthday.

Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery

My old pairs, in various stages of wear, still fill the house, and continue to be used – driving my husband mad as they cluster inside the front and back doors, or wet and muddy, sit drying on an outside step.

I probably own more trainers now than everyday proper shoes – certainly more than shoes with heels.

You see a secret shoe fetish doesn’t have to be all about stilettos.

Three things…..

A busy week ahead, so a quick blog with three things to say (well four, sort of!)………

*Running: I completed marathon 47 yesterday, near Fordingbridge, in the New Forest. It’s a tough off road, hilly, challenging course. It was initially frosty and cold, then driving rain, windy and cold. I arrived back at the car exhausted, chilled to the core, wet through and miserable. A hasty change of clothes, egg sandwich, flask of coffee, heater on full blast, and an hour later, hey presto, dry, warm, fed and smiling again.

*Dementia: This Friday I’m attending an Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Champion training course, to help spread awareness of this life-changing condition. I’ll also be going to a meeting next Monday to join in with the launch of the first BRACE Devon support group. It’s open to anyone with an interest in dementia and you can read more about it here http://www.alzheimers-brace.org/events/devon-group-initial-meeting

Me in baseball cap on the right, with Steve, his family and supporters at the Butser Hill Run in September 2011.

Me in baseball cap on the right, with Steve, his family and supporters at the Butser Hill Run in September 2011.

*Motor Neurone Disease: My cousin Steve Isaac, who has Motor Neurone Disease, is to be the subject of a Channel 5 documentary, largely filmed by his son Fraser. It gives a unique personal insight as to how this devastating illness has affected Steve and his family. It’s due to be aired in early March, read more and watch the moving trailer via this link  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Filming-My-Father-In-Life-and-Death/1398871757089703?notif_t=fbpage_fan_invite

 

So that’s my three things, plus one final sum up…..

I have three marathons left now to complete my 50 at 50 Marathon Challenge. I know they’ll be tough, a marathon is. But I know as well, I’ll be able to smile again afterwards and resume normal life. My dad and people who suffer from dementia, my cousin Steve and those who suffer from MND, indeed anyone with a chronic life-threatening condition does not have that post finish line recovery to look forward to and enjoy.

Anything we can all do to raise awareness about these conditions, and help promote the research into seeking a cure is a help. Running a marathon, or simply clicking a facebook like from the comfort of your armchair. Any. Thing. Is a help.

Thanks for reading this.