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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review - Karkoa Smartbag 25

Oh, how I do love a bag and, for the past few years, I have been using the classic well-known sports brand hold-all for races & trips to the gym. These hold-alls are so spacious but, with one main compartment, I was forever losing - well, everything. I can't stand searching for my keys/gels/safety pins - especially when I have the pre-race jitters or I'm invariably running late for a class, so I jumped at the chance of trying out Karkoa's Smartbag 25 - a backpack that specialises in having separate compartments for everything you might possibly need in these circumstances.

At first glance, the backpack looks very good quality. I'm not what would be classed as a girly-girl so the grey, almost tweed-like, material was a real winner for me. There is delicate purple piping around the front pocket which ensures the bag is just feminine enough for my husband to leave it alone - which is an added bonus! The bag comes in a range of colours, so plenty of options!

I was really impressed with the construction of the backpack. It is very obvious that it is made with quality material and is built to last. Everything from the fabric to the zips seem a lot stronger than most backpacks I have looked at. It holds its shape nicely too, even when empty and can fit far more in it than I first thought. 

There are many great points to this backpack but the most useful feature by far for me, was the different compartments. Maybe it's a Teacher thing - but organisation makes me very happy indeed.  The main pocket of this backpack is a great size, however there is a stiff flap that splits it into two compartments if needs be - perfect for holding my trainers/clip-in bike shoes separate from my gym clothes & towel.

There is a separate waterproof bag for toiletries as well as another thin, foldable plastic bag, which is attached to the top of the backpack, for swimming costumes or other wet items. 

There is also a deep zip pocket at the top of the bag for keys, phone, wallet and other valuable items. This is fleece lined so protects electronic equipment from the elements.

The shoulder straps on this particular backpack are constructed very well and make it so comfortable to carry whilst on the move. There is also a chest strap to keep things nice and secure. I carry quite a lot of weight in mine but it is very well displaced & extremely comfortable. The back of the bag is also padded, adding to the comfort. There is a handle on the top of the bag too, if it needs to be carried by hand on the Tube for example.

Not only is this product very functional, but it looks great as well.  The bag also comes in a larger model, so if you need lots of space then check out the Smartbag 40.  The quality is obvious and the organisation of pockets, bags and compartments is superb. Everything has its place: no more scrabbling around for my gym card & locker key - thank you Karkoa! A high-quality product that is both aesthetically pleasing & extremely useful. Good job.

Have a look at the following link to give you more information about the Karkoa Smartbag 25:

Smartbag 40:

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Good Times or Good Times?

I ran the Great South Run on Sunday and I absolutely loved it. I know, right?! Very strange...

 Those of you who know me will be very aware that before races, and even before some club sessions, I am absolutely crippled by my ridiculous nerves.  My anxiousness has ruined many a race experience for me as, due to being absolutely petrified, I get a terrible stitch before I even start & spend the whole race battling with my head, which insists on telling me that I absolutely cannot do what I'm trying to do at that moment in time - run a sodding race!

Now, contrary to popular belief, I am a fairly sensible person*. I KNOW that running is an incredibly psychological process. I KNOW I should have more self belief and confidence in my own ability and I KNOW I have come an extremely long way, but it really doesn't change things. I've read books, I've researched, I've meditated but I can't seem to stop the negative thoughts leaking into my poor brain.  How do I go about believing in myself when I have absolutely no confidence in my ability? It really is easier said than done.

I know I can run, I know I can run fairly well given the fact that I've been allergic to exercise for 7/8ths of my life, have two young children & a challenging job, but I feel that performing in races is just too much for my brain to handle at present.  The fear of disappointment is unbearable.  I'll never be as good as I want to be.

Even when I get a new Personal Best, I still feel disappointed with my time.  I know this is a 'Runner Thing'. We're all completely mad.  The amount of fellow runners I've spoken to who achieve great personal times yet still feel disappointed is phenomenal.  What is wrong with us?! Of course we always want to be better, but why can't we be happy with our huge progress too?

So back to the Great South Run.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to run it or not, & it wasn't until about 4 days before that I found out it was happening for me.  That meant I hadn't spent weeks and weeks stressing about it: a pleasant change! I was expecting the nerves to kick in, but happily & bizarrely, they never did.  I was so excited just before the start, but I didn't feel nervous at all.  This meant that I was actually able to enjoy the atmosphere and the race instead of the horrible mental struggle that I normally have to deal with.  And what a fabulous race it was.

I was looking out for a couple of #ukrunchat folk who I really wanted to meet. I found the utterly fabulous @BeesRun as we ran through the Historic Dockyard & we had a lovely chat.  Thanks Queen Bee, it was as honour to meet you too, though I can't believe I got a bigger squeal than when you met Obama!

I then saw @ukruncat around mile 5ish & again, we had a quick natter.  It was so lovely to see these Twitter pals of mine & it just added to the enjoyment of a fantastic race.  I was high-fiving every child I could see, smiling & waving at the crowds when I got a 'Go Dolly' & applauding the excellent bands.

Now part of the reason that the race was so much fun was because it was incredibly busy.  I was right at the back of the white wave & was at a slower pace than I would normally run. There was nothing I could do about it so I just relaxed even more & took in all my surroundings.  I ran at a comfortable pace and didn't feel dreadful - maybe this is what it is supposed to be like?

The crowds gradually dispersed at mile 8 and I was able to run 3 strong last miles, which I'm very happy with indeed.  When I finished I was chuffed with a sub 1.30, given the circumstances.  But, a few hours later & with annoying predictability, my twisted brain started picking apart my performance.  WHY?! 

I now feel totally 'Meh' about my time. I've done better, but, of course, in non race conditions when I didn't have to slow to an almost walk behind crowds at water stations & I wasn't stopping for selfies with beeeautiful bees! 

So my question is, should we be running for good times? Or to have a good time? Enjoyment, of course, is key, but the disappointment that comes with not getting a PB is infuriating.  I don't have an answer to this.  I want to keep enjoying these races, especially as I'm only 3/8ths through my challenge for Cystic Fibrosis, but I know im going to beat myself up horribly if I don't improve.  I need to accept that my times are going to dip with marathon training anyway, as I'll be focusing on long slow runs over the coming months. Distance will have to be my new PBs. 

So shut up brain, you're just going to have to get used to it.  But should enjoyment override progress? 

*depending on the amount of gin consumed 

Sunday, 29 June 2014


I've been quiet on the old blog front of late. That's because things have been going brilliantly. Blogging, as it is for so many, is my therapy. Getting my thoughts down on the page helps me refocus enormously: it helps me identify the positives & cope with the negatives. 

Since my last post, I've been working my funky Run Mummy Run compression socks off.  Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday I've been putting in the miles, speed work and hill training. As well as parkrunning most Saturdays and racing now and then too.  My beyond brilliant friend/coach/all round most excellent chap, Mark Smee, has really pushed me to my limit and I'm achieving things I never thought I could. For example 1hr55 HM time on a challenging course, a 16 mile run and a lumpy 10 mile time of 1 hr 27.

Last week Mark suffered a calf tear. And I pretty much crumbled.  Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of training by myself.  There is absolutely no way I can achieve these sorts of times and goals by myself & panic mode set in.  I respect Mark a great deal, I completely trust him and I am (mostly!) compliant.  He doesn't stand for much nonsense, which is good - because my brain is full of the stuff.  The rug was pulled from under my feet. Selfish, much?!

I am always nervous before Mark & I go out running, as I know I will be pushed beyond my comfort zone - whether it's speed training on track, or hill climbs, it's going to hurt. But the feeling I get after finishing, is second to none. 

Yesterday I went to parkrun and I was determined to get a PB. It's been a while since my last and I managed 24.35 back then.  Guess who dragged me round? Smee. (Getting 'Smee-ed' is a new verb which is used regularly in the Dolly household!) Since my parkrun PB, I've been working so hard on track, doing hill training, tempo runs etc so I really thought i'd be able to smash (or at least, gently tap) a new one. I bust a bloody gut on that course, and the disappointment I felt when I saw I was still 5 seconds away from my last PB was crushing.  I had a bit of a cry - what an idiot - but it just means so much to me, this stupid running.  All of these 'Hard work pays off' motivational tweets that I've read, & posted myself, suddenly seemed like utter bollocks.  

Then it hit me. A wave of panic washed over me, as I realised that almost every run, & definitely every race, is going to hurt like absolute hell if I want to get where I want to be.  Cue Freak Out.

I was suddenly plunged into a pit of doom.  I suddenly felt so incredibly overwhelmed by everything. All the training I have yet to complete, all the races that are coming up - OH GOD! Why am I doing this to myself?! How can I do this by myself?! I started running to shift a few pounds (ok, a few stone), & now I'm embroiled in some sort of tortuous plan which inflicts pain on my mind and body at least 4 times a week. Gulp.

So, as I was sorting out the barcodes post-parkrun, I got a text from Mark, explaining that his injury wasn't as bad as first thought & that he'd be back coaching me in a week or so. THANK GOD! I felt a huge sense of relief. The man is a human security blanket for me.  Indeed, his reaction about my Tilgate failure was just what I needed: "Oh, you're not still moaning about f*cking Tilgate are you?!" he retorted after a self indulgent mope on my part, at a league race later that afternoon. I felt immediately better after his own special style of sympathetic consolation. Get a grip, woman, is exactly what I need to do.

So here we are, the present. I'm in a state of limbo at the moment. Somewhere between mild hysteria and  this burning desire that us moronic runners have to constantly improve.  The thing I am most nervous about is that I will fall out of love with running, and then turn back into the revolting HippoCrocoPig I once was. 

I never want to be fat again.  It made me so miserable.  Coping with food is still a daily battle.  I am also so frightened of losing fitness (I have a wonderful month in the south of France coming up - no Smee, beaucoup de fromage et vin) and not getting these stupid times that I'm fixating on.  The disappointment at parkrun was hideous. I don't want to feel like that again, and the only way I can avoid this is by pushing myself more. Which hurts. And here comes that wave of panic again...

I know I need to stop over thinking things, and take each run as it comes. I'm trying. I really am, but it's tough. With target races looming & Brighton Marathon on the horizon - a long way away, but there nonetheless, I need to find away to continue to work hard and enjoy running at the same time.  Time to dig deep.

Friday, 18 April 2014

A letter to my former self


Yes, you, with your head in the bag of doughnuts (FYI, just because you're watching The Great British Bake Off, it does not mean it's ok to steadily trough through cake for the entire episode every week).  So, here's the thing - me and you need to have a chat.  

I'm you, from the future. It's a bit confusing, but go with it. You're now 31 years old, you have a lovely job, an incredible man as your husband & two healthy, beautiful children.  Is that surprising? Are you pleased to hear that? Well, get this round your sugar coated have lost 3 & a half stone in the past year and you are a RUNNER! I know, right?! It's hilarious, even now. I don't think it'll ever sink in.

I know you're tentatively giving Couch 2 5k a try. You're on week 5: 2 x the dreaded 8 mins of straight running, all in one go. Gulp. I know you're scared, I remember it well. Sitting on the stairs in your running stuff, staring at your trainers with the most awful butterflies churning in your stomach. Well, I'm here to tell you to not give up.  Every session of the C25k program pushes you to your absolute limit, I know, & it HURTS, I know - but it's supposed to and it's what makes you stronger.  You think about chucking it all in during week 6 as you start to get terrible stitches.  Well, now I know that your breathing was all wrong.  Try counting '1 elephant, two elephant...' that will help you regulate your oxygen intake and things will get easier.  Week 7 is when it all happens. Something clicks. You find some sort of rhythm.  The pain and frustration that you battled through in week 6 has made you stronger.  

You're going to crack on with the c210k program because you end up running 5k a lot sooner than planned.  You will keep surprising yourself, I promise.  What if I told you you'd be entering in a 10k race  by the end of May, only 7 weeks after you cautiously stepped out to try week 1, day 1? Would you believe me?  I didn't think so.  Then you certainly won't believe me when I tell you that you've completed several 10ks and 2 half marathons before your 1 year running-versary...

I'm writing this to tell you some things that I wish I knew when I started:

1) It will be hard, but it will be oh-so-worth it.  The lungs burning, the constant stitches, the lead legs: all of it is making you fitter and stronger beyond your wildest dreams.

2) Get yourself some proper trainers, and 'proper' does not equate to 'pretty'.  Trainers need to be bigger than normal shoes. You will have a permanently black toenail and wonky toes to prove this.

3) Get yourself to Parkrun, your local one is ACE and you'd have got your 50 t-shirt by now, you slacker! It's free, so much fun and friendly. DO IT!

4) Join a running club: both in real life & virtual. You will, but I wish we'd done it sooner.  You will meet the most fantastic people at Horsham Joggers & virtually, via Twitter. Inspiring (though one of the most inspiring people at HJ happens to hate that word), funny, kind, supportive and they believe in you; an awful lot more than you do and an awful lot more than I do. (Some things haven't changed but I'm working on it). 

5) Keep aiming high.  You won't believe what you've managed to achieve this year & you certainly won't be able to comprehend what you're aiming for next -  I'm still struggling with the concept at the moment! From the girl who just wanted to be able to run 5k in one go, you've conquered 10k, then it was 10 miles by Christmas. Your New Years resolution for 2014 was to run three 1/2 marathons and by early March you'd completed two, with plenty more planned.

6) DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO ANYONE ELSE. This will make you miserable for many months & it is utterly ridiculous. Stop it immediately.


So, those are my top tips. Things I wish I'd known when I started but things I have found out stumbling through this brave new world.  A bit late for us now, but you never know who might stumble across this and need some sort of reassurance.

Ok, the real reason I'm writing this.  It was to remind myself what can be done in a year, if I don't give up.  From struggling through 1 minute of hellish running to being a half marathon finisher (still hellish, mind), through hard work and perseverance.  It's so easy for us runners to forget where we've come from, how hard we've worked.  Times do not equate to success, the hours of training and dedication is what makes us great.  

Here's the next burning question that I'm desperate to know the answer to: Can I become a marathon runner in the next 12 months? I don't know just yet, I'm terrified & only time will tell, but I'm hoping that my past will inspire my future and the answer will be a confident, resounding YES.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

She did.

I've only gone and done it, haven't I. Brighton Marathon 2015 here I come.


Brighton Marathon 2015: She will...she won't...

Right. Brighton Marathon 2015. To run or not to run...

There's been an awful lot of chatter about a few of us UK Run Chat & Horsham Joggers/Tilgate Parkrun folk doing the Brighton Marathon next year.  I can quite easily get very carried away & rush in to things without thinking about them properly, so I'm just taking the time to consider the pros and cons.

My main, & obvious, fear is that I won't be up to it.  It's a seriously long way & seeing the look of sheer agony on 90% of the runners' faces at Brighton on Sunday is haunting my thoughts slightly.  I can't really manage half marathons without hitting the wall at the moment, so the thought of doing that twice over? Gulp.

However, I've gone from not being able to run 1 mile to just about managing 13.1 in a year. Will the transition from 13.1 to 20/22 (which is the likely maximum I'll go up to in training) be doable in another year from now? I *think* so.  I know it's going to be a huge, huge challenge - but that's the point of it isn't it?

I would be extremely disappointed if I DNF, & likewise if I got a super slow time. Ideally i'd like to be in the 4hr something bracket.  However, on the day, I'll probably be pleased for it just to be over. And if I have to crawl the last 8 miles on bloodied knees, then so be it. I'll still get the medal. (Mmmm, medals.)

I've watched so many people train for the marathons this year, both via twitter & in real life.  Whilst I most certainly didn't envy these committed runners heading out for 18 miles on those rainy Sundays, the joy and sense of personal achievement that they're feeling now they've conquered 26.2 is quite incredible and utterly inspiring.  More will follow after VMLM on Sunday, more finishers to join the Marathon Club. A club I want to join.

Another concern of mine is that the weather in Brighton can be variable, to put it politely. Running 26.2 miles sounds hard enough without being blown sideways for half the route.  There is also part of the course that is particularly hideous, hence it's moniker - the road to hell.  Everyone I know who's run it has said how this part is truly awful.  Yikes. Now I'm getting scared again.

I would love to run VMLM but the ballot is near impossible to get into & with Brighton being so close I am able to train on parts of the route if necessary, as well as get back home after the race itself in less than an hour.  A definite plus point.

The final worry for me is my mental strength.  I really buckle under pressure and have a severe lack of self belief.  I have heard that running a marathon is 75% head, 25% legs, which frightens me enormously.  I will need to do some serious work on improving my positive mental attitude as I'm far less prepared emotionally than physically right now.

So many things to consider, but when it comes down to it I am surrounded by the most supportive and experienced people, who I know would do their utmost to get me through. I just hope I'll be strong enough.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Ode to Tilgate Parkrun

Saturday morning
So, time for a lie in?
No chance of that.
Let the preparations begin.
Down goes the porridge,
Perfect fuel for the race.
Trainers laced carefully,
Garmins set to our pace.

And so we arrive,
There's a buzz in the air,
Young, old, fast, slow,
Dogs & buggies all share
The paths of the park
On a Saturday morn.
PB chasers up the front,
Keeping muscles warm.

All over the country
The chant can be heard,
"Welcome to Parkrun,
Watch out for the turd!"
Announcements are spoken,
Hard earned t-shirts given out.
"Thank you to the Marshals"
The most important shout.

The klaxon sounds,
The herd's on the move,
(& some of us regret
Last night's bottle of booze).
Weaving through the bounding folk 
We spy our comrades, striding out
"Morning Mel! See you soon.
Bacon sarnies all round, Alan's shout!"

And so the lake comes into sight,
We follow the crowds round to the right.
Here it comes, our first gradual climb
(Which adds unwanted seconds to our time.)
The marshals happily clap us on
"Great running, chaps. You're looking strong!"
Oh heaven, the downhill! We're running free!
My God, I'm on for a new PB!
But soon the elation comes to pass.
It's time for that bloody Chevron Path.
Digging deep, up we go.
Is it possible to run that slow?!
Just when I'm feeling like giving up,
A miracle happens. I'm at the top.
My focus shifts from maintaining  my pacing
To stopping that stupid porridge from escaping.
An interesting distraction from the pain.
Oh look, we're at the lake again!
One more lap, can I do it?
"One more lap, there's nothing to it!"
Yes there is, there's two more K.
That's a nasty game you're trying to play.

"Dig deep, Dolly!" the marshals shout,
A smile transcends my grumpy pout.
Oh come on Dolly, shift your bum.
Time's a-ticking. Just bloody run!
And so I drag myself round the lake,
(I could really do with a comfort break.)
But soon my Garmin beeps for Four.
Nearly there! Just one more!
Over that lovely bridge of wood
(The one that means I really could
Smash my PB if I pick up the pace.)
Time to focus, time to chase.
The meandering path means one thing
The end is nigh. Finishing.

Knowing that the pain will be done,
The pace picks up, a speedy one.
Cheers are heard, I'm getting near!
Please don't fall over (my biggest fear).
And finally through the finish line
Stop the clock, that time will do just fine!
"Well done!" My fellow parkrunners chant.
As I desperately try to not face plant
Into the nearest stretch of grass
Or cough up a lung. Oh Dolly, what class.

Time to get scanned, barcode at the ready.
I'm starting to feel slightly more steady.
I look at my Garmin, it's good news!
It must be down to my new running shoes!
My legs, though, still quiver like jelly
(& here I edit out news of my belly.)

So on to the great bit, cheering the rest.
Watching them fight the pain, beating their best.
The feeling of elation once they're over the line,
Brings back the wonderful memories of mine.
High fives and sweaty hugs all round!
No one needs picking up off the ground.
That's good news, but Gemma's a great
Nurse if anyone needs a resuscitate.

Hooray, we're all finished, totally exhausted yet happy.
(And have made mental notes for next time, to maybe wear a nappy.)
So onwards we soldier, time for a rest
(This bit is quite easily the best)
Over we go for a well deserved cup of tea
& our breakfast of choice, mine's bacon sarnie.
It's here that we chat and mull over our run.
Congratulating, commiserating, whatever needs to be done.
The tokens are sorted, the results are in too.
A hive of activity, all for me and you.
So we can enjoy our weekly 5k
Surrounded by friends, without having to pay.

Ok, I think I've waffled on.
Thank you for reading my lengthy song
This concludes my Ode to Parkrun.
Thank you again. It's bloody good fun.