Tuesday, April 23, 2013

There's a gold turd painting in this blogpost, not much else

I'm busy right now stuffing lots of dog pillows which are due to leave this week for a big order.  What are you doing with the spring sunshine? Some new designs here to show you, cool crystal series of mini pillows and will have larger scale pillows available soon as well. Did you see my new website by the way? You can now browse my illustrations and products a bit easier, all in the company of some flying unicorns.  Always a good thing.

Shiny shiny GOLD TURD PAINTING, looky. There's glitter on there and everything.  
Just packing orders and jamming out to some hideously tacky pop music. Be back soon with something a little more substantially substantial.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Running, and family, and pain

Last year I setup a running blog called We Do Run Run mainly because I'm massively nosey and wanted to get all up in the whats-what of other runners and also because I loved finding out someone who I never suspected was into running, had a secret running hobby.  This illustration is from an interview I did with my pal Cat, this is her mantra when she's feeling the leg burn around mile 22 of a marathon.

If you've spent any amount of time with a runner you'll know that we're an obsessive bunch.  We place a lot of importance on minutes, hamstrings, protein sources, sock thickness.  We're constantly trying to find ways to get faster and better and if that means snooping on other peoples secrets of success then I thought why not start putting it in one place for others to hopefully gain from it as well.

The wonderful thing about We Do Run Run has been the web it's spun - each runner I've interviewed has linked me to a handful of other runners (generally via twitter) and this blog is coming to life as more than what it set out to be.  I'm now amongst a little community of runners from all over the world.  We chat PBs and running tights and blisters.

You see, runners by nature stick together - it's strange because from the outside, at a race, it seems we're all competing against each other.  But I'll let you in on a secret and it's that we're only competing against ourselves and we actually want everyone else to do super awesome as well.

I feel sad for all of those folks who trained for months and months and couldn't finish their race.  Sorry for your pain Boston, I feel it too. x

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My marathon

On November 27 2012 I signed up for the Paris marathon.  My first marathon.  I feel like I want to tell you the whole story, from start to finish line. So here it is, from the very start:

Having been a runner for around 10 years I hadn't ever considered marathon distance until last year when my friend introduced me to open water swimming, after about four beers, in early April.  She convinced me to start wearing a wetsuit and getting into cold, deep lakes, and meeting up with other people who were also weirdly into the same horrendous activity.  I am a lightweight and after four beers will generally agree to most things that aren't illegal or with high risk of decapitation.

Strange as it sounds, as the weeks rolled by and I started getting the hang of breathing in water without totally panicking and wearing goggles and figuring out how to remove a very tight wetsuit in a very cold carpark it started to open my eyes to a world of people who got a thrill out of outdoor events.  Through swimming I met people who instead of chatting about who was getting married to who or what so-and-so did on Friday night, wanted to know what I was training for and whether I had any tips on getting rid of calf cramp.  As my fitness levels improved so did my bravery.  We took our wetsuits up to Gaddings Dam and I swum in icy waters with two other swimmers I'd never met.  We travelled to France to find rivers to swim.  I completed 1 mile of front crawl in Salford Quays and cried when I climbed out, having looked at the clock and seeing I'd done it 40 minutes faster than I had expected.

At the end of the summer I realised how much I was getting out of swimming, something that up until April of that year, had never been a strength of mine or even something I really liked.  Still to this day actually I freaking hate putting on my wetsuit, can't stand the thought of what might be in the water below me and often worry what crazy rashes I may be at risk of obtaining from lake water.  But it was something about the training, the getting better, the meeting people that were also into getting better, that I realised I wanted more of in my life - and until then had never thought could apply to running.  Up until then I had always just run by myself - and not that far really.  So I decided to source out a running club. 

And on that first night at my Nike run club I met other people who were INTO RUNNING. 

I was like, woah. This exists. 

Each week we met, on a Tuesday night, and I started to get better.  I ran the Manchester 10k in the summer (53 mins finish) and travelled to Prague with a pal in September for a nighttime 10k (52mins, I think).  

I signed up for my second half marathon for late September and ran it comfortably without the IT struggles I had had during the Glasgow half the year before (I shaved 13 minutes off my PB this time and got a 1.53 finish).  I was getting better, but I felt like I wanted something a little bit more.... challenging. 

With a lot of my peers at run club signing up for the Manchester Marathon and having swum a minimum of 3 x a week for the majority of the summer I felt my fitness was really at a high and that it would be silly not to take advantage of my healthy state and tackle my first marathon.  Having heard some horror stories of last year's Manchester marathon (rain, sleet, cold, hail, you name it it fell from the sky) I looked further afield and couldn't resist the temptation to visit Paris for the first time.  Plus there was no ballot system which meant as soon as I clicked the button, I had a spot.  

And mentally as soon as I received that email saying I had entered the Paris marathon, I was fully committed and had no doubt in my mind I would run it. 

I think apart from a few other tips I would pass on regarding physical preparation this I would say is the biggest bit of advice I would pass onto anyone considering running a marathon.  Just commit to it, wholeheartedly.  From the very start.  Not only will you succeed but you'll enjoy also every step of the journey to the start line.  

So as I had been going to my Nike run club over the summer and there was a few of us training for a spring marathon we all signed up for the Stockport 10 mile in December, to kickstart our training and get a bit of competition in before our Christmas break.  

Stockport is very hilly.  We trained a few times before the race, on the course, which was h-a-r-d.  But the training paid off and it was nice running the race knowing when the hills were coming up and also enjoying the downhill bits, cruising down at a faster pace than usual.  The course has one long hill at the very end, around the 9 mile mark.  It's a challenge and the first time I ran up it my training partner said to me, 'what the hell are we doing?' ... I can remember my legs screaming, and being so hard of breath I could hardly answer him. 

I also did a bit of training for this event while I was in Australia in November.  There are hills in Sydney, but there is also heat. And jetlag.  gahhh. 

I ran the Stockport 10mile in 1 hour 24 mins, it was freezing that day but it was great to have my run club buds there, to cheer each other on - and overtake on the course! 

I had a marathon training plan which I ripped out of Runners World magazine.  I kept it clipped to my calendar and followed it pretty much religiously.  Weeks 10, 11 and 14 I missed a couple of runs in favour of seeing a physio and general leg recovery, and I also tried to fit in a Bikram session once a week or once every two weeks.  My Tuesday runs were my threshold/speed sessions, which I did with my evening run club.  I did Thursday runs in the morning, Saturday runs in the morning and my Sunday long runs generally with my training buddies either in Stretford or Stockport, generally starting around 8.30am.  

I did three of my long runs by myself, on a Monday, if we were away for the weekend.  Two out of the three, 12 mile and 14 mile, I had issues with my IT band but my 15 miler was awesome (if not very eventful!!).  We did our 17 miler and 20 milers around Stockport, on the hills, and they were actually my favourite runs.  I did think back a few times to our first training run back in December, running up that long hill on our 9 mile training run.  It was great to feel how much I had improved and how much I had learned.  One thing that will always stick with me that my coach said was that when you're running up a long hill, just focus on what's in front of you.  Don't look all the way up to the top and worry about how big it is.  Just focus on the bit in front of you and before you know it you'll be at the top.  That's a life lesson right there!

After the 20 miler my distances tapered down and we worked on our speed.  I felt more powerful and less tired and reached the point where I wasn't worrying about my legs, or muscle niggles.  They were starting to feel really strong.  Got a last minute place at a local half, in Wilmslow, on March 24th.  It was super cold but again I ran really strong and got a PB of 1.49.  

People started asking whether I felt ready for the marathon, was I scared, and the answer was always - no!  I actually didn't feel scared or anxious at all.  In fact, I was so excited.  To be honest the only thing I was worrying about was my food in the few days runup to race day.  As we were due to leave Manchester on the Thursday morning and be in Paris until race day, Sunday, I was worried I'd eat something dodgy or not be able to find something plain for the night before, and I was also worried that all of the superfoods I'd been chowing on over the course of my training would just exit my system in those four days and it would have been a waste of time.  None of this happened of course and turns out Paris is a huge, modern city with access to all of the food you need or want.  

(One of my last runs of my taper, check out my leg muscles! And that's me wearing my engagement ring at the Eiffel Tower.)

During training my diet became heavily focused on protein, veg, milk and fruit.  Oats, seeds, nuts, greens, and lots of hydration.  I learned to eat a carb-y breakfast at least an hour before my long Sunday runs.  Toast usually with jam or a little bit of yoghurt, a cup of tea (always!) and maybe some fruit.  Make sure you leave time to go to the bathroom before you go out the door.  I found I completely lost my appetite after a long run so made sure when I got back in to make a protein shake straight away and get that in me.  Something to replace sugars and hydrate me.  Also tried to snack on some sort of granola bar, or have some quinoa porridge with peanut butter.  Then in an hour or two something like a sweet potato or eggs or beans on toast or whatever.  And then some meat maybe in the evening.  We ate a lot of chicken, fish, and I tried to cut down on red meat as that can take a while to digest.  Although on the first night of our trip to Paris we had the most amazing rumpsteaks with a glass of red wine and I must say I feel I owe that bit of iron and protein to my success.

As for the race itself, I woke up in the morning to my alarm at 6.45.  I did actually think, for the first time in the whole of my training, what in God's name am I doing.  This is crazy.  But when I opened the curtains and saw that for the first time in four days the sun had appeared and the clouds had completely disappeared, I thought... actually... it's a perfect day for a run.  I was a little worried as the day before we had walked the entire length of Paris and I had a very tight left 'peroneus longus' muscle (I don't know if this is the correct name I just looked on a muscle chart.)  so I was stretching and stretching my leg and hamstrings as much as possible all morning up until the start.  We got to Champs-Elysees and I took a warm up lap, around the Arc de Triomph. As you do!  And after a toilet stop at McDonalds and finding my starting wave (I had registered as a 4hr15 finisher) there was a bit more waiting around for our wave to be let start - but I didn't feel nervous or have the usual stomachy butterflies, I just felt pumped!  

The first half of the race I felt really strong.  I had taken my iphone with a playlist to listen to but I didn't switch on my tunes until the 10k mark.  I would recommend this as it made me feel a part of the race, kind of introduced me to everything and I really really enjoyed it.  I switched on my music as I got to the 10k marker and had a little boost for the next 10k.  I crossed the 20k mark at 1.45 which is really good for me.  The halfway mark was actually a nice downhill bit which was good.  

I had three gels with me for the marathon.  I took my first after 45 mins, and the next two at around 15 mile and 20 mile.  I also started the race with a blue powerade and took small sips every now and then. When that finished I grabbed a bottle of water and carried that with me, taking sips, and when that was finished grabbed another around 24 mile.  I wanted to stay hydrated and was really pleased as apart from my legs getting tired around 18 mile and some negative thoughts creeping in around 36k (sorry about my fluctuation between mile and km but as it was a European race they had it marked in km and I just have mental flashbacks from various parts of the race and depending on what I was looking at I can remember it in mile or km if that makes sense) I didn't feel dehydrated or physically tired.  Throughout my training I have been using chia seeds, eating lots of bananas and also adding spirulina to juices - I took a small tupperware of protein powder, chia, spirulina and flax which I added to yoghurts and ate each morning in Paris, and in the morning of the run just mixed with small amount of water (can't drink too much water pre-run or I will pee myself which I am running. no joke) and swallowed.  These things have been a nice replacement for sugary electrolyte recovery drinks and have also had a great effect on my hair - it's ever so shiny these days!

I also bought a pair of compression socks which I used for the first time on marathon day.  Usually I would be very wary about trying something new on race day.  Even my playlist I stressed about having new songs on race day!  But people had told me that you're not meant to train that much with compression socks anyways so I took the chance.  I can't describe exactly how they helped but one thing I can say is that I really believe they sped up my recovery.  I wore them for the race, took them off for my shower afterwards and then put them back on for our trip to the airport and flight home.  I'd recommend to anyone considering using them and especially if you're going on a flight afterwards and can't stretch your legs and move them around after your race.  The day after my marathon my legs hips and knees were stiff but no more than they had been after a few of my long training runs, and then the day after that they were fine - and I actually went for an easy 4 miler with my run club that evening.  I wouldn't owe the recovery entirely to the compression socks - loads of protein, milk, stretching and sleep as well as an ice cold shower on my legs post-race helped as well but I'm glad I used them.  I think in future I'd wear with shorts as my legs got a little hot in leggings and long socks while running but hey, trial and error.

So yea, I finished my first marathon in 4 hours 10 minutes.  Out of 38,690 finishers I placed 20,851.  The last 6km were long, I won't lie, and I do feel now that I definitely wish I had gone faster - but I'm glad I came away from it feeling that I could have gone faster rather than feeling like it was the hardest thing in the world.  In fact I was thinking the other day, the hardest races I've run were the first ones - my first 10k was hideous.  My first half marathon - so painful.  The beauty of the marathon is in the training.  You get better.  You learn so much and by race day you feel prepared and excited.  It's a wonderful, awesome journey and at the risk of sounding like a massive cheeseball, one that has changed me and made me so passionate about running.  

So I don't claim to be any sort of pro, and you can see by my time I'm not the fastest of marathon finishers... but for my own sake more than anything I wanted to jot down my top ten marathon training tips, little lessons I learned along the way that I hope may help you out if you're considering taking on the challenge.

1.  Commit.  Choose a race, sign up, and tell people you're doing it.  But most importantly tell yourself you're doing it.  
2.  Get yourself some kit you feel excited to wear.  I'm not saying throw money at kit but I would recommend at least getting some technology to track your time, distance and pace.  I just used the free Nike+ app on my iphone which isn't 100% reliable every single time, I must say, but generally was a nice motivation to track my distance each month, watch my improvements and really rack up the miles.  It also allows you to brag about your progress on social media which can be both good and bad (bad for lazy people who are secretly envious of your unwavering enthusiasm and braggery) and get used to runkeeping technology without having to spend bucketloads on a fancy garmin before you are ready for one.  
3.  Protein.  And kale.  Also, spirulina.  
4.  Stretch.  No really.  Before your runs, but more importantly after your runs.  Stretch everything. And then stretch some more.  Trust me on this one - you'll save some money at the physio. If you can, invest in a foam roller.  I got mine on amazon for about £8 and until I had issues with my IT band didn't realise how good it was.  Now I don't know how anyone can run long distance and not have a foam roller.  
5.  Put some money aside for when you didn't listen to me about the stretching and have to go and see a physio to get a sports massage on your really tight hamstrings.  I went to a physio three times over the course of my training and she was great - I paid £35 per session which compared to other places is really reasonable.  Don't pay more than that if you can. Also, don't keep running through an injury. 
6.  Try and train with someone else who has run a marathon before.  They know what's what. 
7.  Take a recovery day if you need one, and try not to feel guilty about it.  Your next run will just be stronger as your legs will have gotten more powerful and had time to rest.  
9.  You need water but you also need electrolytes.  Potassium is good for this.  Avocados, spinach, yoghurt, fish, beans, sweet potato, bananas, mushrooms. They are all good sources.  
10.  Love it.  Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put in - so if you put bad vibes in and negative thinking, you will fear the race.  Enjoy it and enjoy the hard work and effort you're putting in. Think of crossing that finish line! 

Now, which Autumn marathon to sign up for? Any recommendations? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'm gonna get married!

I KNOW you're dying to hear about my marathon! Well I'm going to make you wait just a bit longer until my life is back in some sort of recognisably normal state.  At the moment, I'm kind of flying through the clouds with rainbows and hearts and some sparkly lightning bolts flashing around.  I'm not on drugs, no, but I did get proposed to by my best friend in the whole world.  And I'm just being a total girl and soaking up all of the loveliness of it all.  

Flow magazine is all about the bearded men

My pocket manfriends were featured in the first International issue of Flow magazine! How awesome.  They also appeared in the Dutch version of Flow, back in June 2012.  The ladies at the magazine clearly have very good taste in men :)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Home sweet home

Tomorrow I'm catching a flight to Paris for a few days.  I know that after running 26.2 miles on Sunday, coming home will be more wonderful than ever.  I'll see you when I get back, I've got a marathon to run!
(PS: custom house portrait commission I did in December. You can order these through my etsy shop.)