Challenge for the Next Decade

I’m 30 on Monday and facing a whole new decade. So my challenge to myself  is to be braver. I’ve done so many things in the last year that I’d never dreamed I could do, got through moments I never thought I could survive. I am stronger than I thought I was but I need to be braver, need to be less afraid to try. Yes I’m going to fail, yes I’m going to fall, yes I’ll probably make an idiot of myself at least once but I might also succeed beyond my expectations.

This isn’t some cheesy movie where I start saying yes to everything and my world is suddenly changed. I think saying no is, in the right circumstances, just as important a skill to have as saying yes. But I don’t think it’d hurt me to get out of my own way on occasion, to shut down that little voice that says “you couldn’t possibly do that” when actually I think I can and, more than that, I want to.

I found a blog I used to write in about 2005 a few months back and was kind of astonished by the honest irreverence of it. I wasn’t scared of putting my thoughts out there and whilst the internet is a very different beast these days I do want to try and recapture some of the enthusiasm of my twenty year old self. I’ve got a whole pile of draft blog posts which I’ve given up on or been too scared to publish. I could change that for a start…
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Standing Out…

My hair is orange. Like Hayley Williams orange. This is the first time I’ve changed my hair colour in nearly a year and although I love it I feel very self-conscious. I never normally feel anxious when I change my hair so I don’t quite understand where this has come from.

Orange hair montage

Even my hair has a montage…

Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s the first time I’ve changed my hair colour in my new job and my colleagues are surprised. Everyone’s said nice things though even if the word bright is used a lot. I’ve not had the best history with comments on my personal appearance in the workplace, mostly due to a preponderance of white men in suits, but that’s several years and several jobs ago now.

I do feel like I stand out more than usual and that, in some obscure way, I should apologise for it. I don’t know why that is. Being a woman in public is often a challenging experience I guess and I’ve got used to short hair making me feel relatively invisible. Now my pixie cut has grown out and my hair is luminous maybe I’m too visible, too bright?

I want to be comfortable in my skin but I’ve not been today and I really don’t like it. Maybe tomorrow will be better…

That Time I Did A Triathlon

It’s been over a month now since I did my first triathlon so I thought it was about time I blogged about the experience!

Despite the months of training beforehand I didn’t feel very prepared in the week leading up to it, primarily because I’d been nursing a cold but also because I’d pulled an all nighter on the Thursday to watch the election results. Also, having never done a triathlon before, I was essentially clueless about everything from whether I’d done enough training to what I was supposed to wear. The stress-induced dreams where I was late, couldn’t find my bike, got lost and so on in the run up to the triathlon meant that by the night before I was a nervous wreck. My dad was doing the triathlon with me but couldn’t answer the question of whether I could wear flip flops by the pool and the myriad of other bizarre queries I had bouncing around my brain.

Sunday morning dawned and I was still overwhelmed with nerves. Knowing that I’d collapse if I didn’t eat anything was literally the only thing that enabled me to choke down some breakfast. On arriving in Ashbourne we started to see course signs and other triathletes but everything still felt unreal. Thankfully everyone was really friendly and didn’t mind dealing with my ridiculous questions when we were setting everything up in the transition area. I also was faintly reassured when the event photographer assured me that he’s heard lots of people claim to be on the verge of a panic attack before their first triathlon!

Bike at Ashbourne Triathlon

My bike all set up and ready to go…

Time kept disappearing in that annoying way it does when you’d really rather prefer it to slow down so before I knew it I was leaving my bike and heading off to the pool. I’d been concerned about hanging around by the pool freezing to death whilst I waited to start but I needn’t have worried – it was like a greenhouse in there. My dad kindly took custody of my spare clothes and shoes and I was on my own. I waited anxiously with the other competitors due to start around the same time as we waited for our different groups to be called up to the start. The other women starting at around the same time had all painted their toenails as well so we bonded a bit over that whilst I tried to work out if I swam as fast as the swimmers already in the water.

After what felt like hours we were eventually called to the start line and told to get in the water. We were given 30 seconds which was just enough time for me to discover my nose clip was refusing to stay on and we were off. The swim felt quite hard, evidently I hadn’t shaken off the cold as thoroughly as I’d hoped. I almost caused a pile up as well trying to overtake someone on my second lap – after that I just coped with the slightly slower man in front! I made it through my 16 lengths, leapt out of the pool and starting running towards my bike – which was much further away than I’d normally run in bare feet! Part 1 was done and although I felt like I’d swum slowly I was glad it was out of the way.

I made less of a hash of putting shoes and socks on in a rush than expected and remembered not to cycle before the start line which was pretty much all I was hoping to achieve in the transition stage! The bike ride was actually enjoyable, even though bits of it were on the A52, probably because I’ve been cycling regularly for nearly two years now. Dad had been assured by the organisers that the course only had “gentle hills” but I soon discovered that this wasn’t really the case! There were three biggish hills in the first half of the course, one of which I just got off and walked up. I definitely didn’t have my normal amount of stamina so I just took a break, got a drink and got back on my bike at the top. The second half of the ten mile course was a little bit less hilly and as I turned back on to the main road back into Ashbourne I began to feel like I might actually be able to do this.

As I came in there were other competitors, one of whom was my dad by some weird fluke, going out shouting good luck which was lovely. All too soon I was jumping off my bike and heading off for the run. Running after cycling is the strangest sensation, your legs just feel like jelly, but I’d experienced it a few times in training so wasn’t too thrown. The first part of the course was through an old railway tunnel which was quite exciting and then we were out onto the Tissington Trail. Running is my weakest discipline but I’ve been doing a lot of it so I know how to power through a 3 mile run – basically run as much as possible, walk when you need to and pray nothing starts hurting! The run was two laps of the same course which didn’t help as much as I’d thought it would – there’s something disheartening about getting to the end and having to turn around and do the same thing again. Luckily there was lots of encouragement, both from other competitors and from a few spectators on the course, particularly the little boys giving all the competitors high fives! Before I knew it I was running back through the tunnel for the final time and heading for the finish line. As soon as I came around the final corner I could hear cheers from Andy and my family who’d come to see me finish which was awesome. And I was officially a triathlete!

Ashbourne Triathlon finish times

My unexpectedly speedy finish times!

My only aim had ever been to make it through the race in one piece but despite the nerves and the malingering cold I was a lot faster than I’d expected – I’d hoped for a time of 1 hour 30 at the very best. It turned out I’d done it in 1 hour 24 minutes, six minutes faster than I’d ever imagined and eight minutes faster than my experience triathlete father. It still feels slightly unreal but I’m so proud of myself for doing it. My next challenge is a 10k race in about a month but I’ve got the triathlon bug – I’ve already signed up to a second one and I’m seriously considering an Olympic distance event next year.

Five Years Later

I think this might be the first general election in which I’ve not voted Conservative. It is, of course, only my third general election as a voter but still. I do always try to examine my voting decisions because the concept of voting for someone just because they’re “your party”, regardless of policies, is bizarre. I don’t think my political opinions have changed that profoundly since 2010 but aligning those to a specific party this time has been harder.

This election has been strange. I’ve been much less engaged than I was in 2010, I think I only watched one debate – if you don’t count the Scottish Leaders’ Debate I saw in Glasgow last week. Generally all the choices available have felt uninspiring, there’s no-one who feels like they can really offer the kind of change I’d like to see. It also seems unlikely that anyone’s likely to have much of a mandate to do anything radical.

I hate the anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric peddled by UKIP, the Conservatives and (to some extent) Labour which has definitely been a defining point in choosing who to vote for. I’m a lot more pro-European than I’ve ever been before and I can’t see anti-immigration rhetoric as anything other than racism in a fancy hat. In addition, I don’t think the Conservatives have done enough to protect the poor and vulnerable in our society. Whilst I still think that some level of austerity/rebalancing of the economy was necessary it’s clear to me that too much of that burden has fallen on the people who have the least. In terms of social issues I probably align more with the Greens than anyone else but economically I can’t contemplate voting for them. So I’ve come full circle to the party I voted for the first time I ever cast a vote – the Liberal Democrats. Let the hung parliament chaos commence!

P.S. One last point on stereotypes. I’m not voting Conservative and unless they change their tune I’m unlikely to do so in the future but I’ll never subscribe to the “all Tories are evil” doctrine perpetuated by so many people I know. Firstly, evil is such a strong word – I would really hesitate to use it of anyone. There are caring, compassionate Conservatives just as there are unpleasant members of the Labour party.  Judge people on their individual merits, not a lazy out-of-date political stereotypes.

12 Days of…Running?

Due to illness, busyness and, to be honest, a fair amount of laziness my athletic efforts since my last post have been a bit piecemeal. Before I knew it it was December and Christmas parties were swallowing all my free time. So I decided to set myself a challenge – run every day over the two weeks I was off work over Christmas.

I never really thought I’d do every day of course but I figured if I could do at least half then that was a worthwhile effort and hopefully a good platform to build on when I started triathlon training properly in the New Year. Because I knew that once January rolled around it would all start to look very close and I still couldn’t run much over a mile…

I managed to exceed my expectations and ran 12 days out of 14 – thwarted only by the insanity of Christmas Day and some ridiculous ice. I’ve never been a runner so when I found myself actually enjoying it after a few days I was gobsmacked. I wasn’t running hugely far but I could see myself getting faster and going further which has never happened on any of the previous occasions I’ve tried to “get into” running.

I also really doubted I had the willpower to keep it up.  I nearly failed on the very first day because I was so busy running round doing Christmas things and ended up running in the semi-darkness, on a longer route than I’d intended to run and thinking “I’ll never be able to do this”. I ended up surprised by my willingness to run, regardless of weather or location. Over the holidays I spent a lot of time surrounded by other people so taking twenty minutes or thirty minutes out to run was really good for my soul but also I did start to enjoy it. Even more so once I discovered that stretching after a run meant that I wouldn’t spend the whole of the next day hobbling and wincing…

I’ve never thought of myself as a runner but I do feel like I’ve accidentally become one over the last few weeks. I gave given myself a free reign to rest this week because I started a new job on Tuesday and you know what? I lasted two days before going running again! Maybe I’ll make it though this triathlon yet…

#Runmas Statistics

  • Total distance ran: 23.75 miles (38.22 km)
  • Fastest pace: 9.15 minutes/mile
  • Average pace: 9.50 minutes/mile
  • Furthest run: 3.16 miles (5.08 km)

Witness the Fitness! Or that time I signed up for a triathlon…

I have entered a triathlon. Which may be either a very brave or a very stupid thing to do, given that I can only just about run and haven’t swum in about a year. It’s only a sprint triathlon and not until May 2015 but even so…

Why? Well, it ticks a few boxes on my half formed “things to do before I’m 30” list and should have the added bonus of forcing me to get back into an actual exercise routine. I’m fairly confident that I can do it and with good luck and a following wind I might even be able to do it well!

Exercise has always been my jam. Being able to go and work out my frustrations at the gym or get high on endorphins in a spin class has kept me both mentally and physically fit for nearly half my life. Even now, when I class myself as “unfit”, I’m still walking 5 miles a day and cycling about 40 miles a week. I injured my knee in January though and it’s meant I’ve had to pretty much give up Body Combat which has been my regular high intensity cardio for the past four years or so. In addition until last month my other half was commuting four hours a day which played havoc with both our body clocks and squeezed out time for exercise. As a result I feel less fit than I have since I was 16.

I don’t care about losing weight particularly, it’s taken me a long time to learn to love my body and have a healthy relationship with food so I’m not counting calories, inches or pounds. However fitness is important to me and I’m really hoping triathlon training will help me rethink my exercise approach and routine. Running has been a kind of perennial nemesis of mine and whilst I’ve no intention of running a marathon I’d like to be able to run at least 10K. Swimming and cycling are less of an issue – I already cycle a lot and I’m a good swimmer, albeit an out of practice one! Putting them all together though? Eek!

So my fitness challenges for the next 10 months are:

  1. Compete in a triathlon
  2. Be able to run at least 10 kilometres
  3. Be at least a little bit fitter when I hit 30!

If you’re interested in following my fitness travails no doubt I’ll be boring on about it on Twitter… And if you’ve got any tips for newbie runners or triathletes please pass them on!!

Now We Are 28: On Feminism and Being Angry

Less than two weeks ago a man who hated women killed six people. Every single day since then I have seen a man on the internet telling people (normally women) that misogyny doesn’t exist. Every. Single. Day.

Three weeks ago I went to a work conference and spent an evening explaining to a bunch of otherwise lovely and very clever people why feminism is important and relevant in the 21st Century.

I would love for the battle to achieve equal rights for women to be over, I really would. When I was a child I read about the suffragettes, women’s battles for the vote and the fight for equal pay and I really thought that the war had been won, that women were considered equal. Then I grew up.

In school, the girls were always judged on their appearance – I was considered “ugly” so I always came in for particularly nasty bullying both in school and out. As I got older my friends and I considered it par for the course that we would get felt up without our consent in pubs and clubs. When I waitressed the chefs physically and verbally harassed every woman who came into the kitchen. A senior male colleague once thought it appropriate to complain to my manager about my “very short” skirt (it was knee-length) and told me that laughing at things was inappropriate because I sounded like a giggling schoolgirl. The (male) sales assistant who sold me my new, painstakingly chosen bike spent all his time talking to my boyfriend. The other week a man cycled behind me for over a mile so he could look at my bum. And, like virtually every woman I know, I’ve been shouted at in the street by random men more times than I can count.

You know what the worst thing about that list is? That I feel lucky to have got off so lightly. That I am extremely privileged to experience society as a middle-class, thin, able-bodied straight, cis, white woman and thus will never have to endure the hardships that many women face just trying to exist as equal members of society. Most women will endure far worse verbal, physical or sexual abuse than I have ever encountered and this will be accepted by the world. Their experiences will be dismissed or ignored or never even shared. And when a man kills a woman it will be considered an “isolated incident” or the work of a “lone madman” rather than the product of a society which is profoundly unequal.

I am so angry. I get more angry every day as I see women’s concerns about ingrained sexism, rape culture and violence against women being dismissed and belittled. I’m angry that young women today grow up in a world where their right to equality is less understood than it was twenty years ago. I’m angry that women continue to be defined by whether or not they’ve popped out a baby but at the same time they’re likely to get discriminated against because of it. I’m angry that young men continue to be taught that expressing their emotions is weakness and that hurting others is strength.

I have no idea how we fix this. I grew up believing that women were equal because they’d fought and won so many battles. Now I struggle to believe that genuine equality will be achieved in my lifetime. So yes, feminism matters.