Author Archives: fak

nine pic collage

2018 goals – running

All of the books about achieving your goals (running or otherwise) say that formalising, writing down, and telling people about them make you much more likely to succeed. 2017 was a pretty good year, running-wise (and my nine most liked instagram photos were all running related). I set PBs at 10k (40:35), half marathon (90:19) and marathon (3:31:19) distances, and ran my fastest ever 5k (19:25), albeit not on an officially measured course.

I’m hoping aiming to make 2018 even better (it’s certainly going to be more expensive, with 3 overseas races but at time of writing these have all been paid for). I have, as all of the books recommend, set myself A, B and C goals and organised my training around these.

My A races:

  • 22nd April 2018 – London Marathon. I set a big PB in 2017 despite hot conditions and this year I am aiming even higher and training to go sub 3 hrs 20.
  • 16th September 2018 – Berlin Marathon. If London goes well (and even if it doesn’t, so long as I don’t injure myself in training) I am going to train and aim for a sub 3 hr 15 marathon, the championship time for London. In the past I have increased speed over the summer when taking in more rays, so expect this to be true again. Berlin is also notorious as a PB course unlike London with its crowded streets.

My B races:

  • 4th March 2018 – London Big Half Marathon. I didn’t quite manage to get my sub-90 last year, so I’m going to have one more go at the London Big Half as part of my London marathon prep. I am sure that there will be other half marathons scattered throughout the year (indeed one of them is one of my C races) but this will be the first targeted attempt at the sub-90.
  • 7th October 2018 – Chicago marathon. This comes just 3 weeks after Berlin so I won’t be racing it as such, but it is an Abbott World Marathon Major so just attempting to complete it marks it down as a B race. It will be great to see how the city has changed since I was last there in 2003 and if I come out of Berlin OK I think I might be able to manage around 4 hours (but really the aim is just to finish, as a victory lap for the year).

My C races:

  • 11th March 2018 – Lisbon Half Marathon. This is a week after the London Big Half, but was booked in beforehand and is a bit of a jolly with some other Bristol runners. Now that I have set the previous week’s half as a B race this will likely be more of a training run, but it will be my first overseas race.
  • The remaining Weston Prom 5 mile races. I should be able to keep these fairly competitive as marathon tempo runs (with warm ups and cool downs) within my marathon training, to help out with whichever club team I am on (I think it is ‘Bristol & West South Westerlies’).

I would also like to set new 10k and 5k PBs but have not factored them into my existing plans (I get a week or so off after London before starting training again for Berlin) so they will have to be as a consequence of my marathon training if they come rather than anything specifically tailored towards those distances. As such I have not booked any races of this length into my diary yet. I am sure more races will be added during the year (such as the Bristol & West 5k series and the GWR 10k series) but I won’t be adding any more A races, two marathons in a year is plenty to focus on.

TMI – menstrual cups – part 2

Following on from last month’s post where I blogged about the issues I encountered the first time out trying to switch over to using menstrual cups, prepare yourself for more information of the TMI nature.

This month I had received my delivery of slightly longer menstrual cups (MeLuna brand again) with ring stems that allowed a cotton cord to be attached, replicating a tampon to aid with removal.

First time out with new, longer, cup I did use the cotton thread and found it significantly easier to bring the cup down to a level where I was able to grasp the bottom of the cup and give it a squeeze to break the seal and remove it. No rummaging, deep squatting, or hot baths required. I got that cup out first time without having to move from my position on the toilet. Hallelujah!

Feeling bold I decided to dispense with the cord and found that the ring stem (which was 2mm longer than the ball stem) made it much easier to wiggle the cup down to a grabbable position. I could even get a fingernail inside the ring for extra ‘tug’.

I tried two different stiffnesses of material this month, starting with the Klassik regular stiffness, then also trying the Soft to see if it made any difference to using the cup. With the softer (yellow) cup I did find more of an issue with getting the cup to open, so switched to using the labia fold which allows you to push the rim of the cup up into position if it does not open on its own.

Labia fold

So happy was I with the ease of use of the MeLuna large with ring stem that I bought myself another in the stiffer Sport option. It didn’t arrive in time for use this time, but I am hoping that it will be my ‘Goldilocks’ cup in terms of length and stiffness. It even came in gold glitter.

Just after this latest period of menstrual cup use (see what I did there) I was in for my regularly scheduled smear test (yes I know cervical screenings are done with liquid-based cytology now, but it will always be a ‘smear test’ to me), so took the opportunity to ask the nurse about the relative height of my cervix. She let me know that it wasn’t especially high or low (though was off to one side a bit), so next time round in addition to trying out the new glittery cup I will have another go with the medium length ball stem cups I tried the first time out and see if experience (and getting over the fear factor) can bring them into a regular rotation of use.

I’m feeling really confident and happy that I will be able to use menstrual cups going forwards and reduce the amount of waste being generated with this monthly phenomenon.

ETA: Just after posting this I got the results of my (not a smear) smear test by text – no action required. I was told to expect results in 2-3 weeks, but this was just 4 days later. Well done, NHS.

TMI – menstrual cups – part 1

Right, straight up you are getting the warning that this post is likely to be full of too much information for you. So if you’re going to get squicked out by the very thought of menstrual cups, discussions of consistency of discharge, or the use of the word ‘rummage’, I’d just click away now, because there is going to be a lot of it due to the nature of the topic.

Disclaimer out to the way, I’m a bit of a hippy (what the solar panels and electric car didn’t givce it away?), but I have always used tampons when menstruating. I find them easy to use and they mean that I don’t have to look at anything, just give that cord a pull and try not to think about it. No fuss, no muss. It being zero waste week (apparently) is the perfect opportunity to talk about my recent foray into using menstrual cups as an alternative to tampons.

I have a lot of friends who have been raving about their menstrual cups over the last few years, but I have issues with blood (probably due to some childhood trauma I’ve blocked out, certainly my mother telling me, in great detail, the best ways to slit your wrists didn’t help) and so I’ve always dismissed using them, figuring that I would be too squicked out by the whole process.

I decided that it was finally time to confront the issue and at least give it a go, as I don’t like the amount of waste generated (but am not bothered about monitoring volume or consistency or any of that, so no need for the Loon cup). I’ve never been told by the nurse during smear tests that I have a high or low cervix, so decided to go for a medium sized cup and settled on a couple of MeLuna cups (with ball stems), and a Yuuki (they might want to consider renaming that for an English speaking market, a bit too close to ‘yucky’).

The different colours are different hardnesses of cup, as I exercise a lot everything I read told me that I should use a slightly firmer cup (the Yuuki is also considered one of the firmer cups) so that my internal muscles didn’t squash the cup flat and render it useless.

I watched a lot of videos during my research, I particularly liked those by Bryony Farmer (because it’s always good having someone 20 years your junior school you on your body) and Put A Cup In It. I also did not shy away from videos about things that could go wrong, such as this one below:

So when the time came I was pretty happy that I knew what I should do in terms of insertion and removal, as well as a whole range of different folds to try out. I started with the MeLuna classic (in medium) and thought I’d get all fancy with the origami fold as this gives the smallest tip size for insertion:

Everything went in alright, but I wasn’t sure that the cup had opened up, and after about an hour I decided to try removing it. Now insertion is (for me at least) a whole lot easier than removal. You’re putting in something all folded up that is going to pop open during insertion, but on the way back out it’s a whole different story.

It quickly became obvious that I wasn’t going to get this out whilst sat on the toilet (preferred location for obvious reasons since any collected discharge could then be tipped straight into the pan), so I followed the instructions I have watched about squatting to help bring the cup down and eventually managed to wrestle it out.

I say wrestle because whilst my cervix may not be especially high (as far as I know), my thumb seems to be disproportionally short (which came up when I first got a runbell). This means that getting a grip on the base of the cup to be able to squeeze it (and ‘break the seal’) was tricky, even with the squatting and the bearing down (how do you bear down and relax at the same time, anyway?).

In order to get a grip, I had to insert my thumb and forefinger deeper than I would have ideally liked, and as you can see the pinching action creates quite a large width between the knuckles:

Undaunted, I washed out the cup (I had sterilised them all before first use, as recommended) and decided to try the Yuuki next as it had a longer stem which I thought might be easier to use to wiggle down the cup before gripping it for removal. This time I went for the punchdown fold and I could feel that it had opened up (which was a relief).

I also adjusted my angle of insertion, which I found out during more video research should be more horizontal than you would use for a tampon. Everything felt fine, so I got on with my day. I couldn’t feel the stem or any other part of the cup, so all was well.

When it came to removing the cup after about 10 hours (you can leave them in for up to 12 and I decided that leaving it a decent amount of time would give the cup a chance to fill up and the weight would bring it down closer for the grabbing), it did not want to come out. Or rather I could not get a grip on the damned thing. The stem was longer, but unlike with the MeLuna where the ball stem was rigid the Yuuki stem was stretchy, so pulling didn’t really do anything other than stretch it out. Squatting didn’t do squat, and things were getting tender from all of the rummaging around (which my body isn’t used to) so I resorted to a nice hot bath to relax and lubricate everything. Eventually I managed to extract the cup, which had some clumpy clots in it but not much more (I am on hormonal birth control so my monthly uterine eviction is lighter than someone not on birth control), and took a 12 hour break to let my lady parts recover.

I still wasn’t going to give up and decided to bring out the MeLuna sport, which was the firmest of the three cups I had, on the basis that a firmer cup might be easier to get a grip on and as I had already experienced that the ball stem was firm and did not stretch. I went with the punchdown fold again and felt a definite pop on insertion, checking with a finger that it had opened up. Removal was easier than with the Yuuki, but still required squatting and a certain amount of rummaging. I still wouldn’t call it ‘easy’, but I was aware that when I embarked on this journey there would be a certain amount of learning curve involved. Removal was helped by instead of trying to squeeze the base of the cup and twist to break the seal, instead punching the cup down whilst it was still in place (trying to c-fold it didn’t work, it just scooted around inside) as recommended here:

I wasn’t thrilled by the amount of rummaging involved, not from a getting blood on myself point of view (if you’ve inserted the cup correctly all of the blood is on the inside of the cup away from your fingers), but more from a tenderness position, so I decided to try out some longer cups on my next cycle. I decided to buy a couple more MeLuna cups (in even more colours, because why not and then you can easily tell them apart), this time with ring stems which can be used with a special little tool for insertion and removal, or have cotton cord threaded through them to help with extraction.

I also decided to get them in softer materials to see if that made it easier to break the seal. They arrived yesterday, so I will see how they perform on my next cycle. As you can see they are longer than the other cups:

A quick comparison of a medium and a long MeLuna cup when gripping the base to give an idea of the improved reach:

Hopefully that extra few mm will make for an easier removal while I am still learning to use the cups and I anticipate being able to use the medium and large length cups once I get the knack of it all. All that’s needed now is to wait a few weeks until my cycle comes back round again, then you can be treated to even more too much information.

Walking the environmental high wire

I’m a bit of a hippy. It’s no secret. I juggle, I have multiple pairs of harem trousers, and am currently sporting an undercut. I’m also a bit of a capitalist though, so when I installed solar panels on my house in 2014 it ticked the boxes of reducing my carbon footprint (over the lifetime of the panels, there is obviously an environmental cost in the production of the panels just as with my electric car) and being a sound investment.

The cost of battery storage solutions has come down since my original install and with the launch of the Tesla Powerwall 2 I figured I had better revisit the situation and see what was up. I have a 1.96kW PV install, and over a year I generate on average 5.4kWh a day, of which I export 4.1kWh (though the feed-in-tariff assumes I only export 50% I actually export around 76%). I obviously also have to import electricity on those occasions when the sun is not hitting the panels hard enough (so, at night), which I currently do from Ecotricity (a bit more costly, but they generate from renewables themselves and it gives me access to their rapid chargers for my car).

So I fired off a couple of enquiry emails to local installers of battery storage systems and received responses the same day (good customer service there). The second company just pointed me at their twitter and facebook pages and didn’t give me any idea of an installation cost (which is what I had enquired about, points lost there), but the first company Ecocetera sent me back a considered reply (within a couple of hours) specific to my install. They included a summary of the different battery storage systems available in terms of both capacity and cost per kWh over the expected lifetime of the battery. They also included cost estimates including labour and delivery (what I had asked for).

They also prompted me to think about how much spare capacity I had to charge a battery, on how many days per year. All of the battery storage solutions assume the ability to charge on 250 days of the year, so I downloaded the numbers from my install and started crunching. For my specific install I probably wouldn’t be able to keep a larger battery like the Powerwall sufficiently charged up (which isn’t good for the battery), so I would be a looking at a smaller capacity battery. Unfortunately the smaller the battery, the higher the cost per kWh (there are a lot of additional gubbins that go along with the battery to manage it, so it’s not just the cost of the physical battery that goes into the overall cost).

All of this number crunching led me to conclude that given there is an environmental cost in the creation of any battery storage system, it actually makes both environmental and financial sense not to add battery storage to my existing PV system. Instead I will keep buying in electricity from renewable sources, keep trying to use as much of my excess solar during the day (luckily I am in a position to run high-drain items such as the washing machine and dishwasher, and charge my car then), and keep investing in green energy projects locally. It also means I don’t have to worry about where to put a physical battery, as well as saving me some money to put towards my Tesla Model 3.

Week 19, day 7 (T-0) – London Marathon

The London Marathon was finally here, after a lot of training, and the forecast was for cloud cover and middling temperatures (12-14ÂșC). After the train journey and walk to the green start (which was a fair hike up a not inconsequential hill) it was clear that it wasn’t going to stay that way and it was time to crack the sunglasses out. After dropping the bags at the lorry Jane and I stood in a queue for the portaloos which took up all of the time before it was necessary to get into the start pens.

The 3:30 pacer was in a pen ahead of me, so I took note of the time I crossed the start line (3 minutes 10 seconds after the start) and headed off. Given that the pens are supposed to be divided up by expected pace I was surprised at home many runners appeared to have zero spatial awareness (something that became a recurring theme over the race) and I was cut up left right and centre. In a way this was good because it prevented me going off too fast, but it was using up energy having to stop and start and go for gaps when then came up.

Before hardly any time at all we merged with the blue start where the road was a little wider but it was still hard to get any space to run into. At around 3 miles we joined up with the red a start and hit the first water station, with more carnage as people veered steeply across other runners to get to the water (again a feature throughout the race).

I was happy with my pace through the first 24km or so, it was putting me nicely on target for sub 3:30, but the sun was getting hotter and as we entered the Isle of Dogs the screaming from the supporters was echoing off the buildings and making me feel quite ill. It didn’t help that I seemed to be keeping pace with a Guinness World Record attempt of a two-man Jamaican bobsled, which was attracting a lot of attention. The buildings there meant that you couldn’t trust your GPS to give a true reading of your pace, and I dropped off a little as I went through the toughest miles in terms of there not being much to look at and it being too far out to really start counting down to the finish. I started to struggle to take on any gels, managing a mouthful but not being able to stomach the rest in the heat, but took on water at every station (and still ended up with great salty deposits from how much I was sweating, you do not want to know the colour of my pee when I finished).

There were some nasty inclines and hairpins to get you back headed in the right direction and as I hit the embankment I knew it was going to be close as to whether I would get sub 3:30. I would need to pick up to my planned marathon pace. I gave it all I had, but when I went through 25 miles I knew it would be a stretch. When the 1km to go marker came I knew it was over, but still pushed on to finish as well as I could. My official provisional time was 3:31:19, which is still a massive PB and good-for-age for next year. Apparently it put me in 6549th overall, 918th lady, and 562nd in my age category.

Thank you to everyone who sent message of support, or who supported me through my training, as well as those who came along to cheer (sorry I didn’t spot you Sam).

Week 19, day 6 (T-1) – Mile End parkrun

A final jog out before the big one tomorrow, after a bit of a hike out to Mile End (we were all following Alison who thought someone would yell if she was going the wrong way, we all assumed she knew the way), a rather crowded bit of parkrun tourism. Last week they had under 200 runners, this week they had over 400. I managed to sneak in to get one of the final proper position tokens in 246 having taken it reasonably steady (the downhill’s were fun).

I’m feeling good ahead of tomorrow’s race. I have done the training and now we just have to see what happens on the day. I’ve set myself 3 times that I would be varying levels of happy with:

Bronze: 3:44:59 – this would be qualification for London next year as good for age for my age category.
Silver: 3:40:20 – this would be a new marathon pb (my previous time being 3:40:21).
Gold: 3:29:59 – I’ve been training to go sub 3:30, so anything under that pace would be great. If I feel good and have the opportunity to push on towards the end of the race then I will, but realistically you can’t make up too much time over the last 5-6 miles and I’m more likely to be working on holding to pace than be able to increase it.

It should be fun, I’m nervous obviously (a marathon is always a huge challenge), but excited more than nervous and I have done all of the preparation asked of me. What happens on the day happens (good or bad). For anyone wanting to track me, I am number 30917.

Week 19, day 4 (T-3) – easy 30 minutes by the river

My final run in Bristol as I head off for London tomorrow morning. Just a gentle 30 minutes to keep the legs ticking over. I picked the flatest bit of Bristol I know (apart from the getting there and back), the track alongside the river Avon (not in it as the GPS suggests). Remarkably low on the duck count this morning, but high on the bluebell front. Not long now.

Week 19, day 2 (T-5) – final threshold run

I spent yesterday afternoon following the Boston marathon via twitter and their app, cheering on friends who were tackling the course in some nasty high temperatures. I think that left me a little bit emotionally drained for this morning’s final threshold session as my first rep was terrible (4:47 min/km though it was uphill and the GAP was 4:25 min/km).

The second and third reps picked it up to more respectable paces 4:34 and 4:20 min/km as I revelled in the bright sunshine but cool temperatures. That would do me just fine for Sunday. Just a couple of gentle jogs left now to keep the legs turning over (and stretching, lots of stretching).

Week 18, day 7 (T-7) – final dress run

The final long run a week out from the big one and a last chance to test out all of the kit, including eating what I intend to and starting at about the same time. This was just 50 minutes of marathon pace after a quick 10 minute warm up and followed by a 10 minute cool down.

It was just enough time to squeeze in the 10k version of the Zombies, Run! spring race, which was confused by Staple Hill tunnel again, but which awarded me a time of 48:13 for the race portion of the mission. I also managed to finish off the rest of the 5k mission (the race part was already over), so I can open up my goodies now and hang my medal.

Trying not to think about next week too much now, I have put the training in but don’t want to get over anxious or over excited before I cross that start line and see what I can do. Fingers crossed the weather holds much as it has been today, not too hot.

Week 18, day 6 (T-8) – post-parkrun pootle

I was RD1 at Ashton Court this morning, which featured TV and radio as well as an incident to report (all well, just overdoing it on the hill), so had to do my 30 minutes of easy running after parkrun and after processing the results.

The cloud had cleared by this time, though it was still a little chilly, but I got to crack out the sunglasses for a gentle run along the riverside. I maybe shouldn’t have used my marathon playlist as I went out a little fast (plus the extra adrenaline from being RD), but settled down into a nice rhythm once I hit the flat. One more parkrun to go!