Parkrun and the blind

About a month ago, through the Guide Running UK website I met a VI runner online and we ran the Coventry Memorial Park parkun together which was my first guide running experience. This week I went to the Colwick parkrun as they had a special awareness day about guide running. I volunteered to run the course blindfolded so now I have experience from both sides.

Guide running can be different every time depending on the blind runner and the guide. Not all ‘blind runners’ are totally blind, some have peripheral, blurry or tunnel vision…this means not all of them will run tethered to their guide. Blind runners have different requirements about which side their guide is on, how long their tether is, when they want obstacles pointed out to them and what type of obstacles are most important.

Guides also have different abilities, even though someone can run a 5km course in 22 minutes, it would be difficult to maintain that pace because as a guide as you have to speak to your running partner throughout. Sometimes a guide will be slower than their running partner, and even though you must go at the blind runners pace, they will slow down if you ask them!

The main thing when you are guiding is definitely communication between the guide and the runner, both before, during and after your run.

  • Do you want to run a little faster? Tell your guide
  • Is there a child running in not a very straight line? Tell your runner
  • Does it feel like your shoelace is untied, but can’t see it? Ask your guide
  • Are they feeling up to a sprint finish? Ask your runner

These are all things that I’ve had to ask when guiding and being guided.

To some people guide running may seem really daunting, but it’s a great thing to do, and even if you just walk the course with a runner, it’s getting them out and doing something and the runners are always grateful for your time and company.

What I learnt today from being blindfolded was just how many things can affect your running and footing – running around tight bends, tree roots on the path, and especially a change of surface from gravel to grass to tarmac which is a really bizarre feeling.

How was it running blindfolded? Well at the beginning it took me a while to get my rhythm because it was a bit crowded and the noise of everybody’s feet hitting the floor made me feel like I was going to run on top of people’s feet. But when people spread out and there were wider paths I got my confidence and ran at a faster pace. I felt at the end I could have done another lap! I was surprised we overtook so many people and finished with a great time of 30:07, I’ll have to go back to Colwick to see what time I can get on that course without a blindfold, but 30 minutes is very respectable for my first effort.

Having a guide was obviously a BIG part of today, I wouldn’t have been able to even walk the course without Paul, so a bit shout out to him and all the other regular volunteer guide runners.

If you’re interested in running, guiding or even being a marshall at a parkrun, here are some useful websites

http://guiderunning.uk/
http://www.parkrun.org.uk/
http://www.ulearnathletics.com/qualification/299

 

 

 

 

Keeping it up

You study abroad, you learn a language and you promise to yourself and all the friends you met that you will keep the language up when you get home. You look up when the local language exchanges are and start thinking who you know in your city that speaks Spanish/Chinese/French etc…but in reality

It’s REALLY HARD to keep up a language when you’re not surrounded by it 24 hours a day.

When I left China I sent lots of Chinese books and magazines home, I subscribed to lots of Wechat accounts that regularly post in Chinese and said to myself that I would maintain my Chinese blog, to keep up my essay writing. Have I?

Not really.

Keeping up a language is probably harder than learning a language in the first place…even though you know the language, can get by and communicate with people in that language, when you leave that country, it’s hard to even have the same conversations.

For example a common conversation in China would be when the Didi driver called to ask where I was. This meant I got good at giving directions, explaining which road to turn down and learning the names of roads, supermarkets and schools to guide the driver and tell him where I was (even though I would always be at the spot I selected on the map and he has the map on his phone in front of him).

Switch back to living in the UK, and if I go to a language exchange, directions will probably never come up in conversation, and I’ll never say 你到底在哪儿? (where exactly are you?) in the same way again. So that vocabulary will gradually disappear and get pushed to the back of my mind.

I have read some wechat articles, and have posted one new blog post since coming back, but it’s not enough and I really feel I should be investing more time in my language skills, both Spanish AND Chinese.

How do you maintain your level of language when you’re not living in that language environment?

Double BOOKed

I never used to read more than one book at a time, but owning a Kindle has made that so much more practical than before, and to think I was so anti-e-books for so long when they first came on the scene!

I’m currently seriously reading 3 books (of course there are other books that I’m X% through, but haven’t opened them in a while)

  • Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler – The Art of Happiness
  • Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Kevin Kwan – Crazy Rich Girlfriend

The first two are an incredibly good book pairing. Reading them at the same time has given me different pieces of advice about the same kind of topic. When I read Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia (Louise Brown) , although the content was very interesting and gave me a lot to think about, it was very one sided. Not in the sense that I wanted to read something condoning trafficking, but in the sense that the writing style was a bit sloppy. Also, some things were exaggerated to an extent that I’d read some chapters and be left thinking there’s no hope and all men in the world are evil, it shed a very negative light on some countries and although it was a documentary on the bad aspects of the slave trade, there wasn’t that ray of hope at the end. It left me feeling quite sad and I wish I’d read it alongside another book that outlined the types of aid going towards combating trafficking in Asia, or showed how women got themselves out of those situations.

Anyway, I haven’t finished either The Art of Happiness nor How to Win Friends and Influence People yet, but I find they are complementary. They both give solid examples of how to lead a better life and be good, caring and compassionate towards others.

Which books do you think are a good pairing?

When China gets Tampons

If you haven’t heard, one of the big side stories of the Olympics is how Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui came out and told people she was on her period during her race. Chinese women  generally don’t use tampons like we do in the UK and USA. Chinese medicine and tradition also advises women to abstain from eating certain foods, drinking cold drinks, eating ice cream and even paddling in the sea, let alone go swimming or enter an Olympic swimming race whilst on their period. Weibo has gone wild, with people asking all sorts of questions about how she did it. Well, she swam with a tampon in.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an article to my friend about a Chinese entrepreneur who is launching the first domestic tampon brand. Foreign brands have tried, but it’s never really caught on. If last month you googled ‘tampons in China’, you’d probably only find expat blogs telling you to stockpile before you go, or some people telling you where you can find them, but little else, now the world has pricked up it’s ears and noticed this phenomena.

What I’m concerned about is the misuse of tampons. In some places in China, there are still photos glued to public toilet cubicles showing people how to (and how not to) use a ‘western toilet’ (not the squat type).

I can imagine some people placing them in wrong places, reusing them, leaving them in too long, going to the hospital to have them removed, trying to use two at a time, not removing the applicator, cutting off the string and all other sorts of damage and things NOT to do with a tampon. I’m also worried that other brands will develop different flavours of tampons, as they did with sanitary towels, dotted with a few drops of nice smelling fragrance is ok, but the mint ones? They are just wrong and awfully uncomfortable, even painful in my experience!

I really hope the brands that are producing tampons for China create good leaflets and campaigns telling people how to use them properly. Because if people don’t know how to or are uncomfortable using them now, they will just revert back to the 40cm pads. They will in turn never teach their children about correct tampon use and that will be it until the next person comes along and tries to win over a nation.

Now is China’s time to embrace a new product that will, in my opinion, benefit women who use it. When tampons are released, I hope the adverts do the product justice and are informative without losing that Chinese corny cute style like this one with the cute animated rabbits…(omg 42cm!!!)

 

And I had to include this video, advertising basically a nappy for women on their periods…what shocked me was probably the amount of men in the advert, not the fact that they all have sanitary towels on their heads!

Charity bookshelf bingo

I buy most of my books from charity shops (the rest I buy online). You can get the exact same books for a fraction of the RRP, help a charity and sometimes they’re brand new anyway. I used to rummage through the book sections trying to find a title that caught my eye, but now I have a proper reading list, now I tend to search for books on my list in charity shops, rather than finding random books.

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My two latest charity book buys – 2 for £1!

I used to volunteer in a charity shop, and I would always volunteer to put the books in alphabetical order. Here is a list of books I think you will always find in a charity shop, next time you go, see how many you can check off!

  • Steig Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
  • Cecilia Ahern – Ps. I Love You
  • E. L James – 50 Shades of Grey
  • Dan Brown – Angels and Demons
  • Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detectives Agency
  • Stephanie Meyer – Eclipse
  • Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Liza Klaussmann – Tigers in Red Weather
  • Adele Parks – The Other Woman’s Shoes
  • James Patterson – Cat & Mouse
  • Katie Price – Being Jordan
  • French phrasebook

 

Swimmers’ Coats

During these Olympic games, as with many others, swimming is one of the highlights for me. I like the excitement when half the field is separated by hundredths of seconds and you never know who will win going into the pool.

But what I always find amusing/confusing is the big coats that swimmers wear on poolside before they swim. I used to swim and at meets everyone was in their costume the whole time, maybe we’d put on a t-shirt but never the big jackets and trousers that top level swimmers wear.

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Just look at his huge padded coat!*

Swimming pools are really humid and even in winter, as a lifeguard I would wear shorts and just one t-shirt when on poolside, never a jacket because it gets so hot. These swimmers wear huge jackets, coats, trousers and trainers as if they’re going skiing!

I’m sure the coats have their purpose, to keep the swimmers’ muscles warm before they race as well as advertising for the brands that sponsor them, but you don’t see this in other sports like athletics.

What I also find strange is that when they take the coats off, they don’t even look hot. They never break out in a sweat. What do you think about the swimmers’ coats?

*Image source: http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Michael-Phelps-Prerace-Face-Memes-42192858

Strava Improvements

I love Strava, I’ve been using it for over a year now to track my cycling and running sessions and I can’t believe it took me so long to get into it! It records your movements by connecting with GPS and you can connect it to compete in segments (mini races on short stretches of roads) against your Facebook friends, running/cycling club and other athletes. But there are some things which I think would make Strava* even better.

‘GPS connected’ notification

When it’s sunny outside (which is often in summer), I go outside and can’t see the screen well because of the brightness, let alone the little GPS bars in the corner which you need to look at to see if you’re connected or not. If my phone could vibrate or beep to let me know when it’s connected to GPS, it would be good.

‘GPS lost’ notification

Ever been out and had a really amazing split for one of your runs (or a really bad one), then realise that mid-run, your GPS had dropped out and you didn’t notice? Just look at this map, I was doing circular laps on the running track but my GPS thought otherwise. Again, if there was a notification to say hold on a minute while we connect you to another GPS satellite, it would help a lot.

GPS dropped out
When your GPS isn’t connected and makes a really strange pattern!

Link heart rate data from Fitbits

I have a Fitbit that tracks my heart rate as well as all the other data, and you can link Strava with heart rate monitors to see your heart rate throughout your activities. But for some reason, Strava doesn’t link the data from my Fitbit.

Best effort since…

Sometimes you do a run or a segment and you know you won’t get a personal best on it because you’ve had an injury, moved country, are having a bad season or any other reason. So I think if you were able to add a significant event that affects your performance and then have a new set of times taking that into account it would be beneficial for people who can’t get those pb’s anymore. For example, with the pollution and conditions in China, I knew I wouldn’t get a pb on my 5km time very easily, so getting a ‘Best 5km time since moving to China’, that would be a great boost.

Extra voice notifications

When I ran in China, I heard other runners’ apps talking to them. While Strava says Distance 4km. Time 21 minutes, 43 seconds. Previous kilometre in 5 minutes, 12 seconds , the Chinese apps said all kinds of stuff!

You’ve just ran 5km, waheyyyy! You’ve ran 5km in 23 minutes and 24 seconds. You ran the last kilometre in 5 minutes 12 seconds. That’s faster than the last kilometre, keep going, you’re great!!

It was a much more personal notification and a lot more upbeat than the computerised Strava woman. There could be options as to whether you get the standard simple notifications, and then extra notifications which could be positive and motivating like the Chinese one, or even slightly negative to get you running faster. Imagine if your running app told you to pick your feet up, run faster or even told you that you’re slower than a turtle!

*I use Strava on a Samsung phone, Android operating system and have a free account

GeoPark Palm Sprint Tri

For the second year in a row, I entered the GeoPark Adventure triathlon. The race report for 2015’s Standard distance is here. The 2016 sprint is the first triathlon I’ve done in a year, and I was really looking forward to this race, only a couple of weeks after I’d landed back on British soil.

But unfortunately, this year I was quite disappointed with the event. It is a small event, but I feel it wasn’t organised as well as the previous year and there are still some issues that need addressing to make it even better next year. Most of this post will focus on those niggling errors, because this event has so much potential and I really want to be satisfied next year. It really is a great course and a fantastic triathlon to end the season with, especially when we have the weather to match.

Numbering: Numbers are always written on athlete’s bodies, but they were written on wrongly. Instead of being written on my shoulder and outer calf in a vertical direction (so people can read them) my numbers were written horizontally across my ankle and on the back of my hand. My gloves covered the number on my hand and nobody could read the number on my ankle. Let alone the people who wore compression socks for the run.

Swim: The buoys were a little small and not that easy to spot…also was this year’s swim too long or last year’s too short? As if you compare the times, there is a big difference! Last year the 750m was completed by most in 13-15mins, but this year the sea was calmer and it was 17-19mins for the ‘same distance’.

Bike: The no drafting rule, although important, could not be enforced for this course, before getting out onto the roads, there are lots of traffic lights and athletes do get caught at these and bunch up together at the lights. I saw some plenty of people drafting off others after junctions with lights. Also, it looked like some people did the whole course as a pair, swimming, cycling and running together…is this allowed?

Run: A lot of the parts on the run are narrow paths, and some places had a lot of overgrown thorns and bushes. If they could have been trimmed back a little, it would have been easier when passing athletes. If you need a volunteer to do this, get me a pair of scissors and I will do it!

Cheating: There was definitely some cheating going on in this race, whether intentional or not, there was someone who cut off a whole corner of the swim, and looking at the results, it seems that no penalties have been added. If you are local and know the roads, there are plenty of places where you could veer off and skip out sections of the course, including the big hill in Galmpton at the end. Although there were marshalls at the half way point of the run, there was nobody checking that when you ran down that last set of stairs, instead of running on to Broadsands, you didn’t just run straight back up again. It’s frustrating when you play by the rules, and you see others that don’t…and then realise they haven’t even been penalised for cheating.
“Goodie bag”: The goodie bag is usually one of the highlights of a race, although not everyone will admit to it, I look forward to seeing if I’ll get energy gels, cereal bars, bike wipes, porridge, vouchers or something else exciting…the race pack hyped this year’s goodie bag up up

Check out the Goodie Bags for a little something for the children or not, you if you get there first!

All finishers will receive a goodie bag, treats and souvenirs of the challenge you have completed. There is also a discount code exclusively for GeoPark Triathlon finishers to enter any other GeoPark Adventure events 2016

But when I crossed the line, I was handed a banana and a bottle of water, along with a rubbery medal on a plain green cord. I asked where the rest of the goodie bag was, and I was told they were cutting costs.

The most disappointing part was that later on Instagram, I looked up #geoparkadenture and found that the medals we got, that said GeoPark Adventure Triathlon 2016 were actually what seems like leftovers from the Torbay Triathlon they organised earlier in the year.

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Reused medals and incorrect hand numbering

The medal was a step up from the mug I got last year which has been lost somewhere at the back of the cupboard, but I feel I’ve been cheated a little by getting a medal that other people have for doing a totally different event.

I love the concept of the GeoPark Adventure events, they are tough, hilly but so rewarding when you get those amazing views across the bay. What’s even better is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to enter, but next year can we please have an actual goodie bag with treats and souvenirs as promised?

 

Oi oi – Harrassment

I’ve been sporty for a quite a few years now and I’d never really been heckled, harrassed, taunted etc whilst playing sports until a week or so ago. Sure in China I was stared at and people took photos of me when I was running because I would run on the roads, rather than just on the track but there was never any malice from anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out cycling with the Warwickshire Ladies Cycling Club and their pink cycling jerseys attracted a bit of attention when cycling on some of the roads around Binley. (I say it was the pink jerseys, but it could have been anything).

We got shouted at twice, once was “Oi oi sexy!” from some young lads in a polo and the second was a long and slow “Ohhhh myyyy Godddd”, as the car slowed down and drove past us, several men peered their heads out of the window to stare at us.

It’s just ridiculous how this happens and I asked the women if it happened regularly, one lady said not usually, but it is something that happens. Then I asked one of my male cyclist friends if he ever receives any similar treatment, he says he gets shouted and beeped at, but nobody ever calls him sexy which is something only women seem subject to.

Nobody’s ever shouted at me when I’ve been out cycling or running on my own (only when in a group), but I have heard stories from (female) friends who have either been told to ‘run faster’ or ‘get a move on’ or have been complimented on their ‘nice legs’. And this is harrassment. There’s no doubt about it.

No wonder there’s so few women out on the roads. No wonder it’s so hard for me to buy a women’s cycling jersey in sports shops. No wonder there’s just a ‘Women’s bikes’ section with 8 bikes for sale, compared to ‘Mens Hybrid bikes’, ‘Mens Road bikes’, ‘Mens Mountain bikes’ sections which have 8 bikes each.

Sure there are plenty of groups, clubs and rides specifically for women, but at the same time, I’m sure with a quick search on google, I could find sites and forums that either troll female cyclists for their cycling abilities and/or fetishize female cyclists for their bodies. Let’s just look at this.

Pretty different, don’t you think? Male cyclists are associated with Olympics, winning and medals, whereas the female cyclists and associated with death, disqualification, mistakes and their bodies. (I wonder why ‘presents for female cyclists’ came up and what presents are suggested)

Cyclists in general do get a lot of abuse from motorists on the road, regardless of gender, that is definitely true and should not be ignored, but I feel it is women who are more vulnerable to gender-based abuse and harrassment. It’s the same for female motorists, who have a lot of stick for ‘bad driving’, right? Road users should respect each other, no matter which vehicle they’re using and no matter what their gender is. Let’s stop harrassing each other.

The Power of Pockets

A lot of people don’t recognise the value and importance of pockets in clothes. In fact, around half of the population just expect their jackets, whether casual or formal, to have deep inside pockets perfect for slipping your phone, keys and wallet inside. Yes guys, I’m talking about you.

Women’s jackets, jeans, dresses and skirts rarely have good functional pockets. We often even have to endure sewn on flaps of fabric so from a distance it looks like we’ve got pockets…but actually we don’t.

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Fake pockets

So why do women need pockets when they’re always carrying handbags? Did it ever occur to anyone that the reason we always carry handbags is because the pockets in our clothes aren’t good enough?

For me, it’s not that I have loads of things to carry around with me. My phone, a small purse, my keys and a pack of tissues are the absolute essentials I take out with me but my pockets are never big enough, deep enough or there’s simply not enough of them to allow me to go out without a bag.

Then because you’re already carrying a bag, you find yourself adding other things that you don’t necessarily need (but might do): a power pack, kindle or book, makeup, a scarf, pen and paper, hair clips, snacks, bottle of water, 3 different types of lipstick etc. This just becomes a habit from when we’re younger and before we know it, our handbags weigh 2kg, the same weight as a small dog.

In China, many men carry their girlfriend’s handbags for them, and at first I thought this was strange and OTT, even 娘, but now I think why shouldn’t men carry women’s handbags from time to time? Handbags are useful and beautiful and all the rest, but constantly carrying one is bad for posture, can affect your balance and you then have to carry other people’s things inside (can I put this bottle of water in your bag please?) making them even heavier.

So is there a solution? I personally don’t see the trend changing any time soon, the fashion industry is doing just fine, with or without giving women good pockets. If you’re a woman and really desire a big, deep pocketed coat, you could always buy a small men’s jacket (which would probably work out cheaper and last longer too), but besides that, I see no other way to fulfil my pocket wishes.