Sunday, 19 July 2015

Confessions of a reluctant runner:

Now here's a blog post I never, ever, EVER thought I would be writing...

I have a confession to make, and it's something I've been keeping secret for the last three months. I've started running. For fun.

If you know me personally you'd be forgiven for letting out a little (or maybe even big) snort of laughter after reading that last sentence. I haven't been posting Instagram photos of my trainers or tweeting about my progress. I haven't even told my parents yet (don't be offended, guys). It might sound silly, but I've kept it so quiet because with my track record I knew nobody would believe I could keep it up. I needed to prove to myself that I could start running and stick to it before I could prove it to anyone else.

I hate exercise, and I always have. I'm usually a complainer and a quitter when it comes to anything physically demanding. I've joined a gym twice in my life and can count on two hands the number of times I actually went and did a meaningful workout.

Around the end of last year I tried to go swimming at my local pool because it's an 'easy' form of exercise. I endured ten minutes of flailing around in the water before I realised I had forgotten everything I learned in Standard Grade PE, sheepishly retreated into the changing room and never went back.

It's horrible to realise that you're completely unfit in your mid-twenties. Not significantly overweight, but 'skinny fat' as they call it. I didn't want to lose weight, I just wanted to feel less self-conscious about my flabby tummy, where all the sugary treats I can't resist instantly go after I eat them. I wanted to stop being out of breath walking up the stairs at work I used to jog up without a second thought. I wanted to be less tired all the time.

But I hate the gym. It's not for me, and I know that now. Being stuck in a sweaty box staring longingly out of the window while trying not to fall off an exercise machine-cum-medieval torture device is not my jam. By the time I had packed up my gym bag and made the half hour trip to the gym I was so unmotivated to exercise that (full disclosure, guys) on more than one occasion I just turned round and went straight home again.

So back in April I decided that I wanted to give running a try. Not running on a  treadmill. Not running with a friend or a personal trainer. Just me, pounding the pavement in search of that euphoric mental state that many far superior runners call 'The Zone'. But I had never run before, aside from sports day. I was undoubtedly the most unfit I'd ever been in my life and there was no way I could just lace up my trainers and nip out for a half hour jog. I knew I had to start from rock bottom and - oh, boy - was it rock bottom.

My secret weapon:

Source: here

My most sensible decision was downloading the NHS Couch to 5k running app on my phone, which is free and - although not the most flawless piece of software - really worked for me. The aim of the game is to run three times a week for 9 weeks with this app, building up your fitness through interval training until finally you'll be running for 30 minutes non-stop, covering at least 5k. As well as charting your progress, the app has a built in podcast recorded by 'Laura', who times your runs and shares words of wisdom and encouragement to motivate you while you sweat your bum off. Sounds kind of lame? Yes. Totally works? Also yes.


Source: here

The first couple of weeks were the hardest, when running for 60 or 90 second spurts was unbearably difficult and doing so eight or so times in one session was nearly enough to kill me. At first I was running in a pair of cheap, old trainers I'd bought when I joined my uni gym back in Dundee, and they absolutely killed my feet and ankles. Once I had kept up with my training for three or four consistent weeks, I decided it was time to upgrade.

As a lot of people will tell you, decent and supportive shoes are the most important things you can buy as a runner. Since I was running on the hard pavement most of the time, and could already feel I needed extra support in my arches and ankles, I chose the Nike Air Zoom Structure 18.

The shoes weren't cheap, but since I bought the rest of my running gear cheaply at H&M (or already owned it) I figured I could justify the splurge. Running is bad for your knees, back, feet and everything else - I know that - but spending a little more money on your trainers gives you a better chance of avoiding longterm ill effects. Even if this pair only last me a year before they become worn out, I will definitely have got my money's worth by running a few times each week.

It wasn't all smooth sailing with the Nikes though, and at first I thought I'd made a bad decision when they took a few weeks to properly break in. I had crippling ankle pain, which I self-diagnosed via Google as tendonitis. But - and maybe this was stupid - I really didn't want to stop. I was making progress. I had managed to run for 8 minutes without stopping. Um, what? Is this Alex Watson or Paula Radcliffe you're talking to?

And suddenly, just as I was thinking that I'd need to go back to the footwear drawing board, my Nikes stopped punishing me. It's like I had earned their trust, and now they were going to be my loyal friends for life. They were the best and most comfortable purchase I'd ever made. Running in them still feels like running on a cloud, and I haven't had any ankle pain whatsoever since.

And it was lucky that the pain stopped, because then shiz got real. After a few 10 minute runs with a little rest inbetween, suddenly Laura wanted me to run for 25 minutes without stopping. Was she insane? Yes. Did I hate her? Yes. Did I manage it? Absolutely, yes.

Physical health:

Source: here

The thing is that - as the app keeps telling you over and over - once you've got your base fitness back up, your ability to run long distances is purely a mental issue. I'm a quitter, but I'm also stubborn as hell and I wanted to complete this running challenge properly. 

If I ever had to stop running during a longer stint (which happened a couple of times early on) I treated that run as a practice and did the full run again later that week. I ain't no cheater. It was my brain telling me to stop, not my body, and I knew that because after a few weeks of running - provided I stretched once I got home - my muscles weren't even sore the next day. My body was fit again, but my brain was holding it back.

I learned what worked for me. I can't run easily in the morning. I'm much more likely to complete a run if I go in the evening. I get very warm while running and definitely don't need to be wearing anymore than a vest top when it's more than 12 degrees outside. Music drowns out my hideous breathing and motivates me to keep going, and - although the volume jumps around quite a lot - you can play music on your phone, even through Spotify, while the Couch to 5k app is still running in the background.

I don't care what anyone thinks when they see me out running like I thought I might, because I'm too focussed on not dying and just getting home again. Plus, if I see someone out running I always applaud them internally for getting out there and working hard.

Mental health:

Source: here

I don't think I've ever really reached The Zone while running yet and maybe I never will, but it's definitely been good for my mental state. I'm a classic over-thinker, always making to do lists so that I don't forget anything, and then worrying that I've forgotten something anyway. Even if I've had the busiest day and my brain is bursting with worries, I can't stress out when I'm running. 

After a while all I'm thinking about is breathing in and out and how I'm going to keep going for the next 20 minutes when I'm already sweating. My body started to tone up after a few weeks as a result of the running and I started to look a bit better and feel better about myself. Plus there are the endorphins which I had been missing out on for a long time by not doing any exercise. In general I'd say that (contrary to popular belief) running will make you happier.

And finally...

I hope this post hasn't come across as preachy because I'm nowhere near an expert. I only just completed the 9 week programme today after stops and starts for holidays and illness. I still love (and eat a lot of) cake. I still want to die halfway through my runs. But my main message here is that total cliché which - in my case - is absolutely true. If I can do it, anybody can do it.

Believe it or not, it's easier to run non-stop for 30 minutes than it is to stop and start like you do in your early interval training. And what a sense of achievement! If my PE teachers could see me now...

So try it. The Couch to 5k app really worked for me, but there are plenty of others out there. Next I'm planning to try the 'Zombies, Run' podcast, which turns your run into a creepy-fun zombie escape game.

Are you a runner, or thinking about becoming one?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Dubrovnik, Croatia:

It's been a while now since my last holiday to the USA back in October, and just as long since I got to completely switch off from work, the internet and the everyday stresses that seem to bother me much more than they should.

Luckily, Craig and I were able to escape for a few (extremely hot) days to Dubrovnik in Croatia earlier this month. We walked until we had blisters and I felt like a sweaty mess most of the time in the humid 25-30 degree heat, but it was a stunning place and I loved the novelty of wearing shorts all the time. Imagine the complete opposite of your usual Scottish summer weather, and that's what we got.

Anyway, here are a few snaps of the Dubrovnik old town (where some of Game of Thrones was filmed), Lokrum Island and us being dorks. My top tip for anyone else visiting would be to check out sea food street food restaurant Barba, where we had an amazing octopus burger.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Instagram #32:

I thought I'd probably saved up enough photos to make another one of these worth it, so here we go! Strap yourself in for four months worth of Instagram memories...

1. Snowboarding for the first time ever on Valentine's Day with my lady love. (Craig was also there.)
2. The view at the top of a very snowy CairnGorm Mountain, taken after falling on my bum a lot while attempting to snowboard.
3. I've been taking a fair few domestic flights for work lately, so this has become a fairly standard sight in my life.

4. A truly wonderful burger at The Breakfast Club in Soho, London. I forced two of my work friends to travel on the Tube for an hour each way just to eat here, and it was totally worth it!
5. A dorky morning selfie, but I guess I felt good that day, so why not?
6. There's pretty much always cake at WOW247 meetings, and this time it came on Toy Story plates. Awesome, right?

7. Celebrating my oldest and best friend's birthday in March with a meal at my home from home, Burger Meats Bun.
8. My glorious usual at BMB: the Big Cheese and cheesy chips.
9. Another (perhaps unnecessary) selfie! I guess it was sunny that day, what with the sunglasses and all.

10. Craig's Easter basket, complete with a chocolate 'egg sandwich', Community mug and  - of course - Easter chicks.
11. My amazing Mary's Milk Bar Easter egg from Craig.
12. A photo in my Grandad's album (from August 1963) of the first Forth Road Bridge half built.

13. Irn Bru flavoured cider (discovered in Carlisle, of all places) called Clan MacFannie. Stay classy!
14. Me and the brother of the bride at his sister's lovely vintage-themed wedding. I could've been a '40s war wife, for sure.
15. The sun setting on one of many flights back to Edinburgh.

16. Attempting to juggle journalism and eating/drinking is not always the easiest, but as long as there's one hand free for my G&T...
17. A new decal for my laptop - I love it!
18. Home made salad niçoise, with smoked salmon instead of tuna. Yum! (And, yes, I actually prepared it myself...)

19. I got a complimentary postcard with my cocktail at Slighhouse on George IV Bridge.
20. I volunteered myself to DJ at my sister's flat warming, armed with Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire and way, way too much prosecco. Oops.
21. Visiting with my friends' new cockapoo puppy, and brand new love of my life.

22. Another shot of little baby Chumbo.
23. Indoor fireworks at a lovely wedding in the George Hotel.

25. Craig, me and our toothy smiles at the aforementioned wedding.
26. A delicious burger on my first visit to Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow. (I'm sorry Burger Meats Bun, please forgive me!)
27. Making new furry friends at Tchai-Ovna in Glasgow this weekend.

28. More burgers (at Nice 'N' Sleazy this time) with my best burger boys, Craig and Steven.
29. And my chosen Nice 'N' Sleazy burger, the Lucretia - delicious!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Inferior Book Group #12:

Let's ignore the fact that I haven't written a blog post in two months and just jump right back into it, okay? Okay.

I recently finished reading Tina Fey's 2011 autobiography Bossypants and - as with most non-fiction books - I whizzed through it. I've been a casual admirer of Tina Fey and her work for a while now. I'd be surprised if you haven't heard of Tina before but, just in case, you will probably recognise her as the unfortunate but well-meaning teacher Ms Norbury from Mean Girls.

Source: here

But here's the best bit - if you didn't know already - Tina Fey actually wrote Mean Girls herself. She also co-wrote and starred in US TV comedy institution Saturday Night Live for many years; created, wrote and starred in off the wall sitcom 30 Rock and - most recently - handcrafted one of the best written, most intelligent and hilarious TV shows I've seen in my life: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I myself knew all of this information before reading Bossypants, but somehow witnessing Tina Fey (very humbly) list all of these achievements one after the other made me realise exactly how much talent this incredible lady has, and just how much she's done with it.

Source: here

As you may be aware, Tina Fey and fellow SNL alum Amy Poehler are best friends in real life which is both amazing and awful. Amazing because they are (by all accounts) two of the sweetest and most hysterical ladies in comedy today, and I love imagining them making each other roll about laughing on the floor when they meet up for a cup of tea and a catch up. But awful because I've always felt that I needed to choose my favourite out of the two. Up until recently my love of Parks and Rec had me thinking I was firmly in Amy's camp, but Bossypants may just have shifted the balance. That's how brilliantly written this book is. Tina Fey should consider becoming a politician. (Although remember to ask me again where my loyalty lies after I've read Amy Poehler's autobiography.)

So, onto actually discussing the book. Back when I read fellow funny lady Mindy Kaling's autobiography in 2013, I wrote in my review that it felt like Mindy was chatting to me as though to a friend through the pages. I realise now that I was wrong. Compared to Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling speaks to her reader like a business acquaintance, or maybe her hairdresser - polite and really funny, but still ever so slightly guarded. 

Tina, on the other hand, lets it all out. She swears, she makes snide remarks, she shares gossip and doesn't skimp on the juicy details. Throughout the whole of Bossypants I felt like I was having my own rather surreal coffee shop catch up with Tina Fey. Move over, Amy Poehler.

The content of Bossypants is fairly standard for an autobiography. Tina's childhood, awkward teenage years, struggling artist stories and rise to fame are all chronicled - and it's all hilarious. Quite often the writing style reminded me of the way my friend Marianne (the Amy to my Tina and an extremely funny human being) talks, and I now realise that's because Tina Fey's comedic timing is absolutely flawless, even written down.

Source: here

Not to hate on Mindy Kaling unnecessarily (because I don't, she's great) but I remember finding the structure of her book to be particularly disjointed and jarring. Tina Fey has written what is in essence exactly the same book and it flows together beautifully. If you have the time you could easily read Bossypants in one sitting, but it isn't a throwaway book by any means.

If you're a fan of SNL or 30 Rock, you'll find out things you never knew about their creation by reading Bossypants. If you ever wondered why Tina Fey wanted to impersonate Sarah Palin repeatedly on live TV, you'll find out by reading Bossypants (vague spoiler: she didn't actually want to!). If you've never even heard of any of these new-fangled telly programmes and you haven't got a clue who Tina Fey is, you'll want to find out after reading Bossypants. That's how darn funny and good Tina Fey is.

I'm going to stop fan-girling about Tina Fey now (how many times have I written 'Tina Fey' in this blog post now?) but if you are a human person and enjoy laughing you should read this book. As long as you don't mind snorting out loud on public transport.

Amy Poehler's autobiography Yes Please will be appearing in one of these book group reviews soon, but to space out the funny ladies I'll be reading John Darnielle's novel Wolf in White Van next. You might know Darnielle better as frontman of the Mountain Goats. I love his lyrics, so am very much looking forward to reading his first novel.

Read my last review here: The New York Trilogy

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Instagram #31:

Well, I kind of thought that the end of January would be a pretty quiet time for me work-wise and I'd be twiddling my thumbs. It turns out that I'm busier than ever, hence the pathetically low number of Instagram photos I managed to take all month...

1. My tired face when I was drinking an airport coffee after getting up at 4am for my very first business trip.
2. A keep-sake from a 'Polaroid party' club night - in my head the pose made me look a lot cooler and a lot less chubby.
3. This is Guillame, a resident of Edinburgh's new cat café Maison de Moggy. I was allowed to film there for WOW247 just after it opened and you can watch the resulting video below! Best two hours of work ever.

4. A hilariously poorly taken panorama of the brilliant Supermoon playing at Henry's Cellar Bar.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Inferior Book Group #11:

Hello book friends and fiends! You may (quite understandably) assume that it took me nearly three whole months to read The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. Actually, I just completely failed at reading anything at all during most of November and December. When I finally got around to properly giving The New York Trilogy a go I was - to be completely honest - kind of dreading it. Because The New York Trilogy was critically acclaimed and a university course text I fully expected it to be a really difficult read, but it's actually one the most artfully written books I've read in a long time.

As I mentioned in my last Inferior Book Group post, this is a book I was assigned to read for a module on detective fiction during my final year of uni in Dundee. Don't tell my tutors, but I didn't read all of the books we were meant to read, and this was one of them. That being said, after uni was over and I sold a lot of my course texts, I still held onto my copy of The New York Trilogy because I had a feeling it would (eventually) be a story worth my time - and I'm pleased to say I was right.

The New York Trilogy is a series of of three novellas written between 1985 and 1986 that are now published together in one volume. The stories - City of GlassGhosts and The Locked Room - are very, very loosely linked in that you'll notice recurring character names and repeated themes, but otherwise they all stand alone.

Source: here

Without going into spoiler territory, each of the three tales is a pseudo-detective story which explores the fine line between an author and their characters. To make things even more confusing, Paul Auster even puts himself (or someone named after himself, who also happens to be a writer) into City of Glass as a peripheral character. And that odd turn of events really sets the mood for the whole trilogy.

In each novella Auster weaves an impressively perplexing mystery which I fully expected to be neatly explained by the final page. Maybe writing this is giving too much away, but nothing is explained. Nothing. Normally I would expect to get very frustrated with such a baffling book, but I couldn't fault Auster's writing style and after a certain point I couldn't put the book down.

In my opinion, to be able to write such a confusing yet compelling collection of stories - each one stranger, yet more interesting than the last - is a truly impressive achievement. The New York Trilogy doesn't feel dated or aged at all (to be honest, I didn't even realise it was written in the '80s until I had finished reading) and that's another indicator of the author's skill.

I would definitely read more of Paul Auster's work, and highly recommend The New York Trilogy to anyone - but prepare to be simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by these deliciously abstract stories.

During February I'll be reading the hilarious and totally inspiring Tina Fey's autobiography Bossypants. I get the feeling I'll whizz through this one, as her writing style is brilliantly funny and so easy to read.

Read October's review here: Orange is the New Black

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Instagram #30:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, friends! Sorry for my absence during most of December but - as I mentioned in this post - I have been pretty busy lately, and I very much enjoyed having some time off over the festive period. Here's what I got up to while I was gone:

1. Another amazing hand drawn Christmas card, made by my talented buddy Marianne.
2. I was lucky enough to lose spectacularly in this surprisingly intense spontaneous game of Scrabble on a trip to Dundee.
3. Our Christmas gator ballerina tree ornament made a new friend this year.

4. Craig and I did the obligatory couple photo on our fifth anniversary. We still (kind of) like each other really, don't worry.
5. Not only did Nicola give me the amazing Amy Poehler's book for Christmas, but she also wrapped it in paper with my own Instagram photos on it. How amazing is that?
6. Mossy proof that we spent Christmas in deepest, darkest Cumbria. There wasn't even any phone signal!

7. I was given this badass burger cushion by my lovely adopted cousin Anna for Christmas, which is now in pride of place on our bed. I can't express how much I love it!
8. Speaking of Amy Poehler's book - here it is alongside her pal Tina Fey's book and Lena Dunham's book! I got all three for Christmas, and I'm very excited to read them and write about them in future Inferior Book Group posts.
9. Some of my favourite adopted family in a Hogmanay group selfie that gives Ellen DeGeneres a run for her money. Right?

10. And finally: a charming 'Happy New Year!' photo we sent to all of our friends...