motivation · winter

In a slump

In autumn 2018, I was all abuzz with advice on how to keep up fitness momentum during the shorter days. It also wasn’t a problem for me last autumn, although a small operation on my hyperactive parathyroid kept me off the streets for some time. But now, reader, with what feels like interminable darkness, greyness and rain, I am in a slump.

I have always struggled more towards the end of winter than at the beginning. For a lot of people, November is a really hard month. Or January (so long!). For me, it’s February. It’s short, but for me it’s the four weeks by which winter is too long. Come March, I can tell myself that things are looking up, the days are longer, and if you’re lucky you can get some decent spring weather already. But not in February. Oh no. February is blech.

Low-hanging clouds in a grey sky over a forest. This is more or less what our winter has looked like, except the trees also had no leaves, so it has been even more grim.
Photo by Julian Ebert on Unsplash

The weather has been especially unhelpful this year: in this part of the world, the winter has been unseasonably warm, i.e. somewhere around 10 C most of the time, and rather wet. Actually, this is quite normal February weather around here, but we’ve had it since December now. Meteorologically speaking, it has been my least favourite month of the year for two and a half months. It’s cold enough to be unpleasant but not cold enough to get any snow or these really cold, crisp, sunny winter days I love. There have been a few, but not enough. As a result, the temptation to stay on the couch with a blanket rather than get moving has been too strong on too many occasions.

So I need to know: what are your motivation strategies for the end of winter?

clothing · fashion

What Would Your Tank Top Say?

We’ve had our fair share of blog posts about having to defend your boundaries and territory at the gym, the climbing gym, oh, and did I mention the gym? Yeah, it’s a problem. Staring, unsolicited advice, making you feel uncomfortable and like you’re invading a space you don’t belong in… all of it is regularly on the cards for female-presenting athletes. Confronting the starers, mansplainers and territory defenders of our sports spaces is annoying, nerve wracking, and, frankly, often scary.

So, wouldn’t it be great to have a tank top to do the talking for you (like yesterday’s candy hearts! ❤ )? I’m crediting my co-blogger Marjorie with the idea: she came up with it in our FIFI-blogger internal Facebook group. “I’ve been thinking about making a set of gym tank tops with sayings like, ‘I’m not doing it for you,’ or ‘Look somewhere else during your rest periods.'”, she wrote. What a brilliant idea!

A smiling woman wearing a cool tank top saying “Fan-flippen-tastic”. I want it.
Photo by Thato Bole on Unsplash

I thought about what my own tank top would say and quickly realised I needed a whole set, depending on the occasion and how outspoken I’d be feeling on a given day. “Staring is rude”, “Fit feminist at work”, and “Mind your own business” are just a few ideas that instantly occurred to me. I also asked my fellow bloggers. Here’s the round-up:

  • “I’m 55 and I can lift you” (Cate)
  • “Frigger, don’t kill my vibe” (Christine – she’s actually already in possession of said tank top, which is just awesome)
  • “Fitisafeministissue.com”; “Don’t be that guy” (Tracy)
  • “Patriarchy got me drove”; “Eat, Sleep, Smash the patriarchy” (Martha) – she also added, “I often think about the marketability of “Do I l👀k like I need your ‘help'”?” and lamented the lack of a sarcasm font to make it feasible.
  • Sam likes Fit and Feminist (another, sadly now defunct, blog)’s motto “It takes a strong woman to smash the patriarchy”.
  • “My body, my business” was another entry from Marjorie, and she has actually made one saying “Action Figure” with a woman’s profile in double-bicep pose.

That’s quite a collection already – but how about you? What would your feminist fitness tank top say?

gadgets · gear · trackers

Bettina’s sports watch situation: a quick update

Following my frustrations with finding a small multi-sport watch and the premature demise of my Apple Watch (which had been the compromise solution for my small-wrist problem), I’m pleased to report I’ve opened a new chapter in the saga.

As of a couple of weeks ago, I’m the owner of a Garmin Forerunner 245 Music, and so far I’m very happy with it. Yes, it is chunkier than the Apple Watch, but it’s still just about OK on my wrists. It actually hasn’t bothered me at all – I suspect this is because the Apple Watch acted as a “gateway drug” to my wearing larger watches and I was already sort of used to a large-ish thing round my arm.

Black Garmin watch on Bettina’s wrist.

It also has some pluses over the Apple Watch, which I’m either already enjoying or looking forward to:
+ Battery life. I charged the Apple Watch every night, but the Garmin lasts at least a week. This is phenomenal.
+ Music. I bought the AW on the speculation that an autonomous app for Spotify was coming that would allow me to listen without bringing my phone along. Not so. Apparently they’d rather push Apple Music on people by refusing to do this. I have Spotify Premium but don’t want to pay for two music streaming services. Garmin has such a standalone app, though I have yet to try it. I think it will be very nice on solo runs.
+ Sturdiness. The Garmin looks like it just might survive a fall of the kind that killed my AW (I’m still not planning on trying that out).
+ Sports stats. I prefer the way Garmin presents those to the AW ones. It seems cleaner to me and less gimmicky. Though there are definitely some gimmicky tracking features, like the “body battery”, I could totally live without, but I recognise that this is entirely down to my personal taste. YMMV. And I like the way the stats are presented mid-exercise more. The display is easier to read while running than the AW one. I also still need to explore all the sports functions it has! I haven’t taken it on a bike ride yet, for instance.

There are also some aspects where I preferred the Apple Watch though:
– Size. The Garmin is noticeably bigger, though as I said above, it hasn’t bothered me that much
– Look. The AW was sleeker, and it was really easy to switch out the sports wristband for a more elegant one, e.g. for fancy work events. I think in future, I will appear watchless at such occasions. Not a big deal, but it is nice to have a watch around for these. I’ve never been one to own multiple watches, but I might rethink that philosophy and buy a small, nicer-looking watch for “fancy times”.

And then there’s one difference I’m neutral about:
= Smartwatch functions. The AW is clearly a smartwatch with great sports functions, while the Garmin is clearly a great sports watch with smartwatch functions. I’d gotten used to some of the smartwatch functions on the AW and turned others off, but I’m also not missing those I did use all that much. I still have my phone for reminders etc. So far, I haven’t been in a situation again where I wanted to send a text from my watch – doesn’t happen often, so I can live without that feature.

I haven’t regretted my purchase. Overall, so far I feel like the Garmin’s skew towards the sports functions is more in line with what I wanted than the AW was. Let’s see how it goes!

athletes · equality · femalestrength · fitness · gender policing

Representing women in sports: we’re not there yet, but it might be getting better

As I temporarily merged with my parents’ couch over the holidays (save for the occasional jaunt outside for a run, to the pool, or to the table to eat all the festive food), I came across an article in The Guardian entitled “Powerful photographs perfectly illustrate the rise of women’s sport”. It’s an interesting article with loads of iconic pictures from the past year. If you need a fix of badass women doing badass things, I’d encourage you to head over there right now to read it. Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and others, they’re all there, performing incredible feats.

This is a new thing, according to the article: in the past, sports photography focused on making women look conventionally attractive and erasing certain aspects, sports, or people by not picturing them. Progress is, admittedly, slow, as the article also points out. There was the online abuse hurled at Australian footballer Tyla Harris after a photo showing her performing an awesome kick, but also depicting her crotch area, was published. The network that originally published it first withdrew it, then put it back up apologising for giving in to the trolls. Then there was the shit storm over Megan Rapinoe and the US women’s football team’s way of celebrating their World Cup victory, which Donald Trump got involved in, because Of Course He Did. And there were many more.

So things still aren’t great, but they’re getting a bit better, slowly. In part, the Guardian article noted, this is also due to more female sports photographers being around who portray women from a female viewpoint rather than a male gaze. But there aren’t enough of them – photography, for women, is apparently just as sucky a profession as many others, rife with discrimination and unfair disadvantages. And even where things are getting better… “Getty hired two women photographers on internships who are covering the women’s game around the country”, the Guardian piece notes.

Wait, what? They hired them on internships? Could they not be arsed to give them a real job? Unfortunately the article doesn’t go further into this, but it definitely gave me pause.

Le sigh. As we head into 2020, there seems to be cause for cautious optimism, but our work here, fit feminist friends, is not done.

fitness · trackers · training

RIP, Apple Watch?

A while ago, I was in the market for a sports watch. Having had issues with my small wrists and the size of most sports watches (which I blogged about here), I eventually settled on an Apple Watch. It wasn’t my first choice – I really wanted a Garmin – but it was a good second best option, and small enough not to look ridiculous on me. I really came to love the thing. It provides good statistics on running, swimming, and biking. Especially while I was training for my half marathon that never was, it was really great to track distances and progress. But I also loved it for swimming and biking. I even came to enjoy the other smartwatch features I never thought I really needed, such as calendar reminders or the ability to reply to a text message from my wrist when my phone was hidden somewhere in the depths of my backpack. The features I found annoying, I just turned off.

And then on Monday morning, in a jet-lagged haze (I got back from a work trip to the US on Sunday), I accidentally dropped my watch on the tiled bathroom floor. Even before picking it up, with a sinking feeling I knew what I would find. The poor thing had really face planted into the tiles. And indeed, the screen had completely shattered. I had a “this is why I can’t have nice things” moment right there. But alas, it was too late.

Sad times: the cracked screen of Bettina’s Apple Watch 😦

It also has to be said that I’m sometimes not very smart. I hadn’t bought the extra Apple Care warranty for it, and now it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg to replace the screen. It’s so expensive that for the same money I could buy a decent Garmin replacement.

I’m considering it. As much as I loved the Apple Watch, I still think I would love a Garmin more because of the added functionalities for athletes and longer battery life (I’m also informed they are sturdier, which at this point is probably not a bad idea). At the same time though, my wrists haven’t grown since I was last looking for a watch, and Garmin hasn’t seen the light in the meantime and produced a smaller model I like. As I’m hemming and hawing, for now I really miss my Apple Watch. I went swimming without it today, and as I miscounted my lanes I thought back wistfully to the times I could have just tapped its screen to see how much I’d already done. Sad times! 😥

I know some of my fellow bloggers really aren’t into the idea of tracking, but personally, I love it. I find it motivating and helpful as a training tool. So I will be doing something about it – just not entirely sure what yet. Do you all have any advice?

aging · habits

Starting to stop exercising – people seem to do it at 41, but why?

A couple of weeks ago, a new study made the rounds: apparently people think they are “too old” to exercise at 41. A survey of 2,000 adults turned out that that’s the average age at which people think they aren’t young enough any more to exercise regularly. That seems… early! The Internet was surprised and unimpressed by this and other reasons people gave for not working out.

I couldn’t find the original survey and whether they did a breakdown by gender, but I have a hunch that this tendency is probably stronger in women than men. Where does my hunch come from? Admittedly, my own personal experience (fine, we have a small-n problem here), but even at a young age, girls move less than boys, and it gets worse for teenagers. So the gender gap in regular exercise is a thing.

For me, in my mid-thirties, 41 is still a few years – though not that many – off. For now, exercise is something that I make part of my regular routine. I normally work out at least 3 or 4 times a week, and try to aim for even more. But I see this play out in my own environment. In the races I’ve run recently, I’ve done well in my age group because my age group tends to be tiny. On my swim team, I’m the oldest women by a difference of about 10 years (!), whereas there’s a number of men my age or older. For full disclosure, there’s a group of older swimmers in our club – considerably older – that consists almost exclusively of women, so they do seem to bounce back at least somewhat. But it’s complicated. I can see how it can be demotivating for people to continue exercising when everyone else seems to be a lot younger, and if that’s the case, 41 seems a reasonable age to feel like you’re outside of the target group. And that’s even before we’ve discussed adverts for everything from gyms to sports clothes that are full of young, conventionally attractive people and make anyone who doesn’t look like that feel like an outlier.

Backside view of an elderly man in running gear with a race bib pinned to his back.
Photo by sporlab on Unsplash

Around 41 is the age when people are really feeling the crunch, too. It’s when people have children that still need them, parents that start needing them, and more often than not, professional responsibilities that weigh on them. It’s easy to see why people don’t have time or are too tired to exercise, which were actually the most common reasons respondents to the survey above gave. I don’t have children and my parents are independent, but some days between work and life admin, even I am feeling the crunch. Right now, if I had to add more responsibilities to my life, I would definitely have to scale back on my exercise routine, and I’m among the most privileged individuals around: white, affluent enough, educated, with a supportive partner, etc. It’s easy to see how people who aren’t as privileged as I am face much higher barriers.

That’s also why I think some of the Internet responses were a bit unfair and condescending. Yes, fine, it’s never too late to start working out and I reckon most people are hypothetically aware of the many benefits exercise brings. But that doesn’t invalidate their reasons for not working out, or make it a case of just bucking up, finding a running buddy and “doing it”, as a popular sports apparel brand would have it. The author of the Guardian article linked above in particular makes a point that he has a job and three children, but yet has somehow managed to fit in 10 ultra-marathons in the past three years. Good for him, but he doesn’t actually explain how he’s done it. I have so many questions. How many hours of sleep does he need at night to be functional? Is his partner also an ultra-marathoner – or even a regular exerciser at all -, and if so, how do they juggle taking care of the kids to accommodate each other’s training and race schedules? Does he, or his partner, have elderly parents who need them? What are his work hours? Does his partner work full time? Do they have household help? And so on.

I wish the people who write these articles would consider that not everyone might have the things that are necessary for making regular workouts feasible for adults in the middle of “the crunch”: time, the resources to buy time, and a social environment that encourages exercise. The thing is, it’s not just about individual choice, it’s about society and how its structures constrain us.

fall · running

Bettina tries orienteering: an exercise in priorities

Yesterday, I was supposed to go on an orienteering run during lunchtime. Two members of my workplace’s running club had organised it to see if this was something people were interested in doing more frequently. It sounded cool, so I signed up. In orienteering, you try to find a series of waypoints marked by little flags that are indicated on a map. The goal is to find all waypoints in as little time as possible.

I rocked up to the start already frazzled: this week is the busiest week of the year for us in terms of work – we have a very important conference next week – so the days are currently long and packed. I was given a map and shown a photo of what the little flags looked like. My colleague also explained that each flag would have a little needle punch hanging off it with which to punch a control marker on my map to indicate that I had indeed found the respective waypoint. Each waypoint had a number. Here is a picture of the map (I was supposed to find control points 1, 7, 4, 6, 8, and 9):

Bettina’s orienteering map: a criss-cross of lines on a paper with the pink lines indicating my intended route and the control points (the control points outside of the pink route were for a longer course that was also on offer).

Then my colleague marked my starting time on a paper and off I set. I found the first waypoint well enough (they made it easy). Here it is:

Control point 1: an orange and white orienteering flag dangling off a fence, with a red punch stamp attached to it.

But then things got tricky. I wasn’t exactly sure how to read the map: were all the tiny trails in the forest on it, or only the bigger forest roads? Was what I was looking at the trail we usually took? Because I was generally stressed, and I didn’t have a lot of time, I was impatient. At some point I suspected I’d missed a turn, so I went back on myself. I started losing confidence in my ability to read the map. Then the next people caught up with me (they ran as a pair) and we tried to find the marker together. We thought we knew where it could be, but we were wrong.

At that point I decided to give up. I would’ve loved to go adventuring in the forest, but I just didn’t have time today: I had to get back into the office. And I wanted to get at least a bit of a speedy run in: all this back and forth looking at the map, doubling back on my way, and trying to find markers that weren’t there was stressing me out more rather than giving me the distraction I needed.

Three fellow runners in the distance, on an autumnal forest road strewn with fallen leaves. These three went just for an ordinary run without orienteering – maybe I should have just joined them!

So I decided that getting a good run in, even if it was going to be short, was my priority, and to stuff the orienteering. I left the other two guessing and looking for the control point and set off on my own. Initially I was frustrated with my inability to get the map right and with the time I had already lost: why the hell hadn’t I decided to just go for a normal run in the first place? (Answer: I had wanted to try this because it sounded fun, and also, I had committed to writing this post 😉 .)

But as I settled into a rhythm and ran on through the foggy autumnal forest on my own, I calmed down and started enjoying myself again. This is why I run: the fresh air rushing into my lungs, the regular rhythm of my feet, the focus on maintaining that rhythm – it clears my mind. I’m happy I made the right choice. Had I continued to try and find the control point, I would have gotten more and more stressed and frustrated, and felt guilty about taking too long of a time away from the office on top.

On my way back, I also found another flag (number 8), at which point I finally understood exactly how the map worked: even the tiniest almost invisible trails were marked on it and I hadn’t expected that, which is how I lost my way in the first place. When I got back I had a quick chat with the organiser who promised we’d do it again. I’ll be there – hopefully with more time and a better experience!

habits · time

On balance: finding time for new things

What is one to do when one enjoys too many things? The largest chunk of my day is usually spent working, anywhere between 8 to 10 hours on a given day (lately, I’ve been working a lot). I try to exercise as much as possible. Swimming, bouldering, cycling, running… running has been falling off my plate a bit lately, after my not-half-marathon. The weather got worse and it gets dark early now, so running in the evenings isn’t an option for me as I don’t like running in the dark very much. I like to spend some time each day lounging on the couch, too – reading, watching stuff on Netflix, and relaxing.

Now I’ve discovered a new thing. Bear with me: it’s role playing games. My partner has been an avid player since before I even knew him. He plays Dungeons & Dragons (aka D&D) regularly once a week with his friends over Discord, a Skype-like app. They go on for hours and seem to have a lot of fun adventuring and fighting all sorts of fantastic creatures. I used to make fun of him a lot. He has accused me of being a hobby snob and I admit he’s not wrong. I don’t much care for dragons and the glorification of the medieval (there was little in the way of education for most people and no healthcare worth speaking of, women were persecuted as witches, it must have been very smelly – need I go on?), of which there is a lot in D&D. Fantasy is not my genre; I haven’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones.

Role-playing dice on a table.
A bunch of role-playing dice on a table. These dice are very fancy, they range from four sides to twenty and are used to determine different outcomes during a game, for example how well a character performed a spell.
Photo credit: Jaime Ochoa (Creative Commons licence)

Then I came across this article about how the author got hooked on D&D from a queer storytelling perspective, and I got intrigued. Very intrigued. Long story short, I now have two sessions under my belt and, despite myself, I must admit I enjoyed myself very much – so much so that I could see myself doing more of this in future. It’s fun to immerse yourself in a story and assume the identity of a character that can be essentially whatever you want it to be.

But my days are already packed! After the session on Wednesday, my partner and I immediately got into an argument because I got stressed as the laundry wasn’t done, the place was a mess, etc. etc. – even though I’d had a really, really good time. It feels like if I want to accommodate this new thing, something else will have to give. And I really, really don’t want that something to be my exercise routine. I’m going to have to find ways to adjust, and maybe it’ll turn out that I won’t be playing D&D regularly after all. I don’t want to exclude the option of making room for this new interest right away, either. I know I’m a serial overcommitter, but there are so many things out there to be tried!

I also wonder to what extent the fact that I am even asking myself these questions is influenced by my gender. I have a tendency to place duty above all other things, and unfortunately “duty” tends to be things like housework. I don’t know if this would be any different if I was a man, but the fact is that part of my argument with my partner revolved around my inability to let some things go. He has a much easier time of it than I do. By this I don’t mean that he skirts his duties in any way; by all accounts we have quite an even split of things like housework (he does more) and life admin (I do more). But he also finds it much easier to just ignore these things while he’s having fun.

So I wanted to raise this question to the community here: how do you balance different interests, especially when they come on top of an already busy daily workload? Also, what are you into aside from fitness-related activities? I’m curious, hit me with your favourite non-exercise pastimes!

race report · running

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 2: “downgrade” race report

This is part two of my report on how I didn’t run a half marathon. Read part 1 here!

Once I had realised there was no way I was running 21k, I decided to downgrade to the shorter distance of the race. A friend of mine had signed up for the half marathon too, but had injured his knee a couple of weeks before, so he also decided to switch. What a pair! At least we were in the same boat. But as I resigned myself to the shorter option, I also made a crucial mistake: in my memory, there was something about a distance of 9, but this being Europe, my mind somehow turned this into a 10k option. It wasn’t until the Friday evening, after a more than 3k swim practice with speed work to boot, that I exhaustedly realised we were talking about 9 miles, i.e. 14.5k! Yikes.

I turned up on Sunday morning, still tired from the 10k test run the previous Thursday and swim practice on the Friday, and with my stomach still not at 100% after whatever bug it was I had picked up the week before. This was going to be… interesting. Luckily, my friend and I had a good support crew: our partners came along to chauffeur and cheer us on. And there was the prospect of burgers at an excellent diner close to the race venue afterwards.

The conditions were perfect: around 20C and sunnier than expected – the rain that had been forecast decided to hold off until later that day, so weather-wise the only downside was a slightly-too-strong wind. I was a bit nervous because of my stomach, but also determined. If I wasn’t going to do the half marathon, I was at least going to give it my all for the 14.5k.

Bettina during her final sprint with a determined look and unwittingly colour-coordinated blue shirt and blue shoes, in front of several onlookers (anonymised with yellow stars to cover their faces).

I set off at quite a good pace. My stomach wasn’t very happy though – you know that feeling when you want to burp, but you can’t? That was me for about the first half of the race. Not too pleasant. Because I wasn’t very comfortable, I had trouble settling into my rhythm. I was keeping a decent speed, but it constantly felt like I was pushing myself. There was also the wind, which was coming from the side or the front. But the course was nice, it took us through a park with two small lakes and then out into the fields.

At the first water station, I took electrolytes and water. Mistake. My stomach hated the electrolytes, there was too much liquid, but on the other hand I was thirsty, so something had to give. I pressed on as the course turned onto a long, straight stretch through the fields. The wind was now coming from the back, which was technically an improvement, but it also meant that the sun was now in my back and it got really, really warm. I really struggled to keep my pace at this point and wished I’d worn shorts instead of capris.

The second water station came around the 10k mark; I’d learned from my earlier mistake and only took water. My stomach had now settled down and I was able to focus more on my stride, which was also becoming necessary because I was getting quite tired. I could still feel Thursday’s training run and Friday’s swim practice in my legs and my splits were constantly getting slower. Up until then, the Spotify 170bpm playlist I had on really helped, but at this stage it became about continuing to run rather than speed.

If I had hated the part of the course with the sun in my back, the course setters had something “better” in stock at around 12k: over 1 kilometre along a sandy path. My friend and I agreed after the race that this was by far the toughest bit physically. Since this was a combined 9-mile and half-marathon course, as we came up to the 19k sign I knew we had about 2k left and the going was getting really tough. I’d long decided to disregard the mile signs: being used to counting kilometres, the miles didn’t tell me much and I found them more confusing than helpful.

As I slogged along, my friend, who is known for taking his time to settle into a race, finally overtook me about 1 kilometre before the end. Mentally, the first half of the last kilometre was the hardest for me: the course looped down a random street for about 200m before coming back in the opposite direction to make the distance fit. I was exhausted, and the way into the loop was ever-so-slightly uphill. Plodding along as I saw other runners coming towards me was really discouraging somehow.

But once I had finished that horrible part, I knew I was out of the woods. There was a guy right in front of me who was going at the same pace I was, so I made it my goal to overtake him before the finish line and mobilised my reserves to speed up. Turns out, he had the same idea and we basically raced each other to the finish. I got so caught up in the competition I ran straight past my finisher medal and had to go back for it later!

I was completely spent, but elated. I’d finished! I hadn’t died! I hadn’t thrown up! I’d run 14.5k with far less-than-ideal training and while not being perfectly healthy! I was also really thirsty, but for the first 15 minutes I didn’t feel like I could drink anything but water. Then I had some coke, which I don’t usually love but suddenly craved. Later, we ate burgers as promised – I couldn’t quite finish mine (still that pesky stomach), but I’ve never had a veggie burger that tasted of victory quite as much as this one!

Reading over this post again, it sounds like I really suffered, and in the moment, I actually did. But I’m still really, really pleased I ran. The feeling of having finished made all the difficulties worth it! Even if it wasn’t a half marathon.

For what it’s worth, I finished in 1:22:32 and actually came third in my age group (it was a small race). Not bad, all things considered! I was on point with my splits (my goal pace was under or around 5:30mins/km) up until kilometre 8. My aim for the half marathon had been to do it in about 2 hours, give or take, and speed-wise I was nearly on track for that. Stamina-wise, I couldn’t have done it on the day, but I’m optimistic that if I manage to get through training without getting sick right before the race, I can do it – next time!

Fear · racing · running · training

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 1: imperfect training and disappointment

All of this summer, I’ve been so excited about my new bike and getting into cycling, I’ve only mentioned half marathon training in passing. I’ve done a bunch of shorter races by now, mostly 10k. After the last one, a 10k in the sweltering heat in July, I decided that maybe it was finally time to tackle the half. If I could run 10k in 30C and survive (though just barely), perhaps there was a chance I could run twice as far?

To be honest, I was super intimidated by the sheer distance. I could do 10k, but I’d end up exhausted, and at races that included a half marathon option, I always wondered how the hell it was possible to double my distance. But plenty of people were doing it, and some of my running mates were egging me on: “if you can run 10k, you can do a half marathon, no problem!” and “anyone who runs a bit regularly can do a half!”. They meant well, I know, but this sort of encouragement made my anxiety worse. What if I was the sort of person who could run 10k, but not 21? Or who could run more or less regularly, just not very far? I was really quite scared of the idea of trying to run 21k.

Photo of an unsurmountable-looking, ice-covered mountain face. This is how Bettina felt about the half-marathon distance when she first started training.
Photo by Stas Aki on Unsplash

I’ve always been one to avoid a challenge rather than risking failure, but it’s something I’m trying to work on: getting out of my comfort zone and push myself to take on things that are a bit of a stretch. Learning to maybe fail.

And so I scoured the web for an autumn half marathon with a flat course that was close enough so I could get myself there on the morning of the race. There was no way I was starting out with a hilly half. I settled on a small race around a former US Army base called the Franklin Mile Run. The US Army left a lot of its German bases in the 2000s and these areas are being redeveloped now, and the event website promised an entertaining and – I noted with relief – almost completely flat course. 29 September, I was on!

I started training “in earnest” following the aforementioned 10k race in early July, so I had ample time to prepare. I didn’t draw up a particularly sophisticated training plan: the idea was to run two to three times per week (ideally three), with one long run on the weekends, gradually increasing the distance up to 18k a few weeks before the race, repeat that a couple of times, and then taper the week before race day. I mapped out the long runs on the calendar, knowing I would hit my first 18k at the end of August. Then we’d go on holiday, during which I would do a couple of shorter runs and one more long run before tapering.

Initially, the long runs were tough. I had this mental block caused by my Fear Of The Distance (FOTD): I wasn’t going to be able to do it, it would be too hard – essentially all the negative self-talk that was trying to protect me from failure by sabotaging me, as Cate recently pointed out. It was also really, really hot. And so I would go out, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete my run, and any difficulty I’d run into – it still being too warm, being slightly uncomfortable in my gear, etc., would compound that feeling and leave me starting out jittery and nervous. There was one particular run, my second 14k, during which I hit a wall at 10k and spent the final 4k shuffling along in suffering, convinced I would never be able to run a half marathon. In hindsight, it was really just too warm that day. I should have taken something to drink and taken it easy. But at the time, it was quite discouraging.

And then one day, I ran 16k and was fine. I’d taken a water bottle and decided not to sweat it (haha!), and it really helped. A friend of mine, who has done several half marathons, had also given me an amazing pep talk the day before. Not the “anyone can do this” kind, but the “you, Bettina, can do this, I know how much you train, you’re clearly in great shape”, kind. After this successful run, I was much more confident. I even knocked my first 18k out of the park. By early September, I was ready. I was feeling strong, doing great for speed, the temperatures were finally coming down, and my FOTD had subsided. Then, we went on holiday, and I got sick. Not ideal, but at this point, two weeks out from the race, I still thought I’d be able to do it.

I got back, went to work almost recovered from my cold, and immediately picked up a stomach bug that was going around. A week and a half out from the race, it was getting seriously worrying. The week before – I hadn’t run in almost three weeks at this point – I was still not feeling 100%. The race was going to be on the Sunday. On the Tuesday, I had planned to do a trial 10k but didn’t manage to get out of work on time – it was also one of the busiest weeks of the year, of course. I finally got myself out for a run on Thursday. I did 10k, which went alright, but it was abundantly clear I wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon. I was gutted. I had been ready! And now, I clearly wasn’t.

It was especially disappointing because I knew I couldn’t just sign up for another half a few weeks later once I was fully recovered. Just two days after the race I was going to have a hyperactive parathyroid removed, which would keep me from exercising for several weeks. By this time, the season would be essentially over and I would likely have to wait until next spring for another go at the half-marathon distance. (There are of course winter races, but none of them meet my criteria of ‘no overnight stay required’ and ‘mostly flat course’.) But there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had just been unlucky. I now know that I can do it, so training myself up for another go will be much easier. Still tough, ARGH. Double-, nay, triple-ARGH!!!

Luckily, the race had a shorter option and it was possible to downgrade on the day, so I decided that at least I was going to run something, even if it wasn’t a half marathon. Read on this upcoming Wednesday for the race report…

Have you ever had to bow out of a race (or another challenge you had worked hard for)? How did you deal with the disappointment? I’m curious to hear your experiences.