We never know where life is going to take us or what challenges it brings. In January 2010 I was happy, so happy I wanted to stay that way for as long as I could. I realised that if Ali and I wanted a long and healthy life together, we had to change. I was clinically obese, had a bad back and my knees were feeling the strain. I had various health problems and I was ageing faster than my years. I looked ahead to a life I did not want. It was time to change. By the end of the year I had lost 4 stone - 56lbs. My confidence rocketed - I had taken control and it had worked. I was exercising, enjoying buying clothes, speaking up for myself.

I began to believe in myself again, I began to dream. For years I had watched marathons with admiration and a lump in my throat. In April 2013, I ran my first marathon.

This blog is about living life as a slim person, staying slim and fulfilling my dreams. Come and join me, support me, advise me!

Take care, Sue

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Holiday Running part 2: San Francisco

photo from goldengatebridge.org

We left Canada by boat on the Clipper from Victoria to Seattle. In Seattle we did the Needle and wandered round  Pike Place Market.  We had a great meal in Cutters Crabhouse - the most amazing sushi I have ever eaten. The next day we took the Amtrack - Coastal Starlight Train to San Francisco (well Emeryville and then the bus).  It's a 24 hour trip and what an experience - worthy of a blog in its own right. We watched the US slip past the train windows; going to sleep high in the mountains and waking up in the middle of a massive refinery in Sacramento. There's something about long train journeys that activates my inner Agatha Christie!

We arrived in San Francisco in bright sunshine at 10am.  The town was buzzing - it was Memorial Day weekend and the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge. The streets were already heaving with people of every shape, colour and size and you could hear the sealions hooting away.

But, there they were, weaving in and out of the pedestrians and dawdlers - runners. Loads and loads of runners. Tall, short, old, young, fast, slow, lean and definitely not lean. San Francisco runs! Yippee!  Cyclists too, from lycra clad cycling junkies to tentative first timers. San Francisco moves and it grooves.

I was even more delighted when we got to our delightful and rather special hotel on Fisherman's Wharf -  The Argonaut. (Thank you Andy for finding us this!). There on the desk was an offer to join the weekly running session with the fabulous Fernando (read on) and a running map in my room!  Yay! I had to run, it's mandatory here.

The next morning I was up early and ready to run San Francisco. I peeked out of the window - the streets were empty except for runners so off I went.  It was cold and cloudy but I'm well used to that! I went one way along Fisherman's Wharf down towards Pier 39 where I said 'good morning' to the San Francisco sealions. At that time of day there were no crowds but those sea lions were still putting on quite a show!

Round Pier 39 with the smell of sourdough bread making my mouth water and then back up towards Golden Gate Bridge. At the end of the wharf you go past the open air swimming club and a small beach and then up a steep hill with glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.  Friendly bunch too these SF runners. Not all said 'hi' but quite a few did and that was nice.

Golden Gate is a magical bridge and the longer we were there, the more I found myself wanting to look at it, to see it from every angle and in different lights. It's a bridge you really want to get to know, a bit like the Forth Rail Bridge, another iconic red/orange bridge that mesmerises you.

I ran round the park and down along the flat and then home for one of those wonderful US breakfasts. Today's treat was the Buena Vista Cafe - very probably the finest breakfast I have ever had - even without trying their famous Irish Coffee at 9am! Thank you Kathleen.

My second run in San Francisco was with Fernando from the Argonaut Hotel. Fernando's a runner who has done the San Francisco Marathon (yes it includes hills!) and takes guests out with him on his Tuesday night run. I thought it was a great idea and thoroughly enjoyed our run by the sea. I learnt so much about life in San Francisco, got some great visit and restaurant tips and I really enjoyed my time with Fernando. What a great idea for a hotel service, and one I've never come across before - more please!

We did the usual tourist stuff, Alcatraz, Nappa Valley, but the biggest thing in San Francisco really isn't the cable cars or the hills, or even Ghiradelli Chocolate, no the big thing about San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge - and we were there for her 75th Birthday bash - lucky or what!

We'd seen her from almost ever angle you can imagine, but this is clearly a Bridge that has to be crossed one way or another. The question was how?

My first thought was to run across it. It would mean a total run of about 12 miles from the hotel, not a ridiculous distance even without much practice. But how would my vertigo cope? What was the traffic going to be like? Would it be easy to find my way up to the bridge from the bay?  I even looked to see if there were any local running clubs, there are but nothing was happening whilst we were there. You can pay to do a running tour - in a group or on your own.  City Running Tours charge $75 for a run up to 6 miles and $25 per person for group 5k runs.  (other options are available). I think I feel a change of career coming on!

The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that what mattered was going across the Bridge with Ali, didn't matter if I ran or walked. On our last full day, we hired bikes and cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge.   It was cloudy, it was cold, we couldn't see very far, but wow, it was amazing to be on it.

As we entered a sunny and warm Marin County, we looked back on the bridge and I knew we'd made the right decision. We cycled on to Sausalito for lunch at The Bridgeway Cafe and the onto Tiberon - about 20 miles.  We had a totally wonderful local, organic and well deserved ice cream at the The Grass Shack and a wander round Tiberon. A fascinating place with nooks and crannies and houses all the way up the steep hills round the bay. The Ferry ride back gave us final views of the Bridge from the sea.

San Francisco is definitely special, and Marin County an unexpected gem. Running in a place that's full of runners is just great and runner watching is just as much fun as any other type of people watching. Everyone runs their own way; some make it look easy, others make it look painful. I got lots of food for thought about running form and I think Ali is now an expert on it! People watching for runners!

And as for the Bridge, well I might run over it in future, but what I enjoyed much more was seeing it when I was running. It is a Bridge that is better looked at that walked on!

So there you have it, 6 holiday runs.  I had a fab time and will definitely do holiday running again.  It was a long journey home, cramped but we actually got back on time for once and the plane from London was the one that brought the Olympic Flame to the UK. It was yellow with some stunning photos inside. That was an unexpected treat.

One of the good things about North Berwick though is that it's a lovely place to live and to run. So it was with a big smile on my face that I set off for my first post holiday run - barefoot on the beach. As I splashed through the surf like I was 6 years old, I relished the cool fresh air, the lush greens and the red stone and the blue sky. Everything in balance, everything in its right place.  Home Sweet Home!

Happy holidays, happy running!

Take care


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Running Canada: Holiday Runs Part 1

I love being on holiday.  It's a time for escaping everyday worries and responsibilities and spending quality time together.  I'm very happy with my life but I really appreciate a break and the chance to spend  time doing different things in different places - seems this applies to running too!

This year was a very special holiday for us - we travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to spend quality time with family in Canada, followed by a few days in the fine city of San Francisco. We had a fantastic time; absolutely brilliant. Despite the jet lag, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated on every level and so's my running.

Now as some of you know, Ali and I live on different sides of the great divide: I run, Ali doesn't.  So usually I run very little when we're on our hols. But this year, maybe because of the enforced injury-related rest in January, maybe because of it being a once in a lifetime visit to some amazing places,  I really, really wanted to run at least a little bit whilst away. I wanted to leave this planet knowing that I had run in Canada and the US.

Holidays are special and I wanted to make the most of the rare time we actually get to be together, so I decided on 30 minute runs, not to run every day and I managed 6 runs over our 3 weeks - about 22 miles in total.

That's not many runs or many miles, but my holiday runs punched well above their weight. Every one of those short runs has left me with great memories. Each run showed me a different aspect of the places we visited as well as giving me some amazing views and experiences. I've a record forever on my Garmin and some great photos. I also used up a few of the extra calories that got taken on over the three weeks and put on less then 2lbs, despite eating well (this was a real achievement for me!). All in a total of 3 hours in 3 weeks and about 2,000 calories. And as importantly, my running has moved to another plane. Not bad return I'd say.

Here's the first batch of my runs - the Canada ones. Two runs from San Francisco to follow.....

Run 1 - Barnstorming Banff
We landed in Edmonton Alberta where we were met by Maureen and Dave who took us on the holiday of a lifetime.  They drove us through the Rockies where we saw some of the most amazing views and sights I've ever seen, including my first black bear.

Banff, venue for my first run, is great, a bit like a glammed up Aviemore. Despite all the shops, there's a great vibe about the place - it's human friendly and welcoming. The day we arrived we went up the mountain, swam in sulphur pools and walked a lot. Jet lag had me wide awake at 6am, so I headed off for a quick 3 mile run. It was cold. Very cold. The height above sea level and the high mountains surrounding Banff made it one of the coldest runs I have ever had, and I didn't warm up much either! My first run at altitude too - maybe that explains the cold!

Normally Banff buzzes, but at 6.15 it was deserted, I had the streets to myself - or so I thought. As I ran I got a glance or two of my running form in the shop windows not bad, but that bum is still sticking out too much!  By about 6.30, delicious bacon and cinnamon bagel smells emerged and my thoughts turned to breakfast. I ran along the river back into the town, catching a glimpse of one of the freight trains whose ghostly horns sounded at intervals during the night. The sound of North American trains is so evocative, it takes me back to Casey Jones and childhood tv.

On the way back, just after I'd run past the local hospital, I had an encounter. I came round the corner and found myself eye to eye with a moose. A young moose but unlike our own rather sweet and timid deer, it wasn't inclined to budge just because I'd turned up. In fact it was looking rather stroppy at having its breakfast interrupted. Despite the species barrier, I got the body language and headed off in the opposite direction - past the hospital just in case!

It was a lovely run. I saw a different side of Banff, the quiet side before the streets start to fill up and the shops open. I went to a bit that we'd missed on our walk. I saw very few people, no runners or dog walkers, only small groups of Chinese women collecting recyclables from the bins and the odd smoker standing outside the hotel. And of course I got up close and personal with that moose. 

Then off to Lake Louise for a very posh and yummy breakfast at The Lake Louise Hotel overlooking one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen.   We spent the rest of the day going through the Rockies stopping that evening at Kelowna.

Run 2 - Trundling on Texada
After a brief overnight stop in Kelowna, we set off early for a small island off Vancouver Island called Texada. After a brief overnighter in Vancouver (a lovely city, I loved Stanley Park and I really want to run there sometime) and several stunning ferry trips, we reached a warm and sunny Texada - home for a few days.

Maureen and Dave are both active and experienced runners so I knew I was going to get a leg stretch.  Our first morning, lingering jet lag had me awake and buzzing, so I headed off early. I went round the bay, running through scented woods with tantalising glimpses of blue water and snow capped distant mountains through the trees. The roads were quiet and I ran down to Shelter Point, a caravan park down the coast. I saw a bald eagle (and loads of turkey eagles) all from a safe distance this time, and a most amazing view awaited me at my half way point, looking back on the island and across the Bay to snow capped hills.

As I headed home I bumped into Dave and Maureen out for their run - they'd been waiting for me, but I'd snuck out not wanting to wake them up! Breakfast was one of Maureen's amazing smoothies which got me and Ali all fired up for a bike ride back to Shelter Bay and beyond.  

That was my only run on Texada, but the next day we went hiking up Mount Davis with the The Texada Trekkers. It's very different to walking we usually do, not least because you can start your walk way above sea level and don't really get many views until you get to the top! More bald eagles, a rare kind of ant and lots of great company meant we learnt lots about life on Texada. And surely there is no food as good as that sarnie you eat at the top of the hill on a walk.

There's something for everyone on Texada - you can run, hike, cycle, sail, kayak and all the rest.  There's also the Texada Half and Full Marathons - not for the faint hearted and probably not a PB run either - but one you'll never forget! Registration's open now for this year's race.

Run 3 - Trotting in Tofino
We left Texada early on the Sunday and took the ferry over to Vancouver Island and headed off down to Tofino on the Pacific Rim.  Despite the wet and misty weather, the views were amazing (living in Scotland you learn to appreciate the charms of such a climate).  I loved Tofino, it's another place with lots of outdoor stuff going on and it's very laid back with fantastic scenery and amazing wildlife.  We stayed at the Weigh West hotel, right on the bay. I did a short morning run, this time I stuck to the main roads and habituated places - there's bears on them there hills as Ali and I had seen on our bear watching trip the night before.  The views made up for the lack of David Attenborough type adventures.

Again, it was great to see Tofino at a quiet time of day, before things get busy and to run accompanied by fantastic views, breathing in clean, soft air.  As we ate breakfast in the restaurant which sits right over the water, we saw sea lions and otters play below us and more bald eagles overhead. We knew the bear and her cubs were breakfasting on the islands and the wolves and whales were probably tucking in too.

Run 4 - Viewing Victoria 
My last run in Canada was in the beautiful and historic town of Victoria at the end of Vancouver Island.  It was our last day before heading to the US and so Maureen, Dave and I ran together. They have a favourite run along the bay they showed me. We started amongst hotels and very expensive apartments (there are some very rich folk in this world), then through classic North American suburbs and ended up along the coast road which goes on for miles and miles. Plenty of car free quality running paths, so civilised.

It was a great run, looking over the bay to the the distant hills of the US, and it's part of the route for the Victoria Marathon which would be a cracker I think. I could have run for miles, but stuck to my rule and headed back for breakfast getting in 4 good quality miles.  Running through the houseboat area, I was joined for a while by a four legged friend who fancied a bit of a run. This one was definitely friendly, a species I know well and she kept up beautifully until her breakfast gong went.

As I got back to the hotel, the sea planes were starting up and the town was coming to life; I returned to the world. Later that day, we drove along that bit of coast  and saw 2 adult and 3 adolescent bald eagles being mobbed by crows. It was an incredible sight to see so many of these beautiful birds so close. 

We left Canada the next day on the Clipper - a boat ride from Victoria to Seattle and then took the Amtrak onto San Francisco - more of which in the next blog.

I loved these runs. They're not just miles and minutes, but a wonderful part of my holiday experience. They added to  a trunk full of happy memories and experiences I just wouldn't have had otherwise.  

I'm finding running so much more exciting and rewarding than when I was focussed on counting miles. Now running is more varied and it's about the amazing experiences you have when you run. I want to run for years and years to come and I want to look back on a rich and diverse running filled life. I may run a marathon, but I'm finding that too narrow a focus for me just now - but of course things change....

Interestingly, I've totally changed my view that short runs are not worth the bother of getting changed.  Short runs are, as our  North American cousins would say, Awesome!  And  a welcome and handy addition to my repertoire.

Part 2 - running in San Francisco - to come. An experience I will remember forever.

Whatever you're up to, enjoy your holidays if you're lucky enough to have one, enjoy your runs if you're lucky to be fit and well enough to do them and keep well and keep happy.

Take care