Friday, 3 October 2014

List re-cap

  1. spend a day smiling at everyone I see
  2. learn to meditate
  3. run a spring marathon
  4. go dancing in a nightclub
  5. spend a night under canvas
  6. join the marathon maniac club
  7. skinny dip with friends
  8. get my engagement ring re-made
  9. try a burlesque workshop
  10. have a McGonnagal Supper
  11. Learn to play chess with Scott (my son)
  12. Knit a scarf
  13. Run a sub-4-hour marathon
  14. raise £4000 for Parkinsons UK
  15. have a full medical
  16. become a mistress of the chin-up
  17. get my teeth whitened  - read up on this one and decided against it
  18. go on a bus tour with my Mum
  19. dance a duet with my best friend Hannah
  20. go to a fitness professionals convention
  21. try poledance
  22. hoop a 5K
  23. paint a fairy door
  24. host a fundraising hafla (or three)
  25. finally visit the Scottish Parliament
  26. one month fitness challenge - get more sleep - on my second attempt at this during October
  27. write My Running Story
  28. integrate yoga into my life
  29. have a beautiful mirrored studio to work in
  30. be able to do handstands, or walk on my hands
  31. learn 10 things about myself
  32. run 40 miles in my birthday week
  33. duet at karaoke with my lovely husband
  34. have tea in Edinburgh City Chambers
  35. get on All Request Friday on Radio 2
  36. meet 40 new people 
  37. make a difference in Malawi
  38. fitness challenge - 40 full push-ups continuous
  39. not let my roots get out of control 
  40. get a daily make-up regime

FF#43: Have tea at the City Chambers

Today was a lovely birthday treat - tea and cake at Edinburgh City Chambers with my friend and local councillor Gordon Munro.

Edinburgh City Chambers is a magnificent building in the heart of Edinburgh's old town, a few minutes walk from Edinburgh Castle. I've been there for a wedding reception and the odd meeting or two but had never really had a proper look around.
The main entrance to the City Chambers, on the Royal Mile.

 It was a damp and windy morning and after being thoroughly soaked at school running club earlier in the morning, I was ready for a warming cuppa. As soon as I walked into reception I was greeted by a deafening alarm. I assumed it was me setting off the awesome detector, of coure - but it turned out to be the weekly fire alarm test.

City Chamers selfie
Gordon kindly surprised me with pain au chocolat and patessierie, so it properly felt like a birthday treat. We sat in the Member's Lounge and had a lovely chat, catching up with family news, Leith and the Independence referendum.

Birthday elevensies!
I first met Gordon in 2000 when I was Labour's Parliamentary Candidate for the Edinburgh West Constituency. That election campaign was very difficult (despite the great result we achieved in the constituency) and it put me off political involvement almost entirely - but Gordon was a supportive and dependable beacon during that campaign and I was really pleased when he became councillor for Leith, where I live. The 2001 election seems like a very long time ago - before I had children, and when Gordon's daughters appeared on my campaign material. I found this lovely photo in my memories folder.  Many leaflets have been delivered since then!

Next, Gordon took me on a bit of a tour - the main chamber with its lovely zodiac dome and its public gallery (I refrained from heckling or pinging bits of paper to the dinner ladies gathering below for a meeting); the European room; the Golden Jubilee Room; works of art and stained glass, and Gordon's office.

The view from Cllr Munro's office - including some of the Leith Ward

Vertiginous central staircase

Beautiful stained glass commemorating the first female Provost of Edinburgh
It was lovely to have a wee bit of birthday celebration in October - thank you Gordon!

Monday, 4 August 2014

FF#6: Join the Marathon Maniacs

On 25 May I completed the Edinburgh Marathon in 3 hours 54 minutes. This was my third marathon in three months (after Blackpool in April and The Meadows in March) which qualified me to join the Marathon Maniacs. Hurray!

My acceptance email from the Marathon Manaics - woo!

Why do I want to be a Marathon Maniac? I want to be a member of a club whose membership must be earned. It's been a while since I've been in a professional organisation, and that's the only equivalent I can think of. My running coach Angie Spencer is a member and talks about Marathon Maniacs on her MTA podcasts. My brain must be suceptible to suggestion when I'm running. Almost all of the members of MM are in the USA.

So by running three marathons in three months I earned the right to pay $45 dollars (£27) and call myself  Marathon Maniac #9397. This entitles me to spend more money on merchandise so I can tell the world I'm a Marathon Maniac; to access the forums on the MM website; to a newsletter; and to print out a generic membership certificate.


And yes, pointless. Especially when three marathons in three months has left me in less than great health - my recovery has been slow (combined with college deadlines, end of term work and family busy-ness and lots going on at home).

But some of the FF things have to be pointless. That's why their on the list - they're so pointless I wouldn't do them unless I was celebrating something. Which is what the FF list is all about.

I'm hoping to run my Autumn marathon (Loch Ness at the end of September) in my MM vest. I wonder if anybody will notice.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

FF#24: Host a fundraising hafla (or 3)

June was my busiest bellydance month of the year so far. It was also my college deadline month. It was foolish to choose June as my "get more sleep" month (FF#26).

On June 17th I hosted Another Little Bit of Cairo on Duke Street: the Leith Festival Hafla. It's the fourth time I've hosted this free event because I like to put something I enjoy into my own community as part of Leith Festival. It's also my way of trying to get more of my students to become part of the bellydance community, by letting them see what a hafla is, in a very informal setting. The venue is The Parlour, a pub on Duke Street in Leith, and the event is free, so the idea is that people who are a bit interested but also a bit nervous will find it easier to come along.

It's also great when people walk in to their local for a pint and find it filled with bellydancers making a racket. It's fun to watch the expressions of surprise, joy and/or terror on the faces of regulars when they walk in. You might detect some of it on the face on the man at the bar while I'm performing:

There was a smashing atmosphere and all of the performers were smashing. There was a raffle at the hafla and we raised £83 for Parkinson's UK.

Two nights later was the Marvellous Musselburgh Hafla. This one is also annual, and this might have been the 6th time I've hosted it. This year it was plagued with problems - the date I wanted wasn't available; the only date possible was two nights after the Leith Festival hafla; then the venue was getting renovated and the new one they offered wasn't suitable; several of the performers didn't show up. But in the end if it was a fun evening in a smashing new venue (Wire Mill Social Club, next to Musselburgh Racecourse) and we raised £236 for Parkinson's UK.

Thanks to all the bellydancers who performed at my events; to everyone who helped organise and made them run smoothly, at the Parlour and Wire Mill; and to the lovely audiences who came along and cheered.

If you're interested in bellydance in Ednburgh or Musselburgh you can find me at

Saturday, 2 August 2014

FF#25: Finally visit The Scottish Parliament

Debating Chamber selfie
I used to be into politics. Quite heavily. Student politics to start with, and I went on to be a Westminster candidate in 2001. I worked for a Member of Parliament and went to on be a Parliamentary Officer, lobbying the Scottish Parliamentarians for the interests of enviromental organisations and later, community pharmacy. I was seconded to the Scottish Parliament as a political party researcher.

But until the end of July 2014 I'd never been to visit the purpose-built Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood. Back in my day, the Parliament met in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound and kept it's offices round about George IV Bridge. I went on maternity leave in 2004, the new Parliament building opened later that year and I never went back to work. And kind of lost my enthusiasm for all that stuff (but not my enthusiam for social justice, feminism or the Labour Party, I hasten to add).

So what do I think? I like it. It's an irregular, unpredictable kind of building - it make me think of the irregular, unpredictable nature of well-executed politics, addressing problems as they arise and avoiding cookie-cutter solutions. There was an exhibition of a tapestry showing Scotland's history, which I really liked. The staff were helpful and fairly friendly. The debating chamber was shiny. My lovely hubby visits there with work and could give us directions, which helped.
Scott and Helen quite liked it.
Parliament visited! Another one off the list!

FF#5: Spend a night under canvas

Polyester not canvas but it'll do. Our Wickerman home.

I had never been camping until now. Not as a child, not as a brownie or a guide, not as a student. Childhood holidays involved self-catering cottages in Germany or up north. I dodged constant requests from Labour Students fundraisers to steward at music festivals. My mum describes camping as "something [she] never had any desire to do". I don't feel especially deprived but I have a lot of friends who see the world with their young children while camping and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

I bought our four-person tent in Asda for £40. Second-bottom of the range so I wouldn't feel too bad if we never made it past the first night. 

Other outgoings included:

Blow up mattress - £10
Tickets for the Wickerman Festival in Dundrennan, Dumfries & Galloway - £210 for four of us
Passes for posh loos at Wickerman Festival - £40

Three nights of camping AND Dizzee Rascal, and the forecast was pretty good.

Helen rocking out in the sunshine at Wickerman 2014
It was the last weekend in July. We arrived, we pitched out tent in the family campsite, we festivalled for three nights, we survived.

Good things:
Dizzee Rascal's show was brilliant and the four of us loved it - small people on the shoulders of tall people, bouncing and singing along.
Really nice chips
The chemical toilets were not bad at all and nowhere near as bad as some of the race toilets I've encountered
My children are more or less old enough to weather the detrimental impact of a late night and early start now and again, which seem to be necessitated by festival camping

Things I wasn't too keen on:
It rained on Saturday night and there's no way to dry yourself/clothes out once you're wet, is there?
The first two days were far too hot. Sorry to be fussy but it was just too hot to do anything and I woke up feeling like I'd had a bottle of vodka before bed
Five minutes walk to the loo. In the dark of night, or first thing in the morning.
The campsite was *mobbed* and we were surrounded by bacon-frying professional campers with chairs, gazebos, extended families and fairy lights, making me feel very amateurish
Drinking water that tastes like a swimming pool. 
As it was my first festival too, I banked on the power of musical performance to bring the family together and keep us entertained. Which was foolish. Next time I'll bring playing cards.

Morning campers!
A few nights back at home and we felt much better so we spent a night in the lovely campsite at Aberlady, 30 minutes from our home. That was much more enjoyable - the toilets were closer, there were hot showers and a well-equipped kitchen, the drinking water was less chloriney, it didn't rain and we'd brought our loom bands to keep us busy.

I'm happy to go camping again as long as you can promise me as many creature comforts as possible and appropriate weather.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

FF #3 and #13: Running a sub-4-hour spring marathon

In the last few weeks as I've worried that I haven't updated the FF blog for a while, I've consoled myself by thinking that I have been working hard towards achieveing some of the goals. Especially #3, run a spring marathon, and #13, run a sub-4-hour marathon. That last one is a biggie.

The Meadows Marathon was my fourth full (that's 26.2 miles) Marathon. It was a spring marathon as the Meadows (a big park in the south of Edinburgh) was covered in crocuses and the weather was sunny, warm, breezy, wet, freezing, cloudy, and calm.

Vital signs of spring in Edinburgh.
This is a small event, with less than 50 runner taking part in the full marathon, although many more running the half marathon and 5km fun run. It is organised annually by Edinburgh University Students to raise money for good causes, and was much more professional this year than it was in 2012 when I ran the half marathon - lots of branding, a goodie bag and even a t-shirt and medal, which I hadn't expected. As a benefit of running a smaller race and registering early, my race number was 2!

Tee hee, number 2, jobbie!
My preparation had gone really well and I knew I was fitter than I'd ever been. I'd run several 20-milers, clocking in at about 3 hours. My Yasso 800s (a training method) predicted a finishing time of 3 hours 48 minutes and even if that seemed ridiculously ambitious, it was a good sign. I thought I was mentally prepared and spent the pre-marathon week listening to Paul McKenna. This was going to be good!
my ritual of matching nail polish to running vest - even though I wore gloves!

When the race started I was just coming out of the loo, so I set out too fast, feeling a bit flustered. My coach Angie had warned me not to do this and I did my best to slow down, listening to boring podcasts to calm me, but to no avail. My first four miles were each about 15 seconds faster than I wanted and I was worried! By mile 14 I was not having fun. I was having those unwanted marathon thoughts: "oh if only I'd just signed up for the half... that would still be an accomplishment... this is a really silly ambition to have. Who actually cares about the whole 4 hour thing?" But I knew how angry I'd be if I didn't finish and try hard to beat 4 hours, and that I'd have to keep on trying till I finally ran a sub-4-hour marathon, so I hung in there.

This week I saw The Lego Movie and I kept hearing in my head Morgan Freeman's voice saying "Believe. I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it's true." It reminded me of my family, and of sitting on my arse watching a movie, and both of these spurred me on.

The course is 14 laps of the Meadows. After I'd done 8 laps, most of the half-marathoners were gone and there were just the hardy nuts running 26.2 miles left. Most of them were, shall I say, very focussed, and didn't smile encouragingly or wave when we passed each other. A few of them were nice though. There was no crowd to speak of, I think we marathoners must have bored our families with our running so much that they don't turn up to cheer us on!!

However, the lovely stewards more than made up for this. They were student volunteers, standing in the silly weather for HOURS, and every single time I passed them, I got a friendly comment and a smile. A few were really enthusiastic shouters too, which was just amazing and truly, really motivating. I got excited every time I came up to the Potterrow part of the course where I was greeted by high fives from the DJ ladies, and two lovely stewards who always squealled "COME ON NUMBER 2! YOU CAN DO IT!!"

And the scouts who ran the water station were brilliant too and deserve a mention of their own! The water was so cold that it gave me brain freeze every time, so there must be a few chapped hands today, but these chaps were cheery thoroughout.

When I passed the clock after 12 laps it said 3 hours 15 minutes. That was when I properly knew I could do it, and achieve my ambition of going sub-4 hours. I reckoned I could probably walk the last two laps in 45 minutes if I had to! But I didn't. I fuelled on cheese and almond butter (urgh, won't do the almond butter again - I love it usually but if you're a bit thirsty it's like cement in your mouth!) and dug in.

my fuel stash - looks like dog poo.

On lap 13, I ran past my lovely family at the playpark. What a sight! I was delighted to see them, husband and two gorgeous children. On lap 14 I said all my thank yous to the stewards (yes, I did tell one that she was "gorgeous" because she really was the most gorgeous woman I'd ever seen, long before I got delirious!) and waved to the family. Coach Angie had told me to enjoy the glory lap, and although 'enjoy' is too strong a word, I did perk up a bit!

Then something amazing happened. My family surprised me by running after me. I laughed for a while and tried not to speed up (they had fresh legs!), but then I realised my son, Scott, who's 10, was going to keep running with me. In his boots and Minecraft sweatshirt - and he wasn't stopping! This boy has always studiously avoided running (even though all his pals come to the running club I organise at his school!) so I was quite taken aback - I took out my ipod and encouraged him along. I introduced him to my steward pals as we ran past - "thanks for all your support - and this is my son!". There was literally no stopping him, and he ran the full final mile with me! I was stunned - and utterly over the moon! We crossed the finish line together in (fanfare please...) THREE HOURS, 51 MINUTES AND 37 SECONDS.

I'd achieved my goal, and I'd done it with Scott. I was so utterly happy. Diana Nyad's words kept going round in my head - "it might look like a solitary sport, but it's a team". It might be true for long distance open water swimming, but it's true for marathon running as well. Without the support of my family, my friends and my coach, I could never have put in the hours of training to achieve it or found the mental strength to complete it. They are my team. (sniffle)
one Mobot, one robot, after the race.

the finishers!

family Bolt!

I ran for Parkinsons UK and raised about £200 so far towards my £4K goal. Not a bad start. When I put on my Parkinsons UK running vest before the race, I stood in front of the mirror and remembered my wonderful Uncle Walter, who suffered with Parkinsons and passed away last summer. He was a great man, also a runner, who suffered so much with this horrible disease and it meant a lot to run in his honour.  (more sniffle)

When the official results were posted, it turned out that no, I had not miscounted the laps and I had indeed smashed my personal best by eight and a half minutes. I'm amazed, emotional and tearful. And very, very, very happy!
The suprise medal - and Scott got one too!