Sunday, 6 June 2021

Journalling and running BUJO's

THE JOURNEY to developing good mental health isn’t a quick and easy one.   There isn’t one package that fits all as there are so many variables to take into consideration.   The important thing is to find something that you enjoy and will return to, giving consistency that allows you to develop your ideas and creativity.   In a world of computer science, it’s good to go back to pen and paper and doing something more cathartic and old fashioned.

One of the ideas that I started several years ago was journaling, specifically goal orientated to support running and the style for it was bullet point (BUJO).   It allows me to break things down, be honest with myself about how I feel and empty my mind before going to bed making the transition to sleep easier.

Four good reasons to journal

1.    Thoughts
journaling hands you control over your thoughts and allows you to carve out time just for you.

  • Feelings
    journaling gives you a simple yet effective way to track your moods and focus on their meanings.
  •  Health
    journaling enables you to make positive lifestyle choices to improve your overall physical health.
  • Privacy
    journaling provides you with a safe space to offload your emotions without fear of being judged.

Why and how to start a journal

Write what’s in your head and in your heart as journaling can break you out of negative thought cycles and repetitive patterns known as ruminations which can, when left unchecked, make anxiety and depression worse.   At the same time, it can put a much-needed perspective on things.

Types of journals

There are many different ways to start a journal, but what interests you?   Do you want to do something organised or more creative?

Here are some ideas …

  • Bullet
    This is a mixture of mindfulness and creativity that’s full of notes, to-do lists, reminders, and doodles.
  • Gratitude
    Take time each day to list several things that you’re grateful for that happened that day or the day before.
  • Creative
    Creativity can be anything: write or draw, scrapbook or muse.
  • Goal-oriented
    Keep track of your goals, track your progress, and write inspirational notes to yourself to stay motivated.
  • Collage
    Use images from magazines or photos and write thoughts about why they moved you.
  • Drawing
    Draw sketches to describe how you feel or what you’re experiencing.
  • Nature
    Record what you experience when you’re out in nature.   Describe what you see, feel, hear, and touch.
  • Stream of consciousness
    Write down your thoughts as they come to you.

Journaling is a habit to develop and there is no wrong way to do it.   If you’re interested in starting, here’s how to get into it so you can make the most of the emotional exercise.

Set a time

For the most success, find a time where you can integrate journaling into your existing routine, which will help you remember and reserve space for it.   The best times are either the beginning or the end of the day.

Start with something light

If the thought of seeing your inner self on paper is a step too far, start by writing out your day.   You woke up at 7 a.m., made your bed, showered, ate breakfast.   Then, add what you were feeling or experiencing during those things. For instance, you forgot to set your alarm so you missed your workout, and you started the day more stressed out.

Just writing down what’s on tomorrow’s agenda can have marked effects, giving focus on the day and ensuring all tasks are completed.   If you’re still struggling, set a timer for three or five minutes, write, and stop when it goes off.

Find a journal you love

You have two choices: write on paper or on the computer/smartphone. I would recommend writing on paper … 

  • So many of us are stuck in front the computer all day, so journaling on paper can offer a welcome screen break 
  • It’s also more personal and adaptable to you 
  • Slow repetitive hand motions when writing can be calming 
  • Easily internalise messages to you that are important enough to take the time to write it down


Sunday, 30 May 2021

Mid Sussex Marathon Weekend

COVID CHANGED the landscape of running with all the major events unfortunantly closed to try and contain the dreaded virus.   Races that were normally run in large numbers suddenly became virtual events to give runners that incentive (like we need it!) to train and aim for something.   We are at last beginning to see some restrictions being lifted with a slight return to what will be the new normal.

Keeping the training going through the pandemic I decided to enter the Mid Sussex Half Marathon (MSMW).   It's not the first time the thought has gone through my mind but normally it falls on days that I am working and I cannot do it.   But it's virtual and the beauty of a virtual is that I can choose the dates that I run it, as well as the locations.   The important part, for me, is that I remain the spirit of the event.

What is the Mid Sussex Half Marathon weekend?

Before COVID restrictions it was a three day event.    Being organised by People for Places who have three sites in Sussex, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and East Grinstead there is a run at each location ...

1. Friday, East Grinstead 10 miles.

2. Saturday, Haywards Heath 10 miles. 

3. Sunday, Burgess Hill 10 km.

Over the three days you run the distance required for a marathon and earn three medals that come with each run.   The medals interlock to become one, which is a coveted prize.

The training has continued through the pandemic and recently came to a head with the Haywards Heath Harriers Spring Series Virtual Runs.   First was a tough 10km followed by an even tougher 10 miler.   The spring series ended with a very tough half marathon on the South Downs starting at Ditchling Beacon.   I managed to injure myself twice on the half marathon and only just made it to the finish line.

Having spent the last week not running and waiting for the injuries to heal I was back into training in preparation for the MSMW.   The question is where am I going to run the three events and what is it going to look like?

The Haywards Heath 10 mile disaster

STARTING OFF in my home town with the first 10 mile run.   I planned out the route and on my first rest day from work set off, determined to complete it.

This is a route that is very familiar to me and I have noticed, what I believed to be, an empty house part way round.   But today as I ran past it I noticed a light on in the the upstairs bedroom and it triggered an alarm bell!

The post was piling up on the inside of the front door, the curtains were pulled shut and they had those horrible brown stains from damp all over them.   It also appeared the premises had a rat issue.   I knocked on the front door, but got no response so decided to try the neighbour.   They confirmed someone does live there, who is a man who suffers from mental health issues and is in and out of the property all the time.

They let me into their garden to "look over the fence" and it was clear the man who lived there was a "hoarder".   Loads of books, furnitive, plates and cutlery all over the back garden.   They had not see or heard the man in over a week.   At this stage I was concerned about his welfare and called the Police to try and arrange a welfare call.

Luckily, I put my Garmin on "pause" whilst I was "making enquiries".   So 30 to 40 minuties later I restarted the run.   I hit Cuckfield and was coming up to the roundabout at the end of the village when I saw a lorry coming towards me.   It had a number of long canvas  straps hanging off it and the load didn't look steady.   I flagged the driver down and gave him a hand secure his lorry.   He was commiting a number of road traffic offences.

Towards the end of the run somehting went in my right foot and my toes started to hurt.   Somehow, it appears I have bruised them, possibly from "digging in" on the hills.   I may even have dislocated one somehow, but not sure.

So the plan to do the second 10 miles the following day didn't occur as I was having enough problems walking on it, letting alone running.   But I did feel good that I had managed to achieve two positive things on the run.   I really must either learn to mind my own business or get a life!

Police did check on the male who was located safe and well.   At least he is now on the "radar" with GP and Social Services being made aware.

 The Haywards Heath 10 kilometre

TIME WAS really running short to complete the MSMW.   But the right foot was feeling better, so I decided the time was right to try another run and see how it held up.   Taking into consideration the amount of pain I was in, the amount of time it's taken to feel better and the two races outstanding, I had a decision to make!

I decided to remain in Haywards Heath and go for the 10km.   I completed a 10km run a short while ago in a Run 4 Wales challenge, so decided to use the same route.   The main aim was to get the distance, without causing any further injury and not worry about the time.

Starting at the Princess Royal Hospital I ran up Haywards Heath High Street, and then past both Victoria Park and Muster Green.   Once I was at Miller and Carter I stared the Haywards Heath Harriers Virtual 5km route.   This took me into Cuckfield to the Church at the bottom of Chandlers Mead and return to Miller and Carter where a took a left turn and followed the road round past the Railway Station, Waitrose and then towards Lindfield.

The only upset was a phone call from a social services financial advisor who wanted to talk about my Dad, who has recently had to move into a home.   You have to answer these calls otherwise they think you are being awkward and the process can get a lot more difficult.   But they were happy I was on a run and they agreed to call me back five minutes later (I was at 9km and only had 1km to go).

Two run's down and only one 10 miler to go.   This is looking positive again, but I would have preferred to have kept in the spirit of the event and completed the three run's over three days.

The Redhill, Reigate and Earlswood 10 mile

WITH TWO of the three runs completed I needed to find time, strength and mental commitment to getting the last 10 mile run completed.    I was due in Redhill to do some work on my Dad's house and decided to go down there early and get out on the road.

I was still struggling with my foot, but felt so close to achieving the challenge that I didn't want to stop now.   I love these runs around my home town, they always being back memories and Surrey can be very beautiful.   Starting in Garlands Road I headed down towards the main Brighton Road and then round to the Railway station.

Circled around Redhill and down from the Water Company to Raffles Bridge, past Shaws Corner and then down into the old Market Town of Reigate.   Turning into the Priory I did a loop of the park and lake taking me out onto Cockshot Hill, heading for Meadvale.   Passing Meadvale I did a loop of Earlswood Lakes (top and lower lakes), there is a burger place there and thankfully they refilled my water bottle as the day was a lot hotter than I expected.

Once past the lakes I headed for Salfords and back towards Redhill.   I did a quick turn at the East Surrey Hospital and took the footpath towards the Royal Earlswood Mental Hospital.   I used to go down this route regularly as a school friend lived at Whitebushes.   Then it used to be fields, but now it's housing estates, but the footpath is still there linking it all and it was great to run it.

As I came back through Earlswood I realised that I wasn't going to get the 10 miles.   So, I created another loop going past St. John's Church, on to Pendleton Road, along Sandpit Road that runs between Redhill's bottom and middle commons.   Then down Mill Street past the Garabaldi community public house and down the Brighton Road heading back to Garlands Road.

The heat and the injury didn't help things.   But I concentrated on the distance and not the time in order to get to the finish line.   Determination won the day.


Sunday, 16 May 2021

Good mental health at work

WITH NATIONAL news picking up on the increase in depression amoungst the young and women the promotion of "good mental health" is even more important now than ever.   Being on a wellbeing committee at work I wanted to look at the benefits of employers having a healthy workforce that means a more productive workforce.

Mental health problems at work are common with at least one in six workers experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.    Healthy and productive employees who are engaged with the business will deliver the best outcomes and means there is a dependency between emloyer and employee.

If you want to attract and retain committed employees, prioritising the mental health of your staff needs to be core business in your organisation.   You might not be talking about it, because mental health is still a taboo subject.   And many people feel scared and confused about confronting the issue at work.   But there are small, simple steps you can take to look after yourself and make your workplace mentally healthier.

Taking care of yourself

Mind, the mental health charity, carried out research and it confirms that a culture of fear and silence around mental health is costly to employers:

  • More than one in five (21 per cent) agreed that they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
  • 14 per cent agreed that they had resigned and 42 per cent had considered resigning when asked how workplace stress had affected them.
  • 30 per cent of staff disagreed with the statement ‘I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’.
  • 56 per cent of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but don't feel they have the right training or guidance.

 Be active

Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.   Exercise is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline and for promoting well-being.

But it doesn’t need to be particularly intense for you to feel good - slower-paced activities, such as walking, can have the benefit of encouraging social interactions as well providing some level of exercise.   One of their top tips is to sign up to a challenge and be part of a team and this is just where Miles For Mind comes in to play.

Miles For Mind is a virtual run that encourages entrants to be as active as they can.   With 7 distances to choose from, starting at 25 miles and going up to 200 miles, you have 31 days to cover the total distance through as many runs, jogs or walks as you like.   At the end of your challenge, you simply drop us an email to say you've completed it and we'll get your Miles For Mind medal out in the post to you!

As well as the physical aspect to the month, encouragement and support is offered in abundance over on social media as fellow participants spur each other on.

As well as daily updates, runners also share their experience of how running has helped them overcome their own mental health challenges through a series of blogs that Mind host on their site.   From day to day mental challenges, to helping overcome PTSD, each story is personal to the writer, yet inspiring to others that might find themselves in a similar position.


Click here for BBC article on depression in young people and women.

Click here for BBC article on partents stress and depression in lockdown.

Click here for BBC article on how COVID-19 has affected mental health.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

A Guide to Hill Running

FOR ANY new runner the thought of hills can cause some form of anxiety.   It's far easier to stick to flat routes and run around the hill, but half of the problem is phychological and you just have to get over it, sometimes literally.

Having invested in a LiRF course with England Athletics I decided to look into the whole issue and use the information to coach and support other athletes.   Here is the highlights ...

Begin with a gentle slope; it will start you off in the right direction, never go straight for the mountain and end up injuring yourself.   Running isn't a sport that you should aim to do between injuries!

What is hill training and what are the benefits?

There is a simple answer to this as it's simply repetitions of running up a slope or incline.   The benefits of hill running can result in your leg muscles gaining strength and it helps to improve your running technique, improve endurance which makes you stronger over distance, also add variation to your training and are a form of strength training.

How to include hills in your training?

It's recommended to add a hill training session to your training once a fortnight, and on a day where you are rested.   In other words not the day after a long run!   The day following a hill session, if you are planning to run, then make sure you run slow and easy and use the run as recovery.

As time goes on and your strength improves, weekly hill runs can be built into your training or alternate them with other fitness sessions. For example: one week add a hill run and then the following week an off-road interval session.

Example hill sessions

To get you started here are two options to try out.   Make sure that you have done a really good warm up because you don't want to go into this with cold muscles.   And don't forget to stretch the muscles out afterwards.

Session one (starter level)

If you have not run a hill session before and want to get a taste of what is involved, look at your routes and find a 1 to 2 mile loop with a few hills of varying degrees and distance.

Run at an easy-steady pace on the flat.    Once you get to the first hill, run hard to just over the brow.    Then run steady from the top of the hill onto the next one – and repeat.  Do as many times as you feel you can manage. 

Session two

Where I live there is a park with a hill up one side that's about 400m in length.   There are six lamposts that run up the side of it.   I get a good pace up to run to the bottom of the hill and then come back to the first lampost.   Once there I run back down and come back up to the second lampost.   I then repeat working my way up to the last lampost.

The aim is to slowly increase the length of time I am running up hill and recovering on the run back down.   I am aiming to run down hill slower so that my recovery time is greater than my effort time.

Hill sessions can sound tough so this is where I use the Haywards Heath Harriers sessions, but you can just use a friend to join you for motivation.   To begin, you may feel that you cannot jog down the hill and recover.   If this is the case, do not panic and just walk down instead.   Always do this at your own ability and build up your resilience by using stress and stimuli.  Gently build up the running staying free from injury and remember the most important part, ENJOY IT!   There are sompe beautfiul hills around the country.   The pictures used on this blog are from the Haywards Heath Harriers Spring Series Virtual Run - South Downs Half Marathon.



Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

WATER MAKES up 60% of your body weight, which is why keeping an eye on your daily intake is vital.   But how much water should I drink per day and why is it so important?

Hydration is an essential part of looking after yourself and creating exercise times to help maintain a good mental health, especially as we work long hours and all kinds of shift patterns.   We also need to consider that we are now in Spring and heading a Summer which will raise the temperatures.

You've probably heard the suggestion that eight glasses of water per day will keep you well-hydrated.   While this is a good amount to aim for, your individual needs vary depending on how much exercise you do, where you live and your general health and wellbeing.

If you do a lot of exercise, you'll need to compensate the water you lose through sweating by drinking more. And if you're exercising intensively for more than an hour, it's a good idea to replace the minerals in your blood that you lose through sweating (electrolytes). The same goes for when you're holidaying - or living - in a hot and humid climate where you'll be sweating more than if you were somewhere cooler. If this is the case make sure to top up on fluids more frequently.

Certain illnesses will also affect your hydration. If diarrhoea or a sickness bug has left you feeling weak and feeble it's partly because your body is de-hydrated. Medical professionals often suggest an increased water intake for urinary tract infections and urinary tract stones.

In terms of how much water the average person in the UK should aim to consume per day, The National Academies of Sciences and Medicine suggest an adequate daily fluid intake is:

  • About 3.7 litres (3700ml) per day for men
  • About 2.7 litres (2700ml) per day for women

Benefits of water

If you think about it every human body is made up of 60% water… which means staying hydrated is crucial for your survival.   Your cells, your bodily tissue and your organs all rely on water to keep functioning normally and a lack of fluids can result in a lack of energy, so make sure to keep topping up throughout the day.

There are all sorts of benefits that come with drinking plenty of water including:

  • Regulation of temperature
  • Cushioning of your joints
  • Keeps you urinating regularly which in turn gets rid of unwanted waste

It's not just water that keeps you hydrated

It's easy to think that staying hydrated revolves around your eight glasses of water per day when in fact a significant amount of it can be found in food.   About 20 percent of your daily fluid intake actually comes from foods like spinach or watermelon which are both almost 100 percent water by weight. It's also easy to forget things like tea, coffee and milk which also contribute to you daily water intake.   Staying hydrated means eating lots of fruit and vegetables every day too, an added bonus for your health and wellbeing!

We all come into work and it gets busy, before you know it six hours have passed and you have not had a drink yet!   When you start to hydrate properly you may find you need to urinate more!   Think of your body like a plant if you have not watered it sufficiently and suddenly start, the water pours through the soil.   Once it’s hydrated it holds the water better and stops leaking so much.   Your body is the same, give it time and your hydration will get to a level it should be at.


Monday, 19 April 2021

Leadership in Run Fitness

FOR THE last couple of years I have been a Mental Health Champion for Haywards Heath Harriers (HHH) and England Athletics (EA).   Having suffered from PTSD in 1969, at the age of seven, when I witnessed a child die in the most horrendous way.   In those days PTSD was not recogonised and there was no such thing as counselling, especially for a seven year old.

Later suffering from work relates stress I felt I had a reasonable understanding of mental health and how it can affect you and different positive ways of dealing with it.

A part of the role is organising runs under EA #runandtalk programme inconjunction with Mind the mental health charity.   Whenever I organise a run I have to get someone else involved as I do not carry the EA insurance.

Working in HHH I recognised an opportunity and spoke with one of the coaches.   The deal was that if they allowed me to qualify as a Leader in Run Fitness (LiRF) I would be able to arrange the runs without having to get someone else involved and I would help them with Group 5 as a leader.

Normally for the main part of the qualification you have to complete a one day course where you have assessments which qualify you.   Due to COVID EA had to move to online training so I was looking at completeing a more difficult process.

Stage one was in two parts.   The qualification allow you to coach adolesents so you need a DBS check and you also need to complete on online Safeguarding course.   Both reasonably staightforward and didn't take too long to get through.

Stage two is completing four online modules.   Each module has a test at the end of it to ensure that you have fully understood the information being given to you.   Warning it does carry a pass/fail grade.   All of the areas covered were aimed at running and safeguarding the people you are taking responsibility for.

1. RAMP module for warm ups and their importance
2. Accessing venues or routes for risks and adjustments
3. Running the training events
4. Cool downs and their importance
5. How training is different from adolescents to adults
6. The energy systems in your body and how they work
These are just some of the examples of the information given to you allowing you help others reach their potential.

Stage three is an online classroom to talk about all of the elements and discuss their practical applications.

Stage four (the final stage) is bringing everything together in two five minute video's.   You need to demonstrate taking a group of athletes through a warm up, demonstrating a practical application of the courses and running a training event.

For the video I needed two athletes, due to lockdown, an EA coach to oversee what I was doing and someone to video the events.   Luckily the EA coach also videoed the event so there was four of us in Victoria Park, Haywards Heath shooting the videos.

The good news is I qualified and during lockdown have been taking a group of athletes out for a runs when government guidance has allowed.   On occassions this as had to be on a one to one basis.

One of the five pillars of good mental health is giving something back.   With the support I have discovered from the running community this is my way of giving something back.   Supporting and helping to train new athletes who want to give running a go.

With lockdown restrictions being relaxed we will be seeing a return to training this week.   We will still need to limit the numbers, so run leaders will remain playing a vital role in the training.   I would recommend the course to anybody who is interest in run leadership either with an EA club or affiliated Run Together Group.