Sunday, September 30, 2007


Well, I said I wanted a smile putting back on my face, and that just about managed it.

I didn't seem to sleep very well on Friday night, and was pretty tired when I dragged myself out of bed on Saturday morning to have my hair cut and drive to Newcastle. I got there and I wasn't that much more awake, but that soon changed.

I was a bit worried that watching an important Wigan play off match in the company of several ex Wigan players would inhibit me a bit, for fear of making stupid comments in front of them! But the match drew me in, and I was shouting at the screen like a lunatic. For some reason the tv cameras kept focussing on a huge Wigan fan celebrating every time we scored, to the predictable changs that he ate all the pies. Someone I'd never met before and doesn't know the history, said "he must have had your share"!

A good win, perked me up no end, then off to a pasta buffet at the hotel, and bed. Again I didn't sleep too well, and was up bright and early for breakfast, then the bus to the start. It was a novel experience being crammed into a van with Terry O'Connor, Barrie McDermott, Kris Radlinski and Mike's wife Erica (he wasn't well enough to take part, but she still did it because it was one of her dreams, and she was doing it for him).

At the start we flashed our passes and got straight into the VIP area at the start. The highlight, for Erica at least, was when she said, excitedly "Paula used my loo!". We got to spot some of the stars, although we were in the "celebrity walkers" bit rather than the "celebrity runners" bit. Although the elites did set off from our side, so we got a close up view of just how tiny and fat free they are. Very scary!

We got interviewed on the BBC before the race. You might just be able to see me in the background if you look carefully. Apparently (and I'm just watching it back and haven't got there yet, so can't verify this), they had cameras live at Erica and Mike's house to show their kids cheering us on. In most of the build up you can see us wandering around in the background - I never thought I'd be on live tv with a load of former pro rugby players wearing lycra!

There's not too much to say about the details of the race. We formed quite a party - 11 able bodied runners, 2 wheelchairs and 2 bikes ridden by the carers, complete with medical supplies. We had a formation which we (vaguely) managed to stick in all the way round to make sure that the wheelchairs were protected. We didn't go very fast (we did the first 5 miles in an hour, then slowed down), but it was nice to just be able to enjoy the experience. Well, I say enjoy the experience but I was spending so much energy trying to make sure no-one got in the way of the chairs that I didn't take in much of the route itself.

But the atmosphere was great, even if I didn't take in the route. We seemed to get even bigger cheers than most when we went past, and the number of runners who came over to cheer us on was fantastic. I actually managed to see loads of people I knew as they ran past us (one of them with the words "this is fantastic, I never thought I'd manage to beat you!"). The Red Arrows went overhead as we crossed the Tyne Bridge (the bit they always show on tv), and seemed to be going up and down the seafront at South Shields for ages as we approached the finish and ran the last mile.

The time wasn't important, but for the record we just sneaked under 3 hours. I'm pretty sure that won't be beaten as a PW for me for quite some time, but this was a team effort, not about how fast I can run a half marathon. It was about getting Erica and the chairs round, and about raising awareness (helped, apparently, by the fact that one of the BBC producers actually has MND and was quite keen on featuring us). It made me more confident that I can run both Amsterdam and New York - for a quite a lot of the time I was switching between walking and jogging at exactly the same speed, depending which I felt like doing. And the bloke who fell off the back of the group first, at a mere 7 miles, is doing New York, so unless he bucks his training up a lot, I will still be in a far better state than that.

It was just one of those days that would have seemed completely impossible if you'd suggested it a few years ago. To run a half marathon with some of my rugby league heroes, and to barely break into a sweat, and to cram into a van with people I've idolised, it was fantastic. Even more so when I realised what a bloody achievement it is for those guys in the chair to get round, and the amount of work it takes to protect them, the respect we got from the other runners, the crown, and the fact that we really did feel like heroes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Big C

It looks like my sister is planning a rush wedding. Originally they were talking about spring 2009, but it now seems that the date is more likely to be January. 2008. As in three or four months away.
She's not pregnant. (I think!) She just wants all our grandparents to be there, and recent events have given the situation a degree of urgency. They've finally done the tests on my grandmother, and she has lung cancer. We don't know how bad yet, how advanced, how agressive, how long, but I think we are all making similar assumptions. Forget the statistics for 5 year survival rates, and think about numbers much smaller than that.
We might be wrong, but she's 79 and she's been suffering from various ailments for months, years even, without getting any medical help. How much of that is the cancer, and how much is other stuff we don't know, but it would be a miracle if it hadn't been there, festering, for some time. They're confident enough to diagnose it without having got all the tests back, so it must be a clear case.
The news didn't come as a shock particularly. She smoked for years, and it was probably a question of when it would catch up with her, rather than if it would. And if it wasn't that, there was clearly some sort of serious problem with her lungs, and would something else necessarily be any better? At least now we know, we can think about treatment or at least alleviating the symptoms rather than just watching her refusing to see a doctor. And we can do everything in our power to try to get her to that wedding.
Speaking of illness, it now looks like Mike's going to be too ill to do the Great North Run on Sunday. That's a shame, because if he's not well enough now, he probably never will be. As far as I know, everyone else is still running for him, and it should still be a fantastic experience, but with a bit more sadness about it. There was an article in the Telegraph yesterday which flagged to me that he was pretty unlikely to make it, but I still lived in hope that he'd be having a good day on Sunday. But I'm sure he'll be with us in spirit, if not in person.
This one's for you, Mike.
What with all this, I'm not the most cheerful person around at the moment. It's trivial by comparison, but the shortening days aren't helping either. I'm finding it harder and harder to drag myself out of bed to get to the gym, finding it depressing to need lights both on the way into work and the way home, and hating getting used to running in the cold again. I'm being a real grumpy misery guts, and I wish I could snap myself out of it. I wish I could take some time out to escape from it all, without feeling like that just leaves me less time to keep on top of everything else, or feeling guilty for putting myself first for a moment. Even if I could just spend some time with someone who could make me laugh for a while to take my mind off things rather than sinking deeper and deeper.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keep on Going

If nothing else, this last few weeks must have done wonders for my ability to keep on going when I'm convinced that I have no energy left - which will hopefully help with marathon training. I've been all over the place, trying to fit family, and work, and running, and everything else in. If I look at it all, it can get overwhelmingly daunting, but when I break it down into individual tasks, I persuade myself to get through one more thing, and then another.

This weekend was just about as horrifically tiring as I thought it would be. The rugby on Friday night was fantastic, but not exactly restful. Then I raced on Saturday morning (finishing 4th woman in a 5 mile race! The worrying thing being that I was kicking myself for not trying a bit harder and finishing 3rd - although there weren't any prizes anyway, personal pride was at stake). I drove 315 miles to pick my mother up from Humberside Airport, drop her off in Blackpool, visit my grandmother in hospital and drive home again. I then dragged myself out of bed early on Sunday, travelled down to London, and did a 17 mile run because it was the only time I could fit it in. I then collapsed, ate pizza, and only felt slightly refreshed by yesterday morning when I had to sit through a dull, and long, IT contracts conference. Then the train home, getting back at about 10.15pm. After that, it made a gentle cycle to work and a day in the office seem like a rest.

I seem to be just as busy this week, with a weekend in Newcastle for the Great North Run following on from the annual client party at work. I'd really rather not go to that, but suspect it wouldn't look good if I skived. Which wouldn't be a good idea while my associate application is still going through. In a last ditch attempt to look half decent on tv on Sunday I am managing to squeeze in a hair cut though - watch out for us if you're watching, the BBC are meant to be featuring us, and we've got a tv crew from Granada following us too.

Then it's the taper for Amsterdam, and I've never looked forward to something quite so much. I've been half wondering whether I shouldn't give up on Amsterdam, with being so tired at the moment, but I figured that I only really needed one more long run anyway, so I may as well put my training to some use even if I think I'm unlikely to get GFA unless my stress levels rapidly decrease and my energy levels rapidly increase in the near future!

Anyway, I'm still hanging in there, just about. I'll be glad when all this madness is over though!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wine and Chocolate Will Not Help

I can tell when I'm getting stressed, and feeling like I'm sinking under everything that's going on. I go quiet, and I start to think about turning to those old friends, red wine and Dairy Milk. Particularly the red wine. My way of dealing with a situation I don't know how to handle is essentially denial, and anything that can get me into a semi-comatose state, with my senses dulled, is a winner for me. The chocolate isn't such a non-negotiable part of the deal, but old habits die hard (even if, to be fair, I'm more likely to reach for the Green & Blacks now).
I'm trying to retrain my brain at the moment. Running helps far more. I can still clear my brain of everything I am trying not to think about, and I can still dull my senses to everything except the mechanical action of my legs and my arms, and my breathing, and my heart rate. And I don't get a hangover in the morning. But somehow, even though I know that, and I know that it's a better way to deal with the situation, it just doesn't have the same appeal to my brain when I'm sitting at work deciding how to spend the evening. On Monday I got to running club, sat for 10 minutes in the changing room and then decided to go home. I forced myself to run last night, but my heart wasn't really in it when I set out. It got better though, and I'm glad I did it. And maybe if I do it often enough it will become my stress reliever of choice.
I will admit to a little bit of comfort eating, and I will admit that some of my clothes are a little snugger than they were a week or two ago. That doesn't bother me, I'm not bingeing as such, just being a bit less controlled than I could be. Why do I feel like food is going to help though? After all, a bar of chocolate or a slice of toast isn't going to sit there talking to me, hugging me, or doing something practical to make me feel better. It might provide momentary satisfaction, but the taste is gone quickly, but the emotional void is still there waiting to be filled. At the most it will take my mind off things for a moment or two, but it's actually not chocolate or wine that's best at that. What I need is the sort of food that I can stand in the kitchen cooking for an hour or so, busying myself with doing something. One of my favourite comfort foods is risotto, not just for the taste but because standing there stirring the stock in allows me to empty my head of anything else. Spending the time cooking something, or running, is time devoted to my health and wellbeing, rather than worrying about someone else's.
But if that's the argument I need to use to tear myself away from the wine and chocolate, I'm still not sure how to stop the habit I have of retreating into myself, of barely uttering a word, and certainly not letting anyone know what's bugging me. My brain seems to think that it's weak to ask for help, or to admit that I don't know what I'm doing, or that I'm out of my depth. I've simply never been in this position for, and don't seem to have any instinct that kicks in and tells me what to do, other than to try my best to ignore it in the hope it goes away. And I'm not sure that is going to happen.
At the moment, it seems that this could be my plan for the weekend:
Friday night - leaving drinks, then to Bradford for rugby. Home.
Saturday - 5 mile race. Drive to Humberside airport. Drive from Humberside airport to Blackpool. Visit hospital. Drive home.
Sunday - help with registration for 10k race. Get train to London. Do 20 mile run.
Monday - sleep through dull conference. Sleep on train home.
The strange thing is that the runs are probably going to be the times out of all that where I feel most chilled out and relaxed, and the part of the weekend I'm most looking forward to because I'll get some time alone. Further evidence that I'm not entirely sane. Or, if I still am (just about), that my sanity is quickly ebbing away.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I often think that one of the keys to my success over the past few years has been planning and routine. I don't need to think to work out how to fit exercise into my life. I don't get to lunchtime wondering what food choices to make. Everything is set in my mind in advance. I know the combination of tubs to pick out of the freezer in the morning to give me the right mix of meals. I know how to plan my commute to and from work to incorporate the right exercise for the day. My mind has some tried and tested back up plans for when things get a bit disrupted, and essentially it's just a case of reading the instructions.

When things are normal, it works well. My routine is demanding, and it keeps me busy, but it has just about enough "sanity time" built in. I'm out at 6am every morning, and two or three nights a week, but there are two or three for me to recover a bit. I sometimes worry that I don't have enough time to myself to relax, to read, to think, to write, to do the things that feel more like living than simply existing, but when I do have a bit of time, I enjoy it for a while then start to get a bit restless, which I take as a sign that I'm ready to head back onto the treadmill again.

But when things aren't normal, that's when I start to worry whether this is good for me. Yes, when things start to get manic my routine helps me fit more in than I have any right to be able to do, because I've got the technique of packing a bag with everything I need for the day in 5 minutes flat, not forgetting anything, not needing to prepare food from scratch later. But what does seem to go missing is the sanity time, and after a while that really starts to show.

I don't have a great relationship with my dad. There's nothing specific there, or if there is it's hidden deep in my subconscious, we're just not particularly close. I had hoped that we might get closer now that I've started being more active. He was always the sportsman, the walker, and I wondered whether we could tap into some shared interests. That hasn't happened yet. Maybe one reason for our continued distance is my dislike of his attitude towards my mother's family, but that's jumping ahead in the story a bit. He also just doesn't understand me, as when he assumed I'd have a menu for the local chinese takeaway, which was a bit ambitious as I (a) don't like chinese much and (b) haven't had takeaway for about 3 years. And as for the scales he bought me, they're going straight in the bin (not least because they weigh me 2 stone heavier than I am - serves him right for buying cheap tat because he wants to weigh his case and then passing them off as a "present").

Anyway, his dad hasn't been too well recently, so he decided to come over from Gran Canaria to see him. Even though he spent every day at their house, he still stayed at mine for some reason. I'm not actually sure why, to be honest. On the basis that they have a spare room, and had to come over to pick him up and drop him off every day, and half the time I wasn't in anyway, I'm not sure what benefit he got from trekking back over here, but that's a side issue. As is the fact that I found out he was coming from my grandparents. He never bothered to tell me himself, or to ask whether I had any plans. But let's move on. While he was here I did feel like I should spend some time over there. I didn't break into my normal routine, but on the nights when I'd normally have been resting, I went over there. So that cut down my evenings in the house to... well... not very many at all.

And then, on thursday evening when I was over there, my grandfather got a weight off his chest. He's pretty seriously disabled after a bout of polio before I was born, and now he's got something wrong with him, but the doctors aren't exactly sure what. He's having regular blood transfusions, has to go to the hospital every week, and although he looks better now than he did a few weeks ago, is no closer to being better. He wanted to take the opportunity of two thirds of his family being there (all four of us, out of six), and him still being of sound mind, as they say to give us firm instructions about what he wants for himself. He doesn't want to be kept alive. He said he's had a good life, he's 81, and he doesn't want to become a burden on anyone. It wasn't an easy conversation.

So at that point, you'd hope that the mood of the evening could only improve. Until my dad got a phone call from my mum who is still in Spain (they rarely come back at the same time, so someone can look after the business and, more importantly, the cat). When he told my grandparents (not me) what she'd called about it took me a while to compute. Apparently Mrs Newton had been so unwell that they'd called the doctor out to see her.

After a second or two, I realised that he was referring to my other grandmother. It would have been nice if he'd directed his comments at me rather than his family, and if he'd referred to her in terms that I recognise. Or in fact anything that would indicate that he was talking about his own mother in law.

A bit of background here. My grandmother is 80. She was in hospital somewhere over 10 years ago, had a bad experience, and has pretty much refused to see a doctor since. They still go for flu jabs etc, but she refuses to see the doctor about the more serious ailments that she's been suffering from. She intends to "go out of this world as she came into it" (rather ironic for someone with a daughter who spent pretty much her whole childhood in hospital), and has a deep distrust of the medical profession. So if she's agreed to see a doctor, things must be bad.

So I said that I might go over there on the Friday night to see how she was and, equally importantly, how my grandfather was. Rather like me, he's too stubborn to admit when he wants help, or support, or even just a hug. He struggles on trying to cope with my grandmother, and you can tell it gets to him a bit. He worries about her, no matter how much they bicker.

When mum's here she visits her parents, and she visits my dad's parents. When I suggested that I'd go over to St Annes to see them, what was my dad's reaction? Absolute silence. Although it's not entirely an unreasonable idea, I know better than to expect him to go over there on his own. But if I was going anyway, would he join me? Clearly not. I suspect that there may be a minor row on this subject when he gets home. I always get the feeling, from how he talks to his family about them, that he looks down on my mum's side of the family a bit. He's the privately-educated dentist's son from the city, while she's the carpenter's daughter from Wigan, coming from a family where she was the first to go to university and where a good night out is still an evening of bingo at the labour club. I just get the feeling that he sees himself as better than them, and when his family talk about my mum's parents it sometimes has a "look at how the working class live" sort of tone. Maybe I'm being unfair, but his lack of interest in a visit hasn't helped.

So instead of looking forward to Friday night as an opportunity to enjoy the rugby, collapse into bed, and enjoy a long, leisurely run on Saturday morning before the inevitable trip over to my dad's parents, I ended up going to the rugby, then trekking from there to St Annes. On Saturday morning I did cling onto the last remnants of routine by squeezing in (as you do) 17 miles up to Blackpool and back, along the sea front, taking advantage of the fact that I'm an early riser, and my grandparents aren't. Also taking advantage of the fact that whenever I go somewhere I eye up potential routes, so even though I'd never run from their house before, I knew where I'd go if I did) It wasn't the run I'd planned, but it was good to finish 17 feeling like I had something in reserve, even if it wasn't the same as completing 20. I then spent a difficult day trying to find out more details about what's actually wrong, trying to give my grandfather some support, trying to find some way to squeeze some fruit and veg into my diet.

Meanwhile, my dad went over to his parents (again), and they were sorting out getting him to the airport for his return flight. Over 5 days I'd managed to see him for one evening and a couple of snatched moments elsewhere (and he'd still managed to wind me up by leaving biscuits lying around and leaving the toilet seat up!)

I left St Annes at about 7pm and, on the way to the motorway, I picked up a bottle of wine. Having got my long run out of the way, I had just one plan for the rest of the weekend. A glass of wine and collapse into bed when I got home, then do some chores (washing, shopping) to make up for the fact that I'd barely been in the house since Tuesday, on Sunday morning, then spend the rest of the day reading the paper, speaking to no-one, and trying to get my sanity back.

I got home, and I unlocked the door. I put my bags down and I opened the wine before doing anything else. As I grabbed a glass my mobile rang.

It was my dad. The stupid idiot (that might not have been the word I used) had managed to go to the airport on the wrong day. He'd got there and realised that his flight wasn't listed. The flight was this evening, not yesterday. He was coming back to Leeds and needed me to pick him up from the station. By this point I was so tired that when I put the phone down I almost burst into tears. I knew that if he came back I (a) wouldn't be able to go to sleep until he got back (b) wouldn't be able to drink wine while waiting for him (c) wouldn't be able to have a quiet day of doing nothing (d) would need to go over to his parents for lunch (AGAIN) today and (e) was on the verge of going insane. I just about managed to get to the station and back without falling asleep or crying, although by this stage I was virtually incapable of speech, and thankfully this morning I was feeling a bit more sane and agreed to go over there for lunch, if not the whole afternoon. But boy was I glad to get back home afterwards, locking the door behind me, grabbing that bottle of wine for a second time and just collapsing onto the sofa. Then falling asleep.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mike Gregory

I'm having one of those days where I can't concentrate because of the image that keeps on popping into my head. Last night I watched a news report on Mike Gregory, who we're doing the Great North Run with. I really was speechless. I knew that he was seriously ill, and that he has a nasty nasty disease (Progressive Muscular Atrophy - a form of Motor Neurone Disease), but I really didn't realise how bad it had got, and how quickly. He's been ill for three, maybe four years, and has already reached the stage where he can't move or communicate, other than by operating a computer with a foot pedal which then reads out what he's typed (think Stephen Hawking and you won't be far off).

It really did bring home the enormity of what we're attempting, as well as the fragility of human life, and how lucky I am to be young(ish), healthy and fit. Mike was captaining his country at one of the toughest sports around in the not too dim and distant past, and now he's been reduced to a virtual skeleton, trapped in a body that doesn't work. And even though nobody's said it out loud, you just sense that unless miracles happen, the disease is going to carry on eating away at him until it kills him. I don't know when that will be, but the talk of finding a cure when he was first diagnosed seems a long, long way away now.

Both my mother and I seem to have had exactly the same thought, that it really emphasises the importance of seizing each moment, and living life to the full, because if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. When I see things like that I can never think of running as a chore, but more of a celebration of the fact that I can do it. It isn't something to be squeezed grudgingly into my day, carried out reluctantly on a treadmill, it's a chance to get outside and make the most of the fact that my legs, my lungs, my heart all work in graceful unity, as they're intended, and that I can be free, even if it's only for an hour or so.

I wrote last week about Jane Tomlinson (and I've managed to get hold of copies of both her books - "The Luxury of Time" and "You Can't Take It With You" - from the library which I'm devouring at the moment - I've ordered Mike's - "Biting Back" - from Amazon too to get me in the mood for the GNR), and it struck me when I saw Mike that what we're attempting is perhaps in its own way as significant as what she did. The actual sporting events may be different, but the spirit and the magnitude of the challenge is little different. They both have that spirit that says that no matter how grim the diagnosis, you carry on fighting and living for as long as possible, and you refuse to let it beat you.

On the same subject, I had an interesting PM exchange last night. Matt (the disabled guy I'm running New York with and who is also doing the GNR - and who has that same spirit as Mike and Jane) posted an update on his training, and the guy who's organising it all gave a bit of an update on his and said that "no doubt [I'd] be along with some sensational times to put them to shame".

I replied and said that there was no point bragging about my times because what I'm doing is nowhere near as hard as what Matt is doing.

And then got told off for it. Because "you are the best in the team and it's not bragging coming up with the best times, it's a challenge for him, and the rest of us to keep up with you."

In my head I've been seeing my role for both these events as very much in the background. They are events for Mike, and for Matt, and I have no right to be hogging the limelight and detracting from their achievement by bragging about my times and implying that I could run faster if I wasn't sticking with the team. What they are doing is far far harder, and I kind of feel like I've blagged my way onto something that's far bigger and more important than I deserve any credit for.

But I do kind of see the point. Matt wants to just be part of the team in New York regardless of whether he's in a chair or not. He doesn't want to be treated differently. He wants us to look past his disability and see him as just another athlete. And he wants to be challenged by trying to keep up with a faster runner, rather than feeling like everyone is slowing down to make allowances for him. If we were a group of entirely able bodied runners, then maybe I'd be joking with the blokes about them not being able to keep up with me, and Matt and Chris don't want me to behave any differently just because Matt is in a chair (making the valid point that Matt may well not be the slowest of us anyway, and likes joining in with the winding up of slower runners).

Maybe what I've failed to appreciate is that it is about the team, not just about Matt and Mike. Maybe (and we're back to me not giving credit to myself when it's due), what I'm doing is, in its own way, just as noteworthy as what they're doing. It may be less of a physical challenge for me than for them (and can someone tell me when I started thinking of marathons as "not too hard"?) but how many other people do I know who would spend their own time and money training and fundraising for something like this. Have I been playing down in my head how much those guys need us, whether it's for physical things like moving bottles or pushing chairs, or just for mental things like being someone they can chase after to keep them going* or to talk to to keep spirits up. They couldn't do what they're doing if there weren't slightly strange people out there who wanted to help them. And I'm not just doing it once, I'm doing it twice.

The charity name is XIII Heroes, and I've been thinking of the others as the heroes, but maybe I am too.

(Oh, and you didn't think I was going to let the first part of that comment pass did you? Since when have I ever been the best on any sports team? God help them if I'm the best they've got! I just hope that he was talking about New York rather than GNR, because if he meant GNR, that team includes Ellery Hanley, and I wouldn't want to start claiming that I'm better than him at anything...)

*This thought has got me slightly worried. I have noticed from running forums, and from observation at races that there is a male tendency to pick a fast, shapely female arse to act as a pacemaker for them. It seems to motivate them to keep up far better than split times on a pace band. So now I have the slightly horrifying image in my head of a group of my rugby league idols using my lycra-clad arse as a target to chase after. I'm sure that a few years ago this would have classed as a nightmare. "Right, your job is to dress in lycra and to be chased by a group of Wigan legends for thirteen miles. Don't let them catch you". It's tempting to let them set the pace...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Es Muy Buena Abogada

The other night I touched on one of my irrational fears. Also pre-occupying me at the moment is one of my more rational ones. I'm terrified of failure, and sometimes I'd rather not try something, than try and fail. That's what stopped me trying to lose weight or play sport for a long time. It's partly because of my perfectionist tendencies I suppose, if I can't be good at something I don't see the point of doing it. I seemed to forget that there can be enjoyment in just losing yourself in a moment. I see that now more easily, I may be the world's slowest cyclist, but that doesn't stop me enjoying the fresh air and the wind in my hair.
But while that works for things that are enjoyable to do badly, it doesn't work for everything. There are things that are no pleasure to do, and which still bring the risk of failure. That's where the problem starts. At work I've been paralysed by indecision for the past month. I've just about got to the stage of my career where I can apply to be "regraded" and given a new job title. There's no pay rise as such (although there is medical insurance, and I'd get some money in lieu of parking - the parking itself being no use as it would take effect from the day after I give my car away), but most lawyers love showing off their status so it's seen as a big thing.
If it were just a case of weighing up the benefits, I wouldn't be that bothered, to be honest. I don't care what my job title is, and the relative lack of extra benefits doesn't give me the incentive to fill in the form and go through the waiting procedure to find out whether I've got it (unlike cycling on a sunny day, waiting to hear the decision of the partners on whether they like you doesn't have any inherent pleasure). I would almost rather live in ignorance than apply and be told I'm not good enough. OK, so it's only not good enough "yet", people seem to either get it at 4 or 5 years PQE, and at 4 years and 5 days I'm only just about sneaking past the minimum PQE requirement, but still I was wondering whether or not it would be leave it for this year, and avoid the pain of rejection.
It got to lunchtime on the day before the deadline, and I still hadn't really done anything about applying, kind of assuming that I wouldn't put myself through it. Then suddenly I gave myself a kick up the backside and read the role description. It describes what I do. I have all the experience it wants you to have, so why shouldn't I go for it? After all, I've pretty much been running the IT side of things here for nearly a year, so it's not as though I don't tick the "autonomous" and "responsible" boxes. How many people at my level get to do that? I've done internal work for internal IT procurement contracts which has got me glowing reviews at management board, and almost without exception the partners who have worked with me have been impressed with the work I've done. I have had meetings with the head of everything non-legal (not his official job title) about IT contracts, and have prepared reports on them for the managing partner who has to sign them off. I've done work on deals which are so confidential that they were meant to be partner input only, but where the partners didn't have the specialist expertise they needed.
Even worse, if I didn't apply for it, would that be seen as a lack of ambition to progress within the firm? (I have to admit here, that maybe if it was seen as that they'd be right, but that doesn't mean I want to show that card just yet). And if I didn't apply but other people who I don't think are as good as me did, and got it, how would that make me feel when the appointments were announced? And what if people thought I'd applied and been rejected, without knowing that I hadn't actually applied? Don't you just love office politics?
Sometimes I still have problems convincing myself that I'm good enough. I've never had anything other than good feedback from people I've done work for, I've survived a year of maternity leave without feeling overwhelmed. When I read the criteria, I know that I can tick almost every one of them off, but still I struggle to convince myself that ticking each of the criteria adds up to being good enough as a whole. I had to sit myself down and go through it to persuade myself that there were no glaring omissions.
So at about 1:45 I realised that my application had to be in the internal post that afternoon. It is possibly the least considered application they've ever received, handwritten onto the form (it was a PDF and I didn't have time to work out how to get typed answers in the right places), and without the input from my boss that it suggests you get - with her being on maternity leave and with the deadline looming, I just bashed something out that said what I wanted to say, rather than what she thinks they want to hear. I didn't do a first draft, amend it, write it out neatly, I just said what I wanted to say and put it straight onto paper. I then put it on my desk and looked at it for a while. I put it in the post tray. I took it out of the post tray. I put it in again, and 10 minutes later I was horrified when I realised that the post tray had been emptied and I couldn't retrieve it for yet more indecision.
I do suspect that to some extent your application form is irrelevant as long as the right people already know your name, and because of the amount of internal work I do, I know a lot of senior people in non-legal departments who lots of people never come across, which will help. The form is fairly short and they don't interview, so it must be very much a case of the impression you've already made on them, rather than anything you do during the application process.
I think it's best that I assume that I'm not going to get it, and to carry on convincing myself that I don't want it, but it's the first time in a while I've put myself forward for something where it's out of my hands whether I succeed or fail, and where I get feedback on how other people see me. I'm quite proud of myself for doing it (I will admit to a moment of panic when I got to work this morning after a day out of the office and saw a voicemail from the partner I had to submit the application to - but he was just just saying it had arrived rather than "how could you be so stupid as to think that application is good enough"). If only there was something positive that could come out of the process even if I don't get it, rather than just a straight yes/no answer, it would help me enjoy the wait while they scrutinise the applications. Even though I'd hate to go through an interview, even that would help me feel like I have some opportunity to influence the process rather than just sitting here helpless.
I don't know, but there's no way of recalling the application now, so I guess I just have to wait and see, while trying not to wonder what on earth I did that for...

Hang on. That all finished a bit negative. Why should I assume I won't get it? Why DON'T I think I'm good enough? Why am I never prepared to trumpet my own achievements? I'm not one for massaging my own ego, or telling people how good I am. I let my achievements speak for themselves most of the time. I don't boast, I just do.
The problem is that, being the eternal singleton, distanced from my family, and without a real team at work, I don't have anyone else who tells me how good I am. So because I don't tell myself, and no-one else does it for me, I start to lose sight of it. On my noticeboard at work I have pinned a page from one of those Spanish phrase a day tear off calendar things - "Es muy buena abogada" - she is a very good lawyer. It's as close as I tend to get to reminding myself that I AM good at this, even if whoever wrote it certainly didn't have me in mind when they put it down for 15 June 2006.
But, when I put my mind to it I can come up with a pretty impressive list of things I've done, any of which would be an achievement on their own. I've done lots of things that most people will never achieve. How many people will ever run a marathon, let alone break 4 hours or help achieve a world first? How many people will ever run a half marathon with Ellery Hanley and Kris Radlinski? How many people will ever maintain an eight stone weight loss? How many people will ever get a first class degree in law, or a distinction in a masters degree? Take temporary control in a specialist area for a year? But I haven't just done one of those things, I've done them all (or at the very least they're on my to do list for the near future).
I think my job for the weekend is to remind myself of that.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility

I had a really good day today. We had a Corporate Social Responsibility event, which basically involved going to some moorland near Doncaster and pruning back trees so that the footpaths were cleared. We teamed up with a firm of accountants, and it was surprisingly good fun. It helped that the weather was good, and it was the sort of day where I'd usually sit in my office wishing I could be outside.

I do think that CSR things tend to be more about being seen to do things, and led by marketing departments rather than because the firm really cares about footpaths in South Yorkshire, but it was still something that I enjoyed having the opportunity to do. As I spend more time outside running, cycling and walking, I'm learning to appreciate the value of public open spaces, and the work that goes into keeping them useable, so it was nice to be able to put something back.

My arms are scratched to bits, and I needed a rummage in the first aid box after sawing my leg (don't ask!), but it feels nice to get some fresh air. The question is - will it feel like I've worked out in the morning, as I don't often use my gardening muscles...

Afterwards we went to the pub for food (all that work must have burned off loads of calories ;) ), and drinks, and it was there that one of my irrational fears made an appearance. I am terrified of taxis. There is very little rational basis to it, but I struggle to bring myself to use them (in fact, this is one of the things that worries me about being car free - it would almost certainly be cheaper to get a taxi home from running club than to use a car club car, but I just don't like taxis...). Anyway, I'd come up with a complicated exercise/transport plan for the week (the two are becoming almost synonymous as my commute to work is essentially either a run or a bike ride) which got me to work this morning to change into stuff I'd left at the gym having run to running club last night, and then left me free to get the bus home. I only had about £3 in my wallet, but that was OK because the bus wouldn't cost that much and drinks were free.

But in the pub a colleague who lives near me suggested sharing a taxi home. I'm sure that people don't understand that I'd actually rather get the bus home than get in a taxi. Not to mention that I didn't actually have the cash on me to pay for it, having left the house in the morning with the plan of getting the bus. He probably thought he was doing me a favour by offering to share, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Irrational fears, don't you just love them?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Goodbye and Thank You

Last night I drove home from running club, a little later than normal. Nothing dramatic or unexpected happened on the journey, and it was entirely uneventful.
Today it was announced that Jane Tomlinson died last night, at roughly the time I drove past the hospice that was caring for her. I'm not saying that my presence in the rough vicinity has any real impact on the story or the event, of course, but it brought home that she's not just an inspirational figure in general, but a true local hero round here.
As far as I've come on my weight loss journey, I still can't even imagine completing some of the events she has done, and to do them while suffering from terminal cancer is absolutely unbelievable. I would be utterly daunted by an Ironman triathlon or cycling across America, but she went out there and she did it.
Although my challenges were entirely different, and of a different magnitude to Jane's, she's always been a huge inspiration to me. If she could run a marathon, then why shouldn't I try? The hurdles I had to overcome to get to that point were nothing compared to what she had to face, so why not go out and do it. She reminded me that seemingly ordinary people could do extraordinary things if they put their mind to it.
In June I ran in the inaugural Leeds 10k (a race she helped found). Even though it was expensive, crowded and not PB material, I wanted to do it to make it a success for her. Most people seemed to understand that it was important to make this year's race a success, because she probably wouldn't see next year's run. I might have complained a little about the slower runners at the start, and the people in fancy dress I had to weave round, but she deserved the city to turn out and run for her, and that's what we did.
So while today's news isn't entirely unexpected, it's still a sad loss. Goodbye Jane, and thanks for the inspiration.
The other news of the week is that I now have a good motivation for another year and a bit of maintenance. When I was originally losing weight my aim was to keep it off until a trip to Australia I'd had pencilled in for years as a bit of a 30th birthday treat. Sadly, that trip to Australia is almost certainly not now happening (and the money that was saved up is going towards the New York fund - incidentally the website has now been updated, complete with details of how to donate), but I still wanted to make it to my birthday anyway. If I have to reach my 30s, I may as well do it thin and fit.
But I digress. The new maintenance motivation is that my sister is now officially engaged, complete with ring. Everyone's known for a while that they were planning to get married, but now she has the jewellery to prove it. As far as I know, I get to be bridesmaid, and whatever her plans for the day it will be a good opportunity to get some good photos of the family all together, which is something which happens less and less frequently these days. So of course, I want to look my best in them. Not outshining Annette, obviously...
There isn't a firm date yet, early talk was of September next year, then possibly January 2009, although she's giving some thought to making it earlier because of the state of a couple of my grandparents' health. She wants them to be there and, sadly, time may not be on their side.

But still it's exciting, on the basis that on average weddings in my family come around every 15 years, and neither I nor my uncle are likely to do anything in the near future to change that!