Running scared at Hebden

Yesterday I took part in an event that was brand new to me in terms of terrain and running ability.

The Hebden is an LDWA event and is billed on its website as: “routes of 22 and 15 miles, catering for both walkers and runners … a tough event with a substantial amount of climbing  and … therefore unsuitable for beginners. Some navigational ability is required.”
Nick, our running club vice-chair and resident ultra runner has done The Hebden a few times and as our club – based in flat Lincolnshire – discovered an affection for hill running this year, he suggested we try the Hebden, which promises around 4000ft of climbing along its 22 mile route. I’ll admit at first I wasn’t interested, but after really enjoying cross country this year, and an outing to Mam Tor in the Peak District in November, my husband and I decided on a whim in December to join the group of our Witham Runners heading to the event and managed to get a place. 
Although I really enjoy trail running, map reading is not in my skill set so the thought of getting lost in the Pennine hills was scaring me a bit. I was also unsure of what to wear to run in, so knowing the conditions would be close to freezing, I opted for some thin running tights, thin socks (which would dry out quickly when they got wet) with my Salomon Speedcross 3 trail shoes, a long sleeved base layer, vest, thin water/wind resistant Under Armour jacket, and a Brooks windproof top to wear if it got really cold which I carried in my Quechua backpack. I also wore a woolly hat, buff and gloves.

    
I was nervous as we arrived at the Mytholmroyd cricket pavilion around 7am – a change to the usual starting point of the church hall after the devastating flooding a few weeks ago (the route had also been shortened slightly to cut out the lower, flooded sections) – but after a cup of tea and some hot toast, we headed outside for the “mass” start of around 450 runners. The start was a bit chaotic as we headed down a very icy canal towpath, and then straight up a steep, icy hillside via some rocky steps. Along the tops, the pack spread out a little as we witnessed a magnificent sunrise, and then “splat” – my first fall of the day as I slipped on an icy patch of mud. I landed on my back and the shock was enough to make me cry. Luckily, 3 of my running club were there to help me as I hobbled along for a quarter of a mile or so, until I felt able to start running again. 

  
That fall had shaken me up, and I was fearful of falling again, so every time we went downhill I slowed down to walking pace and would pick my way around the icy patches by standing on the grass at the edge. Gemma and I had agreed to stick together for this event, and as we headed up a track with a few runners following, we noticed a line of runners in the distance far below headed off to our left, and we realised we had missed a turning. After consulting our map, and discussing our predicament with the other runners who had followed us – oops! – we backtracked and headed back to find the right path. We had gone about 1.5 miles out of our way. As we headed down off the first hill, I noticed some walkers were starting to overtake me, and realised then I was way outside my comfort zone and that we had fallen quite a way behind. At that point I was seriously considering dropping out when I got to Check Point (CP) 1, and was in the middle of giving myself a stern talking to when I got to the bottom and saw Gem waiting for me, who had also just fallen. A big hug, and we headed to CP1 for some juice and a piece of tiffin with a vow we would get through this together. 

  

By this point we had lost Sue and Mike after we had taken a wrong turn so our plan was to catch them up, and we headed towards CP2 across some fields a little quicker, meeting three ladies en route who had also set out running but were finding the terrain difficult. We headed down into Hardcastle Crags up a track, crossed a river, and headed back up the valley via the slipperiest, rockiest steps I have ever seen, with a sheer drop into the valley below. I’m not a fan of heights, and this fear combined with my fear of slipping on the ice took all my concentration. We made it to CP2 however and rang Mike and Sue who assured us we weren’t far behind them. 
  
From CP2 we headed across more fields, up a hillside to the highest point so far with wonderful views of the snowy Pennines, and back down into a wooded valley, where we again missed a turning, but again soon righted ourselves and headed down a very icy track into CP3 at around 9.5 miles where there were toilets (hooray!), tea and coffee (amazing!), sandwiches and a vast array of home baked cakes. The best checkpoint ever! 

  
  
From CP3, full of renewed vigour and (coffee) beans, we ran up the hill to the footbridge to cross a main road, and realised it was closed, so had to do another double back. We then started the long slow climb up to Studely Pike. It was here we realised Mike and Sue had got horribly lost between CP2 and CP3 and we felt helpless because we had no way of finding them. At this point we had been going for 4 hours and had covered little more than 11 miles. Progress was painfully slow; however the end was in sight. The snowy track up to the Pike was beautiful, but another spectacular slip over saw me land in an enormous puddle, much to the amusement of the people behind me. Luckily I was unharmed this time, and spent the next 10 minutes of climbing chortling to myself at what a fool I must have looked, soaking wet through and covered in mud. I caught Gem up at the top and we headed across an icy bog, trying to decide which ice puddles were strong enough to hold our body weight, and which ones may crack. I felt I was walking on a lava field. Coming down off this hill was torturous, with slippery ice, bogs amongst the heather, and huge rocks which could do serious damage if we fell, and it was here were heard the news that Sue had reached CP3 eventually, but was on her way to hospital with a suspected broken wrist. 

  
At that point I seriously questioned my sanity. What was I doing up on the moors, a mother with responsibilities at home? If I broke an arm or leg, how would I look after my family? I made a vow to get down safely, however long it took me. I felt very alone up there. I couldn’t see anyone behind me, and the people in front seemed to be making much quicker progress than me and disappearing down the hillside. By this point I was sweating out loud, and just wanted to get down off the hill. I reached the rocky steps, and slid down them on my bottom, then reached the woodland and more wooden steps until finally we saw CP4 where I profusely thanked the marshall for the sweetest blackcurrant juice I had ever tasted! 

  
Gem and I had already decided we would head straight back from here, rather than complete the full 20 mile distance. We had already done 15 miles after our wrong turns, so we headed down another icy track, and back into Mytholmroyd along the canal towpath to the pavilion where my husband was waiting with a high five for both of us. He’s been waiting so long he had started helping with the pot washing to pay rent. 

  
Emotions washed over me; relief, pride, joy, tiredness, guilt at putting myself in danger. I changed into dry clothes, had two cups of tea and some pork pie and peas, and said my goodbyes to my teammates, and on heading out to the car with my husband he told me he’d had news earlier that my nan had died the night before. I sat in the car a while and cried tears of all these mixed emotions. 
Ultimately, I enjoyed the event but I was completely out of my comfort zone, and had relied on others to help me find my way. Luckily, weather conditions, although icy, were clear so that we could see runners ahead and know we were on the right track. I feel like I had put myself in danger up there; I know I could have so easily fallen and broken something, as I now know a few did. I’d like to go back and run the route again in less slippery conditions. It’s a spectacular route with stunning views and incredibly tough hills, not for the faint hearted. 
I’ve learnt that I CAN continue to push past my comfort zone and test myself, and for that I thank you, Hebden.

  
Special thanks to Gem for encouragement, my husband Dan for support and patience, and the LDWA for a spectacularly organised event with amazing food. 

Total miles: 16.7

Total elevation: 2932 feet

 

Running is less of a chore

I promised I would blog regularly about running every day, but I don’t particularly want to blog stats. I’m not bothered how many miles I’ve run or how fast. However, I have noticed an increase in my average pace and my overall fitness: I’m sure my VO2 Max is improving as I’ve clocked a few new PBs this month. 

Today is Day 37. It’s surprising how quickly a month has passed. In that time, I’ve come 56 seconds off my 2015 goal of a sub 50 10k, bagging myself a new PB of 50:55. In a month I’ve also brought my fastest mile time down from 7:16 to 6:56. I’m also noticing I’m putting less effort into maintaining a faster pace; a sure sign my fitness and leg strength is improving. 

At the beginning, I was worried about running becoming a chore. However, it’s become the opposite; now it’s just something I automatically do. It doesn’t feel that tough anymore, and Dan and I have been out in some conditions we wouldn’t usually run in, simply because we have to run every day. It’s been enlightening. I admit I was also worried more about how much kit I would get through. We do have a LOT more laundry, but I’m less squeamish now about wearing the same kit two days running (apologies running buddies!). Dry shampoo is also my friend! 

What about the mental side of running every day? I admit it is pretty mental. But it’s starting to feel normal. Although there have been maybe 5 or 6 days this month where I’ve struggled to muster enthusiasm, mostly I’m automatically putting my kit on and putting one foot in front of the other. Incidentally, Dan has reported feeling more positive too. Much of the time I’m running on my own, which I never used to particularly enjoy, but the dog keeps me company sometimes and I actually enjoy time to just think and appreciate the change in the season. 

What has surprised me most this month about maintaining a runstreak has been the amount of people who have got in touch to say they’ve been watching with interest and that I’ve inspired them to do something similar, which is very flattering. I’ve been invited to write a guest blog, and deliver a talk to our Women’s Institute next month about what I’m doing. 

What has been key this month has been how varied and FUN I’ve managed to keep the running. I’ve run trails, hills, fells, cross country, road, paths, and even a racetrack (thank you Rockingham!), short (one mile), long (ten miles), fast, slow … and despite having set a lower limit of a mile, I’ve been averaging 3.3 miles a day. 

Here are my stats so far for those who are interested: 37 days, 123 miles.  

You can follow my progress on Strava or Twitter

Running is great for mental health

  

Parkrun

  

Representing my club at a cross country race

  

10k PB in windy conditions at Rockingham

  

The top of Winter Hill in Bolton

  

At the summit of Mam Tor

   

Dan, Bella and I, united in our runstreak

 

“Just my luck to pick a leap year” – Dan’s take on our #Run366 challenge.

I am going to run every day for a year. There, I’ve said it. Its out in the open, I have to do it. The easiest person to break a promise to is yourself especially if you are the only one in on the promise. I will get up at 6am and go for a run, I won’t eat another biscuit, and I will cut the grass when I get home. How many times have you reneged on a promise to your self? Well, this is a promise to all of you, I will run everyday for a full year. I started on the 1st November 2015, and will continue to at least the 31st October 2016. The more observant amongst you will realize that means I will complete 366 days; just my luck to pick a leap year. 

“Why?” is the most popular question I get asked when people find out about my plans. The truth is that there isn’t a simple answer. Last month I had the privilege of meeting Ron Hill MBE. Yes, the man who put his name to those running tights which have resulted in ridicule for many a runner returning from a winter run. But did you know that he was the second person to break 2:10 for a marathon, won the Boston marathon in 1970, has competed at the Olympics twice and won gold at the European and Commonwealth games? A man with real pedigree I am sure you will agree but the thing that really catches the imagination is his world record run streak. Mr Ron Hill has run every day since December 1964. Every day for over half a century!!!

Taking inspiration from this run streak could be reason enough to start my own, if I live long enough I could even try and match the 50 years. In a way, meeting Ron Hill just gave me the vehicle for challenging myself. I needed something to push myself. I have challenged myself in the past; run a marathon (3 times), completed a triathlon (twice), learnt to slide on ice at 70mph (bobsleigh skeleton and Olympic luge), fly solo and run the longest obstacle course in the world (200+ obstacles over 20 miles), but now I needed something else. Something long term which involved a different type of challenge, one that I couldn’t get through by gritting my teeth and bearing the pain for a short period. The difference with a year long challenge is it is going to need a new kind of perseverance, a different mindset. Regardless of how I feel, I will have to drag my backside out for a run everyday regardless of the weather.

Since our daughter was born my wife and I don’t get a huge amount of time to get hot and sweaty together. We used to do it all the time whenever the mood took us. I am of course talking about running together (what else?!) and whilst this doesn’t necessarily allow us to run together, we at least have the same aim for the next 12 months and can support and encourage each other (or sit there smugly having done a morning run as the other heads out in the cold evening rain). I’ll keep you up to date with our progress and the challenges we face over the year. If you want to join us then please get in touch or use the hashtag #run366

Can I run 366? Yes I can!

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to run with Ron Hill, who as many will know has been running every day for over 50 years. Ron is 77 years old, and was a gold medal winner in his time. Ron clearly loves his running, and just speaking to him it became clear that he hadn’t set out to run such an epic runstreak, he just really enjoys what he does. He’s clearly fit and healthy, and it got us thinking about how we both really hope we’re still running in our 70s.

I’ve watched as others have embarked on runstreaks in the past, some now well past day 1000  of running every day, and I’ve wondered how they do it. In fact, I’ve silently admonished them for daring to ask their bodies to run every day without rest. I’ve been an injured runner on two occasions during the last 5 years, and I have never understood how somebody can run that much without getting injured. Since embarking on my coaching qualifications, I’ve also learnt a lot about recovery, and quality over quantity, and I can spot the symptoms of overtraining easily now, It would be fair to say I’ve been very dubious about runstreaks for these reasons.

However, after seeing how normal Ron Hill is, and after chatting to other runners who had completed the October #RunEveryDay challenge, we decided to set ourselves a bigger challenge of running every day for a year. I’ll let my husband write his own reasons for doing this, but for me it’s really just an experiment to see what happens. I’m anticipating that I’ll improve fitness, and avoid injury by becoming stronger. I’m also interested in how it could potentially boost my mental strength and impact on other areas of my life: for example, will it have a positive or negative effect on my other priorities? Will it boost, or reduce, my immune system? Will I see an improvement in my running pace, or will it tire me out?

We have only set one rule, and that is that for it to count as a runstreak, we must go out and run at least one mile every day.

I would love to know your thoughts if you have experience of a runstreak, or if you are thinking of trying one. Feel free to join us on Strava, Twitter or Facebook #Run366 

Anyone can run a marathon. Honestly. (Practical tips and inspiration 👇🏻) #ukrunchat

Our local magazine asked me recently to submit a piece about my London Marathon experience, and I jumped at the chance because I’ve always said: “Anyone can run a marathon” and I truly believe that, so I hope my own experiences inspire others to undertake similar challenges.

However, lately on the Twitter community I’ve grown to love so much (namely #UKRunChat), there have been disturbed grumblings from some who don’t feel they can call themselves runners because they’re – in their words – slow. Some just feel that they’re not true runners. Even those that have run a marathon or further. Others have been made to feel that way by others. This makes me sad. And a bit angry.

So let’s clear this up once and for all. If you’re reading this blog, and even contemplating a marathon, you’re a runner. If you’ve been out for a run, you’re a runner. If you enjoy running – at whatever speed, you’re a runner! If you’re a member of a ‘jogging’ group or a running club, you’re a runner. Run/jog/fast/slow – it’s all just semantics. Who actually cares? And I’ve put the word ‘jogging’ in inverted commas because it carries such negative connotations in the running world, but what does it actually mean? In my opinion, if you go out there and put one foot in front of the other, and get a bit sweaty, and bloody enjoy it – you’re a runner, ok?

I’m glad we cleared that up.

I’m not a ‘natural’ runner; I was never athletic at school; I only took up running to get fit after I left university, but somehow I’ve become the person that inspires others to run, since setting up our village running club, Witham Runners, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. I’m definitely not fast (my official 5k PB remains unbroken at 25:17) but I count myself as a runner. Who cares what others may think; it certainly hasn’t stopped me. Every one of my 35 beginners who started our Learn to Run course a fortnight ago, and is run/walking, in determined fashion, to better themselves, to get fitter, to gain in personal confidence, is already a runner to me. And one of them has already asked me about the feasibility of completing her first marathon next year. To which I said (obviously): Yes! Go for it!

This year’s London Marathon was my 2nd. I ran the event last year – my first ever marathon – and what a learning curve that was. Hobbling over the finish line after months of training in the cold, wind, rain, hail, sleet and anything else the winter weather could throw at me; ecstatic, but exhausted; inspired but injured; I swore ‘Never again!’ However, fate had other ideas and a competition win offered me a free place in the London Marathon 2015. I couldn’t refuse, because many people try unsuccessfully for years in the ballot, or feel under pressure to raise thousands for charity in exchange for a place.

The London Marathon itself is an amazing experience. I’ve watched it on TV for years, so it’s a surreal experience knowing the world is watching you now. Lining up with the masses in Greenwich Park; trying to find the wackiest fancy dress runners to stand next to so you can spot yourself on the TV later (this year I found myself between a giant orange tent and a silver spaceman); running past all the sights – my favourites are the crowds at Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf; the weight of the finisher’s medal around your neck; and the knowledge that you’re in – depending which statistics you believe – a 1-2% minority of the population that is believed to have run a marathon.

There were things I didn’t expect from the marathon too; how mentally exhausting it is to listen to a deafening crowd of people constantly shout your name for however long it takes you to run a marathon (in my case 4 hours 31 minutes); how your body urges you to give up, sit down, lie down at around 23 miles, and how that aforementioned crowd spurs you on; the instant gratification of a jelly baby; the sheer range of emotions you experience from mile to mile; the incredible and instant muscle soreness once you stop; the tears of joy.

A marathon hurts, however much training you do, but somehow a marathon also feels good too. I said in my last blog post about London (here) that a marathon strips off all your layers one by one, like an onion. Insecurity. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Worry. Until eventually it is just you and the road ahead, and all you feel is intense joy and freedom. I stand by this. I can’t honestly express how joyful I felt running through London, except to say I felt like the wind. I felt free, and happy. I had not a care in the world. I was fist pumping the air. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I wasn’t just a runner; I was superwoman! And you know what – I walked bits of it through the drinks stations. But that doesn’t make me any less of a runner.

So why then am I now retiring from marathon running for a few years, just like our own Paula Radcliffe? Training these past couple of years has taken up a huge amount of time and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it two years running. I alluded to this earlier; you don’t just run a marathon. You spend months training; much of it is on your own because your friends all think you’re crazy. Who in their right mind would give up their evenings and weekends for the best part of 5 months to go and run for 2, 3, sometimes 4 hours at a time? I was lucky this year because several other Witham Runners were training for their first marathon (3 at London and one at Milton Keynes) so to have training partners to share the long runs with made this year’s training feel so much easier.

However, for now my marathon experience will help as I continue on my training as a Coach in Running Fitness, to help others realise that they can do anything they set their minds to if they really believe they can.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you’ve run a marathon or many before, or whether you’re contemplating it. For now, here are some words of encouragement and advice from those within our #ukrunchat community who have run a marathon.

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And my personal favourite:

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London Calling: my 2nd London Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the London marathon for the 2nd time and it was amazing.

After my first marathon at London last year – which you can read about here – I thought I’d proven to myself that I could run a marathon and didn’t even enter the ballot for this year. However, London somehow lured me back. I accidentally entered a competition on Twitter (without realising) and heard in November that I had won a place in the 2015 London Marathon.

I was a little blasé about it this year, I confess. Because 2014 had been my first marathon year, the culmination of a dream I’d had for many years, this time round just didn’t feel as exciting. The fear that had shrouded my training for the first marathon wasn’t there either. I already knew I was capable, and so I wrote a training plan, and set about getting marathon fit again. My marathon this year became a bit of a joke amongst my friends when I told them I was doing it by accident, so I didn’t share my goal of a 4:30 marathon with anyone. I just quietly set about following my training plan, this time working hard on strength and conditioning, and nutrition, and doing lots of interval training. I only did 2 long runs this time round, of 18 and 19 miles and my other long runs were around the 12-15 miles mark at slightly slower than my half marathon pace, and lots of 8-10 mile tempo runs. I have to say however, I really enjoyed training this year, as many of my club mates were also training for half and full marathons, and company on those rainy, windy, winter nights made training an adventure, particularly the head-torch runs around our beautiful Lincolnshire countryside.

My friend Gemma was meant to come down to London to support me, but sadly she’s had the flu this past week which meant on Thursday I had to put into action our Emergency Babysitter Plan so my husband Dan could come to London with me instead. I couldn’t have gone alone, knowing how hard it was to hobble to the train station from The Mall last year, as well as my poor navigational skills (how would I have found my hotel??).

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I started the race this year in Greenwich Park, with the masses (last year both Dan and I were in the smaller blue start) and the amount of people at the start was a shock to the system. It took me 15 minutes just to cross the start line (and I did manage to spot myself on the highlights amongst the crowds, thanks to the man next to me dressed as a giant orange tent!) which gave me some time to gather my thoughts, and have a clear plan in my head, which was to keep it steady at 10:15 min/mile pace for the first 20 miles and then see what else my body had left for the last 6 miles. I also had a fuelling strategy for this year. I had 9 SIS carb gels with me, and I planned to take one every 3 miles. I had taken an extra gel luckily, because from 17 miles I decided to take them every two miles as my body started to tire.

The first 6 miles were quiet. The spectating crowd was restrained as they scanned the runners for the people they were there supporting. This gave me the perfect opportunity to get into my stride. After 3 miles I had found a comfortable, easy pace to stick to.

I knew Dan would be waiting for me at the Cutty Sark and I found him easily although he hadn’t seen me. I stopped for a kiss, and to graciously accept a jelly baby off the couple next to him who wished me well, then off I went knowing I only had 20 miles to go …

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Tower Bridge was the next big sight, just before the halfway point. I was really looking forward to getting there and I wasn’t disappointed. You approach Tower Bridge from a dark narrow street, and the bridge glistens tantalisingly at the end, in the sunshine. As you step into it, the noise is deafening! The crowd is 4 or 5 people deep and you can see all the sights of London. It’s truly wonderful. I had goosebumps as I crossed the bridge, and a huge smile on my face, and I felt very lucky to be a part of something so incredible once again. I knew I’d done the right thing, at that moment, coming back. As I turned the corner off Tower Bridge I soon passed the halfway point, bang on my target time of 2 hours 15.

Then my marathon had really begun. I ticked off 14 miles, 15 miles and 16 miles, mentally cursing each marker seemingly moving further away. I was looking forward to getting to Canary Wharf at mile 18 where I remembered the crowd being incredible last year, and more importantly marked two thirds of the marathon distance. I was not disappointed. Although building works this year meant the route through Canary Wharf was slightly different than usual, the whooping and cheering of the crowd echoing off the tall buildings is a real spirit lifter.

Video of Canary Wharf

I was starting to tire now and wanted to get to 20 miles. I kept telling myself, ‘Just over an hour’s running left now, not long. Keep moving forward.’ I said ‘well done’ to a chap dressed as Pamela Anderson’s Baywatch character who looked like he was suffering extreme chafing at the thong of his swimming costume, and suddenly, there was the 20 mile marker. I couldn’t believe I’d got there so quickly. This marathon was almost over. Suddenly my senses were heightened. I was sensitive to everybody in the crowd, those whose eyes were upon me made an emotional connection with me for those last few miles. I’d catch someone’s eye, they’d send out some words of encouragement – ‘Looking good Michelle’, ‘Come on Michelle’, ‘Looking strong Michelle’, Keep going Michelle’ – and suddenly I was flying! I felt amazing. The crowd really does give you a boost when you need it most, shaking jelly babies, blowing whistles, playing music. I love how bands and Morris dancer come out to entertain runners and the spectating crowd, pubs employ their best karaoke singers, firefighters get their hoses out. It is one 26.2 mile long street party!

Contrary to last year, I had an enormous smile on my face for those last 6 miles. It still hurt, but somehow a marathon also feels good too. I always tell people to challenge themselves, in order to grow. And a marathon does this by stripping off all your layers one by one, like an onion. Insecurity. Doubt. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Worry. Until eventually it is just you and the road ahead, and all you feel is intense joy and freedom. I can’t honestly express how joyful I felt yesterday, running along past the 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 mile markers except to say I felt like the wind. I felt free, and happy. I had not a care in the world. I was fist pumping the air. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I saw the UKRunChat cheering point at 21.5 miles, and the Epilepsy Research UK team at 24.5 miles. And suddenly there was Big Ben. And I sped up. Where on earth was this energy coming from? I was overtaking people. I could hear the crowd roaring my name, like a celebrity, as I passed them. I turned the corner at Buckingham Palace, and gave it my all for that final 400 metres, crossing the finish line with an enormous smile on my face. I had done it. Again. 20 minutes quicker in fact! Last year wasn’t a fluke; I truly am a marathon runner. I had run it in 4 hours, 31 minutes and 24 seconds. I’m claiming it as a 4:30 marathon because of the smooch I stole off my husband earlier at the Cutty Sark … I am retiring from marathon running for a few years now, just like our own Paula Radcliffe, because training does take up a huge amount of time and I’ve been lucky enough to experience it two years running.

So this is where I pass the baton and set you all a challenge. If you want to feel superhuman, go and run a marathon. And if you want to experience Britain at its most generous-spirited, choose the London Marathon. The ballot opens on May 4th. Go and experience it for yourselves.

I’ll finish with something I said yesterday: Always challenge yourself. You are capable of extraordinary things when you believe in the impossible.

Thank you. My sponsorship page is still open and receiving donations: www.justgiving.com/beatepilepsy

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Getting the best out of Twitter

Twitter is a bit like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. I usually get a very divided response when I ask somebody if they’re on Twitter or not. I am a self-confessed Twitter addict, but I still remember setting up my account on there and looking in bewilderment at the unique language it uses, the confusion at #hashtags and the procrastination over how to paraphrase my thoughts into 140 characters. However, I suspect that those who claim to ‘hate’ Twitter have just never learned to use it properly, so I thought I’d share my top tips for learning to love Twitter.

NB I’ve been asked to deliver some training to my business colleagues, so have put together this post with business in mind. However, the same rules apply if you are using Twitter personally.

Don’t measure your success by followers.
Many people consider Twitter the best free broadcast tool in social media, and use it for shameless self-promotion to their hundreds of thousands of followers. However, unless you’re a verified celebrity, this approach generally doesn’t work for average Joe or Jane. Twitter is not just about getting followers. The most effective Twitter users tweet about human interest 80% of the time and only 20% of their tweets are self-promotional.

So … instead, find your niche.
Follow those people who are interested in the same things you are. And then interact with them! If you chat to them, they are likely to tweet back, and follow you back. Then you can gain their trust and get to know them a little better as you build your own brand identity.

Find a community on Twitter that you can get involved in to help you find people to follow: there are many business hours on Twitter now that you can get involved in to introduce yourself to the local community and promote your business (still remembering the 80/20 rule). There are also many other communities you can engage with. The trick is finding them. Twitter is a big place.

Use hashtags to help users looking for tweets about a certain topic, but use them sparingly!

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Be genuine.
Make sure you write a bio about yourself, and include a good photograph (not a drunken selfie or a picture of your toddler). People buy people. The first thing I always do when I get a new follower is have a look at their biography and read their latest tweets to see if I want to see more of them on my timeline. You don’t have to follow everybody who follows you. Use a bit of common sense and quality control, and you’ll have a much more fun Twitter experience.

Secondly, tweet things that are relevant to you or your product, and that you are genuinely interested in. Your passion will shine through, and people are drawn to that.

Engage.
If somebody sends you a tweet, ALWAYS reply. Say thank you if somebody retweets something of yours. If somebody complains, follow them then ask them to send you a direct message so you can resolve their issue. If it’s an insult, try to remedy it, but sometimes it is better just to ignore or block.

Many people use automated social media schedulers to send tweets on their behalf, which is a perfectly acceptable way of managing a Twitter account you don’t want to take over your whole day. However, ensure you do check in regularly to make sure you reply to anybody who has interacted with you. My pet hate is accounts which send automated direct messages to new followers, usually starting with “Hey!” (I’m cringing, now.) And please don’t set up your account to post automatically from your Facebook page. Twitter and Facebook have completely different uses and audiences, so you can’t apply the same rules to both. It’s lazy, and the majority of people don’t like it.

Don’t believe everything you read.
The internet, including Twitter, is full of lots of information. It is a wonderful place. However, this doesn’t mean all of it is true. Don’t blindly retweet things: always research first or seek professional advice. Don’t retweet links without checking out the links yourself first.

Remember that Twitter is a public place.

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Be polite. Never say anything you wouldn’t say out loud. Think before you tweet. Have respect for others: just because you can’t see the person you are tweeting, they still have feelings. Don’t argue – you’ll never win. Never SHOUT WITH CAPITALS. Always credit any photos or quotes you share back to the original person who shared them. And please, please, please, always proof-read your tweets before you send them.

In case I’ve missed anything, I also asked my own Twitter community to share their top tips with me, and here are some of my favourites.

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Lastly, have fun and be yourself! Twitter IS a fun place to be once you know how to use it properly. However, it’s not the real world, so don’t rely on it too much, and make sure you get out and engage for real. Sometimes the two worlds do collide – I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some great people I met through Twitter in the real world too.

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If you’re interested in running, health, fitness, marketing, crafting and the odd ranty tweet, feel free to follow me @shellmoby