From sofa to Palestine in 14 weeks - or, you know, not.

Remember that I started training for the Palestine half mara about seven months ago? Probably not, considering it's seven months ago. Having never run further than six kilometres in my life and also having a bit of a cinnamon bun baby going on, I decided to use the half mara as a way to get exercising again - and I also thought it was a great excuse to finally get to go to Palestine.

  Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

Race day. Or, as it turned out, walk day.

I made it to Palestine, but I never ran the half mara there. Why? Well, three weeks before the race I headed over to SXSW in Texas and had a jolly good time, which unfortunately resulted in me coming down with bronchitis from hell. I was gutted, but not that gutted as I travelled to Palestine on my own, and the only one who'd suffer from my being annoyed would be, well, me. Instead I walked the 10k with an old acquaintance of mine, which was pretty great.

Last week - six weeks after the race took place - I finally ran the 21.1k on my own, right here in Malmö. At that point I hadn't run for nine(!) weeks. So yeah, it was interesting. All in all it took me about seven months from starting training to finally getting across that imaginary finish line. Here's what I learnt.

Don't underestimate the power of tech
You'd expect this one from someone who works in tech amirite. In all seriousness, my running app was really helpful, particularly in the beginning. I hadn't done any exercising in months at that point, and since the app told me "congratulations" and actually cheered me on when I ran my first eight minutes (which, mind you, was pretty hard at that point) I didn't feel like a loser for only running for eight minutes. The app also helped me avoid procrastinating - I had to run only four times a week, and every day I had a run to do it was a bit like Russel Brand going "you only have to get through today being sober, who knows what happens tomorrow". Every time I dreaded going for a run (which, surprisingly, didn't happen that many times), the app somehow got me to just do it. Lol. And I actually started quoting Nike. That's how you know someone's branding works.

Steer clear of the dickheads
This goes for most things in life, but I find a reminder to be helpful every now and again. Some people - they were very few, but still - actually said that I didn't train enough, or that I wasn't strong enough, or that a half marathon is "very hard" (thanks Sherlock, really appreciate it). Most people were really supportive - impressed even - and that helped me ignore the BS. More than anything, knowing that I was well on track according to my app convinced me that I would be able to run it - and this goes for even when it turned out I wasn't going to be able to run the race in Palestine. Generally though, talking to others about the challenge brought out other people's anecdotes and running tips, regardless of whether they were beginners like me, or pros who'd run several maras already. At one point I even felt like maybe I was approaching the running community, but lol who am I kidding. 

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Know the difference between giving up and being an idiot
Three days before the race I was in the office, having a cough that sounded like it was about to kill me, but I was still pretty adamant I'd make the race - until a colleague sternly looked me in the eye and said "don't be an idiot" (Swedes aren't usually that vocal). To be fair, it's probably the wisest piece of advice anyone gave me throughout my training. Dropping out, giving up, whatever you want to call it, isn't equivalent to it being a failure. Had I listened to the dickheads (see above point), it probably would've felt as such, but it would've been such an epically shit move to try and do the race while really ill. If I'd tried to do it, I would most likely have had to drop out during the race, which might have put me off running for good.

Last Saturday I finally ran my half mara. I ran 21.9k in 2 hours and 27 minutes, including five pit stops at different restaurants to fetch water, a couple of red lights, and helping an old lady out finding the hospital (no joke - that's what happens when you run your own little race).

Needless to say, it felt pretty fucking epic.

New year, new... apps?!

2017 already feels a bit different. Never mind the bollocks (ie that Donald J Trump is about to be sworn in as POTUS, or that Theresa May is about to trigger Article 50), let's focus on the important stuff. For me, that's that this is the first time I'm setting out in a new year where I plan to be in pretty much the same place at the end of it. In other words, fingers crossed I'll be in the same job and in the same flat with the same boy. That doesn't mean things will stand still, though. If anything, it means I'll have scope to improve and strengthen myself in the areas of my life that have been neglected as I've previously been busy advancing my career, moving continents, Tindering away... Et cetera.

2017 - less career stress, more personal development. Potentially tech-induced, nevertheless.

I've identified three areas that could do with a bit of TLC - how I manage my money, how I look after my mental state of mind and the way I exercise. I've set up goals, some more vague than others ("finish a half marathon" is not very vague, whereas "reduce stress" is about as vague as it gets), and spent some time thinking about how to best conquer them. And somehow, before I'd even spotted a trend, I'd downloaded a few apps to help me on the way. Whether they'll increase my chances of success I don't yet know, but I'll make sure to feed back at the end of the year.

We're road tripping from California to Mexico (hopefully they won't have built the wall by then) - I need to save 188 SEK/day until then. Walk in the park, piece of cake etc.

I'm great at saving money. In fact, I'm so great at it that every month I'll dip into my savings, saying to myself "I save so much money every month it won't make a difference". Hint - it does. It really does. I've been way too aggressive with my savings, and haven't diversified my portfolio of savings enough. In other words, I haven't had enough savings accounts. This summer I'm doing two trips that will cost a fair bit of money, and to make sure I don't dip into the savings for it I've set up an account with Dreams, an app that helps you save money in different categories and for different goals. It's essentially as though you've set up a couple of new accounts, but you don't see the money you've saved as soon as you log into your mobile banking app (which has been my biggest issue). Beyond that, they've adopted an "every little counts" approach, whereby you can transfer the cost of your vices every time you choose to abstain, whether that's takeaway lattes, glossy magazines, or - in my case - another grey Cos jumper I don't need.

I have a real issue in that I thrive on stress, and I become unproductive when things are slow. It was great when I was a full time student and simultaneously worked full time, and it does mean I always keep busy, but it also means that I have a hard time noticing when I'm moving too fast. As someone once said, "if everything's under control, you're not moving fast enough". I believe that to be true, but at the same time I recognise that I have to be more mindful of my own wellbeing and mental state of mind. As part of this I've started meditating ten minutes every morning, using the app Headspace. So far I find it useful, particularly in that it encourages you to not judge yourself or your thoughts, and certainly not in relation to the meditation itself. They're currently running a campaign with Spotify, giving you both Spotify Premium and Headspace for 149 SEK/month - bargain.

Nike + Run Club
I've mentioned this before, but since I'm about as non-runnery as a runner can be, and since I'm doing a half marathon in Palestine in a couple of weeks(!!), I certainly need a bit of help. I'm using Nike's Running Club app, and you know what - it actually works pretty well. I'm fairly impressed, which is a glowing review for a running app as far as I'm concerned. It keeps me on track (pun intended, lol) and even cheers me on as I run intervals. Whether it'll get me across the finish line in Bethlehem is a different matter, but here's hopin'...

Other behavioural apps I've tried but ditched: LifeSum (soz, can't be arsed counting calories), Smoke Free (I smoke so little I actually found it discouraging to see I'd only saved £2 by not smoking for an entire month), Duolingo (I liked that one, but meditating AND studying a new language every morning is more than I can take...).

A non-runner's guide - from sofa to Palestine in 14 weeks

So yeah, I decided to do a half marathon. It's not particularly far and it feels like most of my mates have done it (starting ages ago as well). A former colleague of mine even ran 100km. In one stretch. So yeah, a half marathon is a baby step in comparison but somehow, to me, it feels HUGE and like an impossible feat to conquer. Probably because I never did any exercise as a kid and I always hated running in PE. Remember when you had to do the 3k run or whatever it was as a 12-.year-old? Worst day of my life. Essentially thought I was going to die.

Things have improved since, but only marginally. A few years back when I had little money but heaps of time I ran 6k every morning, and combined with cardio classes at the gym every afternoon I suddenly got abs I never knew I had. I still never really liked running, though.

And I still don't think I do. The reason why I've gotten on the wagon (that I'm pretty determined to jump right back off after the half marathon) is because I feel a need to structure my excercising, and the Palestine marathon is brilliant in its concept. It's attempting to shed some light on the fact that it's impossible to run a full marathon on the West Bank because of the Israeli checkpoints, so the marathon is run in two laps along the exact same stretch - through two refugee settlements and along the wall separating Palestinians from their land and each other. If I was ever gonna do a half marathon, it'd be this.

  Me and my cinnamon bun baby, week 1 of training

Me and my cinnamon bun baby, week 1 of training

Last week (Christmas week, that is) was my first week of training. I've signed up using the Nike+ running app which customises training plans according to your current fitness levels. So far it's working surprisingly well, but it did tell me I was going to think that in the first week - apparently there's some sort of "fuck all this crap"-wall in week 4 - I'll make sure to keep you all up to date ;-)

The plan so far is not to finish the race at a certain speed, or even to raise the full £350 for The Said Foundation. It's basically to get through the race and to motivate myself to read more about Palestine and plan a trip to OPT and Israel for the race. The plan is also to document the training in the blog (see right for a photo from week 1). Finally, the plan is to show my 12-year-old self that it's possible to run and have fun. I mean, I hope. I take it I'll find that one out over the next 13 weeks.