Shorts, Sweets and Serotonin Songs

When the London Marathon emails you a couple of days before the race to tell you that although it's likely to be the hottest on record, the actual Fire Brigade will be on standby to hose you down, you know you'll probably need to ditch the snazzy new tights you bought and go on a last minute, two-day long, short-buying expedition.

I felt so much more nervous this year. I was checking the weather forecast as often as my dad used to before harvest and I didn't sleep for more than an hour at a time the night before the race. The running short fandango would have finished me off altogether if it weren't for the total heroes in Covent Garden Lululemon, who were wonderfully kind as I lunged around the changing rooms in every style they stocked, trusting my sister (hero x a million) to be brutally honest as I tried each pair on nine times. They even gave me a second pair for FREE as a pre-marathon treat! LuluLemon, I love you (I used to think you were intimidating and a bit pricey, but I'm totally won over).

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I have now (and I cannot impress upon you how insane this sounds to me, because in my head I'm still 10, don't even understand how to play rounders and have sneaking suspicion my PE teacher thinks I'm an idiot) run three whole marathons. This one was definitely the hardest. I was tired, hot and slathered in enough vaseline to swim the channel because I was so worried the new shorts would rub (they didn't - have I told you how much I love Lululemon?).

I'd still do it again though! There is nothing like the London Marathon for making you feel utterly invincible and optimistic; a little bit overwhelmed by the wonder of humanity and the power of the mile 19 jelly baby. So far, I've raised £2500 for Refuge - THANK YOU for all your support. A huge thank you to Refuge too, for letting my don that pink vest once more and for the best post-race massage in all of London!

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I'm just going to link (again) to Refuge's page on recognising abuse and this brilliant Woman's Hour programme all about coercive control. If you're going through something similar, or know anyone who is, please listen to it. It really helped me, especially to know that it's normal to still struggle to make sense of it all, long after the relationship is over. One of the women interviewed said, "I know when I left I felt completely inadequate and worthless. I went from being somebody who was relatively confident, to the end of the relationship when I couldn't even look in a mirror." I know that feeling so well. I used to think I might have lost whoever Kate used to be forever. I felt like I was floating above myself somewhere, watching everything through a haze and I had no idea how to get back in again.

Running quite a bit and yoga-ing quite a lot has been my fightback, my way of reclaiming my body and allowing my brain to come home to roost. It doesn't always work, sometimes it hurts so much to just be here... roosting (I feel like I've started a really odd metaphor), but sometimes endorphins can make you sing for joy, or maybe it's serotonin? Either way, it's like magic, especially when you've run 17 miles and it's gone dark because you set off too late and you're thinking it's a good job you know your way round these lanes and that you're not afraid of bats.

I didn't want to write a blog telling you that you can and should run a marathon (even though there's a weird, running evangelist part of me that really, really wants to), because the internet is already too full all that stuff. What I do want to say is this:

There are a million things in this world that tell you your body is not good enough. Whatever it may be, I think everyone should do something that makes their body feel like home.

If you're looking for help or advice about domestic abuse, Refuge is a really good place to start.

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Heavenly Humblebee Yoga

I've just been on an actual, real-life yoga retreat with wonderful Humblebee Yoga. Now admittedly, my previous experience of retreating (yogic-ally speaking) was nil, but I bet this is the only retreat in the world to gift hand-knitted bees to every guest, and I can't imagine you could find a more beautiful setting, more thoughtful hosts, or a lovelier group of people to share it with.

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Last October, my downward dog was more like a lumbering, creaky-kneed yak and my brain was... well, I've talked about the state of my mind on this blog plenty of times over the last few months, so let's instead talk about the appalling state of my hamstrings: NOT GOOD. Sub-yak, in fact.

For the last six months Eden Hot Yoga in Lichfield have basically provided much-needed structure for my working day, stretched my long-suffering limbs and a been a sort of haven when life was at its most wobbly. As a result, my legs recovered from the London Marathon in about 3 days, I can check my blind spot with minimal effort, and even though my hamstrings are still definitely a work-in-progress, I have discovered I have open hips! Hooray! Although alarmingly, I've been known to burst into tears in the middle of a pigeon pose. Apparently this is normal, because hips are where we carry our emotions, and happily I'm usually face down at this point so my tears sort of blend into the sweat (hot yoga is quite a sweaty affair).

Anyway, back to Humblebee. And Devon. When I heard Rachel, one of my favourite teachers at Eden, was planning a whole long weekend of yoga at Crowborough Farm in Georgeham with Jemima, the other half of Humblebee, I couldn't wait to sign up. As it was just a couple of miles away from our favourite beach, I easily persuaded my sister to come along with me so we could relive our childhood on Puttsborough Sands in between working on our warriors.

Each day began with yoga at 8am, and while either Rachel or Jemima led us through sun salutations in the strong morning practice, the other was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a delicious vegan breakfast banquet (things I discovered on retreat include tofu scramble and the heavenly marriage of almond butter and blackcurrant jam on toast). With days spent exploring the beautiful countryside and relaxing on the beach, we returned to the house for evening yin yoga at 6.30pm, followed by another amazing vegan feast. 

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I had the most glorious time. Rachel and Jemima are both brilliant teachers and such generous hosts - I can't wait for the next one! I've been thinking a yoga retreat for illustrators would be a brilliant idea - who's with me?

Find Humblebee here, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Marathon Highs

I kind of want to do it again. The London Marathon, I mean. I LOVED it. I think I'm still on a high, a whole week later. As soon as I finished I wanted to sign up for next year, and it's not because I'm a super runner or want to get much faster or do it in any way particularly differently, it's just that it was AMAZING.

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From Greenwich, where people stood on the steps outside their houses playing musical instruments and families still in their pyjamas cheered as we ran by, to the moment I turned past Buckingham Palace and felt like I was flying down the Mall. (I mean, obviously I was jogging very slowly, but I felt like I was sprinting.)

I had only the sketchiest idea of the route before I went to the Expo. The London Marathon Expo, for the uninitiated, is at the ExCeL centre, where you go to register, pick up your race number and if you're me, begin to think, "Help! There's so much stuff here that I don't have! I am NOT A PROPER RUNNER. I've only just discovered that we cross Tower Bridge at mile 12 and then go back east! That's the wrong way!" I was feeling so calm before, but did get a little bit nervous surrounded by hundreds of other people who clearly knew a lot more about this marathon running business than I did. Still, I just grazed on free energy bar samples until I felt better, bought a belt thing to carry supplies, and then ambled back to my sister's, proudly clutching my kitbag with race number on display. I even used it to carry all my shopping.

When I lived in London I never watched the marathon. I don't even remember it being on, which seems completely ridiculous now. Last weekend I felt as if the whole city was gearing up for the race. I'd spent the week before on holiday in Orkney and arrived back on Thursday night, mainly focussed on getting through the next couple of days without getting ill or injuring myself. I promptly tripped over a foot-high wall outside Dalston Tesco and landed oh-so-elegantly on someone's car bonnet.

Fortunately both the car and I survived, unscathed, and I made it to the start in Greenwich Park. The worst bit was between 10am when the race began and 10.29.35 when I actually crossed the start line; it takes ages. After that, I just had to keep running, and because this time I'd done a 22.5 mile training run, I had a sneaking suspicion I might just be able to do it.

Which is exactly what happened! I just pottered around very slowly (my fastest mile was 11.31 and my slowest 12.01) but I didn't walk, which was my only goal. I did stop twice to go to the loo, so that was a bit of a rest. I feel compelled to tell people this for some reason. It's like when I did the Bournemouth one I couldn't not tell everyone I walked quite a bit. A friend overheard me do this and said, "Kate, stop telling people you walked! It doesn't matter, just say I've done the Bournemouth Marathon", but I can't do it, it feels like lying. And actually the second time I stopped for the loo, I met Bryony Gordon the queue, handing out toilet paper like a superstar. I squealed "I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!" and then couldn't think of anything else to say, like "you're such an inspiration" or "I love Mental Health Mates, I wish there was a group in Staffordshire" (fortunately I was wearing my Heads Together headband, so hopefully she appreciated that). I just took the loo roll and grinned like a loon.

I spent most of the race grinning. I decided as we looped round the Cutty Sark, that I am running the actual London Marathon and I am going to enjoy every single second of this. I felt brilliant. People shouted, "COME ON KATE! YOU CAN DO IT!" (because I ironed my name in giant letters onto my top, not because all of London knows who I am) and gave me sweets and high-fived me, and I truly felt like the RUNNING QUEEN OF ALL ENGLAND, if not the British Isles. If not the world.

When it got a bit more difficult, I think around mile 19, I saw a woman holding up a big cardboard sign that said: REMEMBER WHY YOU'RE DOING THIS (I wish I'd taken a photo) and I thought about Refuge and all the women they help, about the women who've contacted me to say they've experienced a controlling relationship, about every single person who has sponsored me and cheered me on, and my heart felt so full. I just ate another energy bar and kept going. Eating is the key, I have discovered. When people talk about your brain giving up and 'hitting the wall', what they really mean is: TIME FOR AN EMERGENCY BANANA. Then you'll be ok.

 My incredible sister, with the best banner ever.

My incredible sister, with the best banner ever.

And brain-giving-up is basically how I felt for a lot of last year.  Like I was just a body, existing, with zero sense of self or quite why I should bother with all this palaver of living. If I didn't have amazing friends and family who made me feel so loved, I would not have survived it. They were my emergency bananas. They were actually like whole banquets that kept me going. There are so many women out there for whom Refuge is the only thing stopping them from hitting that wall. It's the only thing which makes them believe they might be worth something on their own, that another kind of life is possible, the only place they can go for help. So this is my final call, at least for this year(!), for donations. If you have anything to spare for an incredible charity, please donate here.

Seeing my wonderful friends and family cheering at Embankment was the icing on the cake. Or the peanut butter on the emergency banana. It made the marathon feel a whole mile shorter for one thing, because I was so looking forward to seeing them, and when I had, there was only the exciting Parliament Square/Mall bit left to go! Running down the Mall was everything I hoped it would be, and as I ran through the finish arch I thought I might just have sneaked in under 5.15 - and I had! 5.14.37. I very nearly burst into tears. A lovely woman gave me my medal and a hug, and it couldn't have been better if it was presented by Prince Harry himself.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you if you sponsored me, or sent me a lovely message, or bought an Adichie print (still available!), or cheered as I ran past. A huge thank you to Refuge for all their support and the amazing post-race reception. Running this marathon for them has finally given me myself back. It gave me a way to stop grieving and start living properly in this body that can run, in this brain that knows who Kate Slater actually is.

 Yep. My parents have bought the WHOLE photo package.

Yep. My parents have bought the WHOLE photo package.

I keep thinking I should stop blogging about the state of my brain and instead talk about... I dunno... illustrating, maybe? I'd better get back to it! I think it will be easier now.

PS. If you're thinking about running, YOU CAN DO IT. You should definitely listen to The Guilty Feminist podcast about Body Capability. Actually, listen to ALL of them, they're brilliant. Just to be clear, I am going to make myself stop telling everyone that I'm not a proper runner. I've been saying, "well, I'm really not a runner, I mean, I'm really slow, I just plod around at the same speed. And I'm not very good at it, and I'm running the London Marathon, but I just want to get round, really. Like, not walk. I mean, if I do walk, that's ok, because I'm really slow and I haven't trained properly... well, I've done 22.5 miles, but I haven't done much in the week so I don't think I'll be very good. I did the Bournemouth marathon last year, but I walked a lot of that so..." and so on. If possible I usually try and shoehorn how I once got a 4D in PE into the conversation and maybe that I have zero hand eye coordination. Sometimes I mime running very slowly, just to really lower people's expectations, so they know I know I am no good. Well NO MORE. I ran the bloody London Marathon. And I'm going to keep running, very slowly, for as long as I possibly can.

My Fullest Self

A couple of weeks ago, I started work on this. In case there's the tiniest chance you haven't seen one of the million times I've mentioned it on Instagram and Twitter, this is something Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said on Woman's Hour last year, in response to the question, "What is the most important thing we can teach our daughters?" Adichie replied:

"Your job is not to be likeable, your job is to be your fullest self."

Obviously, this struck a bit of a chord with me at the time. Well, more of a direct radio punch, actually. Especially when she said that women must "reject the idea of likeability". You can hear this bit of the interview here and also watch Adichie's brilliant "We Should All Be Feminists" TED talk, here.

It came to mind again, recently, when I was thinking of ways to raise more money for Refuge, alongside my London Marathon attempt! So, I'm selling prints and postcards of the finished artwork (still a work in progress, but almost done!), with all the profits going to Refuge with the rest of my London Marathon fundraising. Buy yours by 3pm on WEDNESDAY 29th MARCH, and you might even win the original artwork! In a frame and everything! Please visit my shop to have your very own bit of Adichie inspiration on your wall and support this amazing charity.

The best thing about creating this particular piece of art is that, somehow, I think Adichie's words have finally sunk in; really deep in, to my heart or gut or subconscious, or wherever it is that you have to keep things so you just know them. As though in carving out letters from paper, they've marked themselves on my bones, too.

And finally, I watched this video last week. More than anything I've heard or read, this best describes my experience of how it feels. I think because it's non-specific, it doesn't make me think, "well, of course it wasn't as bad as that", which I used to think all the time. A friend nailed it when she said to me, "no one wins any prizes for being in the most abusive relationship. It's either abusive, or it's not." So, if you're reading this and thinking, "well, things aren't that bad...",  that's already quite bad enough. There's a list here, if it helps; just ONE of these, or something similar, is bad enough. Please tell someone what you're going through. You are worth so much more.

BE YOUR FULLEST SELF. It's taken me a long time to find out who my fullest self is, but I finally feel like me again. It's the most wonderful thing.

Remember, one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, Refuge is running an amazing campaign with Avon at the moment, all about what you can do to help a friend suffering abuse. It's really worth checking out, here. That could be you in the video, holding out the umbrella.

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Running for Refuge

It is astonishing, the speed at which it's possible to go from idly browsing Refuge's website, looking for fundraising inspiration, to receiving a London Marathon running vest in the post.

Because the amazing thing about running is that even when you're completely stationary, sitting at your desk with a mug of tea, the endorphins can still get you. Like the rhythm got Gloria Estefan. Like listening to Nina Simone sing Here Comes the Sun can make it feel like the sun has come up in my heart. I only had to imagine I was running down the Mall, the crowd cheering wildly, and, before I knew what had happened, I'd not only submitted the application form but actually got a place!

I'm so proud to be running the London Marathon for Refuge. Refuge is committed to a world where domestic violence is not tolerated and where women and children can live in safety. They aim to empower women and children to rebuild their lives, free from violence and fear. They provide a range of life-saving and life-changing services, and are a voice for the voiceless. I'd be so grateful for any donation you can give, you can find my fundraising page here.

I've been running fairly regularly since the Bournemouth marathon last October (although rarely more than 10k), but I still definitely wouldn't call myself a runner. I fling my arms in the air for fun when I'm going downhill, sing/gasp along to Taylor Swift (judge me if you will) as I go, and fantasise that I'm being interviewed on Woman's Hour when I probably should be focusing on... who knows? My gait? Nutrition strategy? Instead I listen to Girl on Fire and pretend that the actual spirit of Maryland is calling me or Modern Love, which transports me to New York, where I zig-zag the streets like Frances Ha.

In reality, I'm mostly zig-zagging round horses and tractors while desperately trying to stop Gladys from dragging me into the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

So, only when I'd got my vest and sponsorship form, taped a training timetable over my desk and bought myself some jazzy new leggings did I realise how much harder this marathon business would be this time (besides the February sleet and soggy trainers), because now, I'd need to ask people to sponsor me, just for me.

I've written and re-written my fundraising blurb a MILLION times. I wake up in the middle of the night to do it. I tweak it over breakfast. I move commas at lunch. I email it to friends and family to ask them and, if someone does make a donation, I panic about which version they've seen and what they will think. I've been trying to write this blog for a whole month.

But now there are only SEVEN weeks to go til marathon day and it's time for action!

So, basically, this cause is very important to me because, like plenty of other women out there, I know how it feels when a relationship becomes abusive, no matter whether the abuser does it consciously or not. I know how hard it is to identify what is happening, how impossible it is to explain. That's why I'm doing this, because I want it all to have been useful for something. I want other women to know they aren't alone. I want to raise lots of money for this brilliant, life-saving, awareness-raising, attitude-changing charity.

Every woman should be aware of the warning signs of an abusive relationship and know when to trust her instincts. This is why the work of Refuge is so important, they can give a woman the strength and support she needs to leave an abusive partner, when she feels at her most worthless and powerless. And they'll be there to help her rebuild her life, too.

  Something I'm working on, inspired by  this interview . Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says women must "reject the idea of likeability ... you have girls who are abused, but they're thinking about the feelings of their abuser."

Something I'm working on, inspired by this interview. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says women must "reject the idea of likeability ... you have girls who are abused, but they're thinking about the feelings of their abuser."

In their lifetime, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence (this doesn't just mean physical abuse, but controlling, manipulative behaviour too). This seems almost incredible, until you slowly start talking to people and then you begin to understand how real that statistic is. Which is really why I want to try to talk about it, because domestic abuse affects women of every age and background. Every week in England and Wales two women are killed by a current or former partner, and recent research by Refuge indicates that over half of young women (18-21) have experienced at least one violent incident from a partner.

Refuge can help. Not only do they provide safe, emergency accommodation and run the National Domestic Violence Helpline in partnership with Women’s Aid, they also offer services for children, individual and group counselling for abused women and community based outreach services. Refuge runs award winning media and advertising campaigns to raise public awareness of the issue and lobbies for better provision of services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

So, this is why I'm giving this marathon thing another go. Please give anything you can. I have other fundraising plans too - so watch this space!

The Real Best Nine

I had a look at my Instagram Best Nine yesterday. It seems to show me doing quite a lot of work, which puts it at odds with my own version of events... Also, I had such a lovely response to another Instagram post (below) that part of me wanted to talk about it a little bit more. Another part thinks this blog is a stupid idea, so we'll see who wins...

I made a really big decision about 9 months ago, and for a few weeks I felt totally amazing. I strode about the fields feeling lightheaded with relief, imagining hundreds of wonderful possibilities and singing Sisters are Doin' it for Themselves at the top of my voice. But it turns out that if you've spent a few years slowly learning that your feelings aren't important and all your energy ignoring your thoughts, then even Annie and Aretha can't help you. It's quite hard to work at all when you are your work and you're fairly convinced you're rubbish at all things. I even wondered if I should give up being an illustrator and get a proper job, which considering illustrating is basically the only thing I've wanted to do since the age of about 7, was slightly out of character.

In the end, I had to give myself a break and accept that 2016 might need to be my year out. I am incredibly lucky to have brilliant friends and family, who have been endlessly kind and supportive. Other things that helped: talking, running, singing, yoga-ing. This is my personal prescription for depression, should you ever require it. Also read this piece by Isabel Hardman.

However, quite unexpectedly and really wonderfully, I've now realised that this really horrible year contains quite a lot of happy memories, and this is something to be CELEBRATED. Well, this is what I thought yesterday when I'd just got back from a run and started writing this blog, still full of the joys of exercise. Who the blog is for is a bit of a mystery to me; I suspect it might be for myself, in a cathartic sort of way, but hopefully it's also for you, if you are lost or sad or alone.

I have a sneaking suspicion that should I ever reach the grand old age of 70 (Brexit, Trump, climate change and antibiotic-resistant superbugs permitting) I'll look back on the last 12 months as some of the most important of my life, rather than the worst.

So, although I am incredibly glad to see the back of 2016, I'm also very grateful for, among other things, the following:

I've linked some of the photos to blogs I've already written, but really these are all about incredible people who've kept me from losing the plot.

THANK YOU for supporting me and my business in 2016. It's meant more to me this year than you can ever imagine.

Here's to a courageous 2017!