Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Why I am running for 28 Too Many

This isn’t just a do something nice for a good charity that I am doing. Well, if I am honest, it might have started that way, and a chance to prove that I can run a marathon and be dedicated to something so big. But that isn’t all there is, and the more I hear and read about FGM and what 28 Too Many are doing, the more I realise how important that this really is. 
I found out about 28 Too Many when I was training to be a Youth Pastor, and Ann-Marie (CEO of 28 Too Many) came in to the youth service to talk about her experiences in Africa, and why she starting this charity. Ann-Marie is an amazing woman, fully devoted to God and to this cause, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for this woman. And when she was talking about FGM, I didn’t fully get it, especially when she used the word ‘cutting’. What is ‘cutting’? I thought, and I turned to one of the other leaders of the group (who just so happened to be sitting next to me) and whispered the question. 
Slightly embarrassed, she turns to me, and whispers, (choosing to put all embarrassment aside by saying the following words to a mid 20’s guy) ‘When they cut the inside of the vagina, and cut everything off around it, including the clitoris…’ My eyes bulged in horror and my stomach turned. How painful, how mortifying and how unnecessary. I was speechless (anyone who knows me will understand that speechless is a big deal). 
At the forefront, being a guy, it’s not something I would ever have to be worried about, or even worried for my fellow men in the cultures this is practised in.. or should I? 
After signing up for the marathon, and feeling great that I could do something for this amazing charity, I started to think why? Why does, or should, this effect guys as much as it affects women? When I see blog posts, and Facebook updates on what 28 Too Many and other campaigners have been doing, I seen few men in the pictures. And at the risk of sounding sexist, it might be what one would expect. I am not sexist. I have had every ounce of sexism purged from me by my Swedish wife.
This does affect men. It affects every married man, who has a wife who loves him. Every man preparing to be married who will have a wife to love and take care of. Every single man who hopes to one day have a wife, or a partner and will hope that she will choose him. Every man who cares at all for human rights. Every man who has a daughter, who wants her to grow up never being hurt and to have a full and happy life.
End of the Half-Marathon in 2014, with Annie
I am going to try and break this down. I got married nearly 2 years ago. I love my wife Annie very much. She is amazing, and the best thing about it is that she loves me back and she chooses to be with me. She chooses to love me, which sometimes she kind of has to after a curry, and we are blessed to have something pretty solid after 2 years. 
But what is life like for the girls who this is done to. You have to remember here that these girls are young, sometimes in their teenage years but often younger. They still have to grow up, emotionally and physically. There are going to be physical and psychological issues, scars, pain. Their lives are changed forever. 
I look forward to when Annie and I will have children (which won’t be just yet, sorry mum). And yes we are blessed to live in a ‘rich’ country, and have family and friends around us who can support us. But wherever we are, if all goes well and to plan, when we start our family we expect to have a happy 9 months during pregnancy, followed by an amazing 20+ (likely 40) years of parenting. 
Click the picture for more information on
FGM and 28too many.
Girls who have had FGM are much less likely to experience that. After FGM some girls are forced to marry and often to a much older man. Within marriage the physical and emotional effects of FGM may mean that sex is painful, relationships are strained and FGM can even result in infertility. There are increased health risks for mother and baby during pregnancy and childbirth which not all women and babies survive. (There is a lot more information on 28 Too Many’s website. It’s worth a read). 
I never want Annie to feel forced to love me. She is free to love me, free to choose it. And I never want to force her to love me either. 
Some can argue that, ‘well different religions have different rituals, so we can’t judge’. Well that could be true if it firstly; it wasn’t against human rights, and secondly; it wasn’t around many decades before any religion was formed. FGM is both. And the practice is forced on girls and women now have no choice. There can be enormous social pressure on families to continue FGM and belief that is shame on the family if they don’t. FGM is a form of control for the women of that culture, a denial of their rights even the right to their own bodies. 
I have heard a few stories of FGM happening in the both UK and Sweden. One school in a city in the east of Sweden reported a whole class of 30 girls were cut in the summer holidays. It usually happens in Africa, when they go home to visit family. I also heard a story of a chapel in Birmingham being hired for this act. This is just 2 out of hundreds, maybe even thousands of reports of activity in Europe. 

2km in... 19 to go...
What 28 Too Many do is doing is profiling the countries where FGM is traditionally practised, providing data on where, why and how FGM takes place and supporting workers and campaigners to stop it happening. From what I understand, the profiling is an essential first step in developing successful strategies to tackle FGM and also provides a baseline from which change can be measured. This is where the money I am raising will go – to help this research programme. 
This, all of this, is what I think about when I run and it helps me keep going. I run for the girls, each step is to help protect those at risk and each step is taken with the hope that we can all put a stop to this and that we will be the generation that ends FGM. 
The details of how to give online are HERE  Please give generously and help me with my efforts.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Not quite going as planned...but I will persevere!

I am still doing the marathon, I have that must determination still... but 2 weeks into my training I pushed too hard and ended up developing mild shin-splints. I stopped my training plan, and I took to the gym, focusing on lower leg strength. With my previous injury, (the torn calf ligament), I had spent too long strengthening my right leg, and that healed up nicely. But I neglected my left leg, and found out that limbs don't like being neglected, so when I came back, and when I really needed it, it threw its toys out of the pram. Ok, so my personification of my left leg is more for comedic purposes, but it really felt like that.

The other obstacle in my way (apart from a hectic work and Swedish study schedule) is heart fitness. I feel fitter than I have ever done, but at football training my  heart rate was spiking to 195 BPM. I also ran a 10 KM Winter Race 3 weeks ago, (a target to be back from the shin splints) and ran it in less than an hour (59:49 was my official time). I felt good, very good, especially when I pushed it at the end, but my heart rate spiked again to 201bpm at the last step. Even with the light research I have been doing, I know that even 200 bpm is high! I read that a constant HR of 180 is even considered high.

I have booked an appointment with the doctors, and in the meantime I have taken to conditioning training, which I feel is better in the long run for the big race. This means that I will try and keep my HR at 160 bpm, even if it means a slow jog, then after a week or so, my pace will have to increase to keep at that rate. I get great interval training at football practice, some good body conditioning on top of what I am doing in the gym. I have a target of 5 hours to finish, which I know is realistic but I'll just be happy to finish the race this year.

My heart rate has never been a worry to me before getting a HR monitor from Annie for my birthday. (a Polar M400 watch with a chest HR monitor - a review to come soon). Its great, its accurate and it even speaks to the cardio machines at my gym which means the machines can stop beeping at me when I don't hold the HR sensors the right way. (Another sign that we are being controlled by machines already, and AI isn't even here yet - start of Skynet methinks ;) ) I have, however, stopped wearing it to football as I was focusing more of my HR that playing football, something I think other players might have been getting annoyed at.

I have been attending a great physio in Gothenburg, who got me through the calf injury, and gave me some great advice on the shins too. He mentioned that some people do have naturally high cardio zones, and if I felt good then I shouldn't worry, but I should still check with a doctor.

And a question to any readers of this post, have you used HR monitors before? What experience have you had of first using them? And have you experienced the high HR peaking before? 

As I said at the start. I am determined to finish the race. My next task is to try some refueling plans, and Brighton Marathon have given some brilliant guidelines for before, after and during the race.

I am also still a way off hitting my target for the charity, 28 Too Many, that I am running for. You can click the link to find out what they are about, and can click here to go straight to the giving page. They have had a very productive year, and awareness of FGM has improved at lot. They are still to get a full picture of how much FGM is a problem in all 28 African countries, but your donations will go towards finding that out, so more effective work can be
done to stop this atrocity. It's something that keeps me running, that keeps me focused on the goal.