Thinking in Visuals – creative research communication

Last year I completed a research internship with CLAHRC Greater Manchester. I carried out a small investigation (looking at practice nurses doing dementia screening and referring to memory service), but for me the project was only a tiny part of my experience. Since the internship finished, I’ve struggled to write about what it has meant to me. Ask me and I will go on (and on, and on), waving my hands around and lighting up as things occur to me. None of this comes across when I try to write it down in a formal way.

One of the huge parts of my internship is that one experience has led to another which has led to another which sparks another interest and this goes on to something else. For example, I’ve been more engaged with research on social media, so…

  • following Trish Greenhalgh on Twitter led me to…
  • Petra Boynton’s brilliant book (The Research Companion) which led me to…
  • joining the book’s facebook group which led me to…
  • seeing this blog post about creativity in research which led me to…
  • mentioning it at my Trust’s R&D interest group (which I was only at because I am now familiar with our R&D department and the internship gave me the confidence to say “what about having an interest group?”) which led me to…
  • getting an email from our R&D department about R&D North West’s events with a note to say “there’s even one with wool in for you!”.

And all of this led me going to Thinking In Visuals – a one day workshop about using textiles to communicate creatively about research.

And what a day it was. There were five of us from various healthcare/research backgrounds (speech and language, OT and nursing) creating something that could be used to communicate about our research. As I heard about some brilliant projects from people who described themselves as “expert clinicians but novice researchers”, I felt a bit of a fraud. If anyone could claim the novice title it definitely was me. Normally this would send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and panic, but it dawned on me that this was an opportunity to reflect on my internship.

The course leader Jana was brilliant at teasing out what stories people wanted to tell, how these could be represented and how each participant might do it. There were suggestions from the whole group and the day was punctuated with “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs” of appreciation and moments of genius. Jana was also wonderful at unlocking a slightly freer approach to creativity from one participant who tends to over think things and whose primary school reports remarked that she needed to worry less about the finished product.

I was sent to work on the floor with the instruction to find four different ways of representing my story.


As you can see, this definitely made me more free than sitting down with a blank page of A4 would have done…


My finished piece was the most abstract piece of craft that I have ever made at any kind of workshop and I do think that it tells my story. The background represents the events and experiences of my internship, these are connected (sometimes coming full circle), and some of them are explosions of ideas and the lightbulb moments I had. The balls of wool are me. I start small (and a bit dull), but as I encounter things during my internship I become a little bit bigger, a little more interesting and a little bit more sparkly. It is this giant ball of enthusiasm that now bowls into work going “I’ve had an idea…” as my boss sighs, contemplates keeping her Do Not Disturb sign on her door permanently and then lets me run with whatever bee is in my bonnet.

So what have I learned from the workshop? Well, I don’t feel that I was taught on the course, I was coached into finding my own way to tell my story. This is testament to the skill of the course instructors – at times (as I was covering myself in PVA glue and wool fluff) I just listened to the magic of stories being told, heard and interpreted. I can’t see me knitting my next Powerpoint presentation (maybe the one after), but I will be tucking the course away in my research toolbox for sometime in the future. Best of all though, I have been properly (and freely) creative for the first time in a long while and I think that’s making me a little bit braver – fetch me more sequins!


Dymchurch Marathon

Yesterday morning I was queuing at the checkout in Tesco when it suddenly dawned on me – this time last week I was running a marathon. It somehow didn’t seem real (and I’m still not sure which one of these activities was preferable on a Sunday morning) but I do have an exceptionally large medal (and a badge) to prove that yes, I am a marathoner.

Being a bit nervous about these things, we had nipped down to Folkestone on the Saturday to say hello to Kat and Jools, and to give me chance to recce the aid station. I had heard rumours about the SVN aid stations, but seeing it in all its magnificent carbohydrate-laden glory made me feel a lot better for the following day. What made me feel slightly more concerned as I battled across shingle in a ridiculously strong headwind, was the prospect of running in a ridiculously strong headwind. I had been warned that it wasn’t going to be easy and Kat had given me the sage advice that sometimes its quicker to power-walk in those conditions.

After a week of poor sleep thanks to Mini-Ginge, I had been blessed with a decent night on the Friday, only to spend Saturday night sharing a single bed with the little monkey. I swear I was only going to lie down with him for 5 minutes, but the next thing I knew, it was 5am and I was being poked in the face while he demanded “go downstairs mummy”. Downstairs, we shared some porridge and watched CBeebies while I refused to put my kit on because that would make it all a bit too real.

We made it down to Dymchurch sea front in plenty of time to sort out my registration, say hello to people we knew, meet some crazy marathoners on their way to the 100 club and listen to the pre-race briefing (in summary, run as fast as you can to get it over with before the wind gets really bad and don’t run too far because you might get shot). I set off on the first shorter lap with some lovely company in the form of Kat and Hels, and I enjoyed the novelty of running with actual people (these days I am mostly a solo runner and do sometimes miss having a bit of a natter while I run). The way out felt fine, we turned round at the big rock and it was at that point we realised just how windy the 50% of the race was going to be.

After the short lap, it was just (ha) a question of five more loops up to the firing range at the end of the sea wall. On each way out we felt fantastic, at times being pushed along by the wind, we would reach the turnaround point and as we turned, it immediately felt as if we were running into a brick wall. My first five miles were pretty steady, but looking at my stats you can see a clear difference between my outs and backs with at least a  minute/mile difference in my pace. As predicted, it only got worse as the race went on and it was reassuring to see other ‘proper’ marathon runners (albeit some of them on marathon 5 in 5 days, the crazy fools) having a bit of a strategic walk into the wind.

My strategy for the headwind sections wandered a bit throughout the race. Starting with a planned, “I’ll run 6 minutes then walk 1 minute”, it lurched to things like “I’ll just run to the martello tower” to “the martello tower is actually much further away than it seems, maybe I’ll just run to this bin” (I did this at least twice) to the final lap (when I conceded listening to a bit of music) when I decided to run one song and walk the next, to my final offering of “I don’t care how much I walk, as long as I run for a bit of every song”. In contrast, my outward running was pretty steady and I even managed my fastest mile at mile 19. Clearly this was an accident.

Having followed my Magic Plan (which deserves a blog post of its own) since the end of August, the longest long run I had done was ten miles.I know that this seems odd and is partly why I haven’t blogged much about my training – I had confidence in the plan, but it was a wobbly sort of confidence and I didn’t want anyone to accidentally jiggle it. When I hit ten miles in the race, I just thought, “I’ve not done this distance for a while”. After 13 miles, “I’ve not done this distance for over three years”. After 15 miles, “oooh, this is new, I’ve not done this before”. Between 15 and 20 miles “Thank god I didn’t have to do this for fun on a Sunday afternoon”. At 20 miles “Bloody hell, I’ve run 20 miles”. Andat 25 miles, I raised my arms above my head and actually whooped.

Although the laps got a bit repetitive, it actually made the race feel really friendly and inclusive (as I suspect most of the SVN events are). Instead of seeing the gazelles at the front just set off, or be passed by them on their way back to racking up a time that would be half the length of mine, you were constantly passing them. And you know what? They were bloody lovely. I have never had so many “well dones”, thumbs up and general cheery words of encouragement in my life. I especially loved the chap who just raised his hand in silent greeting every time our paths crossed. I was less enamoured of being told “good work little lady”, but at 21 miles I was too knackered to be narked and was happy to take any praise whatsoever.

The loops also meant I could keep in touch with my fellow running friends. Helen kept me company for the first half, I caught up with Kat every time I stopped at the aid station and I took great joy in watching Jools, Rachel and Louise start bunched up together and then jostle for the lead before Rachel peeled off (looking amazing) and finished as first female! I also had the pleasure of taking a walking break to say hello to my aunt and uncle and their dogs and of course, seeing Ginge and Mini-Ginge (who apparently was sulking about not being allowed to go swimming in the sea) every 5 miles at the aid station. It was also incredibly lovely to have a surprise appearance from Cathy and Shaun (who saw me showing off on one of my running bits) on my penultimate lap. All of this helped me hugely.

At the penultimate lap, I did think “I wish that this was my last one. Do I have to do another? Can I not come back tomorrow to finish off?”. I wobbled a bit on my last run out, so at the turnaround, I finally decided to fish out my ipod for the last few miles. Set to shuffle, the first track that played was I’m Shipping Up To Boston, an, ahem, jolly and motivating type of tune that made me yell “OH YES!” before checking around me to make sure that no one had heard, because I didn’t actually say “oh”, it had twice as many letters and rhymed with “duck” (sorry mum) . Even though I hated those last two and a bit miles, I was jubilant in the knowledge that I was very likely to be finishing my first marathon in one piece.

With the finish line in sight,  I had enough in the tank to put a bit of effort into a sort of a trot and was cheered over the finish by my own welcome party. This bit felt great and I was grinning like a loon. 5 hours and 33 minutes, not a record-breaking time by any stretch of the imagination, but a PB for me.

Teaspoon for scale

Teaspoon for scale

Apparently I looked pretty strong and smiley throughout. This was my aim, so in that respect I can say “mission accomplished” and for 24 hours I basked in the glory of being a marathon runner. The next day I felt ok (although the first descent downstairs was particularly interesting, especially as Mini-Ginge decided that he no longer made his own way downstairs and would rather be carried) with only a little bit of chafing on my back and a blister on my weird little toe. I’m quite grateful for this, but it was also a bit of an anticlimax.

After years of saying that I would never do a marathon, I have done one. Will I do another one? I’ll see you in October…

Blood, blood, glorious blood

You may have noticed that I have worn an incredibly bright and most unlike my usual style of running kit in some of my recent events.

This little beauty

This little beauty

I first came across the #bloodnotmoney hashtag on twitter and I was hit by the beautiful simplicity of Rick Mill’s campaign. Usually I ponder and procrastinate over things before they slide past without me having actually done anything about them. This was different. Giving blood is something that I feel is hugely important. Other than the biscuits there’s no reward, well apart from the fact that you could be saving someone’s life. Saving someone’s life! Can it get much better than that?

Anyway, today I have not run because (a) my plan dones not tell me to run and (b) even if it did, I was too busy having my arm emptied at my local blood donor session. So this is my chance to offer some advice to all of you who want to start (or get back to) donating?

Just do it. Visit to find your next local session and you can just turn up.

But…If you’re anything like me, you have lots of good intentions to do The Thing, but when the day of The Thing arrives you find that you’re too tired, have too much on or completely forget about it until a week later when you suddenly shout “Gah! The Thing!” thus startling your family and friends. So my advice really should be, visit and book yourself into a session. It doesn’t matter when. If it’s in your diary, you can forget about it until you get your reminder text and appointment letter and it’s already sorted. It’s better to wait for a month or two rather than never actually getting around to it. Get it booked.

If you’re not sure if you can donate, ring the lovely people at the helpline (0300 123 23 23) for a chat. Seriously, it’s the most lovely call centre ever (even nicer than the one you ring when bits of your Saturday Guardian are missing). If the blood people ran all of the utility companies’ phonelines, the world would be a much better place. You can also tweet them and they’ll either answer queries on your timeline or by direct message if it’s about personal details (@GiveBloodNHS).

I go on about the biscuits, but if you’re not a biscuit person (and the choice is rather good, I favour a fruit shortcake but there’s loads of choice, even Penguins) there are crisps available, if they’re more your thing. And there’s lots of free drinks.

And stickers.


So. I don’t really mind if you’re motivated by crisps, biscuits, altruism or stickers, if you can give blood, have a good think about getting yourself signed up and visit

Race report – Hamstreet 10k

One of the nice things about venturing down south is that it gives me the chance to catch up with some of my favourite people. Yesterday, I spent the hottest day of the year so far sitting in a beer garden with Cathy, our great and illustrious Queen of the Athons. As it is July, we had no obligation to do some exercise (although Cathy had done a 5 mile walk beforehand). Sunday however was still June, which is why I found myself lining up at the start of the Hamstreet 10k alongside Helen (read her view of the race here) .

Now holidays must be the time to make out of character and unwise choices. Rather than getting a lopsided drunken tattoo at 3 in the morning, I signed up for this race. Had I been at home, I would never ever have said yes to it. Never. Ever. Ever. 

When I start looking for a race it goes in several stages. 

  1. Logistics – How long is it? When is it? Where is it? Do I have a child wrangler and/or cheerleader available? 
  2. Greed – Is there bling? Or goodies. Or bling and goodies? This is partly why I ran a race on holiday in San Francisco, I got a t-shirt, medal AND a Buster Posey bobble head. Amazing. 
  3. Fear – How scary is it? Is it a tough or fast course? How many people did it last time? How long did the final finisher take?

At this point, I stare fear in the face, distract it with something shiny and go and hide under the bed. I am petrified of finishing last. 

So why the hell did I sign up for a ‘challenging’ course with a tiny field (74 did the 10k and about 25 did the 5k) where last year’s final finisher took 1.09? Because I only knew the first one of these things and even then I didn’t know how challenging ‘challenging’ would actually be. 

At the start, I did my usual thing of looking around at other runners and it started to dawn on me that everyone looked quite gazelle like. But I reassured myself that it was a friendly race suitable for experienced runners and beginners alike (the blurb had said so).

And then we set off. 

Both Helen and I are struggling with pacing at the moment, so we had made a pact to set off at an easy pace. We set off at an easy pace and watched as everyone surged forward. Checking our technology, we realised that we weren’t actually taking it easy after all. At this point I convinced myself that the entire race had misjudged themselves and would quickly tire, allowing us to catch up and maybe even overtake a couple of them. 

Ha. No chance. The route was indeed challenging; hilly and rutted under foot. The former was dealt with by taking an ultrarunner’s approach and walking the inclines (that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it), the latter was more of an issue. We are both accident prone. Since childhood I have been the sort who could knock over a glass of water in the middle of the Sahara; if I can fall on my arse, I probably will. 

As we reached halfway, I was feeling it. The sun had come out, I was getting a bit weary and the idea of writing off the full race and just doing 5k was sounding quite appealing. We didn’t, and after passing the 5k marker, I felt myself perk up a bit (it was all downhill from here, metaphorically speaking if nothing else). And then around 7k, the inevitable happened. Maybe an errant tree branch, maybe a rough bit of ground, we don’t know, but poor Helen did a spectacular nosedive onto the floor. 

Luckily there didn’t seemed to be any serious injuries, so we soldiered on and were overtaken by a chap who must have been behind us for the whole race. Eventually we reached the 9k marker and picked up a bit of speed. Back on the road, children cheered, traffic was stopped for us and the unwaveringly cheerful marshalls kept encouraging us on to the final lap of the playing field (stirring up some traumatic memories of PE lessons past) and towards the finish. At this point, Hels kicked in with some secret power of acceleration and I pootled in behind her. Last. 

I finished last. 

And you know what? No one laughed. I got my medal and my cake, and then everyone got on with doing what they were doing next. It really wasn’t so bad after all.

Will this see the end of me scouring the previous year’s results? Probably not. I enjoyed this race, the scenery was lovely, but a lot my enjoyment came from having lovely company to run with. However, now I know that the world won’t end if I do finish last, I might pull on my big girl pants, take a deep breath and be brave again in the future. 

Juneathon 25/26 – away

Yesterday’s Juneathon effort was wrangling Mini-Ginge around a field whilst trying to erect a tent. People were amazed when we took an eight month old camping, however that was the easy bit. Last year if we put him down, he stayed put or at worst, crawled off a few feet. This year he just legs it AND has an opinion on most things (usually expressed with a loud “NO NO NO NO NO”). 

Anyway, thanks to Ginge we have a well assembled tent, are still on speaking terms and our child hasn’t been devoured by a sheep. So we shall declare yesterday to be a success. 

Today I took my spanky new technology out for a trot around the local farmland. Thanks to the magic GPS finder (not the technical term), new Miles is able to find his satellite in super fast time. Basically, he has a nosy where all the satellites are going to be and then it’s easier to find them. In contrast, old Miles took the  approach of wearing a blindfold, spinning round three times and trying to pin the tail on the metaphorical donkey. In space. It was always a bit like trying to harpoon a Clanger. 

Anyway, new Miles doesn’t help me procrastinate by taking half an hour to find a satellite so off I popped. After a couple of miles I decided to have a breather, but realised that I didn’t know how to pause him. In the process of trying to do so, I accidentally ended my run and finished up with a 2 mile run and a 1 mile run done in quick succession. Back at the tent, I was able to download my runs to my phone which I still feel is some kind of sorcery.