The Body Coach App – Cycle 1 Review

As promised, here’s my review of the first 4 weeks of using the Body Coach App. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that when Kath decided she was going to do the Body Coach 90 Day Plan last year I was sceptical. It all sounded too much like diet to me. However, we were already cooking quite a lot of the recipes from Joe Wicks’ books and as Covid-19 meant the gym and sessions with RunRight weren’t an option, having a structured set of exercises to do at home did make some sense. I was in no state to join the 90 Day plan at that point but I very much enjoyed the food and had a go at one of two of the sessions towards the end of the year.

The more I looked at the meal plan and the more I looked at the exercise stuff, the more I thought that actually maybe the structure it provided would be quite useful, the workouts would push me and make me do some of the strength work that would help with running. Once I got back to running it would also provide a way I could do stuff at home if I had run out of brave to make it outside. So just as I decided that the 90 Day plan might work, the app was launched. I wasn’t sure about an app. It somehow in my mind made it sound even more diet like. But then maybe that’s just because my brain went straight from ‘app’ to ‘tracking’ or ‘counting’. After a bit more research I decided that I did want to give it a go. So both of us signed up to the app at the end of December.

Here’s how it works

You sign up and chose your level – Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. You start with cycle one. Each cycle lasts 4 weeks. At the start of your cycle you add your starting stats which include weight, hip, chest and waist as well as arm and leg measurements and if you want to, photos. Then you ignore all of those things for the entire cycle until it is time to check in again 4 weeks later. The check in triggers the move to the next cycle. As I understand it there are 3 beginner cycles and then you move up to intermediate where there are also 3 cycles, then to advanced where it seems cycles will be unlimited. Workouts and recipes then move into your library so you can get back to them if you want to. The recipes will adjust automatically so the quantities are always tailored to you. I like the fact that the workouts stay there. While I want to push myself, I also know that on some days my head won’t play ball but when that happens it might still be persuaded to have a go at one of the easier and familiar workouts.

In cycle one we got recipes for 27 different refuel meals, 33 general meals and 12 snacks. Each of those recipes has the amounts tailored to us individually using our basal metabolic rate. I have absolutely no idea how accurate this is at all. And I don’t care. The cycle also provides 5 Cycle 1 workouts. They are pre-recorded and easily accessed from the app. The idea is that you do 5 workouts per week and have a refuel meal after each of those workouts. All other meals should come from the general plan and you should also eat 2 snacks each day. In addition the app recommends the amount of water you should drink. Right, there are a lot of should’s in there. I am not good with should, at least not without understanding things a bit more. But it does all make sense. Hydration is important so I’m good with the drink lots of water (I’ll come back to specifics in a minute). Giving your body what it needs after a workout also makes a lot of sense – so eating a meal which is higher in carbs within a short-isn window after a workout seems sensible as it replenishes the body and aids recovery. Not eating loads of stuff we don’t need and which isn’t good for us obviously also makes sense – as does the idea that sometimes we all need a treat and that what we fancy as a treat might vary so chocolate can be part of a snack and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of popcorn!

The Workouts

I started the app a day before Kath although I will do my check in on the same day as her so we are back in line, so I did workout 1 twice. On the 90 day plan I found the cycle 1 workouts challenging when I tried them. I really noticed that the Beginner Cycle 1 workouts on the app are much more beginner level than on the 90 Day Plan. I like this. My critique of the Plan would have been that the cycle one workouts were not beginner enough. The app is gentle and gentle is good. It builds confidence. In the first week we simply did workouts 1-5 in order and I liked them. I could do them mostly and occasionally I could even do the next step up. So instead of marching on the spot I could jog, I could do an elbow plank without having to go from my knees and I can do star jumps rather than stepping out. So I am impressed with the beginner workout and I am also impressed with the way Joe Wicks presents the exercise to beginners. He takes care to demonstrate good form and to remind us as we go through and he makes absolutely clear that it is ok to pause the workout if you need a longer rest or to miss out an exercise or substitute it for something you can have a go at or to just do what you can and have a longer rest. Having lost all confidence with exercise, this was all really good for me. I never actually paused or took additional rest but it was good to know I could.

Our second week then coincided with the start of the January bootcamp on the app. This was/is a series of live workouts 5 times a week at either 7am or 7pm and they were obviously aimed at everyone using the app at whatever level. We did the first one live simply because it was about the time we were going to do a session anyway. The live workouts save to an ‘on demand’ section thought so can be done at any time. I was anxious about having a go but actually have enjoyed all of the ones I have done so far. They work well when Kath and I do our workouts together because Joe gives different options for different levels of intensity. I have done 11 of the bootcamps and they have allowed me to push a little harder than the Cycle 1 workouts and have probably given me confidence to try things I didn’t think I could do. On a few occasions I went back to workouts 4 and 5 of Cycle 1. The first time because I wanted to wait for Kath to do the next bootcamp, the second because I was thinking about perhaps going for a little run and wanted something comparatively easy and the third because I had been for a run earlier in the day and it was late and what I really wanted to do was go to bed. On the first occasion I really noticed how much easier the workout was compared to the bootcamps and that to push myself to the same extent I needed to step it up. It was a nice feeling. The second time was this week on Thursday when I had a crappy weird day and couldn’t be bothered with the world. I was too scared to go out and thought that maybe a workout would help me snap out of it and I could go for a little run and get some air after. Well I was just dead. Some days you just don’t have it but I managed to finish the workout and I did feel better for it. Friday was really the first time I nearly didn’t do my workout. I wanted to go to bed really but instead I had a go at workout 4 and while I didn’t enjoy it much, I did enjoy having done it. This morning I did workout 5 of the first cycle and Kath did it with me after having done a bootcamp workout already (mad woman). It felt fitting to finish cycle 1 with a cycle 1 sessions. So in terms of workouts, I have really just done what the app told me to do. That’s not likely to last is it!?!

The food

The food wasn’t really new to me. Kath did the 90 Day Plan and we have several Joe Wicks books. We also know at least a little bit about nutrition and from our running etc have a pretty good idea about what our bodies need in terms of fuel. I think it is also important to remember that this isn’t meant to be a diet. So no, I didn’t stick to the food plan all the time. All meals over the last 4 weeks came from Joe Wicks but no all of them came from the app. When using the books we adjusted the quantities to be more in line with the quantities in the app recipes and when using recipes from the 90 Day Plan we used Kath’s quantities from that plan which are very slightly lower than mine. The biggest deviation from the app was probably that we realised quickly that Kath in particular struggled on one refuel meal and was tired, hungry and a bit flakey. So on some days we had 2 refuel meals and one general. We did try, and mostly succeeded, to have a refuel meal after a workout but sometimes things changed and we didn’t do the session when we had originally planned. Yesterday we were meant to have some home made fish and chips but our heads just weren’t in it so instead of sorting breadcrumbs and coating the fish and faffing, we had fish fingers from the freezer. Yep, that’s right, it has to fit in with life or it’s just another diet to make us miserable. We also had quite a lot of chocolate and biscuits left from Christmas which we enjoyed without the slightest hint of guilt and Kath made a delicious fruit cake which we enjoyed with cheese from our monthly cheese subscription. I am really happy with the food. It’s all lovely, none of it is difficult to make, we haven’t had any major cooking disasters and I love the idea of peanut butter and apple as a snack. Of course I could do much more to ‘be good’ but I don’t really want to be good. I want to enjoy yummy food that fuels my body well and provides the energy to do the things I want to do and I want to enjoy a biscuit or three.

According to the plan I am supposed to drink 3.5litres of water. Hahahahahaha. Yes well. I might as well just sit on the loo, stay there and pour water in the top. I started using Garmin to track hydration as that seemed the only way I was actually going to manage to keep an overview of how much water I am actually drinking. I have been tracking for 15 days and have drunk 3.5 litres on 6 of those days. I am consistently reaching at least 2.5l sthough which, I am fairly sure, is more than I was drinking before.

The Facebook group

The Body Coach website and app are clear about what it is, the app also gives loads of useful information. It’s all there, it’s all pretty clear. The key message is always, it seems to me anyway, that the app is about helping people become healthier and fitter. It’s basically a training and food plan for those of us who are too lazy to figure one out for ourselves. The focus is most definitely not on weight loss. It’s not a diet. If I thought it was I wouldn’t be doing it. That is not, however, what the Facebook group feels like. I joined the Body Coach app official group on Facebook because I sort of presumed that it would be a very supportive and positive space to share thoughts and ideas. I was quite shocked. There are clearly lots of people who do find it supportive and inspiring but mostly I was really taken aback by how much focus is on weight. I was disappointed to see how many in the group seem to measure their moral worth by the number on the scales and how many are really disappointed when the scales don’t move even when they admit that they feel better and stronger. I was surprised at people apologising for going ‘off plan’ or ‘falling off the wagon’. I was concerned about questions about alcohol or biscuits or whether the plan would be less effective if you use natural yoghurt rather than fat free versions. The Facebook group mostly talks about this as a diet and there are lots of posts about how great the food is with comments like ‘how can this be allowed?!?’. After first scrolling through the posts I was quite upset and I took some time to think about why.

I thought about why I was shocked. Over the last few years I have been a member of various exercise, or rather running, related groups on Facebook. There was the Too Fat to Run Clubhouse, various runDisney groups and of course the fabulous Trail Running Magazine Run1000Miles group. While the general runDisney and also the specific Dopey Challenge groups had their fair share of stupid questions and questionable running advice at times, they were never about weight. Too Fat to Run was about being fat and running and I left when discussions about weight started being policed a bit too much which bizarrely seemed to push a focus onto it more than there ever was when there were no rules about posting about weight. Run1000Miles is just about the joy of being outside and enjoying putting one foot in front of the other. The tone when people do post about weight in any of those forums is markedly different. People celebrate their own weight loss, or that of others in a completely different way. There is no moral victory assigned to the weight loss or for that matter any moral value to weight. If someone wanted to shift a few pounds because being a bit lighter makes running easier then that’s something to support and celebrate. If someone managed to stick to a strength training plan or a series of HIIT sessions they wanted to do because it makes them stronger and fitter then thats something worth celebrating too. And the groups I have been in did that. There were some incredible weight loss stories in all of the groups but they were framed in terms of health and fitness and what it allowed the person to do and not in terms or weighing less making you a better person. What shocked me was how normal it seems for so many to think that to be valued and valuable you have to weigh less than you do now and of course be thin. It made me realise how lucky I have been with the Facebook groups I am part of. In particular the run1000Miles group which is so supportive of everyone’s achievements whether that is running a mile or 10, whether it’s a 7 minute mile or a 14 minute mile and whether it’s a 100 mile week or a 100 mile year. The group also overall projects a much healthier relationship with food. That’s not to say that individuals within the group won’t have their own issues. Food and weight can be tricky in all sorts of different ways but overall conversations are about fuel needed for running, treats that nourish body and soul and that food, all food, is part of our lives and often part of what makes it pleasurable and sociable. There isn’t anything that ‘isn’t allowed’ although I’m sure we’ve all made bad pre-run choices that have come to haunt us a few miles in!

So the Facebook group that goes with the Body Coach app just isn’t my tribe. Partly I am tempted to reply to so many of the posts or even post what I just wrote but I would be screaming into a void. Marketing is powerful and the diet industry even more so. As a society we have so much work to do. I have remained in the group and every now and again I scroll through for the odd good tip on modified recipes but I have turned off all notifications and the posts don’t appear in my feed. I spent too long working through my own issues and moving away from the number on the scale meaning something to be dragged back to having debates about the moral value of fat.

Is the app working?

Yes it is. I have done 19 of the pre recorded or live sessions on the app and x 6 30 ish minute runs in Cycle 1 and I have enjoyed the food. I am feeling a little bit fitter and a little bit stronger. I haven’t really struggled with motivation to do the exercises. Once or twice I’ve had to give myself a kick but mostly I have enjoyed the routine of ‘this is just what I do’. Of course that has been relatively easy as I haven’t been working and even if I had, I’d just be at home. So the routine aspect of this and the planning ahead and then just doing what it says on the plan without having to think about it might become more important as I go back to work and eventually even actually go to work, as in – leave the house. So I wanted to get into a regular exercise regime that ultimately supports my running and which can be done easily at home to deal with those days where going out is just a step too far. I wanted to build fitness and strength and feel better, more energised. I also wanted to try new recipes and move away from the same handful of meals we always used to have. So by those measures of success, the app is doing exactly what I wanted it to do and I am very happy with it. For those of you who care more about metrics: I lost 3.5kg, I lost 2 cm each off my chest, waist and hips and another 5cm total off arms and thighs. And just to make sure that my evaluation of the app isn’t coloured by those stats but is based on how I feel, I wrote almost all of this post yesterday, before doing the measurements and photos and hopping on the scales this morning after workout 5 of Cycle 1. I’ll report back after Cycle 2.

Ice, Ice Go Away

Running is sort of on semi-hold while the weather decides what it wants to do. I’m trying not to be grumpy about it. I get stupidly scared in snow and ice. While part of me really wanted to go and play in the snow, face some of those fears and rediscover some of the winter childhood joy, now is not the time to risk injury or to add to stress levels. So running is paused until the last of the ice has melted and the paths are safe again.

For once I am not too concerned about the pause. I have been doing my Body Coach App workouts so I am at least doing something. I am also confident that I can run/walk the distance on my plan so am happy to just tick those weeks off for now and pick up the plan wherever it falls when I can get outside again. This weekend I am to do a 2.5 mile run and maybe, just maybe I can do that tomorrow.

I seem to be managing 1 run a week in-between cold snaps. Last Tuesday I had a therapy appointment at Bolton Abbey and took the opportunity to have a little trot out while there. I was only going to run/walk from the Abbey to the Cavendish Pavilion, grab a coffee and walk back to the car park with it. However when I came out of my session the path towards the bridge across the river and beyond towards the Cavendish Pavilion looked really busy with dog walkers and families with small children. I really didn’t fancy trying to navigate my way through that lot. I briefly considered not running and just heading home but the sun was shining and my brain was whirring from therapy. Running would be good.

So I set off in the opposite direction for a little trot out along the river and soon moved off the path onto grass. It had that delightful consistency that you only get from slightly frozen wet fields – squishy and crunchy at the same time and a little bit spongy. I trotted along in my 30seconds / 30 seconds run/walk intervals and wondered why it felt like such hard work. Then I remembered that for the last year or so I have hardly really run properly off road. The bit of running I have done has been road and canal towpath – and the towpath locally here is proper path not mud. I have not run on grass and mud for absolutely ages. And it showed.

The section I ran is only about half a mile each way so I ran a little loop round the field which also tested out my feet and ankles more on the slightly longer grass and avoided the muddy bits where lots of people had walked. Then I ran back up to the Abbey and round it back towards the car park to make up my 30 minutes. It wasn’t a great run in terms of pace or even how I felt doing it – a bit sluggish and can’t be bothered but it was 30 minutes of moving my moomin butt in the sun, it helped my brain stop whirring and it felt good.

The run really got my quads and I was sore for a couple of days after but not sore enough to not do the Body Coach stuff. I have a week to go on Cycle 1 so I’ll do a review then. I’m quite enjoying it all. I’ve switched rest days around a bit this week as I was just dead yesterday but overall I think it’s going pretty well. Now, if the weather goddess would be so kind and remove the ice, I can get going properly on that 10km plan!

Marathoniversary

Dopey 2016 finisher photo

5 years ago we finished our first marathon and our first Dopey Challenge. There’s a string of blog posts about that experience starting with this one. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the marathoniversary this year. Partly because I am not really running and partly because we were supposed to be there now and should have run the marathon in Florida today. But the universe had other ideas and as things stand I am grateful that we are not there and that I did not have pull out of or cancel the marathon because given the health issues and lack of running I wouldn’t have been able to get ready anyway.

So, all in all it has been a positive day full of happy or at least positive memories and thoughts. Every now and again I have got a bit grumpy or sad. I have felt annoyed at myself for losing fitness and not building on the Dopey and marathon experience but then I reminded myself that I have built on it, that I have learned a lot and that I didn’t lose it all. I completed another 3 marathons after that including another Dopey in 2019. So most of the time I was thinking about the sense of achievement. I still have a sense of wonder at the idea that we ran 48.6 miles over 4 days only about 12 months after not being able to run 100 metres and being so unfit that walking any sort of distance wasn’t really fun. My memories from Dopey 2 are more fun in a way. It was less overwhelming, I was fitter, I knew what was coming, the conditions were better (less hot) and I kept my sense of humour through ESPN Wild World of sport, the sense of achievement from Dopey 1 is something special.

Before Dopey 1 and that marathon I had absolutely no clue whether I could do that distance. In fact the safest assumption based on a year of running, was that I probably couldn’t. When stepping up the distance during that training cycle I had so many fails at the new distance the first time round but on marathon day there was no second chance, no having another go tomorrow. I also never really believed. I didn’t believe I was going to finish, never mind finish within the allowed time for the challenge until I actually did. And on that first attempt I had nothing to draw on. I generally don’t really believe I have done 4 marathons, if you asked me run 5km tomorrow I am not sure I would believe I could do it. Running still very much is something other people do. I am not quite sure what it is I think I do. I just struggle to see myself as a runner, as a marathon finisher, as a Double Dopey. I have to actively remind myself that I did that and that it is a big deal. I have to force myself to remember that I worked for it, that it took lots and lots of little steps that eventually, collectively took me to the finish line. Now, though I have that memory bank. I can force myself to remember what it took to finish the marathon. I can remember that one foot in front of the other really does get you there. I didn’t have that on the first one. It was just step after step into the unknown.

Reflecting on that first marathon today made me realise how often I go back to it, how often I draw on it. Sometimes it isn’t the memory as such but the emotion linked to the achievement. There is something so powerful about knowing that you did something impossible. There is an unshakable calm that comes with knowing that nobody can take that achievement away, that you made a point that wipes out decades of negativity about what your body looks like and can do from others and from yourself. There is something special in knowing that you can just keep going, that it’s ok for things to get tough, for things to hurt and for things to seem impossible. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes it is fun to do the impossible.

And running has felt impossible lately. I really wanted to get going after our run on the 1st January but then it got really icy and I just don’t do ice. I think Covid-19 added another layer of anxiety about the possibility of slipping and hurting myself and putting pressure on medical services. I also didn’t really have any long pants that fit well. So that was another excuse not to go out in the cold. I ordered a bigger pair of Alpkit Koulin Trail tights and they arrived the other day so no excuse there anymore. I’ve been doing my Body Coach App workouts so I wasn’t as worried about not running as I might have been but still, I wanted to be able to go out and enjoy running again. So today, with the ice mostly gone and the roads definitely clear I decided I wanted to try my 2 mile run in spite of not having done any of my runs during the week. Kath came with me. The first mile is all downhill so I decided I would see if I could run it all. I did give myself permission to change my mind though. But I didn’t need to. The first mile felt lovely. I didn’t feel like I was taking it easy as such but I also didn’t feel like I was pushing the pace. I was just running. It was almost exactly a 12 minute mile. It’s been a long time since I have run that mile in that time.

After the first mile I was just going to turn round and run/walk back up the hill but the road was quite busy so we kept going to run a loop instead and dropped into run/walk intervals of 30 seconds each. I managed the intervals to the bottom of the proper hill and walked up that while Kath ran up and had a rest at the top and then we ran home on the intervals. The last bit was quite tough but I just kept thinking about that marathon and the fact that I only had another couple of minutes, not another hour or more to go. If I could get myself through ESPN Wide World of Sport and finish from there, I can do another couple of 30 second intervals. It worked and I am very happy to have run today.

Plyoptic All in One Yoga Mat – Review

I hope everyone has had a good first few days of 2021. It is funny how the calendar rolling over from one year to the next invites us to re-set. My running etc re-start actually kicked off a little while ago and has nothing much to do with new year. I have started the Joe Wicks App – again nothing to do with New Year but simply with when Christmas and my birthday fall as it was a present. I didn’t wait until the 1st January to sign up and get going but the first proper week following the food and exercise starts now as we still had so many left overs etc that we fudged the food last week. I have however done all 5 workouts from the app for the first week now (the first one twice) and joined the live bootcamp this morning – but I will review the App more fully when I have finished the first cycle.

I have also come back to yoga more and have done some yoga every day for the last few days. I forget how much I enjoy it. We got new mats for Christmas, we chose them but Kath’s mum bought them for us. I wanted to spend some time reviewing them now that I have done a variety of exercises, poses and moves on them. Our old yoga mats did a pretty good job but one of them was too thick to do some of the moves and certainly too thick for any sort of HIIT workout. The other one was textured and the cats loved to use it as a scratching carpet (or post if rolled up) so it was looking rather worse for wear. It also repeatedly tried to kills us by scrunching up during exercise and making us roll our ankles or trip. We spent ages looking for new mats and reading reviews and really trying to find something that we could use for yoga and some strength work and HIIT. The mats we eventually settled on were chosen because several reviews said they did not slip or move on carpet. Well.

The mats are from Plyoptic and they are gorgeous. Plyoptic do several designs and they are all stunning. Ours mats come from their All In One range so are intended to be reversible so that one side is yoga etc with the beautiful designs and the other is for other gym type workouts you might do in trainers etc. I really like the feel of the mat on my hands and feet for yoga, it doesn’t feel cold and it feels grippy. The rubber side also feels fine. A little cold maybe if the room is cool but I guess the idea is that you’d probably be wearing trainers anyway, I wasn’t. The mats smell a little rubbery but not over-powering and nasty like some. They roll up easily and come with a carrying strap. The strap on my mat was missing but when I contacted Plyoptic they sent one in the post immediately. So they look great and feel pretty good but do they work?

Well, let’s do yoga first: I don’t slip, even when I get a bit sweaty. So that’s great and better than my previous thicker mat which was a bit slidey when my hands and feet got sweaty. They’re thin mats but that’s no issue on carpet which provides plenty of padding. So for general yoga they are really good mats and the designs add something. But they do scrunch on carpet. I left the mat down for a HIIT session and star jumps or even just marching on the spot were a non starter. I would have risked breaking my ankle leaving the mat down as it was. I ended up just using it for the press-ups and moving to carpet for anything else. I did leave it yoga side up though…

So for the next HIIT session I flipped the mat over. That worked a little better. I would still not be able to run on the spot on the mat as it scrunched up but I did do star jumps without risking tripping. This way round the mat also stayed in place better for things like mountain climbers although I was doing a slow version. Slow motion burpees were also ok. There is some scrunching and the mat needed re-adjusting during every rest period after an exercise burst but it was much better than trying to do the same thing yoga side up.

So where does that leave us? Well I am a bit disappointed. The whole point is the beautiful design and now much of the time I am not going to see that while exercising. And even when flipped over, the claim that the mats are good for use on carpet just isn’t true. They still scrunch, just not as much and some things we will definitely not be able to do on the mat which means the plan of protecting the carpet a bit needs a re-think. Honestly, if we were just buying a mat for doing yoga and nothing else, we probably would have gone for something cheaper. There are plenty lovely yoga mats out there that are much less expensive and do the job we need them to for yoga. That’s not to say that the mats were really really expensive – in the scheme of yoga mats they were what you might call mid range at about 50 quid each (they’re showing as more expensive on the Plyoptic page now). So would I recommend them? Well yes, if you have that spare cash and fall in love the design and want to stick to yoga poses/flow but you could also get something cheaper – including something cheaper from Plyoptic. The environmental credentials of these mats are probably better than most of the cheap ones I’ve seen elsewhere – they are made from biodegradable materials and are PVC and toxic glue etc free so for that I think it was worth spending a bit more. However, if you’re looking for something that won’t move or scrunch on carpet for whatever exercise you want to do – these mats are not it. We’re keeping the mats and I will enjoy doing yoga on mine but there’s this niggle that it’s not quite what I thought it was going to be. And if anyone does know of any mats that really honestly do not scrunch up on carpet when you use them, please let me know.

The Magic of New Year

I am finishing this year much as I started it really. I will, as always, await the magic of New Year and will, as usual, be disappointed that the magic is no closer as we roll from 2020 to 2021. I will still be grumpy, assholes will still be assholes, friends and loved ones will still be friends and loved ones and life goes on, just like that. It goes on in spite of 2020 being the year that finally convinced me that some people are just nasty and will never choose to be kind; in spite of 2020 being another year highlighting that I do not understand, even remotely, a huge proportion of my fellow humans; a year where we could all have chosen to be kind, compassionate and caring and instead chose not to be, where we could have gone for ‘together’ but didn’t, where we needed action and leadership and got neither. 2020 has been quite the year. My mental health dipped. I could pretend it was Covid and lockdown related, yeah for the purposes of this blog let’s pretend that it had nothing to do with work, probably best that way. I found my self hurtling towards the abyss and slammed on the breaks. I did that really radical thing of putting my mental health first. I have cried less this year but I have laughed less. I have spent a fortune in therapy and it is working. As I slowly begin my climb back out of that hole, at least I think I am slowly starting to climb a little – I no longer feel like I am falling deeper, I am thinking about the magic of New Year again.

And I think I was wrong. There is magic. A different sort of magic to the one we might find in the Solstices or as we listen to the Godesses of the rivers we run alongside or the one the wind whispers to us as we quicken our descent down the side of our favourite hill. But magic. And it’s not magic that is unique to New Year. It’s magic that comes with every new beginning, every week or even day holds some of that magic, every marker on a calendar. Every point which we long ago decided marks time is and end point and a new beginning and each one holds magic. We just feel it more at New Year because of the importance we assign to the ticking over of one year into the next. And I think that it is a powerful magic and that it’s frightening in so many ways. It’s the magic of knowing who we are and what matters. It’s powerful and it means taking responsibility for all of it. It’s the power to define who we are and want to be. It’s the power to say yes to things and no to others, the power to stand up and make out voices heard, it’s the power to be kind and the power to let anger go (or not). It’s the power to be truly ourselves and finally, finally, abandon ‘should’. “That’s not magic”. I can almost hear you say that, but it is. If magic is a forgotten power that makes us all part of the universe, a power that can be used for good and bad and a power deeply connected to nature then the power to be truly ourselves and define what that means every single day is indeed magic and it’s radical. And that magic is closer on New Year because it’s a time to reflect and to define who we want to be. We’ve just forgotten how to do that in a way that puts kindness to ourselves at the centre. We’ve made it about metrics, we’ve made it about having to be better where better is narrowly defined by others. We’ve made it about resolutions, about weight lost, races run, personal bests achieve, number of books read, research outputs produced… and better is always about thinker, faster, lighter, further or more.

I am not going to tell you how many miles I ran in 2020, how many books I read, research outputs I wrote, classes I taught, pounds I lost/gained, inches I lost/gained, dress sizes changed, units of alcohol consumed or chocolate bars eaten. The cake is uncountable anyway. None of that is important. As much as I am often drawn to cold hard logic and plans and tracking and numbers, the magic in everything we do comes from something else, something that I can’t always capture but something that running somehow brings me closer to.

2020 magic has come from very different sorts of achievements than the ones I see being shared on social media. By the usual metrics I have failed this year. And yet it doesn’t feel like that at all. Work has been horrendous but even as my anxiety soars just thinking about it I know what I want, I know what sort of academic I want to be, I know where my focus has to be for me to get there. I know what matters. 2020 running magic on first glance has been absent. I have started again and again and again, my feet have hurt, my calves have been tight, my hamstrings tighter. Then lockdown and people everywhere and then I was ill and kept trying until eventually my body screamed stop and I finally heard it. Tests, rest and now finally baby steps back to fitness. It has been frustrating at times but even when my anxiety is through the roof and depression stops me from getting off the sofa, I know that I will get back to that feeling of strength and wellness. 2020 magic has been about learning to connect in different ways and re-affirming that I don’t need small talk and lots of friends but that I do need a handful of meaningful and deep connections and that I need connection to outside, to nature, to something bigger than people.

2020 magic has come from sunrises and sunsets and watching the seasons change, seeing curlews and lapwings in spring and summer and grouse, herons and kingfishers regularly. It’s come from getting angry at people out on ‘my’ routes and then remembering that they too just need to breathe. 2020 brought the excitement of entering Marathon Number 5 and the disappointment of having to cancel and then the relief as my training never got going anyway. It brought planning excitement for holidays to Iceland and Florida and the disappointment of cancelling and the calmness of accepting that it just is what it is. The time for those place will come.

2020 brought Odin into our lives and with him a healthy dose of chaos.

Odin Kitten

2020 brought more ‘starting again’ efforts than any previous year as I kept trying and trying to get going again. It brought reminders that nothing is every guaranteed and it put health at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I stopped watching the news because it just made me cry. But the year also brought sleep outs in the summer house, and it brought me back to yoga in fits and starts. 2020 has taught me something about patience and about listening more, it has taught me something about calm and acceptance. It has also taught me that I am strong. That when I want something and believe in it I will keep trying and I won’t just walk away. I want to run. Running is so impossibly hard and has been all year. I have not had an effortless run where everything comes together for longer than I can remember- and I don’t think there was one in 2020 – but I am not walking away from that possibility.

So 2021. No resolutions, no plans to be a better me. Just a hope that I can keep listening. A hope that the sunsets and sunrises are as beautiful next year as they have been this year and that I can get to see some of them during runs along the canal or on the moor. A hope that the kingfishers stick around and the deer and the long tailed tits, goldfinches and all the other birds that come to our feeders. I wish for a kinder world, where the news doesn’t make me cry and in the absence of that I hope for the continuing love and friendship that makes me laugh to balance out the sad tears with the good ones. I hope for hugs and simple kind gestures that shows us that the magic that connects us all hasn’t abandoned us, that all we need to do is take time to stop and breathe. Or, if we’re lucky enough, we just need to run, the way we do when it all comes together, when running is fluid poetic motion that feels like flying. And I wish you that perfect run, whether metaphorically or an actual perfect run. I wish you magic and the power and strength to be you – the you you really want to be, not the one you feel you should be.

Stay safe in 2021 and here’s your annual reminder: