If you feel the need to comment on someone running: Just don’t.

me from chest up in green running top, purple headband looking a little bemused and tired
Me after today’s 5 miles

I have been meaning to blog for the last couple of weeks but I’ve been busy with work and life and general stuff. I have also been running. Yes, I am actually really pleased with how things are going really. As long as I don’t compare myself to Dopey fit Jess or the Jess Jess thinks Jess should be now… right here in the moment, now, it’s going well. Today is actually an example of that. I ran/walked 5 miles without any kind of drama on my part. I just did it. I ran the one minute segments where they fell, including the hills. I chose a route that had some pulls in so I don’t get used to just running on the flat. Nothing major but not flat flat. I was more than 3 miles in before I even really started to think about the one minute runs. I had a couple of little ‘oh I could turn off here and the route would be flatter’ moments and after the 3 miles I had a couple of ‘eek, I’m going to have to run that slope’ thoughts. I was also thinking about how I was quite slow really… but overall I was just out there doing my thing without really thinking about it. Without really thinking about anything at all. And then, at roughly 3.5 miles I was reminded that the world is full of arseholes and thing spiralled from there. So let me be clear, compared to so many other women I have been incredibly lucky. I have actually had very few comments while out running, I have had no really scary incidents, just one or two slightly uncomfortable ones and most of the abuse shouted at me over the years is so predictable it’s actually just boring. I also haven’t had any such incidents for ages and ages. But today they all came at once.

Me by the canal in the sun having just had my haircut with my running pack on
Me after a pre-haircut run

The first was actually well meaning I think. Misguided but well intentioned. 2 women, probably in their 20s ran past me. They were going a bit faster than me but not that much and they told me to keep going, the weight will drop off in no time and it will get easier. I honestly think they thought they were being helpful. But here’s the thing, it’s not helpful. Commenting on someone’s weight is never helpful. Assuming that someone is running to lose weight (I’m not) is never helpful. The whole comment was so full of assumptions – that I want to lose weight (not my focus, might happen with increased fitness, might not), that I’m new to running (nope), that I want to get faster (would be lovely but this wasn’t a speed session, so not my focus today), that I am struggling (I wasn’t really, I was happily doing my run/walk thing), that it gets easier (ahem, hmmm, nope – different maybe but not easier. I just go further as I get fitter and of course there are the glorious runs where everything comes togethers… but easier? Nope). Anyway, that bounced along and out of sight and I carried on mildly irritated.

Picture of me and Kath on our drive on New Years morning in running gear
Our new year run

The second one was also, I hope, well intentioned but oh so very very misguided. A male runner, anywhere between 20 and 30 was coming from behind me and as he reached me fell in step with me. Men, please don’t do this. Men, please especially don’t do this when the news is full of reports that less than 2 weeks ago a woman was murdered while out running along a canal in broad daylight. It’s actually just really scary. This guy informed me he was a PT (my university teaching brain tried to work out why he would be telling me that he is a personal tutor) and that he could help me. Running, he mansplained, would come easier with weight loss. I just said ‘I don’t need help’. And yes I was wondering whether I would be strong enough to push him into the canal if this whole PT business was nonsense. But as I muttered ‘Fuck off’ under my breath and fell into my walk break, he went on his way. I heard the 4 mile beep and was so tempted to stop and call it close enough but as I hadn’t taken any crap from my own silly brain so far and had kept the doubts at bay I really didn’t see why I should be de-railed by people who just need to learn to shut the fuck up.

Headshot of me by the Leeds Liverpool canal in the winter sun
Me after a lovely canal run

So I carried on past the canal bridge and towards a couple in their late teen/early twenties. I could see them giggling and sniggering from a little way off. As I got in earshot, she said ‘I’d be so embarrassed if I looked like that’ (or something like that). He replied with something equally vile (or worse) about how we wouldn’t be with her if she looked like that. As I got level he said I should run in the dark because nobody wants to see ‘that’. I’m not quite sure what ‘that’ is and his hand gestures were unclear (wish mine hadn’t been). I didn’t react. I just went past them. I could hear them laughing as I ran on. I didn’t take the next walk break, afraid that if I did I might not be able to hold back the tears. How dare they. But then I remembered that they don’t matter. If they don’t want to see a fat lass running they can shut their eyes. As I plodded my remaining quarter mile or so I tried to put them out of my mind but I haven’t quite managed it. As so many have commented on my original facebook post about this, I shouldn’t give them another thought. And maybe once I have posted this, I won’t. Those comments won’t stop me running, or stop me running that route, or stop me running on my own. To me, at this point in my life and my running journey they are fairly inconsequential. They upset me a bit earlier, they made me a bit angry on behalf of all of us who just want to go for a run and be left to it and they have left me a bit bemused by this seemingly quite widespread need to comment on other people’s bodies and how we chose to move them. So now it’s my turn to give some unsolicited advice: If you feel the need to say anything other than a simple ‘well done’ when you see someone out running, swallow hard. Just concentrate on keeping your mouth shut and before you know it you will have overtaken them, or passed them or they will have passed you. Go on, you can do it. It gets easier.

Oh and you’ll note that none of the pictures of ‘that’ (me) out on runs this January are in the dark… because I don’t like running the dark. If that bothers you, you might want to try reading a different blog.

picture is of Dopey the dwarf with caption 'I am who I am. Your approval is not needed'
A reminder

2021 Running

Was it really May when I last posted? I had 8 started posts in the draft folder – all now pointless and irrelevant and thus binned. But May? Really? Well that tells you something about my running year. It wasn’t really. I started tracking my mileage in 2017. I ran 500 miles. I had my best ever year the year after with 810 miles. I will finish 2021 on about 108 miles. A long long long way off the #run1000miles ambition. But never mind. I was going to review some running highlights and reflect on some of the crappy stuff but somehow running just hasn’t really featured much in 2021. I have mostly just not been running. When I think back I can’t remember the runs. 2021 was not a running year. It wasn’t a fitness year either. Although it was the year I started the Body Coach App and worked fairly diligently through the first few cycles before stalling completely. I have renewed simply because when I am in the habit of doing it I both enjoy it and feel the benefits.

So what has 2021 been in running terms? A reminder that I want to run. Having run so little over the year, having struggled to try and start again again again – and failing has put into perspective that running is actually so much part of my life now that the idea of not doing it at all is just nonsense to me. The year has also highlighted how much I learned from marathon running – something I wrote about at the beginning of the year. Anyway, I could artificially try and pull out some positive platitudes from my year in runs but that would be meaningless. It wasn’t a running year. It was just a year with quite a lot of crap, with some great opportunities – some taken, some not, some real achievements and a good bit of change thrown in. All year though I have been ‘getting back to running’ or as it turns out, not quite getting back to running.

2022 might not be any different. I might spend the year starting again and then starting again and then starting again. However, for no real reason I feel really positive about my 2022 running. That positivity is certainly not evidence based but it’s there nonetheless. I have had 4 outings over the last week. Short little runs like the just under 2 miles on Christmas Day and my 30 minute plods out this week. I am aiming for a new year 3 miles to complete Week 1 of Half Marathon training. Yep, half marathon training. I briefly considered whether I should just aim for a May 10km instead but at heart I’m a distance runner. I want to run over 10 miles consistently and regularly and signing up for a 10k rather than the half just seemed like an excuse. Anyway, the plan is to run and write more regularly; to get back to that magic spot where running and writing about it supported each other and both were just things I do. Hopefully therefore this blog will become more regular again and obviously to have something to write about I will actually have to run. I’ll update on plans as I go. For now I really just want to wish you a Happy New Year.

I hope 2021 was kind to you, that you and yours stayed safe and well and that Covid impacts were mild. I hope 2022 is everything you want it to be. I am hoping for a calmer year, with fewer big changes, for time to breathe and time to think, for the peace of mind to read for fun, for time outside, for experiencing the total joy of movement a good run can bring and for the sense of satisfaction a hard run finished brings. Have a giggle and cake filled New Year, stay safe!

Happy New Year from the 6 of us

ULTRA Festival 2021 – Review

A little while ago Kath signed up for the ULTRA festival online. Over Friday 30th April -Sunday 2nd May the festival offered 12 talks and a couple of films to watch online. Honestly, I was only vaguely interested because, you know, ultra… not likely to happen any time soon or ever for me. We haven’t watched everything yet and we didn’t watch everything ‘live’ but I have really enjoyed it. The first thing we watched was the first session Ultra running 101 – Why it’s for everyone. Initially we were a little irritated because the chat seemed to miss the fact that it was supposed to be basics. However, we very quickly settled in and as the conversation went on it hit the brief more and more and felt welcoming and inclusive. It was a nice introductory talk to the festival and really confirmed that running an ultra is basically having picnic while running a stupidly long way.

Then we watched ‘Training for the Long Haul’ with James Elson and Robbie Britton which I really liked because it was so much about how much of what works is so individual. Kit is individual, training is individual, food is. So much of training is about figuring out what works for you. I really liked the way both of the speakers talked about being careful of people who say there is only one right way of running, training, fuelling… Lots of what they were saying made sense and made me think about whether I should think about my running in terms of time rather than distance. So the training plan I use is based on time for 2 runs during the week and then the ‘long run’ is based on distance. But as I was listening to them I wondered if maybe I’m actually doing it the wrong way round and so I might try doing my long run based on time and think about the other sessions a bit differently. I am quite happy to have a little experiment and see what that does to my running.I also chuckled when they referred to running easy as a difficult thing to do and that it’s fine to run 14/15 minute miles. If anyone is struggling to run that slow, I can help. Just come and run/walk with me. If I hit more than one 13 minute mile in a row I am having a speedy day.

Listening to Shane Ohly talk about his Bob Graham round was also really interesting. I liked his take on the many debates about how these rounds should be done and what counts as supported or unsupported etc. He seemed content to do his thing and leave others to debate whether what he did was proper. I liked that. It seems a good place to be mentally – your run so your rules, others can figure out what means for them. My favourite talk though was ‘A Chat Between Friends – Nicky Spinks and Damian Hall’ which came across as really just that, a chat between friends. The ethos of trail running generally as well as just having a thing for going very long came across really nicely. It’s not about going fast, it’s about pushing yourself in other ways and enjoying the outdoors as you do it. Some of it is just about being smart and organised and good at navigating and good at preparing so you can keep going effectively when you don’t really want to. The same came through in the film ‘Wrath’ which followed Damian Hall and Beth Pascall on their successful FKT attempt on the Cape Wrath Trail a couple of years ago – 230 miles across what looked like stunning but difficult terrain in a Scottish winter. It was inspiring to watch and made me think about what my next impossible thing to do could be.

We’ve watched the talk on Sustainability in running yesterday evening which was also really good but also a bit scary. There is so much waste and often we just don’t think about it anywhere near enough. There is so much more we can all do here and I think it will probably make us think about things more in the future. We definitely do not need any more race t-shirts! Again I liked the realism of this talk, and the focus on each of us doing what we can, making small local changes that together begin to make a real difference. It resonated with what I have often told my students: To change the world you take small steps, bit by bit, little by little and it might not feel like much but it all adds up to making the world a better place. We all need to do more and I will try be more conscious of that.

The final talk we watched last night was the talk on mental resilience. I don’t like the term resilience but I think that’s because resilience is an overused phrase in my world and is often used to blame people who struggle to cope with unsustainable and awful conditions and situations and actually the problem is not them. Resilience is not a long term solution. It therefore took a little while to settle into the talk. However, in the talk, resilience was used in a more positive sense rather than as a way to shift blame for structures that are impossible to thrive in. It was about how you get through those tough bits of running long and while some of it was ultra specific – you have more time to go to the dark places when you run long and the physical exertion is on a different level so a different sort of mental strength is needed, much of what was said is also relevant for shorter runs I think. I quite like reframing the inner dialogue from inner demons to inner angels as a concepts – not sure I’d use angels because angels are bit freaky. But having a conversation with my younger non-running self about how amazingly well I am doing compared to what that younger me would have thought possible is a different sort of inner dialogue than the other little voice reminding me that by all objective measures I am a terrible runner. Reframing or constructing yourself differently, changing the way you think about what you are doing and/or why I think might also be a powerful tool. Certainly something to work with.

I’m looking forward to catching up with the remaining few talks and the film Via Alpina over the next few days but mostly I am excited to get back to running. I feel like I may be ready to step back out there. I might never go that long but I love the ethos of ultra running and trail running generally. I like the focus on being outside and in nature, of running your way, figuring out what works for you, fuelling right for you, not being afraid to walk, stopping for photos, not focusing on speed per se but focusing on challenging yourself, on racing – sure, but racing yourself or the terrain or simply the distance, not necessarily other people. It’s all my sort of running and I will try and focus on the joy of being outside, the joy of moving and the #MyRunMyRules mindset as I re-start my running journey once again. So Thank you ULTRA festival and I think I might well be checking out the ULTRA magazine.

The Body Coach App – Cycle 4(?) Review

Some of you may have notice that Cycle 4, or what is actually Intermediate Cycle 1 on the Body Coach App has lasted rather longer than 28 days. It has in fact been about a 6 week cycle. Honestly, the cycle just never really happened. I checked in this morning partly for a re-set really. I have put on a kg since the last check in and the rest of the stats have pretty much stayed the same. That’s actually better than expected given that I have done very little and not really stuck to the food plan that well either. It’s nothing the app does wrong. But sometimes life just happens. And life happened.

But let’s think about the app and review it for what it is. Let’s start with the exercise sessions. There did not seem to be a huge step up from Beginners Cycle 3 to Intermediate Cycle 1. It was pretty much more of the same. To be honest I was so crap with this that I think workouts 1-3 I only did once each. In fact I am not entirely sure I ever did workout 1. I did workout 4 and 5 a couple of times and quite liked them. I think that’s all I can really say because my head just wasn’t in it. What I did notice though is that just changing the order in which exercises are done or how they are grouped can make a huge difference to how the session feels so even if it looks like more of the same on paper, subtle differences can make a huge difference.

The food for the cycle adds another set of recipes for both refuel and general meals and another set of snacks. Honestly I can’t remember what was on that cycle and what came from previous ones but there is certainly a pretty nice recipe library building up overall! We probably stuck to the food plan 80% of them time in terms of meals. However, I have been really snack-y with nuts and cheese and chocolate and we’ve had hot chocolate more often than not.

Exercise wise, over the last 6 weeks I have been for a few walks. If I have tracked everything then 17 walks. Some of them have just been 2 miles though. 9 of them were over 4 miles with the longest being about 8. I went for one run. A 2 mile run which doesn’t sound like anything but was actually very positive. I did 9 Body Coach app workouts and 7 yoga sessions. So all in all not a great 6 weeks for fitness and mental health. Too much going on and I sort of just didn’t have anything left for self care in that way. I know, I know, I should prioritise it and if I did I would probably feel better. But I didn’t.

There’s lots of change and lots of shifting energies etc and this weekend I felt ready to check in from the Intermediate Cycle 1 and start the next cycle as part of a sort of re-set. I am acknowledging me tiredness and my need for rest but also the fact that I am ready to move more and push a little harder with this. Let’s see what the next cycle brings.

Morning Coffee on Top of the World

Ok well not quite on top of the world. But perched on a rock at the top end of Low Wood Nature Reserve (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). Kath had suggested this particular adventure the other day and while getting up really early doesn’t appeal to me very much at the moment, sitting outside listening to the birds wake up in the morning light very much does.

Of course, for the first time in ages, we were both asleep when the alarm went off at 5.30 and I just turned it off and dozed a little. It was clear I wasn’t actually going to go back to sleep so we got up. Kath fed the cats and made coffee and then we set off. We walked the mile and a half down to and along the canal to get to Low Wood. Then we followed the path.

By the time we got into the wood I was much more awake. I was really conscious of how achey and heavy my legs felt from walking yesterday and how overall tired my whole body felt. I didn’t like it at all but I tried to push all of that to one side and just focus on the beauty of being outside.

The path slowly winds uphill running parallel to the canal for a bit. Within minutes we had seen several deer, 4 nuthatches, loads of blue tits and great tits and a squirrel or two. At the end of the wood there’s a dry stone wall and the path turns right and heads up. It’s a pull but a perfectly walkable proper path. Still I kept having to stop and catch my breath.

The last bit up is a tiny little scramble. Nothing major at all and if you have long legs it’s probably no more than a couple of slightly awkward big strides. For us with little legs it was a short little climb up. Then perfect path again. Looking down I felt slightly nauseous until everything adjusted and I got used to the view. It’s a lovely time of year to be there. The buds on the trees are beginning to be really vibrant but there’s no leaves yet so you can see through the branches down to the canal and the sea of green from plants below really stood out. It’ll be stunning when the bluebells flower.

We walked along a little and found a nice looking rock to sit on and have our coffee. Height induced jelly legs made sitting down on the rock a little trickier than it really needed to be and after brief thoughts of falling to our death because the rock might just decide that today is the day it’s had enough of just hanging around there, I settled in. We had our coffee mostly in silence watching all the little birds go about their morning. We were shouted at by a little blue tit who seemed to think we were way too close to its tree.

After a while, not sure how long really, time was a bit irrelevant, we got ready to leave and slowly make our way home for breakfast. Kath got up first and then gave me a pull back onto the path. There were several trees with spectacular woodpecker holes in them along the path and we stopped to admire them and two more deer that were just ahead of us on the path. The deer negotiated their way down the steep hill so gracefully and quickly it was almost like they just beamed down.

My downhill was of course less graceful and far less quick. You cross a little stream and then turn down the hill. It’s a path, it’s fine as long as you are not me with my silly fear of downhill. I think it felt worse because everything felt so achey and tired but really it wasn’t horrendous and is perfectly walkable without really giving it a second thought. It’s just me being weird.

We left the nature reserve and walked back along the road, saw more deer (well probably some of the ones we’d seen earlier again) and picked some wild garlic from the wood further along to make pesto with later. It was a lovely start to the day. I might not feel quite right at the minute and I might fatigue really easily and ache even when I have hardly done anything but I am grateful I can do things like this.