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.

Walking tired

I meant to post this last night but eventually I realised I was both cold and too unfocused to upload the pictures into the post and went to bed instead. But here you are, a slightly frustrated rant about not really being able to do much and pictures from a lovely walk.

I haven’t been running. I haven’t been doing a lot of things. I don’t know whether I have long Covid because I don’t know if I had Covid but I have something. I can do some things but I can’t do all the things. I am getting better at the HIIT sessions and definitely feel fitter for the short burst exercise. I can work a full week, I can even write a little. I can cook and do house stuff, I can read for pleasure and I can go for walks, do yoga and file my admin crap and sort of vaguely function as an adult. What I can’t do is all of that in any sort of consistent way.

I was doing quite well with the fitness stuff. I managed the workouts and some running. Then I went back to work and also had to deal with stuff and my system put the brakes on. I can hear my inner self screaming, well whimpering really, ‘stop, too much’. I have activated my brain again and that feels really good but energy is finite and using energy for brain power stuff takes it away from other areas. Rest becomes an imperative and I have never learned to properly pace myself through a day or a week. Finding a balance between rest and exercise that is calibrated to a very flighty system in hyper-vigilant overdrive is not easy. I realised that I can’t do the Body Coach App 5 sessions and run as well at the moment. I sort of thought I’d prefer running and drop the HIIT sessions accordingly but I’ve felt vulnerable out running, anxious. So I have stayed in and done the sessions. I have also realised that sometimes it is tempting to do sessions on several back to back days. But then it suddenly hits me and I feel exhausted. Maybe 2 days on, 1 off is a better pattern for me right now. Maybe. Today was a workout day and I had every intention of doing it but we went for a walk. It was 5 miles and lovely but it felt much much more tiring than just walking 5 miles. I feel so physically tired after that but it’s too soon to go to bed because my brain is still too active.

We have talked about exploring the footpaths round here ever since we moved in over 15 years ago but we always stick to our same routes that became routine for one reason or another – the route to Kath’s Mum’s, running down to the canal to make use of the flat, the sheep fields where we had our flock, the road up to the moor for the curlews and lapwings and the moor to the stanza stones and trig point via the grumpy grouse. Familiar. But random. So today we went for a walk to explore a footpath loop I have never been on and Kath has been on once, long before we met even. The first mile was just up the hill as if we were heading for the moor but then we turned off following a footpath sign down a track. And we stuck to that track through a farm and followed it until we came to a point where a sign told is that we had to decide whether to keep following it or take a path through a wood on the edge of the glen. Part of the reason for walking this route was to see if it would be runable for Kath and as it was clear the track would be, we went for the wood option.

It was a lovely trail, slightly undulating and skirting the edge of the glen. You can’t get lost, you just follow the path which is clearly well used although we didn’t see anyone else. Kath had her OS map app open on her phone to see how well it worked and it was actually really fun to see where we were and remind ourselves what things look like on a map. We did miss the original turning (or rather we followed the track and turned when we shouldn’t have done) that was the original route plan but the way we went was actually much more fun. Well into the wood we crossed a little stream with a little waterfall using a little bridge that was less than confidence inspiring and then continued along the woodland path which eventually brought us out just above Sunnydale Reservoir. I had no idea it was even there. I didn’t much like the look of the steps going down to it, they were a bit ‘steps of doom’. Ok, I am being dramatic but they looked in urgent need of some TLC and by TLC I mean rebuild. In spite of the washed out steps we made it safely down. There was someone else enjoying the tranquility and solitude and there was another walker behind us just approaching the steps as we had got down so we didn’t linger.

We picked up the track again and noted the point at which we would have come out if we had chosen track over wood earlier. Useful to know for another adventure. The track took us through fields and would have been a lovely stretch of the walk had it not been for loads of dead rabbits. There were loads. It seemed particularly disturbing because it felt like someone had hunted down all the world’s easter bunnies. Hm. They must have been hunted or poisoned or something. The track took us to a road at the edge of East Morton. Instead of heading towards the village and home that way, we turned sharp right and up another track, a grass road, called, according to the app, wait for it, yep, Grass Road. It was clearly a well used bridle path and was actually the track we had meant to come down on when we originally decided on what route to walk. We followed it all the way back up to the farm at the start of our adventure and then back onto Ilkley Road. We stopped frequently to watch the lapwings and curlews or just stand and listen.

As we were out and about having adventures we decided we would check out a footpath we keep missing. We have a footpath at the back of our house which opens into fields and then goes up through a farm and up a road to the main road but we know there’s a footpath that runs up the hill from the farm earlier and would therefore allow us to cut off some of the main road. We just weren’t quite sure where exactly it goes through the farm. As we were coming down the hill, we decided to track it from that end which would make it easier to find and show is where it came out on the farm. Once you know it is actually really easy and obvious! The path took us down through a couple of fields with sheep in and it was lovely to see the lambs bouncing about. Once through the farm we were in familiar territory and on the home stretch. We stopped to watch more lambs and then made our way through the fields and onto the path that took is straight to our back gate. It was a lovely walk.

Lovely as it was though, I felt absolutely shattered. Walking not quite 5 miles with lots of stops to look at things and at a very leisurely pace seemed to have completely tired me out. I haven’t done anything since we got back. I feel physically tired but mentally in over drive. It’s odd and I’d like it to stop.

Update to Cycle 3 review: Stepping up, being tired and my wonder woman zone

So I got off my arse and did my final workout for Cycle 3 just now. I did the Super Sweaty Saturday Live from yesterday. Well, I’m sweaty alright. Anyway, honestly my heart sank when Joe Wicks cheerfully announced that the were stepping things up today and were going to be working for 40 seconds and resting for 20 seconds. I wondered if I could just quickly set my own timer and try and work on 30/30 but that seemed like too much of a faff so I thought I’d just see how I got on. Then Joe said how tired he was and how he needed the workout and later on in the session he talks about how exercise always gives energy rather than take it away. So I spent the first few minutes, the entire warm up basically thinking about that my reaction to the ‘stepping things up’ and the point about being tired and therefore needing the workout. I don’t like stepping things up. Stepping things up usually means that I can’t do them. I think over years of PE at school, exercise classes, the gym the language of stepping up has come to mean making it so hard I can no longer do it. I realised I don’t think in terms of stepping it up when I teach or when I am doing anything other than exercise. I think in terms of progressing or sometimes in terms of working a little harder but never in terms of stepping up. I completely understand that this is a language thing going on in my head and that it’s a bit silly but my brain is conditioned to think that ‘step up’ is not for me. ‘Step up’ is for fit people who ‘do’ exercise and fitness. ‘Step up’ is not out of comfort zone it’s out of the zone you’re in when you’re out of the comfort zone. ‘Step up’ is not nice territory. ‘Right then’ said me to me ‘Let’s not step things up then, let’s just stick a toe out of our comfort zone and see what it feels like and if we don’t like it, Joe and his 40 seconds of burpees or whatever can go take a running jump’. So that was the stepping it up sorted.

As I ran on the spot for the first exercise I was still thinking about being tired and how I have been all week and the extent to which that’s just an excuse and I really should just get over myself and get things done. As I went through the exercises I kept coming back to that thought. And I think there’s an element of that but for me there are three distinct types of tired. One is just lack of sleep, general busyness tired and for that sort of tired exercise always helps. Usually though with that sort of tired I also know that, keep it in mind and motivation isn’t an issue. Then there is the tiredness that comes with anxiety, too much busyness, high stress levels and idiocy and a system running on high alert for too much of the time. Here motivation can be hard and it is a fine balance between whether exercise will help or make things worse. Sometimes I won’t know until I try. Sometimes exercise is exactly what’s needed and it feels good to do something with the excess adrenalin. Sometimes though it seems to add to stress and I get panicky. Bizarrely even the calmest yoga sequence can make me panic when I’m like that. And the third sort of tiredness is the depression tiredness which is hard to explain to anyone who has never experienced it. It feels like I physically cannot get off the sofa. It feels heavy and dark and overwhelming. I am sure exercise would help but it’s impossible until that depression tiredness lifts and the only way to make it lift, other than just wait it out, is to move, which feels impossible. Sometimes I can go for a walk or do some gentle stretches and when I can, I can then often progress to something else like a run or HIIT quite quickly, even on the same day. But often I just can’t move. So tiredness is not just one thing and whether exercise helps or is even possible really depends on the type of tired for me. Sometimes of course I am also just lazy but that’s another story.

I put music on for today’s session. We moved the CD player into the back room (where we have all our exercise stuff) last weekend and I wonder if it might be a game changer. There was random dancing in the rest breaks yesterday which just made the whole thing fun and somehow feel less like just exercise and more like just being silly but today the music actually really helped with the workout. I noticed it most on the upper body exercises or those that require some sort of upper body strength. For example for both the Mountain Climbers and the Plank Jacks I can’t normally do 35 seconds before my shoulders cave in – Or I can do so if they are the first exercise to really put pressure on shoulders but not if they come later in the sequence. For the first round today I managed the Mount climbers by just focusing on the music and the rhythm of that. I managed the Plank Jacks with just one brief shake off of the arms in the middle. In the 2nd round I had to shake off the arms for both once but that was the only break and it was less than 5 seconds. I suppose the music just shifts the focus or gives the brain something else to hang on to and makes it easier to just push through. It helps build that mental strength I always think I don’t have. When running outside it’s easier to distract yourself and keep going. In our little exercise room I am finding other ways, music is clearly one but facing the Dopey medals on the wall helps to motivate to work just that little bit harder, facing the generic medal hanger with everything else on serves as a reminder that I can do this and sometimes watching the birds come and go to the bird table on our back fence is a nice distraction.

About half way through the workout I decided I didn’t feel quite right in my vest. I have been doing my workouts in shorts and sports bra but I only have one pair of shorts so today had cropped running tights on and initially felt odd without an actual top. But half way through I ditched the vest. It wasn’t uncomfortable or anything, it was just that I was in my wonder woman zone. It’s that zone, often but not always exercise related, where I am working really hard but with absolute certainty that I can do it, that there is nothing that can derail me from what I am doing and that what I am doing is right. It’s that being unfuckwithable that I’ve talked about before but that feeling/ state of mind comes after having completed something in the wonder woman zone I think. It’s all nonsense really but I still think there is something really powerful about exercising just in shorts/leggings and sports bra. I don’t care what I actually look like doing it. That’s so totally not the point. It’s about how I feel and when I am gritting my teeth to get another push-up done (off my knees, people, off my knees, don’t get excited) or trying to suck in the oxygen to go full sprint on the spot for the last 10 seconds while Dolly reminds me to pour myself a cup of ambition, then anything more than a sports bra just spoils the vibe. Like I said, wonder woman zone.

Wonder woman zone and medal inspiration from a few days ago. Didn’t think to take a picture today.