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:

The Lakeland Lapland Festive Virtual Ultra

I can’t remember when exactly we signed up for this but it seemed like a good idea at the time because it seemed like it would get us out of the house doing some miles. We signed up as Team Double Dopey and because we had no idea how I would be, the plan was always for Kath to do most of the miles and I would contribute what I could. To cover the full trek distance of 234km we would need to do just short of 10km a day each over 12 days. That actually didn’t sound too bad! At the start I had grand ideas about doing lots of run/walk but I soon realised that I was once again expecting too much of myself and that I really needed to remember that I have been quite poorly and that really not that long ago walking 1km was pretty much impossible. So a reigned myself in and settled into the idea that walking was a good thing!

Today we completed the challenge with a whole day to spare and in fact we also sat Friday out and didn’t add to our total then because we were both really tired and heavy legged. In the end I did almost half of our team effort with 113.8km and Kath did 122km exactly. Mostly I walked. Here’s how my challenge went:

Zero (A Nightmare Before Christmas) sort of
  1. A shortish local walk ‘inspecting’ other people’s Christmas lights started us off on 10th December
  2. A shorter than planned run because of the now infamous bra malfunction on the 11th
  3. Another evening walk, more inspecting of Christmas lights again on the 11th
  4. A slightly longer distance (4.4 miles) of which the first 3 miles were run/walk on the 12th
  5. The 13th saw us walk 6.75 miles in the cold and wet and dry and warm feet have never felt so good
  6. On the 14th I just walked a short loop because my feet were sore
  7. On the 15th I went to Bolton Abbey and walked a stunning sunny loop of 7.6 miles
  8. I added another couple of miles to that with a short out and back walk in the evening
  9. On the 16th I combined a post office stop with a canal walk home adding another 5km to the total
  10. On the 17th I stopped at the post office again and looped home the other way round drawing Zero from A Nightmare before Christmas in the process (sort of)
  11. I’d just got back home when Kath finished work so we walked up to say hi to the grouse – they were grumpy of course
  12. On the 18th we rested and on the 19th we walked to Ilkley to the bookshop and back
  13. And later that day walked a loop with multiple errand stops
  14. Yesterday we walked 6.74 miles mostly in the sun
  15. And today, well we walked at dawn – out and back just over 5km
  16. And then we finished with a run/walk on a similar out and back route for our Solstice Saunter at dusk

It was lovely to finish the challenge with a run/walk and I found the 30 second run intervals much easier than I had the last time I tried them so walking most days has helped. The challenge also meant that I went out much more than I might have done otherwise – particularly on those rainy grey days. It’s been great all round really – in spite of sore feet at times.