A ‘not quite’ sort of day

1st of March. Hmph. Time seems to be flying and yet not moving at all. Time is weird. I went for a run today. I didn’t want to. I did a workout too this morning, didn’t want to do that either. I didn’t sleep well. My knees hurt in my sleep and I couldn’t get comfy at all and wherever I turned there seemed to be a cat making it impossible for me the stretch out or move. I didn’t make 30 miles in February – I nearly did but not quite – because I did not want to dodge all the people that the glorious sunshine brought out yesterday. They were everywhere and in hordes, even on the roads. So no quick 30 minutes to just tip the mileage over 30 and no 4.5 miles to fulfil my obligation to the plan.

Yesterday’s sunset

Anyway, I woke up early. Not that it felt like I had been asleep much. An exercise session was on my mind but I thought if I just keep quiet maybe that feeling that I should just get it done would go away and I could stay in bed drinking coffee, cuddling cats, watching the sun come up. Well there was no sun to be seen in the fog anyway and then Kath uttered the words I didn’t really want to hear: ‘I was thinking about doing a workout’. Oh sod it then, let’s do it. Let’s start the month positively. It was actually fine and I did feel better afterwards. There was a lot of ‘not quite’ in the session though, the not quite managing the same number of push-ups as yesterday, not quite sprinting on the spot until the timer beeped and not quite managing the bear crawl for 30 seconds… not quite.

I left my sports bra on as I had planned a run today and having to change bras is a major factor in not actually making it out the door (no? Just me? Oh ok). Kath headed out after she finished work. I was still faffing with stuff but decided I wanted to get it done. I wanted the first day of the month at least to go to plan. Well, not quite. I got changed and headed out. I felt cold. I rarely feel cold running and even if I do it’s only for a few steps really. But throughout the whole run I could not get warm. I couldn’t quite get into a rhythm, not quite. I was always not quite settled. I told myself that if I got to the end of the road and still wasn’t feeling it I would turn round and come home. At the end of the road I was neither settled nor more unsettled and on autopilot I just kept going. Everything though felt not quite right. I dropped to run/walk. I’m not sure why. I was going downhill. I had been quite clear in my head about the planned loop but now I just couldn’t face it. I turned off early and significantly shortened the loop. I kept going on run/walk. Sometimes though I didn’t run the full 45 seconds – not quite. I met Kath coming in the opposite direction as I huffed and puffed up a gentle slope. She turned round to come with me. From there it was uneventful, a walk up the hill, a run/walk home. I was supposed to do 30 minutes. I did 28.22 minutes. Not quite. I only covered 1.86 miles, not even 2 miles. Not quite. I also didn’t really feel better after the run. I felt better when I put my sticker on the calendar for today showing that at least on Day 1 I stuck to the plan – even if not quite.

On not feeling worse

Cup of black coffee
Coffee!

Well so far this week has been a funny one. I tried to go for a run on Monday. For those of you who know me, you will know that I generally function well on caffeine and have a pretty high tolerance for the drinking coffee in the afternoon. Not so on Monday. I had an espresso a little while after lunch and soon after felt sick and dizzy, like you do when you have too much coffee. I thought it would pass quickly and got changed for a run but it didn’t pass quickly. As I curled up on the bed trying not to puke I felt pretty crappy about running and exercise. Eventually the nausea eased and I decided to get over myself and head out for 30 minutes. Initially it wasn’t too bad. I headed down the road and then turned right going slightly uphill before taking the road down towards the canal. I had a loop in mind so didn’t head straight for the canal but along the road that would take me parallel to it. It slopes up. As I plodded along I was very aware of the sick-y feeling coming back. I kept telling myself it would ease when I got onto the flat. When I got onto the flat I told myself it would ease as I got my breath back down the slope I was about to get to. It didn’t ease and by the time I got to the bottom of the slope I felt both sick and dizzy. My watch beeped for a mile, I took a few more steps and then stopped.

I walked home feeling sick and grumpy but it was the right call. Tuesday was my planned rest day and even though I hadn’t done loads it felt like I needed it. Wednesday was supposed to be Body Coach and run day but my head wasn’t playing ball. It was one of those sofa days. I wasn’t so much tired as stuck. I barely moved off the sofa. I did try a Body Coach workout but it started with slow motion burpees and they hurt my knee and honestly, I just could not be bothered so I went back to the sofa. After tea Kath did drag me out for a walk in the rain and I am glad she did because up until our little 3 ish mile loop I had taken a grand total of 279 steps! The movement and air did me good.

On Thursday I woke up and it was one of those mornings where you get to decide what mood you’re going to be in rather than just waking up with a predetermined one. I hovered between continuing the flatness of the day before and being more positive. While I wasn’t exactly bouncing with positivity another day on the sofa did not appeal either. So I got out of bed, walked to the end of the bed and bent down to touch my toes and settle into ragdoll pose. There’s something quite nice about just hanging upside down for a while. I remember thinking that out floor was dusty and my hair stupidly long. I went to say good morning to Kath and then to make french toast with pineapple and blueberries for breakfast. We did the food shop for us and for our mothers. Then I was back on the sofa. I didn’t think that was such a good place to be really, it wasn’t a healthy sort of rest. So I got changed and did a Body Coach workout. Then I made lunch, then I prepped our tea and then I got on with some other stuff and then we went for a run. 30 minutes nonstop running. It was fairly horrible. It was such a mental battle. Anxiety levels are high at the moment and I could really feel that in my breathing and from the minute we set off the brain gremlins were telling me how crap I am at running and how there was no way I was running for 30 minutes today. I hadn’t actually planned on running nonstop – the route I had suggested has a big hill in it which I always planned to walk but I really didn’t want the gremlins to win so I asked to change the route so I could try and keep running. I made it and that felt positive. Friday wasn’t a bad day and I did a Body Coach workout and decided not to run because I wanted to run at the weekend and don’t want to overdo it and then crash.

Jacob sheep with lamb
One of our favourite ewes with one of her lambs – 2016 maybe

This morning we went for a run together and I was quite looking forward to it as I got sorted and then suddenly felt really scared about it. I went anyway. We did a run/walk in 45/30 second intervals and it was just a continuation of the mental battle from Thursday. Mantras didn’t work and instead my brain flooded my consciousness with negative running memories. Our old first field offered a little respite with 2 gorgeous black lambs tucked in next to their mother but then it was just me against my thoughts again with Kath doing her best to reassure and nurse me round. My breathing was off and everything felt tense. Along the canal we saw more lambs and it wasn’t until then that I actually relaxed a bit. We had breakfast and pottered about a bit and then I did a Body Coach workout from the app before lunch. I think this week has been one of just getting through it. I sort of acknowledge having done the runs and workouts but I haven’t exactly enjoyed them. I suspect if I hadn’t done them I would feel much much worse and maybe ‘not feeling worse’ is the win I take from this week. And maybe it’s actually a big win.

Eeyore-ish post about running life

I started a blog post yesterday. I was tired and grumpy and a bit worn down by general crappiness, lockdown and stuff. I wrote

Well, I am about half way through Cycle 2 of the Beginner Body Coach app and my mojo has sort of disappeared. It’s not the app I don’t think. I am just generally not feeling it. I can’t be bothered. I think my really bad period I wrote about the other day sort of threw me off a bit. The bleurghness lasted for the full 6 days rather than just the first couple and I still feel a bit sluggish.

We went for a short run on Sunday. It was our anniversary and it was a lovely start to the day. We saw deer and a kingfisher and I managed to up the running intervals to 45 seconds. It was good. But I haven’t run since. Partly because it’s been cold and potentially icy. I am pretty sure the roads round here would be fine for a 30 minute loop but I just haven’t felt like pushing those buttons. I have missed one Body Coach workout last week and I haven’t done one today. My knees are a bit niggly. I have just started wearing trainers when doing the sessions to see if that helps but if they don’t work I might buy some actual HIIT trainers.

And then I went to bed.

I thought after a good nights’ sleep I might be in a better frame of mind. I wasn’t. I procrastinated for a while. Then I grumped quietly into my coffee for a bit, then I scrolled through social media trying to find something to either grab my attention or provide some inspiration or motivation. Nope. Then I thought I might as well go for that run. It’ll be awful but at least it will be done and it’ll kill half an hour or so.

So I got changed and went out. It’s gloriously sunny and bitterly cold. I don’t really remember thinking anything when I set off running. I wondered if the 45 second running intervals would be hard given that I haven’t run all week. They weren’t. I wondered if it was going to be slippery. It wasn’t. By the time I hit a mile I was sort of settled into a very slow and gentle happy plod. I didn’t know which way to go so when I got to the junction at which I had to decide and there were walkers, bikes and cars seemingly everywhere (there weren’t, just felt like it), I looked at my watch, realised I had done 15 minutes and decided to turn round and just go the same way back. Now this might seem like a bit of a cop out. It’s not. My plan says 30 minutes so doing 15 minutes out and then back is fine AND the way back would be mostly uphill. The kind of uphill I don’t usually bother with because it’s too hard. This time though I did it. Same intervals, no additional walk breaks and only one minute per mile slower than on the downhill.

So do I feel better now? A little maybe, less vague and generically grumpy. I am pleased I went out. The sunshine was lovely and it was nice to manage the uphill running bits.It feels like I have achieved something today. And in a fit of optimism I have left my sports bra on to do a Body Coach App workout later on this afternoon. In the meantime our two youngest cats are keeping me entertained fighting over the hammock (Odin is currently holding the position but Kilian wants it, or just wants Odin not to have it).

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!

Coming Back?

It has been a rough three months since I last posted. I am off work with a mental health blip (I am not going to discuss that directly here) and physically things did not go to plan. The August attempts to get running again failed, I never made it past the 8 minute runs, then I couldn’t even make a minute and eventually I spoke to the doctor. I have had a whole series of tests including detailed blood works, ECG and chest X-ray, I’ve monitored peak flow and been prodded, poked and interrogated. Fundamentally there is nothing physically wrong with me. That’s good of course but it doesn’t explain how I have struggled since the spring to get going again and why everything has just felt so impossibly hard. It also doesn’t explain why my heart rate continues to be stubbornly high when I try even the most gentle exercise or why I get breathless walking upstairs. The doctor’s best guess – post viral something or other. It might not be Covid-19 after effects but it might be – I don’t know whether I have had it or not. Whatever it is, I wanted to try and share with you what it feels like to go from relatively fit and running pretty regularly to barely being able to go for a walk to struggling to get going again…

Some days now I think I am getting better. Other days the tiredness is almost paralysing. Anyway, if you’ve read this blog before you know all about my love/hate relationship with running and all things fitness. You know I have never been super fit, have always been a slow plodder and you know that 2020 has been much much more miss than hit in terms of running. So the reality is that post marathon number 4 in 2019 I lost fitness. But I had a reasonable level of fitness that allowed me to take things for granted. Things I did not have to think or worry about:

  • Running 5km, getting round a parkrun course or similar route
  • run/walking 10km or even 10 miles
  • walking any distance at all really
  • getting to the top of a hill
  • Keeping up with others as I walk
  • Running upstairs
  • Having a go at a strength/conditioning session or gym class
  • Feeling capable and feeling relatively strong
  • getting day to day stuff done

Now I do. Worry I mean. About all of those things. I can no longer run. After some vague attempts and frustrating stop starts all year, in August I was trying to build up again. But I got worse rather than better. I was very out of breath, heart rate was high and I felt dizzy and faint just trying to run a minute. When I got home from any sort of exercise – even just a short walk – I was physically so tired I could barely move off the sofa for the rest of the day and the next day I’d wake up aching and sore like I had run a half marathon over tricky terrain. I felt so weak and unfit that I worried about getting round the supermarket doing the food shop. I also felt stupid. And I felt scared. My attempts to go back to basics and failing even at that and feeling so poorly had made me scared to go out and try in case there was something seriously wrong. I also worried about work. To get through a day of work I had to basically not move and hope that at the end of the day I might just have enough energy left to do some gentle yoga. I had to pause chutney making to have a rest because I had been standing for too long. Once I dozed off at my desk.

I have written about the problem of shifting your mindset away from numbers/weight onto focusing what your body can do when you find yourself not being able to do previously I think. This feeling just got worse. It was partly about being concerned about what health issues were causing the symptoms but it was more than that. It is demoralising to suddenly be unable to do things you could easily do before. It made trying feel a bit pointless because I kept failing, kept not managing even silly things or just about managing them and then being out for the rest of the day because I walked 100 metres to the postbox and back. So I spent a little while doing nothing at all.

A series of medical tests later and really I am none the wiser other than that the tests have ruled out anything serious and have confirmed that I am safe to exercise. I am still not right but I am now less scared. But where do you start when you have nothing? I realised that when I previously talked about starting running from no fitness base that wasn’t quite true. When I started running, I could walk. I might have been fat and unfit but not so unfit that I would worry about the idea of going for a walk. I think maybe I am getting a little better, maybe doing nothing for a while was actually needed, maybe it helped. I can now walk on the flat, fairly slowly, without too much concern or worry about distance. I struggle to walk fast and I struggle on hills but I can walk. I am less often out of breath going upstairs, I have managed the first set of 8 exercises of a HIIT class and am working my way up to getting through 2 sets and eventually all 3. I am no longer as fatigued as I was or as tired from just standing. It’s progress of sorts.

It’s hard to untangle the mental health stuff going on. Much of it is caused and shaped by work related stuff I can’t really write about here. And of course these things cannot be separated anyway, I feel worse because I can’t exercise and I can’t exercise as much because I feel worse and round and round we go. But I think there are some things that are specific to the complete loss of fitness. It’s a funny mixture of hope and despair. In some ways building fitness now feels easier than when I started running. I have done it once. More than once. I got myself marathon fit. I can do it again. There’s hope there. If I am not actually ill, if the worst post viral hangover is this fatigue that led to a complete loss of fitness then I am one of the lucky ones, nothing is damaged, fitness can be regained. Hope. But fitness once lost is elusive. Having been fit and losing it is almost worse than never having been fit. It’s not that hard work bothers me, it’s that I know how hard it is mentally to get to from here to a level where exercise slowly begins to be fun again and real progress can be made, where it is more than a chore, more than trying and failing again and again. Getting to that level means lots and lots of work before the improvements start coming, before the weakness turns into strength, before even the modified moves in workouts become possible and I dare dream of the unmodified ones. It is so discouraging, so disheartening and so damn frustrating to fail a beginners workout or run one of couch to 5km.

And don’t give me the ‘it’s not failing’ crap. It is. It is failing. And it is horrible. And I will have to fail and fail again repeatedly until one day I fail at a slightly later point and then maybe a later point again until eventually I finish the workout or the run. It’s hard not to feel that trying is pointless. Results don’t come quickly when I have to go this slowly and gently and carefully. Focusing on what I can do rather than what I look like or what the numbers say is not helpful – the answer is I can’t do anything…but of course ‘anything’ is relative. But try and remember that when your black puppy has grown into a full size giant dog and is slowly pulling you down into darkness with its firm hold on your wonder woman cape. Maybe Edna Mode (The Incredibles) is right and capes are a bad idea. But that’s another story.

So in short, being in this position feels awful, frustrating, disheartening and often pointless. So it can’t be about feeling, it has to be about logic and about experience. And we’re back to trusting a process, trusting a plan and ticking things off until failing outright turns into failing a little less and then turns into completing and then into doing well and eventually into enjoying. I know that’s how it works, I’ve done this before. One day and one step at a time. Hope?