‘Everyone is at exactly the pace they are meant to be’

Well, honestly, I have been struggling a little with running post marathon. It feels like a huge effort and while it has sort of been nice to be out, I haven’t massively enjoyed it either. This morning was gorgeous though and it seemed like a good day to head to Bolton Abbey and do a little loop. Kath went further to get her miles in (she has a half marathon in mid June which I am not running) and I decided I would do the Barden Bridge loop using run/walk. I wanted to enjoy it and not worry about huffing and puffing my way around.

Bolton Abbey was perfect for running this morning. It was warm enough to be comfortable in short sleeves but the trees provided cover from the sun. It was also very very quiet. After the usual pee stop I said bye to Kath as she set off in the opposite directions and plodded my first 2 minutes. That felt a bit like hard work. I was grateful for the walk break. I tried to consciously look around, note the green ground cover from the wild garlic, the odd patches of blue from the bluebells, now at the end of their glory and the comings and goings of lots and lots of little birds. I tried not to think, just react to the beep of my watch – run – walk – run. Don’t think, just be.

I watched the river gently make her way, nudging the ducks to where she wanted them and giggling softly as the ducklings tried to resist. I felt content. I hit a mile and glanced at my watch. Wowsers I was going super slow. It felt like I was working so much harder than the pace would suggest. I felt disappointed. I carried on. I was now conscious of my breathing, I seemed loud, I seemed heavy footed, I could hear my heart beat and the blood rushing round. I could also hear the negative chatter. For the next mile I concentrated hard on ignoring the noise, on watching a dipper and a wagtail and on putting one foot in front of the other: Beep – walk, beep-run, beep-walk…

I briefly stopped at 2 miles – on Barden Bridge where I saw the first human since leaving the Cavendish Pavilion. I let two cars cross the bridge, took a couple of photos and continued, feeling slightly grumpy about being slow and now struggling to enjoy the run. It felt like all I could hear was my running noise and chatter about how crap I was. I don’t know what drew my attention but it suddenly occurred to me that there were so many far more positive noises I could be tuning into. Whatever it was, it made me listen and suddenly the bird song grew louder, the gentle breeze was singing in the trees and next to me the river was gurgling and sounding content.

‘Hello’, the river goddess Verbia whispered to me ‘how’s the running love?’ I don’t know why she has an accent like my grandma’s but she does – very West Yorkshire with slight hints of Lancashire in the vowel sounds from living so close to the border all her life. ‘Oh, it’s nice but it’s slow and feels so hard’ I said – not out loud I don’t think. ‘Oh, but why rush?’ She gurgled. It was rhetorical of course ‘ Look around, everybody is just at the pace they are meant to be’. She was gently teasing me I think. Nudging me along, letting me know that I was ok but as with any goddess, you just never quite know, there’s always a mystery, always an edge. She seemed all knowing and a bit bemused by me as she made her way slowly along the familiar path. But I did look around, I saw the cows in the field lazily chewing the grass, I watched some sand martins (I think) play around me seemingly flying high, swooping down and looping round for the pure joy of it. I giggled, Verbia gurgled back.

I saw a very speedy runner with a dog come towards me. She was past in a flash and briefly I felt crap about being slow and so laboured. ‘But you’re not her’, I glanced at the river and understood. Me and the other runner were each running our own run, with our own thoughts and our own battles. I smiled, I was enjoying the run again, the pace seemed unimportant now. I nodded a thank you towards the Wharfe as I turned very slightly left to go past the aqueduct steps and onwards into the woods.

I saw Kath. We stopped briefly for a quick chat and then continued on our ways. I had about 1.5 miles to go now, she had about 3. There were a few more people about on this stretch, not many though and mostly I ran in glorious solitude with time and space to notice the different greens, the changing feel of the footpath, the nobblyness of the tree roots. I ran the intervals as they fell, no cheating and it felt hard but my head was in the right place. It wasn’t even that I used mantras or tried to drown out the negative with positive chatter. It was just that after my little ‘chat’ with Verbia it felt like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing this morning. Like this was my time to run, my time to be at each point along the way exactly at the time I got there. Just as the Wharfe meandered along with a calm inevitability, so did I. I felt slightly disappointed when it was over. I even briefly considered going on in spite of feeling physically quite tired and being a bit of a sweaty mess but arriving at a gate and the bridge back across the Wharfe to the Cavendish Pavilion which seemed busy with people had broken the spell. The magic had gone even if some of it has lingered all day.

Testing the chest and the vest

Quick trip over to Bolton Abbey this morning to go for a little run out and take Kath’s mum for breakfast before the crowds (well most of them) arrived. This was my first run since last Monday where it was more of a walk because of my cold. I felt much better today and if anything hay fever-ish rather than cold/cough-y.

So the plan was to have a little plod and test the chest and lungs and also wear the marathon vest to make sure it fits ok for running and doesn’t rub anywhere or ride up. It’s a little shorter than I’d like so I was worried it would quickly be up round my boobs.

So off I went as Kath disappeared into the distance for her slightly longer loop. I made my along the easter trail (I took pictures last time) and this time I managed to run the stretch up to the Strid and felt a little laboured but generally ok. The vest seemed fine, my lungs felt a bit tired – that’s really the only way I can describe it. I tried to distract myself with bluebells – they were spectacular!

I got to the Strid and walked up the slope and then I plodded on to the aqueduct where I crossed the Wharfe. The river was really low and I took a moment to watch some ducklings and a dipper. I bounced down the steps and ran the first half of the next slope. Then I walked a little bit and struggled over the next section with a little more walking than I really wanted to but I was struggling to breathe. I walked my nemesis hill and then jogged down the hill and just kept putting one foot in front of the other slowly huffing and puffing my way along. When I got back down to the river I stretched my legs for the final little bit and got to the gate at the end just as Kath caught me.

It was good to do it and get out. I’m clearly ok to run and with another few days before the big day I’ll be fine. I have adjusted Goals B and C a little based on how I felt today to make sure that they are realistic (A is just as it is – to make that happen everything has to align and work so that goal stays). I’m looking forward to having another couple of little plods this week but essentially I think I’m ready and the vest works -no riding up and no pinching or chafing risk anywhere. Happy.

A Week to Go – Some Thoughts

Stick with me, I’m not quite sure where this blog is going but I felt like I wanted to blog and I felt like I wanted it to be about running rather than work so I just opened the blog site and started typing really.

This time next week it will all be over. I will, if the universe agrees, have finished the London Marathon for the second time in my life and for what I am fairly sure will be the last time. I have learned never to say never when it comes to running but I do think I’m done with marathons, or at least with road marathons. I’ve already explored some of the whys in the context of Dopey so let’s not go over them again now. There is something oddly calming as well as slightly stressful about deciding that this is the last time I will attempt to cover 26.2 miles as quickly as I possibly can. I’ll come back to that.

I realised the other day that everything has been focused on marathon day in a way that has split life into pre and post marathon. Post marathon always seems aaaaaaaaages away which means that things that are happening quite soon after have not been given their due time and attention. I finally remembered to book some leave and I still need to move a couple of meetings and maybe plan for the trip to see our friends the weekend after because who knows what I’ll be capable of or not come the 29th April! It’s also only a month and a week until we fly to Washington DC for a conference and then a bit of leave tagged on and doing a bit of planning for that might not be a bad move! But you know, all of that is post marathon in a way that doesn’t quite seem real. Post marathon is like Narnia, like Hogwarts or like a Galaxy Far Far Away – clearly there but just not quite believable or real. Post marathon exists in another dimension.

But there are some things post marathon that I am thinking about a lot. What will happen to running post marathon? In fairly typical fashion I am wondering about the next challenge. What is my next impossible? At the same time though I am looking forward to not running to a plan, running just because I want to and running as far, fast or high as I want to. Just because. But then what if I don’t want to run? That would be awful wouldn’t it. I mean running is now part of who I am and what I do even if I’m not actually really a runner. Imagine not wanting to run. What then? I keep looking at races and challenges, something to keep me honest. I hope I’ll be ok. I think I will be. We have entered the 5 mile Solstice Saunter at Bolton Abbey in June and the Ilkley Half Marathon in July but I am also trying to tell myself that if I don’t want to run for a bit post marathon that’s actually ok…. Overthinking much?

Anyway, the last marathon. Yes. I feel quite settled in that decision. I don’t have anything left to prove. To be fair once would have been enough. 4 is awesome. I don’t feel the pressure to do 5 for a sort of magic number. 4 can be my magic number. I like the symmetry of 2 London, 2 Dopeys and I like the idea of finishing my marathon ‘career’ with something as iconic as London. It has a long cut off time, a familiar route, awesome support and atmosphere and there’s a great chance of me being able to soak it all up and enjoy it – or at least some of it. Finishing in London works for me and feels right. So mostly I feel calm about it and the notion of this being my last is adding to calm rather than adding stress or pressure.

Every now and again though I get a little panicked – if this is my last marathon then this is my last chance to achieve my marathon goals, my last chance to do well, my last chance to really conquer the distance. Ok well yes but let’s remember that my marathon goal was only ever to drag my arse across the finish line. Let’s remember that I have improved my time with each attempt and that I am fitter than I was 3 years ago for London round 1. And let’s remember that this is my marathon victory lap. Yes I have a time in mind but if it is ‘get the time and be miserable’ or ‘miss the time but enjoy’, I know what I’m choosing and that’s what I need to keep in my mind!

I haven’t run for a week. The little run/walk that was more walk than run was the last outing. My cold shifted to a chesty cough and the wise and beautiful hive mind that is the #Run1000Miles group on Facebook unanimously advised me to not run. They were undoubtedly right. Yesterday we did our last fundraising event and walking backwards and forward to the car carrying cake tins I really struggled to breathe. I have been quite worried that it wouldn’t shift and I’d have to pull out last minute because of it. Today however things are looking much better.

After our Sunday lunch with Kath’s Mum we walked a little loop that includes the little wood in which I started my trail running education. It’s the first proper trail (rather tan just towpath or track) I really ran on and I still find it really tricky when it’s wet and muddy. Today though it was stunning with the bluebells out and fragrant and hints of wild garlic in the air (the pictures dotted in this blog are from that walk). We walked round it at a leisurely pace but I could tell that my lungs and chest have cleared. Breathing felt normal and I wasn’t out of breath. We walked along the canal to my Mum’s, dropped off some cake and then went the most direct (and thus steepest) way back home and lungs and chest were fine – still a bit of snot go get rid of though! I feel happier now that I’ll be ok. I’m going to try the short loop at Bolton Abbey tomorrow morning.

So with a week to go I feel quite settled. A little anxious, a little excited, a little just wanting it to be over but generally settled. I was training well for a 5hours 30 (which would take 48 minutes off current PB) finish but didn’t manage to maintain the weekly miles on the plan for the last 6 weeks so not sure really – I still ran and I ran my long runs but not quite to plan and I didn’t really do the speed and strength runs listed in the way they were intended and then I got this cold. So really I have no idea how well trained I am. I just know that I feel fitter than I was last time but perhaps not quite as fit as I was in January for Dopey – but then I am not doing 4 races this time, just the one, the long one but still just the one. I have my A, B, C, D and E goals in my head. I don’t think I am ready to share them. They feel like they’re mine at the minute. D is finish and E is be healthy and all of them are premised on enjoying the experience.

Easter Trail at Bolton Abbey

The coming week is all about rest and hydration. I am rubbish at drinking enough so I find this really hard but going into a marathon properly hydrated makes such a difference. So if you see me or send me messages on social media or email – keep reminding me to drink water! And if you’re looking for me chances are I have gone for yet another pee. Luckily I don’t have much on this coming week and can mostly stay at home and write. I have an annoying London Trip on Thursday but that too should be relatively stress free and easy.

For those of you running in London- you’re awesome; for those of you marshalling, volunteering and coming out to cheer us on – thank you. To all those of you who helped us reach our fundraising target – we appreciate your support and as cliched as it sounds, it really does mean loads to us! Our fundraising page will stay open a while longer for anyone who still wants to help support Mind: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/KathandJess

No doubt I’ll have more pre-marathon thoughts but in the meantime. Happy Easter to those who celebrate and Happy Sunday for everyone else.

Two short runs

Well what a week! After last weekend’s incident I headed to a conference. My favourite conference in fact. The Association of Law Teachers. I was the Chair of the Association until I handed over at the AGM but more importantly than that, the Association’s members and conference delegates are my academic tribe. It was also great to be in Leicester where I did my undergraduate degree. So when I woke up on Monday morning I was excited to see that I still had plenty of time for a little run. It was just starting to get light. There were a few drunk blokes outside the hotel so I turned right instead of left and looped back round rather than running past them. I plodded my way up New Walk thinking about my student days. When I hit University Road I detoured onto London Road to run past the pub I used to work in.

Then I looped round Victoria Park and onto Leicester University campus, had a look at the Law School, took my usual crappy selfie and looped back. I had planned to take some more photos on my way back down New Walk but it felt good to be stretching my legs. I felt comfortable and strong so instead I just kept running and pushed the pace a little.

I got back on Tuesday evening – the usual exhausted but happy post conference delirium. Wednesday I had to go into the office and I thought my hay fever had started – turns out it was the beginning of a cold. I felt proper poorly for two days, then I felt a bit better on Saturday morning but not well enough to run so I volunteered at parkrun while Kath ran 10 miles plus parkrun. Today I felt a bit better again so we stuck with our plan of heading to Bolton Abbey. I had over ambitious notions of trotting round my loop but it very quickly became apparent that my lungs weren’t up for that. I made my way round the loop with little bits of running and stops to look at the bunnies on the Easter trail and lots of walking to just look around.

It may not have been the run I was hoping for but it was good to clear the old stale air out of my lungs and get some fresh air in. It was lovely to see the birds being busy and I spend ages running along watching a dipper in the Wharfe. The goddess Verbia was quiet today. Calm and calming. ‘You’re mind is ready’ she seemed to be saying ‘and your body will be too, just allow it to heal now’.

I crossed the river at the aqueduct and as I took a minute to just be I saw Kath coming along – she’d gone to Barden Bridge. I trotted towards her and then we walked/ran the rest of the loop together. It was lovely. We finished with our Bolton Abbey tradition of coffee and bacon sarnies. We were watched by a robin and a gorgeous female chaffinch.

It was a lovely morning.

To the woman on the canal

Dear ‘I really wish I knew your name and don’t just want to call you Luke’s Mum’,

I hope you are ok. The comments the boy who I presume to be your child made earlier and that you endorsed suggest that maybe you are not. I hope you can fix that. I hope you can be happy. Of course you won’t read this. But I am going to pretend that you are because I would really like you to understand a few things.

I am the fat woman who ran past you on the canal towpath today. You know, the one your boys nearly tripped up as they raced me. The one who ‘lost’ that race to your boys as my scheduled walk break kicked in. The one who was told by one of your boys that had I been thin I would have won. That I need to be thin to be any good. Remember what you did when you heard that? You laughed and then you said ‘That’s right Luke’. Let’s unpick all of this a little bit: It actually happens relatively frequently that kids want to run alongside me for a bit but parents usually call them back or ask me if it’s ok (I don’t really like it but when asked usually say it’s ok and generally kids drop off after 30 seconds or so anyway). It actually also happens on occasion that kids call me fat. But usually this is simply a descriptor and they are quite right in their description. I am fat. I have never heard it as a value judgment from someone so young. I don’t really blame Luke. After all the message that fat is bad and thin is good is everywhere. It’s easy to pick up. But you? I think you know better. Our humanity does not depend on our size. Our value as a person has nothing to do with the width of our hips or wobbliness of our thighs. If you can’t see that I don’t know how to help you.

So here’s what I want you to know about our little encounter and I wish I could have shaken off the shock of it all straight away to articulate this and say it to your face. I’m sorry I just stared at you like an idiot and then ran off.

  1. What you did today, that laughter and those three words crushed me. You validated all of those things I used to know to be true – that I am too fat to run, that I can’t do it, that I don’t belong, that I am not good enough. Indeed, that fat is bad and thin is good.
  2. I was doing my last long run before the London Marathon. It was already tough because plans had changed, I was doing a different route to the one originally planned and confidence was relatively low in spite of going pretty well. I was roughly 7 miles in when I met you, not quite half way of my intended distance. You made me want to go home and give up. I nearly did. You made me cry.
  3. As well as nearly making me go home, in that moment you destroyed my confidence to the point that I nearly withdrew from the Marathon. I opened the email and hovered over the withdraw link for a little while as tears rolled down my face. Then I posted about our meeting on Facebook instead.
  4. The post resulted in so much support and love particularly from the #Run1000Miles trail running challenge group. They reminded me that you are wrong. That I am good enough, that I do belong and that fat is merely a descriptor of my size (I’m a size 16 and hover around the 14 stone mark, in case you wondered – so now you can be truly horrified at just how bad I am). They too made me cry but very different sort of tears. They made me keep going when I didn’t think I’d be able to settle enough to finish my run.
  5. I want you to know that I sobbed my way to 10 miles and then stopped for a re-set and calm down. I also want you to know that until we met I had been going well. I’d felt pretty good, comfortable and happy to be out. After our encounter every step was hard, every yard a battle and every mile impossible. Remember I still had nearly 8 miles to go if I was to complete my goal for today.
  6. Maybe I should say thank you. Maybe I just needed some more mental training, some more testing of grit and determination and maybe I needed evidence of other people believing in me. You forced me into gritting my teeth and slogging it out for far longer than I would have needed to otherwise and because of you I posted something on Facebook which got such an overwhelming response. I will draw on both of these things on the streets of London in 3 week’s time.
  7. You took something from me today which I can’t get back. You took the positivity out of my last long run. You took the joy of having completed the tough part of the training. I can’t celebrate this run in the way that I wanted to because of what you allowed your child to say and then said. I want you to know that this makes me really sad.
  8. I am also sad for you. And for Luke and the boy that was with him, his brother maybe. I wish I could go back and tell them something about winning and what winning means. In the context of our encounter I would tell them that for me winning is being out in the fresh air, it’s being able to run, it’s feeling the air fill my lungs and my legs move, it’s being aware of the strength I have, it’s running further and sometimes it’s running faster but its not about further or faster than someone else – it’s about being a better me. Winning is also about being kind, about celebrating others, it’s about laughing and loving. I would tell them that sometimes coming last is winning. I wish I could tell them something about being fat. I’m not quite sure what I would say here – maybe I would ask them what they think it means. Maybe I would tell them about my life, the things I’ve done, how much of the world I have been lucky to see and the people I have the privilege to know and love. Maybe I would tell them that even though sometimes my brain is poorly I am happy, that I love my life and that I am proud of the choices I have made. Maybe I’d tell them that fat doesn’t really mean anything in any of this.

Does any of this make sense to you? Probably not. Maybe you’re just too much part of the world bombarded with the fat=bad message to step outside of the narrative. I don’t know. I don’t know you. Maybe your own self-worth is so tied up with how you look that you can’t really imagine how it is that almost all of the time I don’t care about what I look like but what I can do. And the thing is, I can do a lot. Re-reading the Facebook comments and reflecting on today’s run made me realise that I won today. That doesn’t mean your boys lost actually, it just means that we weren’t in the same game, or the same league or whatever. We were measuring our achievements very differently. I’m happy Luke and his brother (I presume, I know, I’m sorry if I’m wrong) won the race they thought they were running. Being in front of me as I stopped to walk clearly made them happy. I didn’t lose that ‘race’ though – I wasn’t in it. I won because I was competing with the demons in my head and while you utterly crushed me and briefly gave them the upper hand, I didn’t stop. I won because your toxic words were drowned out by love and support and I was very quickly and firmly uncrushed. I won because in spite of sobbing my way for 3 miles and then taking a break to calm down I ran 13 miles within my target marathon pace and then managed another 2.4 to make sure I covered the distance I had set myself. I won because I’m not angry, I’m not even upset about the comments and your endorsement of them. I’m just sad that you think that to be any good you have to be thin and that you appear to be passing that thinking on to those boys who are going to have a whole load of unlearning to do.

Wishing you happiness and love

J x