“I got bored of rules”

In my most recent therapy session which is a week or so ago now we were talking about some of the more creative things I am doing with my teaching for the coming academic year. As we were discussing those things I suddenly heard myself say “Well, I got bored of rules”. It’s quite a big statement that and I am sure it’s one we’ll come back to in my sessions but I’m not quite sure why or how but we didn’t linger on it and got side-tracked into something else. I don’t remember now. But that simple statement and how I had no idea I was going to say it, how I hadn’t thought about it and how it surprised me as much as anything in that moment have stayed with me. I’ve been thinking about it on and off since then.

I got bored of rules. Well yes I did but not recently. I think I probably got bored of rules a long long long time ago. I got bored of rules the minute I figured out that most of them make no sense, that most of them serve no real purpose, that most of them are bad rules. Was I a pain in the arse child that constantly asked why? I honestly don’t know – ask my parents. I am, like we all are full of contradictions though. I mean it seems a bit odd for someone bored of rules to study law, right? And perhaps even odder then for someone bored of rules to teach law. It’s also odd for someone bored of rules to have coined #MyRunMyRules as their running mantra. So here’s where the blog post splits – keep reading here for the running bit or click over to my academic blog for the other stuff.

“I got bored of rules” seemed to, in that moment, sum up so much of life. Sometime in the middle of the London Marathon – probably about when I picked my tired body off the tarmac around mile 15 – I was done with running rules. I was done with the unwritten and unspoken rules that you have to enjoy the achievement even if not the run, I was done with training plans, speedework, hill repeats and running familiar paths and loops. I hadn’t really realised just how done I was with the rules around running, even the ones I made myself until I said it out loud in the little quiet comforting space where I go for help to unswirl my mind. I have tried, with some success to free myself from some of the running rules which are not helpful to me: I try not to be ruled by pace. The rule that faster is better doesn’t apply to me. I try not to be ruled by distance – I don’t have to go further and further or higher and higher. But fundamentally my rules are still rules. I must run. Running is good for my mental health so I must run. But I don’t want to. But I also don’t want to not want to run. I want to want to run. If you’re rolling your eyes – welcome to my world, I roll my eyes at myself all the time.

So what about running without rules, without a watch, not setting a distance, choosing routes with options and just seeing what happens. Ah yes, those runs. Those runs have hidden rules. They’re the runs I must enjoy. They’re the ones to rediscover the why and the fun and the love of running. That’s what they are for. But at the moment I don’t like them. I don’t like feeling like I have to rediscover a love of running I never really had in the first place. I have vague memories of quite enjoying the odd run and not hating running but… Anyway running just seems so full of rules, so full of things I ought to be doing or not doing. So not running is the obvious solution isn’t it. Finding something else that I want to do which gives me some of the same benefits. Well yes but while I don’t actually want to run I also very much don’t want to not run. I miss running while at the same time hating every step of every run I am doing at the moment. And while I am somehow pushing back against all the shoulds, musts and ought tos in all sorts of areas of my life I am also craving the discipline of a running programme.

I want to follow sensible rules. I want a programme to tell me how far and how fast I should run on any given day. I want the programme to make the decision for me. I want the rules there, on my wall planner and I want to tick each run off with a little sticker and more than anything I want to break the rules. I want to do Wednesday’s run on a Friday and cheat on the hill repeats and add a mile on on Sunday and skip the speed session altogether. I don’t know what any of that means. “I got bored of rules” somehow says everything and nothing about how I feel about running right now.

On being half way – or not

Ok, well, we are half way through the calendar year. Nearly at the end of another academic year and nowhere near where I wanted to be in all sorts of ways. Earlier in the year I was storming ahead with ambitious research plans for my sabbatical, more ambitious plans for all the other things I’d do while not caught up in teaching and administration at work and with my bid to run 1000 miles this year. After a super successful December of running clocking up over 100 miles, January was the same (helped of course by Dopey) and then February and March also came close to the 100 miles mark. April was a little lower with tapering for London but still I clocked up nearly 60 miles. May and June were rather crap – I came in under 30 miles both months.

It’s not that I have just been sitting on my arse – although I have done rather too much of that too! So I didn’t run much in May, oh well, it was just after a marathon, perfectly justifiable rest. June – well, I started with some Washington DC running but then didn’t do much else. The running was all tourist running with lots of stops and excuses to catch my breath and if that didn’t work, I could always blame the heat. We did a few good walks on the rest of the trip and a couple of runs at Chesapeake Bay. Then we got home and I did nothing. I nearly pulled out of the Solstice Saunter on the 21st June because I didn’t like the idea of running 5 hilly miles on basically no training.

However, I did go do the Solstice Saunter and it was a beautiful run. It was hard but I ran quite a lot of it and just walked the hills really. I was expecting to be significantly slower than the year before but even with my stops for a few pictures along the way, a chat at the water station and walking the hills I was only about 5 minutes slower and I very much enjoyed it. Then I did no running for the rest of the month. I did do the 10k Leeds Legal Walk on the Monday after and I went to Pilates class on Wednesday and then we had a lovely 10 ish mile walk yesterday.

We drove up to Malham and parked up and walked to the cove. There were a few people about but not many and for a little while we had the cove to ourselves. We lingered and listened to the gentle gurgle of water and the birds. Then we made our way up the steps at the side of the cove to the top. We stopped to help some kids with a map who then got told off for asking for help. At the top of the cover we waited for the kids to get going and as we were about to set off a peregrine gave us a lovely little display before flying off into the distance. We crossed the cove and started our descent on the other side and because we were chatting went the wrong way.

We realised after about half a mile and doubled back and got ourselves back onto the pennine way and made our way onwards to Malham Tarn. There we sat at the water’s edge with a sausage roll enjoying the views before moving on. We headed towards Gordale Scar and started making our way down. I don’t really like down. We got to the first water fall and talked to a couple of people coming up – they said the next bit was wet and slippery and technical. We decided to turn back. When we got back to the top we had a little sit down and a look at the map. We knew where we were exactly but the path we thought we should take next rather than going all the way back to the road didn’t seem to be on the map. We took it anyway.

We walked along the ridge and eventually made our way down into the valley and bought an ice-cream at ‘Gordale Refreshments’. It was lush. We walked with it to look at Gordale Scar from the bottom. It confirmed that we made the right call not coming down the last bit. Lots of people were going up it and there was a bit of an audience and it was definitely wet and looked a bit steep and slippery. Up might be a possibility for another time but I am not sure I’d want to climb down it.

From there we walked on to Janet’s Foss and then back to Malham for a coffee and a chip butty and the Old Barn Cafe. It was a lovely lovely walk. We did very little for the rest of the day. Today was a complete waste of a day really. I never got going and got naff all done. At lunchtime Kath dragged my sorry butt round our sheep look and in spite of initially being anxious about actually running and finding it very hard it was good to be out and running. July starts more positively on the running front.

So half way. I am at about 420 miles. So about 80 miles behind my mileage target. I am disappointed. I started the year ahead and I let that slip. But I also think I can probably catch up if it turns out I want to. I’m not sure I do. I enjoyed the run today and I feel ready to run more again now but I might change my mind next time I run. So I am half way to wherever – it doesn’t matter. Let’s just see where I get to – miles, work stuff, other stuff. Or at least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. In reality though I am grumpy. I am grumpy about the first 6 months of the year. I am grumpy about things not done and fitness lost and at the moment they are the things dominating my thoughts rather than the things achieved. Hm

‘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.