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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ooh it’s been a little while sine I wrote about running. I have been running though. And at the minute running is a funny thing. By all accounts it is going really well. I have run 270 miles so far this year. I can run further without walk breaks, I generally feel fitter. Little things are different. I can now say ‘I’m ‘just’ doing the sheep loop’ (about 5km) and mean the ‘just’. Running 10k is no longer a big deal and running it without walk breaks is now the norm rather than the very rare exception. Over shorter distances I am getting faster. The running is all good.
But it’s not quite doing it for me. I’m not quite as much in love with running as I should be given all that. Some of that may just be because of the marathon training plan – it’s a lot and I am struggling to do the weekly mileage it asks. In fact most weeks I don’t and that is in part playing on my mind. The other thing has, I think, been the weather. I’m not that keen on being wet and cold and I have not enjoyed being blown about by the wind. I also think that maybe I am getting a little bored of running the same canal towpath route but I’m not fit enough or confident enough to take the long runs onto the hillier routes round here.
A week ago I got my act together and headed out for my long run of 16 miles. I was going well and actually quite enjoying it. I don’t remember thinking about anything much. I ran along the canal towpath – a stretch that has recently been re-done and now has a proper path. Then, just through Silsden the path is old style and much of it is a lovely muddy mess. I was actually enjoying the concentration it took to run that section and somehow before I knew it I was 8 miles in. I turned round and started heading back. I was beginning to get a little tired. I was happy with how it was all going and though I was beginning to feel the miles, I still felt pretty strong. At almost exactly 9.5 miles my right foot slipped down the slight slope I’d been running on in the mud and it felt like my knee and ankle were going in opposite directions and I had a horrible sharp pain in my ankle. I winced but kept going but the next step resulted in an even sharper pain across my knee. I stopped and tentatively walked a few steps. The pain was intense. I was really worried I’d done some serious damage. I called Kath and asked her to come and get me. I got my location wrong so had to call her back when I realised. I was actually right bang in the middle between two points at which I could come off the towpath so I had to hobble a mile and a half. Thankfully after resting, ice and more rest it seems I did no major damage.
I then did a 4 mile and a 7 and a bit mile run during the week and then didn’t run Thursday, Friday or Saturday because quite honestly I just could not be bothered. No real excuses – just couldn’t be bothered. Today I was actually looking forward to going out and the weather looked a bit brighter. Well I managed 11 miles which I am taking as a big win because honestly, I was done by mile 1. There wasn’t anything specific really. It was all just a bit ‘meh’. I plodded along feeling a bit generally grumpy and unconvinced by everything. Every mile I really tried to stay in the mile and drag myself along landmark by landmark. The towpath was busy and 2 dogs jumped up at me and loads more got in my way – as did lots of their humans as well as humans without dogs.
I just kept locking onto some sort of landmark and when I reached that, looked for the next. That worked for 10.5 miles and then everything was starting to hurt. I no longer felt strong and my landmark picks were getting closer and closer together. At 10.7 I realised that I was randomly sobbing – no idea why. I kept pushing on but I was struggling. I was coming up to a bridge on the canal that I could cross and head towards home. I’d be about 3 miles short of my plan but it would have to do because I felt both mentally and physically done. I ran to 11 miles and then walked the rest.
I’m hoping that my lack of anything in the tank is just poor fuelling (although I did sip tailwind every mile or so) or dehydration or general tiredness or even just laziness rather than getting the lurgy that poor Kath has been battling for 3 weeks now. I was a bit disappointed but I have never run 11 miles without walk breaks before and I did it on a run where I would have quite happily turned round and gone home after a mile. So again, I’m winning, the running is going well but it’s just not doing it for me.
I also had my first London Marathon anxiety dream. I was running happily along and then pulled up and stopped for some reason – not entirely clear why in my dream. Kath had already finished. I then had to get back to Dad’s flat – which in reality is in Hamburg and in my dream London looked like Hamburg, mostly anyway – and on the way I decided that I wanted to finish after all. But for some reason only Dad could tell me the way back to the embankment (which did look like the embankment) where I had apparently dropped out. Kath had had to find an official with a laptop to track me and find the point. Then everyone kept telling me that I didn’t need to finish because I’d already covered 26.2 miles in 5 hours 55 and I wasn’t going to finish the course in under 6 hours. I kept saying that I wanted the medal but Kath refused to show me the medal so I could decide if I really wanted it. I got back on the course but I have no idea if I finished the marathon or not.
So running and everything around it is a bit weird. It’s not necessarily a bad weird, just a weird weird. Running is always a hugely emotional thing. Also, I can’t really disagree that it is going really well but somehow that doesn’t feel quite right either. It’s just all a bit weird.
I am tired. I have been all week. I ran a half marathon a week ago and it went really well and I worked hard – so being a bit tired is normal. But I’ve been proper tired.
I took my planned rest day on the Monday with ‘just’ our yoga class in the evening – that’s an interesting experience on half marathon tired legs and on Tuesday dragged my butt out for the 6 ‘easy’ miles on the plan. Actually getting out was a win. It was after work, I’d been in Leeds, I was running out of steam a bit but it did me good to get out. Even though I grumbled about it being hard and horrible I did run it without walking and I did run the uphill – all of it until I hit the 6 miles beep. Then I walked .2 of a mile home.
Wednesday I was soooooo tired – I moved my speed work to Thursday and accepted I needed an extra day. Thursday I felt broken kind of tired. I felt like every time I sat still for more than 5 minutes I’d fall asleep. I was also quite tearful and anxious. We went for lunch and then I slept for nearly two hours. I did go to my yoga class in the evening and that helped me feel like I had at least achieved something that day.
Friday was the start of a 26 mile weekend on the plan. I think I sort of knew that it wasn’t sensible to try that but it hadn’t quite filtered through to my conscious yet. Friday was 4 miles. I did 4 miles. I had toyed with the idea of doing the missed speed work but I didn’t really feel up to it. Instead I thought I’d see if I could just manage 4 miles at roughly marathon pace and I tried my Mind T-shirt for fit and comfort. Miles 1 and 3 are perfect. Mile 2 is a little on the slow side and Mile 4 which included the uphill pull was too fast by about a minute. So all in all the average ends up bang on marathon pace. It felt good to have done something positive. I still felt tired though.
Saturday. 8 miles on plan. I thought I’d set off and try really slowly. Because Kath is not very well and we’d volunteered at parkrun all our timings for food and everything were all out and I had too big a lunch. I should have left it even longer to go run. For the first mile and a bit everything felt awful. My tummy was unsettled and I wondered if I was going to have to stop at Kath’s mum’s or my mum’s or both. By 2 miles it had settled down and by 2.5 miles I was in a nice little rhythm. I was really tired though. I thought I’d be sensible and aim for 6 miles rather than the 8. I turned round to head towards home and a little while after the turn my left achilles tendon started niggling. I agonised over what to do for a couple of strides and then decided nothing was worth risking injury now. I walked and it immediately felt fine. I walked a minute and tried running again and the niggle was back. Ok, ‘walking it is then’, I thought. Overall I covered 5.5 miles but 2 of that was walking, stopping, stretching, oh and going to the co-op to buy crisps for Kath.
Sunday. When I woke up this morning I had in my head that I was going to do the 14 miles the plan said. I had conceded that I might do it run/walk although I was really tempted to try and run it all – it would be the furthest I have ever run without walking. Anyway. Kath was struggling this morning so what I wanted to do training wise became very unimportant very quickly and we instead tried to find a way we could get Kath unstuck from the sofa and doing something positive in spite of still feeling quite poorly. We settled on Bolton Abbey where we had options in terms of distance, where there were facilities and where walking would be perfectly fine. I thought I could always make up my miles later in the day.
Oh my goodness the run was as awful as the day was stunning. It felt like I had never run before in my life, like I couldn’t really breathe and like my legs had no clue what they were supposed to be doing. It was properly awful! However, it was a gorgeous sunny day and the River Wharfe was beautiful in her stillness. The ducks were pottering and there was a heron watching over the pottering. We also saw a dipper and heard woodpeckers. It was lovely to be out. We plodded slowly and walked the hills. We did the short loop and called it a win at 3.5 miles. There is no way I am making up miles today. The real or perceived niggles in my calves and my left knee and the general awfulness of the run tell me that I didn’t need a 26 mile weekend. I needed what actually would have happened if Kath hadn’t been ill – a very low mile weekend. We were meant to be going to see our friends and we would probably have run a short loop on Friday before we set off and another one on Sunday when we got back but that would have been it. That’s what I needed. I’ve still run 13.2 miles this weekend. That’s not nothing! (In fact it is more than I ran in all of February and all of March 2017!)
So why am I so tired? Well, I think there are a number of things going on here. The obvious one is that I am 63 days out from the London Marathon and I have very diligently been following a training plan that is quite different from anything I have been used to. I have been working an academic full time job and trying to settle into a sabbatical with the usual tiredness and frustration that can bring. I have been slowly working my way through an episode of depression which has its own special brand of tiredness. And, and this may be a big And, it’s the end of February. One of my fellow #Run1000Miles runners reminded me of the lovely German Word Frühjahrsmüdigkeit which probably captures exactly how many of us feel at the moment – tired, a sort inexplicable tiredness that hits us as winter slowly starts giving way to spring and we are getting used to longer days and fewer excuses to hide away and hibernate.
So the running – the plan we are following has higher weekly miles than I have ever done before and also more ‘themed’ (there’s got to be a better way of saying that but my brain is tired) sessions. It has a speed session each week – they swap to what they call strength in March and then lots of easy runs and the long runs and the odd tempo run thrown in. It’s 5 days of running a week. The attraction of this plan is that the longest training run is 16 miles. 16 miles is so much more manageable in terms of time than the usual longest of 20 or 23. You might think that another 4 miles makes little difference but when you are running them at my long slow run pace another 4 miles is almost another hour. It matters. So I have gone from training for Dopey which had 2 x 45 minute runs during the week and then back to back longish runs at the weekend with miles increasing every 2 weeks to a 5 day a week plan including speed work and tempo runs and much longer mid week runs. It’s a different sort of training and running.
The other thing is that since we got back from Dopey I have not been using run/walk intervals. I have mostly just run. I still have walk breaks – the Harewood House half was a good example of that but mostly I am trying to run the distance and only stop to walk for specific reasons – like because there’s an actual hill. I am therefore running more and that has got to make a difference too. I also have a huge number of miles in my legs. I have run over 300 miles in the last 3 months. To put that into perspective it has always taken me at least 5 months to run 300 miles before and that’s based on last year which was my fittest and furthest running year ever. In short, it is not surprising I am tired, I have run a bloody long way in a pretty short period of time and it has been a massive step up in weekly miles for me.
So what happens now? Well, I think having a bit of a rest this weekend has been good. I have a rest day tomorrow and I have banned all thoughts of catching up on missed speed sessions. I am dropping back into the plan tomorrow and tomorrow is a rest day. I will reduce the 6 miles easy on Tuesday to a ‘sheep loop’ (about 3.25 miles) run on Tuesday morning before I go to the theatre with mum and then, all being well I will pick up the speed work on Wednesday – but going back to the next one on the list rather than the one set for that date. I will keep trying to eat well and fuel for the miles that I am doing and I will keep trying to properly rest when I am not running. I will also give myself one almighty kick up the arse to get better at stretching and strengthening – my yoga classes help but they are not enough. I need little and often. And on that note I am off to dust off my yoga mat!
It’s at times like this, when you have to come off plan, when things don’t go quite as they were mapped out and doubts start creeping in when remembering the WHY is so important. You can help me and Kath to keep our WHY in focus by supporting us to support Mind. Sponsor us here.
After a very happy running day yesterday the focus now shifts to the London Marathon. It’s not far off. I’m happy with the training. I’m getting tired, yes, but that’s normal at this point in the training. The running isn’t worrying me. I know I can complete 26.2 miles, it’s a matter of staying injury free and then giving it my best shot on the day.
What is worrying me a little is fundraising. I don’t often run for charity and this is why – I don’t like asking people for money. I don’t like the whole ‘yay look at me I’m doing stuff that I think you should give money to an organisation I have chosen that might mean nothing to you for’. It’s weird, it’s odd, it’s a little bit embarrassing and I’m not good at it. Some people just seem to be able to be constantly in people’s faces about sponsorship etc. I just can’t do it. Kath’s charity place came with a £2000 fundraising target. I don’t have a target because I am using my ballot place but obviously it would be nice if that actually made a contribution to Mind! In other words we would really like to raise more than £2000 for the charity and that’s a phenomenal amount of money.
As well as not being comfortable constantly being in your faces, there are also loads of fundraising ideas which seem to raise a good amount of money which would require us to step right out of our comfort zones. We could probably do a pub quiz, we probably could have organised all sorts of social events but honestly, the training and the being sociable on the level described below is already pushing me outside my comfort zone. It’s already all quite people-y and maybe I should just get over myself but honestly it’s hard! So apart from really hoping a few more of you might be able and willing to sponsor us (You can do so here), we’re doing a few other bits and pieces.
We are planning a carboot sale and some of our lovely neighbours have already donated items for us to sell there. If you have something that might fetch a pound or two at a carboot sale to donate and can get it to us by mid March or so then let us know.
We are doing a cake bake for our local parkrun on 9th March and a coffee morning for our neighbours on the 10th March.
Time permitting there may be more cake related efforts because – you know, cake.
We have a couple of raffle ideas – we are still looking for a few more prizes for a running related one so if you know of anyone who might be able to donate some running/sport related prizes give us a shout! The other raffle had its soft launch at an event I did last week and is for legal academics. Read more about it on my academic blog here.
I realise this could easily be read as a whinge that people aren’t sponsoring us. It’s not intended to be that. If you want to support us, it genuinely means a lot to us, thank you. If this isn’t your thing, I get that too. I was just trying to share what’s on my mind as we head into the last couple of months of training and preparing