“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.

Marathons from the other side of the drinks station

I spent the last day of my leave (well until Wednesday) doing one of the drinks station for the Baht’at Trail Half and Full Marathon. It felt good to do something positive because I have been struggling since we got back. Yesterday was horrible. I was barely awake and when I was I couldn’t really be bothered to be. Maybe I was just really tired because after another full night’s sleep I felt much better when I woke up this morning.

There is something about volunteering and cheering people on that is exhilarating and fun. The course they were doing is pretty brutal! The elevation is just silly! Or as they say in the course description, it’s a tad hilly. Well yes it is, it’s basically just under a mile of flat and then just over three of fairly relentless up – then I am not quite sure of the Ilkley Moor loop they do but it involves very little flat. Marathon runners do the entire thing twice.

We set up the drinks station and then waited for the marathon runners to come through. They were looking good and strong but one or two admitted they had underestimated the hills – I’m not surprised, I live here, I have run those hills, they always seem utterly unreasonable! The views however are stunning. Not long after the marathoners the half marathoners, the sane people in this lot, started coming through. And then the first lot started coming back down…

I enjoyed cheering people on, filling up their drinks, encouraging, handing out sweets, having a quick chat, being part of it for a split second and sometimes a few minutes. There were a few things that struck me about this event in particular

  • It is incredibly friendly. Maybe that’s easier because it’s small. 30 odd marathon starters and 80 odd for the half. It made it easier to really care about people and for them to be more than just a race number. I felt a little bit invested in each of their runs.
  • The course really tested everyone and stretched out the field. I loved how everyone was just running their race; some taking it seriously and going for it; others stopping for a good chat every time they came to see us; others taking their drink and fuel and giving us a nod. #TheirRunTheirRules and it was fabulous to see.
  • The event was as plastic free as possible. There was almost no rubbish at all really. The picture is the total rubbish from our drinks station and most of that was stuff we picked up in the lay-by as we set up – we left it cleaner than we found it!
  • All runners were great about the no plastic cups. One lost his hydra cup on the way somewhere (I hope he found it or could get another) so he got a plastic one which he then took with him to use at the other stations and there was one other occasion where the cup was too tangled up so we used a plastic one to save time. Yes it takes a few seconds longer but it makes a huge difference and I think all events should think about this!
  • The no plastic etc seemed to have a really positive impact on how runners dealt with their own rubbish. Everyone seemed to keep hold of their gel packs and other wrappers etc and use the bins at the drinks stations. We had to pick almost nothing up and those bits we did were dropped sweets and things falling out of pockets.
  • The last runner got the same experience as the first. We were the last as well as the first drinks station and we did not pack up anything until we knew he was safely through and had what he needed to complete. There was no way we were running out of anything and the same was available to the back of the pack as for the front runners. That’s important to me – obviously as a back of the pack runner – but it was nice that the whole event had that same ethos.
  • I kinda want to run it. Just the half mind, there is no way I could persuade my brain to get my legs to go back up the hills if I made it round the first loop!
  • This is my sort of event. I felt like I belonged, like I was part of something. I know I wasn’t running so there was no pressure on me to move but still. It was such a contrast to London. It was what running should be about – being out doing your thing in beautiful countryside.

So it’s been a good day. I had a great time watching people conquer the course (even where they felt a little defeated by it!) and also watching swallows, the cows in the field opposite, red kites, some farm cats and a kestrel. So for those of you who run or those of you who don’t – volunteer. It’s such a good way to get involved. It’s such a great way to be inspired and see people achieve great things. If you want to redefine possible – and watch determination, a special sort of humour and just pure awesomeness, volunteer at a half and/or full marathon! It’s great to see it all from the other side!

For those of you who ran it: Thank you for doing it. Well done. You rock! I hope your tomorrow is a gentle one without stairs and without hills and with cake, lots of cake!

Gettysburg Tourist Run

Well, we are home and jet lag is a bitch. My grand total of achievements for today is to get out of bed briefly and to make some hummus and then some lemon drizzle cake. I might add eating said cake to that list shortly. Still, there are tourist running blog posts to be caught up on!

We left Shenandoah on Friday morning and on the way out of the park stopped at the Northern Visitor Centre called Dickey Ridge and did a little loop walk from there. We just did the short Fox Hollow Loop which was a nice leg stretcher. We kept our eyes peeled for another bear, there were signs that one was in the area and warning people not to talk the loop with dogs as the bear was aggressive towards dogs. We didn’t see one though but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Then we drove to Gettysburg watching the landscape change again as we went. After a little walk round, a drink at the bar and a shower we headed to the Mason Dixon Distillery for food and a drink or two. After trying a spirits flight and then another cocktail our morning run was never going to be all rainbows and unicorns.

We set off and went in a straight line from our hotel until we hit the Gettysburg National Cemetery. It was too hot, too humid, too everything. I was struggling to breathe and my legs were heavy. I huffed and puffed my way for that half mile feeling pretty crappy. Well what do you expect drinking a mix of vodka, rum and rough as a bear’s backside stuff the American’s call whiskey.

We walked round the cemetery and then into the Military Park. We walked through the park from monument to monument. It felt a bit odd to run so we didn’t. I was more than happy to walk! It is a quite spectacular site and the scale is hard to capture.

After a quick pee stop and after having seen lots of people running through the park we decided to run back to the hotel. It was roughly 2.5 miles ish and had some hills in. I wasn’t optimistic but clearly walking round the park had woken my system up and as soon as we started running I knew I felt better. We plodded our way back through the park and then along the road rather than through the cemetery and actually it was a good little run in the end.

After breakfast we set off for 3 nights at Chesapeake Bay to wind down completely before home. The first run there I have already blogged about here.

Shenandoah National Park – hiking and a little bit of running

We entered the National Park in our trusted Neville at the most Southerly Point – at Rockfish Gap. We started our leisurely drive up Skyline Drive stopping at many of the look out points. We stopped a few miles in to do a short walk to the summit of Turk Mountain (all the trails we did have information on them on the website if you want to look). It was a really clearly marked and easy trail. I am not hill fit at all so it was a little more sweaty and huffy/puffy than I wanted it to be but it was a great walk. 

It took us maybe an hour and a half to go up and come back down and there were some good views from the top. After that we continued our drive up to Big Meadow Lodge. We had lunch (with really poor service), drove back down to the waystation, visitor centre and shop and looked at that for a bit and then eventually got checked in after being told to be back at 3pm for our keys and waiting until 3.20. When we got to our room the housekeeper was still there. It was not a great start and we were both tired and a bit grumpy. 

We decided to head out for a little explore and were soon cheered up by chipmunks which are darting about all over the car park. We walked up to the Black Rock summit – an easy ten minutes from the car park and watched the weather blow in. We managed a selfie in a bit of a cloud gap but that was all we got. After a bit of a chill out we had food and a bottle of local white wine in the tap room and planned the next set of adventures.

6thJune didn’t start well. I struggled to wake up. Even after coffee I felt sluggish and sleepy. Probably the wine – which had been nice but clearly hangover inducing. We set off for a little run and it was so so hard. The plan was just to run down to the big meadow, have a walk round that and then run back up. I really struggled and as we turned off one trail onto another and started going up a little bit I felt really sick. I stopped and we walked a little. Kath had some polo mints in her vest and having one helped with the nausea. We saw a deer and that cheered me up.

We got to the big meadow and followed some little tracks through for a while watching some deer in the distance and people with ridiculously sized cameras watching the deer and probably looking out for bears too. Then we ran/walked our way back to our room and I had a little cry. I felt utterly crappy and unfit and like the best thing would be just to stay in the room and let Kath go explore. Then I got over myself and we went for breakfast and set off on the days adventures.

First up we were going to to the Hawksbill summit loop which would take us to the highest summit in the National Park via a looped trail that was described as moderate and busy in the guidebook that we had bought the day before. We pulled into a car park and then realised that we had pulled into the one before the one we were actually meant to park in. A quick look at the map determined that we could get to the summit from this spot and that it would take us up a fire road and would be an out and back walk. We decided to do that to avoid a busy trail and to give me some confidence. It was a nice walk up and while a little huffing and puffing definitely happened, it wasn’t too bad. We were rewarded with some stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views.

After the Hawksbill summit we walked back down the way we came and saw quite a few people making their way up now so we had definitely timed it right and chosen the right trail as there was a steady stream of people on the other one as far as we could tell. We drove onwards a little and stopped at the Skyland resort for a pee. It was a little early for lunch but we had read about a short easy trail which was only a roughly 1.5 mile loop and close to Skyland so we decided to walk that. It was called the Limberlost Trail and was a path aimed at families or those struggling to walk longer or more challenging trails. There were frequent benches and an activity sheet for kids at the start of the trail. We walked round listening to the birds and chatting. When we were done it was time for lunch.

After lunch at Skyland we drove back towards Big Meadows to do the Dark Hollow Falls walk as an out and back or, if we felt like it, with tagging on the Rose River Loop. The Dark Hollow Falls trail starts with a gentle but steady decent. It’s a definite trail rather than track with roots and rocks and later on some muddy sections but it really isn’t too technical. I was doing ok and really enjoying being out. I was thinking about how much trail running has taught me about my ability to do this sort of thing and some of those reflections formed the basis of my latest #Run1000Miles ambassador blog which went live today.

We arrived at the top of the Water falls – just above the Dark Hollow Falls where there is a little cascade. We sat for a bit on the rock, sipped some water and waited for the walkers around us to clear. Then we moved on. It was steeper downhill here and I had a few moments were I didn’t really want to be doing this. However, the setting was too stunning to consider not doing it. It was busy though so we just kept moving, stopping only to let people who were making their way up the path come past us. When we eventually arrived at the bottom we had a proper look at the falls. They are stunning and then decided that we would walk on.

We looked at the map. After having come all the way down the way we did we thought that going back up that way with the number of people and the steep bits would actually not be fun so we decided to walk part of the Rose River Loop but then pick up the horse trail that runs between Skyland and Big Meadows and walk back along that to the car park. That would avoid the worst up and should avoid people altogether. I looked at the map and declared ‘that sounds good because we are nearly at the lowest point now so should start gently climbing again soon’.

And off we went. Down. More down. And then more down. Clearly I can’t read an elevation map. We were not in fact nearly at the lowest point. We were about half way down at this point. We wound our way along the river which was a stunning and set to a wonderful soundtrack of trickling water which got stronger through the cascades and quieter in the pools. We spend about a mile and a quarter going down a fairly technical trail. Every time it evened out and we spent a bit of time walking alongside a pool or slow flowing sections we thought we were at the bottom and then came the next cascade. Eventually we were as low as we could go though, crossed the river over a bridge and started going up.

We came to some more water falls. They were busy again which struck me as odd because on the trail itself we hadn’t really seen anyone at all. As we made our way further up a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. We kept our eyes open but there was no bear to be seen. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

Once at the end of the trail we needed to find the horse trail. The map in the book turned out to be inaccurate but luckily we had the paper map the visitor centre had given us. With the help of that we found the trail and continued walking up hill a while. We were a good mile or so into the trail, maybe even more when we say our bear. There it was. Maybe 60 metres off the trail munching on leaves. It knew we were there as it looked over a couple of times. We stood and watched, in awe. I felt very grateful for being allowed to be in its space, to watch it and to share a brief moment with it. Then we moved on and left it to it. Given how quickly it could just disappear from view even while we were watching it, I am sure we had probably been seen by quite a few bears all day – this one just chose to let us see it.

After a shower and some tlc for my really quite impressive heat rash we bought some Limberlost Lager to celebrate a good day of hiking (and having hiked the trail of the same name) and sat with that in the Great Room in some rocking chairs to talk about the next day, plans and to wrap our heads around the fact that we had seen not only deer and all manner of birds including a peregrine but also a black bear. It had been a 38000 step day though so we didn’t last very long before falling into bed.

Tired, Humid, Grumpy

I have some catching up to do! I have several posts drafted but not edited and no photos in yet. I will sort them when I have finished this post. We are currently staying at the Hyatt Regency Golf Resort and Spa on Chesapeake Bay. It’s posh which on the one hand is nice because the service is fabulous (apart from chaos kitchen it seems), the facilities great and it’s just an all round nice place to be. On the other hand it’s full of the sort of posh people who play golf and know what to do with a marina. It is also one of the main hotels for the Eagleman Ironman race which was on today so it is full of triathletes and I am finding them rather intimidating. It’s pushing my already over sensitive buttons to see all these super fit people who not only run but also bike and swim. Honestly I think they are a bit mad – there is not enough body glide in the world to make me cycle and then run in a wet swimming costume even if it is one of those with shorts.

Anyway this post is not about triathletes and how I think they are weird. We are at the end of our holiday and I am still a bit bemused by how tired I am. But maybe that’s obvious, we have put an awful lot into not quite two weeks. That tiredness is impacting on running, as are heat and humidity. If I am honest, I am not loving the running. I haven’t really enjoyed a run since before the London Marathon. I do enjoy what running gives me though. I was thinking about that earlier today as I plodded away from Kath after having had a ‘disagreement’ about running during which I decided I would just go back to the room and hide under the duvet. I didn’t though and instead just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

It was humid and breathing seemed hard. My calf muscles were complaining, my right quad was almost as grumpy as I was and my achilles is still being a selfish whingey little fucker and of course, because I was grumpy, that’s what I focused on: How it was all so hard and miserable. Then I saw a heron fly into the rookery ahead and I smiled. Then I saw another follow. Just a few steps further along there were birds of prey circling overhead. I am not good at recognising birds of prey and am not even sure what sort would be here. I do know they have ospreys and I saw one a little further along. More smiles. Then a little rabbit shot across my path and fled. As I watched it go, my eyes were drawn to the edge of the golf course where I saw a deer disappear into the distance.

Kath caught up with me and we ran another mile or so together leaving our grumpiness behind and running along the marina to take some silly selfies. As we left the marina to finish our loop I realised that I was no longer focusing on how hard things were. It was still humid, my body was still complaining a bit but I was thinking more about how running allowed me to see all these things and be out in some beautiful places watching wildlife in a way that I would just never otherwise experience. I’d just never get up and go for a walk in the same way and neither would I cover the distance I do when running. I see more and I see it differently. When I run my focus is different. People often ask me why I don’t simply walk and enjoy seeing the wildlife etc and whether I miss things when running. Well interestingly I see more when I run. When I walk I get lost in thoughts about, say, my endless to do list, a session I am teaching the next day, a paper I am writing… I’m rarely in the moment. When I run I am right there with me and that means that my focus is on what is right there with me and as a result I get to see things I wouldn’t otherwise. So while I am not really looking forward to running again tomorrow, I am really looking forward to running again tomorrow!