Lockdown: You do You

Everything is weird. I haven’t really run since my last post. Some days I have done my strength exercises, most days I haven’t. Some days I have done some yoga, most days I haven’t. I’m not really sure why. Doesn’t matter. When the announcement finally came that we were in lockdown and should stay at home as much as possible and only exercise locally once a day I suddenly felt like getting out every day would be important. It’s funny how an announcement, a rule can suddenly change how we think about things. It actually changed nothing for me. I’d already been working at home and had already limited going out to essentials. But the actual lockdown announcement changed something about the way it felt to me.

So obviously I am starting the running thing again at pretty much the beginning. It’s fairly horrible. It’s frustrating and annoying and I miss my marathon fitness – both the physical fitness and mental calm that comes with the ability to just keep running and having a forever pace. But dwelling on that is not helpful. I have made a deliberate decision to pause anything that is about changing my running form etc. I just need to be out. I appreciate that I am shuffling rather than running with good form. I appreciate I might undo the work already done with RunRight but right now everything is about mental health for me. And I just need to be out and if that means shuffling round our loop for 40 minutes then shuffle I shall.

So how is everyone doing? I’m finding it weird more than really anxiety inducing or stressful. I am randomly unsettled and have a really short attention span. It’s like I can’t hold on to a thought long enough to finish thinking it. I’ve struggled to focus on work but have kept some stuff ticking over but really put everything apart from student support on hold. I’ve been reading lots of stuff about how to adjust to working at home and how to keep connected during self isolation/ lockdown. I’m sure lots of it is really useful for lots of people but there are three things that keep jumping out at me that I am just not sure about – stick with me, I will come back to running and how this links.

So the first thing is the advice to stick to a routine or timetable. I think I probably agree with this in very general terms. But these are not normal times and so far I have not found a routine at all and I have not found planning helpful. I have tried to plan my days – both in detail and loosely. All it does is stress me out when I inevitably don’t follow the plan. I am rubbish without structure and I am even worse with it. A list of things to do as I remember then fairly randomly and firefighting emails will have to do for now in terms of work. Staring into space, sitting with the frogspawn, watching too much TV and swinging between the urge to deep clean everything and trying to remember how to put on a bra keeps general life at just about functioning. One day at a time, useful planning might come and if it does that’s fine. I might find I want to and need to plan for some sense of control. I think my point is, we need to stop saying that having a clear routine and plan is what helps us all here because that is underpinned with a number of assumptions about productivity, possibility and everything working the same way for everyone. It’s absolutely fine to plan if that helps you, it’s also ok to be a chaotic mess.

The second bit of advice is about the importance of staying connected, about how we are social creatures and need human interaction to stay mentally well etc. Ok, I don’t disagree although I think the extent of social interaction we need differs from person to person and luckily for me I am perfectly happy with very little of it. So as all these new ways of connecting are suddenly popping up and being forced on us I sit here grumpy. Over the last two weeks I have had to engage with zoom (hm, ok), Skype for Business conference calls (ok – but people do overuse video capability), Skype (was nice to see Dad in his living room), Adobe connect (hm) and Google Hangouts (couldn’t connect) and that is me trying to stay away from stuff. More and more I have the urge to just use a fucking landline, I don’t need to see people sitting in front of their screens with dodgy camera angles. The more we are being told to connect, the more I want to hide under my duvet and not see or hear people. The more these new (ok new to me) ways of interacting online are pushed, the more I retreat to sending a text, using messenger and general Facebook and Twitter posts. I have also realised that the number of people I actually want to interact with during this lockdown is really quite limited. What I need is quiet and peace and my cats. Not people. I appreciate that I am lucky. Kath is here with me, I’m not on my own but as we push this online connectedness, let’s remember that it might not work for everyone.

And finally – the importance of keeping up a good exercise regime, of staying fit. Again I agree in general terms but do you think we could be a bit less preachy about it? Also of course the idea of ‘keeping up’ is quite funny here. I mean seriously, for lots of people this is likely to be ‘have a go at’. There is definitely a link between mental health and exercise for me – maybe there is for everyone, don’t know. But that link is not always positive for me. Trying and failing at a workout, not being able to do a yoga pose as well as I’d like, not doing the exercise I had planned or struggling with just finding the energy to start at all can all impact negatively. Not always, sometimes I am very good at seeing the positive of having tried and sometimes I do trust the process and I know that the benefits come… but honestly, people are just trying to function. Let’s cut the list of must dos right down to ‘Do what you must to stay sane’ – for some that will be setting up a exercise circuit using every room of the house for several hours a day and for others it will getting up off the sofa every now and again. It’s ok.

And how does all of this link to my running. Well, as I was thinking about all of these things I was thinking about all the running advice, tips, invited and uninvited comments I have ever had. And while so much of that has been invaluable the most valuable advice has always come from people who have said ‘this works for me, try it and see if it also works for you’. The genuine help has come from people who have found their way but don’t insist that this also has to be your way. So the planning – people can get quite obsessive and dogmatic about their training plans, or whether to even have a plan. I like a training plan – mostly so I can ignore it and do something else though. The things is – plan or not – do what works for you. Why should anyone else care. And why should you care what others are doing? You’re not doing it wrong. Neither are the others.

The connectedness – people so often suggest that running with friends or in groups is a really good way to stay motivated. I think that’s lovely – for them. For me running with other people (other than Kath and possibly one or two others) just sounds like hell. And the staying fit mantra we’re currently hearing, well it reminded me of the complexity of our reasons for running or doing any exercise at all and how our reasons and motivations change over time. It reminded me of how now might be a good time to very consciously not reflect, to not think about fitness goals or how to achieve, to not worry about fitness lost while in lockdown or how on earth we’ll get back to where we were pre isolation… but instead to just do what feels right for us in the moment. I was thinking about how we set off to run but then walked the rest of the loop after the first mile because there were woodpeckers, and deer and wild garlic and the magic of spring. I was thinking about how sometimes I like staying in ‘Happy Baby’ for much longer than my yoga app generally holds it and how it’s ok to pause the app or just let it move on without me, how dialling things right down or really ramping them up as far as exercise is concerned is really fine. I was thinking about rules and that there really don’t need to be any unless you decide you want them. In fact the only rule there really should be is this: You do you and let everyone else do everyone else.

Stay Safe

Un-Possible

Aaaaaaaargh. I have spent a lot of time screaming into a void lately but that’s another story. I’ve had flu or a bad cold or whatever and it was awful. I still have a chesty cough. I didn’t start the Harewood House 10k, I haven’t run. I went out for a plod last Sunday and honestly it’s hard to see any positives from that (thought of course, objectively, there are some – I left the house for a start). I had a session with RunRight today, with Mark, to have another look at my run and to once again try and iron out the issues with my form. I knew I was starting from zero again and while frustrated I thought I was ok about that and accepting of the fact that I had to start again somewhere.

Well, about that. I have spent the last 5 years very slowly shifting my focus from the number that appears on the scales when I step on them or the number that’s on the labels in my clothes to what I can do. I have stopped worrying about which bits wobble, how heavy I am or how much of a tape measure I might need to get it round my hips. It was (is!) just not important. What was important was what I could do. What was important was how strong I felt, how fit I felt, how easy it was to power up our hill, walk up the stairs at work, run 6 miles, how sleep comes easy when you are actually physically tired in a good way. Well the problem with focusing on what you can do rather than the numbers is that it doesn’t work when you can’t do it.

I cried all the way home – just silent tears rolling down my face. I’m not quite sure why. The session was good. It was exactly what I needed. Seeing the videos and having Mark point out where the issues still are and talking about how to fix them was really helpful. I feel more motivated. I have my Disney training plan and Mark’s instructions on what to do. It was good. It was a positive start to the next chapter of the running rollercoaster. Well, I hate rollercoasters. Running has been non-existent, I am not strong, I am not fit. Focusing on what I can do is not a positive because what I can do is, well not a lot and certainly so much less than I could 12-14 months ago. So running and exercise generally, right now, feel like just another thing I am utterly rubbish at. There is of course lots going on here:

  1. I have had bursts of good progress and then something happens and I am back to square one. At square one it’s hard to see there was ever progress. In this case the set back was the flu. Two days before it really hit I had a good session with Katy at RunRight, a hard session but I made it through and felt really positive and motivated after. Now it seems impossible to see how I could even get back to that level.
  2. For all sorts of reasons my confidence is low and anxiety is high. That doesn’t help in remembering that there are lots of things I am pretty good at
  3. It’s the anniversary of Rachel’s death tomorrow so quite frankly the world can just fuck off
  4. I have not been this unfit for a long time. I know that it just takes time and consistency to build it again and I know that if I do my exercises, go out running regularly and stick with it, my fitness levels will go up to a level where everything is easier really quite quickly. I know. I have the evidence – it hangs on my wall in the form of Dopey Medals. I know. I just don’t believe.

The problem is, I don’t feel capable and so much of my energy has been focused on well-being which draws on strength and fitness and feeling capable. I feel physically weak and unfit and that translates into some pretty big mental wobbles which make it harder to even begin to put any sort of effort into getting fitter and stronger. It’s a cycle and it’s a cycle that is really difficult to break. It just feels pointless.

So what’s the solution? Is there one? Think about numbers again? Well, partly it is tempting. I could shift a stone pretty quickly and maybe I would briefly have some sense of achievement for bringing down the number but it would neither be healthy nor sustainable nor would it change anything at all. I am barely heavier that I was 14 months ago and I am wearing the same size clothes mostly – though some of them fit a little differently just now. Being lighter, wearing the smaller items in my wardrobe would not make me feel any more capable, any stronger, any more unfuckwithable. It wouldn’t make me healthier, faster or stronger.

I don’t have an answer. The only answer is to keep getting up every morning and trying. It’s accepting that some days getting to work with all items of clothing on the right way out and round is a win and also that some days there is no win. It’s accepting that I am where I am. Whether I like that or not is irrelevant, it just is. It’s also about trusting the process. It’s about trusting that every little tiny bit of doing something is better than not doing anything. It’s about not thinking too much, it’s about not allowing the head to take over, it’s about having made the decision that I want that version of me back, the one that can run all the way up the hill home and still have enough left to swear about it… I know what I need to do. I know I can do it because I have done it before. It’s all written down, all I need to do now is follow the plan, tick each day, each exercise, each run off. I don’t need to believe, not yet, I just need to do. Belief can wait. It’ll come and when it does, well when it does… I might try believe 6 impossible things before breakfast (Sorry Lewis Carroll).

Going for 1000 Miles Again…

….or the one where I need to talk about weight.

Well here we are again. 1st of January. New Year. New Decade. Bla Bla. Yep, I am my usual grumpy self about new year. I wrote about how I like New Year for the reflection it brings last year. I haven’t changed my mind on that but somehow I am always a little disappointed that nothing happens at that magical midnight moment when one year or in this case one decade ends and another starts. Surely something should be different?

Well it isn’t. The world is still turning, arseholes are still arseholes and lovely people are still lovely. I am still me. Actually the last two of those are not disappointing. They are just as they should be but could we start a thing where every year at midnight on the 31st December an arsehole we each know turns into a lovely person. That should sort the world out pretty sharpish. Anyway, two things are on my mind. One is the the fact that Kath and I once again signed up for the #Run1000Mile Challenge – which you already know but which is now official. I have no idea if I’ll make it, we’ll see. As of today I am ahead of schedule! I went for a very slow and painful 3.66 mile run/walk. I tried 30/30 second intervals to see if I can nurse my calf muscles and feet a bit but it didn’t seem to help that much. Any slight up or uneven ground and everything tightens up and starts screaming. At least today it was manageable on the flat – yesterday I could only run downhill.

The second thing is weight and the new year new you bollocks that is going around as it always does at this time of the year. Honestly, I haven’t actually noticed it as much as I have done in previous years- but it’s early yet – still plenty of time to guilt-trip us into some sort of diet or gym membership. Anyway, the obvious thing is that I am still the old me and I am perfectly happy with the old me. There need not be a new me or indeed a new you just because there is a new year/decade. You do not need to upgraded, renewed, replaced or upcycled. Also the whole start and end of decade thing that is going on with pictures of 2009 and 2019 – if looking at old photos etc is bringing you joy then yay for that. If it’s not and you’re finding the entire experience uncomfortable then just don’t do it. I seem to be totally indifferent to it. Which is odd because I often get caught up in things like that. I am also lazy though and for 2009 pictures of me I would have to actually turn on the old Desktop computer… yeah, forget it. In 2009 I was also just me. A decade on – still just me.

So weight. I’ve been thinking about it as I grumpily flick past the ‘running to lose weight’, ‘yoga for weight loss’ and ‘get your dream body now’ adverts not to mention the weight watchers, slimming world and diet product marketing… Over the last few years I have genuinely shifted the focus from what I look like to what I can do. I am no longer concerned about the number on the scales or the number on the label in my clothes (though not being in-between sizes would be really really welcome). I’ve read stuff and learned stuff (and written stuff) about weight discrimination, about fat shaming, about body positivity about being fat and healthy and all of that. And I am uncomfortable with all of it. There is something about body positivity that just freaks me out. Maybe it’s that the focus for me is not on what you can do… anyway I am digressing – not the point of this post though I may come back to it…

The point I was trying to get to – in a roundabout, long sentences, thinking as I am typing kind of a way – is MY weight. I’m too heavy. Ok, now before you start with the positivity or with the telling me off for thinking and writing about weight and weight loss, calm the fuck down. Don’t tell me I’m not fat – I am. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, I look just fine as I am bla bla bla – nobody cares. I know how much I weight today, after a bath, butt naked with wet hair. It’s not a number I’m keen on but I have spent a lot of time trying to move away from caring about numbers and that has worked – so it wasn’t the number that made me think I was too heavy. It wasn’t even the tightness of my jeans – I can buy bigger pants – it was a general feeling of bleurgh. A feeling of being unfit, sluggish, weak and a bit sack of spuds-ish. Things niggle or take more effort than they should and running is so much harder.

So – am I doing anything about it – Am I going to be lighting up the search engines looking for the next trendy diet, how to burn fat in 6 easy moves? Don’t be daft. I’m not going to do anything about the weight. The weight isn’t the problem. I’m going to do something about feeling less strong, less competent, less fit and generally less wonder woman than I want. No, I’m not changing anything major or joining a fancy gym. I hate the gym. I am simply going back to what I was doing and what brought me joy as well as fitness. I am looking forward to starting to feel the benefits of daily yoga again and the sense of fitness that comes with consistent running and the feeling of power that comes with strength – gained through yoga and through the strength and conditioning exercises. The number on the scales will change in a downward directions – almost certainly – but probably not by as much as you might think.

And just to be clear, this isn’t a January new years resolution thing. I kicked this off last year when deciding to look to RunRight for help to make sure I can run injury free in 2020. While the sessions with them were getting too much for me mentally at the end of last year (well no, everything else was so I had nothing left for them), I am now looking forward to going back later on this month. December was a month of slowly coming back to things I’d neglected and the trick in future is going to be to make time for at least some of those when things get crazy busy and I get tired.

Anyway. Happy 2020.

My 2019 Running Year

Magic Heron

It’s the end of 2019. I have finished my running year on 502.88 miles with a slightly frustrating trot out at Bolton Abbey this morning. I’m in a reflective mood as well as in a planning mood and that’s making me look back on the running year that was 2019. It started with such promise, such achievement and then fizzled out a bit and I think maybe I’d got a bit grumpy about it all but this year I got to run in some amazing places, see some fabulous things and as always I learned a lot – particularly about what I do and don’t want from running and what I do and do not like about it. So let’s look at 2019.

January was awesome. I came off a 114 mile December feeling really strong and actually feeling ready for Dopey – well as ready as one can feel for Dopey. And Dopey was awesome. I don’t remember the tough bits. I know they were there. I know the marathon was too hot and I know the waiting around was a pain but what I remember is the feeling of achieving the impossible and then I remember nearly falling asleep in my celebratory glass of wine.

Happy Run

So if January was dominated by Dopey, February was dominated by trails and getting off the tarmac and into the beautiful countryside. I ran in the snow along the canal at home and we had a stunning running weekend at Kielder Water with some breathtaking views and some lung busting hills. I was running well. I confirmed the running well by smashing the Harewood House Half Marathon in just 58 seconds over three hours having had a blast out on the course (I will have to go back for an under three hour go but I’m not ready for 2020 and will be doing the 10k instead). I loved my running in February but by the end of the month I was getting really tired.

By all accounts I was still running really well in March. I ran nearly 100 miles that month and didn’t really struggle with it – except that I really wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t write about it much – just the one post from last March on the blog. Almost all of the March running was done from home and thinking about it, I spent an awful lot of my time going backwards and forwards along the canal.

Before it started going wrong

In April I got to run in Leicester. I went to University in Leicester in what seems like a lifetime ago and I was there for a conference. Running from town up to the university past the places that seemed both familiar and a bit strange was fun. Then I got a cold. Then I ran the London Marathon. I didn’t like it. I loved seeing Dad at around mile 7 and then it was really downhill from there. It’s not a marathon I have any desire to ever do again. If I ever decide to have another go at 26.2 it will definitely not be on that course. I was done with it all. I think I have blocked most of it from memory. I remember slipping on the lucuzade runners had emptied on the floor and going flying at mile 15 and being in pain and fed up and trying to think if I could work the logistics to pull out but deciding that just finishing was easier. Goodness I hated everything about running while out on that course.

After the marathon I fell out of love with running. I just couldn’t be bothered with it. I couldn’t motivate myself to get out. We had a lovely adventure walking one of the Yorkshire three peaks (we meant to do them all but never got round to it) and I had the odd little trot out including at Bolton Abbey but I didn’t make it to 30 miles that month. June was similar. The running I did was rather stunning tourist running in Washington DC , Gettysburg and on Chesapeake Bay and then there were some hikes in Shenandoah National Park. All fo that was kinda cool but I wasn’t feeling the running. I nearly pulled out of the Solstice Saunter at Bolton Abbey but in the end went and had a good time. But really, running was all a bit meh.

Shenandoah Trail Shoe Selfie

Things didn’t really change in July and August. I kept going out for the odd little plod but that was that. In September and October the wheels came off. I ran a total of 4 miles in September and did not run at all in October. I actually thought about just packing it all in completely. In November I managed just over 10k but it seems that very slowly in December I am starting to enjoy being out again. I obviously decided I wasn’t ready to give up completely because I agreed to go see the guys at RunRight, more on that as that story unfolds. Partly I blame a busy semester for my lack of running – not because I was too busy to make time but because it was a rough term which zapped every little bit of headspace, willpower and brave I had. I had nothing left for running – probably because I was already struggling with running and it felt like one more thing to fail at. That perspective has slowly shifted over the last week or so. Maybe I’m ready to be back and enjoy running again in 2020.

Getting back into things at Bolton Abbey

“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.