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.

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.