Coming Back?

It has been a rough three months since I last posted. I am off work with a mental health blip (I am not going to discuss that directly here) and physically things did not go to plan. The August attempts to get running again failed, I never made it past the 8 minute runs, then I couldn’t even make a minute and eventually I spoke to the doctor. I have had a whole series of tests including detailed blood works, ECG and chest X-ray, I’ve monitored peak flow and been prodded, poked and interrogated. Fundamentally there is nothing physically wrong with me. That’s good of course but it doesn’t explain how I have struggled since the spring to get going again and why everything has just felt so impossibly hard. It also doesn’t explain why my heart rate continues to be stubbornly high when I try even the most gentle exercise or why I get breathless walking upstairs. The doctor’s best guess – post viral something or other. It might not be Covid-19 after effects but it might be – I don’t know whether I have had it or not. Whatever it is, I wanted to try and share with you what it feels like to go from relatively fit and running pretty regularly to barely being able to go for a walk to struggling to get going again…

Some days now I think I am getting better. Other days the tiredness is almost paralysing. Anyway, if you’ve read this blog before you know all about my love/hate relationship with running and all things fitness. You know I have never been super fit, have always been a slow plodder and you know that 2020 has been much much more miss than hit in terms of running. So the reality is that post marathon number 4 in 2019 I lost fitness. But I had a reasonable level of fitness that allowed me to take things for granted. Things I did not have to think or worry about:

  • Running 5km, getting round a parkrun course or similar route
  • run/walking 10km or even 10 miles
  • walking any distance at all really
  • getting to the top of a hill
  • Keeping up with others as I walk
  • Running upstairs
  • Having a go at a strength/conditioning session or gym class
  • Feeling capable and feeling relatively strong
  • getting day to day stuff done

Now I do. Worry I mean. About all of those things. I can no longer run. After some vague attempts and frustrating stop starts all year, in August I was trying to build up again. But I got worse rather than better. I was very out of breath, heart rate was high and I felt dizzy and faint just trying to run a minute. When I got home from any sort of exercise – even just a short walk – I was physically so tired I could barely move off the sofa for the rest of the day and the next day I’d wake up aching and sore like I had run a half marathon over tricky terrain. I felt so weak and unfit that I worried about getting round the supermarket doing the food shop. I also felt stupid. And I felt scared. My attempts to go back to basics and failing even at that and feeling so poorly had made me scared to go out and try in case there was something seriously wrong. I also worried about work. To get through a day of work I had to basically not move and hope that at the end of the day I might just have enough energy left to do some gentle yoga. I had to pause chutney making to have a rest because I had been standing for too long. Once I dozed off at my desk.

I have written about the problem of shifting your mindset away from numbers/weight onto focusing what your body can do when you find yourself not being able to do previously I think. This feeling just got worse. It was partly about being concerned about what health issues were causing the symptoms but it was more than that. It is demoralising to suddenly be unable to do things you could easily do before. It made trying feel a bit pointless because I kept failing, kept not managing even silly things or just about managing them and then being out for the rest of the day because I walked 100 metres to the postbox and back. So I spent a little while doing nothing at all.

A series of medical tests later and really I am none the wiser other than that the tests have ruled out anything serious and have confirmed that I am safe to exercise. I am still not right but I am now less scared. But where do you start when you have nothing? I realised that when I previously talked about starting running from no fitness base that wasn’t quite true. When I started running, I could walk. I might have been fat and unfit but not so unfit that I would worry about the idea of going for a walk. I think maybe I am getting a little better, maybe doing nothing for a while was actually needed, maybe it helped. I can now walk on the flat, fairly slowly, without too much concern or worry about distance. I struggle to walk fast and I struggle on hills but I can walk. I am less often out of breath going upstairs, I have managed the first set of 8 exercises of a HIIT class and am working my way up to getting through 2 sets and eventually all 3. I am no longer as fatigued as I was or as tired from just standing. It’s progress of sorts.

It’s hard to untangle the mental health stuff going on. Much of it is caused and shaped by work related stuff I can’t really write about here. And of course these things cannot be separated anyway, I feel worse because I can’t exercise and I can’t exercise as much because I feel worse and round and round we go. But I think there are some things that are specific to the complete loss of fitness. It’s a funny mixture of hope and despair. In some ways building fitness now feels easier than when I started running. I have done it once. More than once. I got myself marathon fit. I can do it again. There’s hope there. If I am not actually ill, if the worst post viral hangover is this fatigue that led to a complete loss of fitness then I am one of the lucky ones, nothing is damaged, fitness can be regained. Hope. But fitness once lost is elusive. Having been fit and losing it is almost worse than never having been fit. It’s not that hard work bothers me, it’s that I know how hard it is mentally to get to from here to a level where exercise slowly begins to be fun again and real progress can be made, where it is more than a chore, more than trying and failing again and again. Getting to that level means lots and lots of work before the improvements start coming, before the weakness turns into strength, before even the modified moves in workouts become possible and I dare dream of the unmodified ones. It is so discouraging, so disheartening and so damn frustrating to fail a beginners workout or run one of couch to 5km.

And don’t give me the ‘it’s not failing’ crap. It is. It is failing. And it is horrible. And I will have to fail and fail again repeatedly until one day I fail at a slightly later point and then maybe a later point again until eventually I finish the workout or the run. It’s hard not to feel that trying is pointless. Results don’t come quickly when I have to go this slowly and gently and carefully. Focusing on what I can do rather than what I look like or what the numbers say is not helpful – the answer is I can’t do anything…but of course ‘anything’ is relative. But try and remember that when your black puppy has grown into a full size giant dog and is slowly pulling you down into darkness with its firm hold on your wonder woman cape. Maybe Edna Mode (The Incredibles) is right and capes are a bad idea. But that’s another story.

So in short, being in this position feels awful, frustrating, disheartening and often pointless. So it can’t be about feeling, it has to be about logic and about experience. And we’re back to trusting a process, trusting a plan and ticking things off until failing outright turns into failing a little less and then turns into completing and then into doing well and eventually into enjoying. I know that’s how it works, I’ve done this before. One day and one step at a time. Hope?

Run 2 of Week 2

Happy International Cat Day from our 4 boys. I did run 2 of week 2 with Kath early this morning before it got too hot. Bloody hell 3 minutes is a long time when you’re unfit and trying to run uphill. Even thinking of it as an upwards flat section which usually makes me giggle didn’t really help. But there we are, run done. When we got back we figured we might as well do our other exercises while we were already sweaty.

I had a 30 minute endurance workout and it didn’t really go to plan. Well it did, in that I did a 30 minute workout. But my music app stop working after 2 songs leaving me with no music and just my outrageous breathing to listen to. I don’t run with music – I like the sounds around me, particularly the bird song etc and I like to hear others coming. But the idea of doing a strength or endurance workout without music is just miserable. I could have paused the workout I think and sorted the music but that didn’t occur to me until later. Then my arms did not want to play at all. Does that just mean I used them properly during my run? I nearly face planted after 15 seconds of high plank which I am sure would have been hilarious for anyone watching. My legs were also a bit tired so the workout was a struggle and had I had the energy I might have sworn quite a lot. I have a rest day tomorrow although if I am awake early I might like to do the next run on the list.

After a shower and a delicious breakfast of griddled nectarines, asparagus, parma ham and burrata we enjoyed the morning sun with a coffee before springing into action. Kath washed and polished the car and I cleaned our BBQ ready for lunch. Kath made a lovely apple coleslaw to go with some pork steaks and we sat on our patio soaking up the sun and having lunch using our Disney picnic set. It cheered me up. With the January Disney trip cancelled I am missing the planning, the booking restaurants, the anticipation and the coming together of plans as the holiday draws nearer. We would be in full blown restaurant booking mode now, possibly hunting for particular time slots in particular places – like a California Grill reservation that ensures we can watch the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from the roof terrace. Anyway, going full Disney for lunch was nice.

We’ve been trying new food ideas out this week. Mostly they come from the Joe Wicks books. This isn’t about dieting or losing weight but about getting the food right to feel healthy and strong. We have both been dipping in energy levels massively in the afternoon and Kath in particular noticed that her fuelling isn’t right for her running. So we have tried to plan food for the week to link to the exercise we’re doing and see if that helps. So far the recipes we have tried have been really good and not difficult or time consuming to make. It’ll be good to add some new things to our usual list. I’ll let you know how we get on.

So overall today has felt like an overall positive day. No major slumps in energy or in mood. I am tired now but a normal sort of tired, not a crap day sort of tired. I’m not saying I have settled into being on leave fully but I do think I am winding down properly. And I also think running first thing helps. And maybe sleeping outside in the summer house adds to the feeling of adventure and relaxation – hedgehogs certainly do!

Thinking, Planning, Panicking…

ZeEF%DznSiO%e%mKWvVt+QRight, well, it seems I didn’t dream signing up for another marathon. Oh well. It’s taking a little time to fully sink in and I am still not entirely sure how I feel about it. I went for a little walk/run up towards the Moor earlier but turned off to run/walk a loop rather than straight up and back down when I saw how many people were walking up/down the road to Keighley Gate. As I was walking I was thinking about the 2021 Walt Disney World Marathon and how on earth to get ready for it.  26.2 miles is just such a bloody long way. Remember what I said after London when I was reflecting on the things I learned out on that course? I said ‘You have to really want it’. After Dopey 2019 I said ‘I am really not a marathon runner’, after London 2016 I said I was done with the distance and after Dopey 2016 I said ‘I have done a marathon! And yes it was awful for the most part…’. After every marathon I have had both a sense of achievement and the sense that I could do better. I have also felt like I didn’t really want to do another one even though I am yet to run one where everything comes together in really good conditions. Dopey 1 was overwhelming, London 1 was ok but with patches of feeling poorly and was too soon after Dopey, that same pattern repeated in 2019 (but you can’t choose when you get a London place!) and Dopey 2019 was close to perfect but marathon day was so hot… London 2019 was just horrible…

I have been thinking about all of this and wondering whether I want another 26.2 enough. I think I do – we’ll see as time goes on I guess. My Dopey 2019 marathon is the fasted I have done at 6.18.49. Part of me really really wants to go under 6 hours and London 2019 suggested that was within reach until I fell. Anyway, while I was thinking about that I was also thinking about my training plan. I was settled on the Disney plan until my silly little brain caught me off guard. As I was thinking about the plan it occurred to me that running two 30-45 minute runs during the week and then a long run at the weekend getting longer every 2 weeks was actually not a huge amount of training. I panicked about whether that’s going to be enough, whether I need more. But then I remembered the London training plan I used last time – it didn’t work for me. It was too hard (mentally I guess) so I ended up skipping runs and going in under trained. If I can stick to the Disney plan, I can run the marathon. I know this. So I tried to put that particular little wobble to bed.

Then came the next one. I have been struggling for motivation. I feel like I was waiting R3NzJfMTTuK8GnIFHbqsnAfor the plan to start and didn’t quite know what to do with myself in the 6 weeks before that. Rather than taking pressure off it seemed to be putting it on. I felt like I needed to be somehow ‘plan ready’ although I have no clue what I think that means. That feeling lost and not knowing where to start was so overwhelming that yesterday I never made it out for my run in spite of having looked forward to it all Friday. So today I had a little re-think. There is no reason why the plan can’t be extended a little. It would solve to things that we’re obviously bothering me. First it would solve the waiting and being plan ready problem. If the plan starts now, the plan starts now. Second, it would allow me to build in some consolidation. I like the plan because it is gentle in one sense. It has a long run and the week after drops to low mileage at the weekend and then increases mileage the next weekend and so on. It’s like one week on and one week off. However, the mileage on the ‘on’ weekends increases pretty relentlessly and arguable in relatively big jumps. Looking at it jumping from 15 to 17 seems like big jump, never mind 17 to 20 miles. I have re-written the plan, starting this coming week and have added some repeats of distances at regular intervals to consolidate and build confidence.

The reason I like a plan is the same reason I like rules – so I can do something different… No, more seriously, the only thing that makes me less likely to run than having a plan is to not have one. If I have a plan I tend to do something even if I am constantly changing the plan, moving things around and making a new plan. If I don’t have a plan I don’t run in any way consistently at all and consistency is going to be key. So while I have mapped out each week until marathon day, I fully expect things to change, for me to decide I don’t need a consolidation week at a particular distance and just crack on, just to find that the next distance seems impossible and needs doing more than once. I feel happier now there is contingency built in for niggles, colds, can’t be bothered days and I didn’t quite make the distance runs. It feels safe. And maybe because of the current situation with Covid-19 or maybe just because I no longer have the luxury of not really knowing what a marathon entails, having a safe feeling training plan is important. Without it I simply won’t go out as much as I need to.

jtHQDqJPRue1IKKqqBGavQSo, week by week rather than in bigger chunks I will share my plan with you and then check back in to see how I am doing with it. Oh and I am bringing back Sunday Weigh-Ins. Expect I will do them on Monday mornings because I don’t want to ruin Sundays! I usually get some stick about talking about weight loss and weighing myself etc so before you feel the need to get in touch, let me be clear, this is not about being thinner or looking any different, it’s simply that I know what running feels like at this weight and at my, let’s call it Dopey weight and the latter is significantly easier. I have more to say on running while fat but that’s another post. For now, here’s the plan for the coming week:

  1. Monday – 30-45 minute run: Run the long way round to the Co-op to get some shopping
  2. Wednesday – 30 -45 minute run: Head up the hill for at least 30 minutes and try some run/walk rather than just walking up, then run down pushing the pace a little
  3. ‘Long’ run Saturday – 3 miles so maybe get up early enough to run the sheep look without fear of people.
  4. Yoga of some kind every day

 

Spring time lockdown running

Ok, let’s have a post that’s actually about how the running is going shall we. The last run I wrote about was the run that didn’t go to plan. Honestly, getting out and running has been a struggle. After that run and the fall I didn’t make it out for just over a week. Partly I was sensible and waited for the worst to heal and partly it was an excuse. I was anxious about running. I was anxious about people, I was frustrated with my spectacular lack of fitness and motivation. Recovering from a fall is a legitimate thing to do… but not for weeks on end.

But in the end the pull of the bluebells was too strong. Kath had been telling me about them, how gorgeous they were and how the mix of bluebell and wild garlic is just so evocative of here, of home. I dragged my butt out of bed early to make sure people wouldn’t be an issue and then we set off on a tentative run/walk to the wood. We walked the narrow path through the bluebells and it was a stunning morning and absolutely worth getting up.

I managed a repeat early start a couple of days later allowing me to run our sheep loop without worrying about people on the canal towpath. It was really hard and my ankle was stiff – it has been on and off since the fall but seemed particularly bad that morning. My hay fever symptoms were also through the roof making breathing a bit tricky. Still, early mornings along the canal with ducklings and lambs and busy little birds everywhere is always worth it. Just need to remember that.

I had another couple of short 2 mile-ish outings at the end of April. I’ve been trying to play with intervals and other things to focus on because my brain has once again decided that I can’t run at all. Some of the runs have been 30/30 intervals which is fine but feels stop start at the beginning and then doesn’t actually seem to get me much further in terms of endurance. Instead I have tried to sometimes run for the first mile and then pick landmarks, other times to run to a certain landmark or place before dropping into run/walk intervals (this used to be mentally different from running a certain distance but I am now getting to know the distance of those points so it’s not working as well as it was) or running for a certain amount of time – just to give my brain something else to think about before it spirals off into ‘you can’t do this so why bother’ mode.

For my first May run I decided to go up towards Ilkley Moor. I have never actually been able to run all the way up but I certainly can’t now so my plan for that particular route at the moment is to walk up to the top and then run back down. I was thinking that doing it once a week would be good. It’s a pull and if I do it every week I will start to feel the benefits of the hill on the up and running down gives me change to get used to running at a slightly faster pace than I could manage on a flat or undulating route. I had 2 miles up and 2 miles down in my head and enjoyed the lapwings and curlews as I walked up. As I got to about 1.75 miles I could see people up ahead and it started raining. The rain was actually lovely but the prospect of catching up with the people, passing them and then doing the same again not long after as I turned round did not seem appealing. I turned early and gently jogged down in the rain. It was gorgeous.

My other two May runs so far have been short. I wrote about yesterday’s run last night. It was a tough run. I have really struggle to run continuously. A few days ago I went out and decided I would try and run 15 minutes continuously, whatever the pace. I made it to just over 17 minutes at a painfully slow trot. Yesterday I wanted to run the loop as far as the bottom of the steep hill to come back up home. I nearly gave up so many times but the reason for running was at the forefront of my mind – particularly because I was/am still not entirely comfortable with it all. It seemed wrong to not make it to the hill. Disrespectful somehow. I made it, so just over 21 minutes of continuous running and I even managed a few more little bursts of running on the way home which is not something I have managed recently.

So why the continuous running at the moment? I know I am not running with great form, that I should work much more on strengthening and building up the muscles to run properly and that I don’t have the strength to run for more than about 30 seconds in proper running form… Yep I know. I know that I am increasing the injury risk. I know I am not running efficiently and I know that I am probably undoing some of the work towards good running form that I had put in. But honestly, my brain is full. I don’t want to go out to run thinking carefully about form. I don’t want to run concentrating hard on knee lift and foot placement. I barely have the brain power to make myself go out at all. I am already thinking more than I want to about possible routes and how to avoid people. I don’t want to think about running. I want to run so I don’t have to think. I want to run to give my brain a rest. Now is not the time for me to be worrying about perfect form. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s important or that I am ignoring it totally. I have short bursts during my runs where I try and concentrate on form. I am also doing some of my exercises some of the time. Right now though, the relaxation yoga, the stretching, the breathing and the being able to run continuously are more important for me to stay mentally healthy. If running right now was just about drills and form and strength exercises I wouldn’t be running and that doesn’t seem like a good option.

Running feels different. It is back as something I want to do rather than something I feel like I should. It’s that old favourite book which just sits and waits to be picked up again and while for now I am content flicking through it, gently reminding myself of the favourite bits, the easy passages within it, the chapters with which I feel at ease, I am beginning to wait for the next phase. I am waiting for the little hint of ambition, the readiness to tackle the more difficult passages, the willingness to get stuck in and work harder, the wish to be more systematic and focused, to start at the beginning and work towards the end of volume 1, chapter by chapter. It’s there in the background. I can feel myself mentally preparing for it without really being conscious of it at all. One day soon I’ll wake up ready to once again become a runner.

2.23 miles and virtue signalling

Oh, it seems I haven’t posted anything since I had my fall. I have been a bit rubbish at writing – not just this blog, generally. It’s not so much a question of time as headspace. Anyway, hands and knee/shin healed well. I haven’t run many miles at all but I am getting out more regularly with 9 runs in April as opposed to the 6 in January and March and 1 in February and in May I have been out 3 times so far. But that’s not really what I wanted to write about this evening.

This evening Kath and I went out for 2.23 miles to take part in the #IRunWithAhmaud or #IRunWithMaud thing happening today. For those of you not aware of this, you might like to look at the Guardian Article here. Ahmaud was a young black man who went for a run in what is described as a white neighbourhood in Georgia in the US and was shot by two white men, father and son, who decided he looked guilty of something or other or maybe just fancied shooting a black man that day. This happened in February (on the 23rd, hence the 2.23 miles) and until now the two men guilty of the shooting hadn’t been arrested. I think this piece on the shooting by Alison Mariella Désir is worth reading.

I was thinking about #IRunWithMaud all day, for the last few days really. I wondered why I hadn’t heard more about his murder, why this was not on my radar, why it took until the end of April for me to really know about this. I wondered what running 2.23 miles today really means and I wondered that in the context of VE Day, clapping for the NHS and a national feel where virtue signalling increasingly is everything but means nothing. I thought about the many people who yesterday stood on their doorsteps clapping the NHS and today abandoned social distancing to have weird nostalgic and to me rather sinister street parties to celebrate some weird notion of the end of a war they mostly know nothing about.

So having made my position of clapping and VE day pretty clear all round – what on earth am I doing running 2.23 today? Am I not just engaging in a rather similar totally meaningless virtue signalling sort of exercise? Isn’t that what this is? What can a white woman with no connection to Ahmaud Arbery running 2.23 miles in northern England possibly mean. What does posting the fact that I have run the distance and tagging it with the designated # on all the social media accounts (I haven’t) achieve other than show a few of you that I did it and reaffirm what you hopefully already know – that I think a world where Ahmaud Arbery was killed because of the colour of his skin is a fucked up world.

As a white woman with no experience that possibly comes close to what it feels like to be a black runner in Georgia, isn’t running 2.23 today a little off? What does it mean? Is it something I should simply let others do and support but leave well alone as not mine. Or is it a question of the more support from the running community the better. I don’t have the answer. Questions, emotions, not conformable ones, but difficult, awkward, what’s my role in the whiteness of running here on the outskirts of Bradford sort of questions have been with me all day. Questions that won’t go away however much I shrug my shoulders and come up with the ‘yeah but I don’t run with people or a club anyway, I run alone or with Kath and just for me’ excuse. It’s a pathetic excuse. I am still part of a running community that is overwhelmingly white and I am keenly aware that often I have to force myself to see that whiteness and question it.

In the end I decided that going out and running 2.23 was somehow important. It felt important to acknowledge the fact that I can go out as the sun gets ready to set and not risk my life. I’m still not entirely sure this isn’t some sort of virtue signalling but all I can do is what I feel is the right thing to do – and I tried.