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.
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.
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.
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.
I have not been running to a plan at all lately but theoretically my 10k plan starts tomorrow. It’s a plan from a Runners World I think and I like it because it has 3 runs a week on it. I might run more, I might not but experience has shown that when I have a training plan with more than three runs a week I tend to not manage it and end up missing key elements of the plan – like the speed sessions. So with three runs a week – most of the time split into one long, one pace practice or speed and one easy, I am more confident that I can stick to the plan as well as fit in the sessions with RunRight and some yoga.
Kath is in the process of adding a new spreadsheet to our files to track our 2020 miles for the #Run1000Miles challenge. I’m excited about having a blank sheet to work with! If you haven’t heard of this or signed up, do it. Have a look at the Trail Running Magazine website for info and get yourself into the Facebook Group for lots of advice, support and encouragement as well as pictures of stunning landscapes. It doesn’t matter whether you make the 1000 miles or not. It’s a fabulous challenge and I still think that for me it is doable. I managed 500 miles with a rather last minute 7 miles on New Year’s eve in 2017 and then I ran over 800 miles in 2018 and am at just over 500 miles for 2019. So I am again setting my target for 2020 at 1000 miles. I need just a little more consistency.
So really I am writing for accountability – Either tomorrow or Tuesday (tomorrow may be tricky as we have a funeral to go to) I need to get my moomin butt our for 40 – 60 minutes of easy running. Obviously for me that means run/walking. My easy running is basically walking so I shall be giving myself a break and accepting that while earlier this year I could run a long way without walk breaks that is no longer the case and intervals are fine! I also need intervals at the moment because my calf muscles are protesting if I try anything more ambitious that running for about a minute at a time. Which brings me to the next paragraph.
The other thing I really need to and want to do as I head into this training programme is doing all the things that are so easily neglected. I want to keep doing the yoga after running to stretch out everything that is pulling tight. My calves are suffering but I suspect that the cause is really my hamstrings which seem ridiculously tight. And then there’s the strength exercises and sessions with RunRight which I will pick up again mid January when I am back from a workshop in Germany. The sessions that is, the exercises I need to seriously pick up today really – I have been doing some of them some of the time and I was giving myself a break because everything was just so impossible (thanks black pup) but we are now in excuses territory!
So please do keep reminding me to do yoga and exercises, keep asking me about them and holding me accountable. In particular remind me that I want to do them because they make me a better runner. I am actually not at all keen on gym related stuff or on strength work or any of that – except of course I like feeling strong and capable and I totally get that that takes work so I need reminding that while I might not like the process I do like the result and I usually enjoy having done it even if I don’t enjoy doing it. I also say that about running of course so maybe one day I will actually enjoy a strength and conditioning type session while I am doing it rather than just afterwards. Who knows.
This is my birthday present! How awesome is this. But now I have to decide which of the races to do – Mickey’s marathon, Donald’s half or both for the Goofy or do I add the 5k and 10k in too and make it Dopey number 3? My heart is of course saying Dopey. Dopey is my thing, my impossible, it’s Dopey. Even having done it twice three years apart I can’t actually believe I have done it. Dopey is something special and of course I want to do it again. So now would be a really good time to remind myself why, after the last time, I said I was (probably) done with Dopey. I think this is maybe one of those occasions where I need to be more sensible. The getting up early and waiting around wasn’t fun and the 4 day challenge took an awful lot out of us and also out of our holiday. We either go to do Dopey or we go for a Disney holiday – I’m not sure both works.
So that leaves the Goofy challenge but I was also pretty categorical about not wanting to do another road marathon. Ok so for the Disney marathon I wouldn’t be doing it alone. Kath would be with me and there is something absolutely fab about running through each of the theme parks but there are long long stretches which are on pretty boring roads. So if I am not actually doing Dopey then I see no point in running 26.2 miles at all. I’m not bothered about Goofy. If I am going to train to run a half and full marathon back to back I might as well add a 5k and 10k… So
Well really that means decision made – half marathon it is. It is my favourite race distance. It’s a proper challenge. You have to respect the distance – well I do anyway – you can’t just go and run it but training for it doesn’t take over your life and running the race doesn’t take over the holiday – or even the day of the race – we will be done before breakfast. This sounds like the sensible plan, the thing to do, the thing that will actually be most fun all round – for training, for running, for playing in the parks… but there is a tiny bit of me that will always have my heart set on Dopey, those 6 medals and that feeling of just having achieved the impossible.
So that’s Christmas 2019 done. It has been a quiet one. After a Christmas Eve pottering about in the kitchen making oatcakes, the last batch of mince pies, chocolate mousse for our Christmas day pudding and what turned out to be delicious braised red cabbage, Christmas day started slowly. We woke up later than we normally do, had two cups of tea and mince pies in bed before opening our presents from each other. Then we set off for our Christmas day trot – our sheep loop backwards to end up at Kath’s mum’s for bacon sarnies and more presents.
The run was lush. Slow and with plenty of walking because my calves are still playing silly buggers and my feet aren’t much better either but we ran down to the canal. We were treated to an absolutely gorgeous sunrise with stunning colours. We stopped for a photo and as we set off again Kath spotted some deer. We stopped to watch them a little while and then were about to set off again (again) and I saw the blue flash of a kingfisher streaking through the air. It landed on a branch just a little further along the canal and we slowly walked towards it watching it. Such a stunning sight. Eventually it flew off and we went on our way too following it and being lucky enough to catch it take off and land further along a couple more times.
The rest of the stretch along the canal was a pleasant plod as we chatted, said Merry Christmas to the ducks and made the one or two dog walkers we met smile with our Santa hats bobbing along. We crossed the bridge over the canal and started walking up the hill. We stopped to watch squirrels and small birds and then saw a woodpecker. As we reached the top of the golf course we met a dog and his human who cheerily informed us that he had already escaped the kids to the lovely peace and quiet of the outdoors. As we made our way out of the wood at the other end we met some more dogs one of which was terrified of us in our Santa hats and after staring at us for a while she pinned her ears back and ran past us as fast as she could.
The rest of Christmas day was basically making food and eating food. Then came my birthday and another morning of tea and mince pies in bed. Eventually we got going and set off to Bolton Abbey for our Boxing Day/ my birthday trot round the Strid Wood/Aquaeduct loop. My calves were not playing in spite of starting with intervals. I made it run/walk about a mile before I admitted defeat and we walked the rest of the loop. Still, somewhere along that first mile I hit the 500 miles for the year. I should of course be excited about that. 500 miles is a lot of miles but it’s bitter sweet. At the start of the year double that number was on the cards. I was running the weekly miles needed with ease and was having fun. And then I wasn’t – running or having fun and getting to 500 miles seemed unlikely – so I am pleased to have got there. Anyway, I’ll leave the reflections on my 500 miles til the next post maybe.
I am sort of ready to end this running year, to re-set and start again, to work with the excitement of the endless possibilities a blank spreadsheet and no miles on the clock for the new year brings. The thrill of runs not yet had and adventures not yet started, the fun of planning, the routine of sticking to the plans and the rebelliousness of changing plans, breaking the rules and doing something different. I will end the year on 500 and a few miles but next year just imagine… maybe I will run 1000, maybe I won’t run 500 but just imagine the adventures that await.
I did something today I haven’t done for ages: Instead of walking to where I needed to be, I ran there. Ok so it was a mile and a quarter going the long way round to my Mum’s but just last week I would have dropped in on my way to or back from somewhere as I drove past or at a push I might have walked. It’s all downhill really and I walked back up… see what my brain is doing here? It’s focused on the negative, on the ‘I never do this’, the ‘I walked back’ and the ‘It was only a mile’. Well sod off brain because it was a rather marvellous mile and a bit.
I packed my little red rucksack with an extra top to put on for the walk back up, a few bits and bobs I wanted to take to Mum’s and a lunchbox filled with mince pies and then I set off in the rain and made my way down the hill. The rain was blowing in my face with the cold droplets nipping at my face but still my breathing settled quickly, movement felt smooth and my feet light on the ground. It felt like running. The good running, the running that makes you want to go out again and again. There was no tightness in my calves and no sore feet. I stopped thinking about running and my mind drifted off enjoying its own journey.
It’s quite amazing how much you can think about in roughly a mile and a quarter. I picked up a thread of a thought I had a couple of months ago when Kath and I drove up to Keswick and walked round Derwentwater. It’s about running and favourite books. The thought struck me again as I reached the bottom of Ilkley Road and turned left to continue down our hill: Once you have some experience of running, running isn’t something you have to start again as such. It’s like going back to an old favourite book. You might not remember the storyline, you might not remember details or what happens next or who is who but it’s nonetheless familiar and comforting. It’s also a little irritating because you’ve read it before and it feels like you should remember but don’t quite or you misremember and get something wrong but fundamentally things come back to you more quickly the more you have read the book. You can skim bits, you don’t have to read things in order, you could skip to a favourite chapter and go backwards to read it again later. Going back to running after having some time out is the same.
No really it is. The act of running is familiar. The movement, the feeling in my lungs as I get out of breath pushing up the slope, the relief of air being sucked in as it levels off, the instinctive placing of my feet (in still awful running form – but that will change) and the feel of my muscles working and eventually the reminder (though not today) that there are plenty of weak spots to be worked on as something or another begins to tighten or niggle. I know this, I understand this. I have been here before and I got from here to Dopey fitness and to more and more effortless running. But the purpose is not the race at the end of a training plan or to be able to run a mile in a certain time or to be able to keep going for a certain distance. That’s not a reason to run. Like reading where the purpose is not to finish the book but to savour the story, running is also about the story. If the story about getting from A to B on a single run or from A to B in terms of a fitness goal isn’t a good, happy, healthy and fun story then what’s the point of having got to B?
So here’s the story of today’s A to B. It was a mile and a quarter – roughly. I have no idea how fast it was because I still don’t feel like knowing. I didn’t wear my watch. The cold rain made me happy and I missed it when I turned the corner and it came from behind me. Running downhill was easy and I felt effortless until the last few steps of the slope upwards when I realised that I a) had no real idea of how I’d got there b) was quite puffed and c) was too warm in my waterproof jacket. I turned again, went down a little baby hill and a long very very slight downhill slope, the rain was back in my face and all was fine again. My whole run was set to the rhythm and sound of the mince pies bouncing about in their box in my bag as I ran and I laughed at the thought of them being bounced into tiny little pieces. Almost disappointingly they were fine. I crossed the road, sidestepped one and jumped another puddle, got to the traffic lights and caught a glimpse of my rainbow laces as I waited for the lights to change. I smiled and that smile carried me to my destination.