Heron, Kingfisher, cows and adventures

After a totally inactive week I was actually looking forward to a run. I did run on Tuesday and Thursday this week with Thursday being a bit of a crap run with lots of walking. Still, technically I am on plan but having spent most of the week sitting on my arse on the sofa had made me stiff and achey. The plan has us running an hour today and an hour tomorrow. We decided we wanted to run together so I suggested doing the sheep/trail/canal route but backwards. I am keenly aware that I avoid going up hill as much as I can and that I need to keep trying. So the planned route was to run down to the canal, along the canal towards Silsden and then cross the canal at the farm/few houses about 2.5 miles in. Then the route goes across three fields, into the wood, up a steepish trail through the wood, through a field and through the old Riddlesden golf course and back home following the last part of our ‘sheep loop backwards’ route. The route would have me running a fair amount of flat to just practice keeping going, some uneven paths – also good for just keeping going, then a steepish walk uphill and then some downhill running through the field/golf course and then back up. It’s probably about 5 miles ish so would take me a little over an hour but it’s a nice circular route.

It all went to plan for a while. I ran the first two miles quite speedily for me at just a smidge over 12 minute mile pace (12.03 and 12.09) and the 3rd which had the uneven bits and a few brief stops while Kath opened gates at 13 minute mile pace. We saw a heron along the canal and a little further on we saw a kingfisher – such amazing creatures. I was really happy with the first 5km – might not look it, but I was!

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The walk up the hill was also fairly positive and Kath took the two woodland pics below as we reached the top. Then we climbed over the stile in the wall into the field and I was quite looking forward to a little jog down and then hitting the golf course and turning for home. But there were cows. Frisky looking cows and they had little ones. We didn’t fancy making our way through a field with cows and calves so we climbed back over the wall and looked for an alternative route. We found a sort of path running parallel with the field wall. It was steep in places and clearly not much used. I am such a downhill wimp! We walked almost all of this and there were a lot of sections where I picked my way down very slowly holding on to trees for support but I also began to realise that my shoes were gripping and I was ok. I got a little more confident as we went on. Towards the bottom we even had a little jog when we spotted a gate into a field that ran down to the canal bank and a bridge across the canal. However when we got to the bridge, the gate blocking the path off the bridge was locked and not climbable because it was reinforced with barbed wire. We found another gate and entered another bit of wood and found another gate which turned out to lead to the field we often see a heron in from the other side of the canal. The field is actually much bigger than I realised and we jogged straight across to investigate getting over the wall at the other side which would take us into a little wood/nature reserve from where we could pick up the path home.

I was struggling a little here. My hip was beginning to niggle a little as we walked up the hill along the wall and I felt a bit apprehensive about climbing the wall, what would be on the other side, whether cows could come down the open gate into the field we were in and whether we were going to be shouted at by landowners. Kath found a spot where the wall was relatively easily climbable and once on the other side we made our way through the wood. It took a little bit of scrambling through the undergrowth until we eventually found the path. Then we had a little jog out of the wood, walked up the golf course, and jogged to the sheep field and fed Dino before jogging home. Our Garmin’s have a bit of a disagreement. According to mine I did 6.2 miles with a moving time of just over an hour and a half  and according to Kath’s we did 6.55 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 49. Doesn’t really matter. We were out for just over 2 hours and my feet and ankles got a work out on the uneven ground and I am pleased with how much grip my Mizuno trainers have. I wasn’t so sure about them as we were making our way along the canal but was so glad I’d worn them as I “bambied” my way down the trails and through the woods.

Anyway, I have bramble scratches down my legs so I must be a proper trail runner now.

 

Can we talk about dogs please

Actually, can we talk about dog owners please. I am scared of dogs. Let’s just get that out there. No particular reason as far as I know. I like dogs. If we had more time at home we’d have a dog and I am generally fine with dogs I know. However, dogs I don’t know freak me out a bit (a lot). I didn’t grow up with dogs. Horses and cats I can read, sheep I learned to understand but dogs I find harder to gauge. I have a really simple plea to dog owners: Please accept that some people are scared of your dog. It doesn’t matter how friendly it is, accept that some people cannot read your dog, cannot tell whether it is friendly or playful or aggressive and attacking. Please accept that it is your responsibility to have your dog under control, completely under control. Please realise that it is not my responsibility to hurdle your dog on a footpath, for me to stop mid run so your dog doesn’t get over excited or for me to work out how I can get round you and your dog without getting tangled up in the lead. It’s yours.

Today was going to be a good run. We were doing a 45 minute run with a magic mile. Neither of us felt great but I was just nicely settling into a rhythm of the faster mile and thinking that I felt pretty strong and could push a little more maybe as we passed a woman with 2 larger and 2 smaller dogs. One of the small ones was on a lead, the others were ‘free range’. The woman was busy looking at her phone and texting or whatever. She and her dogs were taking up the entire path which was, at this point, wide. We moved to the other side of the path but two of the dogs in particular were quite excited about us running. I was getting anxious but tried to keep going and ignore them. I tripped over the little one. Kept going. Kath pretty much ran into the bigger one as it veered right in front of her and then turned to look at me. The little one got under my feet again and when the bigger one came towards me I freaked. I stopped and said ‘Sorry I can’t run with the dogs around me like this’. Kath asked the woman to get her dogs under control. She simply replied ‘If you’d just kept going it wouldn’t be an issue’. Kath pointed out that we couldn’t keep going because her dogs were tripping us up. All the while the little thing was jumping up at my leg. She got her dogs over to her and snapped ‘Well are you going to go then’. We set off again but my systems were on high alert and I couldn’t run sensibly. I went too fast and then had to walk and couldn’t breathe and was all tense…

We abandoned the magic mile. I was grumpy and upset as we walked for a while but then thought, well, I’m out, I’m running, this doesn’t have to be a disaster. Kath also kept encouraging me and in the end I decided to try and run some more of the hills on the course. When we turned off over the canal to head up to the former golf course I didn’t stop just after the bridge but kept going up a bit. After a bit of a walk I tried another bit of hill, then another little walk and then more hill. I began to feel more positive about the run. We stopped to feed Dino and then plodded home. I was determined to run up Ilkley Road again and made it – with a new personal best on that stretch.

So all is fine really but I am still cross with that woman and her dogs. Particularly because I then saw in a Facebook Group that someone  was bitten by a dog while out running yesterday and someone else in that group hasn’t run since May following a dog incident. What is striking is that every dog incident I read about shares one thing – the owners are totally unconcerned. Usually the runners is blamed or dismissed as dramatic and always always always there are excuses like ‘Well he doesn’t bite’ or ‘She’s friendly’ or ‘She just wants to play’. It also occurred to me that there is one road/track that could really usefully extend some of my routes that I don’t run because I know there are dogs on that route that get out and are not under control.

So, dog owners. I am more than happy for you to be out with your dogs. I am also happy to stop and walk past you if you have a nervous, young or excitable dog – but you do need to communicate that to me and you need to have the dog under control and with you for that to work. I don’t give two hoots whether your dog is friendly or not, I don’t want it anywhere near me when I’m running. I don’t want to hurdle your small dog or be pushed off the path by your big one. I don’t want to have to untangle myself from your lead because your darling pooch has run circles round me. I don’t want to have to buy a new pair of pants because your dog has clawed a hole into my current ones and I don’t want to have to use gallons of stain remover to get the paw marks out of my gear.  I just want to use the footpath to run my run and leave you and your dog(s) to your day. Trust me, my heart rate is high enough when I am running, I don’t need you or your dog to send my system into flight mode.

To that woman on the canal bank today: Thanks for nearly ruining my run. A year or so ago you would have done. Today though, I am proud – not only did I run the hills, I’m also mentally so much stronger than I was!

1 hour solitary plod

I feel pretty good after my 7 miles yesterday – maybe a huge pub lunch, chocolate cake and later Victoria sponge birthday cake is actually perfect recovery food (hm). However, I started my period this morning and I hate running during the first couple of days of my period. I feel about a stone heavier than I actually am,  bloated, unfocussed and often my back and tummy are achey and sometimes cramp-y and spasm-y. So when I got up I wasn’t hugely looking forward to running for an hour. I did want to go though and I wanted to plod on my own. Kath set off about 5 or ten minutes before me and went up the hill – she had an awesome run easily banging out 5 miles while watching wildlife and taking pictures on Ilkley Moor. I went the other way – I didn’t fancy all the uphill.

I plodded along our usual sheep loop, turned right along the canal. Turned round at the stone bridge and came back the other way to Leach Bridge where I crossed, walked up the big hill and then waddled the rest home. It was just short of 4.5 miles. Once I’d settled in a little bit – after half a mile maybe, I started to feel better all round. I still felt like I needed a wheelbarrow for my belly but maybe a wheelbarrow with a racing wheel. With every step the tension in my lower back eased and the tummy cramps disappeared completely. I wasn’t paying attention to pace. I could go faster I think but I couldn’t be bothered to concentrate on going faster. I was happy to plod and look around.

I didn’t see much in terms of livestock or wildlife though. I somehow managed to sneak up on a blackbird having a bath in a puddle. It flew off complaining. I passed our ram and said hello but he wasn’t interested, he barely looked up from his bit of grass. On the opposite side of the path some of this year’s fat lambs watched me pass, keeping a safe distance but definitely showing interest. Then I had to go uphill a bit so don’t remember seeing anything – except that some of the bricks that must have originally been part of a building in our old field or similar and are now embedded as part of the path at the bottom end seemed particularly red today.

Once at the top and through the wood I made my way down the former golf course. Now that it’s not being maintained as a gold course, the different types of grasses and other plants taking over make it a sea of different greens. I was concentrating on going downhill so didn’t look around as much as I should have. I reached the canal and turned right. A little further along there was some cows in the field but quite high up the field. There was what I thought was a curlew but I had to navigate past a couple of walkers and when I looked back I couldn’t see it anymore. I’m fairly sure it was a curlew but I’m more used to seeing them up on the moors.

I didn’t see a single duck. I really noticed their absence. I missed my personal little cheer squad. After yesterday’s run I wasn’t sure how I’d feel today and whether I’d want to run the one hour or run/walk it but I seemed to be quite happy plodding and not really thinking about anything. It didn’t occur to me once to walk. I was slightly concerned about my tummy but thought that I could always stop at Mum’s if things got really desperate and I also thought that if things got really hard I could also stop there for a drink and a rest. I also wasn’t quite sure about how far I’d be able to go in an hour and what route would be best so I had several options in mind.

I walked up the big hill. I had to stop briefly half way up to stretch out my calf muscles – on the right in particular. Once at the top I set off again and was pleased with how I then managed to keep running up Ilkley Road. I’m getting stronger! I timed it pretty well – an hour and 12 seconds or something was my moving time according to my Garmin.

Rest day tomorrow. Yay.

Oh and the scales aren’t broken. I lost a pound which is much better than putting on a pound but quite frankly it’s just great to not see that bloody same number again!

 

7 miles – mostly awesome with a little bit of awful

I am actually sort of sticking to our training plan at the moment. Not always exactly but I am getting the runs in, I am stretching fairly consistently and I’ve done the strength exercises several times this last week. Today’s run was to be 7 miles. Well, I haven’t run 7 miles in one go since last September at the Disneyland Paris half marathon. I have run more than 7 miles in a day three times since then I think but split into several runs (like at Endure 24). I am a bugger for avoiding hills so my instinct is always to go for my long runs along the canal. Kath, sensibly, has other ideas. Running on the flat will not prepare me for the Lakeland Trails events! I need to do some undulations at least. With that in mind we headed to Bolton Abbey for the 7 miles today.

It was nice running weather, not too warm but not cold and it stayed dry. The recent rain means that there was a lot of river coming down the river (as it were) and the noise from the Wharfe was quite deafening in places and sat in contrast to the still sections we passed later on where the dominant sound was birdsong. We walked up the first slope to get going and then set off. We’d agreed to go for intervals and while my default has been 2 minute runs with 1 minute walks for ages I know that I can do better than that and have just fallen into the habit of having 1 minute walk breaks. We therefore settled on 30 seconds walks. That was absolutely fine and in spite of hills I felt strong until just after 4 miles when I began to feel it a little. At just before mile 5 there was a short sharp downhill that is steep. It’s also concrete rather than the gravel-y path you find in most places there and it felt slippery. I went into wimp mode and walked very tentatively (idiot!), then I slipped slightly and panicked and froze completely. I physically couldn’t move. Kath had to come back and manoeuvre me onto the verge where my trail shoes could do their thing. Safely down and somewhat calmer we continued our run/walk (with a bit of extra ‘walk’) until just about 6 miles. The last mile we ran non-stop. We looped round the car park a couple of times to get to the 7 miles but it felt good to finish strong. Even though my legs were tired at the end they’ve recovered well throughout the day and I am looking forward to our 1 hour run tomorrow.

I was tuned into sound today rather than anything else. Kath saw the back end of a deer disappear into the wood, I missed it. I also missed other things she saw but I seemed to spend most of the loop listening the changing sounds coming from the river. The stillness in some sections, the gentle lapping of little waves in others and the thunder of the choppy sections. I was obviously in listening rather than seeing mode.

I ran on empty this morning. I did take a little water bottle and a porridge bar just in case but didn’t feel like I needed either. So 7 miles on empty is fine (I did eat sensibly and hydrate quite well yesterday I think). Anyway, good running day which we followed with good pub grub and cake for Mum’s birthday!

Running through Footnotes

Footnotes is a remarkable book. Let’s start with that. As I plodded along at my slower than ‘politicians run marathons’ pace (see later in the post) last night I was thinking about the review I wanted to write. I didn’t really know whether it should go on my running blog or my academic blog so I’m putting it on both. As I turned left to avoid yet another uphill (and because it felt like a lovely random thing to do in the rain – getting lost on an estate just down the road from me) it struck me that the book has made such an impression on me because it’s about everything that makes me who I am. It’s about nature and running and literature and it’s about being an academic. Maybe not explicitly so but I think many academics, maybe particularly in the humanities and social sciences, will recognise so much of the emotion of this book. I now understand why Kath has been urging me to read the book ever since she picked it up some time ago.

My left turn was a mistake, or rather the almost immediate right turn I took after it was because I zigzagged down the hill and cut off the opportunity to zigzag back up without running the same road twice (Vybarr Cregan-Reid doesn’t like retracing steps either! I’m going with first name only for the rest of this post – hope he doesn’t mind – but surname just felt so academic and formal) so my legs stopped working and I had to walk. As I puffed up the hill I thought back to the beginning of the book. I am cautious about running books. I am sensitive about my running. I am so keenly aware that I am a rubbish runner and only slowly getting my head around the idea that it doesn’t matter. ‘I am lost on Peckham Rye’ is the opening sentence and from there I’m in. It’s a book about running and it starts with being lost. That means it can’t be a book about road running and races and going as fast as you can from A to B because people who do that sort of thing don’t get lost (maybe they do but I don’t think of them as the sort of people that go anywhere one could get lost). The book is full of the sort or running that instinctively makes sense to me – outdoors, connecting with nature, evoking landscape and literature, tapping into something that isn’t quite explainable.

There is a fair amount of explaining though and Vybarr explores the science of running in the book and I like that. I like to understand what is going on as I run, what individual bits of my body are doing and how that fits together, what I could (should?) be doing to help, how and why some runs are awesome but many just are. Why the first couple of miles often feel so hard, and why taking my shoes off on the beach and running barefoot was one of the hardest runs ever physically yet one of the best.  Some of the answers are in the book but it’s not sports science book. It doesn’t spoil the magic of running by over- analysing or over explaining. Vybarr, I think, accepts and knows that running is more than science, it’s also magic.

The sections on runners’ highs are fascinating and I agree that all the science on this still doesn’t really capture it. I’m also slightly envious that Vybarr seems to get to that runner’s high far more often than I do – mostly I don’t go far enough to get the full hit but I do think I sort of get a mini version of a runner’s high that kicks in immediately after running. Kath calls it my ‘she won’t stop talking’ phase when we run together. I don’t think I talk out loud when she’s not there but I wouldn’t bet on it. I do know that it is often the only time I really feel positive about my running, it’s where I feel strong and capable.

I’ve got up the hill and my legs don’t really want to get going again but on I go. I’m on an odd run for me. I didn’t really want to go and realised it was because Kath had been out at Bolton Abbey earlier in the day and I think I was envious of her running there and grumpy about having to run at home. So instead of going a usual route towards track, wood and eventually canal, I stayed on the roads and had a nosey round the local area. It was quite fun looking at gardens and little streets and alleys I don’t normally see but as I started a stretch of long straight road I thought about the importance of running in nature and how Vybarr captures the difference between running indoors or even in cities and running in green spaces so perfectly. I ran on the road and kept having to hop back onto the pavement to avoid cars. That’s what it felt like. How can a little residential estate be so busy? (Ok so there were maybe 6 cars in that 20 minute stretch but it felt like an assault on my running calm). Footnotes captures how important outside is and how treadmills have very little to do with real running! I may have got a little over excited at the mention of Foucault in the book – as I did with Bleak House and the other surprising number of law related references. I shall leave you to find the connections between treadmills and Foucault for yourself but I smiled as I thought about that on my run, quickened my step and turned off to cross the canal bridge and run at least a short section along the canal. I could feel the stress leaving me as I turned to run alongside ducks, one with what might be a third brood of tiny little ducklings, further along there were a couple of swans and I desperately looked around for a heron but couldn’t see one. I crossed at the next bridge still thinking about how wildlife and what I see or don’t see can sometimes have a huge impact on my run and am reminded of one of one of my favourite sections in the book – the razorbill on Lundy. I won’t spoil it for you – read it in the context of the chapter it’s in but think about this:

‘Sometimes they fly because they need to hunt, or migrate; sometimes it is only to enjoy the sensual excitement of flight. This is where the joy is to be found: in using ones’s body and its expressive impulse for its own sake, for no other outcome but itself.’

I plodded on still smiling from the memory of that passage mixed with my own memories of puffins on the Farne Islands and the graceful flight of gannets at Bempton Cliffs and pushed up a little slope and turned right – again unusual. Normally I’d walk up the big hill towards home now but I wasn’t quite done running yet. I glanced at my watch and chuckled at my pace. And as the pace sort of registered in my brain my stomach plummeted. There are two tiny little sections in the book that nearly ruined the entire thing for me. This is not really about the book, it says far more about me than anything else. On page 220 (obviously I don’t remember this while running!) there is one sentence that floored me. Vybarr describes what sounds like a stunning run from St Juliots in North Cornwall. I loved reading the description of the run, the links to literature (Hardy), the fact that it was a tough run and he needed a lift back to his car (this would happen to me all the time except that usually I just have to walk back because there’s nobody to come get me, or I have to get a bus or whatever) – all this resonates. Then the following line stopped me in my tracks ‘I later work out that I have been running 12-minute-miles – these are the sorts of times politicians manage in marathons’. I stared at the page for a bit. And then I stared a bit longer. Then I carefully put the postcard I’d been using as a bookmark into the book, closed it, put the book down and walked away. ‘Right, ok then’ I remember thinking ‘so this isn’t a book for me after all’. In my mind I have put it on the ‘books for proper runners and not me’ shelf, right alongside Run Fat Bitch Run (which you might recall I hated). Everything in the book had been speaking directly to me – almost as if the book had been written for me to remind me that how I think and feel about running is ok, it’s better than ok. That line shattered that. I nearly put it back on the shelf and didn’t finish it. I didn’t really quite understand how someone who could articulate so much of how I feel about running could be so utterly dismissive of 12-minute-miles. I tried to explain this through tears to Kath who simply said ‘yes I wondered when you’d get to that bit. I knew you wouldn’t like that’.

As I turn left to make myself run up a hill rather than avoid it I’m angry. 12-minute-miles are fast miles for me. Mostly I run slower than politicians manage in marathons. Sometimes I wish I didn’t but there it is, I do. Part of me wants to challenge Vybarr to run some of these West Yorkshire hills with me, that’ll teach him – no hills like these bastards in London. And then I remember that I can’t run them either and even if I could, I’d still be slower! And as I push the last few steps up the hill and force myself to keep running on the flat I also force myself to accept that the comment about 12-minute-miles is a comment situated in the context of Vybarr’s running, not mine. That pace may well be utterly awful for him, it may well be a sign that the route got the better of his legs, that’s what that’s about really – not me being someone who runs slower than politicians do in marathons.

The second comment is about marathons. Vybarr recalls his 2012  London Marathon (lovely and funny read this) and notes that his official time was a ‘horrific’ 5 hours. Really? Horrific? I’d love to have a marathon time that started with a 5. I have run two. Nearly 7 hours and nearly 6 and a half hours. I rolled my eyes and read on.

So there’s a sentence and a word I don’t like in the book. Everything else is, I think, pretty perfect. The book has had an influence on my running. I took my shoes off on the beach and ran when we were at Seahouses a few weeks ago. I was tempted to take them off yesterday and feel the warm rain on my feet but I haven’t run barefoot. I need to try it on softer surfaces first. It has helped me connect more with the environment I am running in – or do so more consciously which then bizarrely leads to less thinking. It’s made me determined to increase fitness so that I can do those 7 or 8 miles runs more comfortably. I think I agree that they are a really nice distance – no major concerns about fueling and far enough to achieve the almost meditative state you get when you finally find your rhythm. The book has also made me think about literature and whether maybe I should revisit some classic authors. Should I maybe go back to Dickens and Hardy and others with a focus on nature and movement and place? Could I read Bleak House, for example, not as a lawyer but as a runner? How different would it be? And finally the book has taught me something really important about academia. If academics can follow their passion and write about something that truly brings them alive, they can create magic. I love this book for that alone and as I continue to run (at my pace!) I am getting closer and closer to figuring out what I want my magic to be. On this run though I reach my driveway before I can grab hold of ‘it’ so for now, thank you to Vybarr for sharing his magic and if you haven’t read the book yet; what are you waiting for?