Running Wins

I don’t feel like I am winning at much at the moment. Things I thought I knew and was sure about, things I sort of know I am good at, things I love doing… all have been put into question over the last year and particularly over the last 6 months or so. So I take my wins where they fall. And this week’s running wins are both so unremarkable and so bloody huge at the same time.

I have yet to hit 50 miles for the year. I haven’t been hugely focused on running. I haven’t forced myself out in bad weather, I have stayed in when it’s been icy and I have kept distance low and running intervals short. I have done more Body Coach App sessions than runs and I am ok with all of that. I am quite happy to not push too hard right now because my brain can only do so much at a time and doing routine things sometimes (but no longer most of the time!) uses up a very silly amount of brave. On Wednesday I did my Body Coach App session in the morning and it felt good to have got it done and out of the way. In the afternoon I was tempted to do naff all but put my big girl pants on to go out for my run. I fully intended to run/walk but as I set off my knee felt a bit funny. Not painful as such just a bit vague and unreliable. I decided I wouldn’t take the first walk break and just keep going to see if the knee settled. It must have done because I don’t recall thinking about it again at all. I had sort of settled into a nice little plod. As I made my way down the hill I thought I could always drop into the run/walk when I got down the hill. I didn’t. Soon I’d run the first mile and I felt comfortable so I kept going. I wondered if I could get to two miles – the route I had planned would have a killer hill at about 1.6 miles so I changed the route and went along the canal towpath. As I plodded along I started to think about running the entire 30 minutes. I never actually decided to do that. I just kept entertaining the idea and as I got closer to the 2 mile mark and ticked off little landmarks the notion of just keeping going until the 30 minutes was up didn’t seem ridiculous. It didn’t seem possible either but the idea wouldn’t let go and when I turned round with 5 minutes to go the psychological boost of ‘heading home’ helped get me there. I was very pleased with that indeed. It was 30 minutes nonstop and it was 12.35 minutes per mile pace. Happy.

Thursday was busy and I ended up not doing anything and then Friday I meant to go in the late afternoon again but my knees were sore from the Body Coach session earlier in the day. This morning though I went to try another 30 minutes. Kath came with me and we picked a different route. So setting out to run for 30 minutes without stopping is psychologically harder than sort of doing it by accident. The route was also different and not mostly downhill. It started down, then sloped up, then down a short sharp hill and then flat and slight down for a bit until it started slightly sloping upwards, though it is barely more than flat. This was about 20 minutes in and this was where it got really tough. Another 2 minutes along and we were in proper upward sloping territory and I had a way to go. I wasn’t sure I would make it up the slope so I had to decide between trying, dropping to run walk, turning off and doing a sharp downhill, flat, bastard uphill, slope down, sharp up and slope down instead. I went for the latter option thinking that if I could get my breath back on the down bit I could have a go at the first hill, recover on the slope, have a go at the second and then finish. The uphill in that particular loop is always further and steeper than I think and I nearly didn’t make it. Kath kept telling me that I was doing it. My legs didn’t think so but my brain seemed to lack energy and focus to question what it was being told so as I was doing it I did it. I did recover enough on the slope to power up the last little hill and then I only had 30 seconds left so I stretched my legs and finished strong. Happy.

I have one more 30 minute run to do this week and I will try running it all again. I might try the same route again and see if I feel strong enough to try the slope this time. I know in the scheme of running achievements running nonstop for 30 minutes is nothing, it’s unremarkable and lots of people do it every day. But somehow it felt like a massive milestone after the crappyness of my running year and craziness of the last 12 months generally. I could have cried after the first one and to back it up today was fab.

Happy Weekend.

Above the Clouds – Review

I am tidying the blog. Well tidying is too strong a word. I was scrolling through draft posts to decide what is worth saving and finishing and what I should just bin. Mostly I just binned things because they were things written about at a particular moment in time which are not really relevant anymore. I did think that this review was worth finishing though. I wrote it in September last year when I was really struggling with fitness and didn’t really know what was going on health wise. Not sure why I never finished the edit and posted it because the review was pretty much finished. So here it is:

A week ago I curled up on the sofa to read Kilian Jornet’s ‘Above the Clouds’. I am grumpy about not running or exercising much at all. I couldn’t get passed the 8 minute runs on the 5k plan and the Nike app just doesn’t seem to work for me beyond a week or so. I was and still am feeling unreasonably tired and this last week I have been for a few walks, slow walks, and I have been aching and tired like a ran a half marathon and didn’t stretch. I have a blood test on Thursday that will hopefully provide some answers. If everything is fine and I am just less fit than I ever have been then ok, well I guess I can work with that. But let’s just wait and see and then go from there.

I finished ‘Above the Clouds’ in an afternoon/evening and it is a nice and easy read. If you are interested in running and in particular running in the mountains then it’s worth a couple of hours of your time. But it’s not the snippets about training or races etc that stick with me from the book. Instead it’s the things left unsaid or hinted at. It’s clear that Kilian Jornet is not a people person and that he would rather just be running in the mountains or recording his thoughts just for him rather than sharing them with the world. There are passages of the book that made me smile because the reluctance to share too much of Kilian the person rather than Kilian the personality is tangible. Engaging with us, the public, through the writing is something he sort of has to do as part of the job. And presumably publishing the book then also means activity to promote the book and so more people stuff… So maybe I should start the review by saying thank you to Kilian Jornet for doing this, for sharing and for allowing us a glimpse into his extraordinary life and give us so much to think about and reflect on.

So the book provides an insight into Jornet’s journey that led to him climbing Everest twice within a few days and I really like that this is positioned both as something that has been in the making all his life and a sort of endpoint as well as just another thing he does. It’s that mixture of acknowledging the extraordinary while also recognising that for him that is actually just what he does, his normal if you like. This tracks through book and it made me think about how many people I would call inspirational just go about their normal life. For them, what they do is not special or record breaking or pushing boundaries (it might be but that’s not the point), it’s about them doing their thing their way. And in some ways this is so ill at ease with the social media world where clicks and likes are everything and doing your thing your way is difficult – particular where your thing your way does not conform to expectation. That juxtaposition between making a living doing what he loves – running in the mountains – and having to to the things which allow him to make a living doing what he loves – being an influencer and content creator – is an interesting one and one he clearly struggles with.

It made me think about social media and how we often view the sort of content created by these sporting greats. We see the big views, crazy mountain runs, snippets of what they choose to share on line with their sponsorship agreements and brands. That’s fine, that’s what it’s about. However it leaves a whole load of stuff unseen. We rarely get a glimpse of the ‘I can’t be fucked to get out of bed today’, ‘I am struggling with motivation’, ‘Everything hurts and I can barely walk never mind run’ stuff. It doesn’t fit with the influencer role. Except that there are glimpses of this in the book. Glimpses of losing the reason, the why, and therefore struggling. It also links, I think to something else Jornet writes about: The difference between training to compete or competing to train. It came as no surprise to me to read that Jornet competes to train. Throughout the book it is clear that his end goal is never about competition or records. It’s about him. Competition/races can provide motivation to train but the race is not the end point. I think maybe us mere mortals could also learn something from thinking about the difference between the two approaches – and we may take a different approach at different times in our lives. Practically I might do much the same but I think the mindset is completely different.

Something that resonated with me, which isn’t really about running at all, is the idea of home as feeling rather than place. Home for me has always been about a feeling not a particular place. When I say ‘home’ my meaning is completely dependent on context. I might mean the house Mum and I shared in Germany, I might mean my Dad’s flat in Hamburg, I might mean our very own corner of West Yorkshire. Sometimes it might mean a hotel room or a cabin or apartment. That’s not to say that I call every place I am staying at ‘home’. To me it’s a feeing of settledness and calm, maybe partly of familiarity but it’s more than that. It’s about what it feels like to be in the particular space. Home is Ilkley Moor when the curlews are circling, home is the flash of orange and blue as a kingfisher darts passed along the Leeds Liverpool Canal, home is the smell of Gl├╝hwein in Hamburg in the run up to Christmas or the icy blast of air conditioning as you come through the front doors of the Contemporary Resort at Disney. For Jornet home is always in the mountains but as it is for me, it is more a feeling than a place.

Jornet writes: ‘To me, sport doesn’t mean a life full of sacrifices but rather one full of choices’. This is sticking with me because it runs counter to how we so often think about life. The narrative of ‘achievements come on the back of sacrifices’ is really quite strong. Not just in sport but in other areas too – careers, relationships even. Reframing sacrifices to choices is a subtle but important difference in thinking about what we do and why. So some of the choices Jornet makes might seem extreme to us. The training he is capable of and chooses to do, the risks he chooses to take, yep, mad. But making choices to do x and y is a rather more positive way of thinking about achievements than sacrificing a and b to achieve them. So rather than sacrificing an hour in bed, I am choosing to get up and see the run rise during my run. Instead of sacrificing my chocolate fix and love of cake, I chose to bake my own healthier versions and instead of sacrificing ‘bad’ food, I choose to learn more about nutrition to help fuel my body better. Sacrifice feels imposed, unsustainable and a bit forced and miserable. Choice feels empowering, sustainable and positive. I don’t know if that’s what Jornet had in his head as he was writing but that’s what is sticking with me.

So overall reading the book left me with a sense of contradictions. Contradictions that are inherent in us all but which come out so clearly when someone like Jornet writes about his life. The book isn’t an amazing feat of story telling, it’s a bit chaotic and the sections don’t always link together easily. It’s not even a particularly well written book but there is something raw and honest about it. It is the story of an introvert who would clearly rather be running in the mountains than writing the book and who is certainly not looking forward to the promotional work the book will require. It’s the story told as it would be told in a cafe with friends with asides and tangents and chaos and an assumed familiarity with his life and work which sometimes means there is a lack of context. I loved the book because it felt real, it felt human and because there was no attempt to hide the lack of need for other people or the disdain felt for many of his fellow humans. There was also no attempt to gloss over the contradictions. Jornet comes across as supremely arrogant in some ways and vulnerable and humble in others. In other words, he’s human with all the flaws, contradictions and issues and the book not only doesn’t hide them, it acknowledges and embraces them. That’s rare in a book by or about elite athletes.

Happy reading.

Eeyore-ish post about running life

I started a blog post yesterday. I was tired and grumpy and a bit worn down by general crappiness, lockdown and stuff. I wrote

Well, I am about half way through Cycle 2 of the Beginner Body Coach app and my mojo has sort of disappeared. It’s not the app I don’t think. I am just generally not feeling it. I can’t be bothered. I think my really bad period I wrote about the other day sort of threw me off a bit. The bleurghness lasted for the full 6 days rather than just the first couple and I still feel a bit sluggish.

We went for a short run on Sunday. It was our anniversary and it was a lovely start to the day. We saw deer and a kingfisher and I managed to up the running intervals to 45 seconds. It was good. But I haven’t run since. Partly because it’s been cold and potentially icy. I am pretty sure the roads round here would be fine for a 30 minute loop but I just haven’t felt like pushing those buttons. I have missed one Body Coach workout last week and I haven’t done one today. My knees are a bit niggly. I have just started wearing trainers when doing the sessions to see if that helps but if they don’t work I might buy some actual HIIT trainers.

And then I went to bed.

I thought after a good nights’ sleep I might be in a better frame of mind. I wasn’t. I procrastinated for a while. Then I grumped quietly into my coffee for a bit, then I scrolled through social media trying to find something to either grab my attention or provide some inspiration or motivation. Nope. Then I thought I might as well go for that run. It’ll be awful but at least it will be done and it’ll kill half an hour or so.

So I got changed and went out. It’s gloriously sunny and bitterly cold. I don’t really remember thinking anything when I set off running. I wondered if the 45 second running intervals would be hard given that I haven’t run all week. They weren’t. I wondered if it was going to be slippery. It wasn’t. By the time I hit a mile I was sort of settled into a very slow and gentle happy plod. I didn’t know which way to go so when I got to the junction at which I had to decide and there were walkers, bikes and cars seemingly everywhere (there weren’t, just felt like it), I looked at my watch, realised I had done 15 minutes and decided to turn round and just go the same way back. Now this might seem like a bit of a cop out. It’s not. My plan says 30 minutes so doing 15 minutes out and then back is fine AND the way back would be mostly uphill. The kind of uphill I don’t usually bother with because it’s too hard. This time though I did it. Same intervals, no additional walk breaks and only one minute per mile slower than on the downhill.

So do I feel better now? A little maybe, less vague and generically grumpy. I am pleased I went out. The sunshine was lovely and it was nice to manage the uphill running bits.It feels like I have achieved something today. And in a fit of optimism I have left my sports bra on to do a Body Coach App workout later on this afternoon. In the meantime our two youngest cats are keeping me entertained fighting over the hammock (Odin is currently holding the position but Kilian wants it, or just wants Odin not to have it).

Period Talk

‘Everything hurts and I’m dying’ sums up how I have felt the last couple of days. I am usually an emotional and rage filled mess the day before my period starts and then on day 1 suffer from cramps, back ache, sore boobs and a general feeling of bleurgh. Day two is sometimes fine and sometimes a repeat of day 1 but by day 3 I’m usually fine. I also feel heavy and sluggish and like I could really use a wheelbarrow for my tummy.

So that brings me to exercise. Generally the last thing I want to do the day before and for the first two days of my period is move. Ideally at all. What I really want is to eat all the food, cry all the tears and stay under the duvet with permission to snarl at any living being coming within 5 feet. Curling up and hiding isn’t actually all that helpful though. Mostly I feel better if I can manage to do some exercise. Mostly, but not always.

This week my carefully crafted plan has gone out of the window so I am already a bit grumpy about that. I was tired after my longer run on Sunday and decided to take Monday as my rest and move things around. Tuesday I did a very half hearted workout. I had a thing in the afternoon and I was anxious and edgy and couldn’t really focus on the workout. I got through it, it was one of those you just tick off. I did feel better for doing it. A little more focused afterwards.

Then yesterday was the bleurgh day. I was tired and emotional and hugely pre menstrual. I slept badly and unusually my period started in the middle of the night at 2.30am and I have been drugged on ibuprofen and caffeine pretty much since then. I could quite happily have stayed in bed. But I got up, I had breakfast and drugs and we did the food shop and then I kept hoovering up any food within reach. Kath went out to run and I wondered whether that might be a nice thing to do. But the thought of leaving the house and bouncing the bloated belly down the street was enough to make me go for another spoonful of peanut butter.

Once Kath finished work she persuaded me to at least have a go at one of our Body Coach workouts. I was skeptical. I mean, leaving the sofa felt like an exertion and there was cheese in the fridge that I could eat with minimal effort. But the ibuprofen I’d taken a while ago would wear off soon so it was now or never. I agreed to try, squeezed myself into my shorts, coaxed my poor boobs into a sports bra and started swearing at Joe from the minute he started talking. I huffed and puffed and whimpered my way through bootcamp 20 on the app. I felt weak and crap and struggled to complete some of the exercises. It was pretty grim.

So do I feel better and energised and proud for having done the workout. No. I don’t. Sometimes this ‘You’ll never regret a workout’ rhetoric and this forced notion of always feeling better really gets on my nerves. I appreciate that it probably did me good. I also think I’d probably feel worse if I hadn’t done the workout because I actually quite like ticking them off and sticking to the numbers of workouts per week. But I have absolutely zero strong feelings about the workout. It did not change my day, it did not change my mood, it did not make my cramps disappear. It was grim, it’s done. And I guess sometimes that’s all it needs to be.

But I do think we need to start talking much more about how our periods impact on exercise and diet. It’s nice to see more conversations, more research and more writing on this but I think it is still missing from our general talk about exercise and how we fuel our bodies. So today I had several spoonfuls of peanut butter, a handful or several of chocolate beads, a scone, cheese and my 3 meals, plus some biltong and some cherries and whatever else I have now forgotten. That’s ok. I was busy containing rage and dealing with a very cross lower back. I wasn’t about to worry about the extra fairly random calories. I also hated the exercise. That’s fine. We don’t have to love it every time. I hated that I couldn’t do it and I am cross at myself for even expecting myself to be able to do it. I mean obviously I couldn’t do it. I feel about 3 stone heavier than I actually am, standing up unleashes a tidal wave of menstrual fluid thus making squats particularly fun and my boobs are under so much tension that quite frankly anything could happen when I run on the spot.

So can we just give ourselves a break here. Can we just accept that sometimes our periods will have a huge impact on our day and our routine. I am actually not bad every month, sometimes I can carry on almost as normal but more often than not expecting the same levels of energy, the same good food choices and the same enthusiasm for moving never mind exercise is just madness. It is tempting to be disappointed at not sticking to the Body Coach food framework (which is about a lifestyle and not a diet so should in theory work for periods too, in fact it should have an extra period snacks section I reckon) and frustrated at how awful the exercise was and the fact that there was no way I was doing a workout and a run today. But we need to work with our periods, they need to feature in how we think about living healthy lifestyles. And for some of us our periods become less painful or heavy or have less of an impact as we get generally fitter but that’s not universally true. For some of us exercise helps relieve some of the symptoms but I don’t think that’s universally true either. I think, like for so much with running and exercise and healthy living and all that generally, we need to figure out what works for us. Forget the ‘should’, forget the ‘this works for me so it must for you’ and certainly forget the ‘just push through’. Make those bleurgh days about you and what is right for your body. Nourish it how you want to, move it how you want to and never ever feel guilty about it.

Now, where’s that peanut butter.

January Round Up and February Planning

We finally come to January 31st (or 357th if you feel a bit like me), how are you doing? Even I am beginning to struggle with lockdown. I am not a people person, I’m quite happy not seeing people and am happy to keep in touch virtually but I would give quite a lot to sit in a coffee shop with a coffee that someone else has made for me and maybe a pastry and just watch the world go by. I don’t even mind doing that on my own, just being amongst people would actually be quite nice. So yeah, if I am feeling like this my heart really goes out to those of you who really need those face to face interactions and feel energised by them.

I thought I would have a little look back at January and share my plans for February. As I looked ahead to 2021 I really wasn’t sure what the year would bring in terms of exercise and fitness. I was anxious about starting running again and grumpy about the non-existent fitness levels. I knew I wanted to start again but I really wasn’t sure about how things would go. My review of the first cycle on the Body Coach App from the other day perhaps shows that things are actually going pretty well. Fitness and strength are very very slowly coming back. I am a long way from where I was at peak fitness (which wasn’t that fit really but a happier level of fit) and there is a long way to go but when I remember to not compare myself to when I was Dopey fit, I am happy with how things are going.

January running hasn’t been spectacular but there has been running! I finish the month on 29.65 miles (more on why not 30 in a minute) which I was initially a bit disappointed with but then I looked back and there are only 3 months with higher mileage since April 2019 and none of those months are loads higher (under 40 miles). So in the context of how running shaped up over the last couple of years, the crappiness that was flu or Covid just a little more than a year ago now and the post viral crappiness that took all my fitness (but if that’s all it is taking I know I am one of the lucky ones) and the snow and ice that stopped me from venturing outside, then nearly 30 miles is good going!

Every now and again I get grumpy about my inability to run consistently without walk breaks. I like run/walk and I think I will always want to use run/walk for longer distances but I really would like to be able to run 10km without having to walk. How hard can it be? I will get there again. Patience. I have mostly been running using 30/30 second intervals but sometimes I get bored so sometimes I run the first mile and then drop into intervals, sometimes I run the first 5 minutes and sometimes, on routes with steeper bits, I run when I can and walk the hills. I found 30/30 really quite hard at the beginning of the year and pretty much impossible if there was anything steeper than flat involved. It’s getting much easier although I still really struggle to breathe going up and I wonder if partly that is still a post viral hangover that is making it harder to get the air into my lungs.

I have mostly run from home and I miss travelling to places to run. I’d love a run on the beach at Seahouses or a hike up one of the Yorkshire 3 peaks or a joint run with Kath at Bolton Abbey. But, patience. I have been lucky in that my therapist is based at Bolton Abbey and I can therefore travel there to see her and then take the opportunity while I am there to run. I never go far though, partly because I am often tired after therapy and just a little gentle mile or so helps clear my head without adding pressure and partly because I get side-tracked by coffee and then walk back sipping it. I could go further and get coffee on the way back but that section is often busy and busy is not why I run at Bolton Abbey. When I went last I had the run from the Abbey to the Cavendish Pavilion all to myself. I didn’t see another human soul until I crossed the bridge and headed for coffee. Bliss.

Running from home has had its rewards though. It’s not a bad place to run. Even just on the roads round the village is not unpleasant at all and sometimes it is quite nice to have a nosey at people’s gardens. They might not be in full bloom or showing off all their glory but you can still see quite a lot and get ideas. Running along the canal has been mixed. Some days it has been too busy with people to actually be enjoyable. For example, today I turned back sooner than I had planned and went a different route making my run an out and back more than a loop really because the stretch of canal ahead was just full of walkers and I had already got tangled up with people who didn’t have their dogs under control which meant I had to stop until they had retrieved them before running on. But on other occasions I have seen a kingfisher and stood and watched for ages. I call them kingfisher breaks and they are most legitimate reason to stop whatever you are doing and just spend a few moments being in the presence of greatness. There is something powerfully restorative about seeing them perched on branches just above the water and then inevitably fly off in a flash of glimmering orange and blue.

Most of my running has been a couple of miles and then a walk up to come home, maybe a little over 2 miles but not much. I am ok with that. It’s actually all within the Disney 10km training plan that I am loosely following. That plan had me running (or run/walking) 3 miles today. Yesterday I looked at my mileage and got into my head that I needed 5 miles something to hit 30 miles in January and that I could totally do that even though that would be 2 miles more than the furthest run since goodness knows when. What I didn’t get into my head was that the ‘something’ actually meant I needed nearly 6 miles. So after having done my Body Coach App workout first thing this morning, I set off early lunch time to sort out these 5 miles something. I got half way down the first stretch of road, about 3 minutes in maybe and felt like turning back. Legs were tired and I was struggling to settle in the cold air. But you know, 5 miles something won’t just magically run themselves, so onwards. I looped round to the canal rather than running straight down to it – it’s a sort of cheap mile somehow and then plodded along the canal almost always sticking to 30/30 expect for the dog issue and standing in a couple of times to move out of the way of couples who clearly think they might be parted forever if they walk in single file.

I was going quite well when I bumped into a friend of ours and stopped to chat for a few minutes. I was about 2.5 miles in and intended to carry on along the canal for another mile and a half and then come back and loop up the former golf course and home. But like I said, the canal was busy and getting busier so I changed my mind, came off the towpath at the next bridge and ran along the road and back through the estate I’d run down earlier. It was hard going after that stop. I stopped my watch at 4.5 miles which happened to be just at a walk break because I felt sure my legs were done. I wanted to save the 4.5 miles run/walk and then just measure the distance home as part of the cool down. I knew it would be roughly a mile, just under. But once I’d walked for a couple of minutes I decided to have another go and ran a a couple of consecutive minutes and a bit more 30/30 so I actually ended up doing 5 miles of run/walk before walking up the rest of the hill home. I finished on 5.46 miles which wasn’t enough to make it 30 for the month. That’s ok though, my legs are tired and I am not going out again for the sake of round numbers. They’re just numbers and I am not quite sure why I’d got it into my head anyway. January finishes on a strong note.

Looking ahead to February, my plan doesn’t change much. I still plan to do the 5 Body Coach workouts each week and to run 3 times a week. The workouts have now moved to Cycle 2 and have stepped up a little as far as I can tell so far. If they end up being too much when combined with 3 runs then I will drop one but I think I can probably work round that by choosing some of the workouts which are a little easier or which are more gentle on the legs. My midweek runs are 30 minute runs on the plan so they are what they are – often I run a loop that’s slightly more than 30 minutes, I guess it might not be if I get faster. The weekend runs don’t increase much in terms of distance -they go from 40 minutes next week, 3.5 miles the week after, 30 minutes the week after that and then finally 4.25 miles in the final week of February. That’s what is on the plan anyway. You never quite know what I might decide to do. Given that I have been getting on quite well with 30/30 I thought for February I would step it up a bit and try 45 seconds running with 30 second walk breaks and see how I get on. I’ll let you know.