Nearly 6 miles solo

I’ve got some demons to outrun. I also have a book to finish which requires a far clearer head than I currently have. I need to run. I need to run for sanity and for clarity. But I haven’t been able to really. Confidence has gone, disappeared.

The day after the last blog post I was going to go for a run in the morning. I got my kit ready the night before and laid it out next to the bed. When I woke up I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I just couldn’t see how I could possibly get my fat arse out there and run. I just couldn’t. Kath gently nudged me towards calm and shaking like mad I put my running socks on. Then the rest of my kit and by the time I was dressed my breathing was almost under control and the tears had stopped. I managed a mile, stopped to say hello to the sheep that are now in the field ours used to be in. There were a few more tears and lots more doubt about running and being fat and being fat and running. Then we headed back, mostly walking but some running.

Today we were meant to run at Bolton Abbey in their organised event for Manorlands, the Sue Ryder hospice. I was signed up for the 10k and Kath for the 10 miles. But this morning Kath wasn’t feeling well and the idea of 1000+ runners at Bolton Abbey which is her safe running place was too much, so we didn’t go. I’ve been wondering about going for a run all day. But the negative voices telling me I can’t actually run have been quite vocal. I’ve also been ridiculously emotional and tearful all weekend. At about 3.30pm though I decided that I should just go. I’d feel better for getting out, Kath was happy watching something on tv I wasn’t fussed about watching and I was making no progress with the book. So off I went.

I hadn’t really decided where to run or how far to go. I ran down the road and through the little housing estate and to the canal, then I just kept going along the canal. The autumn colours were stunning. I was hoping to see a kingfisher but it wasn’t to be today. The ducks were out in force though and one of the fields that comes right down to the canal bank on the opposite side was full of geese. I had a vague sense of working quite hard but the good sort of hard. I was deliberately not looking at my watch. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I passed what we call the stone bridge and moved from well maintained towpath to muddy track and pushed the pace. This is where I’d be likely to slow down. I still felt strong so I pushed a little more. The watch beeped for 3 miles and I ran a bit further to hit 5k and then stopped. 11.58 pace. That’s basically the speed of light for me. I seem to have accidentally run a fast 5km, trying to outrun my thoughts maybe. I had a little breather, checked my phone and wondered what to do about the way home. The light was fading quite fast so I decided that crossing the canal and going home through the fields and woods wasn’t sensible so I’d go back the way I came.

I set off back, much more slowly now and aware of my bad sock and trainer combination – blisters, ouch. I must remember that those socks with those trainers doesn’t work. Once off the mud I realised how dark it had got so tried to speed up again a little – the first mile was 13.40 pace, the second 12.20. I ran 2 miles to the first canal bridge I could use to head home and decided that it would be safest to come off the canal and head home on the road. So in the end I did just under 6 miles with the last 3/4 of a mile walking up the hill home.

I do feel better. I feel good about having got out and about actually being able to run a total of 5 miles with only one little breather. I enjoyed the moments of clarity as I was running, those moments where you’re not thinking but you just know. The clarity isn’t lasting today but it was nice to have it while I was out there. So from barely making it a mile at 14 minute mile pace earlier in the week to running 5 in under 13 minute mile pace -the first three in under 12 minutes per mile – welcome to my rollercoaster.

Running with Kingfishers

Isn’t it funny how things get in your head. I don’t remember being particularly bothered by the man on a bike incident yesterday. It was irritating but I found it almost funny yesterday but it seems it got to me. It seems it got into my head and stole my running mojo, shattered my confidence and confirmed everything I should bloody well know by now: I can’t do this. I’m too fat to run. I’m unfit. I have no place parading my wobbly bits out in public. I should go back to the sofa with my packet of biscuits.

I woke up terrified of our long run. The last time I was this anxious about a run was, actually I’m not sure. Disney Paris half marathon maybe. I actually felt like I might be sick. It’s idiotic. It was a gorgeous morning, the planned route was flat and a point to point run. There was absolutely nothing to be scared of. It’s a little further than I have been recently but only by a mile and a bit. We had time, we planned to run/walk, there was no pressure…and yet I was terrified.

I had my slice of toast with peanut butter and a drink of water and then we drove out towards Skipton to drop our car off to be serviced. Once that was sorted we found a path onto the canal towpath and set off. We ran/walked the first two miles using 2 minute run/30 second walk intervals. Almost immediately we saw 2 gorgeous herons in a field IMG_6866on the other side of the canal. They were stunning and a few steps further on we found 2 heron feathers (now a little worse for wear after spending the next 2 hours in our pockets). In spite of the herons – our good run omen – I couldn’t settle. Both knees felt niggly, my feet felt like they were moving too much in my shoes, my left shin felt tender. The phrase ‘you’ll have to run faster than that’ kept popping into my head. I kept pushing it back. It changed to ‘I don’t know why you bother running at all’. I pushed it back. Then I got ‘come on, you’re part of an online running club for fat women – they can’t run and neither can you’. I got a bit cross at that because those women are bloody inspirational and amazing and brilliant runners. I pushed it back but my mind wasn’t having any of it. ‘You’re such a disappointment, look at you wheezing after less than 2 miles’. I wasn’t wheezing, well not until I thought that anyway. By mile 2 I was mentally exhausted and my tummy was gurgling ominously too.

I suggested that Kath ran on and I’d just walk. I felt awful for ruining her run and generally just pretty crap. I was losing the battle in my head and was beginning to firmly believe that running just isn’t for me, that I had no business being out there in my marathon T-shirt which I don’t deserve anyway because I walked most of it. Kath wouldn’t leave me. I was furious and relieved at the same time. I’d resigned myself to walking home sobbing my way through the remaining 6 miles and I really really didn’t want to ruin her run. We just kept walking. I thought about how disappointed all the lovely people in the Run1000miles Facebook group would be. They’d said such lovely things about my running and progress recently and now they’d realise that it was all just a fluke and that I’m just an imposter. Not really a runner, not even any good at pretending to be a runner. I wasn’t breathing.

As I walked and listened to nothing but my footsteps my breathing got easier and deeper and I realised I’d stopped thinking about anything. My mind was quieter. We’d been walking for most of mile 3. Kath was still there with me having refused to leave me behind. I wondered if she might help me run a little bit, just a little bit to see if I could do it mentally or whether everything would start screaming at me again. We walked past some dog walkers and then had a little jog to the next bridge. It felt ok. We crossed the road and then set off on another little jog and I felt ok. So we kept going, slowly and steadily. Then we saw the familiar yet often so elusive flash of blue – a kingfisher darted out of a tree and flew down the middle of the canal. It landed in a tree further ahead and then we saw a second one. They were catching up and leapfrogging each other, sometimes flying a little loop around each other, sometimes coming quite close, sometimes staying further apart. They both dived into the canal with hardly a splash and re-emerged looking magnificent. Eventually we lost sight of one of them but the other was still flying ahead, waiting for us, showing the way. I was still running.

Then there was a sudden unexpected movement just to my left, a thud and then a weird, and I mean really weird, noise as Kath tripped over something, hit the floor and somehow deflated. The noise and her staying down for an unusually long time really worried me but she was fine. In an effort to protect her garmin, she’d lifted her wrist up and got her elbow underneath her into her ribs, deflating and winding herself in the process. Like a true runner though she’d stopped the garmin before she even hit the deck. She’d been watching the kingfisher rather than where she was going. A little more carefully we kept following the kingfisher for a while longer before it flew a loop over the field opposite and headed back towards its mate which was now somewhere behind us. We’d been running with them for just over half a mile.

After having run a mile, I walked a bit to give my tummy chance to settle again – it was getting ‘unreliable’ with running. I was beginning to feel better. I was better at pushing the negatives back. I was making progress. I reminded myself that there was a time I couldn’t have run any of this. I took time to note that the slightly muddy and uneven terrain wasn’t bothering me whereas once it would have sent me into a meltdown. I noted that I was recovering from running segments much much much more quickly. I ran a bit of the 5th and 6th miles but we also took the opportunity to walk and chat about work we want doing on the house and holidays we’re planning (how to spend money basically). Then I ran the 7th mile and at about 7.5 miles Kath crossed the canal to head home and I carried on to go get milk. I didn’t run much after Kath left. It felt a bit lonely all of a sudden and I knew that my running form had gone. My hips were tight and the niggle in my shin I’d forgotten about was back.

Another blue flash, another kingfisher. I watched it fly down the middle of the canal until it went out of sight. It was stunning. I decided to run in short little bursts between landmarks and really concentrate on maintaining good running form for those short bursts. After the first two short bursts my phone rang. The garage  – they wanted to let me know that the car was done and they were on their way to drop it off – so the car got home before I did – luckily Kath got home before both of us. Once I’d stashed my phone again I had another short little burst and that’s how I made my way to the post office where I bought milk and some “Green Machine’ juice (apple, banana, kiwi, pineapple, spinach and some other green stuff) because I just really really wanted something other than the water in my little bottles which tasted like rubber left out in the sun for too long. Then I walked up the hill home.

I don’t know what to think about that outing. 9.1 miles, 2 hours 22 minutes. I am disappointed but I’m not quite sure with what. I’m ready for my rest day. I need it physically but maybe more importantly, I need it mentally. I have seen amazing things today. The herons at the start were just fantastic, they were walking in the field and some lambs were having  good look at them and then the herons flew off showing off their pretty spectacular wing span. There were swans and geese and ducks – all with young ones. Close to home there were cows with calves in a field on the opposite side of the canal and the calves ran along the canal bank with us for a bit. And we ran with kingfishers. Maybe it’s a good outing after all because running with kingfishers is pretty special – whatever else is going on.

Meltdown, 3 loops and 8 miles

I had a running meltdown this morning. We were going to do a long run up on Ilkley Moor this morning. A loop of about 7 miles. That’s a fair bit further than I have been for quite a while but with some walk breaks and photo stops etc perfectly within reach. It is a gorgeous morning, the sun is out, it’s not too warm or cold for running and yesterday I was really looking forward to it. In fact when I woke up this morning I was looking forward to it. Kath brought me a cup of tea and breakfast (bagel and peanut butter) in bed and went to feed the lambs. I got up, put our slow roast dinner in the oven, went to the loo, drank some water, went to the loo again…

Then, quite suddenly I had the overwhelming urge to run away and hide, to not leave the house, crawl back into bed and forget the whole running thing. I couldn’t breathe. Once the little panic attack had passed, we changed plans and Kath suggested instead doing a route we know and do several runs today to start training for the Endure24 race where we will be doing several 5 mile loops in a 24 hour period. So below is a quick review of each of our loops today written pretty much immediately after the loop.

Loop one: Home – sheep – wood trail – Scott Lane – Kiln Bank – Home

This was horrible. With every step my mind was screaming at me that it was all totally pointless because I couldn’t do it anyway. Every step was a mental battle. I never settled but I did keep going. I ran to the wood without stopping, then walked a few steps to find the start of the trail and then slowly made my way through the trail with a few little panics and stops and then we walked up the slope, jogged along Scott Lane and walked up the hill. Once up the hill we jogged to the bottom of Ilkley Road and then run/walked lamp post to lamp post home. Roughly 16 minute mile pace. Awful, just awful!

Loop two: Home – sheep – wood trail – Scott Lane – Kiln Bank – Home

This was slightly less horrible for me. We had about 2 hours between finishing loop one and starting loop 2 and I just had a coffee and water and a bit of home made chewy bar crumbs in that gap. I sat with my feet up watching the London Marathon coverage on tv. I ran until just before the slope up to the hill, walked a little and then ran up to the wood, found the trail and ran most of it. Slowly but with fewer stops and starts. Enjoyed it more this time and my feet hurt less. At the end of the trail we walked up the slope, jogged the road to the bottom of the big hill, walked up, jogged down and went post to post again up Ilkley Road. Almost a minute a mile quicker than loop 1. Poor Kath learned that coffee and fruit doesn’t work so well for her in terms of fuelling. She’s recovered now but don’t think she had a very pleasant run on loop 2.

Lap three: Sheep loop backwards (Home, down Kiln Bank, along canal, up golf course…)

After lap two I watched more Marathon coverage, made and had lunch and faffed around on Facebook and Twitter and didn’t do much other than randomly burst into tears. Lunch wasn’t the best choice but it was planned as a post run lunch not as lunch to have with more running to come. We had slow roast lamb, carrots, potatoes and spring cabbage. We ate about 12.30 and were planning to go again about 4pm ish or when we felt like it would be ok to run. We both felt ok ish to go again just before 4pm so off we set. Well, ready my body was not, not at all. I felt about a stone heavier than I had in the morning. Still on I went. I ran all the way down to the canal and most of the canal with a two little short walks because I got a stitch. Then we walked up the golf course and ran down the slope past our sheep and pushed to Kath’s mum’s house. We stopped our watches there, she made us some milk for the lambs and we fed them and all the sheep and then set off to run home from there. My legs felt tight and I had a little walk break before the Western Avenue slope, then we ran to the bottom of Ilkley Road and went home from there run/walking post to post. Again the Garmin said about a minute a mile faster than the other loops but this is obviously a different loop.

I have now uploaded the runs to Strava and Strava adjusts for moving time rather than time overall so the first loop was actually 14.51 minute mile pace when I was moving – I just had a couple of stops on the trail where I was actually standing still – a couple of hugs after tricky sections and a short stop to admire the bluebells. I also stopped ‘to admire the view’ half way up Kiln Bank. Lap two was therefore not actually much faster when I was moving – at 14.30 mile pace – I just had fewer actual stops and lap 3 was 13.40 pace.  The first two laps were 2.5 miles and then final was 3.2 so I have run 8.2 miles today (or 8.4 according to Kath’s Garmin which seems to think we went further than mine does). We learned quite a lot about hydrating and fuelling today too and I learned that using my memories from running the London Marathon is not a good way to help me on my runs. I just remember the total emptiness. Better to think of all those other amazing people running it  – that kept me going today, thoughts about last year just made me want to stop. I’ll stick to visualising the Magic Kingdom run up to the castle or running around the World Showcase in Epcot to get me through I think.

2016 – What a Year

I am so ready for 2016 to be over. I really am. It’s been horrible in so many ways, it’s been, well it’s just been crap. Or has it? Am I ready? Isn’t there a small part of me that doesn’t want 2016 to be over? 2016 has been a year of unbelievable achievements, a year of learning so much about myself, a year of hitting a new all time low and reaching dizzying highs, a year of standing firm and sticking to principles, of being confident and smiling when inside everything was crumbling into tiny little pieces that didn’t seem like they would ever fit together again, a year of walking away, of giving up, of re-building and of persuading others that I am brilliant when I felt anything but. 2016 taught me that I am superwoman – a very very fragile and breakable one, but superwoman. 2016 has been a bitch, a complete bitch but here I am right at the end of 2016 and I’m going on – the bitch isn’t. 2016 will turn into 2017 and there is something about the turn of the year that I like. It’s just another day but somehow it is a day that holds promise and excitement…

So let’s take a look at 2016.

  1. In January I travelled half way round the world (well, sort of) to run 48.6 miles in 4 days. The training leading up to it, the Disney World escapism and the running itself helped me make huge steps towards recovering from the anxiety and depression that had been with me for longer than I care to admit. In January 2016 I was physically fit and healthy but my mind was still a bit of a mess. Messy mind or not I dragged my butt round the 26.2 mile Dopey challenge marathon after having run the half marathon the day before, 10k before that and 5 k the day before that. I may have hated most of it at the time, I may have walked almost all of it but I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I got to the finish. I went through every emotion on that journey but I never wanted to stop. I thought I might not make it but I did not want to stop. Stopping is something I had to learn.
  2. In April I had another go at 26.2 miles and as I made my way round the iconic London marathon course I decided that 26.2 miles are not for me. I don’t like that distance, it’s not fun and I never want to do it again. I didn’t want to stop though. I remember the finish line, I remember the excruciating walk/tube ride/walk back to the hotel and I remember feeling completely empty. I had nothing at all left physically, emotionally and mentally. I felt like I should be proud and excited but I was just empty. Looking back now I wonder whether I needed that. Looking back I wonder whether after that complete emptiness I slowly started rebuilding.
  3. Work was – for the first half of 2016 – hell. I went back to work after the Dopey Challenge after a period of time off sick . I kept going, I didn’t stop. I did my best and it was, I know now, better than good enough, in some ways too good for the institution. Looking back I can see the bullying, the nastiness, the unreasonableness of it all. I accepted panic attack after panic attack, I accepted the tears, the exhaustion, the lack of support, the loneliness and isolation; I accepted it to get a job done. But as I went through the rest of April and then May it became increasingly clear that I needed to change something. And yet I kept going
  4. In summer my previous institution went through a ridiculous process they called an Academic Review – the paperwork was idiotic but I did it, the review was bizarre (more so in the light have what has happened since) but I did it. On the days of the meetings I had panic attack after panic attack, I had to get off the bus several stops early because I couldn’t breathe – and yet everyone said I did an amazing job. As I walked out of the final meeting I knew I had decided to leave. I finally gave up. I finally learned to stop. I had to stop. I was once again off sick
  5. Through August I began to get my shit together. My brain started working again, slowly and the running was fine too – I was getting out at least. Then I started my new job and somehow the rest of 2016 has been uneventful really – trips to Paris and California to complete the Disney running journey – it ended in a failed half marathon but that’s ok.  I found a better balance between work and the rest of life. I have been panic attack free since the day I resigned. It’s all good
  6. Or is it. My anxiety levels are normal but there is that silly black puppy dog that is just waiting on the other side of the door and every now and again it nudges the door open. It’s bounced it’s way into the room just recently and is zapping all my energy. I haven’t run since the abandoned half marathon in November. I sort of want to but I can’t be bothered – what’s the point, I can’t do it anyway (erm – look at points 1 and 2!). I am slow with everything I do. Writing anything useful is taking an age, preparing for teaching is taking far longer than it ever has, just getting through a day without doing anything in particular is somehow hard work. My reaction to any world events are extreme and I cry at anything. But it’s ok. It’s ok because I know. It’s ok because I understand that I’m ill and that getting better takes time, more time than I will ever really want to give it because I’m a perfectionist and impatient.
  7. I look back at 2016 and apart from the world going totally mad with Brexit and Donald Trump, senseless violence and hate as well as heartwarming acts of kindness and the beauty that can be found in just sitting watching birds in the garden – here’s what I see: 2016 has seen me being stronger and more resilient than I ever thought I could be. I had the strength to hold my head up high, to walk out of a high profile high paid job, not lose it completely and to keep on putting one foot in front of the other. 2016 saw strong legs and a stronger, if sometimes wobbly mind, that made me rise to the Dopey Challenge and the London marathon.  In a year where so much went right and so much went wrong I didn’t once waiver from my principles, I didn’t once compromise on the important shit and I didn’t once cross a line I didn’t want to cross. 2016 showed me that however crap,anxious, depressed, wobbly, dark or whatever I feel, I like being me and I can be me – no more than that, I’m good at being me. 2016 has shown me why I am so drawn to the picture and mantra below – it’s because it’s true and I believe it. At the start of 2016 it was a mantra to focus on and keep repeating to myself in the hope that I could fake it –  at the end of 2016 I mean it.13892263_1250624888305675_5708983427789361893_n

There once was a hill…

…that Jess couldn’t run. More of that later. As you know running has been a bit crappy. I’ve struggled. It’s been hard and I have been mostly miserable about it. So when the alarm went off this morning I was less than impressed. Kath got me a cup of tea and then I very reluctantly went and made some porridge. Eventually I agreed to do a bit go yoga and then we set off and drove to Bolton Abbey for our run. I was worried. Last time I went out I could barely run a quarter of a mile without wanting to curl up and cry.

But today was different. Today running felt like poetry, a bit like slightly clumsy, schoolgirl sort of poetry but poetry nonetheless. Everything fit together as my breathing settled almost immidiately and my legs just moved me gently and steadily forwards. It was hard, really hard but it didn’t matter. I never wanted to stop, I never felt like I needed to stop even when my legs felt like jelly and my lungs were burning. We were running 2 minute/ 1 minute intervals. My Dopey Challenge intervals, my safe intervals.

We set off from the Cavendish Pavilion and wound our way up the first slope and then
down trying to keep pace with a couple of ducks paddling img_1912their way up the wharfe. For company we had a little wren, coal tits, blue tits, great tits and lots we could hear but not see. Somewhere in the background was a cow mooing away. I was still trying to take in the autumn colours, the greens turning into reds and yellows when we were at the Strid. I managed to run right up to the rocky sort of steps before walking – I don’t manage that hill very often but I felt strong, I was aware of the tightness in my thighs as I pushed up the slope. My legs wanted to stop but I didn’t. We made our way back down to the edge of the Wharfe and instead of crossing at the aqueduct we carried on to Barden bridge.

I loved running along at the edge of the river watching a dipper or two and a few ducks going about their business. We crossed the bridge and dropped down onto the river bank on the other side making our way back towards the Strid. I still felt good, I was enjoying every second. I don’t think the running was easier than it has been, I just think I was enjoying being out so it didn’t matter and because it didn’t matter I wasn’t worrying about running, I wasn’t thinking about running. I was just doing it. As we passed the aqueduct I began to feel a sense of foreboding. This next section is hilly, it’s constantly up and down. If I was going to unravel it would be here. And then there is THE HILL. I lost confidence for a second and was suddenly aware of my breathing and my feet falling heavily on the ground.

Then we turned a corner and an absolutely stunning view of the Wharfe spread out in front of me and I forgot that I was concerned about whether I would make it. We took the hills as they fell in our 2 minute runs. I felt good. Up and down and up and down and round the corners surrounded by little birds in the autumnal trees and then we turned to our left and there it was. THE HILL. I have never run up it. On several training runs it has had me in tears. On one Dopey training run I barely made it up the hill walking. Our 2 minute run started just before THE HILL begins with a few metres of gentle slope. I set off. I fixed my gaze on the first tree by the path on my right. That’s the furthest I have ever managed to run. I got there. Shortly after that Kath said ‘How about we walk from here?’ but I barely heard her. My eyes were fixed on the next tree. I might make that. And as I passed that tree I suddenly realised that I was going to run it all. The path levels off for just a few steps before rising for the last push. I took a deep breath, ignored my screaming lungs and jelly legs and pushed. I got to the top, I ran up THE HILL. And I didn’t just stop, I kept going until the 2 minutes were up. As the next running interval started my legs still felt a bit wobbly so I staggered my way down hill but I felt amazing. I ran up my bastard nemesis hill.

img_1914We carried on and instead of cutting across the bridge back to the cafe we carried on towards the priory ruins. The first stretch is along the river and for a brilliant 15 seconds or so we were caught up in a group of goldfinches playing. As we left them behind (or maybe they left us) we headed back up hill. My legs were tired and with every hill I could feel my muscles protesting but we kept going. There are more ups than downs on this section and I didn’t make it to the top of the last big pull. I got more than half way though and after a short little walk I ran to the top. Then we enjoyed the spectacular views across the ruins as we made our way down to the stepping stones and bridge, looped round the back of the church and then headed back down towards the car park across a field. As we left the field and started our slow jog along the car park a heron flew in and landed on a big stone in the river. I waved at him, acknowledging his presence. A heron – a sign of a good run!

So the loop was just under 6.5miles. We ran it in about 1 hour 37 minutes –  so if we want to talk times, this is quite slow, even for me. I have done the same distance with some hills quite a bit faster but the thing is, I don’t care. I had such a lovely time out there today and that’s what running is about. This is why I drag my butt out even when I don’t want to, it’s why I didn’t stop on the canal the other day, it’s why I am getting better at running through tantrums because every now and again I am lucky enough to have a run like the one I had today.