Un-Possible

Aaaaaaaargh. I have spent a lot of time screaming into a void lately but that’s another story. I’ve had flu or a bad cold or whatever and it was awful. I still have a chesty cough. I didn’t start the Harewood House 10k, I haven’t run. I went out for a plod last Sunday and honestly it’s hard to see any positives from that (thought of course, objectively, there are some – I left the house for a start). I had a session with RunRight today, with Mark, to have another look at my run and to once again try and iron out the issues with my form. I knew I was starting from zero again and while frustrated I thought I was ok about that and accepting of the fact that I had to start again somewhere.

Well, about that. I have spent the last 5 years very slowly shifting my focus from the number that appears on the scales when I step on them or the number that’s on the labels in my clothes to what I can do. I have stopped worrying about which bits wobble, how heavy I am or how much of a tape measure I might need to get it round my hips. It was (is!) just not important. What was important was what I could do. What was important was how strong I felt, how fit I felt, how easy it was to power up our hill, walk up the stairs at work, run 6 miles, how sleep comes easy when you are actually physically tired in a good way. Well the problem with focusing on what you can do rather than the numbers is that it doesn’t work when you can’t do it.

I cried all the way home – just silent tears rolling down my face. I’m not quite sure why. The session was good. It was exactly what I needed. Seeing the videos and having Mark point out where the issues still are and talking about how to fix them was really helpful. I feel more motivated. I have my Disney training plan and Mark’s instructions on what to do. It was good. It was a positive start to the next chapter of the running rollercoaster. Well, I hate rollercoasters. Running has been non-existent, I am not strong, I am not fit. Focusing on what I can do is not a positive because what I can do is, well not a lot and certainly so much less than I could 12-14 months ago. So running and exercise generally, right now, feel like just another thing I am utterly rubbish at. There is of course lots going on here:

  1. I have had bursts of good progress and then something happens and I am back to square one. At square one it’s hard to see there was ever progress. In this case the set back was the flu. Two days before it really hit I had a good session with Katy at RunRight, a hard session but I made it through and felt really positive and motivated after. Now it seems impossible to see how I could even get back to that level.
  2. For all sorts of reasons my confidence is low and anxiety is high. That doesn’t help in remembering that there are lots of things I am pretty good at
  3. It’s the anniversary of Rachel’s death tomorrow so quite frankly the world can just fuck off
  4. I have not been this unfit for a long time. I know that it just takes time and consistency to build it again and I know that if I do my exercises, go out running regularly and stick with it, my fitness levels will go up to a level where everything is easier really quite quickly. I know. I have the evidence – it hangs on my wall in the form of Dopey Medals. I know. I just don’t believe.

The problem is, I don’t feel capable and so much of my energy has been focused on well-being which draws on strength and fitness and feeling capable. I feel physically weak and unfit and that translates into some pretty big mental wobbles which make it harder to even begin to put any sort of effort into getting fitter and stronger. It’s a cycle and it’s a cycle that is really difficult to break. It just feels pointless.

So what’s the solution? Is there one? Think about numbers again? Well, partly it is tempting. I could shift a stone pretty quickly and maybe I would briefly have some sense of achievement for bringing down the number but it would neither be healthy nor sustainable nor would it change anything at all. I am barely heavier that I was 14 months ago and I am wearing the same size clothes mostly – though some of them fit a little differently just now. Being lighter, wearing the smaller items in my wardrobe would not make me feel any more capable, any stronger, any more unfuckwithable. It wouldn’t make me healthier, faster or stronger.

I don’t have an answer. The only answer is to keep getting up every morning and trying. It’s accepting that some days getting to work with all items of clothing on the right way out and round is a win and also that some days there is no win. It’s accepting that I am where I am. Whether I like that or not is irrelevant, it just is. It’s also about trusting the process. It’s about trusting that every little tiny bit of doing something is better than not doing anything. It’s about not thinking too much, it’s about not allowing the head to take over, it’s about having made the decision that I want that version of me back, the one that can run all the way up the hill home and still have enough left to swear about it… I know what I need to do. I know I can do it because I have done it before. It’s all written down, all I need to do now is follow the plan, tick each day, each exercise, each run off. I don’t need to believe, not yet, I just need to do. Belief can wait. It’ll come and when it does, well when it does… I might try believe 6 impossible things before breakfast (Sorry Lewis Carroll).

I’m not done yet

Is this the longest time I haven’t blogged since I started? It might be. I’ve barely run since the last post. I am still not through 500 miles for the year. You could say the wheels came off. Back in August I tried to hit the re-set button. Well that didn’t work too well because here I am nearly 3 months later and not much has changed. I could go over it all, analyse it, try and make sense of it but honestly it’s just bla bla and more bla.

I last tried to run properly throughout August but usually ended up walking a fair bit and my achilles or calf muscles were often niggly and very tight. I went to Keswick with Dad for a couple of nights and I ran a little while there – run/walk/run with lots of walk. I was grumpy about running. I went to a conference in early September and tried a run – it was fairly horrible and I walked lots and my calf was proper painful. It all seemed pretty pointless. And that sense of pointlessness continued through October. The notion that I might run, never mind be a runner just felt laughable. Still does in a way.

I haven’t blogged because I have nothing to say. As I stopped running or rather just gave up trying to run, I felt relief more than anything. Right, let’s all just stop pretending this was ever going to work. I’m not a runner, we’ve established that now so let’s just move on… I’m actually quite an effective couch potato! Term started, I didn’t miss running. I felt no pangs of envy as Kath pulled on her trainers and headed out. I didn’t even get a rush of excitement scrolling through websites looking at reduced trail running shoes. Nothing, nada. In fact really the only thing I felt was tired and a bit grumpy and a bit angry at the world and fed up and upset at everything and edgy and tense. And then I remembered:

‘You have depression you fucking idiot’ I reminded myself one morning a few days ago and a rare moment of perfect clarity. ‘Depression wants you to think that you can’t run, that it makes no difference, that it’s all pointless… but you can’t be sure it’s real’. Well maybe I had a point. So I went through all the things I was thinking and feeling about how generally crap I am at everything by listing them in my head and then (also in my head) marked them like I would a student essay – which basically meant going through the list and writing ‘unsubstantiated assertion’ in the margin over and over again and ‘You have some interesting ideas which are presented in a relatively coherent manner but your argument lacks evidence, contains factual errors and you do not appear to have consulted even the basic data available to you’ in the (imaginary) comments box.

So after giving my own argument a hard fail I decided it was worth going to my second strength and conditioning session with Katy from RunRight (more on them, why I didn’t want to go but did and how it’s been so far later because they really do deserve their own post) and then the next morning, in spite of soreness in core muscles I had no idea even existed, I went for a run.

We went to Bolton Abbey and we ran the short loop using 30 second run/ 30 second walk intervals. We stopped for photos, we soaked up the colours and we enjoyed being out. I see things differently when I run than when I walk. I see more. That might sounds counterintuitive but it’s true. When I just go for a walk I get too lost in my own world and thoughts. When I run I am much more focused on the surroundings, the colours, the sounds, the smells and I am much more likely to see the wildlife, the birds…

So I ran. It was slow and ploddy but it was ok. I’m not done yet. I did miss it. I just didn’t know I did.

Stop and Re-Set

So, time to try and hit the pause button for a sec, time to stop the self-sabotage and re-set. I’ve been thinking that for a little while but of course my brain is sluggish and muddled with depression so doing that is easier said than done. As you know running hasn’t been going to plan at all and one of the side-effects of not running enough is a real dip in mental well being. And of course the dip in mental well being makes it much harder to go out and run. Thanks Universe for that cycle of nonsense.

Yesterday I had a panic attack which I guess was pretty major except that it was nothing compared to the old Bradford panic attacks and I knew what it was so just rode it out. My train was cancelled and then the next two trains coming through were cancelled too so 4 trains worth of people eventually tried to get on the next one. I was squished in a corner next to the toilet with a bloke’s rucksack sticking sharply into my chest. It was airless, noisy, uncomfortable and a bit smelly and within minutes the oh so familiar blood rushing in my ears, jelly legs, inability to breathe and racing heart kicked in. I tried to distract myself on Twitter and I tried to consciously ground myself and breathe. I sort of tumbled off the train in Leeds and sat on a bench for 15 minutes or so before I trusted my legs to take me to the office.

At work I sat and stared at my screen for a while mostly close to crying for no apparent reason. I was close to tears all day and my heart rate stayed high. I had a lovely PhD meeting and briefly felt better. I had two other meeting though during which I did my usual high functioning, perfectly on the ball keeping it all together act and then I left the last meeting and walked from our beautiful Headingley campus to the station with tears streaming. When I got home I should have run but I felt exhausted. When the alarm went off this morning I should have run. I know I should, well let me change the should. I want to. I want to be out there running but I am struggling to convince myself. It’s hard to explain.

Instead of running I’ve been eating crap, craving sugar mostly, drinking too much coffee, eating out, eating mindlessly, putting on weight, moving less and less… I’ve been faffing with work and worrying about things I should just leave alone. I haven’t been good at holding myself to my own standards of sensible working hours, not engaging with idiocy and prioritising work based on what is important to me. And the thing is I know I’m doing it. Depression tells me it’s easier and trying to do anything else is pointless anyway. It tells me I can’t run, it tells me doing the things I want to do at work will make no difference. Depression is all about the insecurities hiding in the background all the time and pushing them into consciousness and then into the foreground. Depression lies but it does so convincingly.

As I was struggling to breathe on the train yesterday morning I decided I needed to re-set. I haven’t managed that today but I have made a start! I didn’t manage to be more positive at work really but once home I really wanted to try and get out for a run. I lost the battle though and only managed to cover a mile and a half and had to walk most of that. Of course my brain is being bitchy and reminding me of how useless as I am. But I’m trying. I got out even if for a little bit. Then I managed to cook a relatively healthy meal and I am trying to be kind to myself and take things an hour at a time. I still feel tearful and a bit useless but also that maybe I’m beginning to turn a corner. Writing this takes some of the power out of it. The panic attack yesterday was a clear sign that things are not ok and I think maybe I needed today to spiral a bit before hitting pause and re-set.

I will try and run more – I want to and it’s hard to explain why I haven’t and even harder to explain why I’ve been eating crap, spending too much time on the sofa, too much time behind a screen and not enough time outside. I don’t know why I’ve been drinking too much coffee and eating too much sweet stuff. That’s depression for you. Nothing really makes sense.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I am aiming for neutral with a healthy sprinkling of self care or at least a lack of self sabotage

On being half way – or not

Ok, well, we are half way through the calendar year. Nearly at the end of another academic year and nowhere near where I wanted to be in all sorts of ways. Earlier in the year I was storming ahead with ambitious research plans for my sabbatical, more ambitious plans for all the other things I’d do while not caught up in teaching and administration at work and with my bid to run 1000 miles this year. After a super successful December of running clocking up over 100 miles, January was the same (helped of course by Dopey) and then February and March also came close to the 100 miles mark. April was a little lower with tapering for London but still I clocked up nearly 60 miles. May and June were rather crap – I came in under 30 miles both months.

It’s not that I have just been sitting on my arse – although I have done rather too much of that too! So I didn’t run much in May, oh well, it was just after a marathon, perfectly justifiable rest. June – well, I started with some Washington DC running but then didn’t do much else. The running was all tourist running with lots of stops and excuses to catch my breath and if that didn’t work, I could always blame the heat. We did a few good walks on the rest of the trip and a couple of runs at Chesapeake Bay. Then we got home and I did nothing. I nearly pulled out of the Solstice Saunter on the 21st June because I didn’t like the idea of running 5 hilly miles on basically no training.

However, I did go do the Solstice Saunter and it was a beautiful run. It was hard but I ran quite a lot of it and just walked the hills really. I was expecting to be significantly slower than the year before but even with my stops for a few pictures along the way, a chat at the water station and walking the hills I was only about 5 minutes slower and I very much enjoyed it. Then I did no running for the rest of the month. I did do the 10k Leeds Legal Walk on the Monday after and I went to Pilates class on Wednesday and then we had a lovely 10 ish mile walk yesterday.

We drove up to Malham and parked up and walked to the cove. There were a few people about but not many and for a little while we had the cove to ourselves. We lingered and listened to the gentle gurgle of water and the birds. Then we made our way up the steps at the side of the cove to the top. We stopped to help some kids with a map who then got told off for asking for help. At the top of the cover we waited for the kids to get going and as we were about to set off a peregrine gave us a lovely little display before flying off into the distance. We crossed the cove and started our descent on the other side and because we were chatting went the wrong way.

We realised after about half a mile and doubled back and got ourselves back onto the pennine way and made our way onwards to Malham Tarn. There we sat at the water’s edge with a sausage roll enjoying the views before moving on. We headed towards Gordale Scar and started making our way down. I don’t really like down. We got to the first water fall and talked to a couple of people coming up – they said the next bit was wet and slippery and technical. We decided to turn back. When we got back to the top we had a little sit down and a look at the map. We knew where we were exactly but the path we thought we should take next rather than going all the way back to the road didn’t seem to be on the map. We took it anyway.

We walked along the ridge and eventually made our way down into the valley and bought an ice-cream at ‘Gordale Refreshments’. It was lush. We walked with it to look at Gordale Scar from the bottom. It confirmed that we made the right call not coming down the last bit. Lots of people were going up it and there was a bit of an audience and it was definitely wet and looked a bit steep and slippery. Up might be a possibility for another time but I am not sure I’d want to climb down it.

From there we walked on to Janet’s Foss and then back to Malham for a coffee and a chip butty and the Old Barn Cafe. It was a lovely lovely walk. We did very little for the rest of the day. Today was a complete waste of a day really. I never got going and got naff all done. At lunchtime Kath dragged my sorry butt round our sheep look and in spite of initially being anxious about actually running and finding it very hard it was good to be out and running. July starts more positively on the running front.

So half way. I am at about 420 miles. So about 80 miles behind my mileage target. I am disappointed. I started the year ahead and I let that slip. But I also think I can probably catch up if it turns out I want to. I’m not sure I do. I enjoyed the run today and I feel ready to run more again now but I might change my mind next time I run. So I am half way to wherever – it doesn’t matter. Let’s just see where I get to – miles, work stuff, other stuff. Or at least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself. In reality though I am grumpy. I am grumpy about the first 6 months of the year. I am grumpy about things not done and fitness lost and at the moment they are the things dominating my thoughts rather than the things achieved. Hm

On Being Tired

I am tired. I have been all week. I ran a half marathon a week ago and it went really well and I worked hard – so being a bit tired is normal. But I’ve been proper tired.

I took my planned rest day on the Monday with ‘just’ our yoga class in the evening – that’s an interesting experience on half marathon tired legs and on Tuesday dragged my butt out for the 6 ‘easy’ miles on the plan. Actually getting out was a win. It was after work, I’d been in Leeds, I was running out of steam a bit but it did me good to get out. Even though I grumbled about it being hard and horrible I did run it without walking and I did run the uphill – all of it until I hit the 6 miles beep. Then I walked .2 of a mile home.

Wednesday I was soooooo tired – I moved my speed work to Thursday and accepted I needed an extra day. Thursday I felt broken kind of tired. I felt like every time I sat still for more than 5 minutes I’d fall asleep. I was also quite tearful and anxious. We went for lunch and then I slept for nearly two hours. I did go to my yoga class in the evening and that helped me feel like I had at least achieved something that day.

Actual Running Selfie

Friday was the start of a 26 mile weekend on the plan. I think I sort of knew that it wasn’t sensible to try that but it hadn’t quite filtered through to my conscious yet. Friday was 4 miles. I did 4 miles. I had toyed with the idea of doing the missed speed work but I didn’t really feel up to it. Instead I thought I’d see if I could just manage 4 miles at roughly marathon pace and I tried my Mind T-shirt for fit and comfort. Miles 1 and 3 are perfect. Mile 2 is a little on the slow side and Mile 4 which included the uphill pull was too fast by about a minute. So all in all the average ends up bang on marathon pace. It felt good to have done something positive. I still felt tired though.

Saturday. 8 miles on plan. I thought I’d set off and try really slowly. Because Kath is not very well and we’d volunteered at parkrun all our timings for food and everything were all out and I had too big a lunch. I should have left it even longer to go run. For the first mile and a bit everything felt awful. My tummy was unsettled and I wondered if I was going to have to stop at Kath’s mum’s or my mum’s or both. By 2 miles it had settled down and by 2.5 miles I was in a nice little rhythm. I was really tired though. I thought I’d be sensible and aim for 6 miles rather than the 8. I turned round to head towards home and a little while after the turn my left achilles tendon started niggling. I agonised over what to do for a couple of strides and then decided nothing was worth risking injury now. I walked and it immediately felt fine. I walked a minute and tried running again and the niggle was back. Ok, ‘walking it is then’, I thought. Overall I covered 5.5 miles but 2 of that was walking, stopping, stretching, oh and going to the co-op to buy crisps for Kath.

Sunday. When I woke up this morning I had in my head that I was going to do the 14 miles the plan said. I had conceded that I might do it run/walk although I was really tempted to try and run it all – it would be the furthest I have ever run without walking. Anyway. Kath was struggling this morning so what I wanted to do training wise became very unimportant very quickly and we instead tried to find a way we could get Kath unstuck from the sofa and doing something positive in spite of still feeling quite poorly. We settled on Bolton Abbey where we had options in terms of distance, where there were facilities and where walking would be perfectly fine. I thought I could always make up my miles later in the day.

Looking for woodpeckers

Oh my goodness the run was as awful as the day was stunning. It felt like I had never run before in my life, like I couldn’t really breathe and like my legs had no clue what they were supposed to be doing. It was properly awful! However, it was a gorgeous sunny day and the River Wharfe was beautiful in her stillness. The ducks were pottering and there was a heron watching over the pottering. We also saw a dipper and heard woodpeckers. It was lovely to be out. We plodded slowly and walked the hills. We did the short loop and called it a win at 3.5 miles. There is no way I am making up miles today. The real or perceived niggles in my calves and my left knee and the general awfulness of the run tell me that I didn’t need a 26 mile weekend. I needed what actually would have happened if Kath hadn’t been ill – a very low mile weekend. We were meant to be going to see our friends and we would probably have run a short loop on Friday before we set off and another one on Sunday when we got back but that would have been it. That’s what I needed. I’ve still run 13.2 miles this weekend. That’s not nothing! (In fact it is more than I ran in all of February and all of March 2017!)

So why am I so tired? Well, I think there are a number of things going on here. The obvious one is that I am 63 days out from the London Marathon and I have very diligently been following a training plan that is quite different from anything I have been used to. I have been working an academic full time job and trying to settle into a sabbatical with the usual tiredness and frustration that can bring. I have been slowly working my way through an episode of depression which has its own special brand of tiredness. And, and this may be a big And, it’s the end of February. One of my fellow #Run1000Miles runners reminded me of the lovely German Word Frühjahrsmüdigkeit which probably captures exactly how many of us feel at the moment – tired, a sort inexplicable tiredness that hits us as winter slowly starts giving way to spring and we are getting used to longer days and fewer excuses to hide away and hibernate.

So the running – the plan we are following has higher weekly miles than I have ever done before and also more ‘themed’ (there’s got to be a better way of saying that but my brain is tired) sessions. It has a speed session each week – they swap to what they call strength in March and then lots of easy runs and the long runs and the odd tempo run thrown in. It’s 5 days of running a week. The attraction of this plan is that the longest training run is 16 miles. 16 miles is so much more manageable in terms of time than the usual longest of 20 or 23. You might think that another 4 miles makes little difference but when you are running them at my long slow run pace another 4 miles is almost another hour. It matters. So I have gone from training for Dopey which had 2 x 45 minute runs during the week and then back to back longish runs at the weekend with miles increasing every 2 weeks to a 5 day a week plan including speed work and tempo runs and much longer mid week runs. It’s a different sort of training and running.

The other thing is that since we got back from Dopey I have not been using run/walk intervals. I have mostly just run. I still have walk breaks – the Harewood House half was a good example of that but mostly I am trying to run the distance and only stop to walk for specific reasons – like because there’s an actual hill. I am therefore running more and that has got to make a difference too. I also have a huge number of miles in my legs. I have run over 300 miles in the last 3 months. To put that into perspective it has always taken me at least 5 months to run 300 miles before and that’s based on last year which was my fittest and furthest running year ever. In short, it is not surprising I am tired, I have run a bloody long way in a pretty short period of time and it has been a massive step up in weekly miles for me.

Plan: Do as Shack-cat does

So what happens now? Well, I think having a bit of a rest this weekend has been good. I have a rest day tomorrow and I have banned all thoughts of catching up on missed speed sessions. I am dropping back into the plan tomorrow and tomorrow is a rest day. I will reduce the 6 miles easy on Tuesday to a ‘sheep loop’ (about 3.25 miles) run on Tuesday morning before I go to the theatre with mum and then, all being well I will pick up the speed work on Wednesday – but going back to the next one on the list rather than the one set for that date. I will keep trying to eat well and fuel for the miles that I am doing and I will keep trying to properly rest when I am not running. I will also give myself one almighty kick up the arse to get better at stretching and strengthening – my yoga classes help but they are not enough. I need little and often. And on that note I am off to dust off my yoga mat!

It’s at times like this, when you have to come off plan, when things don’t go quite as they were mapped out and doubts start creeping in when remembering the WHY is so important. You can help me and Kath to keep our WHY in focus by supporting us to support Mind. Sponsor us here.