The Magic of New Year

I am finishing this year much as I started it really. I will, as always, await the magic of New Year and will, as usual, be disappointed that the magic is no closer as we roll from 2020 to 2021. I will still be grumpy, assholes will still be assholes, friends and loved ones will still be friends and loved ones and life goes on, just like that. It goes on in spite of 2020 being the year that finally convinced me that some people are just nasty and will never choose to be kind; in spite of 2020 being another year highlighting that I do not understand, even remotely, a huge proportion of my fellow humans; a year where we could all have chosen to be kind, compassionate and caring and instead chose not to be, where we could have gone for ‘together’ but didn’t, where we needed action and leadership and got neither. 2020 has been quite the year. My mental health dipped. I could pretend it was Covid and lockdown related, yeah for the purposes of this blog let’s pretend that it had nothing to do with work, probably best that way. I found my self hurtling towards the abyss and slammed on the breaks. I did that really radical thing of putting my mental health first. I have cried less this year but I have laughed less. I have spent a fortune in therapy and it is working. As I slowly begin my climb back out of that hole, at least I think I am slowly starting to climb a little – I no longer feel like I am falling deeper, I am thinking about the magic of New Year again.

And I think I was wrong. There is magic. A different sort of magic to the one we might find in the Solstices or as we listen to the Godesses of the rivers we run alongside or the one the wind whispers to us as we quicken our descent down the side of our favourite hill. But magic. And it’s not magic that is unique to New Year. It’s magic that comes with every new beginning, every week or even day holds some of that magic, every marker on a calendar. Every point which we long ago decided marks time is and end point and a new beginning and each one holds magic. We just feel it more at New Year because of the importance we assign to the ticking over of one year into the next. And I think that it is a powerful magic and that it’s frightening in so many ways. It’s the magic of knowing who we are and what matters. It’s powerful and it means taking responsibility for all of it. It’s the power to define who we are and want to be. It’s the power to say yes to things and no to others, the power to stand up and make out voices heard, it’s the power to be kind and the power to let anger go (or not). It’s the power to be truly ourselves and finally, finally, abandon ‘should’. “That’s not magic”. I can almost hear you say that, but it is. If magic is a forgotten power that makes us all part of the universe, a power that can be used for good and bad and a power deeply connected to nature then the power to be truly ourselves and define what that means every single day is indeed magic and it’s radical. And that magic is closer on New Year because it’s a time to reflect and to define who we want to be. We’ve just forgotten how to do that in a way that puts kindness to ourselves at the centre. We’ve made it about metrics, we’ve made it about having to be better where better is narrowly defined by others. We’ve made it about resolutions, about weight lost, races run, personal bests achieve, number of books read, research outputs produced… and better is always about thinker, faster, lighter, further or more.

I am not going to tell you how many miles I ran in 2020, how many books I read, research outputs I wrote, classes I taught, pounds I lost/gained, inches I lost/gained, dress sizes changed, units of alcohol consumed or chocolate bars eaten. The cake is uncountable anyway. None of that is important. As much as I am often drawn to cold hard logic and plans and tracking and numbers, the magic in everything we do comes from something else, something that I can’t always capture but something that running somehow brings me closer to.

2020 magic has come from very different sorts of achievements than the ones I see being shared on social media. By the usual metrics I have failed this year. And yet it doesn’t feel like that at all. Work has been horrendous but even as my anxiety soars just thinking about it I know what I want, I know what sort of academic I want to be, I know where my focus has to be for me to get there. I know what matters. 2020 running magic on first glance has been absent. I have started again and again and again, my feet have hurt, my calves have been tight, my hamstrings tighter. Then lockdown and people everywhere and then I was ill and kept trying until eventually my body screamed stop and I finally heard it. Tests, rest and now finally baby steps back to fitness. It has been frustrating at times but even when my anxiety is through the roof and depression stops me from getting off the sofa, I know that I will get back to that feeling of strength and wellness. 2020 magic has been about learning to connect in different ways and re-affirming that I don’t need small talk and lots of friends but that I do need a handful of meaningful and deep connections and that I need connection to outside, to nature, to something bigger than people.

2020 magic has come from sunrises and sunsets and watching the seasons change, seeing curlews and lapwings in spring and summer and grouse, herons and kingfishers regularly. It’s come from getting angry at people out on ‘my’ routes and then remembering that they too just need to breathe. 2020 brought the excitement of entering Marathon Number 5 and the disappointment of having to cancel and then the relief as my training never got going anyway. It brought planning excitement for holidays to Iceland and Florida and the disappointment of cancelling and the calmness of accepting that it just is what it is. The time for those place will come.

2020 brought Odin into our lives and with him a healthy dose of chaos.

Odin Kitten

2020 brought more ‘starting again’ efforts than any previous year as I kept trying and trying to get going again. It brought reminders that nothing is every guaranteed and it put health at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I stopped watching the news because it just made me cry. But the year also brought sleep outs in the summer house, and it brought me back to yoga in fits and starts. 2020 has taught me something about patience and about listening more, it has taught me something about calm and acceptance. It has also taught me that I am strong. That when I want something and believe in it I will keep trying and I won’t just walk away. I want to run. Running is so impossibly hard and has been all year. I have not had an effortless run where everything comes together for longer than I can remember- and I don’t think there was one in 2020 – but I am not walking away from that possibility.

So 2021. No resolutions, no plans to be a better me. Just a hope that I can keep listening. A hope that the sunsets and sunrises are as beautiful next year as they have been this year and that I can get to see some of them during runs along the canal or on the moor. A hope that the kingfishers stick around and the deer and the long tailed tits, goldfinches and all the other birds that come to our feeders. I wish for a kinder world, where the news doesn’t make me cry and in the absence of that I hope for the continuing love and friendship that makes me laugh to balance out the sad tears with the good ones. I hope for hugs and simple kind gestures that shows us that the magic that connects us all hasn’t abandoned us, that all we need to do is take time to stop and breathe. Or, if we’re lucky enough, we just need to run, the way we do when it all comes together, when running is fluid poetic motion that feels like flying. And I wish you that perfect run, whether metaphorically or an actual perfect run. I wish you magic and the power and strength to be you – the you you really want to be, not the one you feel you should be.

Stay safe in 2021 and here’s your annual reminder:

January Stuff and a bit of Running

So, that silly month which starts out with you not quite knowing what planet you’re on, what day it is or whether it is still acceptable to have mince pies and prosecco for breakfast and ends in you running out of money and in a perpetually frazzled state wondering how it is possible that that you really only just had ‘a break’ is finally over. One of my friends replied to a text asking how she was saying that she was a bit ‘januaried’. Yes, that’s it isn’t it. We’re all recovering slowly from having been januaried – sick of people and enforced frivolity and craving solitude and quiet.

January sees resolutions, new fitness regimes, healthy eating crazes… all the things that don’t work and can be hugely damaging. I hate running in January. I hate going to the gym in January. I hate buying a salad in January. January is the month we seem to get all judgy – or even more judgy – of each other. Obviously I am only running, going to the gym and eating a salad because it’s January and my resolution is to lose weight. Obviously. That must be it. Why else would a fat woman run, go to the gym or eat a salad?

Well that’s not been my January. I didn’t make any resolutions. I’m working on the basis that I was fabulous last year and will be fabulous again this year. Clearly I don’t actually believe that. I’m a woman and an academic and I’m fat and unfit, I have my issues and imposter syndrome is my normal. However, I’ll let you into a secret – I like salad! I don’t eat any differently in January to any other time. I eat healthily overall except when I don’t. I eat out too much and I have a sweet tooth. I could do better, I could also do a lot worse. Second secret (it’s not really) – I have been to the gym once so far this year. I don’t give a toss. I enjoyed that session, I’ll enjoy the next when it eventually comes.

Now, this one really is a secret, I may have enjoyed my running in January. My friend Liza said she wanted to print t-shirts with ‘I’m not a beginner, I’m just fat’ on them and I would wear that. I think it’s what us fat, slow runners need in January. No people, I’m not out here plodding along for the first time because it’s January and I want to lose weight. I don’t need your unsolicited ‘Good for You’ comments. I’ve run two marathons and several halves, trust me, I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing and it has very little to do with losing weight! I am actually just trying to keep my black puppy at bay but you go ahead and judge, it’s fine, you’re januaried too. And yes of course you are just being supportive and encouraging, I know this and when it’s not January I love you for it!

I have undoubtedly had the best January ever in running terms. I have run just short of 62 miles for the month. Yep. 62 miles. I am thrilled with how my #Run1000Miles Challenge is going. Yes, I am a little behind schedule but I am ahead of where I ever thought I could be. I haven’t pushed for miles. In fact I had a week where I just ran 4 miles. I have cut a few runs short because my feet and calf muscles have been sore and had one disastrous run where I just felt shocking. I have run at home, at Bolton Abbey and in London this month. My shortest run was just 1.45 miles and my longest 5.8 (although most miles in a day were 8.66). I’m not sure I enjoyed the runs, some I did, some I didn’t but looking back over the month I enjoyed the running. In spite of having gone back to basics with run/walk and being slow I feel like I’ve made progress and I have enjoyed being outside, I have made fewer excuses, I have been more consistent and I have pushed through ice and mud. I’ll make a decent trail runner yet!

So here’s to February, to the quality of light changing, the greyness giving way to something a little more hopeful, to days slowly getting longer and running continuing to be something I actually want to do. It started well with a stunning moonlight run which was partly terrifying because it was slippery in places and I didn’t cope well with that. But it was undoubtedly utterly beautiful.

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Food and that

I did something unusual the other day and ordered the paperback version of a book I already have on kindle. The book is the New Year Same You book by Julie Creffield I already mentioned a little while back. I know I keep going on about it but it is such a lovely antidote to all the diet crap that we seem to be bombarded with at this time of year. I ignore most of it but I can’t escape the adverts; new diets and exercise regimes, new ‘get your dream body in 4 weeks’ type of things are everywhere. Now I am in a pretty good place regarding body image etc at the minute but that’s because I am starting 2016 2.5 stone lighter than I started 2015 and I am about to do something with this slightly wibbly wobbly body of mine that just 12 months ago seemed utterly impossible. But even with all that positivity all this diet and getting slim stuff is still getting to me. I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that I have done pretty well and that being fitter that I ever have been is far more important than getting in a size 12. Goodness, have I ever fitted in a size 12? Doubt it.

Anyway, the book. I ordered the paperback because I suddenly realised I was thinking about it alot and I wanted to go back to it and highlight and write little notes to myself and also work on some of the tasks Julie suggests and that is all just easier with an actual book. Just having the book won’t change anything at all. Doing stuff with it and engaging with the suggestions in it might well help me get to grips with some of the things I find difficult about this new ‘running feature enabled’ version of me. I’m waiting for the paperback to come but I was looking at the chapter about food again because of all the diet crap that’s around and because I had a not so nice conversation with someone about food recently.

I was asked about my weightloss and the other person simply would not accept that I had not been completely utterly disciplined about food and that my eating habits would change dramatically post marathon. Kath had a similar conversation with someone who refused to believe that she hadn’t been on a diet of some kind. I have done Slimming World in the past and it did work for me for a bit but there was just too much there that I diagreed with fundamentally (like diet/lite drinks to name just one). Julie’s focus on understanding our relationship with food and about making conscious food choices really resonated, as did the idea of disordered eating.

So here are my thoughts on food: I eat very little processed food. I like fruit and veggies  – all of them really apart from leeks. I don’t like leeks. I eat meat, possibly too much but where it comes from is important to me – local and most definitly free range – not necessarily organic – that’s a whole other story… Food miles are evil. I love eating stuff we’ve grown but I am also lazy and not that competent in garden or kitchen. We eat out a lot (see my lazy and competence point) and there are things I could cut out to be really ‘good’ (I don’t really like being ‘good’ though – just the idea of having to be a good girl makes me want to misbehave) but I don’t want to be miserable. I like chocolate, I like a beer and with that a packet of crisps and I like a glass of prosecco here and there. I like cheese and bread and crackers and sometimes only a cup of tea and a ginger nut biscuit will do. So shoot me.

How I eat has changed with running though but it is the running that came first. I didn’t change my eating to lose weight, I changed my eating, and not by much, because I listen to what my body wants. I rarely now eat something for the sake of it – I said rarely, not never. What I want to eat has changed. I crave broccoli, I adore salmon or tuna on quinoa and grains and you can’t beat avocado on toast… I can also eat a jar of peanut butter with a spoon in one sitting.

Reading the chapter about food in Julie’s book made me think about the messages and (mis)information we get fed (pun intended obviously) every day of our lives. No wonder most people are totally confused as to what we should and shouldn’t be eating! As for food labels – don’t get me started, they can make a mars bar look healthier than a piece of fruit. Even adverts I thought were quite funny, like the maltesers adverts about being naughty, assign moral value to food; we talk about ‘being good’ with food; good people have a salad, bad people have the burger and fries… but you can be pretty sure that neither of them will actually sit and enjoy the food. We eat on the run, while doing something else, at our desks (oh that’s me!), while watching TV. Julie’s chapter made me stop and think a bit. I tend to be quite arrogant about food. A bit ‘I know what I’m doing and I am fully aware of what choices I am making…’ But am I? I suspect not. We do food plan our weeks but we tend to just plan main meals. I think we would do well to plan breakfast and snacks etc too. And in the same way that we plan what to eat we should also plan the when and where much more. Julie’s chapter made me think about how to make more time for just enjoying food and the togetherness it could bring. We could cook together, we always enjoy it and yet so rarely do it. Why?

Anyway, one of the The Fat Girl’s Guide To Running running vests says ‘don’t judge just run’ and I really do think we need to take the don’t judge theme into the food arena too. Food and eating are loaded with moral baggage and guilt and pleasure and the complex relationships we have with it and we all need to figure it out for ourselves. So don’t judge, and don’t allow yourself to be judged but do think about what you are putting into your body and why. I do, and will continue to, reach for the biscuits when I feel a bit crap but I know that’s what I am doing and I choose to do it and I no longer ‘accidentally’ eat the whole packet. That has nothing to do with self control or discipline. I am not denying myself anything. I just have what I want as long as I am really sure that I want it.

Anyway, I am sure there will be more musings on specific aspects of Julie’s book but if you’re not quite where you want to be and all the diet stuff around at the minute is getting you down – or you are thinking of going on a diet, I really do think the book might help make sense of it all.