8 Minutes and Mantras

Well it stopped being too hot and with that I ran out of excuses really. I still managed to not run for a few days, I kept finding excuses in the morning, reassuring myself that I would get out later. Guess what. Yep. Later never happened. This morning my excuses didn’t really sounds believable, even to me. So I gave myself a talking to. ‘You’re a double Dopey’ I told myself ‘just get your butt out there and run’. I tried to convince myself that running for 8 minutes three times on a West Yorkshire August morning was not going to be anywhere near as hard as 26.2 miles in Florida January heat. ‘It’s also less fun’ niggled that little voice in my head.

Anyway, then Kath said she would come with me and given that none of my excuses had sounded plausible in my head, I wasn’t about the try them out on her. So I got dressed and off we went. It was only 8 minutes running. I mean really, 8 minutes is not a very long time. Except it is. The first 8 minutes actually felt ok. I settled into it quickly and while it started getting hard at about 5-6 minutes as we got to the steepest bit of the uphill I huffed and puffed my way up relatively happily. So far so good. 2 minute walk was enough to recover a bit and I felt ok setting off for run 2. Run 2 mostly sloped very very slightly upwards (after a sharp short down – which on the way back becomes a sharp short up – see below). The annoying slope you really only notice when you are running that way. It doesn’t feel like it slopes downwards the other way.

In run 2 my brain started not playing ball. It felt too hard, thoughts of walking a bit crept in. Excuses formed: ‘I can always try again to run it all tomorrow’ and ‘I’m just feeling a bit heavy because of all the food yesterday’ (It was Kath’s Mum’s birthday and we had a lovely roast dinner and birthday cake). Often what happens next is that we progress from that to ‘No point, can’t do it, might as well just walk, crap, can’t do it’. I managed to refocus before the real negative got hold and sent the little voice off into a corner of my brain for a time out. Instead I told myself that I really just had to run for 5 minutes because then I could turn round and head back towards home. And as I knew from run 1, 5 minutes was actually easy. I was huffing and puffing, sweat was dripping and I was barely going snail’s pace but I was going and at about 5 minutes we turned, back up a little tiny hill and then down the slope that doesn’t feel like a slope and run 2 was done.

My lungs were screaming for air as I mourned my lost fitness and cursed myself for having stopped running after the marathons last year and not really every getting going again. But after 2 minutes I had recovered enough as the watch beep told me it was time for my moonin butt to get moving again. Run 2 started with that short sharp uphill. Just a 10 second kind of hill but as I got to the top to another section which pretends to be flat – it’s the flattest on the route but at this point is really slightly upwards sloping, I felt like I had jelly legs. I was sure I couldn’t possibly run another minute even though I had only run less than a minute so far. Nope, I was going to have to admit defeat. I think I whimpered. Kath told me I’d recover now we were on the flat. ‘It’s not flat’ I felt like screaming but I had no spare oxygen for that. She told me I could do it and to remember my mantras.

Ha mantras. Yes I’d forgotten all about them. Mantras are funny things. In a way I am skeptical about them and on a cynical day (so most days) a bit dismissive. Somehow I can’t quite bring myself to accept that talking to myself and repeating affirmations or whatever is an acceptable way of getting through life or through a run. It just seems weird to me to be telling myself how amazing I am. It makes me cringe. So while I thought about how cringeworthy mantras are and all of that went through my head, I hadn’t stopped running. I was, somehow, miraculously still running. I heard Kath say ‘Come on keep going, you’re strong’. And I sort of shrugged and thought ‘well compared to three weeks ago I am, I’ve done all my strength workouts after all’ so my mantra became ‘I am strong and I can do this’. After saying it in my head three or four times, not finishing the run was no longer an option. All I had to do was get up the hill, down the other side and depending on time, up another slope for a bit. I am strong and I can do this. Car to car to gate to lamppost to car to gate to tree to wall to car… I am strong and I can do this. And I did.

Collapsing in a heap at the end of run 3 was tempting. But I kept walking for the 2 minutes as per the programme and by the end of that had recovered a fair bit. We were nearly home – just a couple more minutes of walking. It was slow and it was hard but it also reminded me that while often at the start of running or at the re-start of running things are physically hard, really hard and the sayings about running being mostly mental etc don’t really help or apply, there is absolutely still a place for training your mind to help. Yes I found the run today physically hard but I am now aware of the mental strategies available to me to push to the end of a physically hard run. I tried to just focus on something else during run 2 – I was still thinking about the run on this occasion but it was enough stop the negative spiral and I got through run 3 only because of the mantra. This is a definite advantage a running re-start has over starting for the first time I think. I have experienced runs were it’s all mental and I have tried different mental strategies. Now I just need to remember to use them as I make my way through this programme!

Remember the Whys

So by now you know I have a love hate relationship with running. It’s a relationship though and one I can’t really imagine being without now. I love running, I love not running, I love writing about running, I love writing about not running, I love how running makes me feel, I love what running allows me to do, what it teaches me… I hate running, I hate not running, I hate how running makes me feel, I hate how running can be all consuming and leave no time for anything else and I hate hate hate how crap I am at running and how some of the things it teaches me I’m just not ready to hear. Running keeps me sane and drives me crazy at the same time. It’s the best thing I do and utterly vile all at once.

I wrote before – quite a while ago – that I don’t really remember the beginning. It’s true, I don’t. But I’ve been thinking about the journey lots recently. I know there was a time I literally couldn’t run to the postbox at the end of the road – that must be about 20 metres or so. I couldn’t do it and sometimes it’s hard to remember that now I can. In running terms I had a fabulous January. I was relatively consistent (the longest gap in running was 4 days) and clocked up just over 60 miles. February was disappointing – snow, general crapiness – I managed 42 miles but had big gaps (10days). March felt more consistent but in the end I actually only made it to 40.99 miles and some of the days I didn’t run I had no excuse at all. I just couldn’t be bothered. The last March week was busy with a conference and driving down to Keele Uni I was quite excited that I only had 1.96 miles left to reach 150 miles for the year – except that I must have misread my chart because when I got home and added the miles to my spreadsheet I was still a way off. That upset me. No really it did. I was excited to have hit the milestone and then so bitterly disappointed to find that actually I hadn’t. Just as well I’d been too busy to post it on social media! (Just for the record, I have now gone through 150 miles for the year – I’ve triple checked this time!)

So for the rest of March I just didn’t bother. Yes I was tired from the conference but a run would have done me good. I just didn’t want to go. I had no motivation, no drive, no interest at all. I couldn’t even be bothered to flick through the running magazines I haven’t looked at yet. It crossed my mind a couple of times to maybe check my race number for the Lakeland Trails Hawkshead 10k or to sort out logistics for the Toronto Half marathon but I just couldn’t be arsed with any of it. Thinking about running was not a happy place. It felt like all of it, thinking about it, writing about it, organising it, all of it was a chore. I hate running.

On Saturday we were going to go to Bolton Abbey and run there. Honestly, I only got out of bed because of the promise of a bacon sarnie at the end. It was raining and it looked cold. I got dressed and we drove across. We got out of the car at the car park and were hit by an icy wind driving the rain straight into us needling our faces and making it hard to breathe. We got back in the car and came home. We spent the rest of the day curled up trying to keep warm. Sunday morning Kath went out for a run. By lunchtime there was something niggling me. I wanted to run. I actually wanted to run. Kath said she’d come with me so we headed out on our sheep loop using run/walk intervals of 2 minutes/30 seconds. It was good to be out. I smiled as I went past landmarks that for some reason I was remembering as running milestones. The post box at the end of the road was first. I remembered my first run/walk/run sessions where I was actually quite tired by the time I made it to the Pub just down the road – and it’s all downhill. I remembered the right turn to head uphill – I used to dread that turn. It took me months to not have to put in an extra walk. I smiled as we went past our old sheep fields thanking our lucky stars that we’re not lambing in this awful weather. I made it up the slope. Remember when that was impossible?

Inevitably on the downhill I tensed. We’d watched Cars 3 on Saturday and I suddenly started to giggle as I remembered the ‘trainer’ telling one of the racers who was tensing on a treadmill to think ‘fluffy cloud’. I spent the rest of the downhill repeating ‘fluffy cloud’ in my head giggling at the image of the car relaxing. When I got to the bottom of the hill I thought ‘I belong here, this is my track’. I’d noted two lines from Cars 3 as possible mantras but hadn’t realised how much they’d already lodged themselves in my brain. One was ‘You are a racer’ and the other was ‘You belong on this track’ The rest of the loop  felt good. I felt strong and the running felt ok.


Today we headed out again  – I struggled to wake up and it was snowing so enthusiasm was about 0. But I did want to go. Somewhere in the back of my mind the ‘can’t be bothered’ had shifted to something else. I was ‘chasing’ Kath again. By just over a mile I’d had enough. I dragged myself to 2 miles and shortly after that I was ready to curl up and cry. I thought about coming off the canal towpath and phoning Kath to tell her I was off home but instead I paused my watch, changed the running interval from 2 minutes to 1 minute told myself I belonged here splashing through the puddles and carried on. I’m remembering the why. Or rather I am remembering the whys. There’s the why of the first time I pulled trainers on and tried to run all those years ago during A-Levels – it was all about being thinner than I was. It’s almost funny how at my overall fittest with several high energy gym classes a week and a solid and consistent gym routine I failed and failed and failed at the running thing. I never made it over half way in a couch to 5k programme. It was the wrong why. Then they why of Rachel’s death and the half marathon that followed. Maybe the right why but too much to soon or maybe just not enough whys – to the whys that led to Dopey and London and the whys that keep me coming back to running now. So what are they. Well there’s the mental health stuff. I might be proper loony without running and I’d certainly get far less of the brain work done; there’s the physical health stuff – obviously I am healthier than if I didn’t run; there’s the weight thing – except I suspect I could lose more and faster if I didn’t run; there’s the being out and seeing the seasons change (or refuse to at the moment) and all of that; but as I dragged my moomin butt up Unity Street and wondered whether I’d ever be able to run even some of this stupidly steep hill, I nearly burst out laughing. I run because it’s all so bloody ridiculous. I run because it’s impossible. I run because it’s hard, it’s the hardest thing I do again and again and again. I can’t do it at all and yet I do it – several times a week. I run because I can’t and that means that anything I think I can’t do (like change the world), I just need to go out there and do it. Yoda was right – Do or don’t, there is no try – by doing you can, even if you can’t. That’s my why.

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

12 – I can’t f-ing do this – miles

It’s Sunday which means weigh-in day. Kath has done amazingly well and has lost 4 pounds. I’ve lost half a pound if you take pre run reading which I usually do or 2 pounds if you take post run reading. That’s it for good news.

I hated every single step of our run today, each and every single step. We set off on the flat. I had the backpack with water and a porridge bar to have around half way. The backpack was fine. I wasn’t. I felt really sluggish and tired from the start. We were running 90 seconds and walking 30 seconds. I really wanted to be able to do those intervals all the way. I was struggling much more on this route than I did when we ran it one way last weekend.

Nothing worked, counting didn’t work, my mantras didn’t work, my legs barely worked. I’m sure the canal was stunning, in fact Kath told me it was several times. I don’t remember. We got to Saltaire eventually, I hadn’t been able to think of a plausible excuse which is the only reason we made it that far. We kept going a bit to hit the 6 miles. Just over 6 miles we turned round, had some water and a chunk of a blueberry and honey porridge bar. We took one of the 90 second run intervals as a walk while we did that. Then we set off again. I made it back to Saltaire. So far so very slow and horrible, plodding but no real niggles. Not physical ones anyway. I was full of doubt though, full of ‘this is stupid, WTF am I doing?’. I got a tiny little boost as I passed a colleague running the other way and we recognised each other just in time to high 5 as we passed.

I asked Kath to tell me when we hit 8 miles so that I’d know when we had done two thirds. We’d already done 8 miles. That made me marginally hate the run less for about 30 seconds. We crossed over the canal, the little tiny tiny hill up onto the bridge was brutal. I swore under my breath. It’s followed fairly quickly by a slope up the side of one of the locks on the canal. More swearing followed by a shorter run because I ran out of steam as I got to the top and just managed a couple more steps. The longer walk was needed. I kept trying but I’d gone mentally and tiredness in my legs was giving way to niggles. My left knee didn’t hurt as such, it just felt  weak. My right calf felt tight and my lower back was starting to protest. We kept going taking the 90 second intervals one at a time and occassionally just running a minute walking a minute. At some point Kath also took the backpack off me although that made no difference really.

Melt down came at the Five Rise Locks. I just couldn’t do it. I was so disappointed. As we were coming up to the largest slope a women commented saying how we could always start again at the top. I snapped at her. She said something else and Kath did say thank you. I’m sorry if that was you. It’s just that you were tall and athletic and walking far faster than I felt capable of running. Sorry and thank you for taking the time to try and be encouraging. You did help!

At the top of the slope Kath suggested stopping at the cafe and getting a drink and having a rest as well as time to get myself together. That would have been too much like admitting defeat so I kept pushing and managed to get to crossflatts using 1 minute runs and 1 minute walks mostly. With roughly 2 miles to go I think I was in pain. The thing is, I don’t really remember. We walked almost all of the last two miles. Then, just because finishing a run with a walk is so utterly depressing we managed a little jog for the last 200 metres or so to the end.

So are there any positives? Well I guess I’m not still out there! I am not too broken now I’ve been home for a couple of hours, have done some yoga, had a bath and a roast chicken dinner and inspite of the 2 miles walking and the meltdown in Bingley which saw us actually completely stop for a few minutes we came home well within Disney pace requirements. We were at 14 and a half minutes per mile.

At mile 10 I was ready to give up and never run again. I was convinced it was a stupid idea to even attempt the marathon and wondered if I could persuade Kath to just run the half or ideally not run at all or maybe run it on her own – I’d be an awesome supporter. Now I’m disappointed and a bit anxious about distance and how I am going to manage those additional miles but I want to try. I am grateful that nothing is injured. The long runs will inevitably highlight weak spots and I’ll keep doing the yoga and the exercises I’ve been given. I am back to really wanting this. That doesn’t make me hate today’s run any less but it’s 12 miles ticked off the list, it’s 12 miles closer to where I need to be. 15 miles is next for the long runs – well I could have walked another 3 miles today – it may not have been pretty but it would have been possible. So, because today has to be all about me and I am feeling bitchy (mostly at myself), I leave you with this:

#RunningMeme Friday: I Don’t Know Who You Are…

Be careful of Liam Neeson, y'all. He has a certain set of skills/ Have a running meme you want to see featured here? Click here to submit it.

Morning Runs and Mantras

I actually made it out of bed early this morning to go for a run. It was touch and go, particularly because I turned the alarm off rather than putting it on snooze but just after 6am we left the house and headed out on our usual route pastimage our sheep, down the golf course and along the canal.We went slow and it felt like a comfortable sort of pace. Leg issues remain. It niggles without being painful as such and it isn’t getting worse. It actually feels better running than walking!  I took the walk breaks out once we’d turned round and I think we managed to go just a little faster than last time but it didn’t feel like we were pushing  – it was just nice to be out. There’s a very calming sort of stillness at the that time in the morning. Just as I was about to comment on the absence of wildlife other than ducks, a heron flew out of a tree to our right and headed down the canal in the direction we’d just come from. It was nice to see ‘him’ (I don’t know if it was male of female – how do you tell?).


Anyway, after my meltdown on Saturday and my decision to keep going, I was looking for tips and tricks to stay mentally stronger. Now, I am not a mantra sort of person, I like clever little quotes and sayings but they tend to be silly or academic – I’ve always found the motivating or the soppy stuff kind of nauseating. Well, there is some research which I read about in a Runners Wolrd magazine I think (I could check but I am far too lazy to get off the sofa) which suggests that having a mantra to repeat to yourself really works. In addition there is also simageomething about seeing words/phrases all the time that makes me remember. I have tried this with language learning – sticking post-it notes on everything imaginable to try and learn the spanish word for it as well as sticking up phrases so I see them all the time. I just wondered whether I can trick my brain into holding onto some positive messages when that ‘you can’t do this’ voice kicks in. I have accepted that the voice will come but I need to learn to argue with it (I’m a lawyer, I can have an argument in an empty room – how hard can this be…)

When we went for the run on Sunday it was the first time I really used a mantra when running. It is dead simple but it fits into a rhythm which means it also helps focus and calm my huffing and puffing. I just count 1-and-2-and-3-and-4, I can do this, I can do this, 1-and-2-and…(oh dear writing that down makes it sounds so cringe worthy and embarassing). It sort of works. It hasn’t really been tested yet because it hasn’t yet got really tough but I used it both Sunday and this morning to keep the rhythm on the hills (both down and up).

The fridge
The fridge

As for tricking my brain… I went online to look for some of the motivational mantras/sayings and to try and find some I could sort of identify with and which I thought might help. There are loads that really wouldn’t work for me because they’re all about faster/fitter/stronger which I just don’t get. I printed them out and was going to find places to stick them up. Well, when I got home yesterday Kath had cut them out and found places to stick them – where they kind of made sense. How amazing is that?!  The pictures scattered through this blog post are of the mantras stuck up on our front and back doors, the fridge and various bits of furniture. Do they work? Who knows. For now they are making me smile and partly laugh at myself for even trying this but there was a point this morning where I was beginning to struggle a little and the ‘I can’t do it voice’ was starting to get vocal and a few of the pictures and their corresponding mantras flashed through my brain.

Back door - the door I head out of
Back door – the door I head out of

I’ll let you know how I get on but for now just remember that ‘however slow you go, you are still lapping everyone on the couch’ (Thanks to my lovely friend Donna for posting that on my FB timeline very early on in the running journey – it is the one I come back to most often!)