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:

Going for 1000 Miles Again…

….or the one where I need to talk about weight.

Well here we are again. 1st of January. New Year. New Decade. Bla Bla. Yep, I am my usual grumpy self about new year. I wrote about how I like New Year for the reflection it brings last year. I haven’t changed my mind on that but somehow I am always a little disappointed that nothing happens at that magical midnight moment when one year or in this case one decade ends and another starts. Surely something should be different?

Well it isn’t. The world is still turning, arseholes are still arseholes and lovely people are still lovely. I am still me. Actually the last two of those are not disappointing. They are just as they should be but could we start a thing where every year at midnight on the 31st December an arsehole we each know turns into a lovely person. That should sort the world out pretty sharpish. Anyway, two things are on my mind. One is the the fact that Kath and I once again signed up for the #Run1000Mile Challenge – which you already know but which is now official. I have no idea if I’ll make it, we’ll see. As of today I am ahead of schedule! I went for a very slow and painful 3.66 mile run/walk. I tried 30/30 second intervals to see if I can nurse my calf muscles and feet a bit but it didn’t seem to help that much. Any slight up or uneven ground and everything tightens up and starts screaming. At least today it was manageable on the flat – yesterday I could only run downhill.

The second thing is weight and the new year new you bollocks that is going around as it always does at this time of the year. Honestly, I haven’t actually noticed it as much as I have done in previous years- but it’s early yet – still plenty of time to guilt-trip us into some sort of diet or gym membership. Anyway, the obvious thing is that I am still the old me and I am perfectly happy with the old me. There need not be a new me or indeed a new you just because there is a new year/decade. You do not need to upgraded, renewed, replaced or upcycled. Also the whole start and end of decade thing that is going on with pictures of 2009 and 2019 – if looking at old photos etc is bringing you joy then yay for that. If it’s not and you’re finding the entire experience uncomfortable then just don’t do it. I seem to be totally indifferent to it. Which is odd because I often get caught up in things like that. I am also lazy though and for 2009 pictures of me I would have to actually turn on the old Desktop computer… yeah, forget it. In 2009 I was also just me. A decade on – still just me.

So weight. I’ve been thinking about it as I grumpily flick past the ‘running to lose weight’, ‘yoga for weight loss’ and ‘get your dream body now’ adverts not to mention the weight watchers, slimming world and diet product marketing… Over the last few years I have genuinely shifted the focus from what I look like to what I can do. I am no longer concerned about the number on the scales or the number on the label in my clothes (though not being in-between sizes would be really really welcome). I’ve read stuff and learned stuff (and written stuff) about weight discrimination, about fat shaming, about body positivity about being fat and healthy and all of that. And I am uncomfortable with all of it. There is something about body positivity that just freaks me out. Maybe it’s that the focus for me is not on what you can do… anyway I am digressing – not the point of this post though I may come back to it…

The point I was trying to get to – in a roundabout, long sentences, thinking as I am typing kind of a way – is MY weight. I’m too heavy. Ok, now before you start with the positivity or with the telling me off for thinking and writing about weight and weight loss, calm the fuck down. Don’t tell me I’m not fat – I am. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, I look just fine as I am bla bla bla – nobody cares. I know how much I weight today, after a bath, butt naked with wet hair. It’s not a number I’m keen on but I have spent a lot of time trying to move away from caring about numbers and that has worked – so it wasn’t the number that made me think I was too heavy. It wasn’t even the tightness of my jeans – I can buy bigger pants – it was a general feeling of bleurgh. A feeling of being unfit, sluggish, weak and a bit sack of spuds-ish. Things niggle or take more effort than they should and running is so much harder.

So – am I doing anything about it – Am I going to be lighting up the search engines looking for the next trendy diet, how to burn fat in 6 easy moves? Don’t be daft. I’m not going to do anything about the weight. The weight isn’t the problem. I’m going to do something about feeling less strong, less competent, less fit and generally less wonder woman than I want. No, I’m not changing anything major or joining a fancy gym. I hate the gym. I am simply going back to what I was doing and what brought me joy as well as fitness. I am looking forward to starting to feel the benefits of daily yoga again and the sense of fitness that comes with consistent running and the feeling of power that comes with strength – gained through yoga and through the strength and conditioning exercises. The number on the scales will change in a downward directions – almost certainly – but probably not by as much as you might think.

And just to be clear, this isn’t a January new years resolution thing. I kicked this off last year when deciding to look to RunRight for help to make sure I can run injury free in 2020. While the sessions with them were getting too much for me mentally at the end of last year (well no, everything else was so I had nothing left for them), I am now looking forward to going back later on this month. December was a month of slowly coming back to things I’d neglected and the trick in future is going to be to make time for at least some of those when things get crazy busy and I get tired.

Anyway. Happy 2020.

2019, it’s lovely to meet you

Am I supposed to start the 2019 blog posts off all happy smiley positive with good news and excitement for what’s to come? Well there will be some of that but I’m going to start a little bit grumpy: I don’t like New Year! Well I do and I don’t. I have an affinity for points in the year where you naturally reflect or plan ahead, where you dream, where you learn. The start of a new academic year, the start of a new Semester even, birthdays, the end of holidays, finishing a book, sometimes, simply finishing a week or even a day. New Year is simply that for me – or it would be if it didn’t come with all this bollocks about being a better you in the new year. I am the same slightly grumpy, slightly mad and slightly bitchy me today as I was yesterday. I don’t change much! I still don’t like people, I still have broccoli cravings and I will still eat cake. I don’t have any New Year’s resolutions. I have a very simple plan that is completely independent of New Year, or any of those other ‘fresh start’ moments. I plan to keep on running as long as I am enjoying running. If it turns out I hate it, well then I won’t run. There are things I’d like to achieve this year, of course, little challenges that keep pushing me out of my comfort zone because that’s where the fun happens – but resolutions? Nope.

I started today with a Double parkrun. I am not a parkrun fanatic or even fan really. This may be hugely unpopular but parkrun freaks me out a little bit. It’s a bit too cult like. I like going along to the odd one and I really like the idea of doing them when we’re on holiday. I have so far ticked off the Brisbane one and then 3 local ones. I’ve only done the Cliffe Castle one twice (new PB today after doing the Myrtle Park one first – happy Jess). I am looking forward to maybe trying a Washington DC one and the new Hamburg one in 2019. Anyway, I digress. Double parkrun this morning. The first was Myrtle Park in Bingley. Hilly. But really not impossible. However, as we waited the place seemed full of club runners and cocky buggers talking about course records for their age groups etc. I felt out of place. I mean FFS, I felt out of place at parkrun! I got a grip and remembered #myrunmyrules. It’s a 4 lap course which I thought would be dull and hard but it’s a lovely and twisty or as one of the little lads we saw said, ‘twiggly’ course. After the first lap I wasn’t sure I’d manage the hills another 3 times but after the 3rd lap I was pleasantly surprised to still be running and to want to finish running. The last hill was a bit of a push but it felt good. The course measured a little short on the Garmin but whatever the actual distance my pace was decent and I felt strong (Home at 36 and half ish minutes)- good sign for Dopey next week!

Then we hopped in the car and drove across to Cliffe Castle. This was the second time for us at this venue. I had a few doubts here. There were people. I don’t like people! But I wanted to do the Double. Finally we set off and settled into a slow trot at the back of the pack. The course is quite narrow making overtaking tricky particularly when you are a slower runner who has to negotiate getting past those even slower while not getting in the way of those runners lapping us. Cliffe Castle is a 3 lap course which is actually mostly downhill with all the up coming in one stint. I walked that. Maybe one day I’ll run it but not today. Again it was a nice plod round in January sunshine in a lovely park setting really. On our final lap we seemed to fall into step with dog Diego and his human for a while. Diego was distracted by everything and ran head first into one of the parkrun signs. I don’t think he hurt himself so it was ok to laugh. Cliffe Castle has a nasty little incline as you approach the finish and I’d watched it come closer as we plodded the final stretch. I was a little concerned about this incline, I wasn’t sure if I could run it. Then Kath said, ‘come on my little Dopey, finish strong’ and out of nowhere I found the energy to power up the hill feeling surprisingly good. Parkrun 2 done. This course also measured slightly short. So maybe my Garmin just doesn’t fancy the distance today.

So that’s the first 6 miles of the year bagged. I am ahead in the #Run1000Miles challenge. I doubt I’ll stay ahead for very long but it feels good to start as I mean to go on! Anyway, here’s my 2019 pledge. I am going to have a crack at the 1000 miles this time. My A Goal is to get to 1000. B is to run a little further than in 2018 and my C Goal is to run and enjoy it whatever the mileage. In fact goals A and B are premised on enjoying the running. I won’t be a mileage slave, it doesn’t work. However what does seem to work is enjoying being out, not taking things too seriously and just seeing what happens – miles take care of themselves that way. I am really excited to be able to share my running adventures with the #Run1000miles gang again this year, but more importantly I am excited to see what everyone else is up to and I’m looking forward to again being inspired by the mileage, the elevation, the scenery and crucially the sense of joy that is so ever present in the Facebook group. If you are a runner, wanna be runner, maybe runner or a I could maybe possibly, perhaps but not really sort of runner, come join us and see if you can surprise yourself running further, stronger and happier like I did last year.

Happy January and Happy 2019. Keep being the amazing, fabulous you!

2018 Running: Further, Stronger, Happier

2018 pledge!

2018 started with a pledge try and run 1000 miles. I never really thought I’d get all the way there. I did say in my first post of the year that I really wanted to have a crack at it but in my head my A Goal was 750 miles, B goal was to run more than in 2017 and C to get out and run and enjoy it. Well I have well and truly smashed 2018! My Year end total is 810.34 miles

January was cold and icy and I struggled to get myself out the door on loads of occasions. I found running hard but I still had some fantastic adventures running at the Bolton Abbey Estate and in London’s Hyde Park with Kath, running to work meetings in Saltaire and surviving a work team building couple of days in the Lake District. I was pushed out of my comfort zone which basically set the tone for the rest of the year – but in a good way.

February saw a fair bit of canal towpath running and it also saw me not finish the Harwood House Half Marathon. It was the first time that I really didn’t mind a DNF and enjoyed the part of the race that I managed. My hip was sore though and took a while to recover. February gave way to March and my running mojo and mileage didn’t pick up – in fact they plummeted further. There was snow and I was restless and grumpy about running. My chart shows a scattering of short runs with long gaps in-between.

April was better. I got my shit together and I got my backside round the Hawkshead 10km run and enjoyed it. In spite of the very slow pace and the terrifying downhill I loved it. I look back at it often and it somehow seems like one of the defining moments of 2018 in running terms. I found it impossible, the uphill, the mud, the slippery slate downhill but I loved it. And the adventures didn’t stop there. We ran in Bronte country, we ran almost to Burnsall, we ran our canal loops that were beginning to look alive in the spring sunshine and I meandered happily into May.

May brought more epic adventures. We conquered the Toronto Half marathon and I suddenly believed that I might have a 2.45 half marathon in me. I missed it this time but I hadn’t really believed I could go under 2.50 so a 2.48 was awesome. We ran on the Moors here and I ran in London and it was all quite lovely. In June the mileage dropped a little and I don’t really remember much about June running. It was fairly consistent but I didn’t blog much so maybe it was just uneventful. It ended with Day 1 of Endure 24 and July began withDay 2 and saw me go beyond marathon distance for the first time ( 6 x 5 mile laps) even if mostly walking.

July was all about low mileage but epic locations. We were in Australia. I ran on the beach, in the rainforest and the Brisbane Parkrun as well as tourist-running epic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House. Australia running was mind-blowing. We also registered for the Dopey Challenge while we were there so our running adventures were set to continue!

August saw the mileage increase again and I broke through the 500 mile mark. While that was fantastic I mentally struggled in August and my black pup was hanging around. September started well with the Great North Run (which I never did fully blog about but it was a solid half marathon which could have been epic if I’d been able to keep my head together. I learned a lot!). Then after that I got a horrible cold/flue thingy that I just could not shake off. When I eventually did I came back strong. The last three months of running have been solid. Mostly they have been enjoyable and while there have been tantrums and meltdowns – particularly on the long distances – I have not, other than in the heat of the moment, fallen out of love with running. I want to run!

December has been my highest mileage month ever. I haven’t pushed for that, it just happened. And I have enjoyed December and still feel physically strong. It’s almost like I might actually feel ready for Dopey! So what has 2018 taught me? Well, it’s taught my to enjoy running and to focus on enjoying it, to make that the key motivation not a side effect or nice to have. I’ve used my hashtag of #MyRunMyRules less but embraced the spirit of it more. I am getting much better at ignoring what I think is a respectable pace and doing my thing. I am growing in confidence and I am embracing a spirit of adventure. Looking back at the year I know I had low points, I know I had a fair bit of ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘it’s all f-ing pointless’ but I don’t really remember that. I have run better, further, stronger and most importantly happier than ever before. The pictures dotted through this post show some of the running moments and memories that encapsulate that (although many of my favourite moments weren’t captured because they were not that sort of moment). I am excited to see what 2019 brings.

Happy New Year!

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