Ice, Ice Go Away

Running is sort of on semi-hold while the weather decides what it wants to do. I’m trying not to be grumpy about it. I get stupidly scared in snow and ice. While part of me really wanted to go and play in the snow, face some of those fears and rediscover some of the winter childhood joy, now is not the time to risk injury or to add to stress levels. So running is paused until the last of the ice has melted and the paths are safe again.

For once I am not too concerned about the pause. I have been doing my Body Coach App workouts so I am at least doing something. I am also confident that I can run/walk the distance on my plan so am happy to just tick those weeks off for now and pick up the plan wherever it falls when I can get outside again. This weekend I am to do a 2.5 mile run and maybe, just maybe I can do that tomorrow.

I seem to be managing 1 run a week in-between cold snaps. Last Tuesday I had a therapy appointment at Bolton Abbey and took the opportunity to have a little trot out while there. I was only going to run/walk from the Abbey to the Cavendish Pavilion, grab a coffee and walk back to the car park with it. However when I came out of my session the path towards the bridge across the river and beyond towards the Cavendish Pavilion looked really busy with dog walkers and families with small children. I really didn’t fancy trying to navigate my way through that lot. I briefly considered not running and just heading home but the sun was shining and my brain was whirring from therapy. Running would be good.

So I set off in the opposite direction for a little trot out along the river and soon moved off the path onto grass. It had that delightful consistency that you only get from slightly frozen wet fields – squishy and crunchy at the same time and a little bit spongy. I trotted along in my 30seconds / 30 seconds run/walk intervals and wondered why it felt like such hard work. Then I remembered that for the last year or so I have hardly really run properly off road. The bit of running I have done has been road and canal towpath – and the towpath locally here is proper path not mud. I have not run on grass and mud for absolutely ages. And it showed.

The section I ran is only about half a mile each way so I ran a little loop round the field which also tested out my feet and ankles more on the slightly longer grass and avoided the muddy bits where lots of people had walked. Then I ran back up to the Abbey and round it back towards the car park to make up my 30 minutes. It wasn’t a great run in terms of pace or even how I felt doing it – a bit sluggish and can’t be bothered but it was 30 minutes of moving my moomin butt in the sun, it helped my brain stop whirring and it felt good.

The run really got my quads and I was sore for a couple of days after but not sore enough to not do the Body Coach stuff. I have a week to go on Cycle 1 so I’ll do a review then. I’m quite enjoying it all. I’ve switched rest days around a bit this week as I was just dead yesterday but overall I think it’s going pretty well. Now, if the weather goddess would be so kind and remove the ice, I can get going properly on that 10km plan!

Marathoniversary

Dopey 2016 finisher photo

5 years ago we finished our first marathon and our first Dopey Challenge. There’s a string of blog posts about that experience starting with this one. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the marathoniversary this year. Partly because I am not really running and partly because we were supposed to be there now and should have run the marathon in Florida today. But the universe had other ideas and as things stand I am grateful that we are not there and that I did not have pull out of or cancel the marathon because given the health issues and lack of running I wouldn’t have been able to get ready anyway.

So, all in all it has been a positive day full of happy or at least positive memories and thoughts. Every now and again I have got a bit grumpy or sad. I have felt annoyed at myself for losing fitness and not building on the Dopey and marathon experience but then I reminded myself that I have built on it, that I have learned a lot and that I didn’t lose it all. I completed another 3 marathons after that including another Dopey in 2019. So most of the time I was thinking about the sense of achievement. I still have a sense of wonder at the idea that we ran 48.6 miles over 4 days only about 12 months after not being able to run 100 metres and being so unfit that walking any sort of distance wasn’t really fun. My memories from Dopey 2 are more fun in a way. It was less overwhelming, I was fitter, I knew what was coming, the conditions were better (less hot) and I kept my sense of humour through ESPN Wild World of sport, the sense of achievement from Dopey 1 is something special.

Before Dopey 1 and that marathon I had absolutely no clue whether I could do that distance. In fact the safest assumption based on a year of running, was that I probably couldn’t. When stepping up the distance during that training cycle I had so many fails at the new distance the first time round but on marathon day there was no second chance, no having another go tomorrow. I also never really believed. I didn’t believe I was going to finish, never mind finish within the allowed time for the challenge until I actually did. And on that first attempt I had nothing to draw on. I generally don’t really believe I have done 4 marathons, if you asked me run 5km tomorrow I am not sure I would believe I could do it. Running still very much is something other people do. I am not quite sure what it is I think I do. I just struggle to see myself as a runner, as a marathon finisher, as a Double Dopey. I have to actively remind myself that I did that and that it is a big deal. I have to force myself to remember that I worked for it, that it took lots and lots of little steps that eventually, collectively took me to the finish line. Now, though I have that memory bank. I can force myself to remember what it took to finish the marathon. I can remember that one foot in front of the other really does get you there. I didn’t have that on the first one. It was just step after step into the unknown.

Reflecting on that first marathon today made me realise how often I go back to it, how often I draw on it. Sometimes it isn’t the memory as such but the emotion linked to the achievement. There is something so powerful about knowing that you did something impossible. There is an unshakable calm that comes with knowing that nobody can take that achievement away, that you made a point that wipes out decades of negativity about what your body looks like and can do from others and from yourself. There is something special in knowing that you can just keep going, that it’s ok for things to get tough, for things to hurt and for things to seem impossible. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes it is fun to do the impossible.

And running has felt impossible lately. I really wanted to get going after our run on the 1st January but then it got really icy and I just don’t do ice. I think Covid-19 added another layer of anxiety about the possibility of slipping and hurting myself and putting pressure on medical services. I also didn’t really have any long pants that fit well. So that was another excuse not to go out in the cold. I ordered a bigger pair of Alpkit Koulin Trail tights and they arrived the other day so no excuse there anymore. I’ve been doing my Body Coach App workouts so I wasn’t as worried about not running as I might have been but still, I wanted to be able to go out and enjoy running again. So today, with the ice mostly gone and the roads definitely clear I decided I wanted to try my 2 mile run in spite of not having done any of my runs during the week. Kath came with me. The first mile is all downhill so I decided I would see if I could run it all. I did give myself permission to change my mind though. But I didn’t need to. The first mile felt lovely. I didn’t feel like I was taking it easy as such but I also didn’t feel like I was pushing the pace. I was just running. It was almost exactly a 12 minute mile. It’s been a long time since I have run that mile in that time.

After the first mile I was just going to turn round and run/walk back up the hill but the road was quite busy so we kept going to run a loop instead and dropped into run/walk intervals of 30 seconds each. I managed the intervals to the bottom of the proper hill and walked up that while Kath ran up and had a rest at the top and then we ran home on the intervals. The last bit was quite tough but I just kept thinking about that marathon and the fact that I only had another couple of minutes, not another hour or more to go. If I could get myself through ESPN Wide World of Sport and finish from there, I can do another couple of 30 second intervals. It worked and I am very happy to have run today.

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:

The Lakeland Lapland Festive Virtual Ultra

I can’t remember when exactly we signed up for this but it seemed like a good idea at the time because it seemed like it would get us out of the house doing some miles. We signed up as Team Double Dopey and because we had no idea how I would be, the plan was always for Kath to do most of the miles and I would contribute what I could. To cover the full trek distance of 234km we would need to do just short of 10km a day each over 12 days. That actually didn’t sound too bad! At the start I had grand ideas about doing lots of run/walk but I soon realised that I was once again expecting too much of myself and that I really needed to remember that I have been quite poorly and that really not that long ago walking 1km was pretty much impossible. So a reigned myself in and settled into the idea that walking was a good thing!

Today we completed the challenge with a whole day to spare and in fact we also sat Friday out and didn’t add to our total then because we were both really tired and heavy legged. In the end I did almost half of our team effort with 113.8km and Kath did 122km exactly. Mostly I walked. Here’s how my challenge went:

Zero (A Nightmare Before Christmas) sort of
  1. A shortish local walk ‘inspecting’ other people’s Christmas lights started us off on 10th December
  2. A shorter than planned run because of the now infamous bra malfunction on the 11th
  3. Another evening walk, more inspecting of Christmas lights again on the 11th
  4. A slightly longer distance (4.4 miles) of which the first 3 miles were run/walk on the 12th
  5. The 13th saw us walk 6.75 miles in the cold and wet and dry and warm feet have never felt so good
  6. On the 14th I just walked a short loop because my feet were sore
  7. On the 15th I went to Bolton Abbey and walked a stunning sunny loop of 7.6 miles
  8. I added another couple of miles to that with a short out and back walk in the evening
  9. On the 16th I combined a post office stop with a canal walk home adding another 5km to the total
  10. On the 17th I stopped at the post office again and looped home the other way round drawing Zero from A Nightmare before Christmas in the process (sort of)
  11. I’d just got back home when Kath finished work so we walked up to say hi to the grouse – they were grumpy of course
  12. On the 18th we rested and on the 19th we walked to Ilkley to the bookshop and back
  13. And later that day walked a loop with multiple errand stops
  14. Yesterday we walked 6.74 miles mostly in the sun
  15. And today, well we walked at dawn – out and back just over 5km
  16. And then we finished with a run/walk on a similar out and back route for our Solstice Saunter at dusk

It was lovely to finish the challenge with a run/walk and I found the 30 second run intervals much easier than I had the last time I tried them so walking most days has helped. The challenge also meant that I went out much more than I might have done otherwise – particularly on those rainy grey days. It’s been great all round really – in spite of sore feet at times.

A walking kinda weekend

Our Lakeland Lapland virtual ultra adventure continues. The weekend was all about walking. After a coffee and pancakes we decided to get organised and walk across to Ilkley to go to the Grove Bookshop to buy a present for one of our friends. It’s about 4 miles across the moors and it looked like a gorgeous day to head up and across. I have no real fitness at the moment and certainly no hill fitness so I knew I was probably going to find bits quite hard going and my feet have been painful so I was a bit concerned about that, too. But I like an adventure and I like a good bookshop so this was always going to be my kind of adventure.

We set off up the hill. It was a lovely mild morning and soon we were in grouse territory with grumblings coming from everywhere. While the way up from this side is a pull, it’s also a has plenty of almost flat sections to get your breath back. There were lots of birds around – mostly unidentifiable against the light as they flew by. We saw what we first thought was a kite because of the size but it was the wrong colour and on closer inspection the wrong shape, too. Not sure what it was but it was great to watch it glide in and out of view for a while.

Soon enough we were at the top and finally had the track mostly to ourselves and no longer had to worry about cars coming. We navigated our way around puddles and down the other side. I must have been tensing my feet and not walking properly because going down really hurt my feet. By the time we were about half way down the pain was actually making me feel a bit nauseous. But there aren’t many things I won’t do for a bookshop browse and we had come so far that turning round and not making it down to Ilkley just seemed silly – so onwards, even with painful feet.

Eventually we got all the way down and on the flat my feet recovered quite quickly. We stopped our watches and put our face masks on and went into the bookshop. We spent a little while browsing, picked the present we’d come for and then headed out again. There was a huge queue at Betty’s which we just laughed at. Imagine joining a queue of at least 25 people for a takeaway coffee/tea/cake… There were a few little market stalls on the other side of the road including a little coffee van so we got coffee and sat on a bench watching Ilkley people trying to navigate life. There was definitely a type that was out and about in Ilkley on Saturday – a sort of designer wellies with not a speckle of mud on them type rolling up in their range rovers (also no mud). It’s not a type I have much time for.

Grouse on Ilkley Moor- taken Feb 2020

After coffee we started the long long climb out of Ilkley back up onto the moor. The first mile felt a lot longer than a mile but mostly I tried just to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. On uphill sections my feet don’t hurt and given that this was all uphill for quite some time I didn’t need to worry about them at least. I was trying very hard not to get frustrated. While I have never been able to run up to the moor – from either side – it was a bit embarrassing to have to stop and admire the view so much. Soon though I could hear the grouse again – John Ruskin apparently said that one can’t be angry when one looks at a penguin, I think that it is impossible to feel frustrated or sad or angry when one hears a grouse.

So it took forever, and we were passed by runners and cyclists who did have the required fitness, but eventually we made it to the top. Now for the downhill. I was worried about my feet. I tried to stride out a bit more and walk a bit faster to see if that would make me walk a little more normally and be less tense. It seemed to work and I got all the way down without my feet hurting. Result! So our buying a book adventure added 14km each to our total.

After lunch we decided to set off again and run some errands. We had to drop off some home made granola at my mum’s, pick up cats’ medication at the vets, drop the present we bought in Ilkley off and then drop something else of at Kath’s mum’s. So off we went. This is something I definitely wouldn’t have done as a walk without the challenge. I would have driven down to the vet to pick up the medication and then would have stopped off at mum’s probably – and most likely I would have done this while already out and about anyway. The other two stops we might have done on a walk – but probably not the same walk. Another 7km later and we were home. A Saturday total of 21km walked and just over 40km left.

Sunday morning started with coffee and french toast and Kath charged her camera battery before we set off on our walk along the canal. We made our way down through the village to the canal and didn’t have to go far before Kath spotted the glittering blue of a kingfisher. We watched it for a few minutes before it flew off and we moved on. Less than a mile further on we saw a second kingfisher. Again we stood and watched for a little while. It was definitely a different bird, it was bigger than the first and slightly darker in colour. It flew back in the direction we’d come from so we moved on again and a little further saw kingfisher number 3. This one was more nervous and didn’t stay on a branch for long and disappeared into the vegetation to hide. So we left it to it and walked on.

A little further on we saw a rhino runner. If you’ve ever run or watched the London Marathon you might be familiar with the rhinos. I can’t decide if I am annoyed or proud of the fact that all of the rhinos overtook me at both my London Marathon attempts. But anyway, there were a few runners about and we realised that it must be an event. We didn’t give it much more of a thought as we came off the canal to do a little loop through a farm and back streets. Once we turned back onto the canal to head back towards home though we got caught up in a bunch of runners. They were doing the Grim Up North Bingley Christmas Canal Race. We talked about races for a bit and as we approached the stone bridge almost back where the farm loop starts, we saw a lovely dog without a human. It seemed pretty clear she was a farm dog but she came to say hi, trotted alongside us a little and then stayed by the farm turn off.

Spot the Kingfisher!

The rest of the walk was uneventful as we kept stepping into the side to let runners come past and tried to look out for the kingfishers again – or any other interesting wildlife. There were plenty of ducks about but the swans and geese must have moved further along. We had been thinking of going a little bit further along the canal and up through one of the estates but we could see the canal was busy with people and we were both beginning to really need a pee. So we took the shortest route home.

We were toying with the idea of going out for another short walk in this evening but we’re all warm and settled with cuddly cats and the weather had deteriorated so we’ve decided to stay in. I’m also tired – in spite of a long afternoon nap. We’ll probably finish tomorrow and do our Solstice Saunter as part of the finish. 20.43km to go in the virtual ultra and 2 days left if we need them.