Is this the longest time I haven’t blogged since I started? It might be. I’ve barely run since the last post. I am still not through 500 miles for the year. You could say the wheels came off. Back in August I tried to hit the re-set button. Well that didn’t work too well because here I am nearly 3 months later and not much has changed. I could go over it all, analyse it, try and make sense of it but honestly it’s just bla bla and more bla.
I last tried to run properly throughout August but usually ended up walking a fair bit and my achilles or calf muscles were often niggly and very tight. I went to Keswick with Dad for a couple of nights and I ran a little while there – run/walk/run with lots of walk. I was grumpy about running. I went to a conference in early September and tried a run – it was fairly horrible and I walked lots and my calf was proper painful. It all seemed pretty pointless. And that sense of pointlessness continued through October. The notion that I might run, never mind be a runner just felt laughable. Still does in a way.
I haven’t blogged because I have nothing to say. As I stopped running or rather just gave up trying to run, I felt relief more than anything. Right, let’s all just stop pretending this was ever going to work. I’m not a runner, we’ve established that now so let’s just move on… I’m actually quite an effective couch potato! Term started, I didn’t miss running. I felt no pangs of envy as Kath pulled on her trainers and headed out. I didn’t even get a rush of excitement scrolling through websites looking at reduced trail running shoes. Nothing, nada. In fact really the only thing I felt was tired and a bit grumpy and a bit angry at the world and fed up and upset at everything and edgy and tense. And then I remembered:
‘You have depression you fucking idiot’ I reminded myself one morning a few days ago and a rare moment of perfect clarity. ‘Depression wants you to think that you can’t run, that it makes no difference, that it’s all pointless… but you can’t be sure it’s real’. Well maybe I had a point. So I went through all the things I was thinking and feeling about how generally crap I am at everything by listing them in my head and then (also in my head) marked them like I would a student essay – which basically meant going through the list and writing ‘unsubstantiated assertion’ in the margin over and over again and ‘You have some interesting ideas which are presented in a relatively coherent manner but your argument lacks evidence, contains factual errors and you do not appear to have consulted even the basic data available to you’ in the (imaginary) comments box.
So after giving my own argument a hard fail I decided it was worth going to my second strength and conditioning session with Katy from RunRight (more on them, why I didn’t want to go but did and how it’s been so far later because they really do deserve their own post) and then the next morning, in spite of soreness in core muscles I had no idea even existed, I went for a run.
We went to Bolton Abbey and we ran the short loop using 30 second run/ 30 second walk intervals. We stopped for photos, we soaked up the colours and we enjoyed being out. I see things differently when I run than when I walk. I see more. That might sounds counterintuitive but it’s true. When I just go for a walk I get too lost in my own world and thoughts. When I run I am much more focused on the surroundings, the colours, the sounds, the smells and I am much more likely to see the wildlife, the birds…
So I ran. It was slow and ploddy but it was ok. I’m not done yet. I did miss it. I just didn’t know I did.
So, time to try and hit the pause button for a sec, time to stop the self-sabotage and re-set. I’ve been thinking that for a little while but of course my brain is sluggish and muddled with depression so doing that is easier said than done. As you know running hasn’t been going to plan at all and one of the side-effects of not running enough is a real dip in mental well being. And of course the dip in mental well being makes it much harder to go out and run. Thanks Universe for that cycle of nonsense.
Yesterday I had a panic attack which I guess was pretty major except that it was nothing compared to the old Bradford panic attacks and I knew what it was so just rode it out. My train was cancelled and then the next two trains coming through were cancelled too so 4 trains worth of people eventually tried to get on the next one. I was squished in a corner next to the toilet with a bloke’s rucksack sticking sharply into my chest. It was airless, noisy, uncomfortable and a bit smelly and within minutes the oh so familiar blood rushing in my ears, jelly legs, inability to breathe and racing heart kicked in. I tried to distract myself on Twitter and I tried to consciously ground myself and breathe. I sort of tumbled off the train in Leeds and sat on a bench for 15 minutes or so before I trusted my legs to take me to the office.
At work I sat and stared at my screen for a while mostly close to crying for no apparent reason. I was close to tears all day and my heart rate stayed high. I had a lovely PhD meeting and briefly felt better. I had two other meeting though during which I did my usual high functioning, perfectly on the ball keeping it all together act and then I left the last meeting and walked from our beautiful Headingley campus to the station with tears streaming. When I got home I should have run but I felt exhausted. When the alarm went off this morning I should have run. I know I should, well let me change the should. I want to. I want to be out there running but I am struggling to convince myself. It’s hard to explain.
Instead of running I’ve been eating crap, craving sugar mostly, drinking too much coffee, eating out, eating mindlessly, putting on weight, moving less and less… I’ve been faffing with work and worrying about things I should just leave alone. I haven’t been good at holding myself to my own standards of sensible working hours, not engaging with idiocy and prioritising work based on what is important to me. And the thing is I know I’m doing it. Depression tells me it’s easier and trying to do anything else is pointless anyway. It tells me I can’t run, it tells me doing the things I want to do at work will make no difference. Depression is all about the insecurities hiding in the background all the time and pushing them into consciousness and then into the foreground. Depression lies but it does so convincingly.
As I was struggling to breathe on the train yesterday morning I decided I needed to re-set. I haven’t managed that today but I have made a start! I didn’t manage to be more positive at work really but once home I really wanted to try and get out for a run. I lost the battle though and only managed to cover a mile and a half and had to walk most of that. Of course my brain is being bitchy and reminding me of how useless as I am. But I’m trying. I got out even if for a little bit. Then I managed to cook a relatively healthy meal and I am trying to be kind to myself and take things an hour at a time. I still feel tearful and a bit useless but also that maybe I’m beginning to turn a corner. Writing this takes some of the power out of it. The panic attack yesterday was a clear sign that things are not ok and I think maybe I needed today to spiral a bit before hitting pause and re-set.
I will try and run more – I want to and it’s hard to explain why I haven’t and even harder to explain why I’ve been eating crap, spending too much time on the sofa, too much time behind a screen and not enough time outside. I don’t know why I’ve been drinking too much coffee and eating too much sweet stuff. That’s depression for you. Nothing really makes sense.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings. I am aiming for neutral with a healthy sprinkling of self care or at least a lack of self sabotage
Well, we are home and jet lag is a bitch. My grand total of achievements for today is to get out of bed briefly and to make some hummus and then some lemon drizzle cake. I might add eating said cake to that list shortly. Still, there are tourist running blog posts to be caught up on!
We left Shenandoah on Friday morning and on the way out of the park stopped at the Northern Visitor Centre called Dickey Ridge and did a little loop walk from there. We just did the short Fox Hollow Loop which was a nice leg stretcher. We kept our eyes peeled for another bear, there were signs that one was in the area and warning people not to talk the loop with dogs as the bear was aggressive towards dogs. We didn’t see one though but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
Then we drove to Gettysburg watching the landscape change again as we went. After a little walk round, a drink at the bar and a shower we headed to the Mason Dixon Distillery for food and a drink or two. After trying a spirits flight and then another cocktail our morning run was never going to be all rainbows and unicorns.
We set off and went in a straight line from our hotel until we hit the Gettysburg National Cemetery. It was too hot, too humid, too everything. I was struggling to breathe and my legs were heavy. I huffed and puffed my way for that half mile feeling pretty crappy. Well what do you expect drinking a mix of vodka, rum and rough as a bear’s backside stuff the American’s call whiskey.
We walked round the cemetery and then into the Military Park. We walked through the park from monument to monument. It felt a bit odd to run so we didn’t. I was more than happy to walk! It is a quite spectacular site and the scale is hard to capture.
After a quick pee stop and after having seen lots of people running through the park we decided to run back to the hotel. It was roughly 2.5 miles ish and had some hills in. I wasn’t optimistic but clearly walking round the park had woken my system up and as soon as we started running I knew I felt better. We plodded our way back through the park and then along the road rather than through the cemetery and actually it was a good little run in the end.
We entered the National Park in our trusted Neville at the most Southerly Point – at Rockfish Gap. We started our leisurely drive up Skyline Drive stopping at many of the look out points. We stopped a few miles in to do a short walk to the summit of Turk Mountain (all the trails we did have information on them on the website if you want to look). It was a really clearly marked and easy trail. I am not hill fit at all so it was a little more sweaty and huffy/puffy than I wanted it to be but it was a great walk.
It took us maybe an hour and a half to go up and come back down and there were some good views from the top. After that we continued our drive up to Big Meadow Lodge. We had lunch (with really poor service), drove back down to the waystation, visitor centre and shop and looked at that for a bit and then eventually got checked in after being told to be back at 3pm for our keys and waiting until 3.20. When we got to our room the housekeeper was still there. It was not a great start and we were both tired and a bit grumpy.
We decided to head out for a little explore and were soon cheered up by chipmunks which are darting about all over the car park. We walked up to the Black Rock summit – an easy ten minutes from the car park and watched the weather blow in. We managed a selfie in a bit of a cloud gap but that was all we got. After a bit of a chill out we had food and a bottle of local white wine in the tap room and planned the next set of adventures.
6thJune didn’t start well. I struggled to wake up. Even after coffee I felt sluggish and sleepy. Probably the wine – which had been nice but clearly hangover inducing. We set off for a little run and it was so so hard. The plan was just to run down to the big meadow, have a walk round that and then run back up. I really struggled and as we turned off one trail onto another and started going up a little bit I felt really sick. I stopped and we walked a little. Kath had some polo mints in her vest and having one helped with the nausea. We saw a deer and that cheered me up.
We got to the big meadow and followed some little tracks through for a while watching some deer in the distance and people with ridiculously sized cameras watching the deer and probably looking out for bears too. Then we ran/walked our way back to our room and I had a little cry. I felt utterly crappy and unfit and like the best thing would be just to stay in the room and let Kath go explore. Then I got over myself and we went for breakfast and set off on the days adventures.
First up we were going to to the Hawksbill summit loop which would take us to the highest summit in the National Park via a looped trail that was described as moderate and busy in the guidebook that we had bought the day before. We pulled into a car park and then realised that we had pulled into the one before the one we were actually meant to park in. A quick look at the map determined that we could get to the summit from this spot and that it would take us up a fire road and would be an out and back walk. We decided to do that to avoid a busy trail and to give me some confidence. It was a nice walk up and while a little huffing and puffing definitely happened, it wasn’t too bad. We were rewarded with some stunning Blue Ridge Mountain views.
After the Hawksbill summit we walked back down the way we came and saw quite a few people making their way up now so we had definitely timed it right and chosen the right trail as there was a steady stream of people on the other one as far as we could tell. We drove onwards a little and stopped at the Skyland resort for a pee. It was a little early for lunch but we had read about a short easy trail which was only a roughly 1.5 mile loop and close to Skyland so we decided to walk that. It was called the Limberlost Trail and was a path aimed at families or those struggling to walk longer or more challenging trails. There were frequent benches and an activity sheet for kids at the start of the trail. We walked round listening to the birds and chatting. When we were done it was time for lunch.
After lunch at Skyland we drove back towards Big Meadows to do the Dark Hollow Falls walk as an out and back or, if we felt like it, with tagging on the Rose River Loop. The Dark Hollow Falls trail starts with a gentle but steady decent. It’s a definite trail rather than track with roots and rocks and later on some muddy sections but it really isn’t too technical. I was doing ok and really enjoying being out. I was thinking about how much trail running has taught me about my ability to do this sort of thing and some of those reflections formed the basis of my latest #Run1000Miles ambassador blog which went live today.
We arrived at the top of the Water falls – just above the Dark Hollow Falls where there is a little cascade. We sat for a bit on the rock, sipped some water and waited for the walkers around us to clear. Then we moved on. It was steeper downhill here and I had a few moments were I didn’t really want to be doing this. However, the setting was too stunning to consider not doing it. It was busy though so we just kept moving, stopping only to let people who were making their way up the path come past us. When we eventually arrived at the bottom we had a proper look at the falls. They are stunning and then decided that we would walk on.
We looked at the map. After having come all the way down the way we did we thought that going back up that way with the number of people and the steep bits would actually not be fun so we decided to walk part of the Rose River Loop but then pick up the horse trail that runs between Skyland and Big Meadows and walk back along that to the car park. That would avoid the worst up and should avoid people altogether. I looked at the map and declared ‘that sounds good because we are nearly at the lowest point now so should start gently climbing again soon’.
And off we went. Down. More down. And then more down. Clearly I can’t read an elevation map. We were not in fact nearly at the lowest point. We were about half way down at this point. We wound our way along the river which was a stunning and set to a wonderful soundtrack of trickling water which got stronger through the cascades and quieter in the pools. We spend about a mile and a quarter going down a fairly technical trail. Every time it evened out and we spent a bit of time walking alongside a pool or slow flowing sections we thought we were at the bottom and then came the next cascade. Eventually we were as low as we could go though, crossed the river over a bridge and started going up.
We came to some more water falls. They were busy again which struck me as odd because on the trail itself we hadn’t really seen anyone at all. As we made our way further up a family coming down told us that they had just seen a bear. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. We kept our eyes open but there was no bear to be seen. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or disappointed.
Once at the end of the trail we needed to find the horse trail. The map in the book turned out to be inaccurate but luckily we had the paper map the visitor centre had given us. With the help of that we found the trail and continued walking up hill a while. We were a good mile or so into the trail, maybe even more when we say our bear. There it was. Maybe 60 metres off the trail munching on leaves. It knew we were there as it looked over a couple of times. We stood and watched, in awe. I felt very grateful for being allowed to be in its space, to watch it and to share a brief moment with it. Then we moved on and left it to it. Given how quickly it could just disappear from view even while we were watching it, I am sure we had probably been seen by quite a few bears all day – this one just chose to let us see it.
After a shower and some tlc for my really quite impressive heat rash we bought some Limberlost Lager to celebrate a good day of hiking (and having hiked the trail of the same name) and sat with that in the Great Room in some rocking chairs to talk about the next day, plans and to wrap our heads around the fact that we had seen not only deer and all manner of birds including a peregrine but also a black bear. It had been a 38000 step day though so we didn’t last very long before falling into bed.
I am still catching up on DC running. Saturday was a massive conference day with my paper scheduled in the afternoon and 3 other panels I wanted to see. Luckily though they all fell in the afternoon and early evening so I was free for a little bit of parkrun tourism. We headed out to the Roosevelt Island parkrun. We set off early to allow time to figure out the travel. We took the metro from Union Station and it was actually quite straightforward. We arrived early and everyone there was really welcoming and friendly. After a briefing that included a welcome to some new US parkruns and a photo we finally set off.
The course is lovely. It’s on a trail – easy running trail, nothing scary and for the most part in shade which is very welcome in DC heat and humidity. After a shortish section of trail there is then a section of boardwalk which is quite nice to run on but could get slippery if wet I reckon. After that it’s more trail. You then run a little loop and back along the boardwalk.
We settled in at the back of the pack and I felt pretty good. Just as I was sarting to find it quite hard we passed a woman who then joined us. She was called Julie and was pregnant with her first child. She said she found it much easier running with us and we all settled in together. Shortly after we picked up Sarah who was at a different conference in DC and from Stevenage (I think) and who was struggling in the heat. The four of us chatted and plodded along and kept each other going until the finish. Once we’d settled in like that and I was encouraging others the whole thing felt so much easier. That was a very enjoyable parkrun indeed.
Then we kept left and made our way towards the tidal basin. It took about a week to cross the road to get there but once there we ran along the water to the Jefferson Memorial which was lovely and quiet with just one or two other people lingering. The sun was coming up giving the Washington Memorial and the White House a lightly eerie feel.
From Jefferson we ran on to the FDR Memorial which is very well done. In order to see it properly and also because it would have felt odd and disrespectful we walked through it, took some picture and chatted about our, admittedly rather too limited, knowledge of US history and politics.
Then we jogged on to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial which is also very well done. Again we walked through, read the quotes and lingered a few minutes to feel the sense of history. The sense of history stayed with us as we walked around the World War 2 Memorial.
We ran along the reflecting pool which had been mostly drained so was really just a reflecting puddle with paddling pools left out for the ducks. We stopped for a while at the foot of the Lincoln memorial to watch a group of marines doing a practice for the honor flight ceremony taking place that afternoon. Then we ran along a little bit of the reflecting puddle on the other side and past the Vietnam memorial and Vietnam Women’s memorial.
After that we jogged our way around the last bit of the basin and then headed back towards the Mall via the White House and up towards the Capitol and back to the hotel. It was getting warm now and after the stop/start of the Memorial running I initially found it hard to get going again but then I settled in and we actually managed a good run of traffic lights too not having to wait. After just a little over 7 miles we were back at the hotel and ready for breakfast.That was our DC running. A great way to see the City.