Two short runs

Well what a week! After last weekend’s incident I headed to a conference. My favourite conference in fact. The Association of Law Teachers. I was the Chair of the Association until I handed over at the AGM but more importantly than that, the Association’s members and conference delegates are my academic tribe. It was also great to be in Leicester where I did my undergraduate degree. So when I woke up on Monday morning I was excited to see that I still had plenty of time for a little run. It was just starting to get light. There were a few drunk blokes outside the hotel so I turned right instead of left and looped back round rather than running past them. I plodded my way up New Walk thinking about my student days. When I hit University Road I detoured onto London Road to run past the pub I used to work in.

Then I looped round Victoria Park and onto Leicester University campus, had a look at the Law School, took my usual crappy selfie and looped back. I had planned to take some more photos on my way back down New Walk but it felt good to be stretching my legs. I felt comfortable and strong so instead I just kept running and pushed the pace a little.

I got back on Tuesday evening – the usual exhausted but happy post conference delirium. Wednesday I had to go into the office and I thought my hay fever had started – turns out it was the beginning of a cold. I felt proper poorly for two days, then I felt a bit better on Saturday morning but not well enough to run so I volunteered at parkrun while Kath ran 10 miles plus parkrun. Today I felt a bit better again so we stuck with our plan of heading to Bolton Abbey. I had over ambitious notions of trotting round my loop but it very quickly became apparent that my lungs weren’t up for that. I made my way round the loop with little bits of running and stops to look at the bunnies on the Easter trail and lots of walking to just look around.

It may not have been the run I was hoping for but it was good to clear the old stale air out of my lungs and get some fresh air in. It was lovely to see the birds being busy and I spend ages running along watching a dipper in the Wharfe. The goddess Verbia was quiet today. Calm and calming. ‘You’re mind is ready’ she seemed to be saying ‘and your body will be too, just allow it to heal now’.

I crossed the river at the aqueduct and as I took a minute to just be I saw Kath coming along – she’d gone to Barden Bridge. I trotted towards her and then we walked/ran the rest of the loop together. It was lovely. We finished with our Bolton Abbey tradition of coffee and bacon sarnies. We were watched by a robin and a gorgeous female chaffinch.

It was a lovely morning.

To the woman on the canal

Dear ‘I really wish I knew your name and don’t just want to call you Luke’s Mum’,

I hope you are ok. The comments the boy who I presume to be your child made earlier and that you endorsed suggest that maybe you are not. I hope you can fix that. I hope you can be happy. Of course you won’t read this. But I am going to pretend that you are because I would really like you to understand a few things.

I am the fat woman who ran past you on the canal towpath today. You know, the one your boys nearly tripped up as they raced me. The one who ‘lost’ that race to your boys as my scheduled walk break kicked in. The one who was told by one of your boys that had I been thin I would have won. That I need to be thin to be any good. Remember what you did when you heard that? You laughed and then you said ‘That’s right Luke’. Let’s unpick all of this a little bit: It actually happens relatively frequently that kids want to run alongside me for a bit but parents usually call them back or ask me if it’s ok (I don’t really like it but when asked usually say it’s ok and generally kids drop off after 30 seconds or so anyway). It actually also happens on occasion that kids call me fat. But usually this is simply a descriptor and they are quite right in their description. I am fat. I have never heard it as a value judgment from someone so young. I don’t really blame Luke. After all the message that fat is bad and thin is good is everywhere. It’s easy to pick up. But you? I think you know better. Our humanity does not depend on our size. Our value as a person has nothing to do with the width of our hips or wobbliness of our thighs. If you can’t see that I don’t know how to help you.

So here’s what I want you to know about our little encounter and I wish I could have shaken off the shock of it all straight away to articulate this and say it to your face. I’m sorry I just stared at you like an idiot and then ran off.

  1. What you did today, that laughter and those three words crushed me. You validated all of those things I used to know to be true – that I am too fat to run, that I can’t do it, that I don’t belong, that I am not good enough. Indeed, that fat is bad and thin is good.
  2. I was doing my last long run before the London Marathon. It was already tough because plans had changed, I was doing a different route to the one originally planned and confidence was relatively low in spite of going pretty well. I was roughly 7 miles in when I met you, not quite half way of my intended distance. You made me want to go home and give up. I nearly did. You made me cry.
  3. As well as nearly making me go home, in that moment you destroyed my confidence to the point that I nearly withdrew from the Marathon. I opened the email and hovered over the withdraw link for a little while as tears rolled down my face. Then I posted about our meeting on Facebook instead.
  4. The post resulted in so much support and love particularly from the #Run1000Miles trail running challenge group. They reminded me that you are wrong. That I am good enough, that I do belong and that fat is merely a descriptor of my size (I’m a size 16 and hover around the 14 stone mark, in case you wondered – so now you can be truly horrified at just how bad I am). They too made me cry but very different sort of tears. They made me keep going when I didn’t think I’d be able to settle enough to finish my run.
  5. I want you to know that I sobbed my way to 10 miles and then stopped for a re-set and calm down. I also want you to know that until we met I had been going well. I’d felt pretty good, comfortable and happy to be out. After our encounter every step was hard, every yard a battle and every mile impossible. Remember I still had nearly 8 miles to go if I was to complete my goal for today.
  6. Maybe I should say thank you. Maybe I just needed some more mental training, some more testing of grit and determination and maybe I needed evidence of other people believing in me. You forced me into gritting my teeth and slogging it out for far longer than I would have needed to otherwise and because of you I posted something on Facebook which got such an overwhelming response. I will draw on both of these things on the streets of London in 3 week’s time.
  7. You took something from me today which I can’t get back. You took the positivity out of my last long run. You took the joy of having completed the tough part of the training. I can’t celebrate this run in the way that I wanted to because of what you allowed your child to say and then said. I want you to know that this makes me really sad.
  8. I am also sad for you. And for Luke and the boy that was with him, his brother maybe. I wish I could go back and tell them something about winning and what winning means. In the context of our encounter I would tell them that for me winning is being out in the fresh air, it’s being able to run, it’s feeling the air fill my lungs and my legs move, it’s being aware of the strength I have, it’s running further and sometimes it’s running faster but its not about further or faster than someone else – it’s about being a better me. Winning is also about being kind, about celebrating others, it’s about laughing and loving. I would tell them that sometimes coming last is winning. I wish I could tell them something about being fat. I’m not quite sure what I would say here – maybe I would ask them what they think it means. Maybe I would tell them about my life, the things I’ve done, how much of the world I have been lucky to see and the people I have the privilege to know and love. Maybe I would tell them that even though sometimes my brain is poorly I am happy, that I love my life and that I am proud of the choices I have made. Maybe I’d tell them that fat doesn’t really mean anything in any of this.

Does any of this make sense to you? Probably not. Maybe you’re just too much part of the world bombarded with the fat=bad message to step outside of the narrative. I don’t know. I don’t know you. Maybe your own self-worth is so tied up with how you look that you can’t really imagine how it is that almost all of the time I don’t care about what I look like but what I can do. And the thing is, I can do a lot. Re-reading the Facebook comments and reflecting on today’s run made me realise that I won today. That doesn’t mean your boys lost actually, it just means that we weren’t in the same game, or the same league or whatever. We were measuring our achievements very differently. I’m happy Luke and his brother (I presume, I know, I’m sorry if I’m wrong) won the race they thought they were running. Being in front of me as I stopped to walk clearly made them happy. I didn’t lose that ‘race’ though – I wasn’t in it. I won because I was competing with the demons in my head and while you utterly crushed me and briefly gave them the upper hand, I didn’t stop. I won because your toxic words were drowned out by love and support and I was very quickly and firmly uncrushed. I won because in spite of sobbing my way for 3 miles and then taking a break to calm down I ran 13 miles within my target marathon pace and then managed another 2.4 to make sure I covered the distance I had set myself. I won because I’m not angry, I’m not even upset about the comments and your endorsement of them. I’m just sad that you think that to be any good you have to be thin and that you appear to be passing that thinking on to those boys who are going to have a whole load of unlearning to do.

Wishing you happiness and love

J x

The weirdness of running

Ooh it’s been a little while sine I wrote about running. I have been running though. And at the minute running is a funny thing. By all accounts it is going really well. I have run 270 miles so far this year. I can run further without walk breaks, I generally feel fitter. Little things are different. I can now say ‘I’m ‘just’ doing the sheep loop’ (about 5km) and mean the ‘just’. Running 10k is no longer a big deal and running it without walk breaks is now the norm rather than the very rare exception. Over shorter distances I am getting faster. The running is all good.

But it’s not quite doing it for me. I’m not quite as much in love with running as I should be given all that. Some of that may just be because of the marathon training plan – it’s a lot and I am struggling to do the weekly mileage it asks. In fact most weeks I don’t and that is in part playing on my mind. The other thing has, I think, been the weather. I’m not that keen on being wet and cold and I have not enjoyed being blown about by the wind. I also think that maybe I am getting a little bored of running the same canal towpath route but I’m not fit enough or confident enough to take the long runs onto the hillier routes round here.

A week ago I got my act together and headed out for my long run of 16 miles. I was going well and actually quite enjoying it. I don’t remember thinking about anything much. I ran along the canal towpath – a stretch that has recently been re-done and now has a proper path. Then, just through Silsden the path is old style and much of it is a lovely muddy mess. I was actually enjoying the concentration it took to run that section and somehow before I knew it I was 8 miles in. I turned round and started heading back. I was beginning to get a little tired. I was happy with how it was all going and though I was beginning to feel the miles, I still felt pretty strong. At almost exactly 9.5 miles my right foot slipped down the slight slope I’d been running on in the mud and it felt like my knee and ankle were going in opposite directions and I had a horrible sharp pain in my ankle. I winced but kept going but the next step resulted in an even sharper pain across my knee. I stopped and tentatively walked a few steps. The pain was intense. I was really worried I’d done some serious damage. I called Kath and asked her to come and get me. I got my location wrong so had to call her back when I realised. I was actually right bang in the middle between two points at which I could come off the towpath so I had to hobble a mile and a half. Thankfully after resting, ice and more rest it seems I did no major damage.

I then did a 4 mile and a 7 and a bit mile run during the week and then didn’t run Thursday, Friday or Saturday because quite honestly I just could not be bothered. No real excuses – just couldn’t be bothered. Today I was actually looking forward to going out and the weather looked a bit brighter. Well I managed 11 miles which I am taking as a big win because honestly, I was done by mile 1. There wasn’t anything specific really. It was all just a bit ‘meh’. I plodded along feeling a bit generally grumpy and unconvinced by everything. Every mile I really tried to stay in the mile and drag myself along landmark by landmark. The towpath was busy and 2 dogs jumped up at me and loads more got in my way – as did lots of their humans as well as humans without dogs.

It

just

felt

endless.

I just kept locking onto some sort of landmark and when I reached that, looked for the next. That worked for 10.5 miles and then everything was starting to hurt. I no longer felt strong and my landmark picks were getting closer and closer together. At 10.7 I realised that I was randomly sobbing – no idea why. I kept pushing on but I was struggling. I was coming up to a bridge on the canal that I could cross and head towards home. I’d be about 3 miles short of my plan but it would have to do because I felt both mentally and physically done. I ran to 11 miles and then walked the rest.

I’m hoping that my lack of anything in the tank is just poor fuelling (although I did sip tailwind every mile or so) or dehydration or general tiredness or even just laziness rather than getting the lurgy that poor Kath has been battling for 3 weeks now. I was a bit disappointed but I have never run 11 miles without walk breaks before and I did it on a run where I would have quite happily turned round and gone home after a mile. So again, I’m winning, the running is going well but it’s just not doing it for me.

I also had my first London Marathon anxiety dream. I was running happily along and then pulled up and stopped for some reason – not entirely clear why in my dream. Kath had already finished. I then had to get back to Dad’s flat – which in reality is in Hamburg and in my dream London looked like Hamburg, mostly anyway – and on the way I decided that I wanted to finish after all. But for some reason only Dad could tell me the way back to the embankment (which did look like the embankment) where I had apparently dropped out. Kath had had to find an official with a laptop to track me and find the point. Then everyone kept telling me that I didn’t need to finish because I’d already covered 26.2 miles in 5 hours 55 and I wasn’t going to finish the course in under 6 hours. I kept saying that I wanted the medal but Kath refused to show me the medal so I could decide if I really wanted it. I got back on the course but I have no idea if I finished the marathon or not.

So running and everything around it is a bit weird. It’s not necessarily a bad weird, just a weird weird. Running is always a hugely emotional thing. Also, I can’t really disagree that it is going really well but somehow that doesn’t feel quite right either. It’s just all a bit weird.

Harewood House Half Marathon

So remember last year, my DNF at the Harewood House Half Marathon? I said I’d be back and today I was. I have been looking forward to it and I wasn’t really nervous until this morning when I suddenly started feeling really anxious about the whole thing. The course is tough, I’m not.

Anyway I had been thinking about the race and in particular how I would manage to stick to #MyRunMyRules. I knew from last year that my pace would put me at the back of the pack even on a good day. I therefore spent some time really thinking about how I would feel if I was last and how I would feel running last for a considerable chunk of the race. How would I keep myself motivated and moving forward with the tail marker right behind me and the feeling of people waiting for me. I don’t like to keep people waiting.

Honestly I am absolutely fine with actually coming last, what I think I’d find more difficult is having to run last for most of the race, particularly if I lost touch with the pack or runners in front and there was an obvious big gap that would mean I was holding people up. Maybe that’s where some of the anxiety came from this morning. But anyway, we had our porridge, got sorted and set off. We parked, went to the loo, picked up our t-shirts, went to the loo, met one of our fellow #Run1000Mile challengers, went to the loo (nothing like nervous peeing!) and then we were ready to start.

We set off. For the first few hundred metres all I really had was people streaming past me. I smiled. It is quite hard to keep smiling as everyone keeps over taking you. I tried not to mind and I tried not to speed up. Very soon I was last. I could hear the back marker on his bike behind me and I could hear the marshals’ radio conversations which were quite entertaining. Ok, I thought, well, I’ll be doing all of this right from the back. I felt surprisingly ok about that and settled in.

I hadn’t really looked at pace since an early glance which told me that at 11.20 minutes per mile I was going way way way too fast. I thought I’d slowed a fair bit but at the 1 mile beep I was at 12.08. Too fast. I tried to consciously slow down but already being last made that quite hard somehow. I was gaining on a woman in front of me who had been pulling away but by 1.5 miles she looked like she was struggling and I went past her. I hope she kept going – she must have done for quite a while at least because the back marker didn’t catch up to me and I didn’t see him again.

I was still trying to slow down as I saw deer on my left and red kites in the sky. I couldn’t help but smile. I actually saw loads of deer, loads of kites and tons of smaller birds and an odd squirrel or two. I am utterly rubbish at remembering the route or what was where on it so this may be in the wrong order, possibly totally jumbled. Anyway, I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. I could see a woman in front of me running a stunningly smooth even pace and I tried to keep with her. I was fine on the flat but she had far more power up the hills. Eventually I stopped focusing on the pink of her jacket, did the sensible thing and let her go. She stayed in view for a long time but eventually she was gone. I was alone. It was bliss.

Coming up to 3 and a half miles I had the first walk as I made my way along the edge of a grassy field heading towards the first steep downhill. I sipped some Tailwind and I tried to keep marching and saw two women ahead of me. I was easily catching up with them. We had a quick chat just before the downhill and then I kept going carefully jogging down the uneven and quite steep track. The marshal sent me diagonally down the hill and that seemed like the route most people took judging by the muddy path. However, the actual route seemed to go straight down to hit the 4 miles marker and then turn left. This is probably the main reason the course measured short.

I think we next turned up into the woods and I walked the hills. I was feeling the too fast start and very briefly it crossed my mind that maybe I was totally screwed but that thought went as fast as it came. I saw some more deer and then at some point I saw some lovely looking Jacob sheep – they looked familiar and then I remembered that the flock we got ours from also had some going to the Harewood estate so it could well be the same blood line. That made me smile and reminisce for a while.

I enjoyed the course and I enjoyed being on my own for so much of it. Around mile 6 I realised I was falling in with the pace of two blokes in front. They were running slightly faster but walking more slowly. I caught up with them for a chat just after the mile 8 water station. We marched up the hill together and then met Susan who was struggling a little. Me and her walked and jogged together for a mile ish leaving the two blokes behind us but then I was walking faster again so I powered up the hill and jogged down the other side to the Mile 10 marker.

I felt ok. I slowly jogged along the track trying to stay out of the way of dog walkers. I was gaining on the aid station where I had called it a day last time and was smiling because I knew I was going beyond. I heard a runner coming at some considerable pace behind me. I wondered whether Susan had maybe found her running legs again but it wasn’t her. It was someone just out running I think and she was fast! As she came past me she touched my shoulder and told me I was amazing. It nearly made me cry but it also gave me a boost and I jogged on and turned left back into the woods. Less than 3 miles left. I slowly jogged most of those last miles with just a few little walks thrown in to reassure myself that I had enough left in the tank. As I plodded past the 11 mile marker I had the rest of my Tailwind feeling pretty happy about my fuelling. Although later on I wished I’d saved just a little bit for the last push.

I’m fairly sure the mile markers were out by quite a bit. Mile 13 was, if I got my numbers right, nearly 1.25 miles long and the Mile 13 sign was definitely more than .1 of a mile away from the finish. The last bit is brutal. It’s not a steep climb but it’s one hell of a pull. I walked up the track, passed another woman and tried to encourage her on, then I turned left into the field. I could see the finish now and willed my legs to start running again. They did, slowly and now feeling really heavy but run they did. I saw Kath coming towards me and she jogged a bit at the side of me when I got to her. She had finished in 2 hours 19 minutes and had nearly been taken out by some deer which had decided to split the runners and cross their path. She said she felt them come past behind her. Wowsers.

The nice thing about coming in at the end and in space is that the announcers at the finish have time to tell the world you’ve done it. Of course most of the world has already gone home but it was still nice to hear my name and a well done and a comment on my ‘big smile’ which was actually more a sort of Cheshire Cat grimace. I got my medal and bottle of water and a hug from Kath. We headed to the car and I stripped down to my bra to change out of my sweaty top and into something warm and dry. I felt awesome. Tired. But awesome. I sipped my tailwind recovery drink and nibbled a cheese sarnie in the car. My time: 3 hours and 58 seconds. So those 58 seconds are annoying. I’m going to have to go back and try again to conquer these rather ridiculous looking squiggles on a map!

Stunning Running

Last weekend we went to a lodge on the edge if Kielder Water. It was our little anniversary get away. It was lush. We planned on a walk somewhere on the way on Friday, and runs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

We set off Friday morning and drove north to the National Trust property Wallington. We had some lunch and then walked a little loop through the estate and woodland along the river. Then we had cake. This was a good start to the weekend! We visited the Kielder observatory in the evening but it was ridiculously windy and cloudy so we didn’t see anything much. The talks were interesting though

On Saturday morning we set off on a 7 mile loop around the Bull Crag Peninsula. The running was both harder and better than I imagined it would be. It was surprisingly hilly and it didn’t occur to me until about 4 miles in that one of the reasons the running was tough was because I wasn’t walking the hills. I was just running, looking at the amazing landscape and every now and again stopping for a photo. At the end my legs were tired and I was grateful to walk the last bit and look for red squirrels and very excited when we saw one!

The rest of Saturday was lazy and taken up with reading a whole stack of magazines which I’d left to pile up for ages and ages.

Sunday was long run day and I was anxious about this for some reason. We had decided to run out to Kielder dam and back – a total of about 13 miles. I prepped our tailwind for fuel, made sure watch and phone were charged and off we went. The first part of the route was the same as the day before but soon we were in new territory with Kielder Water on our left coming in and out of view as we zig zagged our way through the woods on the ‘waterside’ path.

I walked a few more of the hills on Sunday. I nearly had a meltdown in mile 2 because I seemed to be really feeling the uphill pull on that section. I got over myself and actually ran almost all of the first 5 miles which took us to the Tower Knowe visitor centre which was closed but did have some toilets that were open. From there it was another mile and a half to the other side of the dam so we jogged across, had a little break as we marvelled at the views and then set off back.

We took more pictures and walk breaks on the way back. By mile 8 though I was wondering if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew with this pretty undulating 13 miler. For the next 3 miles or so I had a battle in my head to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then we were nearly there anyway and we walked a bit through a section of wood just before the Waterside Park our lodge was part of, the bit where we’d seen the squirrel.

The rest of Sunday involved more reading, the hot tub and a bottle of prosecco. I felt properly happily tired. We did go for a little walk once it got dark to look at stars. Wow, even with the lights of the cabins, reception and pub/restaurant, we could see so much more than we can ever see at home. I couldn’t work out the camera settings though to get enough exposure to take pictures so gave up and just looked at the night sky for a while.

Monday we were going to have a little sunrise run. I was tired and my legs were heavy. It was also very slippery with frost on the tarmac bits and I was not at all impressed with that. We went the other way along the water this time and after not quite a mile and a half came to a road/tarmac bit which was frosty and we couldn’t really see how long the tarmac stretch was so we called that it, turned round and then stopped about half way back to watch the sunrise.

We had breakfast, got packed and headed towards home. It was a 23 mile weekend and while I was definitely tired I was not broken. I am getting fitter but actually the most important thing about the running over that weekend is that we were just running for fun, doing our thing and that on all of the outings bits of it were effortless, bits of it were really challenging and I loved every minute, even the hard and bloody awful ones.