50 miles reached

In 2017 it took me to mid April to reach 50 miles, in 2018 I’d done it by the 24th January, in 2019 I hit the 50 miles mark less than half way into the Dopey Marathon on 13th January. This year, well April fools day it is. Still ahead of 2017. I am amazed. It is of course easy to get disappointed and grumpy about those stats and I do absolutely miss the headspace I found when running 80-100 miles a month. That seemed to be a sweet spot where running was lush but not too tiring. At least that’s how I remember it. Anyway, be that as it may I actually feel pretty good about things as they stand.

I didn’t even reach the 50 miles running but having set off on a run/walk up the hill with the plan to walk up to the moor and then jog back down. Because of more sitting and generally moving less during lockdown everything feels a bit tight and grumpy so we were both hoping that walking up would be a good warm up and would loosen everything and then we could have a gentle jog down just to keep things ticking over. Nice and easy. We didn’t run down. Kath’s knee was niggly and I had a kit malfunction – well not really. My pants just wouldn’t stay up. I think I need a half size smaller for them to stay up. A size smaller would be too small I think but as they are I can’t run in them for more than a few steps without having to retrieve them from round my ankles – and they don’t have a draw string or anything. Unfortunately I didn’t know that before we set off as I haven’t worn them for ages. They will now be relegated to at home yoga pants.

Anyway, the walk was gorgeous. As we set off there were lots of garden birds like blue tits, blackbirds and robins. Further up there were some goldfinches and then we were treated to our first lapwing arial display in a field just above one of the farms. As we carried on up the hill we saw fewer and fewer garden birds and more and more lapwings. Then we could hear the curlews and then we saw them and as we stood and watched and listened everything was perfect. There were other little birds that we couldn’t identify but we looked them up later and there were meadow pippins and possibly stonechats. The higher we went the more grouse there were too. First we just heard their grumble and then they started popping up everywhere. Love grouse.

We turned round when we ran out of road. It was tempting to go up the path to the trig point but if there were other people on the path we wouldn’t be able to pass each other at a safe distance. We were already slightly irritated with other people because in spite of the very clear instructions to not drive to somewhere to exercise, several cars had passed us with people doing just that – there’s nowhere to go, the road ends so there’s no other reason to drive up it.

So, I said I was pretty happy with things in terms of the running. I am, as unlikely as that might seem given my tendency to be really critical of me. Since the lockdown started I have got out more. In fact 20 out of my 50 miles have been covered since the 24th March. I am no longer grumpy about running or my lack of fitness but instead am looking forward to getting out and just doing something. I am walking lots but that’s fine. When I run, I run slowly and that’s fine. Somehow the mindset has shifted and the pressure is off. I am enjoying it, whether that it is a nearly 5 mile walk with one or two jogs or a quickish mile with a walk home as I did a couple of days ago. Any training plan is out of the window really. I presume the two races we have booked will be cancelled anyway so it’s not like I have to be ready for anything. And if they don’t cancel them, well let’s worry about that as and when it plays out.

Weird normal Sunday

Well if the week was weird, I wonder if the weekend is even weirder. In an attempt to ban the weird we did normal Sunday things: Kath got up to finding a decapitated baby rabbit courtesy of the cats, she sorted that while I slept through all of it. Then we had a cup of tea in bed before eventually getting up and doing some gentle yoga. Then we both pottered about, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, putting things away or just creating a different configuration of random piles of stuff.

Late morning we decided that maybe it was time for our time outside. We got our running gear on and with as much enthusiasm as I could muster we set off on a 30 second run 30 second walk and repeat adventure. Here’s how it went:

  1. So we’re really doing this then?
  2. It’s all downhill, it’s fine.
  3. Really, I’m not sure I need these walk breaks.
  4. Oh is that snow?
  5. Still downhill, don’t need the walking, it’s annoying.
  6. Oh people – stay on your side of the road
  7. Erm, where’s the downhill?
  8. Ok does this count as up or is this flat?
  9. Was 30 seconds this long last time?
  10. I see people, where are they going? Can we get round? Yeah, we’re good
  11. Ah yes, downhill
  12. More people. Is that 2 metres, maybe, just, phew we’re past
  13. What wait, did Kath just say extra walks are ok? She did, didn’t she
  14. We’ll ignore that for now
  15. 30 seconds is like forever
  16. Uphill
  17. I hate uphill
  18. What do you mean run – that was a quick 30 seconds
  19. This is a loooooooong 30 seconds
  20. Extra walk breaks – ok I was too smug earlier, I need the walk breaks
  21. Aw look lambs, we can stop and look at the lambs
  22. Should have taken the shorter route when I had the chance
  23. extra run, yay, I am so wonder woman
  24. Fuck
  25. That was not 2 metres you idiot
  26. Kites, we can hear kites. Where are they? Can’t see them
  27. Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running
  28. Shut up
  29. Yay another extra run because I am so totally awesome
  30. More like stupid
  31. Ok walk up the golf course, letting people past, what’s with the people, there’s never people
  32. Running all the way down the narrow path – because you know, there might be people. We don’t want people
  33. 30 seconds/30 seconds bla bla bla
  34. Lambs!
  35. 30 seconds/30 seconds. I wonder what’s for lunch
  36. Oh I know this, yummy. Ok, how long left? A mile? Piece of cake
  37. Achilles: Hello!
  38. Go away
  39. Walk a bit
  40. Run down the hill
  41. Walk up the road, home, 4 miles. Yay

The rest of the day has been more Sunday things, pottering about, little bit of work, the cats bringing the rabbit back, or a new rabbit and a mouse, drinking hot chocolate and watching a bit of TV. More yoga. It’s not that unusual for a Sunday and yet it feels weird.

Anyway, here’s to weirdness and seeing what the new week brings.

Lockdown: You do You

Everything is weird. I haven’t really run since my last post. Some days I have done my strength exercises, most days I haven’t. Some days I have done some yoga, most days I haven’t. I’m not really sure why. Doesn’t matter. When the announcement finally came that we were in lockdown and should stay at home as much as possible and only exercise locally once a day I suddenly felt like getting out every day would be important. It’s funny how an announcement, a rule can suddenly change how we think about things. It actually changed nothing for me. I’d already been working at home and had already limited going out to essentials. But the actual lockdown announcement changed something about the way it felt to me.

So obviously I am starting the running thing again at pretty much the beginning. It’s fairly horrible. It’s frustrating and annoying and I miss my marathon fitness – both the physical fitness and mental calm that comes with the ability to just keep running and having a forever pace. But dwelling on that is not helpful. I have made a deliberate decision to pause anything that is about changing my running form etc. I just need to be out. I appreciate that I am shuffling rather than running with good form. I appreciate I might undo the work already done with RunRight but right now everything is about mental health for me. And I just need to be out and if that means shuffling round our loop for 40 minutes then shuffle I shall.

So how is everyone doing? I’m finding it weird more than really anxiety inducing or stressful. I am randomly unsettled and have a really short attention span. It’s like I can’t hold on to a thought long enough to finish thinking it. I’ve struggled to focus on work but have kept some stuff ticking over but really put everything apart from student support on hold. I’ve been reading lots of stuff about how to adjust to working at home and how to keep connected during self isolation/ lockdown. I’m sure lots of it is really useful for lots of people but there are three things that keep jumping out at me that I am just not sure about – stick with me, I will come back to running and how this links.

So the first thing is the advice to stick to a routine or timetable. I think I probably agree with this in very general terms. But these are not normal times and so far I have not found a routine at all and I have not found planning helpful. I have tried to plan my days – both in detail and loosely. All it does is stress me out when I inevitably don’t follow the plan. I am rubbish without structure and I am even worse with it. A list of things to do as I remember then fairly randomly and firefighting emails will have to do for now in terms of work. Staring into space, sitting with the frogspawn, watching too much TV and swinging between the urge to deep clean everything and trying to remember how to put on a bra keeps general life at just about functioning. One day at a time, useful planning might come and if it does that’s fine. I might find I want to and need to plan for some sense of control. I think my point is, we need to stop saying that having a clear routine and plan is what helps us all here because that is underpinned with a number of assumptions about productivity, possibility and everything working the same way for everyone. It’s absolutely fine to plan if that helps you, it’s also ok to be a chaotic mess.

The second bit of advice is about the importance of staying connected, about how we are social creatures and need human interaction to stay mentally well etc. Ok, I don’t disagree although I think the extent of social interaction we need differs from person to person and luckily for me I am perfectly happy with very little of it. So as all these new ways of connecting are suddenly popping up and being forced on us I sit here grumpy. Over the last two weeks I have had to engage with zoom (hm, ok), Skype for Business conference calls (ok – but people do overuse video capability), Skype (was nice to see Dad in his living room), Adobe connect (hm) and Google Hangouts (couldn’t connect) and that is me trying to stay away from stuff. More and more I have the urge to just use a fucking landline, I don’t need to see people sitting in front of their screens with dodgy camera angles. The more we are being told to connect, the more I want to hide under my duvet and not see or hear people. The more these new (ok new to me) ways of interacting online are pushed, the more I retreat to sending a text, using messenger and general Facebook and Twitter posts. I have also realised that the number of people I actually want to interact with during this lockdown is really quite limited. What I need is quiet and peace and my cats. Not people. I appreciate that I am lucky. Kath is here with me, I’m not on my own but as we push this online connectedness, let’s remember that it might not work for everyone.

And finally – the importance of keeping up a good exercise regime, of staying fit. Again I agree in general terms but do you think we could be a bit less preachy about it? Also of course the idea of ‘keeping up’ is quite funny here. I mean seriously, for lots of people this is likely to be ‘have a go at’. There is definitely a link between mental health and exercise for me – maybe there is for everyone, don’t know. But that link is not always positive for me. Trying and failing at a workout, not being able to do a yoga pose as well as I’d like, not doing the exercise I had planned or struggling with just finding the energy to start at all can all impact negatively. Not always, sometimes I am very good at seeing the positive of having tried and sometimes I do trust the process and I know that the benefits come… but honestly, people are just trying to function. Let’s cut the list of must dos right down to ‘Do what you must to stay sane’ – for some that will be setting up a exercise circuit using every room of the house for several hours a day and for others it will getting up off the sofa every now and again. It’s ok.

And how does all of this link to my running. Well, as I was thinking about all of these things I was thinking about all the running advice, tips, invited and uninvited comments I have ever had. And while so much of that has been invaluable the most valuable advice has always come from people who have said ‘this works for me, try it and see if it also works for you’. The genuine help has come from people who have found their way but don’t insist that this also has to be your way. So the planning – people can get quite obsessive and dogmatic about their training plans, or whether to even have a plan. I like a training plan – mostly so I can ignore it and do something else though. The things is – plan or not – do what works for you. Why should anyone else care. And why should you care what others are doing? You’re not doing it wrong. Neither are the others.

The connectedness – people so often suggest that running with friends or in groups is a really good way to stay motivated. I think that’s lovely – for them. For me running with other people (other than Kath and possibly one or two others) just sounds like hell. And the staying fit mantra we’re currently hearing, well it reminded me of the complexity of our reasons for running or doing any exercise at all and how our reasons and motivations change over time. It reminded me of how now might be a good time to very consciously not reflect, to not think about fitness goals or how to achieve, to not worry about fitness lost while in lockdown or how on earth we’ll get back to where we were pre isolation… but instead to just do what feels right for us in the moment. I was thinking about how we set off to run but then walked the rest of the loop after the first mile because there were woodpeckers, and deer and wild garlic and the magic of spring. I was thinking about how sometimes I like staying in ‘Happy Baby’ for much longer than my yoga app generally holds it and how it’s ok to pause the app or just let it move on without me, how dialling things right down or really ramping them up as far as exercise is concerned is really fine. I was thinking about rules and that there really don’t need to be any unless you decide you want them. In fact the only rule there really should be is this: You do you and let everyone else do everyone else.

Stay Safe

A walk with running bursts

Happy first day of meteorological spring. It’s sunny in patches and windy here. Not freezing cold but not exactly warm either. Except that there is a noticeable warmth in the sun now. It’s no longer a distant ball of light in the sky. It’s like it is thinking about maybe sharing some of that warmth and just slowly testing out what that might feel like.

Since the session on Thursday I have done very little. I could hit you with all the usual excuses but it just is what it is. Some days I can want to do something, really really want to do it, have very intention of doing it, not understand really why I am not doing it but still not be able to do it. Some days that just is the way it is.

Today threatened to be interesting in that sense. I’d gone to bed really early yesterday. I slept on and off for 12 hours and when I woke up Kath wasn’t there. I have no idea why I found this worrying or odd. She had said she might go for a run. But I couldn’t see a note, the house was eerily quiet, I walked all round it and even checked under the sofa (FFS, she’s not a cat!) and panic was setting in a little. So I ran back upstairs and got back into bed to hide. Then I saw the note – you know the one that wasn’t there earlier (obviously it was) and then I just felt silly. Great start to the day that.

We went to Bolton Abbey. It was tempting to say we’d just go for a nice walk, to just forget about running… but trust in the process remember. Don’t think about it too much, just tick off the runs, tick off the exercises, just follow the plan. Ok well, I’m already behind on the plan but never mind. 30 minutes was required for the next run on the plan so we made our way up to the Strid and back. We basically walked and threw in a few short bursts of running really concentrating on form. The bursts varied from 10 to maybe 25 seconds and some were on the flat, some were down and some were up and some were a mix. So I guess really we went for a walk with some running drills thrown in. The focus was on knee drive and not heel striking but landing much more mid foot. It was ok. It’s done. I feel less panicky and less silly.

Another one ticked off. Another sticker on my chart, another step close to believing its possible. And another cup of Bolton Abbey coffee to soak up the sun and watch the people go by with.

Un-Possible

Aaaaaaaargh. I have spent a lot of time screaming into a void lately but that’s another story. I’ve had flu or a bad cold or whatever and it was awful. I still have a chesty cough. I didn’t start the Harewood House 10k, I haven’t run. I went out for a plod last Sunday and honestly it’s hard to see any positives from that (thought of course, objectively, there are some – I left the house for a start). I had a session with RunRight today, with Mark, to have another look at my run and to once again try and iron out the issues with my form. I knew I was starting from zero again and while frustrated I thought I was ok about that and accepting of the fact that I had to start again somewhere.

Well, about that. I have spent the last 5 years very slowly shifting my focus from the number that appears on the scales when I step on them or the number that’s on the labels in my clothes to what I can do. I have stopped worrying about which bits wobble, how heavy I am or how much of a tape measure I might need to get it round my hips. It was (is!) just not important. What was important was what I could do. What was important was how strong I felt, how fit I felt, how easy it was to power up our hill, walk up the stairs at work, run 6 miles, how sleep comes easy when you are actually physically tired in a good way. Well the problem with focusing on what you can do rather than the numbers is that it doesn’t work when you can’t do it.

I cried all the way home – just silent tears rolling down my face. I’m not quite sure why. The session was good. It was exactly what I needed. Seeing the videos and having Mark point out where the issues still are and talking about how to fix them was really helpful. I feel more motivated. I have my Disney training plan and Mark’s instructions on what to do. It was good. It was a positive start to the next chapter of the running rollercoaster. Well, I hate rollercoasters. Running has been non-existent, I am not strong, I am not fit. Focusing on what I can do is not a positive because what I can do is, well not a lot and certainly so much less than I could 12-14 months ago. So running and exercise generally, right now, feel like just another thing I am utterly rubbish at. There is of course lots going on here:

  1. I have had bursts of good progress and then something happens and I am back to square one. At square one it’s hard to see there was ever progress. In this case the set back was the flu. Two days before it really hit I had a good session with Katy at RunRight, a hard session but I made it through and felt really positive and motivated after. Now it seems impossible to see how I could even get back to that level.
  2. For all sorts of reasons my confidence is low and anxiety is high. That doesn’t help in remembering that there are lots of things I am pretty good at
  3. It’s the anniversary of Rachel’s death tomorrow so quite frankly the world can just fuck off
  4. I have not been this unfit for a long time. I know that it just takes time and consistency to build it again and I know that if I do my exercises, go out running regularly and stick with it, my fitness levels will go up to a level where everything is easier really quite quickly. I know. I have the evidence – it hangs on my wall in the form of Dopey Medals. I know. I just don’t believe.

The problem is, I don’t feel capable and so much of my energy has been focused on well-being which draws on strength and fitness and feeling capable. I feel physically weak and unfit and that translates into some pretty big mental wobbles which make it harder to even begin to put any sort of effort into getting fitter and stronger. It’s a cycle and it’s a cycle that is really difficult to break. It just feels pointless.

So what’s the solution? Is there one? Think about numbers again? Well, partly it is tempting. I could shift a stone pretty quickly and maybe I would briefly have some sense of achievement for bringing down the number but it would neither be healthy nor sustainable nor would it change anything at all. I am barely heavier that I was 14 months ago and I am wearing the same size clothes mostly – though some of them fit a little differently just now. Being lighter, wearing the smaller items in my wardrobe would not make me feel any more capable, any stronger, any more unfuckwithable. It wouldn’t make me healthier, faster or stronger.

I don’t have an answer. The only answer is to keep getting up every morning and trying. It’s accepting that some days getting to work with all items of clothing on the right way out and round is a win and also that some days there is no win. It’s accepting that I am where I am. Whether I like that or not is irrelevant, it just is. It’s also about trusting the process. It’s about trusting that every little tiny bit of doing something is better than not doing anything. It’s about not thinking too much, it’s about not allowing the head to take over, it’s about having made the decision that I want that version of me back, the one that can run all the way up the hill home and still have enough left to swear about it… I know what I need to do. I know I can do it because I have done it before. It’s all written down, all I need to do now is follow the plan, tick each day, each exercise, each run off. I don’t need to believe, not yet, I just need to do. Belief can wait. It’ll come and when it does, well when it does… I might try believe 6 impossible things before breakfast (Sorry Lewis Carroll).