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.

West Yorkshire December Outings

Odin hiding

It’s a Sunday in December. It feels cold. It has been grey all day and I am not sure it ever really got light. There’s been wet stuff falling from the sky or just hanging in the air and even our youngest two cats don’t want to go outside. It’s the sort of weather that would usually make me pull the duvet over my head and hide, reach for more mince pies and just alternate mugs of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot water until it is time for a hot bath a hot water bottle and bed. In short, it’s a West Yorkshire December Sunday.

A run today certainly would have been, erm, let’s say bracing and actually if fitter I might have quite enjoyed a relatively speedy sheep loop followed by a shower and lounging in front of the fire. But I am not fit and speedy isn’t an option at the moment. But just staying in wasn’t an option either because Kath and I are doing the Lakeland Lapland Festive Virtual Ultra. It started on 7pm on the 10th and runs to the 22nd December and in that time we need to cover a total of 234km between us as Team Double Dopey. It works out at 9.75km each every day for 12 days (with the cushion of a 13th day if we need it because of the activity upload window they allow). My plan was always to walk mostly as I really wasn’t sure how I would be doing at this point. The plan was also for Kath to cover most of the distance and me to contribute as much as I can. And that is pretty much how it is working out.

The challenge has been good for getting us out of the house more than we would have otherwise. We started with a walk round the neighbourhood on the 10th, then we had a run each and a joint walk on the 11th and yesterday we both ran and today we walked together. I spent most of yesterday being disappointed with my run and most of today being quite proud of it. I changed the running intervals from 15 seconds to 30 seconds and thought I would run our sheep loop with an added loop we call the farm loop. It goes along the canal but instead of out and back along the canal it loops round some back streets and through a farm yard.

I managed the intervals quite well. I slowed to slower than slow snail’s pace through the muddy bits down the hills and my feet were getting sore because I tense them too much but it was all fine. I stopped at a canal bridge to chat to one of our friends and while there saw Kath coming back from the farm loop. She stopped too, briefly and then I set off again and she came with me to keep me company on the rest of my run. I’d got cold so getting going again took a bit of effort. I didn’t make the farm loop but did a shorter out and back and kept the intervals going until just after 5km. Then I walked the remaining 2km home to make sure I didn’t injure anything that was niggling. I am happy with that – though I wasn’t yesterday – it’s a good run/walk effort and I keep forgetting just how poorly I was and how much better I am doing. Patience…

We finished yesterday on exactly 50km. Today My legs felt tired but mostly my feet were both quite sore. My right calf muscle also felt tight. That and one look at the weather meant I decided I wasn’t going to run today but would get wrapped up for a walk instead. Kath agreed. So we set off in the grey drizzle that, over the course of our nearly 11km, just got worse and worse. We both grumbled a bit about being cold and my feet were a bit tender in sections but it was also really nice to be outside. Towards the end we started talking about having hot chocolate to warm us up when we got in and somehow just that in itself was lovely. The anticipation of hot chocolate and dry socks is something powerful indeed. The last km or so was quite tough. I was tired. Part of me was grumpy about that. I have no business being tired after a 10km walk that wasn’t even marching or striding out but I am trying to be kind. I am still recovering and slowly slowly building fitness. The last bit was also into a headwind that was driving the now quite heavy rain straight into our faces so it wasn’t much fun. But then we were home and quite soon we were warming up from the inside with hot chocolate (80Noir Ultra of course) and our feet were dry and cozy and the daily distance for the Lakeland Lapland ultra were in the bag. And that feels like a good day.

A minor plod and a major bra malfunction

Late morning today I decided I wanted to head out and add some kms to Team Double Dopey’s efforts in the Lakeland Lapland Festive Ultra which Kath and I signed up to in what must have been a fit of madness. 234km between us over 12 days. Yep fine. Not an issue… aaaargh. Anyway I will do a separate post on that adventure in due course. For now, the plan was simply to add a few miles to our total.

I set off with my 15 second run/45 walk alert set and in spite of the very grey day it felt nice to be out. Sometimes I really like low visibility – it means I can’t see how far I potentially have to go and it pushes me to just stay in the moment. Right there. Not even thinking about the next step, just this one. As I set off I realised I was bored of 15 seconds. I decided I would just slowly run the first part of the route without walking. It’s all downhill. I thought it might be nice to see if I could manage that without being too knackered later on. I know I have a tendency to go too fast or miss too many walk breaks early on so I agreed with myself (it was a conversation, I’m an awkward sod even with myself) that I would run no further than to the point where my route levels off – probably just over half a mile in. I did as I was told (by me).

It was happy running. I gently made my way down the hill and it actually felt good not to be stop-starting. I went very slowly, conscious that I haven’t run for any length of time for quite a while. It felt good. Comfortable, familiar. I got the the bottom of the hill and levelled off and used the walk breaks. So ok I was breathing a little harder but I was hardly really out of breath. That’s so exciting to write. I was not out of breath! I haven’t been able to say that about walking upstairs for some time! So I was on a happy plod and settling into my intervals. All was good and as I turned a corner and headed for another slight downhill I decided to try another couple of minutes of running. Towards the end of that run something didn’t feel quite right. I couldn’t work out what, took the next walk break and then set off again and then I realised: My boobs were not as contained as they should be. In fact they were well on their way to escaping completely and given the running, not entirely happy with their new found freedom and bounce.

My breasts had been granted their freedom by the zip on my bra most definitely not staying zipped. It was millimetres from coming undone completely. It was not in a place where it could discreetly be pulled back up, no, that would not have been 2020 enough. My route, deserted until this point had of course also become busy. I stopped to walk and smiled at the runner coming towards me. Once he passed there was a short window of opportunity in which I could unzip my jacket, untuck my top, reach under and re-engage and pull up the zip before a dog walker would round the corner and be in full view. If I got this wrong, the dog walker would get rather more than he bargained for when he set off on his walk. I was also banking on the two cyclists behind me staying put and continuing their conversation rather than setting off again and coming past me and on the couple walking in the same direction in front of me not turning round. Operation ‘put breasts back in place’ was a success and I think the only one who got an eye full was the dog running ahead of its human.

Picture from Sainsburys.co.uk

I tried to run a bit more but the zip had clearly had enough of keeping the escapees in and every time I ran more than about 5 steps it gave up a little. So lesson learned: Whatever the marketing crap says – sports bras with a zip at the front should never leave the house. In case you want to know, it was a Sainsbury’s Active Non Wired Sports Bra. I’ve worn it for yoga and for some HIIT workouts too and I actually really liked it before today. It has never shown signs of neglecting its duties before and I haven’t had it long enough or worn it often enough for it to be tired, jaded or bored of its job just yet. I suppose it just doesn’t like running. Well once I have finished sulking with it, it can go on yoga duty. I suppose I should just be grateful that it is December so even if I were the sort of runner who runs in just a sports bra, I wouldn’t have been out in just the bra on a day like today. Although if I had I might have noticed the issue a bit sooner.

Anyway, that didn’t go to plan but the end result is a rather pleasing looking distance.