Yep, starting again?

What do you do when you are struggling to get back into running, struggling to run a mile and generally struggling with being heavier and far less fit than you were? Well naturally you sign up for a hilly half marathon. Of course you do. Never mind that it seems totally unrealistic and undoable, you just decide that in 5 months time you will run 13.1 miles most of which are on upward flat sections. Yep. That’s what you do. Yes.

So having established that this is the done thing, I am delighted to tell you that Kath and I have now signed up for the Suzuki Midnight Sun Run in Reykjavik on the 25th June. The elevation profile looks like this:

So I should probably give you a running update and tell you how much progress I have made since the beginning of January. Yes, well, about that. I ran on the 5th January – dragged my butt 6 miles to go have breakfast. And then I carried my running gear across Europe for a few days while I popped in to see Dad in Hamburg and then went to a workshop/conference in Osnabrück. I meant to go run while I was over there. I am normally quite good at running when away from home like that but somehow it just never quite happened. The workshop was pretty intense and they were long days with late dinners and even though I was awake early enough every morning, I felt too full still and it was still dark and I had no real idea of where to run… excuses excuses excuses.

Torture Device!

So then I got back and started marking and that was that. I basically didn’t move until I was finished (I still have extensions and paperwork but mostly I am done) and here we are another week disappeared. On Thursday I had a strength and conditioning session. The first one since I gave up sometime in December because everything just felt impossible. I was in two minds of whether to go back but actually I didn’t hate the session. I found it hard but it was good to be doing.

Wonky headband!

Yesterday I finished marking and didn’t really do anything else other than the odd stretch every 3 or 4 scripts. At some point though, I sort of realised, I am actually going to have to stop thinking about running and actually run. So in glorious sunshine I headed out late morning today to run the sheep loop and pop in and see Mum at the end. It was lovely out. I ran the first half mile or so, then put in a 30 second walk break and then continued on running for a bit. As the ground got more uneven and muddy I dropped into 30 sec/30 sec intervals to protect my calf muscles and feet. That seemed fine.

I walked for a couple of minutes towards the bottom of the former golf course – I have never liked the bit where it switches from muddy path to tarmac and I always feel like it’s damp an slippery so rather than tensing up and making my feet hurt, I just walked through that. Along the canal I stuck to 30/30 again and it wasn’t until right at the end that my feet started niggling a bit. Overall it felt good to be out and positive to actually be moving and doing something.

I was having fun really!

So, work towards the midnight sun run starts here I guess. I’m mad.

Going for 1000 Miles Again…

….or the one where I need to talk about weight.

Well here we are again. 1st of January. New Year. New Decade. Bla Bla. Yep, I am my usual grumpy self about new year. I wrote about how I like New Year for the reflection it brings last year. I haven’t changed my mind on that but somehow I am always a little disappointed that nothing happens at that magical midnight moment when one year or in this case one decade ends and another starts. Surely something should be different?

Well it isn’t. The world is still turning, arseholes are still arseholes and lovely people are still lovely. I am still me. Actually the last two of those are not disappointing. They are just as they should be but could we start a thing where every year at midnight on the 31st December an arsehole we each know turns into a lovely person. That should sort the world out pretty sharpish. Anyway, two things are on my mind. One is the the fact that Kath and I once again signed up for the #Run1000Mile Challenge – which you already know but which is now official. I have no idea if I’ll make it, we’ll see. As of today I am ahead of schedule! I went for a very slow and painful 3.66 mile run/walk. I tried 30/30 second intervals to see if I can nurse my calf muscles and feet a bit but it didn’t seem to help that much. Any slight up or uneven ground and everything tightens up and starts screaming. At least today it was manageable on the flat – yesterday I could only run downhill.

The second thing is weight and the new year new you bollocks that is going around as it always does at this time of the year. Honestly, I haven’t actually noticed it as much as I have done in previous years- but it’s early yet – still plenty of time to guilt-trip us into some sort of diet or gym membership. Anyway, the obvious thing is that I am still the old me and I am perfectly happy with the old me. There need not be a new me or indeed a new you just because there is a new year/decade. You do not need to upgraded, renewed, replaced or upcycled. Also the whole start and end of decade thing that is going on with pictures of 2009 and 2019 – if looking at old photos etc is bringing you joy then yay for that. If it’s not and you’re finding the entire experience uncomfortable then just don’t do it. I seem to be totally indifferent to it. Which is odd because I often get caught up in things like that. I am also lazy though and for 2009 pictures of me I would have to actually turn on the old Desktop computer… yeah, forget it. In 2009 I was also just me. A decade on – still just me.

So weight. I’ve been thinking about it as I grumpily flick past the ‘running to lose weight’, ‘yoga for weight loss’ and ‘get your dream body now’ adverts not to mention the weight watchers, slimming world and diet product marketing… Over the last few years I have genuinely shifted the focus from what I look like to what I can do. I am no longer concerned about the number on the scales or the number on the label in my clothes (though not being in-between sizes would be really really welcome). I’ve read stuff and learned stuff (and written stuff) about weight discrimination, about fat shaming, about body positivity about being fat and healthy and all of that. And I am uncomfortable with all of it. There is something about body positivity that just freaks me out. Maybe it’s that the focus for me is not on what you can do… anyway I am digressing – not the point of this post though I may come back to it…

The point I was trying to get to – in a roundabout, long sentences, thinking as I am typing kind of a way – is MY weight. I’m too heavy. Ok, now before you start with the positivity or with the telling me off for thinking and writing about weight and weight loss, calm the fuck down. Don’t tell me I’m not fat – I am. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, I look just fine as I am bla bla bla – nobody cares. I know how much I weight today, after a bath, butt naked with wet hair. It’s not a number I’m keen on but I have spent a lot of time trying to move away from caring about numbers and that has worked – so it wasn’t the number that made me think I was too heavy. It wasn’t even the tightness of my jeans – I can buy bigger pants – it was a general feeling of bleurgh. A feeling of being unfit, sluggish, weak and a bit sack of spuds-ish. Things niggle or take more effort than they should and running is so much harder.

So – am I doing anything about it – Am I going to be lighting up the search engines looking for the next trendy diet, how to burn fat in 6 easy moves? Don’t be daft. I’m not going to do anything about the weight. The weight isn’t the problem. I’m going to do something about feeling less strong, less competent, less fit and generally less wonder woman than I want. No, I’m not changing anything major or joining a fancy gym. I hate the gym. I am simply going back to what I was doing and what brought me joy as well as fitness. I am looking forward to starting to feel the benefits of daily yoga again and the sense of fitness that comes with consistent running and the feeling of power that comes with strength – gained through yoga and through the strength and conditioning exercises. The number on the scales will change in a downward directions – almost certainly – but probably not by as much as you might think.

And just to be clear, this isn’t a January new years resolution thing. I kicked this off last year when deciding to look to RunRight for help to make sure I can run injury free in 2020. While the sessions with them were getting too much for me mentally at the end of last year (well no, everything else was so I had nothing left for them), I am now looking forward to going back later on this month. December was a month of slowly coming back to things I’d neglected and the trick in future is going to be to make time for at least some of those when things get crazy busy and I get tired.

Anyway. Happy 2020.

Accountability post

I have not been running to a plan at all lately but theoretically my 10k plan starts tomorrow. It’s a plan from a Runners World I think and I like it because it has 3 runs a week on it. I might run more, I might not but experience has shown that when I have a training plan with more than three runs a week I tend to not manage it and end up missing key elements of the plan – like the speed sessions. So with three runs a week – most of the time split into one long, one pace practice or speed and one easy, I am more confident that I can stick to the plan as well as fit in the sessions with RunRight and some yoga.

Kath is in the process of adding a new spreadsheet to our files to track our 2020 miles for the #Run1000Miles challenge. I’m excited about having a blank sheet to work with! If you haven’t heard of this or signed up, do it. Have a look at the Trail Running Magazine website for info and get yourself into the Facebook Group for lots of advice, support and encouragement as well as pictures of stunning landscapes. It doesn’t matter whether you make the 1000 miles or not. It’s a fabulous challenge and I still think that for me it is doable. I managed 500 miles with a rather last minute 7 miles on New Year’s eve in 2017 and then I ran over 800 miles in 2018 and am at just over 500 miles for 2019. So I am again setting my target for 2020 at 1000 miles. I need just a little more consistency.

So really I am writing for accountability – Either tomorrow or Tuesday (tomorrow may be tricky as we have a funeral to go to) I need to get my moomin butt our for 40 – 60 minutes of easy running. Obviously for me that means run/walking. My easy running is basically walking so I shall be giving myself a break and accepting that while earlier this year I could run a long way without walk breaks that is no longer the case and intervals are fine! I also need intervals at the moment because my calf muscles are protesting if I try anything more ambitious that running for about a minute at a time. Which brings me to the next paragraph.

The other thing I really need to and want to do as I head into this training programme is doing all the things that are so easily neglected. I want to keep doing the yoga after running to stretch out everything that is pulling tight. My calves are suffering but I suspect that the cause is really my hamstrings which seem ridiculously tight. And then there’s the strength exercises and sessions with RunRight which I will pick up again mid January when I am back from a workshop in Germany. The sessions that is, the exercises I need to seriously pick up today really – I have been doing some of them some of the time and I was giving myself a break because everything was just so impossible (thanks black pup) but we are now in excuses territory!

So please do keep reminding me to do yoga and exercises, keep asking me about them and holding me accountable. In particular remind me that I want to do them because they make me a better runner. I am actually not at all keen on gym related stuff or on strength work or any of that – except of course I like feeling strong and capable and I totally get that that takes work so I need reminding that while I might not like the process I do like the result and I usually enjoy having done it even if I don’t enjoy doing it. I also say that about running of course so maybe one day I will actually enjoy a strength and conditioning type session while I am doing it rather than just afterwards. Who knows.

Anyway – this coming week I want to tick off

  • 40-60 minutes easy
  • 5-6 x 1 mile at 10k pace with 800m recovery
  • 70-90 minutes long

I’ll let you know how I get on

Christmas Running and 500 Miles at last!

So that’s Christmas 2019 done. It has been a quiet one. After a Christmas Eve pottering about in the kitchen making oatcakes, the last batch of mince pies, chocolate mousse for our Christmas day pudding and what turned out to be delicious braised red cabbage, Christmas day started slowly. We woke up later than we normally do, had two cups of tea and mince pies in bed before opening our presents from each other. Then we set off for our Christmas day trot – our sheep loop backwards to end up at Kath’s mum’s for bacon sarnies and more presents.

The run was lush. Slow and with plenty of walking because my calves are still playing silly buggers and my feet aren’t much better either but we ran down to the canal. We were treated to an absolutely gorgeous sunrise with stunning colours. We stopped for a photo and as we set off again Kath spotted some deer. We stopped to watch them a little while and then were about to set off again (again) and I saw the blue flash of a kingfisher streaking through the air. It landed on a branch just a little further along the canal and we slowly walked towards it watching it. Such a stunning sight. Eventually it flew off and we went on our way too following it and being lucky enough to catch it take off and land further along a couple more times.

The rest of the stretch along the canal was a pleasant plod as we chatted, said Merry Christmas to the ducks and made the one or two dog walkers we met smile with our Santa hats bobbing along. We crossed the bridge over the canal and started walking up the hill. We stopped to watch squirrels and small birds and then saw a woodpecker. As we reached the top of the golf course we met a dog and his human who cheerily informed us that he had already escaped the kids to the lovely peace and quiet of the outdoors. As we made our way out of the wood at the other end we met some more dogs one of which was terrified of us in our Santa hats and after staring at us for a while she pinned her ears back and ran past us as fast as she could.

The rest of Christmas day was basically making food and eating food. Then came my birthday and another morning of tea and mince pies in bed. Eventually we got going and set off to Bolton Abbey for our Boxing Day/ my birthday trot round the Strid Wood/Aquaeduct loop. My calves were not playing in spite of starting with intervals. I made it run/walk about a mile before I admitted defeat and we walked the rest of the loop. Still, somewhere along that first mile I hit the 500 miles for the year. I should of course be excited about that. 500 miles is a lot of miles but it’s bitter sweet. At the start of the year double that number was on the cards. I was running the weekly miles needed with ease and was having fun. And then I wasn’t – running or having fun and getting to 500 miles seemed unlikely – so I am pleased to have got there. Anyway, I’ll leave the reflections on my 500 miles til the next post maybe.

I am sort of ready to end this running year, to re-set and start again, to work with the excitement of the endless possibilities a blank spreadsheet and no miles on the clock for the new year brings. The thrill of runs not yet had and adventures not yet started, the fun of planning, the routine of sticking to the plans and the rebelliousness of changing plans, breaking the rules and doing something different. I will end the year on 500 and a few miles but next year just imagine… maybe I will run 1000, maybe I won’t run 500 but just imagine the adventures that await.

Coming back to running is like re-reading your favourite book

I did something today I haven’t done for ages: Instead of walking to where I needed to be, I ran there. Ok so it was a mile and a quarter going the long way round to my Mum’s but just last week I would have dropped in on my way to or back from somewhere as I drove past or at a push I might have walked. It’s all downhill really and I walked back up… see what my brain is doing here? It’s focused on the negative, on the ‘I never do this’, the ‘I walked back’ and the ‘It was only a mile’. Well sod off brain because it was a rather marvellous mile and a bit.

I packed my little red rucksack with an extra top to put on for the walk back up, a few bits and bobs I wanted to take to Mum’s and a lunchbox filled with mince pies and then I set off in the rain and made my way down the hill. The rain was blowing in my face with the cold droplets nipping at my face but still my breathing settled quickly, movement felt smooth and my feet light on the ground. It felt like running. The good running, the running that makes you want to go out again and again. There was no tightness in my calves and no sore feet. I stopped thinking about running and my mind drifted off enjoying its own journey.

It’s quite amazing how much you can think about in roughly a mile and a quarter. I picked up a thread of a thought I had a couple of months ago when Kath and I drove up to Keswick and walked round Derwentwater. It’s about running and favourite books. The thought struck me again as I reached the bottom of Ilkley Road and turned left to continue down our hill: Once you have some experience of running, running isn’t something you have to start again as such. It’s like going back to an old favourite book. You might not remember the storyline, you might not remember details or what happens next or who is who but it’s nonetheless familiar and comforting. It’s also a little irritating because you’ve read it before and it feels like you should remember but don’t quite or you misremember and get something wrong but fundamentally things come back to you more quickly the more you have read the book. You can skim bits, you don’t have to read things in order, you could skip to a favourite chapter and go backwards to read it again later. Going back to running after having some time out is the same.

No really it is. The act of running is familiar. The movement, the feeling in my lungs as I get out of breath pushing up the slope, the relief of air being sucked in as it levels off, the instinctive placing of my feet (in still awful running form – but that will change) and the feel of my muscles working and eventually the reminder (though not today) that there are plenty of weak spots to be worked on as something or another begins to tighten or niggle. I know this, I understand this. I have been here before and I got from here to Dopey fitness and to more and more effortless running. But the purpose is not the race at the end of a training plan or to be able to run a mile in a certain time or to be able to keep going for a certain distance. That’s not a reason to run. Like reading where the purpose is not to finish the book but to savour the story, running is also about the story. If the story about getting from A to B on a single run or from A to B in terms of a fitness goal isn’t a good, happy, healthy and fun story then what’s the point of having got to B?

So here’s the story of today’s A to B. It was a mile and a quarter – roughly. I have no idea how fast it was because I still don’t feel like knowing. I didn’t wear my watch. The cold rain made me happy and I missed it when I turned the corner and it came from behind me. Running downhill was easy and I felt effortless until the last few steps of the slope upwards when I realised that I a) had no real idea of how I’d got there b) was quite puffed and c) was too warm in my waterproof jacket. I turned again, went down a little baby hill and a long very very slight downhill slope, the rain was back in my face and all was fine again. My whole run was set to the rhythm and sound of the mince pies bouncing about in their box in my bag as I ran and I laughed at the thought of them being bounced into tiny little pieces. Almost disappointingly they were fine. I crossed the road, sidestepped one and jumped another puddle, got to the traffic lights and caught a glimpse of my rainbow laces as I waited for the lights to change. I smiled and that smile carried me to my destination.

How was your story?