It’s too hot. I generally think of myself as quite good in heat really but that apparently only applies when I am not at home. West Yorkshire is not supposed to be this hot and humid and I am just permanently grumpy about being too hot. Have I mentioned it’s too hot?
Anyway, running. I went. Kath came with me. My plan said 7 minutes running three times with 2 minute walk breaks. Well even at 7am it was already warm (have I mentioned the heat) but there was still a bit of air. The first 7 minutes were ok, hard on the uphill towards the end but ok. The second 7 minutes were just ridiculous and I didn’t think I’d get beyond 4 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 6 minutes… I would almost certainly have stopped but Kath kept insisting I could do it. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that but I did feel like collapsing in a heap when I heard the beep on my watch.
The 3rd set of 7 minutes was pretty much all downhill so much easier and I recovered a little. It was lovely to run off road again too. I have been doing an out and back road route for the first part of the plan but it was early enough to head for our sheep loop (we should really call it something else, we haven’t had our sheep for quite some time now) including the canal. And the longer running intervals made a loop more worthwhile. We finished run 3 just about a minute or so onto the canal and then enjoyed a relaxing walk home from there. It was nice to do a loop rather than an out and back and it was lovely to see some greenery and ducks! I hadn’t realised it but I have missed the ducks.
Ok, let’s have a post that’s actually about how the running is going shall we. The last run I wrote about was the run that didn’t go to plan. Honestly, getting out and running has been a struggle. After that run and the fall I didn’t make it out for just over a week. Partly I was sensible and waited for the worst to heal and partly it was an excuse. I was anxious about running. I was anxious about people, I was frustrated with my spectacular lack of fitness and motivation. Recovering from a fall is a legitimate thing to do… but not for weeks on end.
But in the end the pull of the bluebells was too strong. Kath had been telling me about them, how gorgeous they were and how the mix of bluebell and wild garlic is just so evocative of here, of home. I dragged my butt out of bed early to make sure people wouldn’t be an issue and then we set off on a tentative run/walk to the wood. We walked the narrow path through the bluebells and it was a stunning morning and absolutely worth getting up.
I managed a repeat early start a couple of days later allowing me to run our sheep loop without worrying about people on the canal towpath. It was really hard and my ankle was stiff – it has been on and off since the fall but seemed particularly bad that morning. My hay fever symptoms were also through the roof making breathing a bit tricky. Still, early mornings along the canal with ducklings and lambs and busy little birds everywhere is always worth it. Just need to remember that.
I had another couple of short 2 mile-ish outings at the end of April. I’ve been trying to play with intervals and other things to focus on because my brain has once again decided that I can’t run at all. Some of the runs have been 30/30 intervals which is fine but feels stop start at the beginning and then doesn’t actually seem to get me much further in terms of endurance. Instead I have tried to sometimes run for the first mile and then pick landmarks, other times to run to a certain landmark or place before dropping into run/walk intervals (this used to be mentally different from running a certain distance but I am now getting to know the distance of those points so it’s not working as well as it was) or running for a certain amount of time – just to give my brain something else to think about before it spirals off into ‘you can’t do this so why bother’ mode.
For my first May run I decided to go up towards Ilkley Moor. I have never actually been able to run all the way up but I certainly can’t now so my plan for that particular route at the moment is to walk up to the top and then run back down. I was thinking that doing it once a week would be good. It’s a pull and if I do it every week I will start to feel the benefits of the hill on the up and running down gives me change to get used to running at a slightly faster pace than I could manage on a flat or undulating route. I had 2 miles up and 2 miles down in my head and enjoyed the lapwings and curlews as I walked up. As I got to about 1.75 miles I could see people up ahead and it started raining. The rain was actually lovely but the prospect of catching up with the people, passing them and then doing the same again not long after as I turned round did not seem appealing. I turned early and gently jogged down in the rain. It was gorgeous.
My other two May runs so far have been short. I wrote about yesterday’s run last night. It was a tough run. I have really struggle to run continuously. A few days ago I went out and decided I would try and run 15 minutes continuously, whatever the pace. I made it to just over 17 minutes at a painfully slow trot. Yesterday I wanted to run the loop as far as the bottom of the steep hill to come back up home. I nearly gave up so many times but the reason for running was at the forefront of my mind – particularly because I was/am still not entirely comfortable with it all. It seemed wrong to not make it to the hill. Disrespectful somehow. I made it, so just over 21 minutes of continuous running and I even managed a few more little bursts of running on the way home which is not something I have managed recently.
So why the continuous running at the moment? I know I am not running with great form, that I should work much more on strengthening and building up the muscles to run properly and that I don’t have the strength to run for more than about 30 seconds in proper running form… Yep I know. I know that I am increasing the injury risk. I know I am not running efficiently and I know that I am probably undoing some of the work towards good running form that I had put in. But honestly, my brain is full. I don’t want to go out to run thinking carefully about form. I don’t want to run concentrating hard on knee lift and foot placement. I barely have the brain power to make myself go out at all. I am already thinking more than I want to about possible routes and how to avoid people. I don’t want to think about running. I want to run so I don’t have to think. I want to run to give my brain a rest. Now is not the time for me to be worrying about perfect form. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s important or that I am ignoring it totally. I have short bursts during my runs where I try and concentrate on form. I am also doing some of my exercises some of the time. Right now though, the relaxation yoga, the stretching, the breathing and the being able to run continuously are more important for me to stay mentally healthy. If running right now was just about drills and form and strength exercises I wouldn’t be running and that doesn’t seem like a good option.
Running feels different. It is back as something I want to do rather than something I feel like I should. It’s that old favourite book which just sits and waits to be picked up again and while for now I am content flicking through it, gently reminding myself of the favourite bits, the easy passages within it, the chapters with which I feel at ease, I am beginning to wait for the next phase. I am waiting for the little hint of ambition, the readiness to tackle the more difficult passages, the willingness to get stuck in and work harder, the wish to be more systematic and focused, to start at the beginning and work towards the end of volume 1, chapter by chapter. It’s there in the background. I can feel myself mentally preparing for it without really being conscious of it at all. One day soon I’ll wake up ready to once again become a runner.
A little while ago some fellow #Run1000Miles runners started what has now become a fun little running game of taking their dinosaurs out for a run and taking a picture. Kath and I thought we should do that for a bit of fun too but it turned out we didn’t have a dinosaur. I mean come on, how does that happen? How do we not have a dinosaur? Then Kath found a dinosaur while sorting out a box for the loft but I never made it out for my longer run yesterday because of a rather dodgy tummy and the day before that I had some other random excuse. In short, the #DinoRun still hadn’t happened.
Today I decided I would get out. Kath and I made beetroot chocolate cake and I took some to drop off at Kath’s Mum’s with a gentle run/walk so as not to turn the cake into crumbs on the way. We had a quick chat, obviously at the requisite distance. After that I walked up the hill passing a couple of dog walkers and enjoying seeing the views from a different vantage point. I don’t often go that way and when I do, I go the other way round the loop I was on.
It somehow felt wrong to take Kath’s dinosaur so I nicked her idea instead and took the closest thing we thought we had to a dino – a platypus. She sat happily in my pocket on my right thigh looking out, every now and again reminding me to perhaps at least try to go a little faster. About half way up the hill we had a little break and look out over the valley before continuing on. I walked up the hill. I’m not actually sure that I could have run it even at my fittest but today was not the day to try. I just wanted to enjoy the warm sun and cool breeze and being out.
When I got to the top I crossed over the road to stay the required distance from a couple walking and once crossed back started run/walking – fairly half heartedly to be honest. I didn’t quite trust my tummy and I was enjoying being out without worrying about effort. I ran/walked for a little stretch. Stopped to look at a sleepy lamb and take platypus out for another look around. She was quite insistent about sitting on my shoulder and I had to negotiate hard to get her back into my pocket.
I carried on run/walk and was just thinking I might manage the next little up slope before enjoying a longish flat and down when I suddenly caught sight of a little lamb gang bouncing around in the field. I briefly thought ‘ooooh look lambs’ and was still smiling as I hit the tarmac and wondered how the hell that had happened. I landed with an oomph and just stayed still for a minute. Then I think I swore. I picked myself up off the roadside and brushed off the worst of the gravel and dust. There was a cyclist who came past me without making eye contact as I just started walking on. He must have seen me fall and pick myself up. I shouted after him: ‘I’m fine thanks’. There, always feel better for a bit of pointless passive agression.
My left hand felt bruised, my right was grazed and my left knee and shin took a bit of a battering too. I called Kath to explain I was hobbling home and to ask her to run me a bath so I could clean myself up and pick the gravel out of my hand and knee. So my planned 6ish miles didn’t quite go to plan. Because my tummy wasn’t quite playing ball I had already decided to cut it short and then I threw myself on the tarmac because I was distracted by lambs. I literally tripped over nothing – I checked – I fell on the most even part of tarmac on the entire stretch of road. Muppet.
Anyway I shall have to try another #DinoRun or rather #PlatypusRun that is worthy of the platypus. And I need to make sure that next time I fling myself at the ground I do it somewhere more forgiving than tarmac. Trails are definitely safer! I’m also going to have to find some of the yoga sessions which do not involve downward dog or anything like that because my hands are quite sore.
Many of us are running less at the moment and many of us are reading more about running so I thought I would try and capture my thoughts on Adharanand Finn’s ‘The Rise of the Ultra Runners’ which I finished a few days ago.
Except I don’t really know what to say. Is it the definitive book on ultra running as the endorsement from Dean Karnazes on the from cover suggests? Is it an electrifying and inspirational account as the back cover blurb suggests? Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know what I think about the book. I sort of like it and don’t. I enjoyed reading it. There where bits of the book I couldn’t put down and then there were bits where I lost interest fast and rolled my eyes repeatedly and just got irritated. The thing is, I am not sure I know why.
So the book then. It’s an account of a journalist road runner turned ultra runner trying to understand ultra running and ultimately getting to and running the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Along the way Finn writes about ultra running as an emerging sport, about some of the top ultra runners he interviews and about his own running. It should be the sort of book I like, a nice mix of personal stories and experiences mixed with descriptions of iconic races and some less well know ones and some general information and analysis about ultra running. And actually that is what I like about it. Finn’s writing is really good story telling. He takes you on those races with him, he transports you into those stories and it feels like you know the people and places he’s talking about just a little bit better at the end of the book. Read it. It’s worth reading. It might even inspire you. It’s a good book.
So why don’t I like it? Why is there something about the book that really grates? Something that has not shifted since I finished reading a few days ago? Maybe it is simply that Finn’s focus is the racing world of ultra running. And it would not have occurred to me to start there when thinking about ultras. Finn mentions Fastest Known Times and gives a brief nod to running in the Lake District but his focus throughout the book is on the races. Somehow that’s just not where my mind goes when I think ultra running. I think Nicky Spinks and fells and racing yourself and maybe the clock but not racing others. I think Kilian Jornet in summits of my life rather than Kilian Jornet winning or not winning a race. To me the racing over ultra distance is a side show of ultra running not the main thing. For Finn (and I guess also for sponsors etc), it seems racing is central. So maybe our starting points and approaches to thinking about ultra running are just different. And maybe the racing starting point grates because it puts the focus on times and on winning or placing and one of the things I have always enjoyed about watching even the elite ultra runners is that they don’t talk in those terms. They talk about the challenge of the distance, the terrain, the conditions. Maybe it’s that.
Maybe it’s that there are people who I think of immediately when I think trail and ultra running that are barely featured. Maybe it’s that the book actually has quite a US focus. Maybe I am just grumpy that Nicky Spinks, Joss Naylor, Jasmine Paris, Emilie Fosberg (for example), my heroes of the sport, don’t take centre stage. Maybe it’s that.
And then there’s something else. And this is unfair because I have never met Adharanand Finn. I don’t think I like him. I don’t think we’d get on. Throughout the writing there seems to me to be an arrogance. It reminds me of a type. A type I don’t like. A type I sometimes see out running. A type that makes me roll my eyes and exclaim ‘road runner’ silently in my head. You know, the type who is too focused on their pace to nod an acknowledgement of a fellow human, too important to step aside and wait to let people pass and too wrapped up in their training to consider anyone else out on the same stretch of earth. It’s subtle and it’s a kind of arrogance I know I am over sensitive too. It’s not elitist really but something akin to it. It perhaps links to my points above about where our respective starting points are in thinking about ultra running. For Finn it is still about racing in some way. It’s like taking a road running mentality and transposing it to longer distances and more difficult terrain. It’s still about winning or if not quite in that elite field then it is still about posting a respectable time. As someone who has never and isn’t likely to ever run a respectable time over any distance that mindset just grates. It suggests that if you can’t do this in a certain time then really you don’t belong here. And that certain time is up there close to the elite times. I wonder how Finn would feel actually coming last.
So clearly Finn is a decent runner. His running journey as outlined in the book is impressive and I am sure he learned a lot about himself during the races and during the training he did. I just, for whatever reason, don’t find his story inspiring. Impressive yes but nothing more than that. Should you read the book? Yep absolutely. If you’re interested in trail and ultra running and the people at the top of that sport then yes. It’s a good book and I hope it inspires you and I hope you enjoy it. I’m going to continue to feel uneasy about it, quite unconvinced that Finn has really got to the heart of my kind of ultra running, not really sure that when Finn writes about ultras he really truly gets it. And I realise that this is an utterly idiotic things to say given that Finn has completed several and I have completed none and given that almost all of my races have been road races and that I am a wimp of a trail runner who can sit at a top of a hill too scared to run down. So yes, I am being unfair and judgmental but to me Finn writes about trail and ultra running as a road runner. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a road runner if that’s your thing but they are different sports with different mindsets, cultures, goals an ambitions and I think the problem I have with the book is simply that it is written by a road runner who also happens to be pretty decent at running trail ultras as it turns out. I am not sure why that bothers me but it seems it does.
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.