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).

Re-assessing “Unfuckwithable”

Quite a long time ago a friend shared the following on Facebook.

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I love it. I think we should all be unfuckwithable because if we are, if we can achieve that ┬áthen the world would be a better place because we could brush of the idiocies of life, we’d be less defensive, more collegiate and more supportive of each other, we’d be more here and now (ok so maybe the therapist is working here – she’s not keen on the past or the future, she’s all about the now). Running helps me get there. A good run can make me completely unfuckwithable because the warm post run glow, the slight smug post run IMG_8580ache, the calm post run tiredness, the heightened awareness of my own body and the mental clarity that follows a good hard run all tell me that I am me and that me is all I need to be. I’m not better than anyone else, I’m no worse, I’m me and if that’s not good enough for you then, frankly, that’s your problem and not mine. You can’t fuck with me because in that moment I am completely and totally in control of who I am, what I am and how I am and who does and doesn’t matter to my world.

IMG_8586Unfortunately though that unfuckwithable state is fleeting and fragile. Or at least that’s how I’ve thought about it until now. Today though I wondered whether the bar really has to be set that high, whether it really has to be something that is so hard to achieve and impossible to hang on to. Maybe there is more than one way to be unfuckwithable. On the one hand there is this almost mythical thing but then there are other things that achieve the same thing but perhaps in a more context specific way. Let me try and explain. I woke up this morning around 6.15, 15 minutes before my alarm, with a very slight hangover, slight regrets about food choices and not really feeling up to going for a run. But then what else was I going to do? I was awake and my hotel room was so tiny that staying in wasn’t really an option. So off I went. It was raining, I was a little grumpy, I wanted to run for 30 minutes without walking. After 3 minutes I was huffing and puffing like a steam train. I kept going, then I hit the busy busy busy just fucking busy Great Portland Street tube station with people everywhere and traffic just coming from all directions (not actually true at all – it’s a fairly orderly junction actually but it felt like it) and I was proper grumpy and even more grumpy that stopping for the lights meant I wasn’t running my continuous 30 minutes. I crossed the road and got into Regent’s Park feeling like all the energy had been sucked out of me by the traffic and the busyness of a Thursday morning on the streets of London. I’d done half a mile. I was seriously tempted to just turn round and go back to the hotel but the quiet of the park felt like bliss so I IMG_8584made a decision. I wanted to have fun – so I ran from point to point taking pictures (some of which are dotted through this post). I didn’t run/walk, I ran/stopped – sometimes to take a photo, sometimes to talk to the ducks or geese, sometimes to look at something. It may have been the slowest 5k in history but I had a blast and it was my run with my rules. I passed other runners (said hello to all of them, mostly they seemed incredibly disturbed by that) and not once did I feel self-conscious or concerned about my pace or odd about stopping. I’d decided that this is what I was doing and somehow achieved a level of unfuckwithableness related to the run. I just decided.

Later this morning I was sitting in a cafe listening to the wonderful Liza Vallance (Artistic Director/CEO of Studio 3 Arts) talk about her work and her running and the importance of helping people share and showcase their experiences and stories and I realised that up until this point whenever I have met my heroes I have been disappointed. ┬áNot this time. We’re part of the same running club online so I guess we’ve ‘known’ each other since I joined the Clubhouse in December 2015. I have looked to Liza as a role model for running and for life more generally. She’s creative, strong and real and today I got to meet her. Conversation came easy and time flew by and I met my hero and she was just normal – basically everything I thought she would be and more. Listening to her I realised that collectively, when people come together to do something that is meaningful, we become unfuckwithable. It’s that being united in a mission, the instinctively knowing and agreeing that something is important and knowing that the people around you have your back… IMG_8576

Then I checked my Twitter on the train home and I had a message from a student I taught in his first year. He’s now coming to the end of his degree. He said:

“You taught me how to think. That’s the most important skill. Cannot thank you enough Jess.”

It’s hard to explain what that means in the current HE climate and this blog isn’t about that so suffice it to say that it validates everything I believe in and do and it makes me – if not unfuckwithable – then lessfuckwithable in relation to how I do what I do. And I don’t mean that I am not open to criticism and debate, just that I’m right to challenge and right to ask my questions and right to keep pushing and that I can’t just be put back in my box.

So maybe it’s time to reassess unfuckwithable. Maybe it is something that is more about being more settled and confident, less concerned about what other people think and more interested in doing what instinctively feels right. The hard run as described at the start maybe makes it easier to remember that but actually thinking about it slightly differently might allow me to get there more often for longer. I’d always assumed I could get there only through running hard and long but maybe I simply have to decide and remember what’s important.

On a slightly different note – we’re starting a 15 week marathon training programme – possible with a couple of adaptations for me – mostly during the week where the runs go to 7 miles and I might do them by time rather than distance. More on that another time. For now have an unfuckwithable evening and rest of the week

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I do like pretty coffee