Smashing the running barrier

The title is very tongue in cheek, but I am revelling in a sense of achievement.  Just over a year ago, in mid-September 2017, I embarked on the Couch to 5K app from Public Health England, with the supportive and gentle Jo Whiley chatting me through a 9 week training programme to turn me into someone who can run for 30 minutes without stopping.  

The process took me longer than 9 weeks, but by the end of the process I could indeed run for 30 minutes. But only 30 minutes.  And therefore, due to my lack of speed, never 5k.  I have run a lot (relatively speaking) since completing the programme.  Most weeks I run at least once, but usually three times a week.  It is the regular exercise that was my aim, not the time or the distance.  

For a variety of reasons, the runs have got shorter, now, they’re usually about 20 minutes, rather than 30, and sometimes even shorter now that the winter makes the family a bit slower in the morning.   But still regular, which was the aim.  All good you’d think.  Except I doubted whether I could still run for 30 minutes and I knew I could not run for 5k, because, well, in my head that would mean running for about 40 minutes wouldn’t it?  And If I can’t run 30 minutes, then I definitely can’t run forty. 

Strangely, without my realising it, my head has become as much an obstacle as my lung capacity or leg muscles.  I had thought that was an affliction that only hit elite athletes who hire sports psychologists to get them over the hurdles.  

Last week was my birthday (as I may have mentioned!), I celebrated by running 30 minutes for the first time in ages and it was fine, I could absolutely do that with no real problem. Then on Friday night I was due to stay with a friend who is a proper runner, and dedicated to running Park Run every week.  Park Run is a great concept – a community 5k run led by volunteers every Saturday morning at 9am in a variety of locations over the country.  Please note though – 5k – impossible.

There was an inevitability of me ending up running with the friend and so after a great evening of music and gin and catching up, we went to bed late and I signed up to Park Run at 01:43, got about 5 hours sleep and faced down the impossible on a wet and windy Saturday morning in Merseyside.  Thankfully the rain stopped, the sky cleared and leaping puddles was fun.  And I ran for 5k.  Not quickly, but it was only three mins longer than the 30 minute barrier I had imposed.  And the friend was brilliant, chatting to me all the way round – turns out 5k gives you enough time for a good catch-up.

I am considering running 5k again this week.  Funny thing the brain.

Don’t forget why

I had a conversation with someone yesterday about a volunteering project; it did me the power of good. This conversation ended in a fit of giggles as we allowed ourselves to be a bit ridiculous and find perspective in humour.  It also included the other person urging me to write this blog again.

My brain is feeling full and overwhelmed. There is a danger of forgetting what the point of it all is.

I forget that having a family is about hanging out with some cool people all the time, watching them grow and change every day.

I forget that having a job is – because I am very privileged to have a good job which pays me to do something I love and believe in – about using my skills and passions in a professional capacity.  It’s about travelling and meeting people.  It’s about learning and developing every month.

I forget that volunteering is about having fun, it’s about facing the challenges as a team, leaning on and supporting each other.  Very importantly, it really is about finding the fun in those challenges, enjoying putting our heads (and sometimes hands) together to solve the problems.  It’s about remembering that any community endeavour will hit bumps, some people will struggle, people will sometimes forget it was supposed to be good fun.  We’re there to work out how to support each other through it, to continue to flourish together as a team.

I love the busy, but I do lose perspective.  Yesterday’s conversation reminded me that the few minutes I spend to write this are fun, they help in reminding me of all the things I forget.  To the other person in the conversation: thank you!

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For goodness sake, stop

It’s Tuesday.  It’s very early on a Tuesday when I write this and yet so far this week two people have commented on me being a bit grumpy. Reactionary maybe.   Is this news to me?  Not really. Is it majorly frustrating.  Oh yes.

It’s frustrating because one of my goals this year was to be calmer about things.  Specifically, to stop talking so much.  To pause – possibly for ever – before speaking.   Being calmer and quieter was the overall aim, it sounds like I need some mini resolutions to work on this a bit more this month.

It ties in with a theme from last week – a craving for quiet and still.  My brain is definitely full and very chattery at the moment, so maybe that is why it is reacting to things.

It’s all this that meditation is supposed to solve isn’t it?   And yoga.  And prayer, especially contemplative prayer.  Yep – I have the answers. And yet… This could very well be the cause of the frustration – I know what to do, but haven’t done it.  I have no excuses.

But one step at a time. Discussing this blog at the weekend, a friend described it as a way for me to write down what was top of mind and allow those thoughts some space to breathe.  Space and breathing sound like things I am aiming for.  Now to do some of that other stuff too.  Where’s the yoga mat?

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Yearning for quiet

It has been a busy week. Celebrating the end of the summer holidays – we experimented with celebrating, as opposed to limping into the new academic year, it was fun.  Getting to grips with a new routine – we’re not there yet, several after-school activities are only starting this week.  Coping with the reawakening that happens at the start of September – my inbox is filled with announcements, updates and plans and I am out every evening this week.  Most importantly, celebrating a significant family birthday with lots of family and friends.  We had a gorgeous weekend of parties, presents, good food and good wine.  Just as it all should be.

There is no doubt I am an extrovert, I gain my energy by being with people, I get lonely quickly.  As I get older though, I am noticing that I am maybe not as extrovert as I think I am.  I talk a lot, I am loud, I like being with lots of people.  Yet, I am currently craving some time alone, some quiet, some time just being with my own thoughts for a while.  My commutes into work last week felt very precious indeed, as I relished being alone in the car.  It’s not quite as much peace as I need though, the whole having to concentrate on driving gets in the way of ones thoughts wandering properly.

This time in the morning with a journal and a blog was so important in the busyness of last week. I have loved spending some time doing a tiny bit of yoga in the last week – because it is quiet and still.

My next challenge for myself is to carve out quiet minutes in my day, to stop waiting for a quiet time to present itself, rather to make it happen myself.  And not to worry about it being a certain period of time.  Just two minutes a day of being in silence would help hugely in this busy time of change.

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Watching them light up

One of the most fascinating aspects of parenthood is seeing the loves and passions that your offspring develop. In my very limited experience of only two offspring, they’re not the things that energise me.  And of course, they change all the time, at a sometimes alarming rate.

Sadly academic study has not always been one of those passions which fire up the offspring here. I say sadly only because they spend a fair amount of the year in academic study.  But some of that study does interest them, and I try and get them to see that in amongst the general complaints about having to attend school.  I guess many of us do jobs which don’t make us passionate.

One of the tricks of life for us all at any age is to indulge in the stuff that makes us feel awake and energetic.   Sometimes that can be the video games or the latest box set – however much I try and deny that in my parenting, there are phases when the newness of a game and the fact that all your friends are discussing it, is genuinely exciting.

That said, the inspiration for this blog is much more active.  One of the offspring gets hugely energised by skiing and we indulged that yesterday as a last-day-of-holidays treat.  The burst of energy he gets from the sport has definitely got him through the last day blues and even out of bed a couple of hours earlier than has been usual over the last couple of months.

It’s one of the most delightful things to see as a parent too – offspring totally focussed and refreshed and enthusiastic.  If only this particular passion were not quite so expensive.  And slightly more convenient in terms of geographic location. This could be yet another reason to consider that migration to Canada.

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we were just about the only people who decided skiing is a good way to end the summer holidays

Pushing them out

It’s one of those days where my parenting skills are challenged.  Both the offspring are off on adventures, both have done all the prep for these adventures themselves.  Bags are packed, travel plans are made and everyone is being independent.   This is good. Both my offspring are teenagers, one is an adult legally. Them learning how to prepare and then leave me to go on adventures is the sign that the parenting has gone well so far.

The challenge is that I am finding it quite hard to not be involved.  I have not been able to resist checking on water and suncream, my excuse is that it is unusually hot, but I have stopped myself from checking anything else.  One is off to London.  We live in the second city, so he has some knowledge of how to get around a city and a few tube rides in the wrong direction hurt no one.

The other offspring is off on his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expedition.  Again, apart from the obvious safety point of making sure he has liquid and sun protection in what promises to be two hot sunny days, he has packed and organised all his own stuff.  As he should – the point of the award is independence, organisation and planning.

All of this sense is my head though, my heart is struggling.  It is what it is, a phase of pushing them on to discover themselves. All the while feeling out of sorts as it is the opposite of what the instincts tell me to do.  But I know in my heart that stopping them from making mistakes will only do them huge damage later.  This is their life, I have the honour of watching them unfold, but not living them for them.  Here’s to independence.

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New blog routine

Up until now, all of these have been written first thing in the morning.  But it’s the busy season at the moment, with various commitments and a lot going on, and frankly sleep is slightly more beneficial than blogging.

But sleep is making me blog this evening instead.  Or rather lack of it.  I am a great sleeper, it’s definitely my top skill in life.  It’s also the canary in the mine of health and wellbeing.  If I stop sleeping, there is something wrong. And I stopped sleeping a couple of nights ago, not in a huge way, I just keep waking up.  I can drop off again, because I am determinedly not engaging in a thought process, but that ability will wear off as I get more tired, I know.  So instead of having the day start with getting thoughts in order, tonight I am going to end the day with this habit.

Now, to work out what is keeping me awake.  I think it is an accumulation of things and I don’t really want to give credence to my fears. I am feeling overwhelmed, by a quantity of issues, rather than one thing in particular. I suspect what I am not doing very well is writing down everything I need to get sorted and then working out where to start.   In a peculiar way, my fear is writing everything down, because then I may just realise that I can’t do anything.

The problem with feeling overwhelmed is that it becomes harder to find a way to get the job done.  I am starting the inevitable downward spiral into feeling that I can’t do anything, I am hopeless at everything, the best thing to do is run away.  This is my very typical dramatic catastrophising of everything into something way bigger than it should be.  Tonight’s catastrophe is that someone has criticised something I put in place and I feel bad about having to deal with a difficult situation and potentially hurting someone’s feelings.  I seem to think that running away will help.  I know it won’t, but right now, that flight instinct is huge.

To add some perspective, I have handled the situation well.  Two things went wrong tonight on my watch, one was solvable this evening and so it was resolved and hopefully all will be fine.  The other issue felt much bigger.  So, I did what I will hopefully come to accept was the right thing, I listened to the concerns and I promised to deal with them.  And I will deal with it at another time, when I am not feeling overwhelmed, not today.

And meanwhile, I need to remember everything good that happened this evening, because lots did. Perfection is not mine on this occasion, but I need to not forget the good stuff, there was much much more of that than the bad stuff.

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