What’s helping now: running

Muddy trainers delight me

In the midst of extreme busy I am definitely hankering after the blog.  It’s been quite the start to the year hasn’t it? And I am missing a morning routine on these dark mornings – which is where this blog first originated.  So here we go, back to tapping away first thing on cold dark winter mornings.

I am relishing various good habits at the moment and am very grateful for them in this strange January. I thought I would write about them over the following days.  To be honest, I needed a theme to write about so that I don’t just open the laptop and stare at it crossly – and this is it.

First up  -running.  I have written about it before and feel a certain thrill that I am still writing about how important running is in my life.  Nearly ten months ago I decided that if I was to be locked in my home all day – ok so maybe not locked in, but it felt like being locked up.  For those who were deemed as having to shield, I am sure it did feel exactly like they had been locked up and I worry about and for those people.  Oops sorry, digressions – but indulge me – I am a bit over-excited at writing again.  Back to ten months ago when I decided that it was highly likely due to my lifestyle of travelling lots to London that I was about to get ill with a respiratory disease.  I know this is not in any way a medically proven thing and that very fit and healthy people have died from coronavirus, but in my head, I have vulnerable lungs anyway and so strengthening them was key for me.  That meant cardio.  Running was and remains the most effective way for me of pushing my lungs and heart to work harder.

It turned out to be so much more than that.  Running happens outside and outside is the place I long to be.  In inclement weather the longing to be warm, dry, not windswept takes over and it is harder to get out. A daily run takes away that mental chatter. This morning I am going to go outside for a run, the mental chat is not if I should, it is “what do I need to wear”.

Running covers lots of ground, well more than I do when walking anyway, so I get to see a bit more of the world on my daily excursions.  I have generally stayed very local, in fact most of the ten months I have run the same route.  Which would dismay most proper runners as it’s not a great training method and it could be boring for many.  I have not been bored, I have delighted in seeing the route change with the seasons, the wildlife is more visible in winter and early spring.  It’s quieter on summer mornings, long after sunrise.  In the dark there is more birdsong than I would have expected.  The trees have flourished after some work by tree surgeons last winter (before my running started).  The dog walkers have changed over the year as older dogs died, and new puppies were bought by families new to dog walking.  There is a huge amount of change happening even in one place.  Gardeners probably get exactly the same thrill of seeing change happen on such a small scale which becomes something huge as the seasons change. 

The physical differences are fascinating.  I don’t like running in wind – especially not an easterly.  I really do not like running in warm weather at all.  I just cannot breathe properly and my legs feel leaden.  Some days my legs feel too short to propel me properly, some days I can run faster than others and I have no idea why either of those things are so.

Most of all, I know that being outdoors every day, challenging myself to do something I used to absolutely hate and was scared of doing, and which even most mornings now I am reluctant to do, has helped hugely.  I feel more able to cope because of running.  Without a doubt it is keeping my stress levels at a manageable level, it is keeping me emotionally more stable. And it is bizarrely good fun.  I am the sort of person who gets new trainers for Christmas and am now experimenting with running off road – even more fun to be had.

Having written much more than I intended, it’s starting to get light.  Time to get those trainers on.  Have a good day, I hope you get some time outside, running or not. 

Still running

As coronavirus became a reality in England way back in March and staying at home became a possibility I started to worry about my fitness levels.  They weren’t bad, but I had the nagging feeling that having a good level of cardiovascular fitness may help me if I were to catch coronavirus.  On Monday 23rd March I decided I ought to definitely go for a run, and go for a run every day until either I caught the virus or someone in the family did and we would all have to isolate.  Thankfully none of us have caught the virus – yet.  

And so I am still running every day.  (Except Sundays, on Sundays we go for a long walk to make a Sunday feel different). I am still nowhere near being an actual proper runner.  I run a short distance, slowly. And that lack of “proper” running has been the key.  I run for about 20 minutes, on days when that feels too hard, I run less.  I stop if I find someone to chat to, so it’s rarely 20 consecutive minutes.  I am sure I could do better and more, but I do not want to.  It’s a low bar and so is achievable, even after one glass of wine too many, a sleepless night, when it’s too cold, or too wet, or as in the run ahead of me today – too warm. 

And so this week saw me reach three months of running every day.  Me.  Not a runner.  The girls who got out of every PE lesson she could. Who did not start running until her 40s.  I run every day and am about to buy more trainers because I am wearing these ones out. This week I am feeling a bit amazed, but proud. 

What I would like to keep

The loosening of the lockdown has our thoughts turning to it finishing altogether.  A subject fraught with emotion, science, politics and completely out of my control.  But what is in my control is what I choose to keep from this strange period of my life.  And there is lots that I have enjoyed and would love to keep hold of.  

Working from home.  I am enjoying being at home generally.  Spending what was commuting time in exercise or chatting to family, or cooking something healthy is a great swap. Being able to sit outside at lunch times, or to stand in the garden for a few moments whilst the kettle boils are precious stress reducers in the day.

Video conferences for Scouts and church meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, I am missing the interaction with people a lot, but I have to admit that finding the time for various meetings in the evenings and weekends is so very much easier without also having to negotiate for the car and factor in travel time.  Especially when the travel time for work happens too.  It really does feel like some meetings are much more efficient via video call.

Doing much more craft.  I am not a natural crafter, but since lockdown we have had a designated craft night every week, I have had some crafty video callswith friends and various bouts with the sewing machine to stitch up laundry bags or face masks.  All of them have been enjoyable and I like pottering about with various little projects.

Games and jigsaws.  We own tons of them and rarely play them.  Jigsaws are reserved for Christmas holidays pretty much and board games for family gatherings.  Until lockdown, when they have become very much a part of the week.  Hugely enjoyable and actually do not take much time.

Spending time in my garden.  My garden is made for sitting in, not weeding.  By which I mean, I deliberately grow weeds and enjoy doing so.  Except that I have been gifted lots of lovely vegetable seeds and plants this year – so I have a mini allotment in pots alongside the weed beds.  Lush, green and productive.  Perfect garden.

Running every morning.  It started as a way to make sure my lungs were as strong as they could be before they were inflicted with a respiratory virus (no I have no medical or scientific basis for this actually helping in any way, but it helped me feel that I was doing something to stay in control) – or someone else in the family was afflicted and we would have to isolate, or the government would ban all exercise outdoors.  I was sure one of those would happen within a couple of weeks.  Eight weeks later and we have run every day except on Sundays.

Long walks early on a Sunday morning.  Ironically once churches open for worship these walks will have to get earlier, but I am loving a pre-breakfast walk through local urban parks and country parks, or a little further afield now that driving is possible.  And the fact it is not a run makes it all the more delicious, so it is dependent on the previous point.

Better food.  Having more time at home means I am cooking even more.  I hate sandwiches and having the time to have a proper lunch is just lovely.  Our fruit and vegetable consumption has increased greatly – which started as another obsession to build our immune systems ahead of the viral attack.

Great sleep. All of the above is possibly contributing to my sleep being better than it has been for years. Keeping this post lockdown is maybe dependent on keeping everything else in place.

Being at home more.  I like being at home.  Which surprises me, as I spend so much time out of it usually. 

Relishing running

In week one of isolation we have managed to go out for a short run every morning.  It has been lovely.  I am not always the most enthusiastic runner, but this strange time is certainly focussing the mind on what I can do and relishing every moment of what feels like real physical freedom in a time of restriction.  We run in the morning before starting work.  It helps the day go smoothly if we can get out and see nature, hear the birds, chat to the fellow dog walkers – from a distance of course. 

I walk every morning anyway, either walking the dog, or walking to a train station.  This week it has felt even better to run.  I know my usual exercise levels, which involve a lot of walking, are reducing greatly due to the restrictions to home, so getting in even a short burst of exercise at a slightly higher level seems wise.  We do not run for long – just 20 mins, maybe even less – and then we carry on walking for a while so the dog has a chance to sniff around a bit more.  

This week the stops for chats with our fellow dog walkers has felt like a priority, checking in on each other today, checking everyone has food and does not need anything, it is the usual lovely community stepping up a bit more.  The running has definitely suffered for the pauses to chat – we are possibly not going to improve fitness very quickly.

As it is early when we’re out, there are few people, but it is heartening to see proper runners working hard to keep their fitness levels up.  A cyclist yesterday was doing sprints along the path.  Meanwhile we trundle along in our gentle run with me exclaiming every few minutes about how beautiful it is to be out in the sun and how lucky we are that we can run.  I suspect the husband is getting rather bored of me being grateful and excited to be out of the house, but as the one who knows these are the only excursions she is allowed, then I reserve the right to be boring.

I am hugely grateful for a week of sun in week one of isolation, and for a partner who is patient with me being very verbose in my gratitude for that sun.

Running in the rain

I went out for a run yesterday morning – for the first time in about three weeks.  Winter illness, a lot of work travel and inclement weather all combined to stall the running habit this winter.  Yesterday I was hit with a bizarre determination to go for a run.  Bizarre in that husband was travelling for work, and I had woken up with his alarm in the middle(ish) of the night.  So, I was lacking sleep and my running partner.  And the weather was atrocious – rain and wind.  Not as bad as it has been, but not gentle weather at all.

Nevertheless, I ran.  I ran slowly, I had to keep stopping to retrieve the wandering dog who is less keen on running than he used to be.  I even stopped for a chat with one of the dog walking friends.  But I ran enough to feel I had had a workout.

And it was hugely fun, I had to divert around puddles, I leapt a few of them.  I got wet. Very wet.  But I had enough layers to stay warm and I certainly felt more awake at the end of the run that at the start of it, which was sort of the point.

I felt hugely grateful for a supply of towels on returning home.  For radiators to dry out the very soggy shoes.  For the delicious warm shower to recover. For the washing machine in which I could pile the soaked clothing.

A good mix of exhilaration and gratitude for home comforts to start the week.

Now, has writing this encouraged me to go out for another run today?

Checking the foundations

It’s one of those weeks where the diary is full and there are lots of people to meet with and conversations to be had and thinking to be done. The meetings are later in the evening than I love, the work days involve travelling a fair amount.

So today I am checking in on the foundations. I am considering blackout blinds, because the earlier sunrise is waking me slightly earlier than I want. But in the meantime, my new found habit of not drinking caffeine after noon and my Lenten avoidance of alcohol are ensuring I am sleeping well for the hours I am in bed. I am also trying to wind down at the end of the day doing some light journalling and reading before bed to switch off, even when the meetings finish late.

Exercise has been a bit harder to fit in, but I have done some yoga and a run so far this week. Even the days without yoga and running have had good walks in the sunshine. And the sunshine has really really helped.

Food has been great thanks to planning the week’s menu and deciding who is cooking each evening (I have got off very lightly on that this week). That said, I need to stop writing and go and make some lunch to take with me today!

I have had time every day to catch up with family and have grabbed coffee with friends. All the Scout meetings have been interesting and full of lovely, supportive people. And we are not quite half way through the week.

The second half of the week – that is after 6pm on Thursday – has no work (I have Friday off) , no volunteer meetings and lots of fun planned. I will definitely have plenty of time to be quiet, reflective and prayerful and to play the piano and spend some time being creative. The balance of life is not within every hour or every day, but over the weeks and months.

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.

A week of two halves

In weeks like this where work involves a fair amount of travel, I take comfort in dividing my week in half.  There are 168 hours in a week, my week starts at 6am on a Monday morning,  so the half way point is Thursday at 6pm.  The first half of my week has been focussed on work.  I have travelled to Plymouth and back and Bristol and back and worked full and productive days.  Today I have a good day planned with useful meetings and some discussions with colleagues in the diary.

It’s been very full and very work-focussed though.  That said, I have had dinner with a friend, I squeezed in one run, and have done quite a bot of Scouts volunteering, as well as getting some plans in place for family events and the pre-Christmas season.  I have also had a good amount of down time watching Netflix (I am obsessed with Gilmore Girls!) and surfing social media.   So, it has been far from all work.

It still does not feel quite as balanced as it could be though, so the halving the week is a great comfort.  The reality is that I will do absolutely no work at all in the second half of the week,  and thinking of my week like that really helps me see the balance.  And even in this last half a day of this half of the week (yes my brain does work like this!), I am squeezing in a blog writing session, I have just had a lovely ten minutes thinking through the day and I will manage a run before work.  I am also taking some time off to attend a school appointment, so there is family time in the day too.

Just reflecting on how much Scouting and me-time there has been already helps to energise me. here’s to the second half of the week.

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

Enforced downtime

One very important strategy in a full-on work period was enforced rest this weekend.   I have just corrected that word ‘rest’ – originally it said ‘nothing’.  Resting is not doing nothing though, and this weekend it was meticulously planned to make sure I ahd time properly resting, and time being social and active.

I met a friend of Friday afternoon (one of my two afternoons off in a week) and hung out with the teen a bit.  I went to a yoga class and then out for dinner with the husband.  A good mix of social and exercise and a lot of fun in all cases.  Saturday morning involved a run in the rain, another yoga class and a list of relatively quick chores and a lot of laundry.  With that done then I felt very entitled to be less active.  I read, I slept and I watched a lot of TV.

I was very tempted to carry on with that on Sunday, but TV was making my head hurt and it was feeling too isolated.

Instead, Sunday was a day of going to church then having the family over for Sunday lunch. A post-lunch snooze (yes, we’re the sort of family who has a race for a sofa for a snooze) was followed by a walk in the local country park.  You could tell the dogs were happy with the return of the autumn/winter routine.

I then enforced more rest, whilst deliberately stopping me from hitting the sofa and watching more TV by getting out a jigsaw puzzle.  And also cooking an apple crumble with the apple we had found on our walk.   Definitely happy family time.

Hopefully that deliberate resting has set me up well for the week ahead.

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the first jigsaw of the season

 

Summer problems

Obviously there are no real problems with summer.  Summer is a beautiful, gorgeous, energising time of the year.

I adore the long summer holidays for the break from the routine that can start to feel oppressive.  Now that the offspring are older, the summer really gives a sense of ease.  Only me to get up and get out in the morning.  A feeling of fun in the evening as we hang out and do things as a family instead of execute a finely tuned evening of activities, transport and eating which are seemingly designed to test our life skills in every way.

The summer holiday mornings are especially precious, with a delicious combination of more sleep and more time spent with the husband.  They are more tired though, as early nights seem to disappear in the change to the summer routine.  But that just means more coffee and chat.

All in all, it is a good time where time seems to stretch a bit further.  And so less gets done.  There’s the rub.  That feeling that I have loads more time as the deadlines are softer means I don’t gets things done.  The running has fallen by the wayside.  The blogging has been non-existent.  This morning it occurs to me that I have not really looked at my diary or the to do list all week.  There are advantages to the morning rush of the school term.

But for now, let’s enjoy these last few precious days of the relaxed routine.

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there have been holiday mornings of photographing sunrises.  Delicious