Some days it’s just so good to be outside and yesterday was one of those days.
I did a short lunchtime run – or more accurately half run /half walk – in the hills close to where I live. Autumn is such a beautiful season, the light was perfect and after a weekend of blustery rain, it was lovely to run without a breath of wind and alongside mirror flat waters.
These are the days when anything seems possible and being outside is a joy.
Went out running this morning – earlyish. I could say it was with a spring in my step and vim in my vigour but that would be fake news.
The grey mist and drizzly gloom of yesterday had lifted and the air was fresh ( funny how quickly we wish the hot, hot temperatures would return after only a few days of rain). I was listening to a good podcast – an episode of the Food Programme featuring chef Marcus Samuelsson* The story of his life through food is full of twists and turns and distracted me from my niggly knee and cranky outlook.
As I reached the turning point in this 3-mile run – it’s beyond half way and feels like the home straight- I saw a favourite tree against a background of watery sunlight and blue and white sky. On a summer evening, this is a good place to watch the swifts and house martins swoop and glide.
Today as I ran past the tree, I saw a small feather flutter slowly down from the branches above and running, caught it mid-flight and mid-stride in a rare elegant move.
*BBC R4 Food Programme – Episode with Dan Saladino featuring Marcus Samuelsson ‘Keep it Sticky’
December rattles on a pace as it always does – is it just me or is December the month that goes faster than any other?
Thanks to my new ‘make it up as I go along’ rules for December running – I have, with a wing and prayer, managed to tick off a run every day so far. With my secret weapon of kidology up my sleeve- where I tell myself I will just do 1 mile – that gets me out the door and then once out I usually manage to run a bit further.
After a few years of shoehorning 3 mile runs around dark mornings, party outings, business meetings not to mention two December birthdays, this year I thought rather than give up the challenge completely – it was OK to switch it up a bit and maybe cut myself a bit of slack.
Working in London weekdays – fitting in a 40 minute slot to do 3-miles running and a wash before work is a bit of an effort – and when it takes a further hour to get to the office – the thought of getting up earlier than 6 am to squeeze in a dark run in the suburbs of Ealing is a big ask.
My run dedication is obviously a bit lacking.
That said, running in the dark of December is not the worst, especially as now there are lots of outside lights to cheer you up. Hugely unscientific, but my research indicates that in the past 6 years of running in December – there has been a gradual and wonderful shift in the general vibe of illumination and decoration – collectively we have embraced the joy of the outdoor flicker and exterior decoration.
So here I am- at December 18 – comfortably beyond the halfway point and so far the biggest challenge has been in these past few days when temperatures dropped and pavements turned to ice rinks.
Ice is my big run fear.
Recent runs have been of the stop-start variety – tentatively slithering along the way – peering at pavements for icy patches and tensing up all the time. All said not very enjoyable- save for the uplifting feel of crisp, cold air and strange as it may seem to others – the calming, soothing effect that a cold winter run brings.
Luckily today the temperature was a balmy 6 degrees, the ice had vanished and I did a lovely twilight run for day 18.
After the hurly burly of London life, it’s good to get back home and run in more of a rural setting. I run these same paths all year and have done now since I started running in 2009, but now that they are temporarily reserved for weekend running, I really appreciate the space and peace and realise how restorative time in the countryside is.
And of course to run with friends.
I had slightly fallen out of love with the Dell path and its variations after miles of marathon training. I stopped seeing the tiny changes of nature and instead only saw trees as milestones of intervals and tempo runs.
This weekend was icy cold with temperatures as low as minus 6 degrees on our Sunday run. Face tingling, crisp air gasping, cold runs with chums.
Bit of a cheat as this Day 2 roundup headline says more about what I did after my run rather than tales of daily running – but on this year’s December run streak I am adopting more of a devil may care – new rules for old traditions mindset – so who knows what I might write about next ? 😉
As to the run, with it being a Saturday, it meant day 2 of running was just the regular weekend fixture and at more of a relaxed pace with Alison.
Lots of good chat and observations, including navigating a few detours due to ongoing works along one of our favoured routes. I gave my new running shoes their first outing ( Mizuno Wave 20 bought in Black Friday sale ) – and ‘almost’ managed to avoid the mud. At this time of year, it is pretty nigh impossible to keep my running shoes mud free – but I do try to scamper over the deepest muddiest sections of paths when my shoes still have their shiny newness about them.
After my run, I headed into town wearing another pair of new shoes – lovely gold brogues I had bought on impulse a couple of weeks back.
I stopped off to visit a local craft market – and spotted Santa – as you do.
Santa in Morningside
James Brown tombstone
Greyfriars Kirk Graveyard
Then before hitting the town proper, I wandered into Greyfriars Kirk – historically interesting church and cemetery in Edinburgh and resting place of Auld Jock – Greyfriars Bobby’s master. And it turns out last resting place of many other notable figures some worthy, some unworthy who knows – but certainly names I had heard of.
Despite me living in Edinburgh longer than I have lived anywhere else ( 30 years), like many residents I don’t take as much interest in the local history than I might if I was a visitor.
Harvey Nichols window
Harvey Nichols window
Something else to add to my ‘to do’ list of self-improvement.
So here we are again – another year is coming to an end and my all time favourite month is here. I say favourite but it is a bit of a love/hate thing. Mostly I love December – it’s my birthday month and I can deal with winter even if the older I get, the more I find the short days a tough gig and increasingly look to December sparkly excess to carry me across to a new year and longer days.
There is something about approaching a year end that makes you even more aware of your unfulfilled life ‘to do’ list and take a reflective view of the story so far. Then for me anyhow, I just end up carrying forward unticked life goals into another year !
Back when my girls were younger – December heralded a kind of rabbit in the headlights – let’s just get through this month kind of vibe. In between badly crafting Nativity costumes, baking for the Christmas fayre and watching the end of year dance shows, I poured flame on the December fire by creating extra, arguably unnecessary, traditions of ‘our family advent’ and Christmas morning baking.
Then as my children became young adults – I switched my December madness to a different focus so for the past few years, I have opted to run every day in December – following a Scottish based challenge – the Marcothon – where you run a minimum of 3 miles every day in December.
And just in case running every day was a bit too easy – the first time I did this, I decided to write about running every day in an aptly named blog Decemberism and found that writing about running every day was almost as hard as running.
Time passes and I am more of an established runner now – but alas not an established writer. It is tough to commit to running every day for sure – but I find it a lot harder to write daily, or even to just get into a writing habit.
So this year I am going to make a big fat effort to write more, and if I can I will run each day in December even if it’s just a run around the block on some days. I will keep to this daft December habit not least because, after 6 years of doing this, it has become a December ritual and maybe like many of us I find comfort in the salve of habits that over time become traditions.
This past week I have been trying to get back into running more regularly and to rediscover the joy and peace that, until recently, I found that running brings.
2017 has been a year of change for me. On the professional front, I left a job after eight years with the same company. Moving on from the comfort and security of working where I understood how the business worked, and with the friendship of good colleagues, to trying to work out what next, navigating job hunting, rebuilding a network and the like has been something of an emotional rollercoaster and a game of snakes & ladders all rolled into one big fat metaphor !
In family life, our youngest daughter graduated, and with that came the acknowledgment that our job as parents was entering a different chapter. The education years are well and truly over, our girls are all grown up and the fledglings have properly flown the nest.
But beyond work and family – there was running. Running is my thing and as someone who has scampered between a myriad of hobbies and interests over the years, running has been the constant – a touchstone- and my ‘go to’ when the rest of life was a bit chaotic.
Then post marathon – even the constancy of running seemed to change.
After the elation of finishing a marathon – I found it harder than I expected to see the point of running and it stopped being something I looked forward to doing.
People talk about the post marathon blues, but during training, I was sure this would not apply to me. Towards the end of marathon training, what kept me going was looking forward to a time when I could say cheerio to prescribed training sessions and hello to running whenever I wanted to. Choosing to run for however long a distance and with friends who were happy to stop and run slow, take pictures – just about everything I was not able to do during training.
But it turned out I did succumb to post marathon blues, just like lots of others before me and kept finding excuses to not bother going out. Briefly, I considered signing up for another race to reignite running love and give me a new goal – but I just could not face it. Having spoken before about my ambivalence over races, competitions and the stress of pushing for PBs, chasing a new target is not the answer for me right now.
In short – I was not managing to get back into a running groove. The routes I have run for years and even with repetition – managed to enjoy and see something new each time – had lost their appeal. When I was running, every yard seemed harder, I was puggled and weary after the first 10 minutes, I cut short planned distances, walked up hills I would have run before and felt every niggle like a heavy weight.
But as I believe in the power of running as a cure all – I persevered, and this week I think I turned a corner. On Tuesday summer arrived in Edinburgh and I did a toasty 5 miles along the canal – allowing myself the luxury of lots of stops, and even took the bus home. Then on Thursday, an otherwise pedestrian run was enlivened by both a wardrobe malfunction and finding some field mushrooms in passing.
Friday and Saturday I ran with Alison and rediscovered my favourite kind of running – the stream of consciousness run chat 🙂
Then today by way of a grand finale – I joined a visiting friend for a run in a completely different part of town, to run 10 glorious rain drenched miles, and with it, the post marathon blues washed away into the cloudy skies.
Forgive the lofty and possibly misleading headline – but today as per my ongoing post marathon quest to rediscover my love of running, my ‘mojo’ or however best to describe the need to get back on the two-legged horse, and remember why it is a fun thing to do- I decided to try running a favourite route.
The route I chose is much loved for many reasons. First and foremost – it includes a section through the evocatively named Poet’s Glen, whose name appeals to my inner romantic – but beyond these literary references, it is a much loved run because when I am not in training or being a ‘serious’ runner, I opt to walk part of the route.
I could run the narrow uphill section – but I choose to walk not simply to avoid the steep incline and the stony path with associated high ankle twisting potential, but importantly – and here is the big thing – sometimes it is nicer to walk than to run.
Walking the short section that takes you from the road above the Dell path to the reservoir section, is a welcome pause to gather breath, take in the surroundings and slow down.
This route has lots of other things going for it – not least the views. After the first half of steady uphill running, you find yourself elevated above the tree sheltered Dell path and see all of Edinburgh and Fife below. And knowing that after a two-mile uphill slog there is a welcome downhill section leading me back to my front door is a very rare and attractive feature in a run route. There is something very pleasing about a run that takes you home with a downhill ending and something I appreciate living as I do on a fairly elevated part of Edinburgh.
This route is a good illustration of the contrasts you can enjoy running in Edinburgh. As a fairly compact city surrounded by both hills and water – you do not have to be a distance runner to experience a smorgasbord of rugged heather clad hills, bucolic pasture, leafy glades, urban architecture and a glimpse of the sea all in the course of a morning’s running.
To return to this route – I would love to give an authoritative account of the significance of the Poet in the poet’s Glen – but this requires more research than I have undertaken. Earlier this year, I did meet two ladies from a local historical society who were very well informed and shared a lot of background on local history with me as I stopped at a 7 mile half way point on a training run.
Alas, I confess when I am running my ability to retain detailed historical or other relevant detailed facts is limited.
So today’s outing was an easy Sunday run, filled with many life-affirming views of nature – and at 5 miles is the longest distance I have managed to cover since the marathon, so was a step in the right direction.
I have not been running much this month- truth is since the marathon I have not yet got back into a proper running groove.
It is only 3 weeks since the race, so early days – but knowing of other marathoners who have struggled to find the motivation to run again after training for a big event- I hoped this would not be the case for me.
I thought it unlikely, as one thing that kept me going through the latter stages of marathon training ( aside from the fear of running the marathon ), was the thought of getting back to just running for fun. Running with friends, running punctuated with stops to take pictures, running without the dread of speedwork and just running without it feeling like I was doing my homework!
But it is funny that when the pressure is off and there is no ‘reason’ to run, no plan to tick off, no specific session to complete, how it can be very easy to find lots of reasons to just not bother.
Late afternoon today, after another day of not running – with the sun shining and the bees busy in the garden – I heard the running sirens calling.
Turns out, when running motivation is in short supply the best cure is a run.
So I have taken a while to write this – for some practical reasons – I started a new job in Glasgow four weeks ago, so what with that and marathon training and commuting and life – time to write about running kind of evaporated.
But also because in the last few weeks of training, it feels like not only have I been running for what seems an eternity, but I have been talking about running constantly and even I am bored hearing myself go on about the bl**dy marathon!
Still, the end is in sight – and this is both an exhilarating and alarming thought.
This time next week – I hope I will be savouring my achey hips and relishing, in addition to a big fat medal, the curious badge of honour demonstrated by a John Wayne is big leggy stair descending gait and body chafing in who knows where ?
I will be reflecting on how earlier in the day I had managed somehow to run a distance of 26 miles 385 yards, ( always assuming I am not crawling on all fours to the finish with the sweeper van behind me).
So the plan is to try and enjoy the day, to get to the finish, to tick off the marathon and join that club.
I am almost scared to write it down.
As I enter the phase of inevitability and with race day drawing ever closer, my desire for talismans, good omens and whatever other nebulous support I may need to get me through increases daily. In the past few weeks, the signs of panic have been building. I have been hoovering up as much information as I can on other people’s marathon experiences – good and bad, which I am not sure is always a wise idea.
Some of the bad experiences are really bad.
I have also been researching both sensible advice and hokey top tips – evaluating the merits of possible last minute nutritional aids likeeating beetroot from now till May 21or putting butter in my coffee. ( Sally – rest assured I will not be doing any of that mad stuff 😉 )
My health has become a big focus and I have been looking to increase my odds of survival by eating more than my 5 a day and dosing up on Echinacea. Not to mention hiding from sneezing colleagues and washing my hands more often than Lady Macbeth as ‘maranoia’ and my fear of bugs sets in big time. Walking cautiously everywhere I go, lest I trip on a marble or such like because let’s face it – how much of a scunner would it be to break an ankle this coming week?
The rational part of me knows I have been reasonably diligent with my training schedule and have covered a fair few miles- in all kinds of weathers and through a cold, miserable winter- and aside from the weather more importantly in a wide range of moods.
While there have been some moments of joyand a real sense of accomplishment, the truth is I have not loved ‘every’ moment of training and having done most of my 500 + training miles on my own, thinking and observing as I run and listening to my inner voice – sometimes that voice can get quite tiresome.
While running is a physical exercise requiring a degree of fitness competency to complete, most runners will admit that when it comes to races and contests, much of the success or failure lies with how you deal with what is going through your head.
Following a training plan for the first time, I have had to cast off my inner free spirit and stick to the script. This most excellent script provided by Sally has got me to where I am, but I appreciate not without some petulant questioning and less than gracious acceptance on my part.
On this voyage of running self-discovery I have realised the following; I don’t like running faster than my natural pace ( but I can if I have to – or more importantly if I know I have to report back to coach Sally). I don’t mind running up hills – even if running up and down the same hill 14 times is a strange thing to do, and the long run – well that is just one big mental mindfest !
Oh the long run – so many hours to think – or to not think, to try to not freak out at the distance, or the hours ahead of just putting one foot in front of another. To zone in and zone out – to catch a glimpse of other lives , to hear the birds, play mental arithmetic tricks, chopping up how far to go and how far covered, listen to random podcasts – watch the country seasons change, overthink your clothing, weep as you run into horizontal rain or a strong easterly, then if lucky have a brief pointless chat with a fellow runner or anyone who happens to be on the same path as I pass them at mile 11,15, 18…
Sorry to all the strangers I encountered and just started telling them my marathon story.
I have not completed all my training on my own,as for most of my long runs, my patient and mostly abandoned running buddy Alison joined me for the last hard miles – and listened to my ramblings and stories I had stored up for the 12, 13 or more miles previously.
My long runs have been a mixed bag, but mostly quite satisfying as I have progressed through ever longer distances. It seems like a different lifetime when I wondered how I might manage to run 15 miles – 2 whole miles longer than I had covered before, and then to find me just 2 weeks back running 22 miles – who would have thought it ?
So with 6 days to ‘M’ day, I am as ready as I will ever be and looking forward to the last of my taper.
Post marathon – after a modest celebration 😉 I am looking forward to getting back to my social running and have a few ideas for some new run adventures providing the marathon does not put me off running completely.
I don’t think it will 😉
Taking part in this marathon is for me, mostly a personal challenge, but I do also hope to raise funds for two charities that support women and girls in different ways. One of these is Smalls for All – a Scottish based charity that collects and distributes underwear for women and children in Africa and is also hoping to fund an education programme to help girls.