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.
I have spoken before of the love / hate relationship I have with parkrun, and none more so than when it is included as part of my marathon training session. Not for me just sauntering along to parkrun to soak up the family atmosphere and by way of a footnote, benchmark my time over the 5k distance.
When parkrun is included on my training schedule it is because Sally wants me to run fast. And to me being asked to do parkrun is the equivalent of when, as a teen, my maths teacher would announce without warning that there would be a quick test of how well we were doing in calculus.
I wonder how many marathon newbies feel the same way – and rather than dreading the long run, instead look forward to the relief of running 17 miles at a steady, conversational ‘slow is good here’ pace over the prospect of running 3.1 miles as fast as possible.
The course in the original Edinburgh parkrun is along the Cramond foreshore, and is a pretty nice out and back on a flat, even surface – it can be windy, but out and back is better than multiple laps I tend to think.
On Saturday I arrived at parkrun a bit early – my game plan was to try to run for a couple of miles first to settle my nerves and kid me into seeing the second 3.1 miles as just part of a regular run. (this was contrary to Sally’s instructions which were to warm up with several short sprints – or strides but it seems I like to live with the danger of reprimand ;).
The sun was shining, the air was calm – amazingly there was not a breath of wind.
I felt myself go clammy at the prospect of having no valid reason to not do as I was told namely – race it and go full pelt at the final section.
Soon it was time to start – and surrounded by the warmth of happy runners of all ages, shapes and fitness levels, I set off. Somehow I had managed to be further to the back of the pack than I maybe should have been, so it was a slow start. I knew I was not going very fast weaving my way through, so as the field spread out, I started to gradually increase my pace and move forward, kind of picking off runners ahead of me.
I did not have the pacer set on the Garmin, but Nike + told me that I was doing around 9 min mi pace after the first mile, which was not really accurate but it did feel like a pace I could sustain. All I had to do was stick at this pace and hope I would still have the legs to go full pelt at the end!
Whether because of the lack of wind, or me getting over nerves, or perhaps I have gradually got better at running faster – but I was able to sustain the pace and continued catching up runners in my own tortoise-like version of racing. I was pleasantly surprised that it did not feel too bad.
Not to say it was a walk in the park, as I was putting in a decent effort, and then as I can never quite remember where the actual finish is, I knew I had to keep to this pace beyond a wooded section whilst not pegging out.
I reached the finish and my Garmin showed a time of 26.22 – which is not a parkrun PB, but a decent time and meant I was doing just under 8.5 min mi pace.
Queuing up to give my token – a fellow parkrunner thanked me for my pacing that had helped him in the latter stages – this is something of a compliment for a runner, and even more so when coming from someone who was sporting a parkrun 100 teeshirt.
As usual, after finishing parkrun – the relief that it’s over means I start to love it a bit more, and I do understand how it helps you to run at a faster pace.
Later that day the results came out and confirmed my time at 26.21 – so no new parkrun PB ( which remains at 26.05 ), but I was amazed to discover I was 3rd in my age category !!! This is the closest I am ever likely to come to any kind of ‘podium’ position – and I was super chuffed. I was 3rd from a field of 20 in that category and even though I know this result was largely due to my chum Alison ( and other better runners than me ) not racing that day – it still felt good to see that in print.
Maybe after my marathon is over, I need to switch my goal to holding or improving on that podium spot and getting a new parkrun PB 🙂
I am taking part in Stirling Scottish Marathon on May 21st and it will be my first marathon. To get me ready for this challenge I am following a marathon training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally.
fitnaturally offers a range of healthy eating plans that can help with weight loss and sports nutrition. They provide bespoke training and nutrition for people taking part in sport at any level. I have been following fitnaturally plans for over a year and I have become leaner and fitter, losing more than 20lbs in weight and a reduction in body fat% in a gradual and sustainable way and by eating normal and enjoyable food !
Through my marathon efforts, I am hoping to raise funds for two charities – Scottish Womens’s Aid and Smalls for All both of these charities work to help women in different ways. If you would like to support either of these charities, please consider making a donation, however modest by following the link to my Justgiving page ( Scottish Women’s Aid ) and Mydonate ( Smalls for All ) pages.
Into week 7 – I think of marathon training and by now I was expecting it to just be running, running and more running, which of course it is, but the running is punctuated by new discoveries and all sorts of learning that I have to hope will all help me come the big day.
Weather so far this year has been a winter of the unrelenting grey and bleak variety – cold as a given- but with hardly any uplifting crisp, frosty, days to offset the drab – just a shed load of Pantone 442.
And as I am following a training plan of set days – sometimes my run days just don’t coincide with the odd sunny spot.
No matter – this training in all weathers is all helping me to develop MENTAL TOUGHNESS.
This phrase is a recurring one in marathon training, and I imagine any race training – and I think I get the message. It seems I will need bucketloads of this mental strength come race day. I just can not begin to imagine (and have no intention of finding out) how much mental toughness you might need to develop to do some ultra distance or these races that have you running through the desert or in the depths of Death Valley or across Scottish mountain tops. Respect to all of you guys out there doing that kind of thing, but its a no from me.
To come back to this week and my weather obsession – Thursday was my hill repeat day and snow was forecast. These days storms all have names – and Doris the storm was going to bring winds, rain and for some parts of Scotland a shedload of snow.
Hearing that forecast – I had the same kind of feeling I used to get during summer when rain was forecast. By way of explanation – I grew up on a fruit farm and in the summer months worked there during the raspberry harvest. Of course, as a family we did not want it to rain during the raspberry season, but sometimes I did just long for one rainy day to get me out of a day’s work.
And so this week I had much the same feeling when watching the weather forecast on repeat – maybe it would be just too windy/ snowy/ dangerous to train – yippee! A day off for me
But then unlike getting a day skiving off work, skipping a training session is not really helpful in the long run – I know I have to put in these long cold hours to get me round 26.2 miles come May.
As it turned out storm Doris did bring some very windy weather but in the part of Edinburgh where I live it also brought a welcome snowfall – by that I mean just enough snow to be pretty but not enough to interrupt things too much.
Was a nice change to run in cold crisp air and amongst a snowy hilly landscape.
After the previous weeks training when it felt as if it was all coming together, this week I thought it was unravelling. On Tuesday I cut short a planned pace session as I just could not get my legs to move fast enough and could not get warm. I had done a different body pump class the day before and my legs were heavy, but truthfully it was more my head that did not want to play ball.
Mental toughness was in short supply on Tuesday.
My snow hill session was invigorating, but not sure it could really be classed as a genuine example of hill repeats, as I spent quite a bit of recovery time taking pictures. then on the way back from the hills I took a tumble and landed heavily on my knees – no damage done save for some grazing and technicolor bruising. Falling and getting up to keep running is a good way to develop mental toughness though !
Then on Saturday, I was to do 10 miles steady on a hilly route but in the afternoon. I am not so good at eating for exercise when the session is later in the day, and as a creature of weekend running habit – it feels a bit weird to be sitting around reading Saturday papers at a time when I usually have my running done and dusted for the day.
But I had a route planned and was also going to try out running in my new compression socks – so I downloaded the podcast of Cerys Matthews R6 show and following what I thought a decent interval after a brunch of poached eggs, bacon and toast – I headed off.
Not far into running, I got a bit of a stitch. This was something new and so I just slowed down but the stitch did not seem to want to budge. I was trying to put it to one side and at the same time try and remember self-cure for stitches. Neither of these mental actions made much difference so I just kept going – and made it to the Meadows where there are public toilets.
Even after a comfort break, my tummy was not feeling great but I had completed almost 6 miles, so more than half way. I had opted for a route into town partly to get some hills, but also to have some distraction as I was running alone. The route I often do is an out and back along a trail path – and while a favourite run route – you are much more on your own.
Is good to have distractions sometimes but the downside of running into the city is knowing that at any given point I could hop on a bus and get myself home – and when I was feeling less than 100% it was tempting.
But of course come marathon day this will not be an option – so I just did a tried and trusted method of breaking down the miles left into songs – usually 3+ to a mile. Fortunately, Cerys Matthews Sunday show is just perfect for this as she has a very eclectic music selection and good chat between songs.
So I made it to 10 miles – including 3 uphill return miles that at least took my mind off the stitch, and was pleased to have completed the session even if it was not the most enjoyable.
Later when discussing my stitch and tummy trouble with Sally – she told me I had eaten completely the wrong things before my run ( largely because I ignored what she had told me to eat )! – so that’s a lesson learned. But a run chum was a bit more forgiving saying that finishing a run when you don’t want to and are feeling out of sorts is a great way to develop the necessary MENTAL TOUGHNESS -an essential component of marathon success.
It’s that old chestnut again.
As to the socks – I have no idea if they are making any difference, but at least I know they did not cause the stitch !