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.
I am working in London at the moment mid week, travelling from Edinburgh and this means an early start to get me there on a Monday or Tuesday and a late finish on Thursday.
Knowing I would be in London throughout December is one reason I was a bit tentative about committing to the marcothon – where the challenge rules say 25 minutes or 3 miles running each day of December. I am following the spirit of marcothon , but unlike in other years I am not running 3 miles every single day.
I am enjoying my time working in London but the weekly commute from Edinburgh then the daily commute from where I stay to the office makes for a long day, so to allow me to tick off year 6 of December running I have adapted the challenge to be – run 100 miles in the month and this to include a minimum of 1 mile run each day.
All these daily exercise challenges are somewhat arbitrary – but the underlying theme is about making a commitment to movement – and perhaps recognising how easy it is to kick exercise off the daily menu when you have competing demands on your time.
While my family find my December running habit a bit irritating – I try to reassure them by suggesting how unbearable I might be to live with if I did not exercise – and without the nudge of this challenge, it would be very easy for me to take a day off.
Anyhow – this makes me sound a bit of a swotty herbert on the running front and truth is – last week, in particular, I was more of the class dunce and would very happily have taken a day off when the run ahead was a cold, early morning venture into the dark suburban streets of Ealing.
These midwinter morning or evening runs are the ones that are tough to start but joyous to accomplish.
On Tuesday by way of variety, I ran after work before catching the tube home. This run was a loop along the river from Waterloo Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge with lots of London landmarks to pass by and nighttime lights to enjoy – topped off by Tate Britain’s neon 70s style Christmas decorations.
I had seen this from the other side of the river like a beacon of tackiness, and close up it was quite magical.
A fellow runner stopped to take pictures and we chatted for a bit. One thing I have found pretty much wherever I run is the friendliness of fellow runners. Sometimes this manifests itself as an imperceptible nod in passing – but occasionally you stop and chat and in a few minutes can swiftly exchange run goals /history and race experiences before heading off with a ‘enjoy your run ‘ salutation.
Today I decided to bake a Christmas cake. I used to get a bit hung up about baking the Christmas cake on a set day in November, but I decided it does not make any difference to the flavour so I just bake it a few weeks before Christmas whenever I can find some spare hours.
Making the cake is pretty straightforward – especially since I have started using a recipe recommended to me by my friend Sally at fitnaturally. Sally got this recipe from her neighbour and friend – Mrs Williams – sadly no longer around – and it is both the easiest and nicest Christmas cake recipe I have tried. I also like the thought of Mrs Williams skills in baking being shared far and wide, and enduring. That’s the lovely thing about baking and passing on recipes.
So Mrs Williams Christmas cake recipe is kind of an ‘all in one’ method – where you put the fruit, sugar, butter and spices into a pot then heat them up.
Then you add all the other ingredients to the cooled fruit mixture, give it a good mix and that’s it!
I find the hardest part of baking a Christmas cake is lining the tin, and with the long slow cooking, it is important to line it properly. But though it is a fiddly job – it is an enjoyable ritual of sorts – wrapping the cake in its jacket of brown paper and string. And there is something very comforting about the gathering of ingredients, the preparation and then the aroma of Christmas cake baking that gets me in the festive mood.
Before baking the cake – I went on my day 3 run with Alison. Today we went on another of our weekend routes where we run from Colinton to Stockbridge. It is around 6 miles and pretty much downhill all the way following the water of Leith – so lots of running through woodland. We then get the bus or a lift back, so it’s an easy 6 miles.
We could run there and back and many runners would do this by way of a longer Sunday run, but I am not training for any race at the moment and one thing I have realised over the years of doing run streaks- is that there is no point adding in extra mileage if you don’t have to.
As it was, we had a very enjoyable social run rounded up nicely by a breakfast of fried egg roll and coffee at the Water of Leith bistro.
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.
With both shock and relief the temperatures dropped this week making London commuting much nicer for me and many others I am sure. I have not quite got into a rhythm of running or proper exercise when I am in London mostly because I can’t seem to get out of bed early enough to fit in a decent run before work and don’t always have time ( or the inclination ) in the evening.
So exercise when in London is walking and walking and stair climbing and stepping briskly up and down escalators on the LEFT-HAND SIDE – yes I conquered that small fear – Bravo to me!
I have also perfected the technique of trolley bag running – safer than running with scissors – except perhaps for those on my path. An essential when cutting it fine to catch the train home.
Last night on the return journey north I got chatting to a fellow passenger and runner and she gave me some run routes to try when I am next back in London and encouraged me to embrace run commuting. Giving me insider tips on routes to minimise road crossings, slow walking crowds and parks to try even when dark ( turns out they have the lights on ).
That will be for next week- today I was back in Edinburgh running on home turf with regular run companion Alison. Beautiful day for running – cold, clear air, sun and blue skies.
Towards the tail end of October, I got caught up in one of my recurring running obsessions – chasing a target mileage for the month . Although October is blessed with 31 days in which to run, come the last week I was ruing my slacker behaviour of the preceding October weeks when I realised how far behind I was in miles covered to date.
But with five days of October remaining, all was not lost. I had covered a fairly respectable 60 + miles so was confident that I would at least manage to reach a total of more miles than previous months 64 and 70 miles respectively.
Although not currently training for anything – I am trying to keep up a decent amount of mileage each month because I don’t seem to be managing to fit in any other exercise at the moment. Is very easy to talk myself out of doing any exercise (even when I know how much better I feel when I do), without some sort of way of being accountable.
And having set off at the beginning of the year with big monthly numbers, I am motivated to keep running and recording miles as I am on track to reach an annual total of 1000 miles by the end of November ( barring injury ) – a whole month earlier than I did in 2017.
So that is a target of sorts.
I know there are lots of naysayers around tracking exercise, league tables, wearable devices and the like – but my view is that on balance, it is mostly a force for good creating as it does for me anyway, a positive reason to keep going when it may seem pointless otherwise.
Runners often have stated and secret goals usually where races are concerned – (aka the backup plan when the shit hits the fan) and so it is for me and my ambitions around exercise – I have a stated start of the month goal and as the month progresses and life intervenes I revert to my back up or secret plan of what will ‘do’ for the month.
Throughout the year my graph of exercise ambition would be a jaggy profile characterised each month by an early peak of optimism usually around the first day and then as the month progresses a few more high spots coinciding mostly with weekend days when post-run, I am filled with euphoria and misplaced waves of invincibility.
The contrasting troughs of run reality and dips in the graph would be plotted next to those weekday work mornings when I opt out of a pre-work run in darkness, trading it for more time under the covers and telling myself that I will just run longer at the weekend.
( if I was not so shit at creating graphs – I would ‘insert diagram here’ – but instead here is a nice pic )
Back to October mileage. For as long as I have been kind of seriously running, and it being my hobby of choice – I have recorded my runs on the Nike+ app. Like other running communities, you can opt to have friends who you share the details of your running achievements with. With Nike+ there is a leaderboard including the stats of your chosen friends – and this provides a degree of competitive edge and encouragement, as I monitor my run chums and their mileage totals.
While it is not really a contest I do check to see where I am in the standing of my own small league and yes I confess I have sometimes gone out running just to get ahead of a Nike+ ‘friend’ and wallow in the warm glow of satisfaction when I am top of the leaderboard.
So come the last week of October – I set myself the first goal of reaching 90 miles -more than the past 2 months and higher than any month since April. Then on Monday 30th I was at 87 and a bit miles so if I ran 5 or 6 miles my 90 mile target would be comfortably achieved, and anything more a bonus.
Monday morning and with a flash of inspiration I realised I could combine the objective of reaching 90 + miles in October with the workaday task of taking clothes back to Zara. So in one swift move combine two of my running loves – ‘running with a purpose’ and ‘running a set number of miles in a month’ – how lovely is that?
As I was running I was thinking about how to achieve one of the following mileage number – 90, 93, 95, 99.
So the run story goes like this – I did the run into town and got myself to Zara and exchanged the clothes – at that point by my calculations I was on track to do 95 miles.
After a meander round Zara – I set off to run far enough for 95 miles then after a run up to Calton Hill and down again and not quite knowing where I was mileage wise – my phone battery died. I just guessed that I was most likely at around 95 miles and that was fine by me.
Once I was on the bus home and had fired up my phone with back up battery – I discovered my Oct mileage total was at 98.4 – so from a happy with 95 miles I saw that a tantalising 1.6 miles would take me to the magic 100 for the month and while I ‘could’ have done this extra bit the day after- I reckoned getting this done and dusted on this day was the better answer.
I got off the bus 3 stops early and ran the remaining distance home – wishing as I often do that I did not live on top of a hill.
Anyhow – my end of Oct total was 100.1 miles. the running was not always pretty but I did it with a day to spare. And thanks as always to my running challengers for spurring me on 🙂