One of the benefits of having a husband who turns out to run every day without fail, generally notching up something between 90 and 110 miles (145 to 177 km) a week, is that he comes home having explored a wide swathe of the local area and full of ideas for new walking and cycling routes we can try together. So it was we found ourselves embarking on a five-mile loop close to home one afternoon last week, a lovely wander along tracks that took us through a range of contrasting landscape, starting in a sunlit tract of ancient woodland.
There is something astonishingly beautiful about deciduous woodland in May, walking through a leafy tunnel of the most intense greens with carpets of wildflowers below and the birds singing their hearts out at the energetic, burgeoning, joyful vitality of it all. I know just how they feel: if I could only ever have one environment in my life, it would most definitely be this one!
In places, the path skirted the edge of the woodland, opening out into apple orchards, small meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies and larger crop-filled fields punctuated with coppices and hedges so typical of the bocage landscape.
Leaving the fields behind, we climbed up onto a high ridge and followed the route of an old Roman road through a section of landes or moorland which is being regenerated as part of an ecological project I wrote about in an earlier post. The drystone walls and stone domes that are being built as wildlife habitats have inspired us to do the same in our own garden; sitting on a log to share a flask of coffee, we drank in the views and watched as a buzzard flew low passes across the clearing and a skylark did a vertical take-off from a dome. This will definitely be the place for a spot of whimberry (bilberry) foraging later in the year.
The path continued along the ridge – the high banks and an ancient milestone reminding us of its immense history – then turned downwards through leafy woodland once more and eventually picked up the trail we had started on. What a gorgeous walk and we didn’t see another soul: well, actually, just the one . . .
In many ways, the hare neatly brings me full circle to where I started this post: running. Regular readers will know that I am, at best, a reluctant runner; I don’t really enjoy it but I know it does me good and I like to write the occasional post about running in the hope of maybe inspiring and encouraging other
plodding slowbies aspiring athletes like myself. As I have a tendency to blow hot and cold about the whole thing, running for a few weeks then stopping again (this is the only thing that is actually consistent about my approach), I find myself searching for motivation and inspiration on a pretty regular basis. Back in March, having read The Happy Running Habit, I started a running journal as a draft blog, writing a paragraph to log each run and adding an uplifting photo from my media library. So, how has that been going? Well, here are a few excerpts to set the tone . . .
Friday 23rd April: Well, 15 days between runs isn’t so bad, is it? OK, it’s shameful but I’m full of excuses as always. The weather has been horrible, very hard frosts and an icy easterly wind that has made the idea of going out for a run unpleasant, yet alone actually doing it; I’ve been a bit chesty which makes it hard and we’ve been busy in the garden with some quite hard physical work so my energy levels have been down. Also, no motivation once again. However . . . I’ve committed to making some changes for the better, and this week isn’t as bad as it looks: first session of yoga since we moved here, a couple of brisk morning walks, miles walked round the garden during the day, reduced wine consumption, increased water consumption and at last, this morning, a run. Round The Block Plus (I deviated along the woodland track a bit as Roger heard hoopoes up there earlier) 5.3k on a beautiful sunny morning, blue sky full of swallows.
Total distance for April: 9.3k 😬 (Hangs head in shame . . . 😖 )
Monday 3rd May: So, this whole running journal thing really isn’t working, is it? I seem even less motivated than usual, too idle, too many cakes, too much wine . . . time for a kick up the backside, so here goes. This week, I intend to run 3 times NO MATTER WHAT!!!!! 😮 Today is possibly the last day of sunny weather before the storm sweeps in but if I end up getting wet, so be it. It is time to get a grip so I got up early with the intention of having a run before a video chat with T. What a beautiful morning, frosty start but bright blue sky and sunshine all the way. The verges are still beautiful, bluebells, orchids, buttercups and stitchwort everywhere. Had my hair parted by a buzzard swooping down at me twice, obviously not impressed at me running past its nest, I could hear the chick calling but didn’t linger to look! Did Round The Block then decided to carry on past the house to the B junction and back – 5.7k.
Thursday 6th May: wet, cold and miserable . . . and then there’s the weather. 🤣 To be fair to myself, I wasn’t miserable at all, just kept focusing on the birdsong and flowers, but I have discovered that my new trainers aren’t remotely waterproof. Enjoyed close encounters with a pheasant, hare and squirrel. The good thing is that I got up with the intention of going for a run whatever and on a big shopping day, too, which is unheard of. Didn’t want to venture too far from home so ran to the first B junction and back, then to Town Park Garden and back; one pass is just under 2.5k so it’s a useful route, it will be perfect if I ever feel the need to do tempo runs again (!) as it’s fairly flat. I’m going to call it Home Stretch. I did 6.4k, and I’m still on target for three runs this week.
Saturday 8th May: I’ve downloaded the book Running Made Easy for a bit of motivational inspiration and I’ve decided to try the recommendation of recording some measurements each week to help track my progress towards fitness and better health – can’t do BMI/weight as we don’t have any scales, but body measurements and resting pulse rate are possible so here goes for the first set of four weeks:
(Editor’s note: dear readers, the table of measurements has been removed – some things simply aren’t made for sharing! 😁)
Slightly horrified at my waist measurement, that’s the middle-aged spread that definitely needs to go! 😆
So, a longer run today, out through l’A and anticlockwise round my old original run which I’m going to call the Nostalgia Route – 7.1k, ran all the way. Grey and a bit drizzly but warmer today, didn’t see a single vehicle and enjoyed the flowers – orchids and Solomon’s seal are gorgeous. Feeling far more positive this morning and my legs were definitely stronger. It’s the first time I’ve managed three runs in a week since my first few runs in Asturias back in March so I’m VERY pleased, 19.2k in total is a start. Progress has been made . . . now I need to keep it up!
Monday 10th May: goals for this week . . .
- Run at least 3 times
- Increase distance, especially of longest run
- No wine until Friday!
Opted for Home Stretch as video chat booked at 9.30 and didn’t want to be too far from home. Did three repeats, 7.3k in all, and tried the stretch between TPG and home at a higher level of effort. Glowing when I got home! Not hugely pleasant in the strong wind but the flowers are so pretty, the paler pink orchids taking over from the dark ones and the hawthorn is out. Green haze of maize emerging. Good start to the week.
Wednesday 12th May: I didn’t feel particularly inspired this morning (and it was cold AGAIN) but had promised myself to run Round The Butte for the first time. Not too chuffed to meet R’s dog on the loose but it barked at me madly and ran away! Lovely through the wood, hard work up the hill from the crossroads, definitely the toughest run I’ve done since we moved here in terms of hills. Still, I felt comfortable when I got back round to our wood so decided to carry on down the main road and turn to do Round The Block clockwise – glad to see the buzzard chick has fledged! A figure of eight run, 6.9k, and more enjoyable than I had thought. Need to find a route close to 8k for my longer run on Friday.
Saturday 15th May: a day later than intended (vile weather yesterday) but did Nolsatgia Route plus TPG and back – 8k. Cold and wet, had to play ‘jacket on, jacket off’ all the way round to keep dry. Flowers are still amazing, though, also I was overtaken by two hares (not at the same time) who really showed me how it is done. I doubt they were too impressed with my plod. So . . . two out of the three goals met, no prizes for guessing which one I didn’t quite manage! 🤣🍷 Ah well, another week, another try. The good news is I’ve run 22.2k this week, 3k further than last week so my distance is building. Can I try for 25k next week? Let’s see!
Monday 17th May: goals for this week . . .
- Run at least three times
- Increase overall distance to 25k
- Reduce wine consumption (memo to self: think waistline!😆)
Chose Home Stretch today as weather was wet and windy: after thunderstorms and torrential downpours yesterday, I thought it was wise not to be too far from home. Did four passes which measured 9.95k – if only I’d known that before I’d ditched my trainers, peeled off my soggy socks and caught the whiff of freshly-ground coffee beans, I’d have gone back out there and done another 50 metres – honest! Still, it’s the longest single run I’ve managed since starting this journal so that’s something to celebrate, and it’s a big step in the direction of achieving one of my original goals (being able to run 10k). Also, it’s a good chunk of my 25k target already under my belt so a pretty good start to the week. After no rain in April, it seems to have done nothing else so far in May and everything is very soggy. We’re planning a long run down the old Mayenne railway path (R running from home then down the path, me driving to the path – with flask of coffee on board! – and running from there) but things need to dry up a bit first. Plus warm up, as I’m fed up of wearing that coat.
The one thing I’ve learned about this running lark over the years is that in many ways, it’s a metaphor for life. There’s no such thing as a perfectly smooth, problem-free, linear journey, it’s all about good days and bad days, ups and downs, smiles and frowns. For me, it feels like two steps forward and one back much of the time, I’m still not a huge fan and yet it has taught me some of the greatest lessons of my life. One of the routes I’ve started using includes the 5k loop where I originally cut my running teeth; in fact, eight years ago I was exactly halfway through a 12-week ‘0 to 5k’ training plan in preparation for a Race For Life at the end of June. It’s quite nostalgic retracing my steps and remembering just what a physical and emotional rollercoaster ride those three months were. Forget ‘walk for two minutes, run for one’ . . . I couldn’t run for 30 seconds without collapsing in a heap when I started. I constantly lagged behind the programme in terms of how long I should be running for in any session and it took me weeks to be able to run up a long hill, a stretch of the route I hated with a passion. Towards the end of the programme, hot weather (hard to believe at the moment!) meant crack of dawn runs and, try as I might, I never once managed to meet the 30-minute time challenge I had set myself (as an aside, I passionately believe that if I am asking people to sponsor me, there has to be a decent element of personal challenge involved; wearing the tutu didn’t count, it was just a frivolous extra).
On race day, I felt sick with nerves despite having an amazing support team around me; I don’t like crowds, I don’t like running and I don’t like time challenges. I clung to Roger on the start line. I wanted to go home. I really, really wished I had never agreed to put myself through the stress and pain . . . but that is where those valuable lessons started. Did I manage to run and finish? Yes. Did I beat the 30-minute time monster? Yes! Did I enjoy it? No, but I did manage to smile as I ran, smile at the fact that there I was doing the unthinkable, cheered on by my loved ones and raising £500 to help fight a disease that has touched our family and so many others. It was the first time in my 46 years that I had ever run 5k and the next day, our first beautiful grandchild, Ben, was born. Quite the weekend!
Many people say that running has changed their life; I’m not sure I could claim that, but it has definitely changed my outlook on life if nothing else. It has shown me that I am capable of doing things I never thought I could, of finding inspiration, motivation and self-discipline to apply myself to challenges (yes, I can go for weeks refusing to run but I always go back to it) and of taking a firm and active responsibility for my own health and well-being. It has taught me how to dig deep and persuade courage, grit, determination and perseverance to leave their deep hiding places, and to deal with success and failure in a balanced, pragmatic way. It has taught me that it’s absolutely fine to be slow or last. It has brought me new friendships and inspiration from some truly incredibly warm and generous people; the real value of runners isn’t measured in marathons, GPS watches or ‘personal bests’ anymore than the true worth of people is measured in money, status and material goods. Above all, it has stopped me taking myself too seriously, encouraged me to smile and feel an immense gratitude for all the positive things putting one foot in front of the other in the fresh air brings. I might have gone grey, gained a few wrinkles and another four precious grandchildren over the last eight years but I’m still out there running (well, some of the time, at least).
So, to end where I began: that lovely walk through the woods. I’ve told Roger I’d like to go and run it when things are a bit drier underfoot, not the whole loop but the woodland stretch at least. He wholeheartedly agrees with my plan but pointed out I will probably spend more time tripping over tree roots and rocks than running as my attention will be anywhere but where I’m putting my feet. He’s right, of course, but the benefit of being a plodder is that I can let my gaze and mind wander, taking in the beauty of nature around me, without the risk of doing myself too much damage if I stumble. I shall leave him to zip off with the hares while I trail along behind, one very happy woodland tortoise! It will be a few more kilometres to notch up in my journal . . . but then, distance is irrelevant, really. It’s the doing it and smiling that’s important. 😊