Running rescue remedy

Isn’t it funny how there are some things in life we love without question, while others don’t hold any attraction whatsoever? I enjoy writing blog posts and long, rambling, windy, wordy emails and messages to friends and family (sorry, folks! 😉) as pure indulgence in my love of language and written communication, but I have to admit – hand on heart – that journalling is not something I’ve ever been drawn to. I know it’s a hugely popular activity and I understand that it brings immense pleasure, comfort and support to many people but I’m not a diarist by nature and not really given to introspective emotional outpourings or any kind of ‘stream of consciousness’ writing. Well, never say never! It’s been a bit of a surprise to find myself happily launching into the new world of keeping a journal this week in the hope of kickstarting a better running habit. Actually, any running habit.

I find it hilariously ironic that, having spent the last two and a half months in Mayenne, with an infinite number of pretty and, most importantly, flat running routes on my doorstep, I’ve chosen to turn my attention to running once more now we are back in the mountains of Asturias. We are here on essential business, the car being due its ITV (the Spanish equivalent of a British MOT or French contrôle technique) which is a legal obligation that needs to be fulfilled before we can officially register it in France. Of course, there is also the house to check on, the garden to tidy and finally – and thankfully – preparations to be made for visits from potential buyers. Although we are impatient to be getting on with our new French garden, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying some time here again, catching up with our neighbours, harvesting masses of lovely fresh veggies from the garden and basking in the blissfully warm kiss of Spanish sunshine.

With the ITV booked in Avilés, the third largest city in Asturias and a 45-minute drive away, Roger suggested he could take advantage of being there and pop into a sports shop to buy some new running shoes. Now this was a moment of huge (self-inflicted) embarrassment for me; we both bought new trainers before we moved to France in December and in the intervening weeks, Roger has worn his out after 800 miles of running and I have worn mine . . . once! 😲 Needless to say, I’m full of excuses: the physical and mental exhaustion of the move, the long days spent putting up new ceilings and digging the garden, the shock of cold weather, blah, blah, blah . . . but even by my own classic ‘I’m running / I’m not running’ pattern of behaviour, this is Bad Stuff. I needed inspiration – and quickly.

As luck would have it, I’d not bothered to bring any books to read while we’re here, knowing I could happily dip in and out of things we’d left on the shelf, but I did pack the Kindle ‘just in case.’ Imagine how chuffed I was to find a free e-book called The Happy Running Habit by Holly Robertson which proved to be just the catalyst I needed. As the title suggests, it’s a book about feeling joyful and finding the sunshine in running and applies equally to all runners, not just beginners (or returners like me). That’s not to say every run becomes some kind of sugar-coated fairy tale, the emphasis is on looking for the joy, even if it’s not actually present. It’s an approach that suits me down to the ground; although Holly acknowledges the role of data, targets and goals, I love the advice to ditch the watch, forget times, distances and pace and just get out there and run with enjoyment and cheerfulness. The trip to the sports shop had reminded me just how fashion-driven sportswear is so her advice to wear whatever you want, even choose crazy clothing that makes you smile and not give a toss what anyone might think, is incredibly refreshing.

It’s a great reminder, too, that when I go for a run, the only person who is going to judge me is me. It’s a sad but honest fact of our society that there exists a strong sense of self that is hard to shake off – anyone who has grappled with Buddhist teaching about the ego or the work of astonishing minds like Ekhart Tolle will know what I mean! The point is, we both flatter ourselves and cause undue worry by thinking that other people are watching and judging us. Let’s be honest, is anyone really going to notice me when I’m running, yet alone waste their life on forming an opinion? Does it matter if they do? I don’t look like a natural runner and I certainly don’t cut any catwalk mustard with my eclectic, mismatched kit and wild mop of hair that insists on breaking free from even the tightest of bands . . . but who cares? I’m running again and with a smile on my face, and if that’s because I’m laughing (kindly) at myself, so be it.

So, back to the journalling which is one of a wide range of strategies Holly recommends in her book to help build the happy running habit; she even provides a beautiful example to download and print, which is a lovely idea. Now, I love good old-fashioned pen and paper but printing off all those pages doesn’t sit easily with my green credentials; I could use an old exercise book instead but I think the most inspiring journals are those that are filled with colourful artwork as well as words and let’s just say, art is not my thing. Cue a eureka moment: why not use a draft blog post to write my journal? It’s a familiar and comfortable format, I can choose relevant, inspirational or uplifting photos from my media library (needless to say, there will be oodles of nature in there) and press the ‘preview’ button any time I want to get the full effect. Perfect! What has struck me already is how much I look forward to updating the journal after each run so perhaps there is something in the psychology that is really working for me. It’s like an excuse to write a mini blog without having to think about it too much; I suspect that the very worst days will be summed up in a single word! 🤬 I don’t intend it to ever be a fully published blog post, but I might use excerpts occasionally and thought I’d share the beginnings of my new writing (and running) adventure in the hope it might inspire other reluctant runners to have a go. Bear with any odd place names or running routes I’ve used, they have more to do with my warped sense of humour than anything else!

Running Journal

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.

John Bingham
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The first day of a new habit! I’ve become too lazy, unmotivated and neglectful of my health of late so it’s time to start putting that to rights. Self-disclipline is an aspect of running I’ve always struggled with; I don’t want to follow a training plan, at least not at first, but I’m hoping by keeping this journal, I can create a level of accountability to myself – as well as being able to look back over my progress. I’ve been inspired by Holly Robertson of the Happy Running Habit, having read her free e-book. I have three initial goals:

  • Re-establish a regular running habit, aiming for at least three runs per week
  • Build back to being able to run 10k / for an hour – I won’t say ‘comfortably’ because it never is!
  • Be a happy runner! Run with cheerfulness and gratitude even when it hurts.
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Monday 15th March 2021: back in Asturias and my first run for many weeks. Not feeling too enthusiastic but determined to make the change. I walked up the track from the house, ran down Christa’s hill then to the village, up Waggy’s hill and to Banana Hound’s corner, then back to the village, down to the bridge and walked up the hill home. Didn’t intend to go so far but the sun was shining and I didn’t feel as unfit as I had expected – very slow plod, though, stopping a couple of times to enjoy the view. Beautiful morning full of blossom and birdsong, loved the sound of the river and cowbells again. Ended up being 7.3k, pretty chuffed to have made the commitment and not a bad start. Will probably ache like crazy tomorrow!

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Wednesday 17th March 2021: no quibbling about going for a run this morning although as predicted, I felt pretty stiff and achy after Monday. Heavy, heavy legs. Went straight down to the village and planned to do the 5k run I did for the #wwwp5k in December but at the turning point, I decided to push on a bit further – wasn’t feeling too sore, the sunshine was lovely and Muñás is the first place we’ve always seen a swallow and it must be about time for them to arrive. Didn’t see any today 😞 but I’d forgotten just how many blackcaps there are here, their bubbling songs were raucous. Primroses, violets, red deadnettle, stitchwort and wild strawberry flowers everywhere. Exchanged greetings with an old lady walking her dog, we were in agreement that all three of us were enjoying the beautiful morning. Lots of people planting potatoes, wonderful feeling after the three-year ban. In the end, I ran the whole DJ Loop which is 7.5k, not bad for my second outing and I managed plenty of smiles, too. 😊

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Friday 19th March 2021: so tired this morning after a crazily busy day yesterday and another to come today, plus it’s raining and I don’t have a running coat with me so it didn’t take me long to talk myself out of a run . . . BUT then I remembered the happiness habit I’m trying to build so decided to have a word with myself. This time last year we were in lockdown and the only place I could run was in the barn, backwards and forwards like a demented goldfish. Perhaps today’s gratitude needed to be the simple fact that I am allowed out to run, a celebration of the sweet freedom that is so precious – even if it did mean getting wet? Didn’t fancy the road so opted for my Old Faithful route, through the wood, down Christa’s hill, along the gravel track and back. Barely 5k but I’d forgotten what a challenge the constant uphill from 3.5k to 4.5k is. Cold and drippy under the trees and in the cloud, track all mud and puddles so ended up with very wet feet. Least enjoyable run of the week but probably the greatest achievement, facing down my inner Gollum and getting out there. Things to savour? Cherry blossom, pussy willow, eucalyptus flowers humming with bees, fresh new birch leaves, lady’s smocks and a heron lifting from the river on silent wings. Raindrops on borage (aaargh, cue a terrible The Sound of Music earworm🙉 ), that traditional herb of courage and cheerfulness, definitely seems like the right image for today.

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So . . . thank you, Asturias, for being as warm, welcoming and beautiful as ever. Thank you, Holly, too; it’s early days but I’m back to running and I think I’ve managed the happy bit so far. Now it just remains to be seen if I can crack the habit part, too. Mmm, now there’s a mountain to climb! ☺

#wwwp5k: from writing to running

This morning I went for a 5k run. It’s nothing to brag about; I’ve run that far many times before and for millions of runners far more talented, committed and athletic than myself, that distance is little more than a warm-up. However, this was a really special 5k which is why I’m writing about it: the wwwp5k, an invitation to join in something a bit different with the WordPress community. The challenge is to walk, run, hop, skip, swim (or whatever) a distance of 5k at some point during December as a grand celebration of reaching the 2020 finish line. I’ve never taken part in anything quite like it, but as I’ve been downright lazy all through autumn where running is concerned, it seemed like the proverbial kick up the rear end I needed so I signed up, laced up and went for it.

Regular readers will know that where running is concerned, I tend to blow hot and cold. Actually, on reflection, perhaps lukewarm and cold would be a more accurate description. Despite being married to a keen and very talented runner, I had no interest whatsoever in doing it myself until at 46, my doctor recommended running as the best (albeit also the most difficult and painful) way to fix a herniated spinal disc. I thought the man was completely bonkers but since the alternative was to see a scalpel-wielding orthopaedic surgeon, I decided to give it a go. In the beginning, I couldn’t run for 30 seconds without stopping and the pain was so excrutiating, I cried most of the time. It was awful. I hated it. Every last minute of it. That said, by the time my appointment with the physio came through eight weeks later, I was 95% fixed: good medicine, indeed.

In the intervening eight years, I’ve run many times over distances up to half-marathon (21k / 13.1 miles); I’ve taken part in races in the UK, France and Spain, some for fun, some for charity, some very serious and competitive (not for me, you understand: I just faff about at the back chatting to like-minded folks while the true athletes do their stuff up front); I’ve run up hills and down dales, through towns and cities, beside estuaries, along promenades and seafronts and muddy country lanes, across fields, beside rivers, on beaches; I’ve run in a pink tutu, sweltered in the lightest of vests and shorts, frozen in many layers, wrung water out of sodden trainers; I’ve been escorted to the finish line by a police motorbike in Villaviciosa and was overtaken in the last few metres of the Mayenne 10k by a giant Lego man. I’ve met some incredibly wonderful and inspiring people and I’ve learned a good deal about myself. Yes, it’s certainly been an adventure!

I’m not a natural runner and I still don’t really enjoy it but I persist (on and off) for two reasons:

(1) I think it’s good for me and that is backed up by a fair bit of scientific research. I believe passionately in doing what I can to take responsibility and care of my health and well-being, and running is a fairly simple* way of ticking many boxes. (*By ‘simple’ I mean it’s not complicated; it certainly isn’t easy!).

(2) I always feel better after a run. No matter how reluctant I am about putting on my trainers and getting out there ~ and anyone who has ever experienced a cat or dog stubbornly digging in their claws when they don’t want to be moved will have the right mental image here! ~ I’m always glad I did it afterwards. A favourite mantra for reluctant slowbies like me is that ‘every run is a win’ and it’s that psychological boost as well as the obvious physical benefits that make it all worthwhile (I think).

That said, I have a terrible tendency to ditch the running habit during the autumn months; it’s becoming a bit of a repeating pattern and as we slide into winter where dark days and wet weather present themselves as easy excuses to stay by the fire, I am happy to hibernate and vegetate unless something comes along to spur me back into action. Last summer, I pushed myself uncharacteristically through ten weeks of hard training, determined to finally break the sub-hour barrier for running 10k that has eluded me for years. In the event, at the Ribadesella 10k race in September, I missed it by seven seconds and went into an almighty running sulk until the chance to run in the brilliant Castrillon 8k just before Christmas shook me out of my apathy. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run a tough race in torrential rain and 50mph winds, especially as the 8k is a misnomer and the actual event was a fair bit longer? To be totally honest with you, the main draw for me was the amazing slap-up feast afterwards!

After Castrillon came the Luarca fun run for San Silvestre (New Year’s Eve), a 3k dash round the town under the Christmas lights (at my best race pace ever) and then in February, the La Fresnada ‘Gran Cita de los Runners’ organised by our friend Jose Jorge Fernandez of Asturias SportNature, where I ran a 5k, lumbering in second from last but setting a personal best time. I was on a roll and determined to get that wretched sub-hour 10k business over and done with at a very local race by the sea on 21st March, where the prizes are piles of crabs and Asturian cider! Roger had done it the previous year, so we spent a very happy morning walking the route to help me plan my campaign and enjoyed some fantastic scenery into the bargain.

Ten days before the race, I went out on a training run in torrential rain, willing myself to run each kilometre faster than the previous one; I returned home soaked to the skin and very tired but chuffed with my times . . . only to hear that a State of Alarm had been declared in Spain, the race was cancelled and we were heading into seven weeks of total lockdown. After spending the best part of two months doing all my running in the barn, which was both mind-numbing and knee-numbing exercise, I have to admit I’ve never really found any proper motivation to get back to it regularly; once the initial euphoria of being released back into the fresh air and wide open space was over, I’ve been finding far too many reasons not to bother.

Cue a post on my WordPress reader about the wwwp5k which I totally dismissed at first, as is my wont; however, a persistent little tickle in my hindbrain had me eventually going back to check the details and realising that this was, in every way, a gift. I generally run 5k in around 30 minutes so the chance to get out into the beautiful ~ if scarily steep ~ local countryside again and spend half an hour or so enjoying moving my body in the mild weather to the sound of cow bells and birdsong (they never stop singing here) seemed like a good one to take. When used properly, the internet is a wonderful thing and I love the idea of connecting with the WordPress community in this global, all-inclusive, just-for-fun activity. I get a huge amount of pleasure from writing my blog, even more from reading other people’s and I have to say, whenever I’ve needed technical support, the WP team have been amazing . . . and no, I’m not being paid to write that! Blogging is creative, inspirational, sometimes challenging, always enjoyable and completely enriching so it felt like a real privilege to be able to take part in such a challenge. The only hurdle for me was the request to take a selfie at the end and post it because we don’t have a smartphone and I could hardly run with a chunky camera swinging around my neck. Enter my pet running star and erstwhile long-suffering coach who offered to do the entire route on his bike ~ after his own much-longer-than-5k morning run, of course ~ and take photos at various stages. I ran from home but opted to start the official 5k in the village as it meant finishing on a long sweeping downhill instead of the impossibly steep climb up our lane (yes, I’m a wuss). So, here we go . . .

3, 2, 1, go! Don’t be fooled by the smile, there’s 800 metres of climb coming up . . .
Up, up and more up. Ah, not smiling now!
The scenery is a lovely distraction in the low light of December . . .
. . . and winding in and out round tight bends, the view is constantly changing..
Two kilometres down and feeling warm round ‘Banana Bend.’
The halfway point at ‘Coloured Corner’ in the next village ~ I love the joyful celebration of life in those bright paint jobs.
Horreos are a common and delightful traditional feature of the area.
So are citrus trees. Mmm, I wouldn’t mind a half-time orange.
Head down for home.
The views are stunning this way, too . . .
. . . and so are the wild flowers.
Round the last bend and it’s downhill all the way from here. 😄
Yay, the finish line!
Now for a steep climb home past the neighbours . . .
. . . while my trusty photographer chose a longer route home through the woods.

Wow, even I have to admit that was great! To anyone else planning to do the wwwp5k, best of luck and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. To everyone at WordPress, thank you and maybe see you again next year. Finally, to any other bloggers or their family and friends (including mine, of course ~ you’re all invited to participate, too) who are toying with the idea of having a go . . . there’s still plenty of Decemebr left! 😉 Have fun and happy fives to all!