Walk, run, write.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

My first (and last) half marathon in 2017: never has a rain-drenched woman been so pleased to see the finish line . . . and a pile of chocolate brownies.

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. 😊

The path beckons – who could resist?

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! ☺